Archive for October, 2009
We go from last week’s race at one of the shortest tracks on the circuit in Martinsville to one of the longest and fastest tracks in Talladega this week.
We all remember what happened last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series went to Talladega, right?
While leading the race, Carl Edwards tried to block Brad Keselowski coming through the tri-oval to the finish line and ended up going airborne and flying into the catch fence while spewing debris in all directions, including into the crowd.
Fortunately, there were only a few minor injuries.
As a result of that crash, NASCAR has increased the height and strength of the catch fence and changed the restrictor plate on the cars to decrease horse-power, which in turn decreases the speed of the cars.
Not only does driver skill play an important part in winning at Talladega, but so does the preservation of your racecar.
Denny Hamlin, last week’s winner at Martinsville, had a bit of a crumpled front end on his car when he pulled into Victory Lane. If he had had that kind of damage on his car at Talladega, he would not have won the race, as the aero-dynamic properties of his car would have been greatly affected by the front-end damage, making his car more difficult to handle at high speeds.
Even though Hamlin won last week, Jimmie Johnson still managed to stretch out his point lead on his competition in the Chase. Most of the top 10 in the finish order were Chase contenders but Johnson still outran them by finishing second.
One driver who I was hoping would have a good day was Dale Earnhardt Jr., but unfortunately he didn’t. His season has gone from disappointing to dismal in a hurry, and if it weren’t for bad luck he wouldn’t have any luck at all. Let’s hope he has a good run this week as this is one of his better tracks.
Earnhardt has had a frustrating season, and the driver vented those frustrations to the media about a week ago.
His verbal outburst raised some eyebrows, both in the racing community and among the fans — especially Earnhardt fans nicknamed Jr. Nation.
Dale Jr. easily has NASCAR’s biggest fan base and when the Jr. Nation gets upset, everyone hears about it.
The Internet has been abuzz with fans’ criticism of Earnhardt’s treatment at Hendrick Motorsports, and jealously of Hendrick’s other superstars has reared its ugly head within some factions of the Jr. Nation.
Let me tell you, Hendrick is a businessman and he does not play favourites — the better each of his teams do, the more money he makes, and he wants nothing more than to have all four of his teams competing for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Now if one of his cars happens to not be in the Chase, then so be it. And if Hendrick decides to use that non-Chase car as a test mule for the other cars in the Chase or for next season (so the Jr. Nation accusations go), then that is what he going to do because it will make the organization better and that is the bottom line.
And if the organization gets better because of that, then so will Earnhardt’s team in the long run.
But that doesn’t mean Earnhardt can’t win a race along the way, does it?
It would certainly quiet some of those more extreme critics in the Jr. Nation.
TALLADEGA, Ala. – On race weekends in Talladega, campers, motor homes and tents stretch as far as the eye can see. Flags adorn most of them, and virtually every driver has at least one fan somewhere in the vast expanse of the Talladega campgrounds.
But one driver reigns supreme here. Look out over the rolling hillsides and you’ll see more green 88s than all other drivers combined. Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s fans call themselves Junior Nation, and Talladega is their undisputed capital. And even though their nation is on shaky footing – hey, whose isn’t? – their faith in their faltering hero and idol remains as strong as ever.
You’d think these are dark days for Junior Nation. Their guy has won exactly one race out of the last 130 and is spinning his wheels, both literally and metaphorically. They’re suffering the constant mocking and abuse from their fellow race fans. Anytime something goes right for the 88 team, something else seems to go more wrong.
So you could forgive them if their eyes started to wander, enviously eyeing the success that everyone from Jimmie Johnson to Joey freakin’ Logano, for heaven’s sake, has been enjoying over the last few years. You could forgive them for wondering whether the mojo has run out – whether it’s time to accept that the son will never equal the father.
Here’s the thing, though – Junior could lose from now until the sun burns out and much of Junior Nation would be right there with him.
"True blue ’til the day I die," said Tammy Langdon of Greenville, Mississippi, pointing without irony to her green Junior T-shirt.
Ask other fans whether they’d consider switching drivers if Junior’s losing streak stretched into the triple digits, and most will look at you as if you’ve asked them to kick their own dog.
Ain’t gonna happen – not now, not ever.
What kind of hold does this quiet, slightly awkward 35-year-old have on millions of race fans? How did a guy who often looks like he’d rather be anywhere but in the spotlight end up becoming one of the world’s most famous athletes?
It starts, of course, with the name. The Earnhardt story is Shakespeare with banjos – an epic tale of Southern racing royalty and tragedy. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was one of the dominant figures in American sports, and there’s nobody – not Junior, not Kyle Busch, not Tony Stewart, nobody – who’s living up to that legacy, that charisma, that intimidation. Earnhardt Sr. was a seven-time champion; Junior could win from now until 2015 and still not equal his father’s "it" factor.
