Monday, May 31, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again for Kurt and Kyle Busch

For the second race in a row, Kurt Busch held off all comers to snag the checkered flag.

And, for the second race in a row, his Victory Lane celebration was upstaged by little brother Kyle.

While Busch the senior doused his jubilant crew with Miller Lite, Busch the younger received a dressing down by an irate Jeff Burton. Burton was hot under the firesuit after a move by Busch on the final restart cut one of Burton's tires.

The moment made for darn good TV. And FOX cut away from the winning team's celebration to show \an image of Kyle Busch standing by his car on pit road while Burton gave Kyle a colorfully worded earful -and a few finger jabs to boot. For a minute, when Busch responded to Burton's comments with a laugh, it looked like Burton might just take a swing at the object of his wrath.

But lately, such TV moments have been all in a day's work for Kyle B.

Last week it was Denny Hamlin and the come-to-Jesus meeting with Joe Gibbs in the hauler. This week brought a public scolding by one of the sport's senior statesman.

What's next - mud wrestling with Miss Sprint Cup?

Regardless, I bet Kurt sometimes wishes he was an only child. Because nobody likes to be upstaged.

Especially by a sibling.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Love Him Or Hate Him, You Can't Count Out KB

Around lap 55 of today's Nationwide race, Kyle Busch was running in 32nd place. He was two laps down. He had incurred a pit road penalty. And at the time, it appeared Busch didn't have a popsicle's chance in hell to win the TECH-NET Auto Service 300.

But that's the thing about a guy like Busch.  Give him even a popsicle's chance and he'll bring her home for a win.

As the race progressed, Busch stealthily picked his way through the field.  He kept his nose clean. He avoided trouble. His was a good car, and he knew how to use it.

Then Busch's pit crew threw down a stellar stop, giving their driver the top spot.  And Rowdy took full advantage.  He stayed out during the final stop. And after two agonizing restarts during the last few laps, Busch (with a litle help from teammate Joey Logano) staved off the No. 22 of Brad Keselowski for the win -  thereby tying Mark Martin's record for the most wins on 1.5 mile tracks.

Busch won't be driving when the Nationwide Series returns to Nashville next week.  And it's not because of the Guitar Hero Fiasco of 2009.  This year, Busch has a potential Cup championship on the line, and he can't afford to let competition in the NASCAR's other series get him off his game.

However, with this weekend's momentum swinging in Busch's favor, Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 will be something to see.  If Busch is running even halfway decent, expect him to put up a fight for the checkers - no matter who's in his way.

Consider also that Busch is starting Sunday's race in ninth spot - just behind his teammate and current "frenemy" Denny Hamlin

And, as we all know, you can always count on Busch to make things interesting.  Hamlin beware.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Stewart to Support Operation Homefront for Memorial Day

In recognition of Memorial Day, Office Depot® and Lexmark International, Inc. announced a new program in conjunction with Operation Homefront that will provide military families with much-needed technology to help them stay in touch with their loved ones serving in the armed forces.

The program runs from May 30 through June 5. During that time, Office Depot and Lexmark will donate a new Lexmark printer to Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization dedicated to the needs of military families nationwide, each time a customer purchases a Lexmark printer in an Office Depot store (regularly priced at $199.99 and above) or online at Office Depot and Lexmark hope to donate more than 4,000 printers.

To support the the cause, Tony Stewart will sport this special rear TV panel with the Office Depot, Lexmark and Operation Homefront logos, with the message, “Buy A Printer, Support Military Families.” Stewart will run the car at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wallace Talks Math, Broadcasting and More

Daytona International Speedway hosted more than 100 local middle school students last Friday. And some of them might just grow up to be future faces in the NASCAR garage.

The kids were on hand to participate in the "Bank of America Students at the Speedway" program which was part of the NASCAR Day celebration. And none other than NASCAR champ and ESPN broadcaster Rusty Wallace was on hand to lead the students in a racing-themed math game and talk to them about the importance of certain subjects.

"My message to these kids was to let them know that science, technology, engineering and math is very very important to NASCAR," Wallace said. "If you don’t understand math in the new NASCAR, you’re probably not going to be successful."

The sport's current focus on mathematics and engineering is a stark contrast to the way things were when Wallace was wheeling a car in the 1980s and 90s.

"Nowadays, you know the simulations that we do, all the calculations, everything is about numbers and when I was driving, it was more seat of the pants," Wallace explained. "I would drive the car, I would tell them what it’s doing and how to fix it."

Simple as that.

But all things change with time. And NASCAR is no different.  In fact, the cars themselves are in a constant state of evolution.  And Wallace took some time to discuss the latest thing to hit the NASCAR garage - the Nationwide COT. He also answered a few of our questions about topics ranging from his broadcast duties on ESPN to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and his championship picks for 2010:

What do you think the NASCAR Hall of Fame means and will mean to the sport

"This Hall of Fame is monumental. It’s gorgeous. It’s huge. It’s something that really matches how big and beautiful our sport is. And it covers every aspect of the sport from the beginning of NASCAR to where it is currently. When you walk in the brand new Hall of Fame you see everything about the whole entire sport in front of you. In fact, people tell me it’s one of the most beauitful buildings they’ve ever seen in their life that the Hall of Fame is in. It’s first class."

