Monday, December 1, 2008

Goodbye 2008, Hello 2009

The 2008 Sprint Cup season ends with a familiar face leading the way while the economy and NASCAR itself stare down the barrel of a potentially disastrous 2009. But before we as a country and beer-drinking racing fans embark down that treacherous path, it’s time to look at the 2008 season that can be summed up by five words: Busch, blown tires and Jimmie. In one of my first blog entries, I predicted the most important stories of the year would center around Sprint’s new sponsorship of NASCAR, Joe Gibbs changing to Toyota, the COT’s first year, Cup drivers dominating Nationwide and, of course, Dale Jr. Well, three-outta-five ain’t bad, right?

The first half of the season was all about Joe Gibbs Racing and, more importantly, Kyle Busch’s rise to the NASCAR elite. No one could touch the No. 18 as kid racked up eight victories during the regular season. Then, the bottom inexplicably fell out as Busch barely made it in the Top-10 of the points standings by the end of the Chase. Regardless, Busch, Gibbs and Toyota have proven they will be players for many years.

The Car of Today would proved to be a worth successor, although it tore up Goodyear tires like Cole Trickle. Atlanta proved to be a brutal testing ground in March when the tire compound was too hard, causing the cars to become ridiculously loose in the corners. But the war between the heavier COT and Goodyear rubber finally came to a head at Indianapolis when NASCAR threw caution flags every 10 to 14 laps to make sure the teams didn’t stretch the tire’s performance limit. It was a pathetic display, and one that never seemed fully corrected. NASCAR, Goodyear and the teams must figure out what’s causing the problems and find a happy medium to combine good racing with safety.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a somewhat successful inaugural season at Hendrick by capturing a win in June. But his inability to turn strong runs into quality finishes cost him a shot at the championship. Still, teammate Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, flourished beginning at the midpoint of the season to capture their third-straight Cup. It’s an amazing accomplishment by a team that shows no signs of slowing down. Carl Edwards was gracious in losing, but he had an equally stellar season. He might be the 2008 champion if not for a boneheaded move at Talladega where he triggered a multi-car crash that Johnson miraculously avoided.

But the most important story of 2008 may have lasting ramifications for NASCAR. The economic downturn is hitting all facets of American life, but motorsports will especially be affected because teams deeply rely on sponsorship dollars. NASCAR already took the extraordinary step of banning testing at all Sprint Cup tracks and DEI and Ganassi agreed to merge. Expect more to follow that lead as 43-car fields become a thing of the past. Regan Smith won rookie of the year and was promptly handed his walking papers. On top of all that, imagine what will happen if General Motors, Ford or Chrysler go under. The landscape of NASCAR is changing faster than any one could have predicted just a year ago. It will be interesting to see what the sport looks like when the cars take the green flag at Daytona on Feb. 15.

From PPMS to Daytona's white sandy beaches, thanks for reading this year. I will periodically post here before starting up again full-time in February. Good luck and see y'all in 2009 ... hopefully.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Moose Hunt" for Mike

Track operators at Lernerville Speedway in Pennsylvania will hold a "Moose Hunt" charity dinner this weekend for the track official injured by an out-of-control race car at a sister speedway in Indiana County.

Mike “Moose” Polena, 42, of Sarver, Pa., suffered multiple injuries on Oct. 10 when an enraged driver purposely crashed into another racer at Challenger Speedway, causing the car to careen into Polena as he prepared to line up cars on the track. He was taken to a Pittsburgh-area hospital following the crash. One of Polena’s coworkers said Thursday that he has not yet returned to work and is continuing “intense physical therapy” to rehab his severely damaged knee.


To help Polena, speedway officials will host a “Moose Hunt” spaghetti dinner and Chinese auction on Sunday at the Saxonburg Fire Department ballroom in Butler County. The event is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. and costs $7 for adults and $5 for children. Call 724-352-5957 or go to the speedway’s Web site for more info.

(Thanks to track photographer Cory Stivason for the picture)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Flip-flopped

Being a gracious loser can be difficult, but Carl Edwards climbed from his winning car, performed his traditional victory backflip and the walked towards Jimmie Johnson. Understanding it was Johnson’s day and not his, he shook the No. 48 driver’s hand, patted his helmet and then walked away. In victory lane, Edwards appeared almost distraught at how close he had come – just 69 points - to winning his first championship. But looking at the numbers, he did win the championship, at least in my mind.

Using the non-Chase points system, Edwards would have topped Johnson by just 16 points. Of course, Johnson probably would have raced harder at Homestead had the points race been narrower and nothing should be taken away from him or his team. I have no doubt he could have, and would have, won this championship if the points deficit was substantially less. He is a great champion and leader of NASCAR.

But this should once and for all finish the theory that the Chase creates excitement. If this year showed anything, the drivers are plenty capable of doing that at the track. It’s time for Brian France to reverse course on the Chase and go back to the original points format, albeit with a greater emphasis on winning. Now is the time to show that in NASCAR, unlike others sports, the driver and team that win must be the best during the entire year. If that were the case this year, we would’ve been in for one hell of a race at Homestead.

2008 Non-Chase Points
1. Carl Edwards – 5236
2. Jimmie Johnson (–16)
3. Kyle Busch (-252)
4. Greg Biffle (-489)
5. Jeff Burton (-527)
6. Dale Earnhardt (-541)
7. Kevin Harvick (-608)
8. Jeff Gordon (-699)
9. Tony Stewart (-749)
10. Clint Bowyer (-749)
11. Denny Hamlin (-797)
12. Matt Kenseth (-929)
13. David Ragan (-945)

The rest of the points standings shook out relatively similar to the Chase standings. It’s amazing to see that Kyle Busch will barely squeak into the banquet table with a 10th place finish in the Chase. The eight-time winner in 2008 finished just two points ahead of Matt Kenseth, who had no victories. Has a driver with such a dominate first-half of the season ever fallen so fast? I doubt it.

Also, Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer would have tied in the non-Chase format. But Stewart would have been placed ahead of Bowyer because Stewart had three more top-5 finishes. Look for more follow-up on the season this week before I shut down the blog for the winter. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What would Bob Saget do?

How far has NASCAR fallen? Apparently, interest has dropped so much that the nation would rather watch a monkey scratching its butt than Jimmie Johnson coasting to victory lane and a third-straight championship. That decision has been the talk of the town this week after ABC-TV cut away from the Phoenix race Sunday night in order to broadcast “America’s Funniest Home Videos” - a legendary show that continues to succeed as long as stupid people own camcorders. The network switched the race over to ESPN2 with 34 laps remaining, which shouldn’t have been much of a problem, unless you’re one of the 3 percent of American households that still uses rabbit ear antennas. (Don't forget to order your digital transformer box from the federal government by February 2009!)

At the track, each team has a satellite feed to their pit box, so it seems they could have switched to either broadcast. With the No. 48 on cruise control, Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, apparently settled on the silly little monkey, as an unnamed crewman pointed out in victory lane.

“I knew we were in trouble when I looked at the monitor and saw a monkey scratching its butt," he said.

A friend of mine – better known around the blogosphere as Death Beer – watched AFHV and was deflated over the important decision. Oh no, he wasn’t upset that ABC booted the race, but rather that the wrong video purportedly won the $25,000 prize at the end.

“I thought the cat sliding off the slippery table beat the kid hitting his dad with a wiffle ball this week,” Mr. Beer said.

What was ABC thinking when they made this decision? Well, obviously, they were thinking about ratings. It's no surprise that the National Football League rules the ratings war against NASCAR, but it’s kinda sickening that AFHV is also apparently banking a heckuva lot more viewers than Sprint Cup racing. I realize there's a new host on the show, but maybe ABC’s best option is to get Bob Saget in a stock car at Homestead. A right-hand turn into the wall and a few barrel rolls could be as funny as his video narration. We could even mail in that home video for a shot at the $25,000 ... or maybe not.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The party's over

Game over. Jimmie Johnson will win his third championship, putting him in the elite company of Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to win the thrice in a row. It seems impossible for Carl Edwards to overcome a 141-point deficit to beat Johnson. It’s just not going to happen. Johnson usually runs poor at Homestead, but he would have to finish nearly dead last to blow this lead. He is the champion and deserves to be regardless of the championship format. Had NASCAR kept the original points standings format, however, Johnson would be leading by only 56. Still a strong lead, but not insurmountable.

A closer look at the non-Chase standings will show an airtight battle from eight to 11th. Jeff Gordon is just 57 points ahead of Denny Hamlin in 11th. That would be quite an interesting showdown between four drivers to see who could finish the season in the top-10. With this weekend’s race in Homestead will be a snoozer. Still, it’s nice to see a tight battle in Truck and Nationwide.