Is it any wonder, then, that he’s emphasizing the "Junior?" It does, after all, adorn his clothing and his race team more than the "Dale" or the "Earnhardt."
Even so, Junior earned the love of a huge swath of NASCAR nation just by climbing into a car. His father’s influence is so strong, even eight-plus years after his death, that Junior’s fans will stick with him through all the down times. It’s as if Junior is part of the family – that underachieving cousin who dropped out of college, say – and you don’t turn your back on family.
Indeed, the fact that Junior can’t make any headway against a field that’s always adding talented drivers – like Logano, Brad Keselowski and Juan Pablo Montoya – only seems to boost his cachet among his fans.
"He’s a good ole country boy," said Mike Parker of Linden, Tennessee, who patrolled the Talladega infield with his wife, Janice, both wearing matching forest-green Junior sweatshirts. "I like his personality. He’s a lot more down to earth than a lot of guys you see out there."
Some, on the other hand, eye Junior with a little more … hunger, to put it politely. If Junior’s ever looking for female companionship, he’ll find an army of ladies waiting for him in the Talladega infield. More than one had a range of recommendations for ways to, shall we say, take Junior’s mind off his problems.
But everyone’s patience has its limits, and both Junior and his armada are reaching the end of theirs.
"I really don’t want the year to be over with because I like going to the race track every week and racing, but all year it has been so low," Junior said last week. "The highs have been not very high, and lows have been terribly low, so it’s hard to want to get back up and try again the next week when you take such a beating. But I don’t know what else to do."
His fans seem equally perplexed. Ask 10 different Junior fans what the 88 team has to do to get back above water, and they’ll offer 10 different solutions. Change the crew chief. Keep the crew chief. Change the crew. Get away from racing. Race all winter long. Stick with Rick Hendrick. Jump ship from Hendrick and go to a team where he can be the top dog. And on, and on, and on.
"We sympathize with his problems," said one fan sitting amongst Junior flags and cardboard standups, a fan from Enid Lake, Mississippi, with the improbable name of Michael Jackson. (As he says it, his weary smile indicates that he’s heard every joke you could make 50 times before.) "He’s had such bad luck you hope that it’s going to turn around sometime soon. It has to, doesn’t it?"
Which brings us to Talladega. In 15 races here, Junior has five wins, including four in a row from 2001 to 2003, and 11 top 10s. It’s one of the last tracks on the circuit where he’s among the established masters, and it represents his last hope to salvage anything from this miserable season.
"I don’t know that there’s one thing he could be doing that he’s not already doing," says Ben Rogge of Oskaloosa, Iowa. "It’s getting to him. He could really use a win. Not even a win, just a good week where nothing goes too wrong."
This weekend, Junior is adorning his car with the names of 100,000 fans as part of a sponsor promotion. More entered to have their names on the car, but there wasn’t enough room, so the overflow spilled onto Earnhardt’s pit box.
Clearly the fans are still around, ready to cheer. All they need now is something to cheer about.
One of my most faithful readers of this blog and of my newspaper column is Karen P. Karen emailed me about this certain NASCAR related thing that she got involved in and I asked her to do a fanpost about it here. Well Karen tried but for some reason or another the program didn’t work the way it was supposed to so she emailed me her story for me to put up for you. Read on … this is pretty cool!
“Amp Energy hosted a contest for fans to have their name appear on Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Talladega race car. Over 105,000 fans signed up. The No. 88 Chevy will feature more than 70,000 names on its black-and-green paint scheme for this weekend’s race, while the additional names will appear on the pit wall banner. It may not seem like a long shot, but thinking about how many Earnhart fans there are in the world, I considered it a pretty great honour. My name appears on the right hand side of his car, in the middle of the “M” in mountain. While I may not be a hardcore fan of Dale, I wish him luck in the race and I am hoping that he doesn’t wreck or hit the right side of his car off the wall. If he does, well, there goes my name.”
Welcome to The Pace Lap,
your catchall preview post! Let’s get you started on race weekend with
a metric truckload of stats, facts, opinion and innuendo.
The race: The Amp Energy 500
The specs: 188 laps around a 2.66-mile track, for 500 miles.
The broadcasts: ABC, plus the live chat right here on Yahoo! Sports. Also, I’ll be on the ground all raceday morning, so follow me on Twitter to see what I’m seeing.
The history: The largest and most steeply banked track in NASCAR, Talladega is also the home of some of the most spectacular speeds — and wrecks — in the sport. Rusty Wallace holds the speed record at 216.309 mph, set in June 2004. Talladega got a track only because local religious leaders in Hillsborough, North Carolina opposed the development of the track. So sorry, Hillsborough.
