Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I walk the (yellow) line

Great win by Kyle Busch over the weekend. Too bad he cheated.

With 5 laps to go at Talladega, Busch dove underneath Jimmie Johnson and his tires went below the yellow line. Great move, but it’s a clear violation of NASCAR rules at restrictor plate tracks. The FOX commentators suggested he was forced below the line, which may be an acceptable excuse. But I find that highly doubtful.

It’s very simple: He went low to make the pass, Johnson didn't give him any room and Busch continued below the yellow line anyway. He could have backed off and made another run at it. NASCAR should have black flagged him. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself at about 1 minute 25 seconds into the video clip.

When NASCAR officials first formulated the yellow line rule in 2001, they had a zero tolerance policy. I would suggest it was too strict at the time, but they were fair by punishing everyone. Remember when Tony Stewart was pushed below the yellow line at the 2001 Pepsi 400? He argued he was forced below and defiantly finished the race anyway. NASCAR disqualified his finishing position and dropped him to the last spot on the lead lap. Then he punched a photographer.

Now, the yellow line rule rarely is exercised because drivers have learned to keep their cars on the racing groove. But every so often you have a driver who bends the rules. And he should be punished accordingly.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stewart may leave Gibbs in '09

Could Tony Stewart be driving the No. 66 Home Depot Chevy next season? Sounds farfetched, but is reporting Stewart recently spoke to Joe Gibbs Racing officials about buying out the final year of his contract. Apparently he has expressed interest in purchasing the floundering Haas/CNC Racing team that fields two cars.

Just when the NASCAR season was starting to get a little dry, good ole Tony throws a wrench in there to spice things up. Gotta hate ‘em. Gotta love ‘em. It’s great that he’s exploring his options, except for the fact that leaving Gibbs would likely be career suicide. But we’ve known for a while that Tony does what he wants. Consequences be damned.

Things seemed to be running smoothly this year for Gibbs, although Stewart still is winless. Gibbs made waves in the off-season when he switched to Toyota, but Stewart appeared to care little and said as much.

Stewart’s contract runs through 2009, but he apparently is asking to be released a year early. One Gibbs officials is quoted that the team expects him to honor the contract. But as we’ve seen in many other sports, the employee usually finds a way to slither out the door by making everyone around him unhappy. And I’m sure Stewart – notorious for expressing displeasure on the track – will let his bosses know how he feels for the rest of this year.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The real RACE for President

The recent Pennsylvania primary (thank God it has moved on to pester other states) got me thinking about who would be the President of NASCAR? No I’m not talking about Brian France or Mike Helton, but which driver ranks highest in popularity and performance? Let’s analyze the Top-5 this season.

The obvious choice for the most popular driver is Dale Earnhardt Jr., but his move to Hendrick has not yet produced a victory. Little E hasn’t won a Cup race in nearly two years, although he is 3rd in points. Seems like he missed his best shot at winning in 2004, kinda like the Democrats.

Then there’s Kyle Busch, who has one win and a series-leading four Top-5 finishes. He is in 2nd place in the standings, but there’s this little problem he seems to have: Personality. His big mouth has got him in trouble more than a couple times and burned bridges with Hendrick last year. Poor soundbites can kill a campaign, as we saw recently.

Jimmie Johnson undoubtedly would have won the popular vote and electoral had this election been held in 2006 or 2007. This season he’s moving his way up the polls with his victory last week in Phoenix, so he could be considered a strong VP candidate.

Kevin Harvick also is having a good start to the season. Unfortunately, he hasn’t won a Cup points race since that stunning victory in last year’s Daytona 500. We’ll give him the Ron Paul tag and thank him for running. Better luck next time.

And then there’s Jeff Burton. His resurgence with Richard Childress in recent years has him at the top of the points going into Talladega this week. To go with that performance, he might be the classiest driver in the garage. He also has been a leader in safety this decade and slammed NASCAR when it hasn’t done its job in that department.