Standings after Phoenix
1. Jimmie Johnson – 5097
2. Carl Edwards – 5041 (-56)
3. Kyle Busch – 4878 (-219)
4. Jeff Burton – 4666 (-431)
5. Dale Earnhardt – 4655 (-432)
6. Greg Biffle – 4638 (-459)
7. Kevin Harvick – 4453 (-644)
8. Jeff Gordon – 4372 (-725)
9. Tony Stewart – 4344 (-753)
10. Clint Bowyer – 4332 (-765)
11. Denny Hamlin – 4315 (-782)
12. Matt Kenseth – 4214 (-883)
13. David Ragan – 4208 (-889)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Chase race tightens

Don’t tell Carl Edwards this championship is over. Despite a nearly insurmountable deficit behind points leader Jimmie Johnson, Edwards continues to run hard, win and chip away. He received some especially good luck when the No. 48 team hiccupped with the car’s set up that effectively stalled their sprint to the championship. Johnson went down a lap early and was never able to adjust the car to get back into contention. The result? Edwards made up 77 points on Johnson, giving him a legitimate, albeit outside, chance at the championship. Had NASCAR not messed up the championship points standing with Chase, the standings would be even closer. Could you imagine the excitement generated in Phoenix and Homestead with just 21 points seperating the best two drivers? It has shades of 1992, but it won’t happen because of the Chase. And NASCAR wonders why its rating are sinking and the stands are empty.

Standings after Texas
1. Jimmie Johnson – 4902
2. Carl Edwards – 4881 (-21)
3. Kyle Busch – 4736 (-166)
4. Jeff Burton – 4528 (-374)
5. Greg Biffle – 4503 (-399)
6. Dale Earnhardt – 4415 (-487)
7. Jeff Gordon – 4332 (-570)
8. Kevin Harvick – 4307 (-595)
9. Tony Stewart – 4247 (-655)
10. Clint Bowyer – 4205 (-697)
11. Denny Hamlin – 4160 (-742)
12. Matt Kenseth – 4096 (-806)
13. David Ragan – 4074 (-828)

Lugnuts and spare tires:
When is Jeff Gordon going to win a race? He finished second to Edwards, but it is still not enough to extend his 14-year winning streak that began in 1994 when he won the Coke 600 and Brickyard 400 In his second season. That streak is just behind Dale Earnhardt, who won at least once in 15 straight years, and Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace, both of whom had 16-year win streaks. Gordon still has two races left, and his best shot appears to be this week at Phoenix, where he is a perennial contender.

If weekly scrub David Gilliland’s career isn’t over, then it should be. The driver of the No. 38 Yates car has been a failure in two seasons in Cup, but he should be bagging groceries after his stunt Sunday night. He and Juan Montoya were scrapping it up when Gilliland made a hard left turn into the No. 42’s rear panel. It sent Montoya hard into the wall. Gilliland said he misjudged the move while trying to pull behind Montoya. What a bunch of B.S. He clearly tried to dump the No. 42 in what could’ve been a deadly move. And even if it was an honest miscalculation, that shows an utter lack of talent. Regardless, Paul Menard is taking his ride next year. If Yates was smart, he would make sure it happened immediately

Thursday, October 30, 2008

NASCAR's golden era

There was a time in the 1990s when the No. 4 Kodak Film Chevy was a major player in NASCAR. No more. If there is any example about how much NASCAR has changed in the past decade, merely look at that orangish-yellow Morgan-McClure car. Ernie Irvan won several races, including the 1991 Daytona 500 and Sterling Marlin succeeded him by winning back-to-back 500s a few years later. It’s fitting I found the above photo of Irvan in the black car chasing Marlin to the 1994 Daytona 500 checkers.

But two stories caught my eye as they scrolled across the ESPN.com wire. First, Kodak is leaving Penske Racing, thus halting it’s 22-year relationship with NASCAR. Additionally, Larry McClure, one of the founders of the No. 4, has been indicted on federal tax violations. Those two stories, side-by-side on the NEWS bar, slapped me square in the face. Not because these are earth-shattering developments – neither have been important pieces in recent years - but because it represents the end of an era.

Gone are most of the sponsors that helped NASCAR roar through the 1990s. Gone are single-car teams that defied the odds to win races against superteams such as Hendrick or Roush. Gone are the individual characteristics between each car manufacturer with the new cookie-cutter COT.

NASCAR shouldn’t live in the past (as I have a tendency to do) but this is a real gut check for hardcore racing fans. And maybe it’s an indication that it’s to suck it up and move past the 1990s. The 2009 season is just around the corner.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Atlanta rewind

Not much else to say about Atlanta except that the No. 48 team is on a mission. Not only did they come back from a lap down early in the race, but Chad Knaus decided to pit for tires with less than 10 laps to go. It allowed Jimmie Johnson to rip through the field and finish behind winner Carl Edwards. That negated the huge points gain Edwards hoped for and all but cemented Johnson as a three-time champion baring a major blunder at Texas, Phoenix and Miami. Here are how the standings would look in the pre-2004 points format, and the top spots don't look much different than the Chase order.

Standings after Atlanta
1. Jimmie Johnson – 4784
2. Carl Edwards – 4686 (-98)
3. Kyle Busch – 4581 (-203)
4. Jeff Burton – 4404 (-380)
5. Greg Biffle – 4343 (-441)
6. Dale Earnhardt – 4307 (-477)
7. Kevin Harvick – 4224 (-560)
8. Jeff Gordon – 4157 (-627)
9. Tony Stewart – 4132 (-652)
10. Denny Hamlin – 4048 (-736)
11. Clint Bowyer – 4040 (-744)
12. Matt Kenseth – 3958 (-826)
13. David Ragan – 3944 (-840)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Road rage racer arrested

Pennsylvania State Police in Indiana County have arrested the racecar driver accused of crashing his car into another racer and seriously injuring a track official. Samuel M. McAdams, 27, of Blacklick, Pa., was charged Monday morning with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct.

Police said McAdams was racing at Challenger Speedway in Indiana County on Oct. 10 when another driver, Dale Zufall of Latrobe, spun him out in Turn 1. With the yellow flag out, McAdams drove backwards on the track and into Zufall’s car, causing it to spin out near the start-finish line where a track official was lining up other cars, police said. The official, Michael Polena, 42, of Sarver, Pa., suffered a bruised lung, dislocated kneecap and torn ligaments. He was taken to a Pittsburgh-area hospital where a co-worker named “Yvonne” reported in a previous post on this blog that Polena is “doing all right and in good spirits. … Hopefully, lessons will be learned from this experience.”

McAdams was arraigned Monday morning and released on an unsecured bond. Police said he is cooperating with their investigation.

Martinsville Monday

While calling the presidential race for Barack Obama might be a tad bit early, the same cannot be said for Jimmie Johnson in his pursuit for a third-consecutive Sprint Cup title. Johnson had another flawless performance at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, easily holding off late charges by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Team Lowes is a machine that simply doesn’t make mistakes under the leadership of crew chief Chad Knaus. Therefore, the only thing that’s left for them is to steer clear of the crashes. And considering their luck over the past six races, that shouldn’t be hard to do with their seemingly insurmountable points lead.

The rest of the race was pretty mediocre for the top-Chasers. Carl Edwards finished third, but Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and The Biff did very little. The championship race would be slightly tighter, although still be a runaway, if NASCAR was using the pre-Chase points format. Regardless, the No. 48 is running as well, if not better, than Jeff Gordon and the Rainbow Warriors did a decade ago. The number, driver and paint scheme all are different, but Hendrick is back at it again with another winning combination.

Here’s a look at the standings as they would appear before the Chase. Notice that David Ragan would have bypassed Matt Kenseth for 12th place in the standings.

Standings after Martinsville
1. Jimmie Johnson – 4609 (Leader)
2. Carl Edwards – 4496 (-113)
3. Kyle Busch – 4426 (-183)
4. Jeff Burton – 4295 (-314)
5. Greg Biffle – 4204 (-405)
6. Dale Earnhardt – 4172 (-437)
7. Kevin Harvick – 4100 (-509)
8. Tony Stewart – 4020 (-589)
9. Jeff Gordon – 4019 (-590)
10. Clint Bowyer – 3937 (-672)
11. Denny Hamlin – 3878 (-731)
12. David Ragan - 3802 (-807)
13. Matt Kenseth – 3788 (-821)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Road rage

Found a bizarre story on the wire about a race car driver with a severe case of road rage. According to The Associated Press, a driver at Challenger Raceway in Indiana County, Pa., became angry after a fellow racer spun him out near the end of one of the feature events Saturday night. Rather than getting out of his car and having a few words with the other driver, he drove in the wrong direction on the track and crashed into the other car. That sent the two cars careening into a 42-year-old track official. The official, Michael Polena, was taken to a Pittsburgh hospital with a dislocated left knee, torn ligaments and a bruised lung. Now state police are preparing to file charges against the driver, who investigators declined to identify.

