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Saturday, July 31, 2010

In the Rearview Mirror: This Week in NASCAR

Surprises at the Brickyard, secret driver fines, Jack crashes his plane again, and dropping tickets prices for next year. It was a busy week in the NASCAR World. Not a day went by this week when there wasn't something big coming down out of the pipeline. So, in case you missed anything...

Jamie McMurray won the Brickyard 400 after Juan Pablo Montoya had led the most laps but got loose and went into the wall, taking out Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the process. McMurray's win gave him the victories at the Brickyard and Daytona 500 in the same year. Team owner Chip Ganassi became the only team owner to win the Daytona 500, the Indy 500, and the Brickyard 400 in the same season. Major celebrations in the Ganassi Camp.

The stands were not full at the Brickyard; within 48 hours of the race's end Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced a drop in some tickets prices for the 2011 Brickyard 400. General Admission seats drop from $40 to $30 and IMS stated that some reserved seating prices will drop as well. Since IMS did not announce which reserved tickets might drop in price those of us who would otherwise be buying next year's tickets about now will be waiting to see if we can save a few bucks. Early ticket sales will be slow until more information is released about what stands will see a drop in ticket pricing.

Though tickets sales were down for the Brickyard, as they have been for most races this season, the Brickyard 400 on ESPN came out on top of the most viewed sports on TV the week of July 20-26. Blowing away the rest of the top five, the Brickyard showed a 4.2 rating while second place - the World Cup of Softball, USA vs. Japan, Semi-Final Game - came in with a 3.0. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs baseball came in at 5th with just a 1.8 rating. Maybe baseball isn't America's favorite pastime any longer...and I think it's safe to say that NASCAR isn't losing viewership.

With the economy still struggling and many unemployed or under-employed IMS has the right idea to get people back at the track. Drop ticket prices...another suggestion is drop food and drink prices at NASCAR venues. When NASCAR fans are struggling to pay the heating bills in the winter we don't want to go to the track and drop $4 each time we need a Coke, $6 for a hot dog, or $7 for a cheeseburger. More fans are bringing coolers to the track to save on food prices. If food and drink prices were to drop, more fans would eat at the track, fewer would bring full-sized coolers, the fans in the stands would have more room without all the coolers around, and the tracks would ultimately wind up making more money even with lower prices through a higher volume of sales. Just my two cents worth...

Tuesday evening we heard that Jack Roush had crashed his plane in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Jack was on his way to an aircraft enthusiasts show in the area where he was scheduled to give demonstrations and presentations. Coming in for the landing at the airport one wing dipped low and the plane hit the ground hard. The plane was broken in half as it sat in it's landing spot just off of the runway. Jack and his passenger both walked out of the plane under their own power but both were taken to nearby hospitals. Passenger Brenda Strickland was held overnight and released from the hospital. Jack was listed in serious but stable condition through Wednesday. Jack's facial injuries led to surgery late Tuesday then Roush was transferred to the Mayo Clinic for further evaluation and treatment. No official update has been given in relation to Jack's condition since Thursday.

The NFL does it. The NBA does it. But this week when the news was leaked the NASCAR had fined two drivers for comments considered disparaging to the sport fans were in an uproar. Fines up to $50,000 were handed down to Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman by NASCAR leaders because of comments the two had made. It has not been made clear by NASCAR exactly which comments may have been cause for the fines but Newman said Friday that his fines were a result of remarks he made after the Spring Talladega race when he asked if that was really the type of racing that fans wanted to see. Newman was criticizing restrictor plate racing and the way the race ended with 12 extra laps as part of the up to three GWC rule. Hamlin stated that his fines were due to comments made after the Michigan race regarding his dislike of what has become known as the Phantom or Mystery Caution and criticism he vocalized regarding potential changes to the Chase system.

Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Jimmie Johnson all made it clear that drivers and teams had been previously warned regarding making disparaging remarks about NASCAR. Harvick pointed out in interviews with ESPN that if one of the reporters got on camera and "said that ESPN sucks" that reporter would probably lose his job. Kurt Busch compared these fines to when a basketball player is fined for criticizing officiating. Carl Edwards said that he was under the impression that NASCAR passed the fines down for a double purpose. One of those reasons that Carl gave was that NASCAR is reminding the teams and drivers that "we are all in this together". Edwards then ended his statement with a half-joking "I don't know, I'm nervous to say anything." Jimmie Johnson stated it well when he said "NASCAR is just trying to help us not hurt ourselves."

From all appearances none of the drivers are upset that the fines were given, none of the drivers are feeling as if they are being censored, and many were in support of the decision by NASCAR to attempt to keep the fines a secret. I understand why NASCAR wanted to keep the fines quiet and I think a lot of NASCAR's fans are taking the alleged "cover-up" theory too far. No business wants negative press. NASCAR is a business just like BP, Wal-Mart, or McDonald's. Business growth is achieved by drawing more customers to the brand and keeping a positive public view of happenings in and around the brand. Negative press - lke tickets sales being down - gives the impression that there are problems within the brand. How many of have stopped buying our gas and morning coffee from BP Stations since the recent oil spill catastrophe? How many people do you know who avoid Wal-Mart because of their prior use of child-labor in their factories? Negative press loses customers. NASCAR fans are the customers.

Die-hard NASCAR lovers are not going to walk away from the sport because they don't agree with the way NASCAR handled the fines. It is the casual fans that NASCAR is concerned about. Those people who watch the race if there isn't anything else on, the fans who like NASCAR but like a couple other sports just as well. Negative press drives the casual fan away from watching or attending races. NASCAR was trying to avoid putting anything negative about the sport onto the airwaves to avoid any negative repercussions toward sales of tickets and merchandise, and any negative affects on viewership. It was a good business decision. We, as fans, shouldn't fault NASCAR leaders for making a decision they thought would be best for the sport and the way the public views the sport.

