Monday, July 13, 2009

The difference a series can make

Around a year ago, Dario Franchitti was beat up and washed out of NASCAR. Cup owner Chip Ganassi brought the former Indy star over to stock cars in 2008 in an attempt to race the woebegone No. 40 car and boost exposure to his team. But that experiment failed - miserably - and the Scotsman literally limped back to Indy Cars after a tough crash at Talladega.

But now Franchitti is tearing up the IRL after winning his third race of the season Sunday at Toronto. Of course, it helps to have the backing of Ganassi, who is one of the most successful IndyCar owners in history. If anything, Franchitti's success is just another example of how the crossover from Indy to Cup is a foolish move. Just look at how Sam Hornish Jr. has fallen off the map since changing rides in 2008. If Roger Penske was smart (which he clearly is) then he would follow Ganassi's lead and transfer Hornish back to the open-wheel cars. Besides Juan Montoya, the Cup crossover just isn't working for the Indy crowd… Are you listening, Danica?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mark's the man

Who would've thought at the start of the season that Mark Martin would be the class of Hendrick Motorsports, let alone all of NASCAR? The old man has won four times this year, as he crushed the field and his three all-star teammates Saturday night at Chicagoland. The 50-year-old fought off Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne before taking the checkers late in the Illinois night

A betting man at the beginning of the year would NOT have put his money on Martin, who has to compete with Gordon, Johnson and everybody's homeboy, Dale Earnhardt Jr., for the best of Hendrick's equipment. But here comes Martin, who has to be a clear favorite for the championship going into the Chase. This guy deserves a championship more than anyone else, so cheers to you, Mark, and good luck as you march towards Homestead, Fla. Every NASCAR fan has to be cheering for you in the Chase. You definitely have a fan here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Motorsports Monday

Apparently there was another show in town besides the Penguins. Both local speedways were in action over the weekend, including Motordrome Speedway’s 100-lap feature race.

Motordrome Speedway
Smithton, Pa. – June 12

Super Late Models – 100-lap feature
1. Shawn Pilla
2. Will Thomas
3. Mark Cottone
4. Rick Miller
5. Gary Wiltrout

Chargers
1. Tracy Keller
2. Matthew Gardner
3. Vic Keller
4. Kristen Etling
5. Steve Settle

Super Compacts
1. Matt Sever
2. Gene Zerfoss
3. Larry Dunmyer
4. Bill Schwartz
5. Troy Knight

Street Stocks
1. Dink Colarusso
2. Shawn Phillips
3. Mike Bakalon
4. Adam Kostelnik
5. Thomas Knight Sr.


Pennsylvania Motor Speedway
Imperial, Pa. – June 13

Super Late Models – 25-lap feature
1. Steve Baker
2. Jared Miley
3. Jim Stephans
4. Lynn Geisler
5. Ben Miley

Pro Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Colton Flinner
2. Rocky Kugel
3. Beau Glemba
4. Josh Holtgraver
5. Jason Rider

Sportsman – 15-lap feature
1. Jake Simmons
2. Bill Robertson
3. Bob Schwartzmiller
4. Pat Weldon
5. Nick Kocuba

Modifieds – 12-lap feature
1. Kari Gasser
2. Chuck Kennedy
3. Daryl Charlier
4. J.J. Bametzrieder
5. J.E. Stalder

Stocks – 10-lap feature
1. Curt Bish
2. Brian Huchko
3. Robby Torrens
4. Gary Koteles
5. Garrett O'Patchen

Young Guns Sport Compacts – 8-lap feature
1. Ricky Steigerwald
2. Daniel White
3. Justin Pons
4. Nico Dabecco
5. Tyler Carson

Friday, June 12, 2009

The end is nigh

Where is the guy with the sandwich board predicting the end of days? Because, that time is near for NASCAR fans. General Motors announced today it is cutting back its Chevrolet factory support for several lower-level NASCAR teams, which could eventually trickle up to the Sprint Cup Series. The Nationwide teams owned by Kevin and DeLana Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. already got the boot, although Chevy has not announced any changes to Cup… yet. This is all part of GM’s bankruptcy reorganization plans, and I can’t fault the manufacturer for doing this. Tough decisions will have to be made, and unfortunately for NASCAR, it’s sitting directly in the bankruptcy bull’s eye.

My biggest question is which car manufacturer Earnhardt will choose for his Nationwide team? The man and his father have been associated with Chevy most of their careers. In fact, one of the reported reasons why Earnhardt went to Hendrick was because of the Chevy brand. He spurned Gibbs’ offer because that team planned to change over to Toyota. Now, this isn’t the most important development in the world, but NASCAR Nation might vomit in its mouth a little bit if an Earnhardt ever steps foot in a Toyota.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Motocross invades Greene County

By Joe Tuscano
Staff writer
jtuscano@observer-reporter.com

For one glorious weekend, the sleepy little town of Mt. Morris will be engulfed in a solid wall of sound, cameras, microphones and finish line celebrations.

Oh, and expectations are that an intimate gathering of about 20,000 will show up to drink in the atmosphere, along with a few cold ones when the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship circuit arrives at High Point Raceway this weekend.

This tournament is the first in the sport's Triple Crown. The other two will be held at Buchanan, Mich., July 4 and Mechanicsville, Md., Aug. 22.

Motocross has penciled in an event at the Mt. Morris raceway for decades, but this event will be special because it will mark the first live broadcast by a national television station, in this case NBC.

"This is the first time it's ever happened and we are excited about it," said Brandon Short, media manager of the event. "We've had NBC here before but it's always been on a tape-delayed basis. We expect the event to be viewed by 400,000 world-wide."

NBC begins its coverage at 4:30 p.m., Saturday but some of the smaller events begin today.

The network will air three races and three others are scheduled for the Speed network. For those who follow motocross, plenty of storylines punctuate this event.

Click here to continue...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

America's meth addiction

For a while now, I’ve reserved judgment on this Jeremy Mayfield controversy because NASCAR refused to release many details about his positive drug test. But the recent revelation that Mayfield allegedly took meth is an undisputed game-changer. Methamphetamine is a dangerous and highly addictive drug, as I learned in my police reporting days at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail. The drug has spread across the country and usually settles in rural areas, so it shouldn’t be surprising it eventually snagged a NASCAR driver.

It is considered the poor man’s cocaine because most addicts able cook meth inside their homes using household cleaners and chemicals to alter over-the-counter drugs, sometimes with their children nearby. The effects on a person's face and physique are unmistakable, so others should have been able to see some signs of Mayfield's alleged use.

This will be a long fight for Mayfield because these allegations are a helluva lot different than a bad cocktail of prescription and over-the-counter drugs he claims caused the positive tests. It will be interesting to see how NASCAR handles the ensuing courtroom battle as it tries to bar it’s biggest violator from every stepping into a race car again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

UFo and other results

John Flinner took the checkered flag in Saturday night’s United Force series race at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway. Flinner, of Zelienople, Pa., won the Penn National 33 race – the second UFo event of the season – by beating a field of 17 other cars. PPMS and Motordrome Speedway also held their normally scheduled races over the weekend. Motordrome Speedway will hold a 100-lap event for its super late model cars this Friday night.

