Monday, December 14, 2009

America’s Oldest Racetrack May Die This Year

The Milwaukee Mile, in West Allis, Wisconsin, is America’s self-proclaimed “oldest operating racetrack.” The former horse track held its first automobile race in 1903 – eight years before the first Indy 500. However, due to a series of unfortunate events, including a renovation project, a debt-ridden promoter, and a “country bumpkin” board president, America’s Legendary Oval may never see another car again.

First, let me set up the story:

The track first started hosting open-wheeled races in the 1930’s, and became a tradition to race there the weekend immediately following the Indy 500 by 1947.

The track has hosted ASA, USAC, and ARTGO races, allowing drivers like Rusty Wallace, Alan Kulwicki, Dick Trickle, Scott Wimmer and Mark Martin to cut their teeth.

NASCAR began racing at “The Mile” in 1984, and has been a regular stop and a favorite of drivers in the Nationwide Series since then, and the Camping World Truck Series since its inception in 1995.

But, the track had deteriorated. The Mile once had an infield road course, though no one could tell anymore. The grandstands were an ill-maintained throwback to its horse track days. The press box was suspended beneath the canopy.

This changed in 2003, however. As NASCAR was becoming more popular, the track needed to update for the sake of its own future. The grandstands were torn down and replaced with a higher-capacity, state of the art setup. The infield was replaced. The electronics were overhauled. The fest grounds behind the track suddenly sported new buildings.

This project, however, left the track saddled in debt. Promoters came and went – first Milwaukee Mile Holdings, LLC wanted to sell the track to land developers because it couldn’t cover its debts.

Then, Wisconsin Motorsports, LLC took over the reigns in 2008. They couldn’t handle the debt either, however, and ceased operations after the NASCAR weekend in 2009, leaving millions of dollars in unpaid fees to both NASCAR and the IRL. The races for the rest of the year were canceled.

The summer and fall of 2009 was tumultuous. Both NASCAR and the IRL insisted they would not hold a race at The Mile in 2010 unless they were paid in full. Negotiations were ongoing with the next promoter, the still-mysterious Historic Mile, LLC, but uncertainty loomed. When schedules were released, The Mile was not to be found on the IRL schedule, but NASCAR, to the great surprise of many, scheduled their yearly Nationwide/Truck weekend.

That was until Historic Mile, LLC also failed to come up with the financial backing, and withdrew themselves from consideration to be the new promoter.

Good news loomed on the horizon, however: Frank and Dominic Guiffre, who promoted the track in the 1980’s, had found financial backers, secured a line of credit from the bank, and were willing to promote The Mile.

The Milwaukee Mile has been saved, or so we thought.

That was until the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board, which owns The Mile, changed the proposed contract with the Guiffre Group from giving them three years to secure or replace a national race to six months.

This move infuriated the Guiffre Group so much they too pulled out of consideration, leaving the future of The Mile up in the air and without another potential promoter in line.

In a letter to the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board, the Guiffre’s called Sue Crane, the President of the board, a “country bumpkin” who “can’t be trusted.” You should read the letter (click here). It’s actually quite entertaining.

Now, the Guiffre’s are respected businessmen and passionate promoters, and the Guiffre Group was made up of other wealthy, respected business men – John Menard (yes, that Menard), John Kaishian, and the Decker family – and they are wealthy, respected business men for a reason. They wouldn’t resort to calling the president names unless there was a darn good reason.

NASCAR is very obviously willing to help The Mile. After all, after insisting they would not schedule a race there as long as The Mile had outstanding debts, they did anyway. I mean, the renovation of the track that caused all this was to try to meet their high standards, wasn’t it?

While promoters come and go and while the board fumbles their every Hail Mary, the fans have gotten involved to write letters and try to get the word out – during Trackside on SPEED at Bristol, a lonely stood in the back of the crowd with an orange sign proclaiming “Save the Milwaukee Mile.”

Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin has even considered stepping in.

The Facebook group “Save the Milwaukee Mile” has reached over 1,200 members. Former Camping World Truck Series champion Ted Musgrave (a Wisconsin native) is an active member.

I am hardly a dispassionate third-party in this story; I have been going to The Mile every summer since 2001. I still have every ticket. Saw Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Jack Sprague, and Kurt Busch for the first time at this track. I heard (and felt) the power of 43 cars for the first time at this track. I walked behind a SPEED camera (thereby getting myself on TV) for the first time at this track. I had my first Richard Petty Racing Experience at this track. You get the idea. So, you know how I feel.

But, the Guiffre situation turned the events at the track from a debacle into a scandal. Does the board have sinister motives? Do they want to wash their hands of 106 years of racing history, tear it down, and build houses?

NASCAR finally listened and considered the fans in the midst of all the turmoil in West Allis. Then the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board let them all down by turning on the Guiffre Group – a group of dedicated promoters all set to start, who were just waiting to sign a piece of paper.

Fortunately, the fans were considered by NASCAR. Maybe now the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board will listen to them. Here’s the address for the Board:

Wisconsin State Fair Park Board
640 South 84th Street
West Allis, WI 53214

Once again, click here to read the Guiffre’s letter. I also wrote a letter to the board after I read the Guiffre’s letter. Click here to read my letter.

It’s not like the Milwaukee Mile was struggling to gain attendance. Even with the promoters playing “The Weakest Link,” the 2009 Nationwide race was near sold out, and the IRL race had a hefty crowd as well.

Even if you’ve never attended a race at America’s Legendary Oval, it is still worth saving. It’s one of the last of the independent tracks in the big leagues, and an historic place – many of your favorite drivers cut their teeth at this track. It’s worth saving this landmark for future generations. Without help from the fans, America’s Legendary Oval, America’s Oldest Operating Racetrack, The Milwaukee Mile, might die this winter.

-David Dubczak

Monday, December 7, 2009

Can Jimmie and Chad Win With Another Team?

I really couldn’t tell you why, but Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus haven’t been given the credit they deserve for their four straight championships. If the Yankees won four straight World Series or the Bears won four straight Super Bowls, they would be the biggest marketing powerhouse in the history of sports.

But, when it comes to marketing surveys, Budweiser is still the most recognized sponsor I NASCAR, with Lowe’s and Jimmie Johnson still but a blip. I suppose they do have a few things working against them:

The Chase, which people use to claim that Johnson, Knaus, and team don’t have to be good in all 36 races, just the last 10. Those other 26 don’t even really matter, do they.

Hendrick Motorsports. I mean, it’s easy to win the Sprint Cup Championship when you’re driving for the best organization in motorsports, right?

Even Chad Knaus is able to steal some of Jimmie’s thunder – Kurt Bush remarked at Jimmie’s Roast in Las Vegas that Jimmie really isn’t very good, and proposed a new Chase format where all the Chase drivers picked one race out of a hat where they get Chad Knaus as their crew chief.

What I want to look at, however, is whether Jimmie and Chad can win at another organization apart from Hendrick Motorsports.

I think they can.

Jimmie Johnson is one of the most focused drivers in the field. He studies the track, the car, what other drivers are doing, and what he can do differently with a level of dedication and intensity admired by the rest of the drivers. Even Mark Martin admitted Johnson is better than him in this regard.

Chad Knaus obviously has the technical expertise to hack it with any team, but this attribute is shared by most crew chiefs. What makes Knaus different is his eye for detail and his knack for planning. Not one aspect of the car misses being catalogued in triplicate in Chad’s brain, and he’s been known even to grind and smooth even the smallest of bolts on the underside of the car to make it more aerodynamic. What Chad Knaus does, others copy.

Johnson and Knaus, together, have that that one X-factor that all drivers and crew chiefs look for: chemistry. As we’ve seen, you can’t just throw any driver and any engineer together and make it a good driver-crew chief combo.

The driver and crew chief must almost be married to each other to make it work. This chemistry is one of the most important factors because, let’s face it, most of the crew chiefs know as much as all the other crew chiefs (with a few exceptions). Jack Roush and Richard Childress have been known to upheave their entire organizations to seek this chemistry when it is lacking.

(And could you imagine being married to Chad Knaus? Re-grouting the tub every-other week because it’s not smooth enough, constantly tearing apart the garage door opener to make the drivetrain more efficient, or running the family Impala out of gas one block from the driveway because he really thought they could make it? What about moving the baby seats around to redistribute the weight? Don’t even get me started on the lawn-mower.)

That’s the X-Factor, and that’s what make Chad and Jimmie good together. With Jimmie Johnson’s drive (no pun intended) and Chad Knaus’ eye for detail, the two could go anywhere.

Now, will they? As you can surmise, probably not. Hendrick has resources no other team has, and a crew chief like Knaus spoils himself with that.

Jimmie, on the other hand, can apply his talent to whatever car Knaus prepares for him, because he’s developed a feel for them and he likes them. Unless the two mutually decide they want a new challenge, and their contracts at Hendrick end at the same time, it’s doubtful they’ll attempt to dominate with another team.

But it’s fun to imagine, right?

-David Dubczak

Monday, November 30, 2009

The NASCAR Fan’s Guide to the Off-Season

After a tumultuous 10-month season, racetracks across the country have gone silent. While some of the tracks are awaiting their own blanket of snow, the tracks in the south, with perfectly good dry pavement, are sitting empty, quiet, lonely.

As NASCAR fans, we are used to the hustle and bustle of the season. So much so, in fact, that when the off-season comes, it is almost as an ill-fitting suit – we’re not quite sure what to do with no racing on.

I feel for you. I really do. I go there every year myself. Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of things to do in the off-season. Hopefully that will get you through the winter.

1. Redecorate

Silly Season is wrapping up. Drivers and sponsors are finding new homes – Keselowski is with Penske, GoDaddy is with Mark Martin, Truex is with Napa, and McMurray has moved to Earnhardt/Ganassi, among others.