Going into Pocono we have all of the RCR drivers starting in the top six, Tony Stewart on the pole, and Juan Pablo Montoya starts second while wanting to finish a race without wrecking. Hamlin starts third on Sunday afternoon. The Triangle will take it's toll and take out a few along the way to the checkered flag, without a doubt. Final practice currently shows Jeff Burton with the fastest speeds while Jeff Gordon was fastest in the earlier practice.

In other NASCAR news from the past seven days Steve Latarte signed a three year extension as Jeff Gordon's crew chief, Gordon has former Kyle Busch spotter Jeff Dickerson onboard as a new spotter at Pocono tomorrow, Bobby Labonte got a full-time ride for 2011 with JTG Daugherty Racing, Ryan and Krissie Newman announced they have joined the NASCAR baby boom and are expecting, and this morning Wendy Venturini's unborn baby indicated a strong like of Carl Edward's racecar by kicking up a storm when it started nearby - maybe there is a future driver in there? We will all wait to see how the rest of weekend unfolds. Next Saturday we can talk about what goes down in the next seven days...by then it will be In the Rearview Mirror.

Photo Credits:
Photo 1: SI.com
Photo 2: aI.com
Photo 3: TODAY.com

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pocono: By the Numbers...and beyond

The tricky triangle....one more track that hasn't been checked off of my bucket list yet. Who's hot? Who's not? Let's see....

Kasey Kahne holds the qualifying record with a 172.533. Kasey had a bad finish in the spring race after being involved in a wreck and finishing 27th. Even though he historically qualifies well at Pocono Kahne will have to bring it on hard to improve on his 17th place in the Cup Points standings. Denny Hamlin swept both races in 2006 and came out on top in this year's spring race. Even after Denny's wins in '06 he was critical of the 500 mile race, saying that Pocono would be better suited for a 400 mile race. Many other drivers agree.

Jimmie Johnson has the best average finish on the Triangle with a 9.5 and Mark Martin has finished with the most top fives coming into this second 2010 race with 19 top five finishes plus another 13 races that saw Mark finish in the top ten. Mark has struggled in recent weeks and I expect him to come back with a vengeance this weekend. He needs a solid finish to get him back into the Chase - he's sitting over 100 points out of the top 12 currently.

Tony Stewart won in 2009 and had a 3rd place finish at Pocono earlier this year. Tony raced hard last week and came out with a nice 5th place finish at the Brickyard and sits in 9th place in the Series Points. Tony should continue his pattern and see another top ten this week, at the least. Kyle Busch would love to finish better than his runner up position in the spring; with the determination that Kyle has shown this season I would guess that we will either see him in the top five or in a big wreck due to his aggressive winner-take-all driving style...of course we also know that if there is a wreck involving Kyle Busch it could never be his fault (you hear the sarcasm there folks?).

Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon also have wins under their belts at the Triangle. With Carl on probation through the end of the year he has to be careful of how aggressively he drives at every race from here on out. With a good car, the right set up, and without getting caught up in an accident Carl could very well come out on top this week. Jeff Gordon was caught up in a wreck in the spring race at Pocono and finished a lap down, he did not have a good finish at Indianapolis last week. Jeff will be looking to gain on Kevin Harvick, the points leader in the Cup Series Points standings as the Race to the Chase is ticking away.

Let's talk about Clint Bowyer. Clint has quietly been improving this season. A fourth place finish at the Brickyard last week, he has got to be feeling good going into Pocono. He had a good run at the spring race at Pocono and finished ninth. Clint cracked the top 12 in Cup Points after his 4th place finish at Chicago, moving up two spots. Sitting in 12th is a dangerous place to be, however, with just six races to go before the Race to the Chase closes out. Clint will be looking for any way possible to break into the top five and improve his place in the Points by the end of the 500 mile race on Sunday.

Our current points leader, Kevin Harvick finished 16 laps down at Chicago with a 34th place finish but came back to finish 2nd last week at the Brickyard. With a fairly comfortable 184 point lead over Jeff Gordon, Harvick has some breathing room but doesn't want to let Jeff close the gap. Finishing in the top five is important at this point to keep Harvick solidly in that top spot in the Points. Kevin typically doesn't qualify well at the Triangle, with an average start of 19.94 through the 18 Cup races that he has run there. Looking at Harvick's average finish at Pocono he shows a 15.27. He finished 4th in the June race at the Triangle, 2nd last week, 34th at Chicago, and was the winner of the July race at Daytona. Provided Harvick stays out of any wrecks and avoids mechanical trouble we should see him finish strong this week.

My pick for the top ten includes Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, and Kasey Kahne. I'm going to predict that Juan Pablo Montoya will be involved in a wreck that will take him out of competition and Dale Jr will finish just outside of the top ten. My pick for the win this week is Mark Martin.

Photo Credits:
Photo 1: nascar.com
Photo 2: nascar.com
Photo 3: autoracingdaily.com

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

35 Hours at The Brickyard: Wheaties Fuel Endurance Contest

715am Friday, July 23rd I arrived outside IMS wearing a http://www.findthetornado.com/ T-shirt. I met up with contest leaders Julie & Jeremy from Breaking Limits Marketing outside the track in the parking lot of a liquor store. I was about to start a contest in which I was to keep my hand on Clint Bowyer's Wheaties Fuel car for 33 hours. It was myself and seven others competing for a prize package worth $4,000. $500 cash, a $500 Kroger gift card, Suite Tickets for the Brickyard 400, a hot lap on Sunday morning, ride along in the Clint Bowyer's truck after driver intros, a pit tour and garage tour. It was, as I called it, the Mother lode of all NASCAR fan Prize Packages.

