Sunday, December 26, 2010

From Where I Sit: 2010 NASCAR Year in Review

Looking back on 2010, the NASCAR images that are emblazoned in my mind are those I witnessed in person.

Richard Petty and Bobby Allison running into each other before the Homestead race.

A young Dale Jr. fan telling Jimmie Johnson she'd switch drivers if he'd only sign her hat (which he promptly did with a smile).

Tony Stewart handing his Coke bottle to a little No. 14 fan after driver introductions at Talladega.

My Mom meeting Joey Logano at the Homestead Tweetup.

Dancing with my nephews on the Daytona infield to the music of Zac Brown Band.

My cousin Michael finally getting Dale Earnhardt Jr's autograph.

I've discovered that NASCAR is a highly personal sport.  Sure, there are the driver feuds, photo finishes and dramatic races that the collective remembers. But the moments that mean the most are those that are yours.  That you shared with family.  That you enjoyed with friends.

I was fortunate enough to make a slew of NASCAR memories this year.  Above are just a few of them.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The First NASCAR Day of Christmas: A Win for the Number Three

Dale Earnhardt Jr's Nationwide Series win in the No. 3 Wrangler car at Daytona was one of the brightest moments of the year.

The buildup to the race was unprecedented and the event itself was fraught with emotional weight and fan expectations.

It could easily have gone very badly.

But in the end, Dale Jr. and his cousin Tony Eury, Jr. reunited once more to bring one of the most recognizable paint schemes, and the famous number in NASCAR history, back to Victory Lane.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime night. And it gave Junior Nation something to cheer about, in what was an otherwise lackluster season.

So as Dale Jr. fans dream of team "Earntarte" and how their driver will have a winning 2011, I wish you all Merry Christmas. 

The best present of all? The Daytona 500 is only fifty-six days away ...

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Second NASCAR Day of Christmas: Two Fighting Jeffs

Sometimes the cosmic force behind NASCAR gives fans a gift that is so unexpectedly wonderful, it lives in the annals of racing lore for years.

And the fight between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton at Texas Motor Speedway is one of those gifts.

An unlikely pair of enemies, these two were applauded by fans for having the guts to "have at it" face to face (and not face to camera as other drivers often do).

There went Gordon, stomping down the track after his smashup with Burton, like a man on a mission.  And he didn't waste time.  Upon reaching the object of his anger, there was a leap, a shove, and what looked like an attempted hair pulling.

The moment made for darn good TV, a colorful highlights reel, and precious fodder for bloggers and pundits alike.

Here's hoping that the "have at it boys" mandate gives fans even more such moments in 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Third NASCAR Day of Christmas: Three Rowdy Wins

In many ways 2010 was a banner year for Kyle Busch.

He got engaged to Samantha Sarcinella. He started his own race team, Kyle Busch Motorsports. He finished eighth in the Chase, and he won three Cup races all told.

But what iced the cake on Rowdy's eventful season was his historic performance at Bristol Motor Speedway in August.

Busch predicted he would win all three races - and he did just that.

On Wednesday, he won the Camping World Truck Series event. Friday, he took the Nationwide Series checkers. Then Saturday he sealed the trifecta with a Sprint Cup victory.

It's a feat of which no other driver can boast - sweeping all three national series races in the same weekend.

In fact, it was such an accomplishment, that the brooms in Victory Lane inspired a musical ode to Kyle Busch entitled "Bristol Sweep" - which is a big improvement over the guitar smash song of 2009 ...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Fourth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Four for Ganassi

When Jamie McMurray returned to the Earnhardt-Ganassi fold, he brought a wave of good karma with him.

Coming off a lackluster 2009, McMurray was visibly thrilled to have a full-time ride in 2010.  And his EGR homecoming proved a boon not only to McMurray's career, but to team owner Chip Ganassi's as well.

Ol' Jamie Mac didn't just win for Ganassi - he won the biggest, most prestigious races on the schedule.

McMurray kickstarted the season with a tearsoaked victory at the Daytona 500.  His next win came at Indy's venerable Brickyard.  He then snagged the trophy at Charlotte Motor Speedway - eight years after winning his first Cup race there, also with Ganassi.

Talk about being the comeback kid.

And McMurray wasn't the only star in Ganassi's crown.  Juan Pablo Montoya added to the team's win column with his dominating victory at Watkins Glen. 

Montoya led 74 of 90 laps at the Glen, rebounding from two weeks of poor pit calls and a tiff with his crew chief, which had kept him out of contention during previous races.

My NASCAR New Year's prediction?  Look for both McMurray and Montoya to make the chase in 2011.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Fifth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Five in a Row

Jimmie Johnson celebrates each of his five championship wins - from 2006 to 2010.

Cale Yarborough didn't do it.

Dale Earnhardt didn't do it.

Even King Petty didn't do it.

But Jimmie Johnson, a kid from El Cajon, Calif., did.

Johnson's five consecutive Cup championships are unprecedented and unparalleled.  And with his monumental come-from-behind points win in 2010, the driver has cemented his place in NASCAR history.

And the racing world thought four in a row was impressive.

Of course, some fans may not like that Johnson has dominated the sport for half a decade. But that doesn't change the fact that Johnson is the real deal.  And his crew chief is none too shabby either.

Johnson and Chad Knaus may well be unbeatable. And 2011 may just bring win number six.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Sixth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Six Weeks Suspension

Bowyer went from one to done after his car failed
inspection post-Loudon.
In NASCAR,  fortune can turn on a dime.

And no team knows that better than the No. 33 team of Clint Bowyer.

The Richard Childress Racing team went from the highest of highs (winning the first race of the Chase at Loudon) to the lowest of lows (failing inspection and getting docked 150 points).

Per the official NASCAR press release:

"The No. 33 team was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4-J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); and 20-3 (car body location specifications in reference to the certified chassis did not meet NASCAR-approved specifications) of the 2010 NASCAR Rule Book."

In addition to the points deficit, crew chief Shane Wilson was suspended for six weeks for the infraction and put on probabation until Dec. 31.

The stiff penalty effectively turned Bowyer and team from a possible championship contender into just another also-ran.

And although Richard Childress fought the judgment with his infamous wrecker defense, NASCAR capitulated not.  The ruling stood.

But you gotta give credit to Bowyer. After his initial impassioned response, the driver didn't waste time crying over lost points. 

Instead, he pulled off a second-place result at Fontana, and went on to win Talladega in a virtual photo finish.

And while dwelling on "could have beens" is often an exercise in futility, I can't help but wonder how Bowyer and Wilson's season would have ended had the penalty never been incurred.