Pennsylvania Motor Speedway
Imperial, Pa. – June 6

UFO Super Late Models – 33-lap feature
1. John Flinner
2. Alex Ferree
3. Al Atallah
4. Brandon Burgoon
5. John Mollick

Sprints – 20-lap feature
1. Kevin Schaeffer
2. Rod George
3. Jack Sodeman Jr.
4. Danny Holtgraver
5. Andy McKisson

Pro Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Mark Moats Jr.
2. Rocky Kugel
3. Michael Reft
4. Justin Lamb
5. Josh Holtgraver

Sportsman – 15-lap feature
1. Chris Schneider
2. Jake Simmons
3. Pat Weldon
4. Bob Schwartzmiller
5. Craig Koteles

Modifieds – 12-lap feature
1. Daryl Charlier
2. Chuck Kennedy
3. J E Stalder,
4. Tom Martineck
5. Kari Gasser

Stocks – 12-lap feature
1. Rich Mason
2. Brian Huchko
3.Gary Koteles
4. Curt Bish
5. Garrett O'Patchen

Young Guns Sport Compacts – 8-lap feature
1. Justin Pons
2. Daniel White
3. Tyler Carson
4. Alec Broniszewski
5. Ricky Steigerwald,

Motordrome Speedway
Smithton, Pa. – June 5

Late Models – 50-lap feature
1. Neil Brown
2. Mark Poole
3. Bobby Henry
4. Mark Cottone
5. Gary Wiltrout

Modifieds – 30-lap feature
1. Bobby Shipp
2. Adam Kostelnik
3. Bryan Shipp
4. Lonnie Hoffman
5. George Nicola

Street Stocks – 25-lap feature
1. Mike Bakalon
2. Shawn Phillips
3. Johnathan Hileman
4. Dink Colarusso
5. Andrew Kostelnik

Chargers – 15-lap feature
1. Zane Ferrell
2. Tracy Keller
3. Matthew Garedner
4. Ed McConnell
5. Ed Neidhardt

Super Compacts – 15-lap feature
1. Larry Dunmyer
2. Gene Zerfoss
3. Matt Sever
4. Ed Dineen
5. Troy Knight

Friday, June 5, 2009

Penske's Saturn rocket

Could Kurt Busch and Helio Castroneves be tooling around on the track in a Saturn Aura soon? Well, probably not. But apparently their team owner, Roger Penske, will be doing exactly that. The Associated Press is reporting that Penske is poised to purchase the Saturn brand and dealer network from the troubled auto manufacturer General Motors GM would continue to make the Saturn cars into the near future, but Penske eventually would turn that task over to other automakers.

Now, I don’t expect Penske to start putting Saturns on the highbanks of Daytona, but I would not be surprised if he introduces the company’s name to the IRL. At one time, GM built engines for Indy cars and slapped the Chevrolet and Oldsmobile logos on the side of the cars. It shouldn’t be surprising if a car tycoon like Penske does the same exact thing.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Motorsports Monday

What a gorgeous weekend for grilling, watching Stanley Cup hockey and racing. The grilled chicken on my back porch turned out better than the Penguins in the first two games of the Finals. And the two local speedways went racing. Here are the results from the weekend.

Motordrome Speedway
Smithton, Pa. - May 29

Super Late Models
1. Neil Brown
2. Bobby Henry
3. Mark Cottone
4. Dave Marrow
5. Barry Awtey

Modifieds
1. Bryan Shipp
2. Adam Kostelnik
3. George Nicola
4. Lonnie Hoffman
5. Jim Nicola

Street Stocks
1. Dink Colarusso
2. Shawn Phillips
3. Jonathan Hileman
4. Mike Bakalon
5. Jason Holder

Chargers
1. Tracy Keller
2. Roger Bryan
3. Kristen Etling
4. A.J. Poljak
5. Denny Keller

Super Compacts
1. Paull Koffler, Jr.
2. Matt Sever
3. Eugene Zerfoss
4. Larry Dunmyer
5. Makr Seiler

Pennsylvania Motor Speedway
Imperial, Pa. - May 30

Super Late Models
1. Brandon Burgoon
2. Daryl Charlier
3. Tommy Beck
4. Kyle Lukon
5. Al Atallah

ProLate Models
1. Kyle Lukon,
2. Mark Moats Jr.
3. Rocky Kugel
4. Jason Rider
5. Justin Lamb

Modifieds
1. Vince Laboon
2. Kevin Miller
3. J.J. Bametzrider
4. Shawn Domhoff
5. Clayton Kennedy

Sportsman
1. Pat Weldon
2. Vince Kamicker
3. Bob Schwartzmiller
4. Jake Simmons
5. Bill Robertson

Stocks
1. Craig Koteles
2. Brian Huchko
3. Curt Bish
4. Adam Chytil
5. Rich Mason

Young Guns
1. Ricky Steigerwald
2. Danny White
3. Alec Broniszewski Jr.
4. Tyler Atkinson
5. Tyler Carson

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hail Helio!

The racing this weekend at Indy was anything spectacular, but the result surely stirred some emotions. The loveable Helio Castroneves came back from the brink to win his third Indy 500. Castroneves, probably known more for his dancing skills than driving, faced a federal tax evasion trial earlier this year before being acquitted in April. Watching his emotions pour out in Victory Lane was amazing, and it is what makes sports so special. Kudos to pit reporter Jack Arute for allowing Castroneves to enjoy the moment and not getting in the way of the unfiltered drama. Sometimes the best interviews are the ones where journalist doesn’t ask any questions.

Wet, wild and whacky

Have we witnessed a more bizarre weekend of NASCAR racing (or lack thereof) in recent memory? The rain fell more often than the Sprint Cup cars went racing at Charlotte over the weekend and the start of the race had to be delayed until Monday. Not a big problem, it seemed, because of the holiday. But the rain kept falling and the cars kept sitting on pit road waiting to roll, which must’ve made for a ratings nightmare for FOX. I don't know if "King of the Hill" and "The Simpsons" have the same drawing power as a race.

Not at all NASCAR’s fault, but the atypical holiday weekend led to an unusual winner. David Reutimann won his first Sprint Cup race in 75 starts, although I don't understand why all the sportscasters called him a journeyman. He’s anything but and has established himself with Michael Waltrip Racing. Still, congratulations to him (and his father) in a much-deserved victory. I will not take anything away from him, but I just wonder if it’s somewhat less fulfilling for a first-time winner. Regardless, "Beak" and his No. 00 team gambled by not pitting right when the final rainstorm moved over the speedway.

The biggest question is: Why didn’t all the other teams do the same? They all have radar and probably should’ve seen the giant, green blob rolling through the Carolinas. It was a whacky weekend with a disappointing finish. But the outcome crowned a worthy winner.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Motorsports Tuesday

Periodic showers did not dampen the holiday weekend of racing at the two local tracks. Motordrome Speedway hosted the Enduro 100 with 29 cars starting the race. The speedway also was the site of normal racing events Fridady night. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway held its normal weekend events in without a hitch. Thirty-two cars started in the 30-lap Modified Mania race at PPMS.

Motordrome Speedway
Smithton, Pa. – May 24
Enduro 100
1. Patrick Parlock
2. Mark Seiler
3. Charles Hallett
4. Steve Settle
5. Eugene Zerfoss
6. Darrell Posey
7. Steve Long
8. David Barnhart
9. Troy Knight
10. Dan Zimmerman

Pennsylvania Motor Speedway
Imperial, Pa. – May 23
Modified Mania – 30-lap feature
1. Kevin Bolland*
2. Dave Murdick
3. Rex King Sr.*
4. Del Rougeux
5. Tom Winkle

Super Late Models – 25-lap feature
1. John Flinner
2. Alex Ferree
3, Lynn Geisler
4. Mike Johnson
5. Ben Miley

Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Kyle Lukon
2. Steve Beatty*
3. Colton Flinner
4. Dave Wade*
5. Beau Glemba

UMP Modified – 20-lap feature
1. Andre Layfield*
2. Brent Rhebergen*
3. Joe Gabrielson
4. Chuck Kennedy
5. Randy Hall

UMP Sportsman – 15-lap feature
1. Jake Simmons
2. Pat Weldon
3. Bill Robertson
4. Pat Hanley
5. Robbie Haught