830am Game on. We placed one hand on the car in our chosen positions - I took the front right corner of the car. I'm short. It was comfortable there. We all looked at one another as the reality of what we were embarking on sank in. One of the contestants said "We're gonna be here a while". I'm pretty sure that everyone was looking at everyone else wondering who would drop first, when that would happen, and who would be the last person standing. There were five men and three women when we started.

1100am Driver Q&A Sessions started on the Chevy Stage with Riki Rachtman. Jamie McMurray kicked off the first Q&A followed by Clint Bowyer. Clint finished his session just as we were going on our first 10 minute break. He came over to meet us all, got a group picture with us, and signed our Wheaties Fuel Contest T-shirts. Bowyer couldn't  have been nicer, even when I went up to him and boldly said "Sign me, Baby". His reply was that he only had a black sharpie and our shirts were black. I looked down and noticed the silver windshield on the car on the shirt and pointed, saying "You can sign right here." I looked up and realized I had just made Clint Bowyer blush - the windshield in question fell right between my breasts. I held the shirt out while Clint signed the windshield so he didn't have to rest his hand on the right side of my chest - he grinned the whole time, though. Next up on the Chevy Stage were Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon, with Tony Stewart wrapping up the day's sessions. That took us through about 1pm. All eight of us were still hanging onto the car.

130pm Our second break. We got a 10 minute break to visit the bathroom and rest every three hours and a 15 minute break every nine hours. Our first visit to the bathrooms brought us all a nice surprise. The bathrooms in question were in a traveling trailer owned by Team Chevy. The workers at the Team Chevy Display were nice enough to provide the contest leaders a key so we could have access. We were all thinking sarcastically, "Oh yay, port-o-potties"...then we opened the door. We found an air conditioned area with cherry doors on individual stalls, hardwood floors, granite counter tops and brass fixtures. Those Chevy people know how to travel with the comforts of home.

The afternoon went on. As it turns out I somehow became the unofficial spokesperson for the group. We had a fence around us to keep non-contestant from being able to touch us but we could talk to anyone who wandered up. Many of the contestants were focusing completely on keeping the hand on the car. I was pretty much in auto-pilot mode by noon and could chat it up with anyone who wanted to talk or ask questions. Our judges figured out pretty quickly that I am not shy and could rattle off the basic rules of the contest, the prize package, and answer questions from the crowd more effectively and quickly than they could. By mid-afternoon when a spectator would come to ask a judge a question, the judge would just point and say "Ask Amy". I talked to a lot of people. The most asked questions through the two days were "Do you get bathroom breaks?", "What do you win?", and "Do you win the car?" Asking if we won the car was crazy. We were hanging onto a RCR Show car....ya really think they are going to let us take it home??

530pm Track activity was over and people were beginning to clear out. We all went on out 10 minute break. When we came back everyone was shocked to find out that two of the men had dropped out. As it turns out, one of them had tickets for Friday night's Camping World Trucks race at O'Reilly Raceway Park. Both had come to the conclusion that the rest of us were more serious about this contest than they were and decided to walk away. We were down to six.

The evening went slowly. The crowd cleared out, the Team Chevy display shut down and turn off the music. It got quiet fast. We knew that overnight we were going to have issues. As the night went on, our judges rotated, it got darker, and quieter. We watched a lightning show in the sky to our north until about 10pm and got word that Hornaday had won the truck race down the road at ORP. Then it got rough. From 1130pm to 230am we all struggled. It was quiet, there was nothing to distract us. At our 230am break we talked about how we were halfway through the night and it would get better once the sun came up. Amazingly, to all of us, we did not lose anyone overnight. The sky became incrementally lighter beginning at 530am and the six of us were still there. Then, things got weird.

The Official Track Merchandise tent next to us, opposite the Chevy stage lit up when workers arrived around 6am. The lights reflected off of a Skoal display hauler and made it look 3D, like a cave you could reach your hand into. One Contestant thought she saw a woman in a white dress walking about 50 yards away - it was a flag. I mistook a blue trash can for a blue bear for a second. We all saw some pretty strange things that weren't there. The sun came up, and the Team Chevy ladies showed up. Those sweet ladies brought us a carton of Starbucks coffee and a stack of cups. Between then and the next break was the only time I struggled with having to go pee, ha ha. I drank the coffee a little early, but I made it our 830am break without mishap.

Riki Rachtman showed back up around 9am and stopped by to check on us. He spend quite a bit of time with us throughout the two days. That is one of the nicest, laid back, down to earth real guys I have had the pleasure of meeting. We all appreciated his support. The crowd started rolling in, and I once again was able to occupy myself with answering questions and chatting up the crowd. It was like once we passed the time at which I would have been up and going for the day my body said "oh, we're just skipping sleep this time, okay then. " I got my sixteenth wind and was good to go.

Somewhere mid-morning Laura Steele from Q95 showed up at our display with a camera man. We were interviewed for the IMS Jumbotron. She asked short questions of three or four of the contestants but I talked the most, as the unofficial spokesperson for the group. Of course, we couldn't see a Jumbotron from where we were so I have no idea if I came across well or like an idiot. And then I met Big Kahuna. Suddenly there is this guy in front of me with a small video camera. Very animated and outgoing, he made a comment on my Media for Hire Shirt that I was wearing. He asked if I won it online and I told him no, I offered to wear t-shirts for my business-minded Twitter friends for free advertising during the contest if they would send me one. At one point during the interview Big Kahuna asked which contestant's ass I could kick. I informed him I'm 5'1" and weigh 97 pounds....the video is posted under "BgKahuna1" on YouTube. It's really hilarious.