Perhaps you could rename Jayski’s Silly Season Site to Jayski’s Guide to Off-Season Redecorating.

You should start this now, as your wife or husband may have different ideas of how to decorate, and it may take time to settle the Gordon/Junior debate.

I recommend coming up with some sort of way to appease your frustrated spouse who agreed to let you decorate with Jimmie Johnson apparel “only when he wins the championship.”

2. See the Doctor

Being a NASCAR fan is hard on the body. Travel from track to track is stressful, and prolonged stress can cause nervous system and circulatory damage.

Hours upon hours and days upon days of sitting still for months at a time while watching the races can cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT – the “airplane” disease, or “killer legs” as they say in the commercials).

Then at the track, you consume… um… things.

If all of this builds up over too long a period and goes unchecked, it may cause a whopper of a problem. Get this checked out. You want to see who wins the next championship, right?

3. Clean Your Tailgate

Any experienced tailgater has his or her system finely tuned – you know what to pack, how much to pack, which food groups go where, where to put the utensils, and where to store everything else that makes your particular tailgate party unique.

Now clean it.

Trust me, you don’t want your guests, invited or uninvited, to get e coli or salmonella because you neglect to clean your stuff.

Throw away all the “I wonder what this used to be” formerly edible items.

Couch-tailgaters need some maintenance too. Clean your ovens, check your couch cushions, change the batteries in your remote, etc…

4. Come Up With Reasons To Justify Why Speedweeks is More Important than Anything Else You Might Be Otherwise Be Doing

I go through this every year – there just aren’t many NASCAR fans throughout Iowa’s private colleges. When my school’s other NASCAR fan and I tried to throw a Daytona 500 party last year, it caused me to miss a meeting. When I mentioned I would be unable to make it, an esteemed colleague remarked, “You have got to be kidding me.”

Well, we did cancel a meeting a week earlier for the Super Bowl. Is this less important? This is my Super Bowl.

It almost seems like Christmas versus Yom Kippur.

In my experience, non-NASCAR fans just don’t get it, and very few ever will. That’s why it takes two months to come up with good reasons (or excuses) to miss things that occur during Speedweeks.

When the Bud Shootout comes on… I’ve gotta have my fix.

5. Practice

This one is self-explanatory. Get on a crowded highway and pretend you’re at Talladega. Trust me, it will make you feel better (just remember the no bump-drafting rule).

6. Do Your Part
Support the sponsors that fork down millions to support your addiction. Shop at Target instead of Wal-Mart and Office Depot instead of Office Max.

With Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Menards all doing their part, feel free to choose between them. You get the idea. If given an alternative, support those who support NASCAR.

7. By All Means, DO NOT Tan

By the beginning of the season, NASCAR fans should be as light as possible. If you don’t come out of your first race looking like a raw steak who will hurt for 3 weeks, you are not getting the full experience.

8. If All Else Fails, Hybernate

If you’ve gone through my list and there’s still time left over, and you just can’t stand it any more, then crawl into a cave and sleep. There’s nothing to do out here anyway.

That’s it. I hope this provides some measure of coping mechanisms. If you need any extra help, the Racing Tool and youtube are just a few clicks away.

-David Dubczak

Monday, November 23, 2009

Johnson’s Championship Season the Worst of This Year’s Champions

Jimmie Johnson had a thrilling season this year, able to handedly win his fourth straight championship, a feat never before accomplished in NASCAR history. This record will stand for a long, long time. As Larry McReynolds said on SPEED, unless this team totally implodes, there is no reason they can’t go on to win a fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth straight championship.

If he does win eight in a row though, I will be stocking up on non-perishables, because it will definitely signify the end of the world – Y2K or something. Actually, if he gets to seven in a row, NASCAR’s seemingly magic number… that’s 2012.

But, compared to Kyle Busch and Ron Hornaday, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series Champions, respectively, the season that garnered him his history-making fourth championship is remarkably unimpressive.

Let’s look at some stats:

Jimmie’s average finish was 11.1, something I doubt Paul Menard (average finish: 29) would call unimpressive. However, Kyle Busch’s Nationwide average was 6.4 and Ron Hornaday’s Camping World Truck average was also 6.4. In fact, of the Chase drivers, Jeff Gordon bettered Johnson with a 10.2.

Busch and Hornaday finished in the top-ten in all but 5 of the races in their season, while Johnson failed to finish in the top-ten in 12 Sprint Cup races… nearly one third of them.

Jimmie also cost me a fantasy championship - I picked him to win at Texas.

However, no matter the points system, the best team will rise to the top. The Truck Series and the Nationwide series still use the “classic” points system, and both still produced runaway championships. Ron Hornaday clinched his championship in the second-to-last race, and Kyle Busch only needed to start the last race to win his. Johnson’s lead was smaller, but still large enough that he had little pressure at Homestead.

There is nothing NASCAR could have done with the points system to make this year’s championship more exciting.

Now wait, before nagging me about the 2008 battle between Johnson and Carl Edwards, let me clarify my position:

Yes, the battle was closer, but because Edwards was nearly as good as Johnson, even winning 9 times to Johnson’s 8. Had Edwards not wrecked himself and the rest of the Roush fleet at Talladega, it would have been closer.

So what happened in 2009? Simply put, no one was as good as the 48 gang. No one could match Johnson well enough to have a nail-biting championship battle.

Trust me… if the Yankees were to play Bryant Park Little League, the Yankees would win, unless something was done to seriously handicap their talent. In order to keep the 48 team from winning the 2009 Championship, NASCAR would have had to break their legs.

Changing the math does nothing, except reward being sub-par.

-David Dubczak

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Racing Tool Replay: Johnson's Place in NASCAR History

Originally Published on November 6, 2009

Let’s face it: Jimmie Johnson will win this championship and become the first driver to ever win four championships in a row.

NASCAR Fans: deal with it. If he pulls this off, he will solidify his position as one of the greatest drivers ever. Remember, only three drivers have ever won more than three championships: Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie is about to win four in a row.

With the same team and the same crew chief… something that is also a new feat.

Twenty years from now, we’ll see Jimmie on Trackside on SPEED (hosted by Rutledge Wood, Michael Waltrip, Chase Elliot, and Chad Knaus) talking about his legacy from the good ol’ days as he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Lowe’s no. 48 die-casts will still be produced, probably in a box set from each of his championship years (and maybe a special edition that comes in a Cobalt Tools toolbox with a Jimmie figurine that repeats, “Pipe-fitting, Guys” when you ask it what it’s doing), Jimmie Johnson t-shirts will still be printed, and residents of El Cajon, California will still be talking about the local hero who did the impossible in NASCAR’s highest level.

Cale Yarborough won three consecutive championships back in the day – does anyone look back on him with thoughts of, “I can’t believe NASCAR allowed that to happen without tweaking the points system. He just ruined NASCAR!”?

I think not. He is a legend, which is why Johnson’s streak is so hard to swallow – because he’s breaking the record of a legend.

When Carl Edwards, Jr. wins his fifth championship in a row (hey it could happen – don’t jump on me for predicting the destiny of a yet-unnamed child who has barely been conceived), will people fondly remember the days of Jimmie Johnson’s dominance?

So, is this really what Jimmie’s place in history will be?

Take this into consideration: Mozart died a pauper, Picasso was considered a talentless hack, and Jesus freely admitted no prophet is accepted in his own home town. To those who knew Daniel Boone, he was just another guy.

Yet, argue that any one of those people are not great historical figures.

Johnson may not be popular right now, and may be the face of all that is wrong with NASCAR – no parity, the dominance of the superteams, etc – but history and future generations of NASCAR fans will look back and admire his feat, and those future fans who are not around yet will wish they had lived to see the great Jimmie Johnson race.

As Jimmie said on NASCAR Race Hub a few weeks ago, "I've spent the majority of my career not being successful, so I'm going to enjoy this as long as I can."

-David Dubczak

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Better Role for the Camping World Series

Let's face it - no one really cares about the NASCAR Camping World Series. The most (only) attention it gets is when Kyle Busch runs a random race here and there.

But, for such an important developmental series, it needs attention - teams need sponsors, the series needs sponsors, and the drivers need people to watch them.

Unfortunately, the current setup has the series competing directly against local short tracks. How can this be different? By having having the Camping World Series support the Whelen All-American Series tracks, the heart and soul at the root of NASCAR.

What would happen if the Camping World Series ran most of its schedule at weekly tracks that can run as support? The track can run it's weekly show (or abbreviated, like late-models only), then run a 150-lap Camping World Series race.

The Camping World Series would be such a big draw, the stands would be full, and the track might be able to charge a bit extra (but hopefully not too much). And, if SPEED comes... national attention.

Even the local heroes might get involved. If the weekly drivers are able to get themselves a ride, imagine the support they could receive while racing against the regulars in one of the finest regional touring series in America, or the Camping World Series drivers might show up with a late model. (Many local fans think their regulars are better than Jimmie Johnson anyway.)

The local fans would start following the Camping World Series. This is exactly what the series needs - loyal followers. When Jason Bowles won the Camping World West Series championship, he could have had people following him while recalling how he won at their track.

Yes, the Camping World Series already does this to some extent - Greenville Pickens, Tri-County Speedway, and Douglas County Speedway to name a few. However, this schedule should be a rotational schedule, with some schedule slots dedicated to a continuous rotation of Saturday night shows at tracks that won't see a repeat appearance for three years or so.

Also, NASCAR shouldn't use the track's ability to provide prize money as the sole consideration for a date - NASCAR should help out with this. In the event the track can't find a sponsor for the race, and NASCAR's efforts are fruitless, NASCAR should help out with the prize money and let some local charity put their name on the race.