Something tells me they would have finished a heckuva lot better than tenth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Seventh NASCAR Day of Christmas: Seventh Place for Stewart

Stewart takes a break with the Office Depot Foundation’s 2010 “Teddy B. Caring”
holiday bear. The Office Depot Foundation donates a portion of proceeds from sales
of the bear to help children and families in need around the world.
Photo Credit: MATTER/Edelman for Office Depot Racing
For the second consecutive year as a driver/owner Tony Stewart made the Chase.

Not only did he make the Chase - he cracked the top ten.

Smoke ended the year in seventh spot - with two wins, nine top fives and two poles. He led more total laps than third-place finisher Kevin Harvick. And he notched 17 top 10 finishes to boot.

It took Stewart a little longer to find his groove this year - his first win didn't come 'til Atlanta Motor Speedway in September. 

But in what may have been the highlight of his year, Stewart smoked the field at Fontana, giving him his first win at Auto Club Speedway in 19 tries.

That victory leaves Las Vegas and Darlington as the only active tracks where Smoke has yet to take the checkers.  Not a bad short list for Smoke to tackle in 2011 ...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Eighth NASCAR Day of Christmas: 8 NASCAR Babies

Ryan and Chrissie Newman
welcomed Brooklyn Sage
on Nov. 18, 2010.
In 2010, the Sprint Cup drivers' lot turned into Romper Room.

And it's not because Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski got into a play fight.

There was a bona fide baby boom in NASCAR that set this season apart.  At last count, a whopping seven babies were born to drivers and their wives - and there's one due at the end of this year.

1. Jimmie Johnson and wife Chandra welcomed Genevieve Marie. 

2. To Jeff Gordon and Ingrid was born Leo Benjamin

3. Mr. and Mrs. Carl Edwards said hello to little Anne Edwards.

4. Elliott and Amanda Sadler became the proud parents of Wyatt Herman Fritts Sadler. 

5.  Juan Pablo and Connie Montoya added baby Manuela to their family. 

6.  Ryan and Krissie Newman welcomed Brooklyn Sage. 

7. Carter Scott was born to Jamie and Christy McMurray.

8. Finally, Sam Hornish Jr. and his wife Crystal are expecting to end the year with the birth of their second child.

And for the record, all those skeptics who claimed Johnson would be adversely affected by the stress of fatherhood, now don't have a leg to stand on.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Ninth NASCAR Day of Christmas: 9 Car-a-Swappin'


That's the word that best describes the state of Richard Petty Motorsports in 2010.

It was a tough year for The King and those in his employ.  They went from four cars to two.  Lost their primo driver.  And they suffered through layoffs and cutbacks in the process.

But there is one bright spot on what has lately been a dim horizon - and that's the 100-watt smile of Marcos Ambrose.

Ambrose will drive the No. 9 Ford for RPM next season.  He takes the wheel from Aric Almirola, who drove the car when Kasey Kahne made a late-season jump to Red Bull Racing.

And Ambrose's infectious personality and determination to succeed may be just the shot in the arm the organization needs to regain momentum.

"I feel like I've got all the ingredients I need," Ambrose told the Associated Press in August. "I wanted to eliminate any question marks about the stuff around me and people around me."

"I feel like I can win four championships like Jimmie Johnson has done," he continued.

Time will tell if the racer from down under can top the five-time champ.

But one thing is certain - Richard Petty Motorsports is back in the game.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Tenth NASCAR Day of Christmas: 10 Years of Harvick

Kevin Harvick celebrated his tenth year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series in 2010.

And boy, what a year it was.

Harvick was the regular season champ and the perennial fan favorite.  When the Chase began, he kept fans' hopes high that a Richard Childress team would knock the dynastic No. 48 off its pedestal.

And, as always, Harvick kept things interesting.

He tangled with Joey Logano on track and off.  He hit Denny Hamlin in practice, after Hamlin called out his teammate Clint Bowyer for being a cheater.

But the fun didn't stop with Harvick's third-place Sprint Cup run.

Harvick also had a worthy year in both the Nationwide and Truck series- notching three wins in each and a sixth place finish in the Nationwide standings.

From all appearances, Harvick is set for another stellar year in 2011  - he'll be driving the Budweiser car for Richard Childress Racing.  And, just this week, he announced that former Formula One driver Nelson Piquet Jr. will drive for his truck team, Kevin Harvick Inc., next season.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Boys Are Back in Town

Cup cars hit the new pavement at Daytona for the first time Wednesday.

For the first time since Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag in the Coke Zero 400 on July 3, race cars were back on track at Daytona International Speedway.

Eighteen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers kicked off the first day of a two-day Goodyear tire test on the new racing surface in advance of the 53rd annual Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, Feb. 20.

The test was the first time race cars turned laps on the new asphalt of Daytona, which was repaved for only the second time in its history.

Among the drivers in attendance included:

· Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Mark Martin

· Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch

· Roush Fenway’s Matt Kenseth and David Ragan

· Richard Childress Racing’s Jeff Burton and Paul Menard

·  Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya

· JTG Daugherty Racing’s Bobby Labonte

“It’s amazing the job that they did here,” said Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 champion. “It’s really smooth. It’s got a lot of grip. I think we learned a tremendous amount by being here. Not only did we get a chance to really see what we’re going to be dealing with here in February for the Daytona 500, but it gets us prepared for the test coming up in January.”

“They smoothed out all the bumps,” said Earnhardt Jr., the 2004 Daytona 500 champion. “The track is real smooth. It’s got a lot of grip. The track reminds me a lot like Talladega was like when they first finished it.

“The racing during the drafting was exciting and I think it is going to be a good show, a more exciting show for the fans because the cars are going to stay real tight on each other throughout entire runs.”

The Goodyear tire test will wrap up Thursday and is open to the public with free access to the Oldfield Grandstands through the lobby of the Daytona International Speedway ticket office.

The Eleventh NASCAR Day of Christmas: 11 Car-a-Spinnin'

The team works on the No. 11 car before the start
of the Ford 400 at Homestead.

In addition to "Jimmie Johnson Wins Fifth Consecutive Title," the headline following Homestead could well have been "The Mighty Denny Has Spun Out."

And though Denny's misstep made for a more dramatic race, it wasn't the cause of his failure to win the Chase crown.

His run for the championship started to sputter the week before Homestead.

Riding high and talking trash, Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford entered the Kobalt Tools 500 with trophy expectations and a car that dominated most of the race.

But as events played out, it became clear that fuel mileage - not a sweet car - would be the key to a strong finish.