1230pm we finally lost another contestant. He appeared to have a cramp in his thumb and it lifted. The judge called it over for him. That gave us all a burst of energy and we all were more focused than ever. We were at five contestants left and fully expected all five of us to make it to the end. My 'buddy' throughout the contest had been Jordan who was next to me, on the front of the car. The guy was awesome. A 20-year-old college student who grew up in Plainfield, he was the only one of us who slept. Yep, he slept with his hand on the car. He laid on the ground in front of the car with his hand on the splitter behind the braces. We kept waiting for him to move and drop off each of the three times he slept but it didn't happen. Just before our 230pm break, Jordan had moved to the left side of the car and I was at the front. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him jerk. I looked over and asked "What was that?" He said he had almost passed out. I reminded him to not lock his knees and that we had a break in just a few more minutes. In a perfect world I would have had it me and Jordan standing at the end.

230pm We went to break, one of our judges and I split a BBQ sandwich from the track concessions and I let myself drink a little more water than I had been, knowing that we were in the homestretch. The next hour was uneventful. Jordan was back on the front of the car, I was back on the front right side. As soon as Jordan sat down on the ground I knew he was in trouble. He leaned his head against the hood of the car with one hand on either side. Since we had lost the guy earlier for one thumb coming up all of us had mostly kept both hands on the car as a safety net. After a few minutes, Jordan's head began to bob. It went down and came back up four or five times then stayed down....one hand slipped off, then his thumb and first finger on his other hand, and he was out. Judge Julie woke him gently and apologized that he was out. I cried for him. Hated to see him go out with just an hour and 47 minutes left in the contest. And then, there were four.

530pm The remaining four - one man and all three original women - had made it to the end of our 33 hours. Onto a 30 question written multiple choice stock car trivia test. On the Chevy stage. In front of approximately 500 people. With Riki Rachtman talking the whole time. At the end of the ten minute test myself and a contestant named Harry were tied. Final tiebreaker question: take the number of Dale Earnhardt Sr's championships multiplied by his career Cup Series wins multiplied by the number of his career Cup Series top tens. I did the math in the margin...when I transferred my answer from the margin I left a number off. I finished second. Had I not made that mistake I would have won. At that point I had been awake for 37 hours, sleep deprivation causes you to make stupid mistakes. I left with a $500 gift card to Kroger for second place.

I had an hour and a half drive home after the contest, grabbed a shower, and had a friend pick me up a sandwich to eat. I think I was asleep about three minutes after my head hit the pillow. Saturday 11pm I finally went to bed. I had been up for 42.5 hours. I slept for nine hours and awoke feeling better than I expected. Judge Julie had asked me late Saturday if I would consider doing something like this again and I told her no. On Sunday I thought about it again and decided that yeah, I probably would do something else in the future like this, if the prize package was worth it. So bring it on, what crazy contest can I be a part of next?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What Carl does (and doesn't) deserve

I thought it was interesting that both Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards made comments after the Gateway race last night that each of them thought the other one had the better car...I think it's not so much luck (good or bad) as it is that both drivers are AGGRESSIVE and are not afraid to go after the win, whatever they have to do to get there. Aggressive drivers throughout NASCAR history have been successful drivers and racing stars. Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Tony Stewart...the list goes on.

So what should NASCAR do about Carl's intentional spin of Brad last night? My opinion is nothing. NASCAR told the drivers at the beginning of the season that they would be allowed to sort out disagreements on their own, and that they should show more emotion. They basically said "Have at it, guys." I don't think what Carl did was any worse than what other drivers have done on the track this or any other season. Unfortunately, what happened as a result of the hit WAS worse than what usually happens. But the hit itself? Nah, wasn't any worse than what Kyle, Kevin, or Brad have done.

Carl was put on probation last year for three races, served the probationary period without incident, and moved on. Did it change his driving style for more than those three races? Maybe a bit. I don't think another probationary period would be useful at this point, though. Would a suspension make him change how he races? Probably not. Probation and suspension are definitely two options, but neither fits the crime here, looking at the big picture.

In my opinion, if NASCAR feels that some sort of penalty must be handed down a monetary fine would at least get the attention of Carl and his Team's wallets, if nothing else. No one wants to lose money, especially when NASCAR racing is as expensive as it is. Estimated cost to even get a Truck Series Truck entry is close to $100,000. A Cup race is much more. Fining Carl and the team seems like a way to get their attention and dissuade future intentional wrecking from happening.

More than the price tag that comes with a monetary fine, the team owner has to start thinking about whether a contract renewal is in order however many years down the road. If a driver is fined repeatedly the team will be less likely to re-sign that driver. Each fine cuts into profits, R&D, and equipment funds. At some point the team owner has to say that this driver is costing us too much and not renew the contract at the next opportunity. Monetary fines put the security of a driver at risk when it comes to who he will be driving for the next year, two years down the road, or five years out. Further, once a driver shows that he is going to be fined repeatedly it becomes harder for that driver to get a new contract with a different team. One thing NASCAR isn't shy about is publicizing the fines and amounts thereof. Team owners are going to look into how much a driver has cost his team in fines before deciding to sign that driver.At some point the driver becomes too large a risk to be worth the investment.

In my opinion, if there is a driver and team fined handed down as a result of last night's incident the money should be split equally between the drivers who were caught up in the wreck as innocents. Shelby Howard had nowhere to go when he slammed into Brad on the front stretch; Howard ended up with a junked car. Colin Braun had major damage after the last lap incident, as did several other drivers. With the financial problems that many of the Nationwide teams are having, unless they can gain some relief from these damages the list of start-and-parks is just going to get longer.

You throw a rock, I'm gonna throw a concrete block: NASCAR Driver Feuds

At Talladega on April 26, 2009 Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards were racing hard. Carl was in the lead with Brad tight on his back bumper. Coming through the tri-oval, Keselowski made his move. In tight traffic Carl blocked and Brad turned him. Carl's 99 AFLAC Ford wrecked into the outside wall sending pieces of the car into the stands and injuring seven fans. After the race, Carl had this to say "NASCAR just puts us in this box. Brad did a great job. Congrats to him on the win. But they put us in this box, and we'll race like this until we kill somebody, and then they'll change it. ... That's what Brad's supposed to do. He's assuming I know he's inside. It was so quick I didn't know he was inside. We saw what happened to Regan Smith. You can't go down below the yellow line or you lose the race. [Keselowski] was winning, and I was doing everything I could to keep him from winning...NASCAR.com)."