This is one of the most bizarre racing stories I've ever read, although it reminds me of my younger video gaming days when I'd play NASCAR Racing 2 on my home computer. Sure, I'd spin my car around and drive more than 200 mph the wrong way at Talladega. It'd create quite a spectacular crash - mostly aimed at Jeff Gordon - but at least no one got hurt. However, this short-tracking idiot from Indiana County must never be allowed to set foot inside a race track again. Racing is dangerous enough without this joker on the track. The consequences are too severe for this type of stupidity.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Burton seizes the night

A smile curled upon my lips as NASCAR’s good guy, Jeff Burton, pulled away from Jimmie Johnson and left Kasey Kahne in the dust. In today’s Sprint Cup, angry exchanges or flashy celebrations are the norm. That’s a lot of fun, but it was even better to watch Burton tote that checkered flag while driving the Polish victory lap made famous by Alan Kulwicki, the long-forgotten 1992 Winton Cup Champion. Moments later I received a text message from a friend offering the same sentiment: “Seeing J Burton win makes me smile.”

Regardless of the sappy sentiments, Burton’s win is significant in that it brings him within striking of the points leader Johnson. He’s now only 69 points back and appears to one of three drivers with a shot at the title. What was most striking about the Bank of America 500 at Lowe’s on Saturday night was how many Chase drivers had problems. Carl Edwards came in leading, but had a myriad of problems and dropped to fourth. And the championship hopes for Dale Earnhardt conclusively faded after another poor finish.

So barring a miracle, the championship will come down to Johnson, Burton and Greg Biffle. Edwards and Clint Bowyer each have an outside chance, but they better turn things around now. And for Burton, that’s a better shot than he would’ve had in the previous points format. Here’s what the standings would look like under the pre-2004 format.

Standings after Charlotte

Jimmie Johnson – 4414 (Leader)
Kyle Busch – 4350 (-64)
Carl Edwards – 4331 (-83)
Jeff Burton - 4183 (-231)
Greg Biffle – 4072 (-342)
Dale Earnhardt – 4002 (-412)
Kevin Harvick – 3954 (-460)
Tony Stewart – 3935 (-479)
Jeff Gordon – 3854 (-560)
Clint Bowyer – 3799 (-615)
Denny Hamlin – 3723 (-691)
Matt Kenseth – 3641 (-773)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Goodyear's tired act

Talladega certainly was a wild card – as were those unpredictable Goodyear tires – that shook up the Chase for the Cup. But if the old points format was in place today, the championship standings would be an interesting three-driver fight between Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. Here’s a look a the anti-Chase simulation under the pre-2004 system.

Standings after Talladega
1. Carl Edwards – 4267
2. Jimmie Johnson (–13)
3. Kyle Busch (-82)
4. Jeff Burton (-274)
5. Dale Earnhardt (-320)
6. Greg Biffle (-346)
7. Kevin Harvick (-437)
8. Tony Stewart (-467)
9. Jeff Gordon (-560)
10. Clint Bowyer (-595)
11. Denny Hamlin (-659)
12. Matt Kenseth (-671)

A few thoughts crossed my mind as the checkered flag dropped on Regan Smith. First, of course, was who should have won? While Smith did break the rules by going below the yellow line, Stewart pushed him there, which I believe also is illegal. Smith said if he didn’t go low, he would have hit Stewart’s car and started a pileup. Well, why didn’t he? Isn’t that how Kyle Busch won at Talladega in the spring? If NASCAR punishes most drivers in those situations – Smith finished 18th rather than 2nd – then it’s about time they learn to hold their groove above the yellow line and the consequences be damned.

Also, when is Goodyear going to get its act together? ESPN interviewed a Goodyear official in a pathetic attempt to explain why the tires were being blown out worse than the Chicago Cubs. He blamed it on drivers running over debris. I’ve been watching restrictor plate racing for a long time and never have I seen that many tire failures. It’s time NASCAR investigates the problem itself and forces Goodyear to act … or else.

If you like big wrecks, then Talladega was the race to watch, but I prefer to see a great finish. In the end, we got an interesting race to the checkers, albeit, somewhat unsatisfying.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tour de Diesel

More than 180 drivers will rotate in two-dozen silver Audi’s as they make a 4,800-mile trip from New York City to Los Angeles to promote the use of diesel-fueled cars. The 14-day trip, which begins Monday, will swing through Jennerstown, Somerset County, as the tour stops Tuesday afternoon for a bite to eat at Green Gables Restaurant on Somerset Pike. The parade of diesel Audi’s then will jump on the Pennsylvania Turnpike towards Cleveland and Chicago.

“The purpose is to show that diesel is not what it used to be,” said Jane Yuan, a publicist for Audi. “People think it’s dirty and expensive or not as efficient and convenient. We want to try and educate the American consumer that diesel is better and has more (mileage) longevity.”

So why would such a high-profile fleet drive straight into rural Jennerstown? Yuan said it's to showcase the diesel-fueled cars on all types of roads: Highways, secondary streets and country roads. While diesel does get better fuel mileage, it typically costs about a dollar more a gallon than unleaded. It will be interesting to see if Americans make the switch while keeping a close eye on their gas gauge.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Godspeed, A.J.

At least A.J. Allmendinger went out with a bang. The now former Team Red Bull driver finished his undistinguished two seasons in the No. 84 with a ninth-place finish at Kansas and received a swift kick out the door. The former open-wheel star, who is being replaced by Mike Skinner and Scott Speed, is now looking for a new ride and has garnered some interest.

But two questions come to my mind. Why doesn’t Allmendinger make a return to Indy cars and why is Red Bull hiring another former open-wheel driver in Speed? Haven’t they already learned from their mistake of hiring a rookie not ready for the heavier and less agile stock cars? It amazed me to hear they were replacing a NASCAR novice open-wheeler with, well, another NASCAR novice open-wheeler.

Speed, a former Formula One driver, has raced in 10 Truck races this year and won at Dover. Good, albeit preliminary, results. But the decision to place him in the car should still raise a few red flags. Maybe the rationale was explained by Allmendinger last week when he said decision was made by executives in Red Bull’s corporate headquarters in Austria. Red Bull may give you wings, but it won’t necessarily give you stock car talent.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Up in smoke

It would be a monumental understatement to say that Kyle Busch blew his shot at the Sprint Cup title. The driver and team that could do nothing wrong in the first 26 races have done nothing right over the past three weeks. And it couldn’t have happened at a worst time. Busch had what appeared to be an insurmountable 207-point lead before the Chase began, but because of the recalibrated standings, that was whittled down to merely 30 going into New Hampshire.

Standings after Richmond
1. Kyle Busch – 3878
2. Carl Edwards (–207)
3. Jimmie Johnson (–302)
4. Dale Earnhardt (–390)
5. Jeff Burton (–494)
6. Tony Stewart (–593)
7. Kevin Harvick (–595)
8. Greg Biffle (–598)
9. Denny Hamlin (–643)
10. Jeff Gordon (–657)
11. Matt Kenseth (–746)
12. Clint Bowyer (–762)
13. Kasey Kahne (–831)
14. David Ragan (–839)

So what would the standings look like now had his large lead not been wiped out and would he still be on the verge of blowing the championship if not for the Chase? The answer is yes. Busch’s season has tanked so badly since Richmond that he would’ve lost the points lead even under the pre-2004 points standings configuration. That’s what makes this meltdown that much more incredible as Busch's chances went up in smoke with another poor finish Sunday. It's an unheard of 331-point swing over the last three races. Here’s what the standings would look like without the Chase.

Standings after Kansas
1. Carl Edwards – 4186
2. Jimmie Johnson (–75)
3. Kyle Busch (-124)
4. Dale Earnhardt (-323)
5. Jeff Burton (-358)
6. Greg Biffle (-361)
7. Kevin Harvick (-464)
8. Jeff Gordon (-533)
9. Tony Stewart (-581)
10. Denny Hamlin (-629)
11. Clint Bowyer (-669)
12. Matt Kenseth (-680)
13. David Ragan (-817)
14. Kasey Kahne (-824)

It's not a secret that I hate the Chase. So each week I'd like to revisit these standings to see who the "real" champion would be had NASCAR not blown up a perfectly good points system.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pittsburger 100

Steve Baker led from start to finish Saturday night to win the 20th annual Pittsburgher 100 at Pennsylvania Motor Speedway. Baker of Fairmont, W.Va., held off a late-race challenge by Davey Johnson and beat 30 other drivers to earn $12,000 for the victory. The best finisher from Washington County was McDonald resident Brandon Burgoon, who finished 11th. Forty-eight drivers attempted to qualify for the lucrative race and 16 were sent home. The event was part of the Unified Force Championship Tour that sends late model drivers to tracks in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Pittsburgher 100 results
1. Steve Baker - Fairmont, W.Va.
2. Davey Johnson - Latrobe
3. Doug Dodd - Cambridge, Ohio
4. Alex Ferree - Saxonburg
5. Josh Richards - Shinston, W.Va.
6. Jeremy Miller – Gettysburg
7. Matt Lux – Franklin
8. Lynn Geisler – Cranberry
9. Al Atallah – Bridgeville
10. Dave Hess, Jr. – Waterford