So I’ll leave it to you to decide who is at the top of NASCAR’s mountain. And maybe we’ll be fortunate enough to have one of them run for President this November to end this primary chicanery.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Danica finally scores a win

It had been 49 races and more than three agonizing years in the making for Danica Patrick. The 26-year-old finally notched her first win in the IndyCar Series and recorded the first victory by a woman in major open-wheel racing history.

People who follow motorsports have been waiting for this moment since she led with just a handful of laps at Indy in 2005. Even novice fans know her name and have been attracted to the IRL due to her success – and sometimes lack of it. As one of the most talented female drivers to step into an Indy car, much has been expected of her. Each race she went without a win led to more whispers about whether Patrick’s talent would go to waste.

She quieted that discussion Sunday at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan with the help of some excellent fuel-management. But that shouldn’t detract from her win. She clearly is one of the better drivers with one of the elite teams in the series.

However, there have been some bumps in the road for Patrick, who may be known better for her sex appeal than driving skills. A couple years ago, she pouted and stomped her feet following a pit stop debacle that ended her chances of winning. Later, she complained about Bobby Rahal’s cars and left his team following the 2006 season. All this despite the fact Rahal spotted her talent at a very young age and molded her into the driver she is today.

Despite some of the bumps, Patrick’s triumph obviously is a landmark victory for female drivers. It’s all the more fitting this weekend with a woman vying for the highest position in America.

Friday, April 18, 2008

No racing = No fun

A rare off weekend for the Cup drivers this Sunday begs an important question … Why now?

NASCAR already scheduled a bye-week a month ago to observe Easter, so why do they get another quick break? The Cup series now will race 12 straight weeks before its next – and final - vacation on July 20.

That’s all they get. Three off weekends this entire season and NASCAR burned two of them in the first eight races! At a time when workaholic crewmen are always on the road (they don’t have a luxurious RV to stay with their families) NASCAR should re-evaluate the off-weekend policy.

Why not split them up during the season? Of course, the Easter weekend is a given, and that can count for a spring-fling. Move the mid-season break to late June to give the kids a Fourth of July/summer vacation of sorts. And finally, NASCAR can generate some excitement before its playoff by giving the teams an off between the 26th race at Richmond and the first race of the Chase at New Hampshire.

Spacing out those breaks would make a lot more sense.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

LIVE Blog Tonight!

I've wanted to try a LIVE race log for a while, so I figured no better time than now to blog about tonight's race in Phoenix. Television coverage apparently begins at 8 p.m., so who knows when the green flag will actually drop. Anyway, expect periodic updates and commentary on the race. Feel free to follow along and make your own comments during the race.

Subway 500 Results
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Clint Bowyer
3. Denny Hamlin
4. Carl Edwards
5. Mark Martin
6. Jeff Burton
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8. Martin Truex Jr.
9. Greg Biffle
10. Kyle Busch

(12:08 a.m.) Johnson throttled back to a turtle-like pace to stretch fuel mileage and take his first victory of the season at Phoenix. Under the urging of crew chief Chad Knaus to "back it way down," Johnson did not pit for fuel at the end of the race and delivered Hendrick's first win of the season. Despite Knaus' warning, Johnson had plenty in the tank to pull off a wicked burnout, but needed a wrecker to take him to victory lane. Clint Bowyer also did not pit and finished second.

(12:00 a.m.) We've crossed into Sunday morning with 15 laps to go and the fuel strategy is picking up. Martin and Johnson, running first and second, are expected to run out with a few laps to go, while Earnhardt certainly will have to pit soon. Who will stretch and who will pit for a splash 'n go? Hamlin pits first and takes two tires. Stewart comes in for gas and stalls it. Junior pits at Lap 11 and Martin comes in a lap later and takes tires, giving the lead to Johnson.

(11:50 p.m.) Martin swoops underneath Earnhardt and takes the leads. He drives away as the handling has fallen off Junior's car. He's easily bypassed by Denny Hamlin and picked off by Jimmie Johnson for third place. With 30 laps to go, all the cars will have to make one more pit stop for fuel.

(11:32 p.m.) 8s are wild as Earnhardt and Martin battle for the lead with 70 to go. Martin is all over Junior's bumper, trying to pass high and low, but can't yet make it by. Farther back in the pack, Carl Edwards is charging back to the front and takes 10th position.