Back in the springtime: A couple of Big Ones seemed like they’d give us all the carnage we needed … and then came the Keselowski/Edwards wall-scrub. One of the most horrific wrecks in NASCAR history was thankfully almost completely injury-free, but it set off a whole new round of discussion of whether Talladega was too dangerous to continue at its current style.
Guy with the most to gain: Dale Earnhardt Jr. This is his chance to rehab his image for 2009, to close out the season with a strong performance and give Junior Nation reason to hope for 2010. This is his best track, so if he runs well here, all is (almost) forgiven. If not …
Guys with the most to lose: Jimmie Johnson. One Big One at the wrong time, and Johnson’s lead dwindles — or, potentially, vanishes — and that fourth championship becomes that much tougher to grab.
Our pick to win: Stewart. He’s due for a strong Chase race, and he’s on familiar territory here. And Regan Smith isn’t likely to cause trouble two years in a row.
All right, you’re up. Who’s your pick for this weekend? Go!
Hello everybody is Ranting and Raving land,just want to apologize for not having any new articles lately.. We have been very busy with Radio interviews and the sponsor search. On the good side we have partnered with Caring for Carcinoid Foundation www.caringforcarcinoidfoundation.org . This is a great orginazation that spends 100% of the donations they receive on cancer research. We are going to do our best to help them in any way we can to help find a cure for cancer. If you didn’t know about my latest radio interviews you can hear the archives on Burning Rubber Radio. www.burningrubberradio.com. We are going today to Raleigh North Carolina to record a show with Burning Rubber Radio to be played on Monday night. Saturday we will be at the Wake County Speedway in Raleigh doing the pre race show for the U-Car Clash Championship. We are holding raffles for some great prizes and the donations will go to the Shriners Hospital and Racing for a Cure. Also I am having my web-site updated and anyone that has had cancer or knows someone effected by cancer can go on the site and donate money in there name and all of the donations will go to cancer research. Another idea we have is having a car just for cancer survivors and people effected by cancer . We are accepting donations and trying to put together a package were we can have there names put on the car. The idea we have is to get people to donate 50.00 and the name will be displayed on the Racing for a Cure car. We think 50.00 is a great price to honor someone you know or love and help get the awareness and thefunds to help find a cure for cancer. If anyone is interested you can go to my web-site and make a donation all funds will go to cancer research. www.rickybyersracing.com We are still in a full sponsor hunt so anyone interested please feel free to contact us at anytime.
Sure, this is a NASCAR blog, but every so often we break out of our narrow provincialism and take a look at what else is going on in the world of motorsports. Big news from F1 is the final race of the 2009 season, a race that will take place at the brand-new Yas Marina track in Abu Dhabi.
Featuring chicanes, desert sands and a route that runs beneath the Yas Hotel, this ain’t no Pocono. Ride along on this virtual tour:
Not bad, not bad. What say we introduce Abu Dhabi to a little Talladega-style infield partying?
After I read about Allmendinger’s arrest today in Mooresville N.C. my immediate response was, ‘Whoa, that’s not good,” and then I was reminded Rob Moroso NASCAR’s posthumous Rookie of the Year for 1990 who died in an auto accident in the Mooresville N.C. area while driving under the influence.
Now I’m not saying that Allmendinger had a blood alcohol level similar to Moroso’s all I’m saying is that Allmendinger’s situation played on some memories of mine from way back when that’s all – Moroso was a bright up and coming star in NASCAR when he died and Allmendinger could be seen in the same light.
This is a pie in your face moment for Allmendinger for sure, especially after it was unofficially reported yesterday that he was going to be the full-time driver of the iconic Richard Petty Motorsports #43 next year with Best Buy as the rumoured primary sponsor.
How many of us have had drinks with dinner and then drove home? Come on be honest. Thought so.
Drinking and driving has been looked down upon in recent years, and rightly so. It is certainly more scrutinized now than 19 years ago. In fact where I live the blood alcohol tolerances for drinking and driving have become lower and lower and I can only assume that is the same in the Mooresville area too. What once might have been acceptable even 5 years ago might not be acceptable now. In other words you might have been able to get away with a few drinks over dinner a few years ago and now that isn’t so.
It will be interesting to see how Richard Petty Motorsports responds to this as Richard Petty himself has had a long history of not wanting to be associated with alcohol, so much so that he and his drivers have not participated in NASCAR’s alcohol sponsored pole awards and pre-race season Bud Shootout when the only way to to get into the race was by winning a pole within the previous year.
We will have to wait and see.
Call me psychic, but I would also expect to see NASCAR to ‘randomly’ drug test Allmendinger this weekend.
Bringing you the best in NASCAR news and information. Get your day rolling right … or left, whichever. (Photo from NASCAR’s HQ.)