Stocks – 1st feature
1. Gary Koteles
2. Rich Mason
3. Adam Chytil
4. Tony White
5. Brian Reddcliff

Stocks – 2nd Feature
1. Adam Chytil
2. Rich Mason
3. Curt Bish
4. Gary Koteles
5. Brian Reddcliff

Sport Compacts – 1st Feature
1. Daniel White
2. Justin Pons
3. Nico Dabecco
4. Ricky Steigerwald
5. Hannah Ramsey

Sport Compacts – 2nd Feature
1. Justin Pons
2. Daniel White
3. Ricky Steigerwald
4. Tyler Atkinson
5. Nico Dabecco

Motordrome Speedway
Smithton, Pa. – May 22
Super Late Models – 50-lap feature
1. Mark Poole
2. Mark Cottone
3. Will Thomas*
4. Todd Price
5. Barry Awtey

Modifieds – 30-lap feature
1. Adam Kostelnik
2. Bobby Shipp*
3. Bryan Shipp
4. Marion Reno
5. Mike Lemley

Street Stocks – 25-lap feature
1. Shawn Phillips
2. Mike Bakalon*
3. Todd Knight
4. Johnathan Hileman
5. Jason Holder

Charger – 15-lap feature
1. Matthew Gardner*
2. Zane Ferrell
3. Denny Keller
4. Steve Settle
5. Ed Shelpman

Super Compacts – 15-lap feature
1. Matt Sever*
2. Larry Dunmyer
3. Gene Zerfoss*
4. Andres Suarez
5. Bill Schwartz

Monday, May 18, 2009

They Live to Drag

Kevin Romeo, left, and Bob Jones stand beside their dragster at Pittsburgh Raceway Park in New Alexandria, Pa. Romeo, a student at Cal U, and Jones, of Eighty Four, Pa., were featured May 17 in the Observer-Reporter of Washington.

THEY LIVE TO DRAG

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

NEW ALEXANDRIA, Pa. – Kevin Romeo smashes the gas when the light flashes green and his car roars down the quarter-mile drag strip in less than eight seconds.

After the first run of the year in his dragster, Romeo turns the vehicle back to the pits and pulls up to an enclosed mobile trailer overlooking the track as cars whiz by just a few feet away.

Inside the trailer, Bob Jones hunches over a couple of laptop computers and crunches numbers ranging from engine performance to air temperature. The data streams in from wires connected directly to the dragster while a weather instrument whirls around on the roof of the trailer.

But this isn't a high-tech professional racing team looking to make big bucks on a national circuit.

Romeo and Jones are just two of the many racing enthusiasts who come to Pittsburgh Raceway Park in this Westmoreland County community for a weekend of fun, even relaxation.

Jones, of Eighty Four, has been racing for 50 years, and has been coming to the tracks for even longer than that. He marvels at the technology that professional teams gradually passed down to the local racers.

"It's unreal," Jones said of the technology. "If you have an issue, you'd know right away rather than chasing your tail."

As a car owner and mechanic, he is able to make minor adjustments and prevent costly equipment failures during a high-speed run. The improved technology has increased the cost to race nowadays, Jones said, and he needs three sponsors on the car just to break even.

"We made everything (back then)," Jones said. "We'd tear apart an engine to find the problem. I still don't know it all. That's why I got a young driver. I'm not swift with that stuff, but Kevin understands that stuff."

That's when Romeo, his 21-year-old driver, walks from the car and into the trailer to take a peek at the computers. Jones quit racing a couple years ago and handed the keys to Romeo.

"After that many years, I get more of a kick out of making it work," Jones said.

Romeo, a New Alexandria resident and student at California University of Pennsylvania, comes from a family of racers. He drove his own car for the past five years until Jones brought him over for this season.

Romeo is well aware of the technology changes.

"It's amazing to see the equipment they had in the '70s compared to now," Romeo said. "Bob's been doing this for 50 years. I've been doing it for five."

The sport isn't new to D.J. Johnson, who has watched racing since the late 1960s when he was a boy. Since then, the Cecil Township resident has labored under the hood, driven briefly and worked as the media relations coordinator at this track.

He remembers the days when a band of friends rolled their street cars onto an open trailer and hauled it to the local strip. They didn't have to worry about spare parts because they just borrowed them from other teams.

"Technology and safety is really what changed and they trickled down from the (professional) ranks," Johnson said. "It's not like you're taking your street car to the drag strip. Those days are over for us. Everything is so tied into computers, barometric pressure, track elevation, everything."

And that information is exactly what Jones is checking before putting the car back on the track for its second practice run.

In the staging area near the starting line, Romeo and his fiancée, Justine Illar, chat with other drivers and mechanics while Jones checks the tire pressure.

When it's time to race, Romeo lowers himself into the tight cockpit and buckles up. Illar hands him his helmet and he squeezes it over his head, pulls on the gloves and fist bumps another driver.

The car will reach nearly 180 mph at the end of the track, but that's not what stirs Romeo.

"I get more of a rush out of the competition than the speed," he said. "I'm more nervous because I want to win."

Romeo pulls the dragster up to the starting line and floors the gas for a burnout to warm the tires. The driver and car owner communicate through a two-way radio to properly line up the car.

When the Christmas tree – the yellow, green and red light fixture that acts like a traffic light – begins to flash, Romeo reacts and an onboard computer automatically launches the car when the light turns green.

Then it's time for the ride.

"I let go of the bottom (lever) and then the car is in control," Romeo said. "I just hold the accelerator and the wheel and guide it down the track."

The run is over in 7.46 seconds with a top speed of 179.82 mph. The time is a fraction slower than expected, but this was just a practice session before the real racing begins later in the day.

Romeo pulls his car back to the trailer and Jones begins refueling the car with Octane 116 racing gasoline before connecting the computer circuits to download information.

Romeo, Jones and Illar are back at the computers and poring over the streaming numbers. A few moments later, they're already discussing how to make the car go even faster next time.

Motorsports Monday

In a reversal from last weekend, rain washed away racing at Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway near Imperial, Pa. But weather did not get in the way of the asphalt racing at Motordrome in Westmoreland County. Here are the track's weekend results and the asterisk denotes the heat winners.

Motordrome Speedway
Smithton, Pa. - May 15

Super Late Models – 50-lap feature
1. Neil Brown*
2. Mark Cottone
3. Kyle Martel
4. Will Thomas
5. Rick Miller*

Modified – 30-lap feature
1. Adam Kostelnik*
2. Bobby Shipp*
3. Lonnie Hoffman
4. Bryan Shipp
5. Chris Brink

Street Stocks – 25-lap feature
1. Dink Colarusso
2. Jason Holder
3. Johnathan Hileman*
4. Andrew Kostelnik
5. Todd Knight

Charger - 15-lap feature
1. Ed Neiderhardt
2. Denny Keller
3. Tracy Keller*
4. Vic Keller
5. Matthew Gardner*

Super Compacts – 15-lap feature
1. Ed Dineen*
2. Matt Sever*
3. Gene Zerfoss
4. Larry Dunmeyer
5. Troy Knight

Saturday, May 16, 2009

NASCAR All-Star race LiveBLOG!

11:06 p.m. - Tony Stewart gets a nose on Kenseth and takes the lead. What a victory this would be for Stewart and his new race team. Stewart takes the checkered flag and wins the All-Star Challenge. I must say, I really liked that final 10-lap segment. A lot more racing, and crashing. Overall, boring race, but the last 10 laps definitely made up for it. Well, this concludes the LiveBLOG. Thanks for reading.

11:01 p.m. -
Kenseth takes the lead from Busch as the No. 18 fades to the back. Kenseth has been hanging around the front all night, but finally makes a serious challenge for the win with just a few laps left.