(11:08 p.m.) David Regan taps the wall ever so slight, prompting Michael McDowell to scoff at NASCAR for throwing a caution after he blew up the TMS wall last week. FOX pulls out "Digger The NASCAR Gopher" and Larry McReynolds tells him to run back into his hole for the 253rd time this season. Cars hit pit road and Earnhardt leads as they go back racing on Lap 204.

(10:55 p.m.) Mark Martin takes the point and battles Martin Truex and Dale Earnhardt. Martin has been stalking the leaders all race, but finally takes the lead at Lap 172. Meanwhile, Elliot Sadler is interviewed by Dick Bergren about why he's out of the race. He tells Bergren he's disappointed about the blown engine, but satisfied with running in midpack. Wow, talk about high expectations

(10:36 p.m.) Chip Ganassi is downing Tums as Reed Sorenson crashes after blowing a tire and Juan Montoya gets spun out by Robby Gordon. Dario Franchitti now proudly carries the Ganassi Racing colors. Johnson pits and surrenders the lead to Earnhardt as they go back to racing on Lap 154

(10:26 p.m.) Ryan Newman blew up and spewed oil all over the track, triggering a multi-car pileup. That brought out the red flag and restarted at Lap 138. Enjoyable ride home from work listening to the race on the radio, but it makes me wonder why the only MRN Radio affiliate is in Weirton, W.Va. (where they apparently advertise for the local strip bar every caution flag)

(10:03 p.m.) Joe Nemecheck nails the Turn 1 wall and brings out the third caution of the night around Lap 120. Edwards pitted just before so he's in trouble. Johnson wins the race off pit road and is followed by Earnhardt.

(9:50 p.m.) We're one-third of the way through the race at Lap 104 and nothing much has changed. Cars just going around in cricles with the setting sun. Johnson still leads as he and second-place Edwards are running away from the pack. Earnhardt runs third.

(9:20 p.m.) Matt Kenseth pops the Turn 4 wall while running in last place, brining out the second caution around Lap 40. It's feeding time at the zoo as all cars, except Dave Blaney, pit for tires. Johnson and Edwards make minor contact while coming out of their pit stalls, but it's Newman who beats everyone off pit road. Johnson quickly gobbles him up shortly after the restart on Lap 51.

(9:10 p.m.) Looks like they're plate-racing as it's two-wide for three rows back. Newman holds off Carl Edwards at Lap 23, but now Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are challenging for the lead. Newman led the first 30 laps, but Johnson takes the point and has a comfortable lead.

(8:55 p.m.) FOX execs are obviously tired of Robinson Cano fouling off pitches, so they switch over to the race just in time to miss the green flag. The pole-sitter, Ryan Newman, leads early. As for Cano, he apparently wants to watch the race, too, so he grounds out to end the game: Red Sox 4 - Yanks 3.

(8:29 p.m.) We interrupt your previously scheduled NASCAR pre-race show with ... baseball? No big deal, I guess, unless Jonathan Papelbon gives up a 9th inning homer to send this game into extra innings. Then FOX would really have to decide where its bread is buttered.

(7:46 p.m.) Heavy rains in Boston delays the finish of the BoSox/Yanks game, thus forcing FOX to begin its pre-race coverage a little early. This will be interesting to see how FOX crams all that Dale Jr. and Hendrick coverage into a petite 2-hour pre-race show.

Weather wrecks race weekend

Severe storms Friday night postponed another race at Motordrome Speedway and threatening weather today also cancelled racing tonight at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway. Officials at both tracks expect to resume racing next weekend.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

High on the high banks

Eye-opening story in ESPN The Magazine about substance abuse in NASCAR and the pathetic tale of Aaron Fike, a truck series driver who raced while high on heroin. This appears to be a disturbing little secret that NASCAR wants to brush under the rug, just like the whispers eight years ago that the safety standards were subpar.

Fike, who was caught by Ohio authorities shooting up heroin with his girlfriend in the backseat of their car, admitted for the first time that he did drugs daily, including before some races. Just a week before his arrest last July, he finished fifth in a truck race at Memphis.