Is it tough to balance your broadcast duties with owning a NASCAR team? And how do you stay "fair and balanced" in the booth when reporting on your own race team and your son Steven's performance on the track?

"It’s really easy to stay fair and balanced. I know going in that my main duty is to talk about what’s going on at the race track and to call what I see. If something’s going wrong, I gotta talk about what I see. If Steven (his son and Nationwide driver Steven Wallace) or any of my team guys is up there really running great, hey they get mentioned. But generally I’m not the one up there tooting my own kid’s horn saying, 'Hey look at my son,' or 'Look at my other car.' That’s usually Andy Petree or else Marty Reid or else Alan Bestwick or else Brad Daugherty - all the people that I work with. Now I chime in, and I talk, but I understand how I have to be balanced. I gotta be, I have to call what I see. I don’t have to hide anything and I don’t hide anything, but I also have to be conscious that people are waiting to see if I patronize any of my guys in a special way. And everybody I’ve talked to says, 'No, you do a good job, you’re fair, you’re balanced.' The day somebody says I’m not, then I’ll listen to ‘em and if I gotta re-adjust I will. But right now I haven’t had any complaints about that. And it is tough sometimes watching your own son out there drive and if he does really good you’re wanting the guys to say something good and if he does something wrong you gotta say 'Well, he made a mistake,' and you gotta call him out and that’s just the way it is. But I feel comfortable about that."

What do you think of the new Nationwide COT? Any predictions on how the new car will handle at Daytona in July?

"We did a test in Daytona last week, the very first offical test for the new Nationwide car. All in all, they ran pretty fast around the race track. The drivers will all tell you they were all slippin’ and slidin’ They were looser than they thought they would be, but by the time the second day started, they got the cars handling a lot better. The first day was tough. It was a two-day test. The second day everything got much, much better and I think now that the test sessions are over, they’re gonna go back and be much better prepared for the July race in Daytona and I think the car will handle better. I don’t think it will handle as good as the old car, but I don’t think it’s meant to. It’s gonna slip and slide a little bit, but I think it’s gonna make for a good race. One of the things we really did notice though, they really fly up in the draft. If you get behind another car, your car will just accelerate up to the back of that other car much quicker than the old car because these cars are much bigger. They make a bigger hole through the air. They call it making the air dirtier. It moves the air all over the place and it makes the cars draft better."

Who's your pick to win the Cup championship this year? Any sleepers fans should have their eyes on?

"I really think that one of the guys that’s got a great shot to win his very first championship ever, and is probably gonna be my pick to win it, has gotta be Denny Hamlin. The guy's been real strong. He’s won races this year. He's probably as strong if not stronger than most. But believe it or not, if I’ve got to pick a sleeper, I’m gonna pick two guys. It’s gonna be either Kurt Busch - he’s been fast in that Miller Lite car. He won the all-star race in Charlotte just this past weekend and he looked really good. And also Jeff Gordon. He’s been knocking out the top fives. He looks good. Lot of people are saying 'What about Jimmie Johnson?' " Well Johnson’s just been slow getting going, so we gotta kinda watch more from him. When these cars took the rear wing off the back and put the rear spoiler on, it seemed like Jimmie’s been struggling with that a little bit so we'll see what’s gonna happen there."

Photo info: Rusty Wallace interacts with middle school students during the "Bank of America Students at the Speedway Program" last Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hootie in the House at Daytona

I know his name is Darius Rucker, but he'll always be Hootie to me.

And Hootie seems to have the inside track when it comes to NASCAR. Fresh off what attendees say was a burn-the-house-down performance at the Jimmie Jam event in Charlotte this weekend, Daytona International Speedway announced today that Rucker will perform the National Anthem and a pre-race concert before the 52nd annual Coke Zero 400 on July 3.

Fans who purchase the Sprint FANZONE/Pre-Race Pit Pass along with a race ticket for the Coke Zero 400 will be able to view the 60-minute Rucker concert and also driver introductions from the grass tri-oval.

It will be Rucker’s third appearance at Daytona. He performed at the “World Center of Racing” as the leader/singer of the Grammy-winning group “Hootie and the Blowfish” at the Dale Earnhardt Tribute Concert and returned for a solo appearance at the 2002 mid-summer classic.

Rucker kicked off his solo career in country music in 2008 with the platinum selling album “Learn To Love,” which produced No. 1 hit singles “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” “It Won’t Be Like This For Long,” “Alright” and the Top 5 “History In The Making.” A native of Charleston, S.C., Rucker garnered the Country Music Association’s Best New Artist Award in 2009.

A special ticket package has been designed around Rucker and includes a Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola race ticket, a Sprint FANZONE/Pre-Race Pit Pass and VIP area access to Rucker’s performance. This package starts at $110.

For tickets to the Coke Zero 400 Weekend Powered By Coca-Cola, visit or call 1-800-PITSHOP.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Busch Steals Big Bro's All-Star Thunder

Even though Kurt Busch held off the field for an impressive All-Star win Saturday night, he was once again upstaged by his little brother's red hot temper.

