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 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.