The initial reaction is disbelief and outrage. I am angry at Fike for being so stupid and selfish to put other drivers at risk. But it’s also incumbent upon NASCAR to do regular testing of its drivers. They're currently doing just "target testing" on drivers that are suspected of using drugs, according to the ESPN story.

Baseball reluctantly began testing for performance-enhancing drugs in recent years, but there is a stark difference between a roid-filled batter at the plate and a coked-up race driver on the track. I do not condone the use of steroids or HGH in baseball, but the person who uses is hurting only his own body. On the track, however, the consequences could be deadly.

It’s surprising to learn NASCAR has not implemented regular drug testing already. After Fike’s suspension last year and Shane Hmiel’s ban from racing in 2005, it is time for the series to act now. I don’t suggest weekly testing every time the cars hit the track, but each driver should submit to random testing several times a year. And unlike baseball and football, which slap offenders with minor suspensions, anyone caught using illegal drugs in NASCAR should be banished. Once an appeal is exhausted, they should never be allowed to set foot on a track again.

The stakes are too great for a race car driver to be high at nearly 200 mph.

Monday, April 7, 2008

PPMS Results - April 5

Lynn Geisler captured his 67th career late model victory – and his first since last June - by winning the 25-lap shootout Saturday night at Pennsylvania Motor Speedway. Geisler led the final 12 laps of the races and was followed by Brandon Burgoon, Jimmy Stephans, Dave Wade and Gregg Satterlee. The Miley boys, Jared and Ben won the two heat races.

In the crate late models race, Russ Kolesar took the lead four laps in from Josh Holtgraver and Daniel Angelicchio and won for the fifth time in his career. Angelicchio finished second and was followed by Bryant Hank, Holtgraver and Mark Moats Jr. Russ Kolesar and Mike Pegher, Jr. each one a qualifying race

Wayne Tessean, the defending E-Modified champion, won that division’s first race of the season. Tessean, of Austintown, Ohio, traded the lead with Kevin Miller over the first few laps, but took the lead and drove away on lap 5. Miller finished second, Bruck Takach finished third, Churck Kennedy came in fourth and Tom Martineck finished fifth.

Pure stocks results
1. Bill Robertson
2. Jake Simmons
3. Mitch Wattelet
4. Nick Kocuba
5. Robert Betz

Amateur stocks results
1. Tony White
2. Curt Bish
3. Darrel Ferguson
4. Brian Huchko
5. Don Duseheid

Young guns results
1. Michael Reft
2. Alec Broniszewski
3. Justin Pons
4. Todd Janus
5. Tyler Fox

Rain Friday night delayed the first race at Motordrome, so the opener has been rescheduled for April 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

IndyCar jinx

The open-wheel merger and Sunday’s astonishing victory by young pup Graham Rahal in his first race are showing that the IndyCar Series has a bright future. Not even the loss of some of Indy’s most popular drivers - including defending champ Dario Franchitti - have slowed the series down this year.

While times are good for the IRL, the same can’t be said for its ex-patriots. Of the five open-wheel names to transfer to NASCAR over the past couple years (Franchitti, Juan Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier and A.J. Allmendinger) only two are in the top-35 in points. Those “honors” go to Montoya at 19th place and Hornish in 34th. None of the five drivers has a single a top-10 this season.

It’s unlikely Hornish would be racing right now if team owner Roger Penske didn’t hand him the No. 2 car’s points to ensure he would make the first five races. Allmendinger couldn’t qualify for a single race and has since been replaced in his No. 84 Toyota by Mike Skinner, who has proven over his career to be nothing more than a Sprint Cup scrub. Carpentier has made just four of the seven races this year and Franchitti’s owner, Chip Ganassi, voiced his displeasure this week over how his three teams are communicating.

Give credit to all of these drivers for making the difficult leap from open-wheel to NASCAR, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the transition usually fails. Tony Stewart, arguably the best driver on the circuit, made it look too easy when he left the IRL for Cup in 1999. Like Stewart, many of the former Indy drivers said they wanted a new challenge and more prestige (i.e. money). Now it’s becoming an embarrassment.