Unfortunately for Hamlin, Ford failed to tell his driver to save fuel. And while Hamlin ran wide open, fellow championship rivals Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick conserved enough Sunoco to make it 'til the end.

Result? Hamlin had to pit, while Johnson and Harvick had the staying power to finish - cutting Hamlin's points lead to just 15.

Hamlin was visibly discouraged after the checkers.

"It's pretty disappointing. We were in a good position going into next week," Hamlin said. "Good cars and all that, we had that today. It's tough to say what we've got to do. We had everything today. We had bad strategy at the end and it let those guys back in there."

So instead of a confident, swaggering Chase leader rolling into Homestead, Hamlin entered the Miami track a bundle of nerves.

His poor qualifying run didn't help - and the team couldn't get their mojo back all day long.

So while Hamlin's little spin didn't help his championship hopes - it wasn't the cause of the Fed Ex team's troubles.

Those can be blamed on a failure to communicate at Phoenix.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Twelfth NASCAR Day of Christmas: 12 Chasers Chasing

One of the best things about the 2010 season, was that the Sprint Cup Chase was the closest in Chase history. 

Twelve drivers didn't just make the Chase, they made the Chase exciting.

There were flying fists, fingers and fines.  There was high drama and low blows. And, to top it off, there was a reigning champ who came from behind to score his fifth championship in a row - a feat unparalleled in NASCAR history.

Clint Bowyer started the Chase with a win in New Hampshire  - only to be fined and penalized days later when his car failed post-race inspection.  The judgment punted the No. 33 from second to twelfth in the points.  And Bowyer's response to the penalty made "The Wrecker Defense" a motorsports byword.

Bowyer ended the year in 10th spot.

Then there was Kyle Busch.  Although Rowdy failed to produce a "W" during the Chase, he did make for some good TV with his flying one-finger salute on national television.  Busch finished the year in eighth place.

Kevin "Happy" Harvick brought the goods all year long. The regular season champ, he stayed in contention 'til the very end.  And though he finished in third, his message was heard throughout the NASCAR world - Richard Childress Racing is back.

Second-place finisher Denny Hamlin added a heap of racing drama to the Chase.  He started the Chase in the top seed after a win at Richmond.  He then lost the Chase lead, but stole it back from the No. 48 team with a win at Texas. 

And then the mind games and the verbal potshots began as Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford called Johnson and Chad Knaus the weaker team, vowing to beat the Lowe's dynasty. 

But words can come back to haunt you, and at Homestead, Johnson and company showed their strength while Denny spun out, ending his quest to win his first championship. 

Moral of the story? You better check yourself, before you wreck yourself.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Some NASCAR Holiday Reading: These Are a Few of My Favorite Blogs

While there are still a lot of worthy NASCAR blogs out there,
one of my favorites, NASCAR This Week, will go dark later this month.
There's one thing I love about the NASCAR off-season, and that's having more time to catch up on what other bloggers are up to.

There are the sites I read on a regular basis - and then there are those that I've just recently discovered. But what I've found across the board, is that there are a lot of great folks doing a lot of great work promoting the sport that they love.

I can't list every site worthy of a mention, but below are a few of my favorite NASCAR blogs. Be sure to check them out during your online reading rounds.

First, a clarification - my buddies at are much more than a blog. They broadcast four different podcasts - Over the Wall, Gas and Go, Hammer Down and Spotters Nest. Their team covers races like media pros and they're one of the few sites who have been awarded the honor of inclusion into the NASCAR Citizen Journalists Media Corp.

Another one of my favorite cyber spaces is NASCAR Ranting and Raving. It's chock full of stuff from editorial and interviews to cartoons and sound bites.

Skirts & Scuffs is another site I check on a regular basis. These ladies know their NASCAR and they're prolific posters - if it's happening in the sport, they've posted about it (or will be soon).

For a look at NASCAR from a fan's perspective, you can't beat Amy's Bad Groove. She's an unabashed Tony Stewart fangirl - and she has put together a darn good blog.

If you're on the outside looking in, then The NASCAR Insiders have your back. Their "Ask the Insiders Wednesday" gets my vote as the best weekly feature on the Net.

During the season, I'm a frequent visitor to The Spotter Stand. Their "Catch Can" feature is a great forum for fans. And when they hit the track, they take some fantastic photos.

And now for some sad news. My buddies at NASCAR This Week have ceased operations and will go offline later this month. With posts by the great Monte Dutton and frequent guest columns by bloggers (including yours truly), this was the most well-written NASCAR site on the Web. Period.

On a personal note, NASCAR This Week editor, David Cohea, supported me and gave me column space when I first started this blog, and I couldn't be more appreciative. He's also a fantastic editor and writer in his own right.

Godspeed - this chick will miss you!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A NASCAR Christmas List

Now that "Team Earntarte" is a reality, Junior fans  have reason
to call Christmas merry.
Logs are crackling in the fireplace.  Lights are flickering on the tree. And marshmallows are melting their gooey goodness into my hot chocolate.

It's the perfect night for writing a Christmas list.

Or better still, the perfect night for contemplating what gifts our favorite drivers and their fans might want - or need - for the holidays.

If I were Santa, here's what I'd bring the below NASCAR peeps in my big bag of presents come Christmas Eve:

Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton - If you're gonna "have at it boys", at least make it look somewhat threatening.  The Jeffs'  little dustup during the Chase was good TV - but I doubt it struck fear into the hearts of other drivers.  That's why I'm suggesting jolly ol' St. Nicholas bring the pair a little formal instruction in the art of hand-to-hand combat.

Jimmie Johnson - You might think that Johnson has all he'll ever need - a beautiful wife, a darling baby girl, five Sprint Cup championships and the smartest crew chief around. But that's where you're wrong.  This season it became clear that ol' Johnson is standing in the need of hair - or less of it.  Somebody give the man a haircut.  The scraggly look does not suit.

Junior Nation - When Rick Hendrick announced the formation of team "Earntarte" in November, Christmas came a little early for Junior Nation - and also for Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Request granted.

Kyle Busch - I know Rowdy has taken a lot of heat for his one-finger salute on national television, but what's a little more ribbing among fans? He claimed after being parked a lap that NASCAR was hampering his constitutional rights by denying him the right to express himself.  Turns out, he's correct. According to the U.S. Court system, "flipping the bird" is legally protected by the U.S. Constitution ... but NASCAR is a country unto itself and sometimes everyday laws just don't apply.  So in that case, perhaps Santa will leave the book "Beyond Anger" in Busch's stocking.