Crate Late/Semi-late models – 25-lap feature
1. Kyle Lukon - Burgettstown
2. Bryant Hank
3. Daryl Charlier
4. Mike Pegher Jr.
5. Rocky Kugel

E-Modifieds/UEMS – 25-lap feature
1. Keith Berner – Millersburg, Ohio
2. Randy Hall
3. Dave Groves
4. Jacob Hawkins
5. Daryl Charlier

Pure Stocks/B-Cadets – 25-lap feature
1. Pat Weldon - Monongahela
2. Tim Folmer
3. Bill Robertson
4. Bobby Heim
5. Pat Hanley

Amateur Stocks – 12-lap feature
1. Eric Goldberg – Pittsburgh
2. Gary Smith
3. Jeff Broniszewski
4. Brian Huchko
5. Joey Koteles

Monday, September 22, 2008

Three-car chase

What a race. The last 20 laps were astounding as three Roush-Fenway teammates bumped and battled for the checkers in the second Chase event at Dover. The ESPN commentators were saying this was one of the best races at Dover they’ve ever seen. And they were right. Thankfully, the Steelers/Eagles were at halftime, giving me and other Pittsburghers plenty of time to watch the mad dash to the finish.

This wasn’t a typical race with a few cars shifting around each other for an important win. The fact these were teammates, all of whom raced each other clean, is what made this race so special. Matt Kenseth first battled Carl Edwards with about 20 to go and eventually got past him. Then he had to hold off a furious challenge from Greg Biffle, who eventually took the lead on lap 9 and never looked back. All of this, meanwhile, happened around a pack of lap cars.

Most watching had to think Edwards was out of it because he took only two tires on the final pit stop. But several lap cars slowed Kenseth and Biffle, allowing him to catch up and even get a nose under the first place car. It just makes you wonder what team owner Jack Roush was thinking during those frantic 20 laps. Sure, he had a great shot of one of his cars winning, but it seems as if the chances of a three-car disaster were even more likely. Could you imagine the headlines today if those three crashed each other with a few laps to go? But they didn’t, and it appears Roush is well positioned for his third Cup title in six years.

This is what NASCAR should be about. Regardless of how the Chase unfolds in the next eight weeks, this was one of the best Sprint Cup races I’ve seen in quite a while.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bowyer's banana split

It was obvious NASCAR made it to the big time when Jeff Gordon on several occasions co-hosted the popular morning show, Live with Regis and Kelly, earlier this century. But what does it say about the sport when the drivers are seen on that same show having an ice cream battle? Before heading for my late-shift on Wednesday, I turned on the tube and saw the top six drivers sitting on stools and being interviewed by Reg and Kelly. These weren’t your typical racing questions, of course, but the hosts wanted to know why Dale Earnhardt Jr. is so popular. Kyle Busch quickly quipped, “The ladies love him.”

If seeing NASCAR’s six best drivers squirming in suits while sitting on high stools wasn’t bizarre enough, they turned the segment into a game show. After the commercial break, workers covered the set with a tarp, set up large ice cream buckets and fitted the host and their guests scoopers and cones. One driver tossed a ball of ice cream to his teammate, who was supposed to catch it in the cone while several feet away. Pretty stupid and pretty boring. Busch seemed to have the best touch, though, and caught three.

But the most entertaining part came a few seconds after the buzzer rang and the competition ended. The drivers gave a few fake chuckles as they looked over to the official timer. That’s when a large ball of Vanilla came whipping by and narrowly missed Clint Bowyer’s crotch. Carl Edwards, known for his workout routines and chiseled physique, had some serious power behind that flying frozen dairy. Sure, it was a clever prank, but a few inches to the left and Edwards may have turned Bowyer into a true banana split.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chasing the Top-10

One of my NASCAR buddies brought up an interesting point over the weekend while watching the first Chase race at New Hampshire. Maybe it was obvious to him because his favorite driver is out of the playoffs, but he found it odd that ABC-TV paid little or no attention to the 31 cars outside the Chase. I didn’t find it that unusual, however, considering those 12 Chasers are the most prominent cars going for the championship. But more importantly, could it also be that the best cars are naturally running up front? It would be questionable for ABC to show the field-filler cars running in 30th position. So I looked into the statistics from last year’s Chase and found some interesting results.

Chasers won nine of the 10 races last year with only non-playoff contender Greg Biffle notching a victory last season at Kansas. The percentage for Chase driver finishing in the Top-10 also was surprisingly high. The 12 Chasers combined to finish in Top-10 positions 63 percent of the time. That means on average, about six Chase drivers finished in the Top-10 each race. And eight Chasers finished in the Top-10 in each of the final three races last year at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.

So is ABC knowingly showing only Chase drivers, or does it just happen that way because most of them are running up front. The best way to find out this weekend is to watch that scrolling results ticker at the top of the screen. If the first 10 positions are stuffed mostly with those yellow-filled names, then I guess we have our answer.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Weekend events

Pittsburgh Raceway Park in New Alexandria, Pa., is hosting its Nostalgia Day this Saturday. The event begins at 11 a.m. and will feature a car show, car cruise and an eighth-mile drag races using cars manufactured before 1980. Don “Big Daddy” Garlits will be at the track to sign autographs and showcase his “Swamp Rat” 12-B car built in 1968. The Great Lakes Nostalgia Funny Car Circuit will begin making runs down the drag strip at 1:30 p.m.

Tickets to watch the drag racing is $15 for adults. For more information, go to PRP’s Web site.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Southern disaster

You probably already know that Chip Ganassi Racing is in shambles. The racing titan from Western Pennsylvania earlier this year disbanded the No. 40 NASCAR team and lost promising driver Reed Sorensen to Gillett-Evernham. Oddly, the same cannot be said for Ganassi’s open-wheel teams as they continue to flourish in IndyCar. His driver, Scott Dixon, this weekend won his second championship since 2003. Ganassi also has tapped Dario Franchitti, who struggled mightily in NASCAR, to replace outgoing Dan Wheldon. Franchitti, the 2007 Indy 500 winner and series champion, should be able to make a seamless transition. Why he ever attempted to switch to NASCAR is still questionable, but it did get him out of his contract with Andretti-Green Racing after last year.

But what is going on with Gannasi’s Cup program? Currently, he is running two mediocre cars and only has Juan Montoya under contract for 2009. That is a far cry from when Sterling Marlin was challenging for the Cup in 2002 before sitting out the last few races with an injury. Gannasi bought a piece of Sabco Motorsports in 2000 and thought he could turn the struggling team around. His reasons were well-founded because he was coming off four CART championships from 1996-99 and an Indy 500 victory in 2000. And to some extent, Ganassi proved he could succeed in NASCAR. However, it was short-lived.

Now the question should be asked whether he is tarnishing his racing legacy by running a second-rate NASCAR program that distracts attention from his IndyCar triumphs. Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs don’t flirt with other racing series. And recent history has rewarded them with great seasons. Maybe that’s the problem with Ganassi; although he is very dedicated to the Cup program, he has too much on his plate and isn’t able to keep up with the other teams. He clearly puts a lot of time into the IndyCars as this year’s championship shows, but at what cost to his Cup drivers? He has one foot out of NASCAR and that’s not the way to run a successful program. If this trend continues, it won’t be long before Montoya also walks out that door. If that happens, it’s only a matter of time before Ganassi closes the garage doors in North Carolina and takes up permanent residence in Indianapolis. His luster is starting to wear thin.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Handicapping the Chase

Now that the meaningless first 26 races are in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look at the top 12 drivers and assess each of their chances to win the inaugural Sprint Cup. The three drivers to beat are obviously Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and now Jimmie Johnson with his hot streak. Here’s how the points shake out as we move to New Hampshire.

Kyle Busch – Leader
Carl Edwards – 30
Jimmie Johnson – 40
Clint Bowyer – 70
Jeff Burton – 70
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 70
Denny Hamlin – 70
Greg Biffle – 80
Jeff Gordon – 80
Kevin Harvick - 80
Matt Kenseth – 80
Tony Stewart – 80

Biffle, Gordon, Harvick, Kenseth and Stewart have not won this year, although the No. 20 car has been strong at times. But Stewart and his team can’t be considered contenders with the distraction of his impending departure weighing on their minds. Consider those five drivers out of the running barring a miracle turnaround to their largely forgettable seasons. Bowyer, Burton Earnhardt and Hamlin all have won once this year, but only Earnhardt has been consistent enough to be considered a contender. He certainly has the chance to pour it on at the end of the season, but he must start winning races rather than finishing just in the top 10.