While some members of the press made an appearance in Victory Lane to interview the champ, there was also a large media contingent surrounding the No. 11 hauler.

Why, you ask?

The journos were assembled to see a potential smackdown between the irate Kyle Busch and his teammate Denny Hamlin.

When the ruckus began, Hamlin and Busch were first and second on the leaderboard Saturday night, when Busch got a run on the No. 11 and tried to pass .  Hamlin had other plans and blocked his teammate, causing Busch to slap the wall.  And this caused Busch to want to slap Hamlin.

Busch wrecked out a few laps later when his damaged car lost control and hit Kasey Kahne.  Per Busch's radio comments, "Somebody better keep me away from Denny. I'm gonna kill that $#@!."

Busch then proceeded to park his banged-up Toyota right outside Hamlin's hauler.  And wait. 

Once Hamlin arrived at the truck it was at least 20 minutes before the pair emerged from their conversation with team owner Joe Gibbs.  And although Hamiln left the meeting with a smile and positive things to say about his fuming teammate, I admit I disappointed.  I was hoping for something a bit more colorful.  After all, Hamlin's guys bested the No. 18 team at the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge, and then bested him again during the race.

In fact, the words of the great competitor Ricky Bobby come to mind, "you can't have two number ones, cause that would be 11."

However, the Busch/Hamlin kerfuffle was only one of the many story lines which emerged during last night's All-Star race.  In case you missed it, here's a recap:

Fans Doubt the Edwards Vote - Carl Edwards couldn't drive his way into the All-Star race, but he won the right to run after being voted in by fans.  However, conspiracy theorists abound online and accusations were flying via Twitter that the vote could have been rigged. Folks were even demanding a recount. If you believe the hype, there's almost as much mystery surrounding the Edwards fan vote as there is around "The Case of the Loose Lugnuts".

Truex Knows How - Could Martin Truex, Jr. be the sleeper of the season? Truex snagged a win in the showdown segment, which secured his spot in the All-Star main event.  Then he pulled off a second place finish in the big race.  That NAPA/Michael Waltrip Racing team is looking better and better.

A Prayer to Remember - Five-year-old Taylor Gibbs gave the invocation Saturday night and by the time he said  "Amen" I doubt there was a dry eye or a frown left in the house.  Taylor, who is the grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, is now cancer-free after a three-year battle with leukemia.  His was the sweetest, most touching pre-race prayer ever.

Quite Possibly the Understatement of the Season - "We got somebody mad," Hamlin's crew chief Mike Ford explaining to his driver why he should stay away from his own hauler after the race.

Not an All-Star Night for HMS - The powerhouse that is Hendrick Motorsports didn't have the best of nights.  Heck, they didn't even have a mediocre one. Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon were entangled in the first on-track pileup, ending their evenings early. Then Jimmie Johnson made an uncharacteristic slip and slid through the infield turf, losing his chance at the checkers.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought home the best finish for HMS in 12th spot - and even that wasn't pretty.

Photo info: Kyle Busch and teammate Denny Hamlin battle it out on the track.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tony Stewart Wants Your Autograph

When Tony Stewart takes the track at the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona, his car will be covered with the signatures of his fans.

Yours could be one of them.

The "BK Sign and Drive" promotion kicked off today. And it takes the fan car concept to a whole new level. Instead of merely getting your name on a race car (which is cool enough), this promotion gets your actual signature incorporated into the paint scheme. Just check out or click the image below.

Another fun part of this promotion is that once you sign your name, you can zoom in on the BURGER KING® logo to see how your signatures will look on the car. You can also share a BK® Sign & Race image with your friends via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail.

And just one more thing, after the race in Daytona, fans will have the chance to take home a piece of history. Beginning June 28 through July 7, an authentic No. 14 BURGER KING® car hood, complete with the fan-endorsed BURGER KING® logo, will be available via an online auction through All proceeds of the auction will support Burger King Corp.’s HAVE IT YOUR WAY® Foundation, the charitable arm of the BURGER KING® brand, which is committed to providing philanthropic support in communities around the globe.

So log on and sign away!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Nationwide Cars Look Good, But How Do They Handle?

Two days of testing at Daytona International Speedway came to an end today.  A slew of Nationwide drivers were trying out the series' new "car of tomorrow" which makes its racing debut in the Subway Jalapeno 250 on July 2.

The verdict is in - the new Mustangs and Challengers look sweet. But they (Camry and Impala included) drive kinda crazy.

Per Carl Edwards, "If we can get the cars tuned a little better, if we can spend the rest of today getting the balance better and then maybe that test day or that practice day on Wednesday before we come and work on the cars a little more, hopefully they'll be a little bit more predictable."

“But right now it's wild. Brendan Gaughan and I were talking, it's like the 2003 Truck race when it was my first one, and they're just a handful. So it's going to be pretty exciting," Edwards said.

Diamond Waltrip Racing's Trevor Bayne had the same take, "I heard all the drivers in the garage, even Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, saying things are loose, so I'm like, ‘All right, they must be pretty loose’ and I got out there and saw for myself, and they are sideways."