10:44 p.m. -
Green flag drops (again) and Busch goes three-wide (again) to take the lead. But Gordon is fighting back to the line. Now Ryan Newman joins the fray and bump drafts Busch into Jeff Gordon. Wow! Newman is leading and Gordon is into the wall.

10:39 p.m. -
It's go time for $1 million! Kyle Busch goes three-wide on the outside and Jimmie Johnson spins in the middle of the pack! No cars hit Johnson, though, and he's able to continue. Matt Kenseth isn't very happy with Busch and bumps him coming to the yellow flag. Since cautions flags don't count, they'll restart with 10 laps to go.

10:27 p.m. -
Everyone pits for four tires and has plenty of time to make adjustments on their cars during the 10-minute intermission. A quick flip to FSN Pittsburgh shows the Pirates are beating the Colorado Rockies 6-4 in the 6th inning. Let's Go Bucs!

10:19 p.m. -
Gordon blows by Busch with 18 to go for the first green flag lead change of the night. Riveting... The No. 24 checks out and wins the third segment. We're moving onto the 10-lap elimination spectacular.

10:11 p.m. - Hornish loses control at the start of the third segment and wipes out Greg Biffle. The Biff is finished and the only car out of the race. On the restart, Mark Martin bobbles and nearly takes out the field, but he collects it just in time and continues. Kyle Busch leads Gordon and Kenseth. DW makes a comment that you don't want to do anything dumb until the last lap, but I argue that this IS THE TIME to go for it in order to be in position for the final segment.

10:01 p.m. -
Matt Kenseth is pushing Kyle Busch for the lead as the second segment winds down, but the No. 18 is too strong. More pit stops to come, and will Busch and Kenseth do two tires again? Rut roh... they do neither and forgo pit stops while Johnson fades way back in the back after taking four tires again.

9:52 p.m. -
With yellow flag pit stops complete, Kyle Busch leads after taking two tires. Johnson was punted to fifth for the second segment, but I don't expect him to hang out there long. But as the run continues, Kyle Busch is checking out. I guess clean air is more important than tires. Tony Stewart takes Joey Logano to school by dipping to the grass and passing the No. 20.

9:46 p.m. -
We're halfway and reached the 50-lap intermission. Let's hope the final three segments are more competitive than the first. Johnson checked out as Gordon and Kurt Busch waged the best battle on the track. For some reason, Johnson slowed down so he wouldn't pass a struggling Ryan Newman. Nearly cost him as Busch made a run for the lead, but couldn't pass. Maybe they need to invert the field and force Johnson to weave through the entire field. He definitely has the car to do it.

9:33 p.m. -
The mandatory green flag pit stops are underway, and that's about the most exciting thing we've seen all night. It's feeding time at the zoo and Johnson lights up the brakes before hitting pit road. Kurt Busch nearly rear-ends Johnson as they race out with Jeff Gordon. The top-3 are back on the track in just about the same position as before the stops. Kyle Busch blew through his pit box and it cost him serious time.

9:19p.m. -
We're going racing at Lowe's Motor Speedway for the 25th All-Star race. The field is strung out single-file by Lap 5, while Kyle Busch is on the move. DW is commenting that Dale Jr. has lost the handling on his No. 88. What does that say about this struggling team when his car is junk 8 laps in? Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson is pulling away, as expected.

9:01 p.m. -
Team owner Joe Gibbs says a nice grace at the dinner table before Jessie James, a proud Sprint phone customer, performs the national anthem. I'm also a proud Sprint customer, so I wonder if I can sing it next year.

8:51 p.m. -
It seems that Greg Biffle's crew just pissed off everyone in the crowd by hosing them down with CokeZero. And the Blue Deuce boys follow that up by spraying beers all over the place. I'm sure the 8-year-olds will love smelling like beer for the rest of the race. Slick move, fellas. And the fan vote goes to... (drum roll, please) ...Ric Flair? Actually, rookie Joey Logano and the No. 20 team get the charity vote and will be racing in the All-Star event.

8:36 p.m. - Pre-race festivities finally begin. It's pretty cool they introduce the driver along with the team members. Not many opportunities to showcase the guys behind the scenes. Can't wait to see what crazy stunts some of these guys pull this year. Wow, that cover band is really rocking out. It looks like the drummer is about to lose his mind.

8:17 p.m. -
Hornish pulls out the victory and McMurray finishes a distant second. But it's good enough for both drivers to advance to the All-Star race. Special congrats to Hornish's crew chief, Travis Geisler, who is a Western Pennsylvania native. Now we wait to see which driver the fans vote in to the big race.

8:04 p.m. -
It's the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Challenge tonight and we'll be live bloggin' here at "Jonesin' for Speed" blog. Right now, David Stremme and Sam Hornish Jr. - the Penske red-headed step children - are battling for the win in the Showdown qualifying race. Does Martin Truex or Jamie McMurray have anything for them?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Life of a dragster

The Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter will feature a local drag racer in this Sunday's newspaper on page B1 and the O-R's Web site. The story follows driver Kevin Romeo, a student at Cal U, and car owner Bob Jones of Eighty Four. Photographer Jim McNutt and I spent a day last month at Pittsburgh Raceway Park along Route 22 near New Alexandria, Pa., and got a taste of the sport. Here's a preview of my story...

NEW ALEXANDRIA, Pa. - When it’s time to race, Kevin Romeo lowers himself into the tight cockpit and buckles up. His fiancée, Justine Illar hands him his helmet and he squeezes it over his head, pulls on the gloves and fist bumps another driver.

The car will reach nearly 180 miles per hour at the end of the track, but that’s not what stirs Romeo.

“I get more of a rush out of the competition than the speed,” he said. “I’m more nervous because I want to win.”

Romeo pulls the dragster up to the starting line and floors the gas for a burnout to warm the tires. The driver and car owner communicate through a two-way radio to properly line up the car.

When the Christmas tree – the yellow, green and red light fixture that acts like a traffic light – begins to flash, Romeo reacts and an onboard computer automatically launches the car when the light turns green.

Then it’s time for the ride.

“I let go of the bottom (lever) and then the car is in control,” Romeo said. “I just hold the accelerator and the wheel and guide it down the track.”

The run is over in 7.46 seconds with a top speed of 179.82 mph. The time is a fraction slower than expected, but this was just a practice session before the real racing begins later in the day.
Romeo pulls his car back to the trailer and team owner Bob Jones begins refueling the car with Octane 116 racing gasoline before connecting the computer circuits to download information.

Romeo, Jones and Illar are back at the computers and poring over the streaming numbers. A few moments later, they’re already discussing how to make the car go even faster next time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Motorsports Monday

Rain postponed the Friday night races at Motordrome Speedway in Smithton, Pa., but it didn't wash away racing at Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperial, Pa. The asterisk denotes the heat winners.

Pennsylvania Motor Speedway

Imperial, Pa. – May 9

Super Late Models – 25-lap feature
1. John Flinner
2. Ben Miley*
3. Steve Baker
4. Lynn Geisler
5. Jim Stephans

Pro Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Kyle Lukon
2. Dave Wade*
3. Josh Holtgraver
4. Bryant Hank
5. Tommy Schirnhofer

Modified – 12-lap feature
1. Daryl Charlier*
2. Vince Laboon
3. Clayton Kennedy
4. J.E. Stalder*
5. Chris Basich

Sportsman – 15-lap feature
1.Jake Simmons
2. Nick Kocuba
3. Craig Koteles
4. Bob Schwartzmiller*
5. Bill Robertson

Stocks – 12-lap feature
1. Curt Bish
2. Tony White
3. Rich Mason
4. Drew Koteles
5. Jason Herniak

Young Guns – 8-lap feature
1. Nico DiBacco
2. Tyler Atkinson
3. Justin Pons
4. Alec Broniszewski
5. Tyler Carson

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Driving to the midnight hour

Is the Southern 500 over yet? I love Darlington, as most fans do, but NASCAR needs to start these night races sooner. The race didn’t get over until 11:30 p.m., meaning Mark Martin’s victory lane celebration was seen only by diehard fans and insomniacs. Sure, there were countless spins and crashes, bringing out nearly 20 caution flags, but that should be expected at Darlington. If NASCAR wants to run 500-mile races, then let’s start ‘em at a reasonable time. How about noon?