But the true battle remains with the top three. Pay no attention to the slight points advantage going into New Hampshire this weekend. Instead, look at the body of their work. Busch has been unstoppable most of the year and if he continues that early-season pace, he will undoubtedly win the championship and promptly flip the bird to Rick Hendrick and company. But he has been underperforming in recent weeks heading into the Chase, raising the questions of whether his No. 18 is running out of steam.

Edwards has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year, although he struggled somewhat after losing crew chief Bob Osbourne following his victory at California. Still, the No. 99 is running great at the intermediate tracks that dominate the Chase. But the driver everyone has their eyes on is obviously Jimmie Johnson. Hendrick Motorsports was left for dead this year until Johnson salvaged the season with four victories, including the last two races. He is the two-time defending champion and should be considered the favorite. It appears he and his team are peaking at the right time, so this should make quite an interesting three-horse race to finish.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Belated Motorsports Monday

Back from the three-day weekend, here are the Labor Day results from Motordrome and Pennsylvania Motor Speedway. The * denotes heat winners.

Motordrome – Aug. 29
NASCAR Super Late Models
1. Garry Wiltrout*
2. Mark Poole
3. Steve Black
4. Richard Mitchell*
5. Bobby Henry
6. Todd Price
7. John Komarinski
8. Cody Quarack
9. Michael Zombar
10. Greg Kelley

Modifieds
1. Adam Kostelnik*
2. Bobby Shipp*
3. Gary Scott
4. George Nicola
5.Harry Opfer

Street Stocks
1. Johnathan Hileman
2. Jon Greenawalt
3. Ted Gibala
4. Joe Nicola
5. Shawn Phillips*

Charger
1. Mike Lemley
2. Tracy Keller
3. Chris Spadacene
4. Denny Keller*
5. Robert Garchak Jr.

American Flyers
1. Ed Dineen*
2. Garrett O’Patchen
3. Paul Rosa
4. Ronald Eiford
5. Edward Shelpman

PPMS – Aug. 30
Late Models – 25-lap feature
1. Jared Miley
2. Lou Bradich
3. Al Atallah
4. Brandon Burgoon*
5. John Flinner*
6. Lynn Geisler
7. Mike Johnson
8. Ben Miley
9. Brandon Wearing
10. Rich Apolito

Crate Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Mike Pegher, Jr.
2. Jason Rider
3. Daryl Charlier
4. Rocky Kugel*
5. Bryant Hank

E-Modifieds – 15-lap feature
1. Daryl Charlier
2. Wayne Tessean
3. Chuck Kennedy*
4. Tom Martineck
5. Kevin Miller

Pure Stocks – 12-lap feature
1. Pat Weldon
2. Vince Kamicker*
3. Jake Simmons
4. Bob Schwartzmiller*
5. Bill Robertson

Amateur Stocks – 10-lap feature
1. Gary Koteles*
2. Eric Goldberg
3. Jason Herniak
4. Rich Mason
5. J.J. O'Patchen

Reading while driving

By Amanda Gillooly
O-R Staff Writer
agillooly@observer-reporter.com


I’m hardly one to preach about highway safety issues. I’m car insurance poor, and my Dodge POS has the dings and scratches to prove it. I’ve gotten speeding tickets, a citation for running a red light (I kept telling the nice officer it was merely yellow…) and I’ve gotten hit broadside by a huge utility van. I’ve rear-ended a parked car, and I’ve locked my keys in my car several times – but luckily, the engine was only running during one of those experiences.

But I’ve never driven impaired. I don’t want to downplay the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but motorists can be just as dangerous when they’re under the influence of stupidity. I experience these “DUIS” motorists everyday as I cruise the 30-some miles from my palace on Neville Island to my pod on North Main in WashPa. While I understand that we live in a society where multitasking is a given, there are some activities that just need to wait.

I guess I’m not an innocent. I’ve applied lip gloss and swept my eyelashes with black mascara while behind the wheel. But I was at a red light. Promise. But reading the newspaper? No good.

When I reached the Washington County line this morning, I encountered a beige sedan cruising at…wait for it…49 mph. “OK,” I thought. “You can’t fault a man for being cautious.” About 10 seconds after processing that thought, the dude’s car began slowly weaving between the white lines. Not wanting to add any more incidents to my driving resume, I clicked on my left turn signal and slipped into the passing lane.

Out of morbid curiosity, I glanced over at the driver and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The guy had the newspaper spread across his steering wheel. That would explain the weaving, I thought. But my question remains: Aren’t there more comfortable places to read the headlines? My podmate and friend, Barb Miller, had a better question...

“Were they at least reading the Observer-Reporter?” she asked.

That, I guess, would be the silver lining.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fightin' mad

I didn’t see Saturday night’s race at Bristol, which is a bad thing. But I sure as heck saw the replays on ESPN over and over and over again, which is a good thing … for NASCAR. For the first time in recent memory, we have a rivalry between two drivers that is worthy of the Sprint Cup Series hype. If you missed it (like I did) Carl Edwards booted Kyle Busch out of the way with about 30 laps to go and went on to win the Sharpie 500. It was classic Bristol and brought back memories of when Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte tangled in 1996 and 99. Sure, we’ve had fights between drivers before. After all, it was a tussle between Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison that launched NASCAR into the mainstream following that infamous 1979 Daytona 500 (shown above). But when has there been such hatred between the two best drivers in the sport?

The bump allowed Edwards to win easily, but the fireworks didn’t stop there. Busch - clearly bitter and clinging to his guns and religion - rammed into the side of Edwards’ car twice after the race and sped off. Edwards paid back the points leader by spinning him out, bringing a roar from the Tennessee crowd. In their post-race interviews, Busch called Edwards “Mr. Ed” in reference to the toothy-grinned, talking horse. Edwards responded by saying if he had to do it over again, he’d bump Busch even harder. Awesome.

And what did these two get for their Saturday night indiscretion? A slap on the wrist. NASCAR responded to the post-race shenanigans by putting both drivers on probation for the next six weeks. The sanctioning body is sending a clear message that it LOVES this kind of entertainment and badly needs it to pull up the sagging ratings. Busch and Edwards have been battling each other all season, and we can only beg for more. The Chase will bunch up the 12 contending drivers, but there are only two drivers I’ll be watching during the final 10 races. Keep it up boys.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Motorsports Monday

Weekend results from Motordrome Speedway, Pittsburgh Raceway Park and Pennsylvania Motor Speedway. PRP had a double feature and all results are listed by their dates.

Motordrome Results - Aug. 22
NASCAR Super Late Models
1. Richard Mitchell
2. Tommy Beck*
3. Mark Poole
4. Garry Wiltrout*
5. Bobby Henry
6. Neil Brown
7. Todd Price
8. Mark Cottone
9. Beau Glemba
10. Greg Kelley


Modifieds
1. Adam Kostelnik*
2. Bobby Shipp
3. Harry Opfer
4. Lonnie Hoffman
5. Gary Scott


Street Stocks
1. Ted Gibala
2. Shawn Phillips*
3. Jonathon Hileman*
4. Joe Nicola
5. Thomas Knight Sr.


Charger
1. Chris Spadacene
2. Denny Keller
3. Tracy Keller
4. Mike Lemley
5. William Oldham


American Flyers
1. Stanley Nodina
2. Ed Dinneen
3. Paul Rosa*
4. Ronald Eiford
5. Edward Shelpman


PRP Results – Aug. 23
Modified: David Dominick of Pittsburgh (10.41 sec/120 mph) DEFEATED Mark Romeo of New Alexandria (11.43 sec/114 mph)

Top Dragster:
Anthony Kronek of Reedsville, W.Va. (7.95 sec/165 mph) DEFEATED Ron Boyce of Blairsville (10.02 sec/131 mph)

Street: Richard Penn of Tarentum (12.05 sec/104 mph) DEFEATED Joey Pinskey of Greensburg (12.13 sec/111 mph)

Trophy:
Mark Noel of Greensburg (14.76 sec/92 mph) DEFEATED Matthew Vitous of Elizabeth (16.51 sec/82 mph)

Motorcycle: Brandon Gilbert of Hollsopple (10.28 sec/130 mph) DEFEATED Calvin Collins of Pittsburgh (9.53 sec/146 mph)


PPMS Results – Aug. 23

Late Models – 25-lap feature
1. Jared Miley*
2. Brandon Burgoon
3. John Flinner*
4. Lynn Geisler
5. Steve Baker
6. Tommy Beck
7. Ben Miley
8. Keith Rodriguez
9. Jim Lepro
10. Kyle Lukon


Crate Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Daniel Angelicchio*
2. Daryl Charlier
3. Justin Lamb
4. Tommy Schirnhofer
5. Josh Holtgraver


E-Modifieds – 12-lap feature
1. Daryl Charlier
2. Wayne Tessean
3. J.E. Stalder*
4. Chuck Kennedy*
5. Kevin Miller


Pure Stocks – 20-lap feature
1. Jake Simmons*
2. Pat Weldon*
3. Bill Robertson
4. Nick Kocuba
5. Bob Schwartzmiller