And what's to say the Whelen Modified Series can't join the party as well? How many local tracks have never seen a modified race? That would be a draw as well.

Don't, however, stop racing Cup/Nationwide/Truck companion events. After all, this is a developmental series. Let the drivers race at the same venues as the Sprint Cup drivers on the same weekend so the elites at the top levels of stock car racing can see what these drivers do.

The NASCAR Camping World Series, though it has been around in various forms forever, has yet to truly find a true niche. A move like this can expose it to legions of new fans and give it a new identity of its own.

Other NASCAR Notes

First of all, I love this feud between Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. NASCAR needs a feud, and hasn't had one in a while. The last thing NASCAR should do is quell this - yes, ensure everyone stays safe, but it's time for some drama (and running a few races on TNT over the summer just doesn't cut it).

Now, the racing season is nearing it's end. The NASCAR national touring series are still going, but just about every other form of motorsports is done for the year.

What are we poor race fans to do over the long winter?

Well, keep checking back at the Racing Tool. I hope to compile a list of winter racing on TV - any form of motorsports that just happens to have something on TV over the winter. I'll try to keep a schedule going. Stay tuned.

Finally, the Racing Tool is in need of file photos. If you have any photos that pertain to the day's subject and want it featured on the Racing Tool, e-mail it to me. I'll put the best one up there. For example, this week I'll be looking for anything Camping World Series related.

-David Dubczak

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The New NASCAR Struggling to Retain It's Old Ways

It started with the inception of the COT – it was originally slated to have a partial rollout through 2007 and 2008, beginning a full schedule in 2009. However, midway through 2007, the team owners went to NASCAR and said it’s too expensive to maintain a fleet of two types of cars and the COT is ready for full time competition. NASCAR listened, and the COT ran full time in 2008.

It was thought a new NASCAR was emerging, one that listened, took input, and tried to operate off of mutual consensus.

The old NASCAR was an absolute dictatorship – the France’s were in charge, and that’s they way it was…

For example: “Don’t want to race at Talladega? Tough, we’ll just find drivers who do.”

Decisions were made at the whims of the higher heads, from the schedule, to the gear rules, to the penalties.

For the All-Star race in 1997, Jeff Gordon’s car was built to exploit every gray area in the rule book – it wasn’t illegal, just in that foggy space between what could and could not be done. NASCAR told them never to race that car again.

In 2002, NASCAR announced on a whim that the Chevy teams would get a 2-inch kick out on their nose for Michigan… and only Michigan.

In 2004, Tony Stewart’s rear window fit all the templates, but NASCAR just didn’t like it. They took the car.

The new NASCAR, however, was going to be different. It started with the COT when they listened to the car owners, and was followed by the infamous drivers’ and owners’ meetings this summer.

Could it be? A NASCAR that was listening to the people in the sport? It appeared awfully so. A few weeks after the meeting, the “Double-File Restarts – Shootout Style” came along (can we please stop saying “Shootout Style?” I’m pretty sure I analyzed the music of Aaron Copland “Shootout Style” this weekend).

The Nationwide COT was going to be allowed various stylistic differences between the brands to help the manufacturers out.

But since then? Nothing.

The COT remains the same for next year, despite the calls of some drivers that a huge, positive change could be made very easily if the teams could just add a little left-side weight to the cars, among other things.

Carl Long’s penalty is still out there after his oversized engine at the All-Star race (through no fault of his own).

Then there was that no bump-drafting rule at Talladega, condemned by virtually everyone who does not work directly for NASCAR.

NASCAR even tried to get after Dale Jarrett for calling the racing at Talladega essentially, “boring.”

OK, Dale Jarrett is a NASCAR champion who drove and acted in such a manner that he earned the respect of everyone in and outside the garage. In my opinion, he gets to say whatever he wants to say, alright? If he says the racing is boring, it’s because it is (and even if it’s not, he’s Dale Jarrett – ‘nuff said).

NASCAR’s sudden shifts in direction have me more confused than a tilt-a-whirl. Are they listening, or aren’t they? Or, are they just pretending to listen, and throwing us a bone every once in a while to keep us happy?

Other NASCAR Notes

Just one: why don’t people like fuel mileage races? To me, they are the most drama-filled, suspenseful finishes second only to photo-finishes. Instead of having Kyle Busch win by 10 car-lengths over his brother Kurt, I would much rather have the drama of “who has enough gas?”

Well, there are only two races left until the looooong racing-less winter (I can smell Daytona already). Enjoy Phoenix.

-David Dubczak

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jimmie Johnson's Place in NASCAR History

Let’s face it: Jimmie Johnson will win this championship and become the first driver to ever win four championships in a row.

NASCAR Fans: deal with it. If he pulls this off, he will solidify his position as one of the greatest drivers ever. Remember, only three drivers have ever won more than three championships: Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie is about to win four in a row.

With the same team and the same crew chief… something that is also a new feat.

Twenty years from now, we’ll see Jimmie on Trackside on SPEED (hosted by Rutledge Wood, Michael Waltrip, Chase Elliot, and Chad Knaus) talking about his legacy from the good ol’ days as he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Lowe’s no. 48 die-casts will still be produced, probably in a box set from each of his championship years (and maybe a special edition that comes in a Cobalt Tools toolbox with a Jimmie figurine that repeats, “Pipe-fitting, Guys” when you ask it what it’s doing), Jimmie Johnson t-shirts will still be printed, and residents of El Cajon, California will still be talking about the local hero who did the impossible in NASCAR’s highest level.

Cale Yarborough won three consecutive championships back in the day – does anyone look back on him with thoughts of, “I can’t believe NASCAR allowed that to happen without tweaking the points system. He just ruined NASCAR!”?

I think not. He is a legend, which is why Johnson’s streak is so hard to swallow – because he’s breaking the record of a legend.

When Carl Edwards, Jr. wins his fifth championship in a row (hey it could happen – don’t jump on me for predicting the destiny of a yet-unnamed child who has barely been conceived), will people fondly remember the days of Jimmie Johnson’s dominance?

So, is this really what Jimmie’s place in history will be?

Take this into consideration: Mozart died a pauper, Picasso was considered a talentless hack, and Jesus freely admitted no prophet is accepted in his own home town. To those who knew Daniel Boone, he was just another guy.

Yet, argue that any one of those people are not great historical figures.

Johnson may not be popular right now, and may be the face of all that is wrong with NASCAR – no parity, the dominance of the superteams, etc – but history and future generations of NASCAR fans will look back and admire his feat, and those future fans who are not around yet will wish they had lived to see the great Jimmie Johnson race.

As Jimmie said on NASCAR Race Hub a few weeks ago, "I've spent the majority of my career not being successful, so I'm going to enjoy this as long as I can."

-David Dubczak

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Atrocity that was Talladega, and the Last Great Danger in Stock Cars

I was so pumped for Talladega. This track is one of the coolest tracks in NASCAR, and I get excited for both its races every season. I could always count on seeing some of the weirdest and wackiest stuff happen here.

At least, that was until yesterday.

You see, at Talladega, especially in the era of the COT, the drivers don’t just count on drafting, but bump-drafting. With the COT, the bumpers line up well enough to allow drivers to do this with relative ease (at least, easier than the old cars).

The coolest thing we saw with the bump-draft was the two-car breakaways – when two cars would be literally touching bumper-to-bumper, and the aerodynamics allowed them to fly 10 miles-per-hour faster than the other cars.

But, not any more.

In the driver’s meeting, NASCAR warned the drivers that bump-drafting would not be tolerated in the corners (to make the breakaway effective, the cars needed to be hooked up for at least half a lap).

In their defense, it was for safety – if the bumping was done wrong, it could cause a multi-car pileup. But that’s all I’ll give them.

What you saw on Sunday were drivers running scared – not scared of the track, not scared of the speed, not scared of being in the “big one,” but scared of doing something wrong by NASCAR.

This took away one of the biggest tools for the driver at this track, and changed the strategy for many of them. It took away what was an element of unpredictability and left drivers wondering what they were going to do.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. commented, “it’s like the NFL going from tackle football to two-hand touch.”

Watching the ABC broadcast, one could hear the disgust in the drivers’ voices, as well as those of the broadcasters.

Fans on NASCAR’s Facebook page were outraged: “NASCAR has ruined their best race,” “Something happen, anything happen…” “The FOOD channel is more exciting than this race” were only some of the comments.

To this, NASCAR issued a plea to its facebook fans to try and explain themselves, “Everyone could use a push at Talladega, but the wrong push can result in all-out chaos.”

Pardon me, but isn’t that how Talladega has always been anyway?

The drivers were so scared of getting penalized by NASCAR that they were unwilling to actually race. Instead, they were content to ride around single file most of the day, because it was the safest thing to do – not from a performance or competition standpoint, but because they didn’t want to break the new rule.

I’ve never been one to bash NASCAR, but look…

This is racing. Sometimes cars crash, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The driver’s don’t want to crash, and will prevent it to the best of their ability. But, when it comes down to it, the only way not to crash is not to race, which is pretty much what we saw.

And, I’m not so certain all these rules didn’t cause more dangerous racing. Ryan Newman didn’t seem to think so either.

Newman, who was involved in a wreck that sent him airborne, after telling the fans they should all “just go home,” listed the sides of the box NASCAR has the drivers in:

• The restrictor plate
• The car
• The yellow line
• The no-bump-drafting rule

These drivers are professionals, but were being treated like kindergarteners (remember, some of them have been racing since they were in kindergarten). They know how to not crash; NASCAR doesn’t need to explain it to them. But, they lost their ability to do what they needed to do to win.