Fastest in the Wednesday afternoon drafting session was Reed Sorenson in the No. 32 Toyota at a speed of 187.817 mph. Rounding out the top five were Kevin Harvick (186.928), Mike Wallace (186.170), Bayne (186.035) and Kyle Busch (186.027).

Photo info: Paul Menard and Justin Allgaier test the new Nationwide Car of Tomorrow at Daytona International Speedway, couresty of Daytona International Speedway.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dale Jr. Could Take a Lesson From Playbook of Stewart and Kahne

After witnessing what some have dubbed Black Sunday, fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. are understandably discouraged.

For the No. 88 team, the entire weekend was a bust. A big ugly bust.

It only takes a few minutes of reading post-Dover comments to realize that Junior Nation is also angry.  Some are calling for the head of crew chief Lance McGrew on a platter.  Others are casting aspersions upon team owner Rick Hendrick.  A superstitious few are even claiming that if Junior had kept his beard, he wouldn't have suffered such a disappointing setback.

Well, in the words of The Office's, Michael Scott, "I'm not superstitious, I'm just a little stitious."  And I doubt Junior's beard had anything to do with it.

Yes, Dover was dismal.  Yes, Junior hasn't won a race since 2008. But on the flip side, it only takes one good night to build season-changing momentum.

Look at Tony Stewart.

Last year about this time, Stewart hadn't won yet.  In fact, his year started with crashing his new teammate during Daytona 500 practice. But Smoke's emotional victory at the All-Star race became the key to propelling his fledgling team to four more wins - all for points.

And then there's Kasey Kahne.  In 2007, Kahne was winless.  His 2008 season didn't start out so hot either.  But winning the 2008 All-Star contest flipped a switch.  He smoked the very next race at Charlotte. Then he won again at Pocono.

In fact, four of the last five All-Star champs have proceeded to win at least one more race in the same season.

And, this may be woefully oversimpified, but that's all Junior's fans are asking for. A win. Points would be great, but seeing the No. 88 car in Victory Lane Saturday night would do much to soothe the restless Nation.

Not to mention, the timing couldn't be better. Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of Junior's memorable rookie season All-Star win in 2000.  It's also the eve of Dale Earnhardt's induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

If you're Dale Jr. there would be no better way to pump up your fan base than by taking the checkers this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. And if history is any indication, a win there could mean the start of a beautiful season.

How's that for positive thinking?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pit Crews Get Ready to Rumble

The entry list for the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge was announced today.

Although the actual event takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, SPEED's broadcast will air at 9 p.m.

After Sunday's pit road battle for the ages at Dover, I predict the No. 18 team and the No. 48 crew will go head-to head.  Watch out - that Lowe's team might feel like they have something to prove.

Eligible teams include all teams currently qualified for the 2010 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge presented by Craftsman winning team. The remaining unfilled positions became available to the car owners ranked highest in the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner point standings as of May 19 who were not otherwise eligible for the event.
Here's the official entry list:

No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine/Alabama National Championship Toyota
No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet
No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge
No. 5 Chevrolet
No. 9 Budweiser Ford
No. 11 FedEx Toyota
No. 12 Penske Dodge
No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet
No. 16 3M Ford
No. 17 Crown Royal Ford
No. 18 M&M’s Toyota
No. 20 Home Depot Toyota
No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet
No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet
No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet
No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet
No. 39 US Army Chevrolet
No. 42 Target Chevrolet
No. 48 Kobalt Chevrolet
No. 56 NAPA Toyota
No. 71 Chevrolet
No. 83 Red Bull Toyota
No. 88 National Guard/AMP Chevrolet
No. 99 AFLAC Ford

Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online or by calling Time Warner Cable Arena box office at (800) 495-2295.

Photo info: The No. 99 Aflac team compete in last year's Pit Crew Challenge - courtesy of NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Johnson Can't Call It a Comeback ... Yet

For a while on Sunday afternoon, Dover Downs looked like it might be the scene of Jimmie Johnson's return to dominance.

Not that Johnson has been absent from Victory Lane for all that long. However three DNFs in a season is highly uncharacteristic for the No. 48 team. 

After battling Kyle Busch for the lead both on and off pit road, Johnson made a crucial and atypical mistake on his last pit stop.  He sped on pit road, which cost him a pass-through penalty with less than 40 laps to go.  More importantly, it killed his chance for crucial track position.

Johnson brought the Lowe's Chevy home in 16th spot - robbing fans of the chance to see a fender-banging battle-to-the-finish between him and Rowdy Busch.  More's the pity.

So what's wrong with Mr. Perfect? Is all the "Johnson's lost-it talk" getting JJ off his game?  Did the boos of fans when he hit the Darlington wall mess with his psyche?  Or did that darn #hexthe48 hashtag, which surfaced on Twitter during the broadcast, work its voodoo after all?

Hard to say.  But from where I sit, Johnson's return to Dover marked an upswing in his recent performance. He had the car to beat hands-down.  It was simple user error which cost him the race.