Amateur Stocks – 10-lap feature
1. Jeff Broniszewski
2. Craig Koteles
3. Eric Goldberg
4. J.J. O'Patchen
5. Jason Herniak


PRP Results – Aug. 24
Modified: Allison Benish of Irwin (12.66 sec) DEFEATED Don McGuire of Export (9.61 sec)

Top Dragster: Dave Trapletti of Greensburg (7.49 sec/172 mph) DEFEATED Keith Bronson Sr. of Latrobe (8.66 sec/159 mph)

Street: Jeff Stewart of Fairmont, W.Va. (12.00 sec/104 mph) DEFEATED Joseph Devola of Greensburg (13.11 sec/99 mph)

Trophy: Joan Engelhardt of Latrobe (14.64 sec/91 mph) DEFEATED Robert Meyers, of Greensburg (17.76 sec/76 mph)

Motorcycle: Ron Lutz of Trafford (9.23 sec/134 mph) DEFEATED Andre Roche of Pittsburgh (9.90 sec/136 mph)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Travis Geisler promoted

Just received news that Travis Geisler, the 27-year-old Cranberry, Pa. native working on Penske Racing's No. 12 team, has been promoted to crew chief for Sam Hornish Jr.'s No. 77 car. Geisler replaces Chris Carrier as crew chief and will start his new job atop the pit box this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. Geisler, featured last week on 'Jonesin' for Speed', won the Daytona 500 earlier this year as team engineer for driver Ryan Newman. Click on the link for the full story in the Observer-Reporter.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Chase changes

Wasn't it just a couple weeks ago we were suggesting a new Chase schedule? Well, apparently NASCAR regularly reads 'Jonesin' for Speed' and responded to the request. According to The Associated Press, Atlanta is out and California is in. Also, Talladega will now be the seventh race in the 2009 Chase and California takes 'Dega's old spot in fourth. So what does this mean? Basically, they added a boring race with California and gave more importance to Talladega with the "big one" crash. And it surely will have drivers pulling their hair out. But at least it adds a little variety and spice.

2009 Chase Schedule
New Hampshire
Dover
Kansas
California
Charlotte
Martinsville
Talladega
Texas
Phoenix
Miami

Monday, August 18, 2008

Motorsports Monday

Sorry for the lack of blog posts, but I just got back to the office after a vacation in Myrtle Beach. S.C. Here's the weekend results from Pennsylvania Motor Speedway, Motordrome Speedway and Pittsburgh Raceway Park. And as always, the (*) denotes the heat winners.

PRP Results – Aug. 16
Modified
Mark Romeo of New Alexandria (11.41 sec/113 mph) DEFEATED Kirk Eger of Cecil (9.40 sec/144 mph)

Top Dragster
Jacob Meinert of Jeanette (8.33 sec/156 mph) DEFEATED Tim Vislosky of Indiana, Pa. (8.79 sec/151 mph)

Street
Joel Pinskey of Greensburg (12.04 sec/112 mph) DEFEATED A.J. Casper of Greensburg (11.98 sec/109.78 mph)

Trophy
Shawn Booher of Freeport DEFEATED Mark Schreiber of Stow, Ohio (Fouled)

Motorcycle
Rick Sheppick of Van Voorhis (9.79 sec/137 mph) DEFEATED Jesse Boone of Jeanette (9.69 sec/138 mph)

PPMS Results - Aug. 16
Late Models – 25-lap feature
1. Steve Baker of Fairmont, W.Va.
2. John Flinner
3. Jared Miley
4. Lynn Geisler*
5. Brandon Burgoon*
6. Kyle Lukon
7. Kari Gasser
8. Davey Johnson
9. Al Atallah
10. Ed Ferree


Crate Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Mike Pegher Jr. of Wexford
2. Tommy Schirnhofer
3. Daryl Charlier
4. Russ Kolesar*
5. Jason Rider
6. Mark Moats
7. Rocky Kugel
8. Justin Lamb
9. Ken Chernik*
10. Laura Lukon

E-Modifieds – 12-lap feature
1. Kevin Miller of Toronto, Ohio
2. Tom Martineck
3. Wayne Tessean*
4. Bruce Dreistadt
5. Kyle Lukon
6. Chuck Kennedy
7. Daryl Charlier
8. Joel Johns
9. Clayton Kennedy
10. Frank Magill

Pure Stocks – 15-lap feature
1. Jake Simmons of McKees Rocks
2. Bill Robertson
3. Pat Weldon
4. Bob Schwartzmiller
5. Bobby Heim
6. Charlie DiLoreto
7. Russell Volponi
8. Dave McManus
9. Mitch Wattlelet
10. Don Bauerle Jr.

Amateur Stocks – 10-lap feature
1. Eric Goldberg of Pittsburgh
2. Gary Koteles*
3. Rich Mason
4. J.J. O'Patchen
5. Jason Herniak
6. Tom McQuillan
7. Dan Duseheid
8. Brian Huchko
9. Tony White


Young Guns – 8-lap feature
1. Daniel White of Carnegie
2. Todd Janus
3. Sean Graham
4. Brian Beyerbach
5. Justin Pons
6. Hannah Ramsey
7. Alec Broniszewski
8. Courtney Atkinson
9. Tyler Carson

Motordrome Results – Aug. 15
NASCAR Super Late Models
1. Greg Kelley
2. Bobby Henry*
3. Garry Wiltrout
4. Mark Poole
5. Neil Brown*
6. Tommy Beck
7. Todd Price
8. Mark Cottone
9. Steve Black
10. Richard Mitchell

Modifieds
1. Adam Kostelnik*
2. Lonnie Hoffman
3. Harry Opfer
4. Tom Frank
5. Chris Brink
6. Bobby Shipp*
7. Jim Nicola
8. Mike Opalinski
9. George Nicola
10. Bill Hribar

Street Stocks
1. Jonathan Hileman*
2. Shawn Phillips
3. Joe Nicola
4. Chris Bailey*
5. Ted Gibala
6. Jason Holder
7. Tom Knight Sr.
8. Tony Manganella
9. Aaron Minjock
10. Jimmy Stokes

Charger
1. Tracey Keller
2. William Oldham
3. Ed Neidhardt
4. Mike Lemley*
5. Matthew Gardner
6. Roger Bryan
7. A.J. Poljak*
8. Wayne Nashe
9. Robert Garchak Jr.
10. Denny Keller

American Flyers
1. Ed Dineen
2. Ronald Eiford
3. Paul Rosa*
4. Garrett O’Patchen
5. Edward Shelpman
6. William Schwartz
7. Kevin Ludwick
8. Mary Catherine Shimko

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

NASCAR Crewman - Part 3

Travis Geisler, center, talks to NASCAR driver Ryan Newman and crew chief Roy McCauley before the Brickyard 400 at Indy last month.

CHALLENGING CAREER

By Mike Jones
Staff writer
mjones@observer-reporter.com

As Travis Geisler grapples with the changes at Penske, he gladly doles out advice to newcomers who want to pursue a career in NASCAR: “Pound the pavement and work your butt off.”

Tweaking setups on cars at the local tracks is a good way to get a start in the sport, but crew members must understand the differences between a weekend hobby and the responsibilities involved with the demanding full-time job. He suggested packing up and going down to North Carolina to hook up with a low-level Nationwide or Truck team. The experience with a smaller team is invaluable. And don’t underestimate the value of hard work from a sport that most fans enjoy with more than a few beers

“He’s working his ass off. If that’s living the dream, I guess he is,” said his father Lynn Geisler. “It’s far different than what people think it is. It’s definitely work, and if you’re going to be serious about it, it’s going to be even more work.”

The track testing is extreme. Travis Geisler digests a tremendous amount of data during those tests at the track or in the wind tunnel. But by the time they get to race weekend, it’s more about listening to the driver than the computers.

Geisler spent 182 days on road last year. By early July, he already had been away from his family for 105 days. Being on the road is somewhat difficult because it’s less time he can spend with his wife, Carrie, and their newborn son, Noah.

“It’s hard to explain what working in this environment is like,” he said. “It’s not like a normal job. Things don’t operate under a normal pretense. It’s a crazy job and that’s what makes it fun and alluring as a career.”

It’s not a regular job at the office, but more rewarding for Geisler. He compares it to typical engineering work that may take months or years to produce results. In NASCAR, a hard week at the shop can mean the difference between packing for home early or spending the afternoon in Victory Lane.

“I can’t think of another job where I would get this type of satisfaction out of my work, especially for a competitive race team,” he said. “But the glory of this deal goes away after about the sixth or seventh week.”

In a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” sport such as NASCAR, Geisler already has accomplished a lot.

-30-

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

NASCAR Crewman - Part 2

Travis Geisler stands with the Daytona 500 trophy after the No. 12 car won the Great American Race in February.