In an effort to find the next best thing, NASCAR owners are striking out with these foreign drivers. It may attract sponsors and interest during the off-season, but the open-wheel experiment isn’t leading to success on the track. Nor should it. This season is proving it’s difficult to drive the heavier and bulky stock car, although, open-wheel fans have been known to rip NASCAR drivers for having less skill and never turning right.

Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing Kurt Busch shimmy into a Penske Dallara and take a few laps at Indy this year.

Juan Montoya - 7 starts - 19th
Sam Hornish Jr. - 7 starts - 34th
Dario Franchitti -6 starts - 38th
Patrick Carpentier - 4 starts - 43rd
A.J. Allmendinger - 0 starts - N/A

Saturday, April 5, 2008

PPMS welcomes new series

Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway begins competition tonight with an added twist this season to its usual 23-race schedule.

The change adds the Unified Force Race Championship - a traveling series that is designed to attract more drivers from the region with bigger prize money. The 12 UFO races will be split between five area tracks within 120 miles of Monroeville, Pa. PPMS will play host to four of those races on May 18, July 13 and Aug. 17. The Pittsburgher 100 on the weekend of Sept. 18 will award the UFO winner more than $20,000.

PPMS will continue its weekly “action events” with its six normal divisions racing each Saturday, including tonight. The “action event” races begin at 7 p.m. each Saturday this summer.

Last year‘s champions:
Super late models - Jared Miley
Crate late models - Kyle Lukon
E-modified - Wayne Tessean
Pure stocks - Joe Anthony
Amateur stocks - Davy Lee
Young guns - Dusty Curry and Michael Reft

Look for continuing coverage of the PPMS and Motordrome seasons on ‘Jonesin’ for Speed’

Friday, April 4, 2008

Motordrome opens tonight

Racing at Motordrome Speedway in Smithton begins tonight as the five divisions kick off their 22-race season. The track holds races each Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and the gates open at 5:30 p.m.

A major change this year is that the Miley family that operates Motordrome is now leasing the track to Stan Lasky. His family owned Jennerstown Raceway in Somerset County for more than 30 years and he helped promote races there for 14 years.

Lasky said some changes at Motordrome include $5 ticket events on the first Fridays in May, June and July. General Admission tickets for people 13 and older are typically $10. A fireworks show will follow those three promotional races.

Besides the 22 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series races through the summer, the track also will host two 100-lap events for the late model cars on June 20 and Aug. 8. Track promoters hope those two races will attract more drivers from the tri-state region.

Last season, Bobby Henry won the late model championship and teammate Garry Wiltrout finished second in the points. dam Kostelnik won the championships in both the modified and street stock divisions, Mike Lemley took the charger division title and Andrew Giles won in American flyer.

Motordrome’s sister track, Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperia, opens its season Saturday night.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The No. 43 becomes a field filler

News that Richard Petty will lose the sponsor on his famed No. 43 at the end of the year is sad, but not surprising.

The Associated Press is reporting General Mills will leave after the season to sponsor Richard Childress Racing’s fourth car. Like the Pittsburgh Steelers and their head football coaches, Petty will search for a new sponsorship for just the third time in more than 35 years.

It was strange to see the STP’s red and Petty blue colors leave the No. 43 halfway through the 2000 season. But at that point, Petty Enterprises was still somewhat competitive with a few wins during the late 1990s. But it’s been a while since that car or Kyle Petty have enjoyed any success. How will they possibly attract a new sponsor that could supply enough money to return them to prominence? also says Kyle Petty will not race this weekend at Texas and hand the keys to Chad McCumbee, who is better known for playing Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the “3” movie. Unfortunately, the team continues to be merely a “field filler” and nothing more.

Finding sponsorship has been a struggle for many teams in recent years, as illustrated by the white No. 28. The car that Davey Allison, Ernie Irvan and Ricky Rudd drove is now bare. But, I hope Petty is able to secure a sponsorship in time for next season. The No. 43 deserves better.