• Larry McReynolds says today’s drivers need to toughen up and quit whining about other drivers racing them hard. Say this for Larry — he knows what resonates with the audience. [Fox Sports]
• McReynolds is also in the midst of a media fight with newspaperman Dustin Long over comments Long published by McReynolds. Was McReynolds too negative on NASCAR? Did Long not publish enough positive material? That’s what’s under debate. [The Daly Planet]
• AJ Allmendinger got tagged early Thursday morning for DWI. Drunk driving is not funny, and police did not say that Allmendinger was pulled over to the side of the road waiting for a pit crew to give him four and a splash. [That's Racin]
• Uh-oh … Dale Earnhardt Jr. has entered the Top 10 in the FLOPPER (Finishes Last in Overall Points while Participating in Every Race) standings! Paul Menard still holds the lead, but still … [All Left Turns]
• Who’s your favorite Camping World Truck Series driver? Vote now! [NASCAR.com]
• Remembering Dick Thompson, media director at Martinsville, who died earlier this week. [Waid's World]
Courtesy of our pals over at With Leather, a study of TacoGate in Photoshop. Lovely, yes? Talk about that or anything else that’s offending you right here, and we’ll be back very soon with more stuff.
Also, with Halloween coming up, we’ll be looking for NASCAR Halloween goodness. Send photos of anything NASCAR/Halloween-related to
and we’ll get it posted. Get on it!
How does John Andretti parked at the start/finish line not constitute debris?
A week ago (or was it the week before?), it was a beer cup, or a foam seat cushion, or some other form of armor-piercing projectile, so justifiably a caution was thrown. This week a gen-u-ine, two-time Winston Cup race winner was performing his best bulls-eye impression, and NACAR let ‘em race.
Color me confused. (I mean, I can understand letting them race to the finish if Scott "The Antonym" Speed is sitting there, but an Andretti? Sacrilege.)
The only thing consistent about NASCAR right now is the 48 team, who is consistently – and nauseatingly – great. (Actually, that’s selling them short. Their domination is absolute. They are de-pantsing the competition, currently.) Yeah, that’s not entirely accurate. The only things consistent about NASCAR lately have been the 48 team (consistently consistent), Junior (consistently unlucky and, one presumes given his sad fortune lately, drunk), Michael Waltrip (consistently, one gathers from reading his police reports, just under drunk), and NASCAR itself (consistently inconsistent).
This – specifically – is what’s driving me crazy about NASCAR right now.
And the phantom debris caution (and occasional real, human debris non-caution) is the most ordinary and observable example. And don’t tell me that an empty beer can on the back stretch is a threat to the safety of the drivers.
A) The windshields are polycarbonate resin thermoplastic. The same material used for the cockpit canopy of a F-22 Raptor.
B) I watched Carl Edwards get hit by a flying catch fence (yeah, he was doing the flying, but it sounds better that way) and distinctly remember him jogging across the finish line.
C) College kids smash empty beer cans off their foreheads as a mating ritual.
NASCAR, under dubious assertions at times, exerts its will when it feels so inclined.
I suppose, as a fan, I should feel some sort of rebellious gratitude. They aren’t doing it for themselves. They are doing it for me. NASCAR is always trying to improve the product, and I do not know of another sporting authority that blatantly attempts to improve the finish of an event – during the actual event – for my enjoyment. But the fact that they do it isn’t what bugs me. It’s the consistency, or inconsistency, by which they do it.
It’s hard to play the game when the rules are constantly changing. It’s also hard to follow the game when the rules are constantly changing. And well beyond the phantom debris caution, they are simply screwing with it too much.
The cries I hear most are demanding even more change. Points for qualifying, points for wins, points for the regular season, minus points for wrecking a Chase contender (okay, not quite, but I’m sure they’ve thought about it), and most loudly, change the CoT. I disagree.
I’m not ecstatic with the Chase or the CoT, but I also don’t have any idea of what they can be. (I’m also a Gordon fan, and so constitutionally bound to despise both the Chase and the CoT for denying him his fifth, respectively). They don’t let me look at any one iteration long enough to witness the potential. They’ve introduced too many variables, and thus far, let none of them mature.
In an effort to improve the product, they’ve allowed the product to rule themselves (the Chase format produced their annual tinkering with it). In their effort to make it something for everyone, they’ve made it nothing to some (California produced boring racing to the North Wilkesboro die-hard). In their effort to unify, they’ve lost their uniformity (the CoT enhanced Hendrick domination).
I suppose I’d just like NASCAR to let them race under the same set of rules for a while. Of course, if Martinsville hadn’t reminded me how much I miss the mad sprint to the start/finish following a caution, I probably wouldn’t be disturbed by any of this.