Let's face it - even four-time champions aren't flawless.  What makes this string of races so shocking is that we rarely see Johnson's imperfections on display so often.

Yet mark my words - Johnson will win soon. And he will contend for the championship this year.  It just may be more difficult (and more fun to watch) than it's ever been.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Congrats to Our NASCAR Day Pin Winners!

In case you haven't heard, NASCAR Day is May 21st. And the folks at Lowes Foods were kind enough to give me a few pins to give away just in time for the big day.

Congrats to my Twitter followers @lydiafin, @jester8170, @SummerDreyer, @David_Terri, and @Smoke_fan_14 - you'll each receive your NASCAR Day Pin soon.

Here's a little bit more about NASCAR Day.  Pins can be purchased online or at participating retailers. The $5 cost per pin benefits The NASCAR Foundation - an organization which has done a whole lot of good over the years.

The foundation has provided hundreds of kids with the experiences of a lifetime at Victory Junction camp, delivered critical medical care to more than 19,000 pediatric patients annually at Speediatrics, built safe play spaces for children in race track communities across the country and more.

This year, Lowes Foods has partnered with The NASCAR Foundation to be an official supplier of the Collectible Pins. As a special bonus, if you use your Lowes Foods Fresh Rewards card when making your $5 donation for the pin, you'll automatically be entered to win a trip for two to the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion's Week in Las Vegas. Several runners up may also win a Richard Petty Driving Experience gift card.

So go get your NASCAR Day pin - it's all for a great cause!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NASCAR Hall of Fame - Its Timing Is Perfect

Maybe it's a byproduct of aging.  It likely is.  But I'm discovering that the older I become, the more I'm interested in the past of things.  In fact, being surrounded by the nostalgic, even the historic, gives me a certain level of comfort.  I'm a little obsessed with family history and genealogy.  I have 1970s outlaw country on my iPod. I've recently discovered "heirloom" gardening.

And from what I've read, I'm not alone.  Trendwatchers are reporting that the current instability in American culture and economics has led many folks my age - and even younger - to return to the comforts of the past.  That's why traditional patterns and textiles are seeing a resurgence in the marketplace.  Quilting is cool.  So is heritage cooking and roots music.

Car makers have likewise divined this widespread yearning for bygone days - Ford's Mustang actually looks like a Mustang for the first time in years.  And the Chevrolet Camaro has an updated look that's pointedly familiar.

And all of this confirms my belief that today's opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame couldn't have come at a more perfect time.

Fans need this.  NASCAR needs this.

So many of NASCAR's living legends are rapidly aging before our eyes.  The Richard Pettys.  The Junior Johnsons. The David Pearsons.  Even Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond don't look as youthful as they did just a few short years ago.

It's so important that NASCAR honor the people who made the sport great while some of them are still here to honor. And giving fans a place to see the sport's history in person, will do more to educate young fans about its simple beginnings than any book, movie or magazine article ever could.

I remember how I felt when I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville a few years ago.  There in a glass case was Buck Owens' red, white and blue guitar.  The one he strummed every weekend on Hee Haw.  A relic of my childhood Saturday nights.

Here was Elvis' "Solid Gold" Cadillac.  And a very hazy memory surfaced of the day Elvis died. I'm sitting in the back of my parents' 1977 Pontiac Catalina. A newscaster drones on the radio.

I expect the day I vist the NASCAR Hall of Fame will conjure similar imagery.

While children my nephew's age will thrill to the sight of Jimmie Johnson's four championship trophies, I'll be searching out those artifacts from further back.  The checkered flag from the 1998 Daytona 500. The infamous Hudson Hornet.  Junior Johnson's re-assembled whiskey still.

And then I'll remember my Uncle J's ribald tales about the Daytona infield circa 1979.  My Uncle E's stories of running stock cars in South Florida in the 1960s.  My own remembrances of the 2000 All-Star race in Charlotte - the first NASCAR event I ever attended.

And I won't be alone.  No matter what their age, ethnicity or driver affiliation, the fans who visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame share a common history.  It's an all-American tale whose every chapter isn't perfect.  Whose heroes hail from farms, back roads and garages.  Whose fans have memories who are all different, but somehow the same.

After all, it's our story.  It's our sport.  It's our NASCAR.

So welcome to the world, NASCAR Hall of Fame.  We're mighty glad to see you.

Photo info: Tour of Glory Road at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Signs You're Too Obsessed With NASCAR

Last week as I was driving to work, I crested a small suburban overpass only to discover debris on the highway. Large pieces of wallboard, recently fallen from a nearby truck, hit the hood of my car and then created a vortex of suction which forced me to pull over and rid my car of the offending material.

First, let me state for the record that I drive a standard foreign import. I do not drive, and have never driven, a stock car.

Second, my mechanical abilities end with checking the oil and changing a tire. Yet regardless of this reality, the first thought that entered my mind when hitting the said wallboard was, "I hope that didn't just damage the splitter".


It took me a moment to fully understand what had just happened within the synapses of my brain. 

Namely this: no longer do I exist in the mundane world of the non-NASCAR fanatic.  A world where cars are just tools for commuting. Where points mean extra credit with the boss.  Where weekends are spent doing yard work and visiting places like museums and the cinema.