Brian Vickers - It'll be a gift to NASCAR fans to see Vickers back behind the wheel come the Daytona 500. Here's hoping Santa grants him a spot in next year's Chase to cement Vickers' long-awaited return.

Darrell Waltrip - When Waltrip failed to make the second class of inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his disappointment was palpable. Even those who weren't big fans of DW felt a little sorry for him. For Waltrip's sake, I hope Santa brings him the votes he needs to make the Hall of Fame's third class - nobody would be more appreciative of the honor.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Johnson Gets Even More "Perfect" - As If That Were Possible

His chase for the Sprint Cup may not have been perfect, but his rebound from a points deficit was about as flawless as you can get.

So it's only right that five-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson is one of the athletes featured in ESPN The Magazine's "The Perfect Issue," which is on newsstands now.

In the issue, Johnson joins top pros Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Charles Woodson and Maya Moore as they weigh in on what perfection means to them in “Meditations on Perfection.”

Plus in the issue's back-of-the-book poll, “Scale of 1 to 10,” athletes answer the question, “Did you pursue the right sport?”

· Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets: “Five. Sometimes I wish I had played baseball. I would have been a good pitcher.”

· Phil Hellmuth, poker player: “Ten. What other sport would I be good at? There’s not enough money in backgammon or chess.”

· Sergio Martinez, boxing middleweight: “One. I love soccer, but I want to be No. 1 and I wasn’t good enough to be No. 1 in soccer.”

But there's no point asking Johnson if he pursued the right sport - with five back-to-back championships to his credit, is there any doubt?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Smoke a Little Smoke ... All Year Long

If you're a fan of Tony Stewart, then a little Smoke is never enough.

And while you may be upset that you can't see your favorite driver on TV in the off-season, the folks at Office Depot have something that will make the time between now and Daytona go by a little quicker.

Introducing the 2011 Tony Stewart wall calendar, which is on sale now online and at select Office Depot stores. This pictoral offering features unique photos of Tony that can't be found anywhere else. He’s wearing everything from casual street clothes to business attire to his racing firesuit, like this shot for April:

And then there's this photo featured in March - which looks like something from the cover of a romance novel:

So take heart Smoke fans - there's enough Tony Stewart to last all year long. The 2011 calendar costs just $13.99 and can be ordered at

Monday, November 29, 2010

Papis Makes a Pit Stop at Daytona

Daytona International Speedway is kinda like your Grandma's house on Thanksgiving - you just never know who's going to drop in with a homemade casserole.

And although NASCAR driver Max Papis didn't have a casserole in tow, he did make a surprise visit to Daytona today to check in on the historic repaving project.

Papis, was traveling with his family back to North Carolina after spending the Thanksgiving holidays in South Florida, and made a little pit stop at the “World Center of Racing.”

“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of stopping by Daytona and seeing the progress of what I consider my home track,” Papis said. “I love this place and this is my home turf.”

Papis, a native of Italy and part of the overall winning team in the 2002 Rolex 24 At Daytona, took a tour of the track with North American Testing Company’s Senior Director of Construction Bill Braniff.

“I have goose bumps every time I come to Daytona,” said Papis, who will race in both the NextEra Energy Resources 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and most likely the Rolex 24 At Daytona during Speedweeks 2011.

“I didn’t think it was possible to actually improve this place but you guys did it. The asphalt looks amazing. It looks like it’s a lot more work than what you see from the outside (looking in).

“Daytona is history and this is a new part of the history of this race track. It’s pretty amazing.”

While the legendary 2.5-mile tri-oval isn’t ready for a race car yet, Papis christened the new racing surface by performing push-ups at the start/finish line.

“I wanted to do it my own way and welcome the new surface,” Papis said. “I’m kind of a strange guy. I’m strong, Daytona strong.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Johnson Has Nothing Left to Prove ... Almost

 Jimmie Johnson hoists the Sprint Cup Championship trophy
after claiming his fifth consecutive title at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Love him or hate him, Jimmie Johnson is the man.

He can win the Cup title when he dominates the Chase.  He can win the Cup title when he's trailing.

And what he doesn't do in the clutch may be even more important than what he does do.

Namely, he doesn't beat himself.

Johnson needed to qualify well to gain maximum points.  He did - in sixth.

Johnson needed to lead a lap to get five bonus points. Yup, he did that too.

Johnson needed to run toward the front and stay out of trouble.  Did it.  All race long.

In contrast, pre-race points leader Denny Hamlin took a spin early on from which his team never fully recovered.  Kevin Harvick was caught speeding on pit road, which forced him to forfeit track position and drive through race traffic.  And neither Hamlin nor Harvick laid down a solid qualifying run which put them at a disadvantage in the first place.

But Johnson made it all look easy  - again.

And now "Easy Rider" has a fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship to his credit and nothing left to prove - unless he wants to be considered the greatest NASCAR driver ever.

After the Ford 400, Johnson hinted that he now has his eye on besting the record seven championships won by Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.

"I spent the majority of my career as a "C" class driver, I never experienced stuff like this," Johnson said.

"Why would I even think of those kind of goals? I don't know if it's in reach, but we are a hell of a lot closer now than when the day started. Now I'm looking at the marks that the greats have put out there and am hopeful to get up there to them.''

Five down ... and just two to go.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

'Twas the Night Before Homestead ...

'Twas the night before Homestead and all 'round the track,
Palm trees were swaying in the tropical black.

The drivers were tucked in their RVs with care,
in the hopes that a trophy would tomorrow be theirs.

Mike Ford in his kerchief, lay nervous in bed,
Where visions of fuel mileage danced through his head.

Denny Hamlin paced wildly 'cross his motorhome floor,
saying "I have to catch Jimmie tomorrow for sure."

Chad Knaus knelt praying that his crew swap would win it.
Gaining spots on pit road could keep his driver in it.

And meanwhile ol' Johnson was cool and collected
saying "I'll win number five if I wheel and don't wreck it."

And then there was Harvick who refused to be idle.
He was scheming and plotting to win his first title.

With a light in his eye and a mischeivous grin,
He stroked the short hairs on his quite stubbly chin.

"I may be starting in p28,
but Denny is further behind, which is great."

"I've brought the best motor, the best pit crew," he said.
"The best chassis, best power - that'll get in their heads."

"I'll zoom through the field like a bat outta hell
in my last race for Pennzoil and the team they call Shell.

"I'll drive 29 to the front of the pack
and if I have to spin Johnson, I'll never look back."

Then he smiled to himself as he thought of the fans
who would holler and cheer from the Homestead grandstands.