Once again, I don’t like to bash NASCAR – it is, and always will be, my favorite sport. This weekend was, however, the first time I have been absolutely livid with a decision by the sanctioning body. Too bad the drivers can’t book them for Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) of the NASCAR rule book.

These drivers are professionals. Just let them do what they need to do.

Other NASCAR Notes

After watching Ryan Newman’s wild flip, and the subsequent extrication process, I came to the conclusion that getting out of the car is the last great danger in stock car racing.

A stock car is not like an Indy car where the driver can just hop out – there is a lot of stuff in the cockpit, and the window is very small. On top of that, the drivers have to twist themselves like a contortionist just to be able to get to and from their seat.

When Newman crashed, he said the roll cage came down on top of his helmet, and the car was upside down.

Can you imagine if the car was on fire?

It takes easily 20 seconds to get out of the car when it’s right side up and undamaged. If Newman’s car had erupted in flames while the roll cage was bent and the car was upside down at the furthest point between two safety vehicles…

It appears getting out of the car is the last great danger in stock car racing.


Also, the Nationwide COT looks waaay cool, especially the Mustang and the Challenger. Check them out here (

I can’t wait to see cars that actually look like their namesake again. Way to go Dodge and Ford. It will be interesting to see the results of the test at Talladega this week.

-David Dubczak

Friday, October 30, 2009

NASCAR is in the Entertainment Business

This week, we come back to Talladega, perhaps one of the spookiest places on the NASCAR circuit with or without it’s supposed hauntings (see my comments in “Other NASCAR Notes” below).

But, every year when we come to Daytona and Talladega, we face the inevitable discussion of restrictor plates, pack racing, and the car-mulching “big one” the plates cause. Many wonder if we should even be plate racing. After all, the potential exists for a team to have to build a new car for every plate race, should their driver be unfortunate enough to be in the big wreck every time.

I argue yes, and a resounding yes! While the drivers and teams may not favor it (save for Michael Waltrip, whose only four career wins come on plate tracks), it creates great racing for the fans, which is what is most important.

You see, NASCAR is in the entertainment business. Big Bill France recognized that, in order for people to sit through an entire 500 mile race (the first NASCAR race was 7 hours long, by the way), it would have to be entertaining. Bumping, banging, and cars and drivers on the verge of losing control is what the fans wanted to see.

Talladega is the ultimate NASCAR track, a place where drivers make 10 decisions a second, and his success depends not largely on his ability to make them correctly, but on someone else’s.

NASCAR has, in recent years, gone away from the entertainment principle somewhat, and should go back. The double file restarts were one way, but a whole host of options might present themselves if one thinks hard enough.

WAIT!!! STOP!!! Before you accuse me of being a NASCAR-basher, let me give NASCAR a little defense here… read through the next few paragraphs.

Maybe NASCAR can add 50 pounds to each car that wins a race every time they win a race like some short tracks. I guarantee Jimmie Johnson might be more equal to Reed Sorenson if his car weighed 4000 pounds.

They could flip a coin before each race to determine the direction around the track, as some other short tracks do.

Heck, maybe even turn a few random fans loose with the Toyota Fan Controller. Who knows?

The problem with these however is that they might be what NASCAR can’t do – turning the Sprint Cup Series into a circus.

Lowe’s pays good money to see Jimmie Johnson competitive every week. NASCAR can’t risk alienating the sponsors that drive the sport by penalizing teams that are good.

Using the coin-toss and, God forbid, the fan controller (what a nightmare that would be) would alienate sponsors as well. The sponsors need some sort of predictability – once again, Lowe’s pays their due because they know Jimmie will contend every week, or just about.

Remember earlier this season when Mark Martin was on the verge of falling out of the top-35? He was running well, but kept having problems through no fault of his own.

Now, imagine it hadn’t been wrecks or equipment failures hurting Mark; what if it had been the Fan Controller, the giant fly-swatter, or any number of novelties NASCAR could come up with, that caused Mark to have such terrible results. I’m willing to be Carquest and Kelloggs would have had something to say about that.

The sponsors don’t want anything extrinsic, other than the racing itself, to affect the outcome of the race. They need to know that the good cars will outperform the not-so-good cars most of the time.

But that doesn’t mean NASCAR can’t do little things, like the double-file restarts.

And, for God’s sake, don’t change Talladega.

Other NASCAR Notes

OK, change Talladega a little bit. You see, Talladega is haunted because it is built on an old Indian burial ground, and the land was cursed by a Creek medicine man while being driven from the site by Andrew Jackson.

Drivers have complained of downright creepy stuff happening over the years, for example; two drivers, who were the only ones on the track and were on separate ends, crashed at the same time…

A tornado once chased a car down the backstretch…

Bobby Issac once heard a voice telling him to “get out” in the early 70’s. He immediately went to pit road and followed orders…

A fan once stole the pace car (can you imagine if it was the Lamborghini used in the Las Vegas truck race a few weeks ago? He might have won!)…

Well, Talladega decided to play it safe rather than sorry, and last week got another Creek medicine man to bless the track, thereby lifting the curse and restoring balance to the land.

For the sake of the catch fence, I hope it works.


I just want to say quickly, I don’t think the rollout of the new Ford engine is being handled well. For an engine that’s been ready to at least test in race conditions since the end of the summer, I’m surprised no one will be using it until Talladega this weekend.

You’re telling me that Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, Jamie McMurray, Bobby Labonte, or Paul Menard (all non-chase drivers) were in a good position to test this engine?

Ford worries about the durability since it hasn’t yet been tested in true race conditions. So… give it to a non-Chase driver.

Ford worries it will be a burden to the teams to have to obsolete their current inventory of engine parts. So… give it to Richard Petty Motorsports to try out the rest of the season – they don’t have a current inventory of Ford engines!

The more I watch, the more I’m convinced this old engine is the reason Ford hasn’t won since the second race of the season. At Lowe’s two weeks ago, Matt Kenseth was racing Jimmie Johnson for quite a few laps; Kenseth handled as well, or better than, Johnson in the corners, but it looked like Johnson had 200 more horsepower on the straights.

C’mon Ford! You’re the only American automaker who didn’t go bankrupt. Now, don’t do this to your teams!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Junior's Struggles at Hendrick are Statistically Sound

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is NASCAR's most popular driver, there is no doubt about that. When he came to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he chose Hendrick because it is the best team in NASCAR. Junior wants to win a championship, and if he doesn't succeed, at Hendrick Motorsports he wanted to have no one to blame but himself.

For most of the 2008 season, Earnhardt was second in points, but plummeted mightily when the Chase began, finishing in the last-seed 12th position.

In 2009, Junior has continued his struggles, and sits in 22nd position on points with just five top-10s and nine finishes of 30th or worse, even after being parted from his cousin and long-time crew chief Tony Eury Jr. earlier this season in favor of Lance McGrew.

Junior may have joined Hendrick Motorsports so he had no one to blame but himself, but I don't think he alone is to blame for his struggles this season.

You see, since Hendrick Motorsports expanded to four cars in 2002, at least one of those cars has struggled every season.

I've assembled the position of the HMS cars in owner points since 2002 (if you want to see the list, see the Google Doc: Here's the rankings of the four cars:

  • 2002: 4th, 5th, 25th, 34th
  • 2003: 2nd, 4th, 10th, 26th
  • 2004: 2nd, 3rd, 26th, 27th
  • 2005: 5th, 11th, 17th, 20th
  • 2006: 1st, 6th, 10th, 15th
  • 2007: 1st, 2nd, 5th, 15th
  • 2008: 1st, 7th, 12th, 21st
  • 2009 (after 31 races): 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 22nd

I don't purport to know the answers - Rick Hendrick has won 8 championships as an owner and I have less than that. He has made millions of dollars in a business that typically sucks money, and I have made $15 in Google Ads. I can make a few guesses though:

My first guess is that resources are simply stretched too thin. While it may be difficult to image resources actually being thin at Hendrick Motorsports, just consider the amount that goes on in the shop every day. Is it really possible that every car built at the HMS shop - cars for the four HMS teams and the two Stewart-Haas teams - is better than everyone else's cars? I highly doubt this.

Someone has to get stuck with the bottom of the barrel. Yes, Rick Hendrick is committed to turning around the no. 88 team... but Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, and Jeff Gordon are in the thick of a championship battle - do you think Hendrick is going to assign a car identified as bad to one of them?

In addition, HMS has more than 400 employees. The same principle with the cars holds true for the employees - are all 400 employees better than all of Roush-Fenway's employees? Than Joe Gibbs' employees? Then Richard Childress' employees? Someone at HMS will have more of the weaker crew members than the other teams, and I'm willing to bet it's not one of the teams in the title hunt.

Then you have the psychological aspect of not running well, which tends to be a self-perpetuating cycle. This is something that affects both driver and team, and both need a lot of support to break it.

I'm not trying to spread a conspiracy here, it's just business - would Rick Hendrick really sacrifice the performance of Jimmie Johnson to try to increase the performance of a car mired back in 22nd place?

Statistically speaking, at least one of the Hendrick cars has always struggled since the team expanded to four cars. This year, this car happens to be Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why Jimmie Johnson's Dominance is Good for NASCAR, and Why Chevy Shouldn't Race the Camaro

Jimmie Johnson, whom I discussed in last Tuesday's article, is arguably one of the greatest NASCAR drivers ever, and will surely have himself a spot in the Hall of Fame once he is eligible.

Johnson is on the verge of winning a record fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. While many folk have screamed about this being bad for NASCAR, I argue it is good.

Now, I’m as tired of his dominance as anyone, and I’m especially tired of him being on the cover of UMI Publications NASCAR Preview and Press Guide every year. However, this has the potential of being a boon to NASCAR.