I've offically become a NASCAR obsessive - and this incident was just one of the signs.  If I had paid more attention, I would have seen this coming a long while ago. 

So, as this fanatic sets her DVR to record the NASCAR Hall of Fame specials tomorrow, I give you the top 10 warning signs that you may be overly obsessed with NASCAR:

10.  You don't have any vacation days left at Christmas because you've spent all your time off at the race track.

9. You sneak out of church early so you don't miss the green flag on Sunday morning.

8. Your pets have names like Daytona, Junebug and Rowdy.

7.  Sometimes, while looking in your rearview mirror, your first thought is, "uh-oh, they're three-wide behind me".

6. You sing the NAPA Know How song in the shower.

5. You won't pay to see a first-run movie, but you've invested in TrackPass, Sprint FanView and a scanner.

4.  You can't remember your best friend's birthday or your parents' anniversary - but you can recite the years Dale Earnhardt won each of his seven championships without a moment's hesitation.

3.  You can beat the pants off all comers in a round of NASCAR math.

2. Somehow, buying an RV seems like a better investment than paying for college tuition.

1. You can actually understand what Darrell Waltrip is saying.

Big Week for NASCAR Now with Exclusive Pearson Interview, Hall of Fame Opening

On Tuesday, May 11, ESPN's NASCAR Now expands to an hour and originates from the grand opening of the new NASCAR Hall of Fame. Host Mike Massaro and other reporters will speak with many of the special guests attending the historic day for the much-anticipated opening of the 150,000-square foot facility.

On Wednesday, NASCAR Now airs an exclusive interview with two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Larry Pearson, who is recovering from serious injuries suffered in a crash during a race for retired NASCAR stars at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 20. In his first interview since the crash, an emotional Pearson speaks with ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch about what happened in the crash, the long and difficult road to recovery he faces and how the crash has changed his outlook on life.

NASCAR Now continues its month-long series on NASCAR fans in the one-hour weekend edition airing Sunday, May 16 at 9 a.m. The program also will preview that day’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway. The segments on fans will air in the weekend edition each week during May.

Featured in the May 16 show will be Patrick Hickey, a nursing professor at the University of South Carolina who also is an accomplished mountain climber. Hickey has scaled the seven summits of the world, an eight-year quest that included the highest mountain on each of the seven continents.

His task was completed when he took a NASCAR flag to the top of Mt. Everest and managed to time it for May 24, matching the number of his favorite NASCAR driver, Jeff Gordon. Hickey and other fans featured in the NASCAR Now series are subjects in the recently-released book “The Weekend Starts on Wednesday” by Andrew Giangola.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

From Bridesmaids to Babycakes - the Darlington Rundown

Even with a bum knee Denny Hamlin whipped "the track too tough to tame". 


In the same weekend.

But more went on at Darlington than Hamlin's coup de maitre.  Much more.  Below are my takeaways from the weekend that was.  Oh, and note to NASCAR - give Darlington a second date already!

If the crew chief ain't happy, ain't nobody happy: When crew chief Chad Knaus is testy early on, you know things aren't peachy in the Lowe's garage.  At one point, Knaus told his driver just to wreck the car if he hit anything else so they could call it a night.  I bet Knaus will be more careful what he wishes for in the future. It wasn't long after this directive that Jimmie Johnson's night effectively ended when he slammed into the wall courtesy of A.J. Allmendinger.  It's team Johnson's third DNF of the season.  Looks like the shine may be coming off that golden horseshoe.

Truex channels Mikey:  For a moment on Saturday, I thought the No. 56 NAPA Toyota was once again being piloted by the hapless Michael Waltrip.  After all, Martin Truex Jr. doesn't usually hit everything and everyone in his path .  But Darlington's a different animal altogether, and ol' Truex had some trouble keeping his nose clean Sunday night.  Where's that NAPA know-how when you need it?

So close, yet so far: Jeff Gordon has had the car to beat more than once this season, but he just can't end on a winning note.  This time it was bad timing on a pit stop that lost Gordon track position.  Last week it was poor restarts.  So far, Gordon has finished second twice. I just hope for Jeff's sake there's no truth to that old adage - "three times a bridesmaid, never a bride". 

Worst to first: Kyle Busch isn't the first driver to come from last place to p1 during a race. And though he didn't keep the top spot, Busch battled through a cut tire, a hole in the nose and the unforgiving Darlington gauntlet to run up front after starting in the way back. Kudos to Kyle for making the most of an unsavory situation.

Talk of the track: Before the race started, I found it pretty darn amusing that Tony Stewart's spotter called him "babycakes" via the team radio.  (I'd like to see a member of the print media try that one). However it was Dale Earnhardt Jr's scanner that provided the most entertaining chatter of the night.  At one point, Junior regaled all listeners with an explanation of how his visor tearoff somehow got wrapped around his steering wheel, making his glove adhere to the wheel. Then there was the comedic give-and-take between Junior and crew chief Lance McGrew.  But it was No. 88 spotter T.J. Majors who provided the snarky icing on the cake. When Allmendinger hit Johnson, Majors said he was hearing it was a brake problem on the No. 43 car. Then, "I'm not sure if it's brakes or brains".  Touche.