---
The fallout continues from Jeremy Mayfield’s positive drug test last weekend at Richmond, Va. He’s claiming a bad mixture of prescription and over-the-counter drugs caused the bad test and he plans to appeal the results. Isn’t that always the excuse for drug cheats? Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez claimed he failed his test because of a drug he was taking to enhance sexual arousal. If a 36-year-old man needs that, then he’s got bigger issues than a 50-game suspension from baseball. We’ll see if Mayfield’s explanation holds more weight with NASCAR, but it’s more than likely his mildly successful career is finished.

---
Hendrick Motorsports had four cars in the Top-10 at Darlington, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t one of them. If rookie Brad Keselowski can wiggle his way into a seventh place finish at such a difficult track, then so should Lil’ E. Sadly, it’s looking more like Dale Jr. should be handing the keys over to Keselowski. Both have the same number of Cup wins over the past three years.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mayfield fails the test

The bomb dropped on NASCAR today, but the ramifications aren't quite as severe with scrub driver Jeremy Mayfield failing a drug test. The Associated Press is reporting that Mayfield failed the drug test last week at Richmond and will be suspended indefinitely. Two crewmen from separate teams failed, as well, and face similar punishment.

This could have been devastating for the sport if a superstar was implicated, but the loss of Mayfield, who has been off the radar ever since his release from Evernham Racing in 2006, will not be a serious blow. He started his own team this year and made a handful of races, including the Daytona 500. Mayfield is the first Sprint Cup driver to fail the drug test since NASCAR implemented the testing policy, so this should be an eye-opener for any other drug abusers in the sport.

The irony is that Mayfield's failed test last week came at the same track where he had arguably his greatest triumph. Mayfield won the August 2004 race at Richmond, catapulting him into the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Now, his career appears to be over. He started his own team because no major owners wanted him, but it seems doubtful Mayfield will ever find a sponsor to support his professional habit.

On the pole

It’s Pole Day at Indianapolis! But, wait a second. When did the Indy Car Series start? I thought the unification of CART and IRL was supposed to bring more publicity to the sport, but apparently those hopes were dashed once ESPN/ABC dropped the series schedule. Unfortunately for Indy Car, the series was forced to go to the network where all good sports go to die: Versus.

Fifteen years ago, this day actually meant something. But since the open-wheel split in 1996, it really hasn’t held any importance besides a little symbolic nostalgia. Remember when Al Unser Jr., the 1994 Indy 500 champion, missed out the following years race because his Penske car didn’t have the speed? Still, I love the unique qualifying process with four-lap averages and car owners standing on pit lane with green and yellow flags waiting to wave-off a slow run. Let’s hope Pole Day and the subsequent qualifying and bump days rev up the excitement on this Indy Car season.

I won’t hold my breath, but I’ll definitely be watching the Indy 500 in two weeks.

UPDATE: 4:22 p.m. - Working in the office this evening and have the qualifying broadcast running in the background. Hearing the cars roar around the track - along with the humming of the police scanner - is soothing while I punch out a few police items. As I speak, Helio Castroneves just took the pole with an average of 224.864 mph. Only 12 cars have qualified, but it's a long way from the federal tax evasion trial he faced earlier this year. Good for Helio.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Motorsports Monday

Two local race tracks escaped the rain and ran most of their weekend races as scheduled. The asterisk denotes the heat winners.

Pennsylvania Motor Speedway
Imperial, Pa. - May 2

Super Late Models – 25-lap feature
1. Jared Miley
2. Ben Miley
3. Steve Baker
4. Lynn Geisler
5. Brandon Burgoon*

Pro Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Rocky Kugel
2. Kyle Lukon*
3. Dave Wade*
4. Jason Rider
5. Justin Lamb

Modified – 12-lap feature
1. Kevin Miller*
2. Tom Martineck
3. Bob Damron
4. Daryl Charlier
5. Jared Domhoff

Sportsman – 15-lap feature
1. Bob Schwartzmiller
2. Jake Simmons
3. Nick Kocuba
4. Bill Robertson
5. Pat Weldon

Stocks – 10-lap feature
1. Brian Huchko
2. Gary Koteles
3. Garrett O'Patchen
4. Jason Herniak
5. Tony White

Young Guns Sport Compacts - 7-lap feature
1. Ricky Steigerwald
2. Tyler Atkinson
3. Justin Pons
4. Tyler Carson
5. Alec Broniszewski

Motordrome Speedway
Smithton, Pa. – May 1

Super Late Models – 50-lap feature
1.Mark Cottone
2. Bobby Henry
3. Will Thomas*
4. Barry Awtey
5. Kyle Martel*

Modified – 30-lape feature
1. Adam Kostelnik*
2. George Nicola
3. Bobby Shipp
4. Chris Brink
5. Gary Scott

Street Stocks – 25-lap feature
1. Andrew Kostelnik
2. Shawn Phillips
3. Jason Holder
4. Ted Gibala
5. Dink Colarusso*

Chargers – 15-lap feature
1. Tracy Keller
2. Denny Keller
3. Ed Neidhardt
4. William Oldham
5. Roger Bryan

The Super Compacts division was postponed due to rain after two laps. Matt Sever and Larry Dunmyer won the division’s two heat races.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

2009 UFo Series Schedule

The Unified Force championship series, which travels to five tracks in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, released its 2009 schedule. The series and its nine weekend race events attract drivers from across the Tri-state area. Alex Ferree, of Saxonburg, Pa., won the inaugural UFo championship last year.

June 6 - PENNational 33 - PPMS – Imperial, Pa.
July 11 - Mach 41 - Roaring Knob – Markleysburg, Pa.
July 18 - Red Miley 53 - PPMS – Imperial, Pa.
July 25 - Area 51 - Tyler County Speedway – Middlebourne, W.Va.
Aug. 7 - Lunarville 33 - Lernerville Speedway – Sarver, Pa.
Aug. 8 - F-2 Shockwave Twin 31s - PPMS – Imperial, Pa.
Sept. 12 - Area 51 - Roaring Knob – Markleysburg, Pa.
Sept. 17, 18, 19 - The Pittsburgher 100 - PPMS – Imperial, Pa.
Oct. 8, 9, 10 - The Ultimate 91 - Challenger Speedway – Clarksburg, Pa.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gold star goes to 'the fence'

As rookie Brad Keselowski ducked below Carl Edwards and nudged him out of the way for the win at Talladega, I thought, “It’s about damn time someone holds their line.” Then Edwards’ car went airborne and ricocheted up in the catchfence and my thoughts immediately changed: “Uh, oh. This is gonna hurt!”

Well, now that all the drivers walked away (or ran in Edwards’ case) and the seven fans survived with mostly minor injuries, it’s time to discuss the yellow line. I thought this was a great idea when NASCAR implemented it in 2001, but the sanctioning body has not done a good job enforcing it. Instead of scolding drivers that block cars below the apron, it only penalized drivers who attempt to make a pass after making an evasive move to avoid a massive crash. A perfect example was last year when Ragan Smith went below the yellow line because Stewart gave him no room. Here’s what I suggested last October…

“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.”