And he vowed he would do just whatever it took
to cement his first place in the championship book.

So on Harvick, on Johnson, on Hamlin and Gordon
On Edwards, on Bowyer on Busches and Burton.

And if you boys have at it, well you've got good reason.
Happy Homestead to all - thank you for a great season!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Score One for Johnson

Don't look now, but Jimmie Johnson has brought his "A" game to Homestead.

In one of the most important qualifying runs of the year, the defending champ threw down a dynamite lap time to cement a top 10 start - sixth to be exact.

The best part for Johnson? His fellow championship contenders didn't fare nearly as well.

He'll begin the race 22 spots ahead of his nearest title rival - Kevin Harvick.  Meanwhile, Chase leader Denny Hamlin will have to make an unenviable run from the rear if he wants to keep his points lead. He qualified 38th.

Sure, a good qualifying run doesn't necessarily mean a winning race. And starting in the back of the pack doesn't mean you'll stay there. Just last year at Homestead, Hamlin rocketed from the same starting spot to bring home the checkers.

However, when the points spread is slim, an up-front starting spot should be cause for at least a little relief. It'll take a while for Harvick and Hamlin to catch Johnson on Sunday.  And, if he can gain just a few spots, the No. 48 will be able to lead a lap early and snag those five coveted bonus points.

So the qualifying battle goes to Johnson.

A few hours will tell if he can also win the war.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Congrats to Our No. 29 Prize Pack Winners!

The driver of the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet could well pull off an upset at Homestead Miami Speedway this weekend.

A mere 46 points behind Chase leader Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick seems to relish his underdog status. And fans are loving it as well.  Judging from online chatter, many a race fan is rooting for the Richard Childress Racing team to dethrone Jimmie Johnson and outrun Hamlin.

To celebrate their driver being in championship contention, the folks at Shell-Pennzoil were kind enough to give us some cool No. 29 swag to give away. 

Congrats to Lori N., Laurie, Bryant W., Susie H. and Tom D.  Each of these folks will receive a special prize pack, which includes a No. 29 Shell diecast car, No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Christmas ornaments, No. 29 decals, Harley Davidson koozies and microfiber clean cloths.

Remember, Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines act as a barrier to shield and protect critical engine parts against performance-robbing gunk.

Congrats again to our contest winners - enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Few "Poison-ous" Thoughts About Homestead

Poison frontman Bret Michaels will perform
the National Anthem and give the start command
before the Ford 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Now that Phoenix is in the rear view, Homestead looms large. And boy does it hold promise.

The last race of the season is bound to be a hard rockin', fender-knockin' finale that's will go down in the record books - or at the very least, the collective memory of NASCAR fans.

In fact, there's so much to say about the upcoming Ford 400 that it's hard to put it into words.

But when I heard today's news that Poison glam-man Bret Michaels will sing the National Anthem and give the start command Sunday, I experienced a jolt of rock-inspired creativity.

So here are a few of my thoughts about the upcoming season finale - all inspired by the song titles of Poison.

Rock out and read on!

Talk Dirty to Me - there's nothing like a little pre-race smack to get the fans riled up. And, if Twitter is any indication, the trash talk is only going to escalate between now and Sunday. Just look up @kevinharvick and @dennyhamlin if you don't believe me ...

Nothin' But a Good Time - a fan-tastic celebration is what folks could experience if Carl Edwards wins Homestead and climbs into the grandstand like he did at Phoenix. My opinion? This new post-race tradition may be Edwards' best PR move yet.

Look What the Cat Dragged In - This could be the reaction Kevin Harvick gets if he steals the title from the No. 48 and the No. 11 teams. Think it's impossible? Then you haven't seen the recent F1 championship ...

Every Rose Has Its Thorn - I feel bad in advance for anyone but the top three Chasers who wins Sunday's race. Such a victory will be HUGELY overshadowed by the three-team championship drama.

Life Goes On - After his disappointing finish at Phoenix, the dejected Denny Hamlin needs to clear his head and adopt this song title as his mantra - lest he arrive in South Florida off his game.

I Want Action - what race fan isn't thinking this as the countdown to Homestead begins? The race will be "have-at-it" drama at its finest. So bring it on!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fuel Mileage at Phoenix Means Drama at Homestead

Jimmie Johnson (above) hacked into Denny Hamlin's
points lead in a fuel-mileage showdown at
Phoenix International Raceway
Folks who don't like fuel mileage races might want to reconsider their disdain.

Thanks to today's gas-saving drama at Phoenix International Raceway, the season finale at Homestead is going to be one heckuva show.

With one race to go, reigning champ Jimmie Johnson trails Denny Hamlin by a mere 15 points.  And third place driver Kevin Harvick? He's still in striking distance at only 46 points back.

It's the closest margin in Chase history.  And it's bound to make Sunday's championship race the most exciting in recent memory.

Hamlin dominated Phoenix, leading the most laps (190 of 312) by far.  But his 12th place result is proof that "points as they run" graphics are about as worthless as the plastic wrap on your peanuts. 

The outcome boiled down to the have and have nots: namely, two teams that actually had a Sunoco-saving strategy - and one team that didn't have seem to have a gas mileage plan at all.

After the race, Hamlin admitted that fuel savings didn't even enter into his team's calculations - at least as far as he was aware. "I was never alerted to save fuel, so I assumed that everyone was going to have to pit. I didn't think it was a question," Hamlin said. "Like I said, I did my job."

This failure to plan is somewhat ironic. Just one week ago, No. 11 crew chief Mike Ford called out Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team for coming up with a new game-changing strategy - the infamous "Pit Crew Swap". Ford said Knaus' move just proved that the No. 11 is the better team.

"They removed their team,” Ford said following Hamlin's win at Texas. “Their team got them to this point and they pulled them out. So this is more about trying to win a championship for the company and not the team."

Ford's comments were likely nothing more than a volley of psychological warfare. But he clearly missed his mark.

Said Johnson today after climbing out of his car, ""I hope the pressure of us being on their heels works on him mentally this week. Those guys better be on their toes."


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fishing for Backpacks

Earlier this week, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman did what boys do when they have a few hours of down time.

They went fishin'.

On Tuesday, the Stewart-Haas Racing teammates took part in the second-annual Office Depot Foundation Charity Fishing Tournament.

But this wasn't just off track unwind time for the drivers. It was all to raise money for the Office Depot Foundation. In fact, this year Stewart has partnered with the Foundation to help donate more than 300,000 book bags to non-profit organizations and schools that work with children in need nationwide.