What the what?: Someone in the FOX wardrobe department needs to do a better job at selecting ties for Darrell Waltrip.  Though often attired in Easter egg hues, DW's Saturday neckwear was, well, more strange than usual.  The floral and butterfly combo was enough to distract viewers from what Waltrip was saying.  But on second thought, maybe that was the whole point.

Photo info: The sun sets on Darlington Raceway - Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tough Hamlin Doesn't Need No Stinkin' Tires

If you weren't a believer in Denny Hamlin before, tonight's Nationwide race may have changed your mind.

Running the No. 20 car with first-time JGR crew chief Kevin Kidd, Hamlin made the Lady who's usually too tough to tame look like a shrinking violet.

Kidd's unexpected call to stay out during a late-race caution secured the No.20 car's position. But it was pole-sitter Hamlin who turned that call into a genius move.

While most of the field pinned their hopes on four new tires, Hamlin simply aced the last restart - leaving the second-place Kyle Busch scrambling for headway and viewers astonished that Rowdy the Restart King was being dethroned before their eyes.

In the end, it was checkers for Hamlin and p2 for Busch.

Yet Hamlin won the night in more ways than one. His interview with ESPN reporter Jamie Little in Victory Lane was the most humble, conversational, and relaxed we've seen in a while. He gave due recognition to his crew chief, shared appreciative words for his Mother (who was in attendance) and talked about the importance of the charity for which he was racing.

Not quite the tense, mouthy Hamlin you may remember from 2009.

Last year, during his feud with Brad Keselowski, it seemed Hamlin was trying like the dickens to perpetuate a tough guy image - like the sullen kid on the playground who answers every taunt and tease with a stiff left hook.

And, all things considered, this tack wasn't too surprising. Hamlin has often been overshadowed and out-hyped by his teammate Busch. And to the onlooker, it seems he has occasionally struggled to find his footing and even his identity in the NASCAR garage.

But there's no need to feign toughness now. Hamlin has proven his grit by driving through the pain of a recent ACL surgery to snatch two Sprint Cup victories and now this Nationwide win.

And even if you're not a Hamlin fan, you've got to admit - that's not too shabby.

Photo info - via Twitter posted by @11mommalou (Denny Hamlin's mother)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Cinco de "Mayo"

NASCAR is going mayonnaise crazy.

Yesterday, Kevin Harvick released pix (via Twitter) of his new ride for the Tech-Net Auto Service 300 at Charlotte - the No. 33 Miracle Whip car.

Couple that with the JR Motorsports-owned Hellman's car, and the phrase "pass the mayo" suddenly has new meaning.

Now if Duke's or Bama mayonnaise would shell out some sponsorship bucks, we'd have ourselves a sandwich spread battle royale...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Little Chase to Chase Comparison

This time last year, the standings for the Sprint Cup Chase sure looked mighty different.

Who would have thought things would have changed so much in 2010?

For starters, Kevin Harvick is sitting pretty this year. So far, Happy is perched in the top spot with one win to his credit. Not so last year, as he was stuck back in the 23rd spot after Richmond. And even though the NASCAR media has dubbed Jamie McMurray the new bump-draft king, Harvick really deserves the crown. His consecutive wins at the Bud Shootout and his smooth, race-winning move at Dega are proof positive of that.

Unfortunately for Smoke fans, it's now Tony Stewart's turn to be on the outside looking in. Granted, last year's early-season success was atypical for Smoke, it's still a bit disconcerting that he's now in the 15th spot. Good thing about Stewart, he's liable to crank up the summer heat and snag a win or two to gain those all-important bonus points.

Regarding bonus points, Jimmie Johnson stands to gain the most of any driver with an impressive three wins to his credit thus far. Even though Four-Time has had some uncharacteristic issues during the last two races, he's actually in great shape points-wise, with a second-place spot. Last year about now, Johnson was in sixth - and we all remember how last year turned out.

And here's a little prediction - Paul Menard may have shocked and awed the NASCAR world during the first few races of the year, but he won't be the big sleeper. I'm betting that Martin Truex Jr. will keep gaining spots and take Michael Waltrip Racing smack into the thick of the Chase.

At least I hope so. I'd sure like to hear a Chase version of that Napa Know How commercial ...

In Case You Missed It ...

They won last year's pit crew challenge in Charlotte and this morning, the boys from the No. 31 crew showed off their mad skills on the "Fox & Friends" broadcast in the middle of Manhattan. Check it out here -
After the Show Show: 5/4

Monday, May 3, 2010

Congrats to our Winning Tweeps!

To celebrate the grand opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte on May 11, the folks at Buffalo Wild Wings helped us give away the above cooler backpack to two of our Twitter followers.

Congrats to @Smoke_fan_14 and @Junior88FanAmp - they'll be receiving their backpacks in the mail soon.

Buffalo Wild Wings is the only restaurant in the new Hall of Fame, where fans can enjoy award-winning wings in one of 14 signature sauces while enjoying NASCAR entertainment in a high-energy, social atmosphere.