Apparently Brad Keselowski was listening. He said that he had no intention of moving his car out of the way because he knew what happened to Smith. And that’s exactly what he should’ve done in the situation. But the next question most fans are asking is whether NASCAR should abolish the yellow line. Quite honestly, I think Keselowski and Edwards fixed the problem. The difference now is that a rookie had the cojones to stick his nose in there at 190 mph and refuse to move. How many other drivers are going to try and block to the yellow line in the future? Seems like the problem has been solved.

The bigger concern for NASCAR is finding a way to keep the cars on the ground. They resolved that issue in 1994 with the advent of the roof-flaps, but there seems to be a growing issue with the new COTs. This is the biggest issue facing the sport, because we all saw what an out-of-control car can do at Talladega.

Motorsports Monday

After a two-week hiatus, it's time to return to the blog. Several area tracks have restarted their racing seasons, so let's return with Motorsports Monday. The asterisk denotes the heat winners.

Pennsylvania Motor Speedway
Imperial, Pa. - April 25

Super Late Models – 25-lap feature
1. Jared Miley
2. John Flinner
3. Ben Miley
4. Tommy Beck
5. Brandon Burgoon*

Pro Late Models – 20-lap feature
1. Dave Wade
2. Justin Lamb
3. Jason Rider
4. Bryant Hank
5. Beau Glemba*

Modified – 12-lap feature
1. Daryl Charlier
2. J.E. Stalder*
3. Kevin Miller*
4. Chris Basich
5. Clayton Kennedy

Sportsman – 15-lap feature
1.Craig Koteles
2. Bob Schwartzmiller*
3. Pat Weldon
4, Bill Robertson*
5. Pat Hanley

Stocks – 10-lap feature
1. Curt Bish
2. Brian Huchko*
3. Brian Reddcliff
4. Gary Koteles*
5. Jason Herniak

Young Guns Sport Compacts – 8-lap feature
1. Justin Pons
2. Daniel White
3. Tyler Carson
4. Hannah Ramsey
5. Alec Broniszewski

Motordrome Speedway
Smithon, Pa. - April 24

Super Late Models – 50-lap feature
1.Gary Wiltrout
2. Mark Cottone
3. Barry Awtey
4. Will Thomas
5. Bobby Henry

Modifieds – 30-lap feature
1. Lonnie Hoffman
2. Adam Kostelnik
3. George Nicola
4. Bobby Shipp
5. Bryan Shipp

Street Stocks – 25-lap feature
1. Shawn Phillips
2. Dink Colarusso
3. Johnathan Hileman
4. Jason Holder
5. Aaron Minjock

Chargers – 15-lap feature
1. A.J. Poljak
2. Matt Gardner
3. Tracy Keller
4. Denny Keller
5. Ed Neidhardt

Super Compacts – 15-lap feature
1. Larry Dunmyer
2. Matt Sever
3. Gene Zerfoss
4. Scott Ahlborn
5. Bill Schwartz

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

This ain't your mama's dubba-wide

By Scott Beveridge
O-R Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH – An unpeeled banana dusted with paprika and melted cheddar isn’t on the menu at Double Wide Grill, a restaurant in an old filling station in Pittsburgh.

But that’s what a server delivered as a joke to the bartender at the kooky 2-year-old restaurant on East Carson Street in the city’s trendy South Side district.

“That’s why I love working here,” said the bartender named Carly, who bears a mild resemblance to Jennifer Aniston as a dark brunette. “Your foods up,” she said while passing the silly tapas to me and flashing an infections smile.

Of course no one else takes her up on this side dish, but there is plenty of real he-man food being passed around this joint on a sunny Sunday spring afternoon.

The business at Carson and 24th streets also comes with a sense of humor. An old green pickup truck strung with Christmas lights is suspended above the bar while recycled chrome step bumpers double as its foot rests.

Gas pump nozzles pull double duty as coat racks and mirrors framed in car tires can be found in the rest rooms. Meanwhile, hubcaps line the ceiling and empty metal gallon-sized oil cans hang over tables as chandeliers.

The menu is similarly as quirky. The “On Tråys” are heavy with beef, pork and chicken dishes and some can be mixed and matched on build-your-own TV dinners plopped on metal trays. The hubcap potato discs with garlic and herbs would complete that meal.

There also are vegetarian selections, including that nothing food called tofu and lighter dishes in the form of a house trailer salad with sweet corn and avocadoes.

This restaurant in a bland four-bay concrete-block garage is another gift to the city by Scott Kramer and Steve Zumoff, owners of the coffeehouse down the street where young bohemians with robins egg blue hair mingle with middle-aged nerds over organic tea.

It’s noisy and especially so on nice days when the garage doors are up and a fleet of Harley-Davidson motorcycles pulls away from the neighboring biker bar.

The place with all of its hillbilly charm is a NASCAR fan’s fantasy. The only things missing are shots of moonshine and the smell of high-octane engine fuel at the racetrack.

(Above photo of the Double Wide Grill restaurant by Scott Beveridge)

Monday, April 6, 2009

An afternoon on the strip

NEW ALEXANDRIA, Pa. - Engines revved and tires squealed this weekend at Pittsburgh Raceway Park for the opening test session at the drag strip in Westmoreland County.

A photographer and I went to the quarter-mile track Sunday afternoon for a profile on what makes these drivers and mechanics tick. There is a clear distinction between those who take this sport seriously and the amateurs who come with their factory-built cars for a joyride down the quarter-mile. Either way, it looks like a lot of fun.

The stands attract a small crowd, but the majority of the audience is in the garage paddock on a hill overlooking the track. It’s these crewmen and drivers that eagerly watch to see who can run the fastest and most consistent times. They line up against the chain-link fence and peer over the track.

It’s a certain breed that makes the weekly trip to these tracks and invests money into an expensive hobby. The story is scheduled to run in the Observer-Reporter on May 17.

(Photo by O-R photographer Jim McNutt)

Friday, April 3, 2009

The King's new conquest

It’s the perfect blend between NASCAR’s greatest name with open-wheel’s biggest event.

The Associated Press is reporting that Richard Petty will field a car for John Andretti at next month’s Indianapolis 500. While Andretti has raced at Indianapolis before, this will be Petty’s first splash into Indy cars as an owner or driver.

This is great news for IRL, which has struggled in recent years to draw more than 33 cars for qualifying, and the recent economic problems certainly foreshadow more problems at the historic track. That’s what makes this announcement so surprising. Petty’s finances have been so putrid, he partnered with Gillett Motorsports in the offseason just to remain viable. But don’t let that partnership fool you: It’s Gillett’s money with Petty’s name.

But this is a great opportunity for more cross-breeding between the two sports. Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart often have competed in both the Indy 500 and Cok 600 in the same day, making for an exciting and tiring feat. While this won’t have the same sizzle of a Indy-NASCAR doubleheader, it would be nice to see the King in Indy’s victory lane.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Johnsonville brat

There isn’t much to say about Jimmie Johnson, other than he continues to amaze. By all indications, Denny Hamlin or Jeff Gordon should have won the Martinsville race. But there was Johnson, in the thick of it only late in the afternoon, taking the checkered flag. Sure, it took a devilish move to get by Hamlin, but he did nothing out of the ordinary for Martinsville bumping and banging. The man is unstoppable, and that should worry every other team in the garage.

---
For whatever reason, FOX feels the need to interview Rick Hendrick seemingly after every victory. Once again, there was Dick Bergren shoving his microphone in Hendrick’s face to get the same, boring sound bite. I realize it isn’t unusual for the winning car owner to offer a few words, but we’ve heard the same thing from Hendrick about 200 times. Maybe they should start interviewing Chad Knaus, who is well on his way to surpassing Ray Evernham as the greatest crew chief of the modern era.