“I had a great time fishing and all for a great cause,” Stewart said of his time on the water. “I’ve had a chance to work with the Office Depot Foundation on its National Backpack Program for the past two years, and it’s one of the most rewarding things I do."

I can't vouch for the fact that Stewart reeled in the fish in the above photo himself.  But sources inform me that his team reeled in a total catch of 14.4 pounds, while Newman’s team wasn’t far behind with 9.4 pounds.
Photo courtesy of Gort Productions

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why Should NASCAR Hire Me? Here Are 10 Good Reasons ...

When NASCAR announced that it was creating a new integrated marketing communications department, my heart gave a little leap.

And when I heard there would be openings in the realm of social media, my heart beat even faster.

So without letting any grass grow, I added social media experience to my resume, uploaded my info. on the NASCAR employment site and settled in to wait.

I've heard it will take a while for NASCAR to fill these new positions, but I admit I'm getting antsy.  You see, when it's a dream you're chasing, waiting just isn't good enough.

Can you blame me for not giving up without a fight?  Did Dale Earnhardt give up on winning the Daytona 500?  Did Alan Kulwicki give up on his 1992 championship?  Did Chad Knaus give up on the No. 48 pit crew? (Okay, so maybe the latter isn't the best analogy).

So in lieu of reciting a laundry list of career history and accomplishments, I give you a few more reasons why the folks at NASCAR should offer me a job. If you agree - please comment, tweet or like on Facebook to your heart's content. 

After all, sometimes dreams need a little help to come true.

The Top 10 Reasons Why NASCAR Should Hire Me

10.  I love the smell of exhaust in the morning.

9.  Even Monte Dutton likes me.

8. I can tweet, blog and Photoshop with the best of 'em.  Plus, I'm crazy good at NASCAR math.

7. The closest I've come to a criminal offense? Crashing driver intros at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

6. Every office needs another redhead.

5. I once shared the stage with "The Godfather of Soul" James Brown.  (This doesn't have anything to do with NASCAR - it just makes me sound cooler).

4. My favorite colors are Lowe's Blue, Amp Green and Office Depot Red.

3. I hail from a long line of rum runners - which is practically the same as moonshine.

2. You'll never catch me giving the "one-finger salute" on national television

1.  I've written nearly 500 blog posts and articles promoting the sport I love, and I haven't made a dime.  Imagine what I could do if I were actually on the payroll?

Monday, November 8, 2010

For Knaus - Heavy Lies the Head That Wears the Crown

Denny Hamlin smells blood in the water.  Your pit crew's performance is costing you positions. Your driver is panicked.  And there are only two races left.

What would you do?

Would you chuck your team on the chins and tell them "we'll get 'em next time"?  Would you tell your driver to shut up and wheel the car?  Or would you take a game-changing risk that could make you a hero if your instincts are right - or a zero if you're wrong.

Leaders opt for the latter.

Sure, Chad Knaus' mid-race move at Texas won't make him the new fan favorite, but that's nothing new.  Leaders aren't always popular, even among those they lead.  But leaders do make the tough call when it counts - which is what Knaus did at Texas.

When your guy is on the ropes and your opponent is using him for a punching bag, you've got to regroup, re-strategize and come out swinging. If not, you'll be down for the count and the victory will go to your opponent.

And what does popularity count for then?

So during the next few weeks, Knaus will take a lot of heat for the pit crew swap - especially if his plan fails.

But if his instincts are true (and they have been for the past four years) he'll have steered Hendrick Motorsports to their fifth consecutive championship.

And himself into the history books.  Again.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hot Damn! Texas Turns Into NASCAR Fight Club

After today's race at Texas Motor Speedway, NASCAR shouldn't have any trouble selling tickets.

The Lone Star State had it all - an upset in the points, an irate driver giving NASCAR the "one-finger salute" (on camera, mind you) and a pit crew swap mid-race.

But the moment that lit up Twitter like the big bright stars at night and caused many a race fan to yelp out a "Yee Haw", was "The Fight" between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton.

After getting taken out by Burton under caution, Gordon got out of his No. 24 Chevrolet and stomped down the track to meet Burton head on.  

Cue the Old West shootout music.

Channeling his inner cowboy, Gordon didn't bother to stand upon ceremony or march off 10 paces. Instead, he made a little leap in the air and shoved Burton with both hands. He then tried to grab Burton by the head and throw a few punches before NASCAR officials separated the two.

The moment was spontaneous, authentic and dramatic - just what fans have been craving and NASCAR has been needing.

All I can say is, the NFL has got nothin' on this.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Keselowski and Edwards Share the Spotlight Once Again

Carl Edwards celebrates his win at Texas Motor Speedway while Brad Keselowski
and team owner Roger Penske celebrate their first NASCAR championship.

Today wasn't the first time that Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards put on a show.

It's just that this time, the show ended with two shiny trophies instead of two mangled race cars.

After a season that largely consisted of bad blood between the two drivers, it's ironically apropos that Keselowski and Edwards shared the spotlight at the end of the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge.

Finishing the race in third, Keselowski claimed his first NASCAR championship - the 2010 Nationwide Series title - which also marks the first championship for team owner Roger Penske.

"It’s pretty awesome,” Keselowski said. “He (Penske) is the captain. I’m not sure how many wins that he has, I can’t think of anybody that has more.  This one was awesome and it’s incredible that we were able to get him a championship.”

Meanwhile, a few meters away, Edwards celebrated his race win in Victory Lane - after climbing into the grandstand to whoop it up with race fans.

"I really enjoyed it," Edwards said. "I almost didn't get back to the race car but that would have been okay too. That was a good group of people up there."

While walking back to his car, Edwards stopped to congratulate Keselowski.  But  I'm not so sure that this shared positive experience means the two drivers will forgive past wrongs.

In fact, part of me hopes not ...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Edwards Auctions Bike to Build Orphanage

Sometimes a driver does something that makes you uncommonly proud to be a NASCAR fan.

And what Carl Edwards is doing right now, is one of those things.

Edwards is hosting a charity auction and sweepstakes with Copart (his Nationwide Series sponsor).

And all the proceeds will go toward building an orphanage in Monterrey, Mexico.

In June, Edwards won the Nationwide Series race at Road America.  And that day, he won an XR 1200 Harley Davidson Sportster.  And now Edwards is auctioning off that Harley, along with other race memorabilia, to raise money for Back2Back Ministries, the mission group that is building the orphanage.