Let’s set up the situation:

Only four drivers have ever won more than three championships: Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt both have seven, and Jeff Gordon has four.

Only two drivers have ever won three in a row: Cale Yarborough and… Jimmie Johnson.

Winning four straight would put Jimmie in a unique class – part of the quartet of drivers who have won more than three championships, and the only driver to ever win four straight.

Why is this good?

People like it when people do things that have never been done before: test pilots became celebrities when they walked on the moon, a mob greeted Charles Lindbergh in France when he crossed the Atlantic by himself, Magellan became a figure in history books when he circumnavigated the globe.

A huge industry has been built around people doing things that have never been done before – have you ever read the Guinness Book of World Records?

Jimmie’s drive for four will be good for NASCAR, and will draw people to NASCAR in the same way Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire drew people to baseball when they were setting home run records. Jimmie will draw people to NASCAR the same way Lance Armstrong drew people to cycling when he won the Tour de France seven straight times – I mean, who cared about cycling until Lance Armstrong came around?

While long-time NASCAR fans may gripe about the same guy winning every year, someone doing something no one has ever done before gives those who have never had a reason to watch NASCAR a reason to watch – though they may have never watched a race in their lives, they want to see if this Jimmie Johnson guy can actually do it, or if 50-year-old Mark Martin can beat him and win his first championship.

Richard Petty’s dominance in the early days of NASCAR brought hoards of new fans to the sport, and his record 200 wins still stands today. Though people didn’t follow NASCAR, they came to know Petty’s STP-sponsored no. 43.

ESPN’s Brad Daugherty professes to wearing the no. 43 in his basketball career in homage to Richard Petty, and Sprint Cup rookie Marcos Ambrose recalls following NASCAR while growing up in Australia because of the success of The King.

And remember: Cale Yarborough won three straight, and Dale Earnhardt won seven in his career. Who in NASCAR circles today doesn’t like them?

Bottom line is people respect perfection. Though those in NASCAR may not enjoy Jimmie Johnson winning the last three championships and possibly a fourth this year, most still realize that he and his team is simply the best.

And, shouldn’t the best team win the championship?

Other NASCAR Notes

Last week, Ford and Roush-Fenway Racing revealed the Nationwide Series’ Mustang COT. Yes, it looks just darn sexy. After the reveal, the NASCAR community started ripping on Chevrolet for not racing the Camaro. After all, Ford is racing the Mustang and Dodge is racing the Challenger, why is Chevy insistent of sticking with the Impala.

I say Chevy shouldn’t race the Camaro.

Here’s why: the NASCAR stock car is descended from the family sedan. That’s why big heavy stock cars are big and heavy – because the family sedan is big and heavy!

There is a type of racing for Mustangs and Camaros – it’s called sports car racing. Leave NASCAR racing for the family sedans (though the NASCAR Mustang is waaay cool).


Also, this week, NASCAR is running the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville on the same day (Saturday) as the Nationwide Series race in Memphis. The Truck race is at 1:00 ET and the Nationwide race is at 3:30 ET - two times that are way too close to each other. Why would NASCAR put its fans, especially in an era of lackluster ratings, in a position where they might have to choose which race to watch? C'mon NASCAR, surely you're smarter than that.


Finally, does it sound to anyone like the Petty-Yates merger might not go through? Petty’s language while discussing this is always speculative, and is always prefaced by “if” it happens, not “when” it happens.

Regardless, Petty has said his team will race Fords next season whether or not the merger goes through (notice how he made sure to say “whether or not” though).

-David Dubczak

Thursday, October 15, 2009

NASCAR is a Cult

Watching the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Wednesday, I came to some conclusions: 1. The Hall of Fame is great. 2. The first five inductees to the Hall of Fame are great. 3. NASCAR is a cult.

Why do I say that NASCAR is a cult? First off, let me qualify that I am not using the word "cult" in the negative sense that it is often used. I say NASCAR is a cult because its members consistently act to spread the sport, "spreading the message," if you will.

The Hall of Fame was opened to glorify NASCAR (and will do a mighty fine job, I might add), the TV personalities present their shows in a way that would glorify NASCAR, and heck, even I write this column to help spread NASCAR through the country.

Whenever I send videos of the 2007 Daytona 500 finish, Michael McDowell's Texas qualifying cartwheels, the "big one" at Talladega, Joey Logano's Dover flips, the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona finish, or Craven v. Busch at Darlington in 2003 to non-NASCAR fans, that's exactly what I'm trying to do - "convert" them by showing them how cool NASCAR really is.

I found two definitions that I particularly liked for "cult":

1. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers.

2. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies (

Now, when I talk about worship in the second definition, I'm not necessarily talking about godly worship. I mean, there's actual worship, and then there's worship (though some fans come very close to that line).

First of all, NASCAR does have a body of admirers - a rather large body of admirers. These admirers, to one extent or another, organize their lives around NASCAR. They come home from church and turn on the race, ask for race tickets for Christmas, and get aggravated when having to miss a race for one reason or another.

The clothes they wear don their favorite driver, and they may drive the same brand of car their particular driver drives.

They name their sons "Dale."

As for me, I talk NASCAR with anyone and everyone, and I do mean everyone - all my acquaintances from my friends to my boss to my professors to my students know about my obsession. My cello professor simply chuckled when I informed her I turned down a chance to perform Beethoven Cello Sonata no. 1 in order to go to a race at Chicagoland.

We all love NASCAR, and there's enough of us for NASCAR to justify having eight separate series and attracting sponsors that pay millions of dollars to reach us.

NASCAR fans also cannot intermarry with non-NASCAR fans. My family once told me, "I hope your future wife likes NASCAR." I replied, "I don't think she'll get that far if she doesn't."

Racetracks are communal places. We all love to be in the presence of other NASCAR fans. A racetrack is a place where we can strike up instant conversations with anyone around us, it doesn't matter if one party is a CEO and the other is a redneck - if the two of them both like Junior, all is well.

For the most serious of us, is taking a trip to Charlotte not unlike visiting Oz?

To bring this back to the Hall of Fame...

I was waiting, just waiting, at the announcement on Wednesday to hear Brian France say, "All hail NASCAR."

So, as the NASCAR Hall of Fame nears opening, let us pay respect to the founding fathers, Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr.

Let us give homage to the late Dale Earnhardt, who left us when he had so much left to give.

Let us praise Richard Petty and Junior Johnson, two of the most legendary figures to have ever stepped in a car.

Finally, let us go forth and spread NASCAR to the masses.

Other NASCAR Notes

WAVE Energy Drink has signed on to sponsor Tommy Baldwin Racing's no. 36 Toyota for the rest of the season. You see, this is why teams start-and-park - they need to be at the track qualifying for races every week to be seen in the hopes they might get a sponsor. Now, they have a sponsor. Though it may not nearly be enough, let's hope it allows them to have a few good runs and set up for next year.

I also hope Bobby Labonte and sponsor go to TRG next year. Just sayin.' After watching Mike Bliss’ qualifying run Thursday night in the TRG car, I just get this feeling that with a little more money and a little more support, this team can go places.

Also, after listening to Kevin Harvick's pre-race interview on ABC last week, does anyone get the impression that he will probably be leaving Richard Childress Racing when his contract is up. He doesn't sound set on staying, and instead of flatly confirming or denying rumors that he may leave, he simply says, "You know, sometimes when you finish reading a good book, you say "boy, that was a good book," but you put it down and realize it's time to start a new book."


Finally, The 2009 Chase will go down in history as one of the most exciting championship battles ever. I’ve read a lot of commentary about how NASCAR needs to change the Chase format again because Jimmie Johnson’s leading again (one article was titled, “Thanks NASCAR for Giving Us A Great Championship Format that the Same Guy Wins Every Year).

OK, look: yes, Jimmie’s leading… but by 12 points! The battle between him and Mark Martin is one of the best we’ve seen in years, and has all the looks of something that will go down to Homestead.

-David Dubczak

Monday, October 12, 2009

There's A Reason These Guys Are In The Chase

A buddy of mine and I have a fantasy league. It’s just the two of us (actually, there’s a third, but he’s in it as a joke – Twitter me if you want the story: @racingtool), and it’s about as simple it can be – we just pick a driver, and at the end of the day, we get as many points as that driver did. We see where in the Sprint Cup series standings we would be with that many points.

After Atlanta, my driver, Ryan Newman, finished 8th, and I lost four spots in points. I lost four spots after a top-ten finish!

This is the nature of Sprint Cup racing this year. Things are incredibly close – not necessarily because of any changes to the points system, but because drivers are all close.

Every week, most of the top ten drivers are Chase drivers. The reason Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, and Juan Pablo Montoya are so close is because they have yet to finish outside of the top-ten in the Chase.

You see, Jimmie Johnson has shown us the past three Chase seasons that the key to winning is perfection. No one has been able to touch him because they haven’t been as perfect.

Last season, Carl Edwards was seen as the only potential threat. They went to Talladega, and Edwards made a drafting mistake that caused the “big one.” It was his only blemish, but caused him to be less than perfect and give up the championship.

People talk about getting one “mulligan” in the Chase, one bad race. However, this is only true if everyone has a bad race. Last year, Jimmie had no mulligans, Carl had one (Kyle Busch wanted his entire Chase to be counted). I’ve already told you who won in the end.

But, this is good! The best team should win the Sprint Cup, and best team is the one who has the least mistakes, if any mistakes at all.

I’m continually amazed by Johnson’s Lowe’s no. 48 team led by Chad Knaus. They tend to exemplify perfection – example: they changed their carburetor at Pocono without losing a lap. They practice and rehearse these things and, when problems arise, rise over them and end up on top.