---
How many times is Robby Gordon going to crash before NASCAR finally revokes his license? He sparked at least three yellow flags at Martinsville and seemed to be in everyone’s way, which isn’t unusual for one of the sport’s last owner/drivers. With that gigantic black arrow on his yellow hood, you’d think it would’ve helped guide him in the right direction. I guess not.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Coming to a speedway near you

I’m an American, damn it, and it’s my God-given right to eat a 4,800-calorie burger while watching sports. That’s the newest promotion for a minor-league baseball team in Michigan, which is offering five greasy beef patties, five slices of cheese and a cup of chili sauce jammed between two buns. According to the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press, those who finish the artery-clogging burger at a West Michigan Whitecaps game will receive a "special T-shirt." Oh, and you’re likely to also get a complementary heart attack before leaving the ballpark.

So when is NASCAR going to get on board and offer the eating and beer-drinking redneck machines a chance at the 5k-calorie combo? For $20 a pop, what NASCAR-loving fool could resist? It’s about the same price as the 16-ounce beer I bought at Daytona last year. And with the choice between getting a watered down alcoholic beverage of choice and an all-American hamburger, which one do you think us hungry/moderately obese fans are going to pick? The only thing missing from NASCAR nowadays (besides fans in the seats and sponsors on the cars) is that monstrosity of beef, cheese and chili.

Now, please excuse me while I vomit.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Danica" Busch wins again

What a difference a day makes for Kyle Busch. On Saturday, the new villain of NASCAR did his best Danica Patrick impression when he left his Nationwide Series car to rot on the track because mistakes by his pit crew cost him a win. About 24 hours later, he celebrated with that same crew (pictured above) in the Bristol Motor Speedway victory lane. He praised them in his post-race interviews with a few backhanded compliments.

"I told the ladies to 'Man up, get the job done on the last stop,' which they did," Busch told The Associated Press. "I'm proud of them for doing that. When the time mattered most, they got the job done."

Then he offered some advice he should probably follow.

"Those guys should hang their head for (Saturday), but then wake up the next morning rejuvenated and ready to go,” he said.

This is the same Kyle Busch who abandoned his No. 5 team at Texas in 2007 after a crash that battered his car. That’s the race where Dale Earnhardt Jr. got a little test session in his future ride after the No. 5 team couldn't find its own driver to turn a few extra laps for points. Busch was never the same after that escapade and team owner Rick Hendrick promptly fired him halfway through the season.

It seems to me that Busch is a whole lot of fun to be around when things are going well. But throw in a little bit of adversity, and he’ll fly off the handle... kinda like Danica. That’s why – despite his 2008 dream season - he didn’t win the Sprint Cup. And it’s the reason why I’m still skeptical if he’ll ever win a championship in NASCAR's top series.

---
The famed 28 of Yates Racing is once again shutting its garage doors. As of today, the team has failed to find a sponsor for the remainder of the season, which shouldn’t be surprising because Travis Kvapil has sputtered to 39th in the standings after making only four races.

The best finish for the team this year is 18th place at Bristol and California. The team missed the Las Vegas race because it transferred the 2008 points to Bobby Labonte and the No. 96. In hindsight, that seems like a questionable decision because Labonte likely had championship provisionals to use if all else failed (which has been happening a lot lately at Yates).

---
What makes the decision to ditch the No. 28 so interesting is that teammate Paul Menard is just one slot ahead of Kvapil in the standings. But there’s no way he’ll lose his ride because he brings his daddy’s sponsorship with him. Has any driver with so little talent thrived as much as Menard, and literally on the family name? It should be interesting to see what happens when the No. 98 starts missing races.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Riding dirty

I want a ride with some more pizazz because my reliable and fuel efficient Chevy Cobalt just ain’t cutting it in our modern greedy world. In this age of reckless spending and Ponzi schemes generating fake wealth, I want to tool around in something that screams, “I’m rich! (well kinda, not really).” And what better way to show my manufactured/Ponzi scheme/toxic mortgage wealth than to drive a neon-green, soon-to-be-bankrupt Pontiac limousine that proudly announces that I just might be chauffeuring around Kyle Busch... or taking the kids to supper at Burger King.
Link
I recently stumbled upon one of these elongated beauties about to be sold on eBay to the highest bidder (you’d have to be high to plunk down $14,000 on this POS). But alas, the bidding ended with some sucker throwing down $13,750 to be able to ride the highbanks of Daytona – or more likely the mean streets of Warrenton, Mo. – while sipping a Chardonnay.

Of course, with my 401k in the tank and mortgage payments on the ropes, maybe it’s better to consider a cheaper option. Now where’s that black and white spray paint?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Snow angels for Kurt

While traveling down Interstate 79 to work this morning, I saw a strange figure walking across the highway about 100 yards in front of my speeding car. Was that Jimmy Watts, the wayward gasman who nearly trotted onto the Atlanta Motor Speedway frontstretch in search of an errant tire? No, instead, this foolish soul on I-79 near the Canonsburg exit was a lonely PennDOT surveyor trying to set up equipment on the other side of the road. Maybe the state should suspend that worker, just like Watts got the boot after his foolish stunt.

What was Watts thinking going that close to the track with cars racing by about 75 feet away? He should have known that the rolling tire from Marcos Ambrose’s car already would cost the No. 47 team regardless because equipment left the pit box. By Watts leaving his pit stall and running to the track, the tire also cost the team its gasman.

The little stunt and subsequent caution flag stunned most drivers and crew chiefs. It certainly made for an interesting development since most of the cars had pitted, leaving a few of the leaders on the track. But it happened early enough in the race that it shouldn’t have made a major impact on the finish. No one was stopping Kurt Busch, nor his bizarre victory lap.

By the way, was that lap supposed to honor Alan Kulwicki and his Polish victory lap he patented in the early 1990s? If so, it failed miserably. Sure, Busch now has a creative gimmick that fans can look forward to if he ever wins again. But what’s the point of driving backwards around a track with no fans sitting in the corners or backstretch? Maybe Busch should consider something a little simpler, just like his evil brother’s now famous bow to the crowd. Maybe Ku. Busch can bring back his “snow angel” celebration at Bristol in 2006. It certainly would have been fitting Sunday at Atlanta, because Jimmy Watts damn near became a pancake angel.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Yaaaaaaaawn...

If you’ve followed this blog recently, then you probably noticed a lack of posts lately. I kinda wondered if I’m slacking or if there’s more to the non-story story. I figure it can't be me since being part of the Internet blogging community means we feast on newspaper articles to formulate our own “stories” and “opinions” without scrounging for our own ideas or sources. But, the other half of me - an investigative journalist for the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa. - decided to get to the bottom of the issue.

That led me to ESPN.com and the supposed Mecca of motorsports coverage (except from 2001 to 2006 when NASCAR didn’t exist for the Disney network). Check out some of the headlines on the eve of race weekend in Atlanta and you might be surprised….

The No. 1 story Friday afternoon – and I’m not joking – is that truck series owner Billy Ballew was arrested for drunken driving at the speedway Wednesday night. First, who the hell is Billy Ballew, and, second, who the hell cares? Sure, Ballew owns the No. 51 truck driven by Kyle Busch, but no one really cares about the trucks series anymore, do they?

The second and third stories, respectively, are a gear change at Las Vegas and a contract renewal to keep the Nationwide Series in Montreal for the next three years. Yaaaaaaawn! Those are the top stories in NASCAR? Wow, something must be seriously wrong with either the sport or ESPN.

Sadly, the next story is about Busch’s win at Vegas. So, that’s it. ESPN.com and its paid Internet reporters generated three stories during the week. And not a single one with any relevance to Atlanta or timely NASCAR news. Is this a reflection of the Web site or the sport? Regardless, this is shaping up to be a loooooooong year. Where’s a steroids controversy when you need one?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Party like it's 1999

It felt like the late 1990s again while watching the Shelby 427, and not just because the stock market is crashing to levels not seen since then. Late in the race Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte battled for the lead just like they did a decade before when both were powerhouses in the sport. Labonte, turning in a remarkable run in the No. 96 Ask.com car (The only question I want to ask is why his sponsor continues to air those lame commercials) had an unfortunate pit road mishap with Jimmie Johnson late in the race that dropped him far from the lead. But before that caution, Labonte and Burton raced back and forth at the front, casting a nostalgic spell on any veteran NASCAR.