Fast forward to the beginning of the 2010 season. NASCAR Officials told the teams that they wanted "more emotion" and NASCAR was going to let them sort out disagreements on the track. At Atlanta in March 2010 Brad comes up into Carl sending him into Joey Logano on lap 40. Late in the race, on lap 323 while 150 laps down Carl admittedly got into Brad on purpose. Brad's car went airborne at 190 mph; Carl was black flagged and drove down pit road backwards in defiance and was quoted later as saying "Brad is somebody who doesn't ever give me any room." At the end of the day NASCAR handed down a three race probation period for Edwards. The next three races were quiet, even as fans waited for the next installment of Carl vs. Brad. Carl served his probation without incident.

And then we have last night. The Nationwide Series Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 at Gateway, located just east of St. Louis, MO, turned out to be a wilder night than any of us expected, I think. Restart with two to go. Carl and Brad up front. Fans were practically holding their collective breath as the two raced around the oval at Gateway. Both had great cars and were obviously the two best cars out there last night. The Green lap went without incident...and then the white flag waved.

Keselowski bumped Edwards in turn one, Edwards got sideways and saved it. Edwards kept the lead until the backstretch when Brad edged in front of him. By the time they passed through turn four Brad was clearly ahead of Carl. Out of turn four, all fans are on their feet, and Carl jams his front left into the back of Brad. Brad spins, hits the outside wall and comes back down the track. Keselowski gets slammed by Shelby Howard sending Brad's car spinning and shrapnel flies as the car breaks apart. Edwards continues to the win, asking his crew chief "Is he Okay?" on the radio. Brad walks away from the wreck and is taken to the infield care center to be checked out.

My first thoughts were that Carl saved it when Brad bumped him, whereas Brad lost it after the last hit. After watching the last lap again, I have to say that Carl did hit Brad harder than a "bump". The front corner of Carl's car was mangled from the hit. There was no visible damage to the front of Brad's car after the turn one hit. Could a more experienced driver have saved it and not wrecked after the hit that Carl gave Brad? Maybe. Could Carl have won the race without taking Brad out? Maybe. Was the retaliation hit justified? Depends on who you listen to.

Bob Keselowski was obviously in the unjustified camp. His post-race interviewed showed a man who was so angry that he was shaking and near tears. His claim that Carl is trying to kill Brad was way overboard, however. Had Carl been trying to kill or even hurt Brad the second thing out of Carl's mouth after the win would not have been "Is he Okay?" but more like "Did I finish him?" or "Tell me he's not walking out of that". Bob Keselowski's statement that Carl "tried to kill the kid" and that he wants to put on his "damn uniform and take care of this" was kind of the pot calling the kettle black after Bob said Carl overreacted. It's racing. Last lap racing, at that.

It's not the first feud that Brad has been a part of. Keselowski spun Denny Hamlin at Phoenix last year in another retaliation move. Denny had tapped Brad and Brad got into Denny in an admitted retaliation move. Brad has this to say about that incident "On the last restart there, Denny got into the back of me and pushed me up the track I was going to return the favor. When he did it to me, I saved it. When I did it to him, he didn't save it. We just got into a pushing match. I don't really don't hold any grudges. I don't know why he wanted to do that. But whatever, that's just how racing is, I guess." That's how racing is pretty much sums it up. Drivers beat and bang on one another on the track. One bang turns into another, a bump gets out of control, and pretty soon you have a pile of cars wrecking on the track.

History shows many driver feuds, retaliation for bumps, and statements that drivers make showing intentional hits - some on the track, others off the track. At the end of the 1979 Daytona 500 Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough had a physical fight on the apron after a wreck involving Donnie Allison and Yarborough that ended a chance to win for both drivers. Bobby Allison said after the fight that if he hadn't gotten in there with Cale he would have been "running from Cale Yarborough the rest of" his life. Turning the other cheeks isn't something that happens in NASCAR. Drivers settle disagreements as soon as they can, in any way they can, usually on-track, and usually ending in wrecked race cars.

Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer had a two-year long feud that started at Phoenix in 2001 and was finished in 2003 when Spencer wrecked Busch. During one installment of that feud, Kurt revved his engine in front of Jimmy's hauler in a taunting gesture. Spencer was not amused, rammed Kurt's car, and reportedly punched Kurt in the face. 2005 saw sparks between Kevin Harvick and Joe Nemechek. Tony Stewart had gotten into the back of Nemechek who then got into Harvick. Retaliation move? Harvick throws his restraint device at Nemechek's car and shoves him  after the race.

Edwards and Matt Kenseth were involved in a teammate's feud in 2007. An on-camera argument that involved pushing and a feigned punch by Edwards occurred after several on-track incidents at Martinsville. Jeff Gordon shoved Matt Kenseth after the spring race at Bristol in 2006 when Kenseth had taken out Gordon after being knocked out of the lead by Kyle Busch. Track officials had to separate Jeff and Matt. After an on-track incident between Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, Denny may have stated it best when he said "You throw a rock, I'm gonna throw a concrete block." Retaliation in NASCAR isn't ever even. It gets bigger with each move.