This is why Superman wears Jimmie Johnson pajamas.

This year, all the teams have tried to emulate the Knausian model of perfection, especially during the chase. The only ones who have succeeded have been Martin and Montoya (though Vicker’s crew gets props for changing a broken axle without losing a lap at Atlanta, something even Johnson’s crew couldn’t do).

This is why these guys are in the Chase – they have been perfect. This is why the Chase is so close. The team that wins the championship is the team that is the most perfect, or the team that is perfect.

Other NASCAR Notes

First, regarding the “phantom cautions” thrown this weekend at California. Fans have been suspicious of NASCAR throwing fake cautions under the guise of debris simply to close up the field and reset things for years. Sunday was the first time one of the drivers, Kasey Kahne, has been as vocal about it on TV as he was.

Kasey’s beef was that the field being bunched up caused a massive pile-up that ended his day. To introduce another common cliché, “cautions breed cautions.”

Well, I’ve got news for you: cautions don’t cause cautions. Drivers cause cautions. How come no one wrecks like that on the start of the race? Because they’re all being patient with each other. At the end of the race, every position matters, and drivers are more aggressive, but it’s the drivers causing the cautions.

NASCAR has no responsibility as to what the drivers do on the track – if the drivers are impatient and racing five wide three rows deep, someone’s going to crash. Cautions don’t cause cautions, drivers cause cautions.

But, in Kasey’s defense, who knows what’s really behind this caution. Case in point:

I was at the Camping World Truck Series race at the Iowa Speedway, and it had been green for 80-some laps, and Mike Skinner was running away with it. Then, the caution comes out for “debris” on the front stretch.

My friend and I (the same friend with whom I have the fantasy league) watch the safety truck drive slowly down the front stretch and, not seeing anything, drive back around the track and drive slowly down the front stretch again, stopping in the middle to pick up what must have been an amoeba on the edge of the infield grass.

“It’s a good thing they got that,” I turned around and said, “I sure wouldn’t want to be racing with that on the track.”

Our conspiracy was that the safety truck put the debris there on the first trip around and picked it up on the second. Who knows.

I do have to say though, with as much time, preparation, and fine-tuning that goes on with these cars and trucks and the detail of the pre-race checklist, I find it hard to believe things will just fall off the cars at the rate they seem to in the Sprint Cup Series.

Then again, I was watching Truck qualifying from right up against the turn one infield fence at the Milwaukee Mile two years ago when I saw a wrench fall off the back of Todd Bodine’s truck. Now, that’s debris – I went up and told the NASCAR spotters myself.

With that having been said…

I’m bored and I have a vacation this weekend. So, I want you to test me. Ask me a question, ask me my opinion on something – ask me anything NASCAR related. I will post every and all questions I get and my replies on Saturday October 17th, and the anyone who stumps me will get an opportunity to write an article on The Racing Tool (of course, please provide your contact information). Send your questions to David at:

Cautions don’t cause cautions, drivers cause cautions.

-David Dubczak

Friday, October 9, 2009

Aggression Versus Savvy

At the risk of sounding like I’m writing a series on “what Kyle Busch needs to know” (see last Friday's article Car Owner Tony Stewart Versus Anger Management Problem Tony Stewart), I write this week on the difference between savvy and aggression.

First off, who am I to tell Kyle Busch what he needs to know? Kyle has 16 Sprint Cup wins, and I have less than that. He has 167 career starts, which also bests me. But, we have one thing in common: neither of us is in the Chase.

You see, Kyle Busch is an aggressive driver, but I can’t say he’s a savvy driver. Yes, when it comes down to it, he can win races, but his aggression hasn’t guaranteed he will actually be there at the end. A savvy driver, barring some catastrophe, will put himself in position to be aggressive before actually being aggressive.

How about a comparison? Let’s imagine two duck hunters.

One duck hunter walks into the marsh, the ducks fly up, and BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM the duck hunter takes an all out assault on the ducks. This may get him a few birds, but he will waste a lot of ammunition, and chances are his yields may be lower. This hunter is aggressive.

The other duck hunter waits in the marsh, hiding with camouflage. He entices the ducks further toward him, using a combination of scents and skilled and practiced calls. When they are close enough, they take off, and a few well-placed shots give the hunter dinner that week. This hunter is savvy.

Kyle Busch matches this first hunter. Yes, it scores him every once in a while, is probably more fun for the not-so-patient, and is the same thing by definition: hunting.

But, aggression does not guarantee him a catch in the hunt, in the same way it will not guarantee him a win in NASCAR.

Savvy? Now that’s a different story. One can be savvy while being aggressive, such as Mark Martin. He embodies the aggressive, savvy driver. Mark changes his driving style to match the car, bides his time, exercises his craft, and when the time comes… watch out.

We’ve seen this aggressive savviness from the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart, among others. But, it’s the savvy that’s the key here; they recognize there is a time for aggression, and when it is not that time.

One can also be savvy without being aggressive with great success – Jimmie Johnson, Bobby Labonte, and Jeff Burton come to mind. Even when it comes down to crunch time, it’s their skilled, calculated moves that bring home the money.

Maybe savviness takes time to develop – I wouldn’t necessarily count Joey Logano as being savvy. Savviness is normally equated with veterans; their years of experience might teach them an entirely different set of reflexes.

However, savvy and aggressive are not the same. And, if I were to be an owner, I would take a savvy driver or an aggressive savvy driver over a purely aggressive driver any day.

Other NASCAR Notes

OK, yes, there are Formula One drivers testing in NASCAR. Let’s face it, NASCAR is quite popular. What professional auto racer in the world would actually decline a NASCAR test, especially should it lead to something bigger? (Further, what average Joe would decline a NASCAR test either?)

The only problem is this: there isn’t room right now. The best organizations are at their NASCAR-mandated limit of teams, and these drivers coming from the elite world of Formula One would hardly be willing to drive for Tommy Baldwin – nothing against Tommy, they just wouldn’t.

Look, they’ve got their former colleague Juan Pablo Montoya in contention to win a championship, and IndyCar contemporary Danica Patrick generating a lot of publicity about whether or not NASCAR is in her future. These Formula One drivers are simply not being professionals if they don’t investigate every avenue.

Alright, that’s all. ‘Till Tuesday,

-David Dubczak

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Keselowski Doing it Right

All too often, NASCAR’s most promising young stars fail at the highest level, the Sprint Cup Series. We consider them the best talent, the next Jeff Gordon. Then, they advance to Cup, produce lackluster results, and disappear.

Why? They’re doing it wrong.

Brad Keselowski, however, is doing it right. Allow me to explain.

The problem with the drivers who don’t succeed is coming up to Cup too fast, or not waiting for the right opportunity. We’ve seen this on many occasions.

Casey Atwood was the youngest winner in the Nationwide Series, but came to Cup in 2001 with Evernham Motorsports, a brand new team. Casey and Evernham were going through growing pains together, which never turns out very well. Finally, by the end of the season, they started to get through the growing pains and started running well, but by then it was too late, and Casey got the boot.

In 2002 and 2003, Scott Riggs was racing in the Nationwide Series with PPC Racing, a team that had won the championship with Jeff Green the year before. Riggs had a pair of wins each year, and finished in the top ten in points both years. We all thought Scott Riggs was going to be successful.

Then, Riggs moved to Cup with MB2 Motorsports, regarded as a second-tier team, propped up only by Valvoline’s partial ownership. Riggs had only a handful of good runs, outnumbered by his DNQ’s. Goodbye Scott Riggs.

JJ Yeley was highly touted for a number of years while he was tearing things up on the open-wheeled circuits. He signed a development contract with Joe Gibbs Racing, and ran a few seasons in Nationwide. However, he was moved up to Cup before showing anything special in Nationwide.

After two seasons in Gibbs no. 18 car, he was shipped off to then-Gibbs satellite team Hall of Fame Racing, and was cut loose after half a season. The only time we have seen him around the NASCAR garage since then was when he served as an analyst for one of SPEED’s Truck Series races earlier this year.

And, do I need to mention Dario Franchitti, who jumped straight from an IndyCar into Sprint Cup?

I could list more than a few other names, too: Jacques Villeneuve, Scott Pruett, Patrick Carpentier, Chad McCumbee, Jason Leffler. You can probably name some more.

Fortunately, Joey Logano has the long-term support of his team and sponsor, Joe Gibbs Racing and Home Depot. He intended to race longer in the Nationwide series before coming up to Cup, but Tony Stewart’s sudden departure necessitated Logano’s early promotion. But, even “Sliced Bread,” as in “the best thing since…” has struggled at NASCAR’s highest level.

Brad Keselowski, however, will be different. He has raced in the Nationwide Series for the past few seasons, the last two with Junior Motorsports, one of the best Nationwide teams. Here, he had the opportunity to cut his teeth, develop his skills, his style, and deal with the pressure of racing all year and pleasing high-profile sponsors.

Sure, he could have defected at the end of last year to some underfunded Cup team (it was never publicized, but one would be crazy to think no one offered it to him). He’s run just a handful of Cup races this year, to get used to the car, the longer races, and the higher competition level.

And next year, he will be with Penske, arguably one of the best teams across all forms of motorsports. He waited patiently, realizing he was with one of the best teams in Nationwide, until he had an opportunity to be in a good ride with long-term stability next year.

This is why Brad Keselowski will not fall off the map any time soon.

Other NASCAR Notes
Speaking of rookies, I don’t think there is anyone in line for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year competition next year. The only rookie I can think of is Brad Keselowski, but he has run too many races this year to be eligible. Unless Dexter Bean suddenly figures out how to qualify his car, we’ve got no one. The last time there were no eligible rookies was 1983.