GREAT AMERICAN VICTORY

By Mike Jones
Staff writer
mjones@observer-reporter.com


Travis Geisler spent years at local short tracks and in the Busch Series before becoming a full-time crewman in 2006. He reached a dream job, but had never won with Yates or Penske. So the undisputed high point of his NASCAR career came in Feb. 15 when Ryan Newman won the Daytona 500 with a last-lap push from teammate Kurt Busch. Geisler watched countless 500s from the grandstands. Now he was standing in Victory Lane with his father, Lynn, on NASCAR’s grandest stage

“To be able to unload, go through two weeks at Daytona and watch the car to come across the start-finish first, it’s very difficult to explain,” said the 27-year-old. “Everybody there puts so much into that.”

Since the Cup series doesn’t race close to Pittsburgh, many of his family members traveled to Daytona Beach, Fla., for the race. But he especially enjoys the fact he helped to deliver the first Daytona 500 victory to team owner Roger Penske, a man who has succeeded in just about everything in racing.

“We got our rings (in early July),” he said. “You put it on just to let you know what a special accomplishment and something you’ll have for the rest of your life.”

But the season has been difficult ever since that 500 triumph. Newman and Busch have struggled this season and both are outside the top-12 in the points standings for NASCAR’s playoffs. And now there are questions surrounding Penske ever since Newman and the team announced they are parting ways after seven seasons together. Newman is expected to drive the No. 4 car for Tony Stewart’s upstart team in 2009. In addition, the No. 12 car may be losing the Alltel sponsorship next year because the communications giant is merging with Verizon. New cellular telephone companies are forbidden from joining the sport due to Sprint’s exclusive agreement with NASCAR.

“The one thing about working in this sport is you become very comfortable with change,” Geisler said. “Very few teams stay the same. When it comes down to it, all our jobs are the same. I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little bit concerned, but I’m more interested and curious than concerned. I’m excited about a new challenge and working with someone new.”

He is disappointed that Newman is leaving because of the close relationship they’ve built over the past two years. But Geisler is confident Penske’s outstanding ability to hire some of the sport’s best drivers will continue. Now his focus in on improving the car’s performance to secure a new sponsor while sending Newman off with another victory.

“We have 17 races with Ryan and that’s 17 great opportunities to win,” Geisler said last month. “He started his career here and doesn’t want to finish it running in the back. Our effort level won’t change.”

(Click here for Part 3)

Monday, August 11, 2008

NASCAR Crewman - Part 1

Cranberry, Pa. native Travis Geisler, second from left, speaks to other Penske crewmen while at the NASCAR race in Phoenix earlier this year.

RACING TRADITION

By Mike Jones
Staff writer
mjones@observer-reporter.com


You could say Travis Geisler’s life began at the race track. While in the womb, his father raced at local short tracks with his mother watching from the pits. As an accomplished driver from Butler County, it was only natural for his father, Lynn, to pass his interest onto sons Travis and Ben. They worked on the cars and made friends in the pits at tracks such as Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperial, Pa. Weekend racing builds a strong bond that is hard for outsiders to understand.

“It’s competitive and it becomes pretty satisfying,” said Lynn Geisler, who has won twice at PPMS this season. “Then it becomes your circle of friends. It becomes a part of your life.”

Going to those races each weekend triggered something in Travis Geisler, who grew up in Cranberry, Pa. and now lives in North Carolina. It became a lifestyle for him that one day would turn into a career. While attending high school at Sewickley Academy in Pittsburgh, he dabbled in go-carts and later ran a limited schedule at area dirt tracks. He graduated high school and went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., to study mechanical engineering. If he was going to make a career in racing, Geisler wanted to know what made the car go.

“I had always been really involved in the setup stuff and wanted to have a better understanding of what I was doing,” Geisler said. “I really wanted to have knowledge about the physics of the sport.”

Even while in college, Geisler returned home some weekends to race in a NASCAR weekly series at Motordrome and Jennerstown speedways. He graduated from college in 2003, but more importantly, moved on to compete in tougher racing circuits by running in NASCAR All-Pro, ARCA and ASA – the minor leagues of racing. But he got experience by racing at major speedways at Nashville, Kentucky, Pikes Peak and Gateway. Geisler got a break in 2004 when he ran 13 Busch Series races, but with mixed results. By then he decided to move from the driver’s seat to working on the car.

The following year he worked as an engineering consultant for a Busch team. It was that job that catapulted him to a major team in 2006 when Yates Racing hired him to work on the No. 88 Sprint Cup car driven at the time by Dale Jarrett. With a full year in NASCAR’s top series, Geisler transferred to Penske Racing South in 2007. It was a perfect fit with a team that is on the cutting edge of racing technology. It also didn’t hurt that Geisler’s new driver, Ryan Newman, graduated from college with an engineering degree.

“People became aware of him from his driving efforts,” Lynn Geisler said of his son. “He was also active on the car. Having an engineering degree, work ethic and experience around motorsports, it became a no-brainer.”

And racing has been a “no-brainer” for both Geisler boys. The other son, Ben, went to University of Pennsylvania and earned an engineering degree. He’s now third in command of Dirt Motorsports, which runs the World of Outlaws sprint car series.

“It’s a real accomplishment for both of my kids,” Lynn Geisler said. “It’s kind of a deal where you watch them growing up and motorsports was so consuming that you wonder how they would turn out.”

(Click here for Part 2)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Life of a NASCAR crewman

Many NASCAR gearheads have aspirations of working on a Sprint Cup car during the week and making adjustments at the track while on top of the pit box. Those dreams are a reality for Cranberry, Pa. native Travis Geisler. The 27-year-old now living in North Carolina is the team engineer for the No. 12 Penske car driven by Ryan Newman. Geisler became interested in motorsports by helping his father, Lynn, in the pits at local dirt tracks such as PPMS in Imperial, Pa.

A few years later after graduating college with an engineering degree, he drove a part-time schedule in the Busch Series before becoming a crewman in the Sprint Cup series. It’s been a difficult and satisfying road that has taken him from dirt tracks in Western Pennsylvania to Victory Lane at Daytona. A three-part story featuring Geisler will begin Monday on “Jonesin’ for Speed”… Photos taken by Steven Rose with permission to publish from Penske Racing South.

Road course to the Cup

When is Watkins Glen or Sonoma going to be included in the Chase? These orphaned races are plopped in the middle of the dog days of summer and little is thought of them. Sure, they’re not the most exciting races of the year, but they are an important part in NASCAR history and should be given greater importance in deciding the champion. The playoffs are already too bland right now with three 1.5-mile cookie cutter tracks. Here’s the current Chase tracks.

New Hampshire
Dover
Kansas
Talladega
Charlotte
Martinsville
Atlanta
Texas
Phoenix
Miami

It’s time to throw some spice in there and really get the full spectrum of tracks. Isn’t that what the Chase is all about anyway? The first task would be to toss out either Charlotte, Texas or Atlanta because they’re basically the same track. True, each has its own quirks, but they all require the same driving style. Axe one of those and insert the old school version of Sonoma: You know, the one with the hairpin corner before Bruton Smith reconfigured it to make it easier for the non-road racers.

And while we’re at it, why not toss in Michigan or Darlington? Could you imagine the diversity if NASCAR shook things up a bit? If I had my way – and we’ve known for a while I don’t – here’s what my Chase for the Cup would look like. Each would be challenging in its own way. And, more importantly, each would be different.

Darlington
Sonoma
New Hampshire
Talladega
Kansas
Martinsville
Michigan
Charlotte
Phoenix
Miami

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

500 mile fantasy

I have some questions about the logic an ESPN.com column about shortening NASCAR races. It’s fitting that columnist Ryan McGee wrote it before the Pocono race, which every fan knows is way too long. And I agree NASCAR should chop off 100 miles off that marathon just like it did at Dover a few years ago. But what about the rest of the schedule?

Under McGee’s plan, the races at Atlanta, Bristol, California, Martinsville, Pocono, Talladega and Texas all would be drastically reduced. Sure, some of these events are a little long, but that’s what makes NASCAR so challenging. It tests the endurance of both the car and the driver. It gives plenty of opportunities for the complexion of the race to change each lap.

The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte runs for more than five hours, but it’s so unique. And would fans want to see 100 fewer laps at Bristol? If I had my way, I’d add another 100 laps to Thunder Valley. I’m still disgruntled they only run 400 miles at Darlington nowadays.

McGee makes the point that our fascination with “500” has led us down this path that is based more in tradition than logic. But we as Americans have always been attached to traditions. To put his suggestion into context, imagine Major League Baseball shortening the games to seven innings. It’s true there have been complaints in recent years that the games need to move faster, but the only ones who would lose are the fans. Not to mention, when would they sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”? Shorten Pocono, please, but leave the rest of the NASCAR races alone.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Motorsports Monday

Weekend results from Motordrome Speedway in Smithton, Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperial and Pittsburgh Raceway Park in New Alexandria. PRP had a dual weekend of races at the drag strip. Full results and points standing can be found at each track's respective Web site. The (*) indicates the heat winners.