The auction will be held on Monday, Nov. 15 and the sweepstakes will run from now until Nov. 15. In addition to Edwards' winning Harley Davidson Sportster, he'll be auctioning off  a crew shirt, car hood and a race-worn firesuit. Fans will be able to register to bid for free and read about all the details on Copart’s Facebook fan page .

Once fans register, they are automatically entered into the sweepstakes - 500 No.60 diecast cars will be randomly awarded to registered fans.

Check out the auction items below and also Edwards' video about the project above.

Bid on to win Edwards' Harley Davidson Sportster.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Points Racing Is for the Birds

Thank goodness for Kevin Harvick - one of the few Chasers
who didn't points race at Talladega.

I don't claim to have all the answers.  Heck, I don't even understand all the rules.

But as I sat in the grandstand at Talladega Sunday, I had an epiphany.

Points racing is for the birds.

Don't get me wrong.  Talladega was truly fantastic.  On the whole, it was exciting, dramatic and, in the end, somewhat confusing. 

However, if you're a fan of Jimmie Johnson or say Jeff Gordon, the last thing you want to do is spend money on a race ticket simply to watch your driver hang in the back. 

I know, I know, Talladega is a monster. A driver can go from worst to first in just a few laps.  Or first to wrecked in a split second.  So it makes rational sense that championship contenders would try avoid the fray.

And even with a non-aggressive points racing strategy, drivers run the risk of getting caught up in someone else's mistake or perhaps losing the draft completely (ahem ... Denny Hamlin).

But just think how much more exciting the last 12 races would be if every Chase driver had to run for the win to move up in the points?

Imagine what would happen if (as Hamlin suggested a couple weeks ago) drivers were awarded a point per each lap led.  Such a change would kick points racing to the curb and add a heap more drama.

And that would sure make the fans happier.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Truex Jr. to Be Powered by Pink at Texas

The names of more than 2,400 breast cancer victims, survivors and supporters will ride along with Martin Truex, Jr. during the AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The driver's No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota will feature a special paint scheme which coincides with a big donation by NAPA - $250,000 to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure.

Fans helped raise $51,000 of the $250,000 donation by making a minimum contribution of $5.60 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for their loved ones' names to appear on the car. The names are featured in pink on the paint scheme, while names submitted with a donation of $560 or more are in white.

NAPA also raised funds via the sale of NAPA All Out for the Cure™ limited edition hats during the month of October.

The AAA 500 takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday and will be televised by ESPN.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Non-Chaser of Note: Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya high fives fans after being introduced
at Talladega Superspeedway
In the days leading up to race weekend, if you asked folks which non-Chaser had the best shot to win Talladega, they'd likely say Jamie McMurray.

McMurray was the obvious choice.  The Earnhardt-Ganassi driver is having the season of his life, winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, the Bank of America 500 and also the fall Dega race last year.

His teammate Juan Pablo Montoya wasn't even on the radar.

But Montoya surprised the crowd Saturday by clocking the fastest qualifying time, putting him on the Talladega pole. And, during the race, he avoided the on-track drama to end the day in third spot.

McMurray, on the other hand, finished thirty-sixth.

Although Montoya hasn't won as many races as his EGR teammate, he is having a pretty good year.

So far, JPM can boast a win at Watkins Glen, three poles, six top fives and 14 top 10 finishes.

And if team owner Chip Ganassi stays with Chevy and those Childress-built engines, Montoya will be a huge threat in 2011.

You can bank on it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Cure for the After-Dega Blues

The day after Talladega is kinda like the day after Christmas. There's so much buildup to the big event - it's a slow letdown when the party is finally over.

On the day after Dega, you wake up still on an adrenaline high from the sights, the sounds and the excitement. You  keep turning on your camera just to scroll through your race photos again and again.  You relive and retell the weekend's highlights with your buddies or any poor soul who will listen.

Then you gradually come back to reality as you pack for the journey home, return to work, or stand in an interminable airport security line.

Alas, it's too bad every day can't be Dega.

Personally, I can't quite come to terms with the real world just yet.  So I'm sharing some of my favorite photos from this weekend in the hopes they'll help alleviate those after-Dega blues ...

Jeff Burton and the No. 31 crew
await their turn to qualify.

Kevin Harvick laughing it up on pit road.

Jimmie Johnson chats with the boys from ESPN.
I'm still not used to seeing Kasey Kahne in
a Red Bull Racing uniform.
The "Lucky Dog" gets a place of honor
on David Reutimann's No. 00
Best off-track activity at Dega?
Playing "Costume or Not a Costume" -
sometimes it's hard to tell ...
American Idol alumnus Josh Gracin sang a
fantastic National Anthem.
There's always a camera crew following
Kyle Busch and fiancee Samantha Sarcinella
The fans are loving Tony Stewart - this was taken right after
he gave his Coca-Cola to a little girl who was decked out in No. 14 gear.
If fan adoration equaled good luck at Dega, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would
have led every lap and won by a mile.

Scott Speed and company head down pit
road before qualifying.

The answer is "subtle".  The question is
"What is one thing Talladega fans are not?"

SB Nation reporter Jeff Gluck interviews
Clint Bowyer before qualifying.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Personal Thank You to Dale Jr.

My cousin Michael may be Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s biggest fan.

His bedroom is decked out with No. 88 posters, calendars, diecast and even bath towels.

He drinks AMP before every Sprint Cup broadcast.

And every time Talladega rolls around, Michael hopes with all his heart that he'll be able to see Dale Jr. and get his autograph.

The past three Dega races that hasn't happened. We've waited and waited by the No. 88 transporter in the hot sun. We've interrogated Lance McGrew in the garage area. We even tried to sneak back stage during driver introductions.

But today was different.

Today, Michael finally got his wish.

Thanks to a NASCAR official with a little compassion, Mike Davis (Junior's PR rep) who let us take up Junior's time before qualifying, and Dale
himself, Michael got a few seconds of time with "his driver".

And Michael couldn't be happier. He has been looking at the car Junior autographed for him all day. And those of us who love Michael have been smiling all day.

So thank you Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

I'm sure signing autographs isn't a big deal to you - but to a fan like Michael, it's simply the world.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Stewart Helps Out With Daytona Repave

Stewart holds up a core sample of  Daytona International
Speedway's original start/finish line asphalt.
Before heading to Talladega, Tony Stewart stopped by Daytona International Speedway today to help out with the track's repave project.

The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet toured the track and joined DIS President Joie Chitwood III in painting the start/finish line.

Smoke also took a Camaro for a spin around turns three and four and into the tri-oval, in what may be the first "test" of the new racing surface.