It’s not like there aren’t any qualified drivers, it’s just that no teams have openings. No drivers are retiring, and sponsors are hard to come by to expand.

Also, the way things are looking right now, there won’t be enough Dodge cars to fill their allotment in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona. The season opening exhibition race used to be for the previous season’s pole winners, but was changed to the top six cars in owner points for each manufacturer, plus the most recent past champion not already included or the seventh car in owner points.

I compiled a list based off what we already know for next season, and Penske’s three cars are the only entries for Dodge so far. Unless Dodge adds at least four more teams, Budweiser will, once again, have to change the rules to have a decent car count.
-David Dubczak

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Car Owner Tony Stewart Versus Anger Management Problem Tony Stewary (And Kyle Busch)

Let's do some word-association. Say the first thing that comes to mind when I say what I'm about to say. Ready?

Tony Stewart.

What came to mind? Car owner? Racer? Aggressive? Fierce? These can all aptly describe the Tony Stewart of 2009, the aggressive, fierce car owner.

This is light-years removed from the Tony Stewart of 2002, whose frequent outbursts of fist-fighting, spinning cars on pit road (that earned him a probation), and throwing cameras out of reporters hands led NASCAR to mandate an anger management course for him (he proudly displayed his certificate of completion at the awards banquet that year). Once, after a bad call by NASCAR officials at Daytona, Joe Gibbs had to physically restrain Tony from assaulting the official Gibbs was talking with.

Fast-forward to 2009. After wrecking Kyle Busch to win the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, Tony says in victory lane, "I'm sorry if I did anything wrong."

My jaw dropped. This was not the same Tony Stewart I watched growing up.

Everyone knew that car-owner Tony Stewart would be different from anger-mismanagement Tony Stewart, but I don't think we anticipated this extent. So, what's different?

Now, Tony knows what it's like to be an owner, and to sink millions of dollars into a fleet of racecars (cliché time: What's the best way to make a small fortune in racing? Start with a big one). No longer does he use his own car for retaliation purposes (I mean, c'mon, would you use your own car for retaliation purposes?). We've noticed him apologize for wrecking other cars this year, but when someone wrecks his cars, we see the same old aggressive Tony.

I mean, have you ever heard the guy criticize Goodyear? The 2002 Tony Stewart would blame Goodyear for every misfortune, and they once threatened to remove their logos from his car. When the 2009 Tony Stewart critizes Goodyear, it sounds just as fierce, but for legitimate gripes, like when tire problems wrecked 3 of his cars in Daytona Speedweeks, so much that teammate Ryan Newman used his car, his backup car, and Tony's backup car.

In seven years since his anger management problems, we've seen Tony Stewart grow into the ideal NASCAR champion and self-made man, whose use of Old Spice helped him overcome a fear of escalators and garnered him hot Russian girls and chicken legs.

So, what about Kyle Busch, NASCAR's newest hated bad boy?

Kyle is notoriously rude to teams and media when he's had a bad day, which includes even second-place finishes. Unless he's leading every lap and winning, Kyle commonly complains about how much his team "sucks."

Not exactly a good way to rouse the troops now, Kyle. But, all this because he just simply hates losing so darn much.


I mean, who doesn't hate losing? In each race, there is one and only one winner, and 42 others who didn't win, not one of whom didn't want to win. Few people would tell fans, "Well, you know, I suppose this losing thing's alright."

But look, when you're one of the 42 who didn't win, you're still among good company.

I admit that I right this article as Kyle has begin to tone down somewhat. NASCAR legends of old and new have had discussions with him about his antics, and Larry McReynolds has reminded him that, even when he finishes second, there are still Kyle Busch fans that want to hear what he has to say.

Tony Stewart realized this. He knows he has a job to do, and the world doesn't stop if he doesn't win. Go for it on the track, spill your guts on the floorboards trying to get to that lead car because that's what you're paid the big bucks to do. But, when the race is over, it's over, and no amount of, "I'm so awesome and everyone else sucks, and if my crew was better and if the winner realized that this is the Kyle Busch Show, I would be in victory lane right now" is going to change where you finished.

Doing this won't void the sport of personality, just show the world that Kyle is a champion and truly one of the most talented drivers the sport has ever seen, rather than just a brat.

Other NASCAR Notes
On Sirius Satellite Radio’s “Dialed In,” Claire B. Lang reported that the #48 of Jimmie Johnson and the #5 of Mark Martin were told by NASCAR not to bring their Dover cars back to the track because their tolerances were “too close.”

Here’s what I don’t understand: how can your car be too close? Either you’re in the zone established by the rules, or you’re not. If you’re in, congratulations, your car is legal. If you’re not, you get penalized. I don’t see where NASCAR can tell them anything if they’re to-close-to-not-being-legal. It’s legal, or it’s not, plain and simple. NASCAR has worked hard to eliminate the subjectivity in the sport, and they just had to go off and be all subjective unnecessarily.

Also, with all the fuss about Danica Patrick and whether she may or may not be coming to NASCAR, one hears lots of talk about how she should follow Juan Montoya and take his advice because he’s been the only open-wheeler to be successful in stock cars.

It seems people have forgotten something. There’s a good reason she and Tony Stewart have befriended each other: Tony is a former Indy Racing League champion! Tony won the IRL championship in 1997, and then ran in the then-Bush series in 1998 for Joe Gibbs Racing, before coming to Cup in 1999. Just sayin’, I don’t hear a lot about that. It seems it’s being missed.

-David Dubczak

Monday, September 28, 2009

What Happened Between Mark Martin and Jack Roush?

Mark Martin and Jack Roush built each other. Mark Martin was a driver who, though obviously skilled (winning four ASA championships between 1978-1986), struggled to make it in NASCAR early in his career. Jack Roush was a brilliant Ford engineer who started a race team and a racing engineering company. It wasn’t until the two hooked up in 1988 in the Winston Cup Series that the two were successful at the top level of motorsports.

Martin and Roush stayed together through the 2006 season, 18 years during which Martin would finish 2nd in the championship standings four times. When Matt Kenseth won Roush Racing’s first championship in 2003, Roush was sure to thank Martin in every victory speech. Martin tried to retire in 2005, but due to driver shuffling in the organization, Roush needed Martin to stay, and he agreed.

Mark Martin and Jack Roush seemed inseparable, like best friends or long-lost brothers. Everyone thought Martin would be in a Roush Ford until the last time he hung up his helmet. It was a given.

Then, they split.

Martin went into semi-retirement with rival Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and the affiliated Ginn Racing, but came back to full time competition this year with Roush-Fenway racing’s arch nemesis, Hendrick Motorsports (and, quite frankly, is kicking the pants off of the whole Roush organization). Seeing Mark Martin in a Hendrick Chevy was almost like seeing Dale Earnhardt in a Toyota – unfathomable. And, in victory speeches or otherwise, Mark Martin no longer thanks Jack Roush, and Jack Roush no longer thanks Mark Martin.

So what happened?

To be short, we don’t know. Probably the only two who do know are Mark Martin and Jack Roush. There have been no stories, no media investigations, no scathing tell-alls by the hauler driver.

Perhaps this is how it should be, but we can still wonder. Was Mark kept out of retirement a year too long? Was he hoping for some sort of management or ownership role at Roush Racing in his retirement that Jack was reluctant to give?

This is pure speculation, as it should be, and probably will remain. Mark Martin and Jack Roush are two of the most respected people in the garage, and I highly doubt either of them would come out and say anything, should anything have happened.

It will be interesting, though, if Mark Martin is able to win his first championship this year, if he will thank Jack Roush for the role he played in Mark’s career. Yes, he will have won the championship in a Hendrick car, but without Jack Roush, there would be no Mark Martin, and without Mark Martin, there would be no Jack Roush.

Other NASCAR Notes

Goodyear will test a larger Sprint Cup Series tire on October 6th at Richmond International Raceway. The new tire amounts to 1.5 inches taller and wider, in an effort to give the unruly COT more mechanical grip and handle better. I think this will be a good move.

The last few years in Formula One, they had been racing on a grooved tire – the cars were getting too fast, so the sanctioning body took some grip away to slow the cars down for safety reasons. This year, however, they made some aerodynamic changes to slow the cars, and put pure slicks back on to improve the mechanical grip in the corners. This has made for some exciting dogfights in Formula One.

I used to be completely against any change to the COT. To provide a good show, I thought the cars needed to drive ugly, and the uglier the better. The drivers in NASCAR are the best in the world, and if the cars handled perfectly, they wouldn’t need the best drivers in the world to drive them.

I figured out the problem with my old way of thinking when I realized the cars simply cannot race against each other unless they're handling. Only when a driver can sail into a corner with full confidence that his car will stay under him can he truly race the other car. This is why the bigger tire will be good, should it be implemented. I’m sure NASCAR can find some way to limit the costs – we’ve seen too many good things happen with the COT and underfunded teams to undergo wholesale expensive changes now, far removed from just a few years ago when NASCAR would announce that a certain manufacturer would be allowed a nose kick-out next week.

Reporting for NASCAR Now on ESPN after the infamous driver's meeting this summer, Dale Jarrett said, “The cars have the same size tire they did when I started racing 20 years ago, but have 200 more horsepower.”

In a quick note, the “Sights and Sounds” videos produced at are amazing! Watch them for a few minutes of enjoyment at:

-David Dubczak

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Potential Sponsors Are Missing Out on the NASCAR Game

Over the past year, sponsors leaving NASCAR has left a huge void in the sport. With the economy today, it's been difficult to replace them, leaving many teams underfunded (Robby Gordon Motorsports), unfunded (NEMCO Motorsports), or completely shut down (Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing no. 8). However, it's not like there aren't any potential sponsors out there - America is a consumer nation with companies abound! Many of these companies are simply missing out on the benefits of NASCAR sponsorship.