Motordrome Speedway – Aug. 1
NASCAR Super Late Models 40-lap feature
1. Mark Poole*
2. Bobby Henry*
3. Garry Wiltrout
4. Richard Mitchell
5. Mark Cottone*
6. Tommy Beck
7. Beau Glemba
8. Todd Price
9. Steve Black
10. Sean Pilla

Subway Street Stocks – 30-lap feature
1. Tony Manganello*
2. Shawn Phillips
3. Ted Gibala
4. Jason Holder
5. Joe Nicola
6. Bill Henry
7. Jonathan Hileman
8. Andrew Kostelnik
9. Scott Bowman
10. Jeff Zillweger

Modifieds – 20-lap feature
1. Adam Kostelnik*
2. Harry Opfer
3. Bobby Shipp*
4. Lonnie Hoffman
5. Tom Frank
6. George Nicola
7. Marion Reno
8. Chris Brink
9. Matt Panaia
10. Bryan Shipp

Charger – 15-lap feature
1. Mike Lemley
2. Denny Keller
3. Tracy Keller*
4. William Oldham
5. Robert Garchak Jr.
6. Roger Bryan
7. Dave McManns
8. Jimmy Stokes
9. Ed Neidhardt
10. Matthew Gardner

American Flyers - 8-lap feature
1. Paul Rosa*
2. Ed Dineen
3. Jeff Halfhill
4. Garrett Opathuen
5. Ronald Eiford
6. William Schwartz
7. Edward Shelpman
8. Kevin Ludwick

Pennsylvania Motor Speedway – Aug. 2
Late Models – 25-lap feature
1. Steve Baker* of Fairmont, W.Va.
2. John Flinner
3. Jared Miley*
4. Al Atallah
5. Brandon Burgoon*
6. Lynn Geisler
7. Tommy Beck
8. Mike Johnson
9. Ben Miley
10. Jim Stephans

Crate Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Josh Holtgraver of Pittsburgh
2. Tommy Schirnhofer
3. Mike Pegher Jr.
4. Daniel Angelicchio*
5. Daryl Charlier
6. Justin Lamb
7. Mark Moats Jr.
8. Rocky Kugel
9. Bryant Hank*
10. Beau Glemba

E-Modifieds – 12-lap feature
1. Kevin Miller of Toronto, Ohio
2. Daryl Charlier
3. Chuck Kennedy*
4. Tom Martineck
5. Wayne Tessean
6. Bruce Dreistadt
7. J.J. Bametzrieder*
8. Shawn Scheerbaum
9. Clayton Kennedy
10. Kyle Lukon

Pure Stocks – 15-lap feature
1. Bob Schwartzmiller* of Upper St. Clair
2. Wayne Carbo*
3. Jake Simmons
4. Bill Robertson
5. Nick Kocuba
6. Craig Kamicker
7. Vincent Kamicker
8. A. J. Poljak
9. Davey Lee
10. Mike Mohn

Amateur Stocks – 10-lap feature
1. Ron O'Patchen of Pittsburgh
2. Brian Huchko*
3. J.J. O'Patchen
4. Jason Herniak
5. Rich Mason
6. Tom McQuillan
7. Tony White
8. Dan Duseheid

Young Guns – 8-lap feature
1. Justin Pons of Pittsburgh
2. Todd Janus
3. Tyler Fox
4. Sean Graham
5. Alec Broniszewski
6. Brian Beyerbach
7. Daniel White
8. Tyler Atkinson
9. Hannah Ramsey
10. Tyler Carson

Pittsburgh Raceway Park – Aug. 2
Modified
Russ Benish of North Huntingdon (11.158 sec./ 120.64 mph) DEFEATED Ronald Boyce of Blairsville (10.007 sec./ 133.06 mph)

Top Dragster
Steve Butler of North Huntingdon (9.053 sec./ 146.29 mph) DEFEATED Russ Benish of North Huntingdon (11.133 sec./ 119.33mph)

Street
Richard Penn of Tarentum (12.187 sec./ 113.12 mph DEFEATED Arthur Armstrong of Pittsburgh (14.556 sec./ 94.72 mph)

Trophy
Jason Barbiaux of Pittsburgh (15.702 sec./ 79.45 mph) DEFEATED Joan Engelhardt of Latrobe (14.563 sec./ 95.68 mph)

Motorcycle
Ron Lutz of Trafford (9.19 sec./ 127.59 mph) DEFEATED Kevin Patterson of Natrona Heights (11.422 sec./ 117.92 mph)

Pittsburgh Raceway Park – Aug. 3

Modified
Michael Balaska of Belle Vernon (11.38 sec./ 109.65 mph) DEFEATED Ron Hamill of Ruffsdale (10.09 sec./130.21 mph)

Top Dragster
Josh Rietscha of Nicktown (7.69 sec./ 172.48 mph) DEFEATED Scotty Campbell of Avonmore (8.17 sec/ 159.63 mph)

Street
Don McGuire of Saltsburg (12.00 sec./ 107.07 mph.) DEFEATED Amy Romeo of New Alexandria (12.54 sec./ 106.1 3mph)

Trophy
Shawn Booher of Freeport (12.05 sec./ 105.68 mph) DEFEATED Joan Engelhardt of Latrobe (14.57 sec./ 95.14 mph)

Motorcycle
Jesse Bone of Jeanette (9.77 sec./ 141.33 mph) DEFEATED Marty Dougherty of Westmoreland City (8.01 sec./ 162.28 mph)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Motorsports Monday

Weekend results from PPMS in Imperial and Motordrome in Smithton. The (*) denotes the heat winners.

PPMS – July 26
Late Models – 25-lap feature
1. John Flinner
2. Lynn Geisler
3. Jared Miley
4. Steve Baker*
5. Brandon Burgoon
6. Ben Miley
7. Lou Bradich
8. Tommy Beck
9. D.J. Miller
10. Brandon Wearing

Crate Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Mark Moats
2. Tommy Schirnhofer*
3. Bryant Hank
4. Ken Chernik
5. Mike Pegher Jr.
6. Scott Schempp
7. Laura Lukon
8. Josh Holtgraver
9. Tyler Dietz
10. Bryan Hoffman

E-Modifieds – 12-lap feature
1. Wayne Tessean
2. Jonathan Taylor
3. J.E. Stalder
4. Kyle Lukon
5. J.J. Bametzrieder
6. Evan Taylor
7. Chuck Kennedy
8. Jared Domhoff
9. Damron

Pure Stocks – 12-lap feature
1. Craig Kamicker*
2. Jake Simmons*
3. Vince Kamicker
4. Bill Robertson
5. Nick Kocuba
6. Bob Schwartzmiller,
7. Pat Weldon
8. Robert Betz
9. Mike Mohn
10. Dave Slade

Amateur Stocks – 10-lap feature
1. Tony White*
2. Brian Huchko
3. Eric Goldberg
4. Rich Mason
5. J.J. O'Patchen
6. Dan Duseheid
7. Jason Herniak
8. Edward Wiser
9. Tom McQuillan

Young Guns – 8-lap feature
1. Sean Graham
2. Justin Pons
3. Michael Reft
4. Daniel White
5. Alec Broniszewski
6. Todd Janus
7. Tyler Atkinson
8. Brian Beyerbach
9. Hannah Ramsey


Motordrome – July 25
Super Late Models – 40-lap feature
1. Rick Miller*
2. Bobby Henry*
3. Greg Kelley
4. Gary Wiltrout
5. Neil Brown*
6. Mark Cottone
7. Richard Mitchell
8. Mark Poole
9. Tommy Beck
10. Todd Price

Modifieds - Feature
1. Adam Kostelnik
2. George Nicola
3. Bobby Shipp*
4. Pete Rech
5. Harry Opfer
6. Bryan Shipp
7. Tom Frank
8. Marion Reno
9. Lonnie Hoffman
10. Chris Brink

Street Stocks – 20-lap feature
1. Shawn Phillips
2. Jason Holder
3. Ted Gibala
4. Thomas Knight Sr.*
5. Andrew Kostelnik
6. Johnathan Hileman
7. Bill Henry
8. Tony Manganello
9. Jeff Zillweger
10. Joe Nicola*

Charger – 15-lap feature
1. Jimmy Stokes*
2. AJ Poljak
3. Tracy Keller
4. Mike Lemley
5. Ed Neidhardt
6. Robert Garchak Jr.
7. Matthew Gardner
8. William Oldham
9. Aaron Minjock
10. Roger Bryan

American Flyers – 8-lap feature
1. Paul Rosa
2. Ed Dineen*
3. Jeff Halfhill
4. Stanley Nodina
5. Edward Shelpman
6. Terry Schwartz
7. Kevin Ludwick
8. Mary Catherine Shimko
9. Ronald Eiford