As it stands now, NASCAR.com still isn't showing final results for Gateway. The results on the race page are showing as "Unofficial." Are they thinking of taking the win away from Carl? Will there be another probation period for him? A suspension? Kevin Harvick's experience in 2003 proved that NASCAR will suspend a driver from Cup racing for actions in the lower-level series'. Harvick had gotten physical with Greg Biffle after a Bristol race then two weeks later slammed into Coy Gibbs' truck during a Trucks Series race resulting in a one race NASCAR suspension, keeping Harvick out of the race at Martinsville. Will Carl's actions at last night's Nationwide Gateway race keep him out of the Brickyard 400 in seven days? If not, Keselowski, Edwards, and the NASCAR fans should be in for a hell of a ride next week, as the two drivers' paths should cross more than one in Indy.

Photo Credits
Photo 1: NASCAR.com
Photo 2: NASCAR.com
Photo 3: finallapradio.com
Photo 4: Washington Post (online)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The First Sixteen: The Brickyard 400

The first driver to put a modern era stock car on the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was A.J. Foyt. Speedway President Tony George became the second later the same day. It was September 1991 and Foyt had brought a stock car to the track for filming of a commercial for Craftsman Tools. During taping George and Foyt decided it might be fun to see what the car would do on the track. It was a completely unplanned event that started much speculation about a NASCAR future at IMS.

The next summer Goodyear invited nine NASCAR teams to test tires at the track. 10,000 fans watched the two day compatibility test that June. Soon after the June 1992 testing, improvements began at the track. Many changes needed to occur at the track built for the relatively light Indy Cars to support the much heavier stock cars. Stronger catch fences were installed, outside retaining walls were reinforced, the pit area was made wider, pit stalls were recovered in concrete, and the apron replaced with a warm up lane.

On April 14, 1993 Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George and NASCAR's Bill France, Jr  announced that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would join the NASCAR schedule with a 400 mile race to be simply called The Brickyard 400. From the first running of the Brickyard 400 it has been NASCAR most attended event. With seating for 400,000 IMS had the capacity to provide a show for any race fan who could get there. On August 6, 1994 over 250,000 of those race fans, including myself, converged upon Speedway Indiana to watch the inaugural running of the Brickyard.

ABC carried the race, which from 1994 to 2000 was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon start. Rick Mast held the pole for the Inaugural Brickyard 400, one of only four poles of his NASCAR Cup career. Ernie Irvin held the late race lead until running out of fuel, allowing Jeff Gordon to race on for the victory.

The 1995 running of the Brickyard 400 was delayed over four hours due to rain.  The race only had one caution for just four laps of yellow fag racing.I hadn't even planned on going, but as they started the cars I wandered 3.3 miles from my apartment down to the track to see what was happening. I bought a ticket from a guy standing in Georgetown Road who told me they had only ran 20 laps. For $20 I sat in the Tower Terrace, seventh row and watched my favorite driver Dale Earnhardt bring home the win.

1996 was a historical race. Not because of who won, who led the most laps, who started from the pole, or because of any wreck during the race but because of the start of a new tradition. The Indianapolis 500 winner always drinks milk after exiting the car. The Brickyard 400 had no such tradition; something felt as if it were missing from the first two runnings of the Brickyard 400. Then, in 1995, Dale Jarrett's crew chief, Todd Parrott made the comment after the win that it "sure would be neat to go kiss those bricks". The whole crew started over to famed yard of bricks, having to stop once to tell slightly panicked NASCAR officials that they were "just gonna go kiss the bricks". The crowded quieted, wondering what the Roberts Yates Crew was doing as they turned their hats around backwards. The crew knelt and gave homage to the history of IMS by kissing the bricks in unison. A tradition was born.

At the end of the 1997 Brickyard 400 it was fuel strategy that paid off for Ricky Rudd as competitors Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, and Dale Jarret had to give up the lead to head for the pits. 1998 saw the first two-time Brickyard 400 winner as Jeff Gordon crossed the finish line ahead of Mark Martin. Dale Jarrett became the second two-time winner of the Brickyard 400 in 1999. Bobby Labonte won the 2000 Brickyard 400 by passing Rusty Wallace on the backstretch after Wallace had led 114 laps of the race.

The race moved to Sunday in 2001 as Jeff Gordon made the history books again when he passed Sterling Marlin on a restart for a third time Brickyard victory. 2002 gave Bill Elliot a new race to add to his long list of wins as he finished ahead of third time second place finisher Rusty Wallace.  Kevin Harvick took advantage of lap traffic in the 2003 Brickyard on a restart with 16 to go and passed Matt Kenseth to became the first winner to start from the pole. Another historic event occurred at the 2004 running of the Brickyard. For the first time in NASCAR Cup racing, and the only time at Indy, the Green-White-Checker Rule was used. One lap added to the race made all the difference as Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost an engine and Mark Martin had a tire go down. Jeff Gordon went on to win his 4th Brickyard 400.

2005 brought Indiana Native Tony Stewart his first Brickyard victory. Stewart and his team celebrated by climbing the fence at the start finish line. Points Leader Jimmie Johnson gained a win at the Brickyard in 2006 but gained no points toward the Chase, as Matt Kenseth, second in the points standings, finished right behind Johnson in the race. In 2007 Juan Pablo Montoya became the first, and only driver to race in all three major events then held at the track (Indy 500, Brickyard 400, and U.S. Grand Prix). Montoya finished second to Tony Stewart who cimbed the fence again for his second win in the 400.

2008 introduced the Car of Tomorrow to Indy. Tires were an issue as set after set of Goodyears blew up, blistered, and broke down as quickly as after 10 laps on the track. Jimmie Johnson gained the advantage and held off Carl Edwards for a second Brickyard victory. 2009 saw Mark Martin start from the pole and Juan Pablo Montoya dominate most of the race. A late penalty against Montoya dashed his hopes for a win and Jimmie Johnson held off Mark Martin for back-to-back wins at Indy. That was Johnson's third win at Indy and the first time a driver posted back-to-back victories in the race.