“I got to rip through three and four and it’s not the same race track,” Stewart said.

“This place is going to have a totally new look and a totally new feel to the drivers and teams. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I can promise you that we are going to fill every square inch of this race track with cars now because we’re going to have that flexibility because this surface is going to be in such great shape when they get done with this last layer.”

The repave project is scheduled to be complete by Jan. 1, 2011.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Non-Chaser of Note: Brad Keselowski

Mark Martin had the best finish of all the non-chasers. And Dale Earnhardt Jr. put on a good show.

But Brad Keselowski wins this week's "Non-Chaser of Note" for leaving Martinsville with his best Cup finish in a Penske car - tenth.

Keselowski has the 2010 Nationwide Series all but sewn up and will likely end his upcoming run at Texas Motor Speedway as the de facto champ.

But on the Cup side, Special K has had his struggles.

In the March Atlanta race, he went flying into the fence courtesy of the No. 99.  Keselowski also crashed out at Talladega, Sonoma and Daytona.

But the good news for the No. 12 team?  As long as Keselowski isn't on the receiving end of "the big one," he can win big at Dega.

Just ask Carl Edwards.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Some NASCAR Sponsors Win Big With "Undercover Boss"

The NASCAR episode of  "Undercover Boss" which aired Sunday on CBS, wasn't just good PR for the sport.

It was also valuable air time for its sponsors.

According to research conducted by Joyce Julius & Associates, Inc., a Michigan-based firm which specializes in measuring sponsorships across all forms of media, 84 brands were monitored during the CBS reality show, accumulating a combined 29 minutes, 57 seconds of clear in-focus exposure time and an overall exposure value of $2.7 million.

Coca-Cola fared the best, due in large part to a segment in the show that depicted NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps operating a concession stand at Daytona International Speedway. Clad in a NASCAR hat and Coca-Cola apron, Phelps’ struggles to deep fry chicken strips and lure customers to the refreshment stand helped the soda brand achieve its primetime success without a race car or driver in sight.

The result?  Some entertaining television, and also more than $400 thousand worth of exposure time for Coca-Cola.

Below are the top 10 brands tracked during "Undercover Boss" - and how much their TV exposure was worth.

Coca-Cola  $437,390
Aaron's  $371,900
Sprint  $171,945
Goodyear $122,485
NAPA $112,600
Gatorade $103,630
Toyota  $97,815
Chevrolet $74,385
Tums $68,780
Eagle (Goodyear) $65,215

Monday, October 25, 2010

Shooting the Breeze With Edwards

Carl Edwards signs autographs
before the Bud Shootout in February.
Editor's Note: Most NASCAR drivers are great with fans.  They sign thousands of autographs and do umpteen special appearances during a season.  But Carl Edwards takes the term "fan friendly" to a whole new level. Below, one of my Twitter buddies, Nicole Brown (@bama_diva99) shares how Edwards took time out of his busy Martinsville weekend to chat a little with her.

By Nicole Brown
Special to NASCAR-ista

Sitting at seventh in the Sprint Cup standings, you would think that a driver's main focus would be on winning races and trying to capture his first championship.  Not Carl Edwards. I have always heard that Carl is amazing to fans, but never had the opportunity to experience it for myself until last Friday afternoon.

When I received a text from my friend Jenny, who was attending the Martinsville race, I didn't think anything of it until she asked if I could receive personal calls at work. So when my phone rang, I never expected to hear Carl's voice in the background.  And the next thing I heard was Jenny's voice saying "Would you say 'Hi' to my friend Nicole?"

At this point, I am silently freaking out at my desk (I am still at work and my boss is right down the hall) as Carl takes the phone and says hello to me by name.  He could have handed Jenny back her phone, but he didn't.  He actually walked away with Jenny's phone and continued to talk to me asking me where I worked and what I did there and event telling me what he went to school for before focusing on a racing career.

Carl Edwards is one-of-a-kind. His passion and dedication for racing makes him my favorite driver, but his generosity to fans makes him a great man in my book.  If he ever gets to read this, I want to thank him for making my day and quite honestly my year by just taking a few minutes of his time to shoot the breeze with me.

Positive Weekend All Around for Dale Jr.

From left to right: Austin Petty, Executive Vice President of Victory Junction; Pattie Petty; Kyle Petty;
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.; Kelley Earnhardt; Richard Petty; John McKee, President of Victory Junction

A top 10 finish at Martinsville wasn't the only good thing that happened for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this weekend.

Saturday afternoon, the driver visited Victory Junction in Randleman, NC for the grand opening of Dale Jr.'s Corral and Amphitheatre - all donated to the camp by Earnhardt.

While the venue features playful and colorful buildings, the amphitheatre's design is fashioned after the mock western town located on Dale Jr.'s property in Mooresville, N.C.  This new addition to Victory Junction will be used as an interactive activity center for campers, and a venue for local concerts and camp fundraisers.

Founded by Kyle and Pattie Petty, Victory Junction is a camp for children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses.

Photo by Karen Elliott/Gene Ho Photography

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hamlin Names It and Claims It at Martinsville

Denny Hamlin celebrates his
victory at Martinsville.
Earlier in the week, Denny Hamlin said he'd be the guy to beat at Martinsville and that points leader Jimmie Johnson had better be worried.

He was right on both counts.

With Hamlin's prophetic win today at Martinsville (his third straight at the track) he chopped Johnson's points lead to six - a virtual tie.

The No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota didn't dominate the paper clip.  In fact, at the beginning, it looked like Hamlin had been shot backwards out of a cannon.

But the driver's surprising patience throughout the 500 laps coupled with a crack pit stop by the No. 11 crew, put him in good stead to bring home the "W".

"We did not have a race-winning car until the very end," Hamlin said. "My pit crew got me from sixth to third before the last restart and that was the key."

Hamlin's victory means the upcoming contest at Talladega could be a more strategic barn burner than usual.

With just a smattering of points separating Johnson and Hamlin - and third place Kevin Harvick trailing by a mere 62 - the boys will be forced  to race each other for position.

And that, my friend, will a wild race make.

Wonder if Hamlin cares to make another prediction?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Stewart Visits Wounded Warriors

Tony Stewart is one busy guy.

But Thursday before heading to Martinsville for race weekend, the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet took time out to visit with US Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Below are a couple photos of Smoke's visit -

Stewart greets a wounded service member at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune on Thursday. During his visit to Camp Lejeune, Stewart spent time at the Wounded Warrior Barracks and held a private autograph session for service members at the Camp’s on-site Office Depot ServMart.

Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Victor Barrera, USMC