Richmond in the Rear View

If the spring race at Talladega was Christmas morning for race fans, then Saturday's contest at Richmond was Thanksgiving at the in-laws - nice enough and somewhat satisfying, but not as good as Mama makes it.

In what is usually an exciting showdown with fender-bangin' and last-minute slidin', Saturday night's race at RIR didn't quite live up to the hype (or the Dega comparison).

Still, for all the opportunities to catch some shuteye during the broadcast, there were a few developments of note at Richmond this weekend:

Kyle Busch - the Official Restart King - It was only a matter of time before Rowdy ended up in Victory Lane again.  And how fitting that KB's first checkers of the season would be the result of beating Jeff Gordon on a late-race restart.  Gotta hand it to Rowdy, if he's near the front, he gets it done.

MWR outruns HMS - The boys at Michael Waltrip Racing haven't had too much to smile about in 2010. But Richmond may have turned those frowns upside down - both Martin Truex, Jr. and Marcos Ambrose earned Top 10 finishes, while David Reutimann eked out a p15.  Compare that to the Hendrick Motorsports crew who finished 2nd, 10th, 25th and 32nd. Proof of the apocalypse?

Has JJ found his kryptonite? - Ever since the return of the spoiler, Jimmie Johnson hasn't had the most stellar of finishes. Richmond was tough on the No. 48 team. After a miserable night in the pits, Johnson barely saved the car as it slid across the finish line into10th place.  If the spoiler isn't to blame, maybe his tiff with Gordon is.  Ol' Jeff's earlier rantings just might be messing with four-time's head.

Jeff Gordon makes nice - Speaking of Jeff, After Rick Hendrick reportedly put the smackdown on the brewing feud between teammates Gordon and Johnson, all was nicey-nice at Richmond. The pair never got together on the track and Gordon's attitude post-race was all rainbows and sunshine.  We'll see how long it takes for the drivers to go at it again.  Darlington, anyone?

RCR lookin' good - At the end of last year, Richard Childress Racing was making a comeback. They just didn't have enough races left to prove it.  Now that the 2010 season is well underway, it's clear that something is clicking over at RCR.  Harvick has already snagged one victory this season and Jeff Burton hasn't been running too badly either. Also consider they finished third and fourth (respectively) at Richmond. And now that Harvick is the points leader - I'm thinking Happy just might smash "four-time's" plans to make it five.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Friday Night Mash Up

Brad Keselowski goes two for two

Keselowski may stick in your craw, but at the end of the day Bad Brad gets it done.

Judging from the sound bytes of his peers and the on-track retaliation of Carl Edwards, Keselowski doesn't have too many BFFs in the garage.  And there's also a core group of NASAR fans who don't appreciate his checkers or wreckers style. 

But say what you will about ol' Brad. During the past two weeks Keselowski has shown he can win without causing the big one.

Tonight, what looked like a major screwup on live TV ended up giving Team Brad the win. When Paul Menard caused a caution with six laps to go, the No. 22 took four tires, giving up the first place spot. Meanwhile, the lurker Kyle Busch stayed out and gained P1, causing even the ESPN broadcasters to predict a Kyle Busch victory.

And that's what's so great about NASCAR. The probable doesn't always happen.  And even the most logical of predictions don't always come true.

Keselowski ended up scrambling for the win, passing Kyle Busch and a few other contenders with seeming ease. And after last week's Talladega victory, he's positioned to vie for his first Nationwide championship.

Maybe it's good to be Bad Brad after all ...

What's next - the plague?

Mother Nature seems to be toying with NASCAR this season.  It all began with pre-season snowfall at Daytona International Speedway.  There was rain at Martinsville. Rain at Texas. Tornadoes near Talladega.  And today's news?  An earthquake at Richmond no less.

Troublesome conditions seem to follow the NASCAR circuit like the National Enquirer follows Dale Jr. 

Makes you wonder what's next for Darlington - a plague of locusts?

Speaking of Dale Jr.

Thanks to the folks at DEI for forwarding the below pix of yesterday's big announcement that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive the No. 3 Wrangler Chevy at Daytona in July.

Today, Junior talked to the press at Richmond International Raceway about how he feels about driving the car ... and whether or not there's any truth to the National Enquirer's story about his (ahem) alleged indiscretion.

Regarding the No. 3 car:

"At first, I was uncomfortable about it initially but the more I kind of see everybody together and the car itself and stuff like that, the more I get excited about it and the more I am happy about doing it. I wouldn’t want to do anything to upset anybody, the fans or anything like that. I feel like I do a good job of staying within the guidelines of respect and taste regarding my Father and what he accomplished and his fans and all that stuff.”

And about that Enquirer article accusing Junior of breaking up a marriage?

“We’ve been in there (the National Enquirer) a lot. I don’t know why we keep popping up in there. I guess we are relevant in some realm. You learn a lot of new stuff about yourself that you never knew before.”

“There is no truth to that particular story or any of the other ones for that matter if we want to set the record straight.”

“The Enquirer is pretty creative. I have to hand it to them.”

Discuss amongst yourselves.