Jeff Gordon has the most wins with four, the most top fives with nine, the most poles with three, has led the most laps the the Brickyard, and has the most top ten finishes with 13. Casey Mears has the record for fastest qualifying lap from 2004 when he started from the pole with a qualifying speed of 186.293.Jeff Burton has completed the most laps at the Brickyard. Kasey Kahne has the best average start with a 6.2 and Tony Stewart has the best average finish with an 8.5. Chevrolet has won 11 times at the Brickyard, Ford has three wins, and both Pontiac and Dodge have one win each. Eight out of 16 times, the winner of the Brickyard 400 goes on to win that year's Cup Series Championship.

Coming off the break, the drivers are ready to head to Indianapolis again next week for the 17th running of the Brickyard 400. History will be made in some way, as it is every time we hear "Gentlemen, start your engines".

Photo Credits:
Photo 1 Dale Earnhardt, 1995, indymotorspeedway.com
Photo 2 Jeff Gordon, 2001, indymotorspeedway.com

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The History of The Brickyard

Indianapolis Motor Speedway. IMS. Indy. The Brickyard. Whatever you call it, IMS has the longest history of any track on the circuit. When the track opened in 1909 the surface wasn't built of bricks yet. Tar and crushed stone were put over layers of gravel; the result was hazardous, at best. The tar and crushed stone broke down quickly under traffic, developing pot holes, ruts, and flinging debris everywhere. The cars jumped around the track and blew tires frequently. The first auto race at Indy was just five miles, twice around the track. In that five miles a driver and his ride-along mechanic were flung from their car and killed. On day three of opening season two spectators and another mechanic were killed in on-track accidents. After the five fatalities in the IMS opening season the sanctioning body was threatening to close down the venue if something wasn't done about the surface. Paving was a new process and largely unheard of in the state; there was not a mile of paved road in Indiana in 1909. Concrete was deemed to be too expensive and thus, in December 1909 3.2 million bricks were laid over the tar and crushed stone to form the new racing surface.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was not created for Indy Cars. The first Indy Car race at the 2.5 mile oval was in 1911 but before that year there was Stock Car racing at the Brickyard. Carl Fisher opened the track in 1909 with the vision of showing the public races involving the cars that could be purchased from auto dealers. The cars had to be to standard specs. The only changes from one that a person could buy off the sales floor were that the race cars could have the headlamps and mudflaps removed, the back seat taken out, and a larger gas tank could be added. 1909 and 1910 saw Stock Car auto racing on the bricks but the leaders were frustrated with the sanctioning body, restrictions, and massive penalties that were handed down. The Stock Cars were strictly regulated and after the 1910 race the winning team was disqualified three weeks after the race because the car that team ran - the Marquette Buick - was not available to the public for purchase. A century ago saw the end of Stock Auto Racing at Indy when Fisher said that maybe the "specials", the cars built just to race, were the way to go since there were fewer restrictions to frustrate performance.

For the next 83 years Indy Car racing reigned at IMS. The 500 mile race began in 1911 in front of $80,000 spectators who paid one dollar each for admission to the track. As most know, Ray Harroun won that first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at a speed of just over 74 mph. By the 1930s speeds had increased to a point that the surface was again causing danger to the drivers and their teams and Tarmac was laid down over some rougher sections of brick at the track in 1935. During 1935 and 1936 there were many other changes made to the Speedway. The inside walls were taken out of corners, outside wall angles were changed to help keep cars from launching into the stands during wrecks, helmets were made mandatory, and the first yellow-light system was introduced the the track and it's drivers.

With a fire claiming over half of Gasoline Alley in 1941 the 1940s saw many additional improvements at the track. In 1944, driver and three-time race winner Wilbur Shaw came to the track for a tire test. He was shocked at the state of disrepair he found. He contacted the owner Eddie Rickenbacker only to be told the track was for sale and Rickenbacker would be performing no further improvements. Shaw took it upon himself to attempt to find a buyer for the facility, afraid it would otherwise be closed and the area converted to housing. In 1945 the beginning of a new era dawned. Terre Haute business Tony Hulman had a conversation with Shaw and reportedly purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway fro $750,000, although that amount has never been confirmed. Hullman quickly arranged for needed repairs to be completed before the 1946 race and the Hulman Era began.

By the 1950's speeds had doubled from the speeds in that first Indianapolis 500 to a staggering 150 mph. Stands had been added, the surface of the track repaired time and time again. Roadsters arrived to race along with Formula One Cars. Drivers, however, were worried about the safety of the track surface; many international drivers refused to compete at the track. In 1961 that last of the bricks, other than the famed yard remaining at the start/finish line, were paved over. That last remaining yard of bricks caused that nickname The Brickyard to be born. The 1960s introduced the Indy drivers we all know: AJ Foyt, Al Unser, Mario Andretti and many others. From the 1960s to the 1990s speed increased until 1996 when Indy Car driver Arie Luyendyk set the records for speed still set today. His top practice speed was over 239 mph, one lap during qualifying he turned a 237.498 mph lap, and his four lap qualifying speed was 236.986.

1994 brought the first modern-era stock cars back to the track. The Brickyard 400 inaugural race was held in 1994 with relative newcomer Jeff Gordon holding the trophy at the end of the day. Formula One cars came back to the Speedway in 1998 and IROC racing was held at the Brickyard from 1998 to 2003. Firestone Indy Lights were introduced the the track in 2005, marking the first time since 1910 that a race other than the Indianapolis 500 was held at the track in the month of May. Grand Prix Motorcycle racing arrived in 2008.