NASCAR, you see, has over 75 million fans from coast to coast... 75 million fans. That's almost 25% of the entire United States of America. NASCAR fans are some of the most loyal in the sports world, and the investment nearly always pays off. Last year, Alltel reported that the company receives a 6:1 return ratio from it's former NASCAR sponsorship (Alltel phased out their sponsorship this year because of conflicts with NASCAR's exclusivity deal with Sprint); that means, for every dollar Alltel spent, the company got 6 dollars in extra business.

Now, that's impressive. Want more impressiveness? In 2008, Lowe's Home Improvement Stores can claim to have received $49,568,850 in extra income through their $15 million sponsorship of Jimmie Johnson's team.

A lot of sponsors aren't simply trying to get you to buy their product, though. What they're trying to do is get you to buy their product instead of someone else's - Lowe's wants you to shop at Lowe's instead of Home Depot, and Amp wants you to drink Amp instead of Red Bull, and vice versa. When the cup series' title sponsor was Winston, I never got an overwhelming urge to start smoking while watching a Winston Cup Series race, but Winston wanted people to smoke Winstons instead of something else. This works even for sponsors without a rival company sponsoring a car - Office Depot wants you to shop at Office Depot instead of Office Max, even though Office Max is not a NASCAR sponsor. According to one study, 47% of NASCAR fans like one company over another simply because they sponsor a team.

So, with Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and DeWalt announcing they're leaving at the end of the season and still no sponsors to replace them, what companies are ripe to fill the void and are missing out?

Cruise Lines
Cruise lines are a multi-billion dollar industry world wide that would make an excellent fit in NASCAR. Cruise lines are competing over building the biggest ships, and big ships need power. What better fit for a cruise line than NASCAR? These companies are competing for each others business, and the two most notable consumer cruise lines who would most appeal to NASCAR, Royal Caribbean and Carnival, are continually vying for market share.
The thing about NASCAR fans is they take vacations too, and why not sponsor a favored driver's car to ensure fans take a cruise vacation instead of some other vacation, and go on their ship instead of someone else's ship. If Royal Caribbean and Carnival get into the sport, we now have two more primary sponsors.

Computer Manufacturers
I'm actually rather disturbed not to see any Dell cars, HP cars, or Apple cars around the track. The thing is, everybody needs a computer nowadays, so these companies would be appealing to a market that is buying computers anyway. Once again, Dell would be wise to get their logo on a car to ensure fans buy a Dell instead of something else. The market for computers is constantly evolving and shifting, and few computer users have a sense of what is the computer to get, and few computer users feel loyal to their brand. Why not use NASCAR to build this brand loyalty?

Has anyone else noticed the lack of resaurant chains sponsoring Sprint Cup cars? McDonalds (Richard Petty Motorsports) and Burger King (Tony Stewart) occasionally run a race, Taco Bell has a limited sponsorship of John Andretti, and Long John Silvers occasionally makes an appearance, but that's about it. Considering how often Americans like to eat out, this surprises me a great deal. Where is Perkins? Arby's? Panera Bread? Hooters? Cracker Barrel? Culver's? The pizza chains – Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's? Once again, marketing is about trying to get people to buy your product instead of someone else's. Why aren't these companies trying to tap into NASCAR fan's infalliable brand loyalty?
NASCAR seems especially useful to unknown brands. Case in point: earlier this year, a restaurant chain called Tilted Kilt sponsored Todd Bodine's no. 30 Camping World Truck Series truck for a single race earlier this year. This caused their web server to crash due to the sheer volume of people trying to figure out what Tilted Kilt was. These smaller chains might not be able to afford an entire season, but a one or two race deal will still work out well for them (provided their web servers are up to par).

OK, I'll admit the airlines have had a tough go of it lately, and many are cutting back their flights in an effort to cut costs and fill more seats. But, once again, this is a matter of getting a flyer to fly on your airline instead of another airline. Plus, NASCAR fans fly to racetracks all over the country - a United Airlines Racing fan would probably take a United flight to get there and back.
Airlines probably couldn't afford a primary sponsorship, but even an associate sponsorship to get fans to associate a sponsor with a driver goes a long way toward decision making. It is estimated that having the M&M's logo on Kyle Bush's rear quarter panel alone netted them $3,526,953, not to mention what the other parts of the car brought.

I'm sure one can think of more categories that I didn't list here. America is full of companies! Those that aren't in NASCAR or have left NASCAR are simply missing out.


Other NASCAR Notes
This week, Tony Stewart visited the Hendrick Motorsports Chassis and Engine shop to personally thank the employees who have been supplying his equipment. Way to go. Tony Stewart the owner is far superior to Tony Stewart the anger-management-problem-ripping-cameras-out-of-reporters-hands that I watched growing up. Some of the guys in the shops work at thankless jobs who might get a pat on the back by the competition director. But having the owner/driver of another team come over and thank you has got to be a big shot in the arm.

In addition, Kevin Harvick Incorporated released development driver Cale Gale from his contract. This is a shame, considering KHI worked dilligently to get him some Nationwide Series races, but none of the sponsors were willing to go along with this untested, unknown kid who showed a lot of talent in the few races he was able to start. I hope he finds a ride in the future with a good team and can show what he can really do.

What do you think about all of this? Comments are welcome.
-David Dubczak

Monday, September 21, 2009

Success With TRG Good for Labonte, Bad for Hall of Fame Racing

When the 2000 Cup Champ Bobby Labonte suddenly found himself without a ride at Hall of Fame Racing for seven of the last twelve races of the season, the underfunded but respectfully well-performing team of TRG Motorsports offered him a spot in their no. 71 car for those races (it didn’t hurt that Labonte has a past-champions provisional to bring to this non-top 35 team, guaranteeing them a starting spot). Surprisingly, in the two races he has been in this car, he has run very well, posting an 18th at Atlanta and a 22nd at Loudon. In fact, in all parts of the weekend, he has outperformed his no. 96 HOF entry, both compared to his own stats and the performance of the driver who bought him out, Erik Darnell. This is going to work out either very good for Labonte, very bad for Hall of Fame, or both.

TRG, while not being new to racing, is new to NASCAR this year. They have a limited fleet of vehicles, and 10 total employees (including the truck driver). The no. 71 does not have a primary sponsor and cannot afford to run the whole race on their unsponsored weekends, relying on their winnings to fund their week-to-week operations. Though they tend to qualify well, often being one of the top go-or-go-home cars on Friday, their race finishes when they do race are usually poor, despite the efforts of driver David Gilliland.

Then Bobby comes along, and the whole team seemingly perks up. They’re fast in practice and run in the top ten during the race. At Loudon, Bobby, who thought he had “forgotten how to qualify,” put the car in the 8th starting position… his only top-ten qualifying effort all year, with only two other top-15 runs.

With TRG, Bobby is showing he can still “get it done,” and hasn’t lost the talent he had in 2000. At Gibbs, his team relied to heavily on the status quo, the sport surpassed them, and he struggled in his latter years. He then went to Petty Enterprises to drive the no. 43, whose fame was the only thing going for it. Now, TRG often outqualifies fully-funded teams, and with Bobby in the car, outraces them.

Herein lies the problem: Labonte’s normal ride, the no. 96 Hall of Fame Racing entry is, for all intents and purposes, a Yates Racing car and full teammate to Paul Menard, and fully sponsored (save for those seven races) by and Texas Instruments DLP. This car is one of the ones being outrun by Labonte and TRG. Yates has two fully sponsored cars, and the full slate of technology available to them. Yates has a technology and information-sharing alliance with Roush-Fenway Racing, and supposedly builds the best engines in the business. Yet, they have finished one-third of the races in 2009 outside of the top 25, have had one top-ten, and sits 31st in owner’s points. TRG, the-little-team-that-could, is not supposed to be beating them.

This could affect sponsorship for Hall of Fame. For their first few years, Texas Instruments DLP was their primary sponsor, and they have reduced their backing to the associate level. came in this season as one of the few companies with new money to spend in the sport, and signed a one-year deal with HOF. They, now, are looking elsewhere for 2010.

As is Hall of Fame. For their first few years, they were the illegitimate child of Joe Gibbs Racing. They thought the cars were getting equal preparation and they were in equal equipment, but it took Joey Logano, who raced the no. 96 for a few races at the end of 2008, to find they did not. The deal with Yates was supposed to be a full partnership, being Yates cars in all but name (to be fair, Yates driver Paul Menard is 33rd in owner’s points). And, with the Yates-Petty merger, Hall of Fame will have to find a new team to align with in 2010. However, if sponsors doubt their ability to perform, especially when their driver outperforms them in a “worse” team, it is unlikely they will remain in the sport for much longer.

Bobby Labonte, though, has shown he can still do it. He’ll be with a good team again next year.

Other NASCAR Notes:

Espionage at Richard Petty Motorsports? On Monday’s This Week in NASCAR, Jimmy Spencer eluded to the possibility of a “snake in the wood pile” in the engine room at RPM, causing their lone chase driver Kasey Kahne to blow an engine 70 laps into the Sylvania 300 this Sunday, the first chase race. This is in the wake of the announced Yates-Petty merger, which effectively will lay off the entire RPM engine-building staff. Here’s the interesting thing: none of the RPM drivers have had a single DNF all year, much less an engine related issue. Interesting…

Kurt Busch will not win the championship. His crew chief, Pat Tryson, has been locked out of the Penske Racing shop after announcing he will jump ship to Michael Waltrip Racing next year. I’m sorry, the crew chief needs to be at the shop building cars. This move, put in place to protect their preparations for next year from leaking to MWR, has cost them the championship.

-David Dubczak