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