How big is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Everyone knows the track is a  2.5 mile oval but how much space does that really take up? The IMS facility covers 1,025 acres on the west side of Indianapolis. In addition to combined infield and stand seating for 400,000 there is the garage area, the IMS Museum, gift shops, concession areas, four holes of the Pete Dye designed golf course inside the track with another 14
holes outside the track's fences, and parking for hundreds. If you start at turn four, I can tell you from experience it is going to take you at least a half hour to walk at a steady pace to the Pagoda behind the start/finish line. 101 years after being built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still the place to be, the place to race, and the place that every driver wants to win whether they are in an Indy Car, Indy Lights, IROC, Formula One, a Stock Car, on a Motorcycle, or on foot for the mini-marathon held as part of the Indianapolis 500 Celebration each month of May.

Photo Credits:
Photo 1: Getty Images: Cars -- stock cars -- line up for a 100-mile race in 1910.
Photo 2: Indy Club, Indymotorspeedway.com
Photo 3: indianapolismotorspeedway.com 

Friday, July 9, 2010

NASCAR: Chicagoland By the Numbers

NASCAR is in Illinois this weekend, at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL. Here we are to find out who historically has done well at this track, who has the best chance to win this week, and who has the edge based on performances at similar tracks. Chicagoland is a 1.5 mile D-shaped oval. The entire backstretch is somewhat curved, however, and that makes this track unique.

Jimmie Johnson is tied with Tony Stewart for the most top ten finishes at Chicagoland with seven each. Jimmie also hold the fastest qualifying lap record with a speed of 188.147 in 2005. Jimmie was a strong contender to win the 2009 Life Lock 400 but ran out of fuel before the end of the race; historically JJ is good on 1.5 mile tracks. Tony not only is tied with Jimmie for the most top tens but all of his top tens were also top five finishes; Tony holds the records at Chicagoland for most top five finishes with seven. Tony is the sole owner of the record for most laps led at Chicagoland; he has led 396 laps in Cup races in Joliet. Stewart is tied with Kevin Harvick for the most wins; both Harvick and Stewart have won at Chicagoland twice. Kevin also holds the race speed records from the 2002 race in which Harvick won with an average speed of 136.832. Could either Kevin or Tony make this the year to make the record three wins?

Mark Martin won last years Life Lock 400. Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Kyle Busch all have had previous wins at Chicagoland, as well. Kyle Busch has had a frustrating last couple of races and is out for blood this week. If desire alone could get a car and driver to the Winner's Circle after the race, Kyle is there. Jeff Gordon is trying to secure a spot in the Chase, he wants this win nearly as badly as Kyle does. Jeff finished second to Mark Martin in 2009 at Chicagoland, he wants to better that runner-up status this time around. Newman has had top tens the last three July races at Chicagoland, he's obviously got this track almost figured out. Could this be the year it all comes together?

After last weeks Nationwide win and 4th place Cup Race finish, Dale Earnhardt Jr has some momentum going. Barring a wreck or mechanical failure Jr should be in the top ten at the end of the Life Lock 400 on Saturday night. Joey Logano won the 2009 Nationwide race at Chicagoland and has shown he can be a competitor at the Cup level once he has figured out a track. Could this be Joey's race to win?

Carl Edwards has shown he is usually a contender on 1.5 mile tracks. Sitting in spot number 12 in the Cup Point standings, Carl is definitely looking for a win this week to solidify his place in the Chase. One more driver to watch to crack the top ten this week at Chicagoland is Greg Biffle. Biffle is another strong 1.5 mile track driver, has had a couple top tens at previous races this year on 1.5 mile tracks, and has been quietly performing strongly enough to be sitting in the number 10 spot in the Points.

By the numbers, I am looking for the Top Ten at the end of the Life Lock 400 from Chicagoland, in no particular order, to include Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, and Greg Biffle. Watch for a top five to include Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, and Joey Logano. My pick for the weekend win is Tony Stewart.

In two weeks NASCAR heads to my Home Track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400. Who has the best chances at the Brickyard? Find out in two weeks in the next installment of NASCAR: By the Numbers.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Why is LeBron and his choice such a big deal?

I don't know how many times I have heard the question from NASCAR fans. "Why is this such a big deal?" or  "Who cares where LeBron goes?". So maybe if you are not a basketball fan it doesn't matter a bit where LeBron decides to play. To basketball fans it matters. A lot. Let's put it into perspective.

Is it a big deal trying to figure out where Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin are going to race next year? Hell yes it is! When "Kasey Kahne to Hendrick Motorsports", in quotes, is entered into Google I receive 2,610 results. Searching Kasey Kahne + Hendrick Motorsports gets me 91,000 results to browse. News came this morning from Randy Pemberton, brother of Red Bull Racing Crew Chief Ryan Pemberton, that Mark Martin will be racing for Team Red Bull in 2011. Randy said this on SPEED this morning; there are around 20 web search results that are directly related to the rumor at this point. Do you think NBA fans care where those two fine men race in 2011? Nope.

How about when Dale Earnhardt Jr was leaving DEI? A search for "Dale Jr to leave DEI" returned 266 search results on Google. The same search without quotes returned over 21,000 results. It was a huge deal. There was a televised announcement of his switch to Hendrick (I watched it), shirts were made commemorating the date (I have one), and there wasn't a NASCAR fan, Dale Jr fan or not, who didn't have an opinion on where Dale Jr would end up in 2008. Did NBA fans care one way or the other? Negative.

A search for "Tony Stewart to leave JGR" returned more than 1,700 results. Searching for "Kasey Kahne to join Hendrick Motorsports" gives almost 2,000 results. NASCAR fans love our drivers and love the news on where our drivers may or may not go, don't we?

"LeBron to leave Cavs" brings in 82 results. "LeBron to leave Cavaliers" returns just three results, "LeBron leavings Cavaliers" only six. I finally typed in "LeBron free agent" + 2010 and hit the jackpot; with that phrase in quotes I received 178,000 results. NBA love their players and want to know what teams the players are moving to. Just like we NASCAR fans need to know about our drivers and who they will be driving for.