But it was all for naught as Kyle Busch, driving Labonte’s former No. 18 car, took the lead with a few laps remaining and sprinted ahead. What made it all the more amazing is that he won the pole, but had to start at the rear of the pack because of motor problems after qualifying. But it’s too early to predict another fabulous season for Busch after his downfall in last year’s Chase.

---
The racing at Las Vegas was somewhat mundane, which seems to be more typical nowadays. Rather than watching from start to finish, I patched together a 1000-piece puzzle in front of the television, while glancing up a few times to see the running order. Didn’t really miss anything and I had the puzzle finished by Lap 208.

---
Wasn’t it just last year when some in media called for NASCAR to shorten the races because they needlessly dragged on for hours? Pocono and California were just too long, they said, and they were right. So why did they lengthen the Las Vegas race? Sure, they had a clever name by using Shelby and 427 to pay homage to the Mustang Cobra. But did they really need to throw another 18 laps in there? Regardless, is seems that Busch is relishing that decision – with Burton and Clint Bowyer regretting it - since the winning pass was made with only a handful of remaining.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two-fer for Kenseth

The putrid racing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana (or whatever the southern California speedway is called nowadays) had me seriously contemplating switching to the Academy Awards late Sunday night. And this is coming from a guy who, not too long ago, thought “Slumdog Millionaires” was a film about landlords and the dilapidated apartments they rent to poor tenants.

Would it kill someone to initiate a green flag pass for the lead more than just a couple times over 500 miles? When is NASCAR going to wake up to the fact that this 2-mile flat oval just is not designed for stock cars? IndyCars, maybe. But please, Brian France, get rid of the two races at Fontana.

The racing didn't deter winner Matt Kenseth, who is already proving he’s a contender after his second victory in as many weeks. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle offered the only other legitimate runs against Kenseth, who drove away from all of them at the end. Gordon mounted a decent challenge with a few laps remaining, but his tires were shot at the end.

Regardless of the mild Kenseth/Gordon duel in the closing laps, the racing was weak. It’s time for NASCAR to re-evaluate the California Speedway experiment. It’s just not a good follow-up act to Daytona Speedweeks.

---
I’d like to applaud Dick Bergren for that wonderful Victory Lane question he asked the race winner. I think a four-tire pit stop lasts longer than that poor excuse for an interview. When are these race “reporters” going to learn we’d rather hear a lengthy Q&A with the winner, than what the 10th place finisher was thinking on Lap 154. Just spend some extra time with the winner!

These television networks owe it to the drivers, teams and sponsors. Give them some credit and air time. Kenseth won the race, so he deserves to have the maximum exposure. One question isn’t going to cut it. Next time, Dick, try thinking of a follow-up.

---
What the hell is FOX doing with this stupid Digger Cam? Sure, it was mildly humorous the first 1,000 times ole Digger popped out of his hole, wearing a scarf and goggles, before ducking back in with the cars roaring by. Then Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip decided to kill the cartoon critter by saying each time, “You better run back into that hole, buddy!”

Now FOX has gone too far with the Digger Family. The computer-animated foursome of furry characters practically blocks the entire camera view. There are quite a few profane words tossed at the television each time they appear before scurrying back into the dirt. If FOX does not immediately cease and desist, I might be forced to contact an infamous gopher exterminator...Digger, meet my good friend Mr. Murray.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jennerstown closes for 2009

The national economic downturn may have claimed a local victim this week. The owner of Jennerstown Speedway announced he will not open the Somerset County race track this seaso nbecause he doesn’t have the time to run the operation. Dave Wheeler told The Associated Press he no longer has enough time to serve as president and CEO of Wheeler Bros. in Somerset. He’s unsure if he will reopen the track near year, although he might sell it. He told the AP that interest in local racing seems to be dwindling.

That sounds to me like a man who doesn’t have the time to lose any more money. I doubt many local drivers or teams can afford to travel to the track and race each weekend this summer. Racing is such an expensive hobby that it's probably the first thing to go when times are tough.

The announcement is somewhat sad for me after having been to Jennerstown for a Hooters Cup race in 2005. That was the race where Joey Logano made his debut in the series and promptly crashed Jimmy Spencer Jr. It’s a great facility located near the quaint borough of 714 residents and just a few miles from the Flight 93 Memorial and Quecreek Mine rescue site. The track debuted in the late 1920s, the AP reported, and Wheeler bought it about six years ago.

This seems like a tangible example of what we’re all feeling from this economy. But it’s unfortunate that one of the bigger tracks in Western Pennsylvania is closing. In times like these, it’s nice to escape reality and go to the local track for an evening of fun. Here's hoping other local tracks don't face a similar dilemma.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Daytona 380 musings

Overall, the Daytona 380 was pretty boring and nowhere near as riveting as last year's season-opening race. Rain all but killed any chance of an exciting finish, but seeing Matt Kenseth choke back tears more than made up for the lack of late-race drama.

When was the last time a driver openly sobbed on network television following a win? Probably have to go back to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in 1994 when a young Jeff Gordon captured his first victory. But there was the normally reserved Kenseth, sitting in his car Sunday night at Daytona and holding back a few tears. He couldn’t contain his emotions any longer when NASCAR called the race and declared him the winner.

Nowadays, it seems like Gatorade or champagne showers are all-too staged for Victory Lane, but this was a potent reminder of how much Daytona means to the drivers. There was nothing staged about Kenseth’s emotions. For someone who seems robotic in and out of the race car, it is nice to see a new side to the 2003 Cup champ. Who knows if he will be able to carry the momentum from this win throughout the season, but frankly, I don’t think it really matters to him. The No. 17 and Kenseth are back in victory lane, where they belong.

---
Quite simply, Elliot Sadler defeated himself. Leading the Daytona 500 with rain approaching the speedway, Sadler took a pessimistic attitude about what would develop on the track.

“Welcome to Elliott Sadler's world,” he said. “It's probably raining all around the racetrack. When I need it, in the lap where I get passed, it starts raining in turn three. It's the way it is.”

Who can blame the man for feeling that way? This is the same driver who had to threaten a lawsuit against his team to ensure he remained in the No. 19 car for 2009. What an awkward Victory Lane that would’ve been. It was the perfect opportunity to shove it in their face, but he knew he couldn’t win … shouldn’t win.

“I needed this after the off season that I've had,” Sadler said. “Really would have been cool. Didn't work out, but happy for my guys. Great mentality all night long.”

Except for the man behind the wheel.

---
What the hell happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr.? He made two crucial mistakes on pit road and then triggered The Big One near the end of the race. Something just didn’t seem right during his post-race interview, either.

He claimed that he missed his pit because all the signboards are pink, but later said all of them are yellow. Um, Junior, they looked orange to me. But, regardless of what color they are, it can’t be too hard to spot the giant 88 hanging from the sky over your stall. It’s not like you’re a rookie pitting for the first time.

During a later pit stop, a NASCAR official ruled he was parked outside his stall. Now, I’m no rules aficionado, but I thought you only needed three wheels in the box. Looked to me like he had three inside with the fourth resting on the white line. Did he really deserve a one-lap penalty for that atrocity?

But the biggest rumbling of the day came when Earnhardt and Brian Vickers tangled on the backstretch. Each blamed the other for the crash. I think they’re both at fault. Earnhardt had a run on Vickers and should’ve been able to make the move without being forced out of bounds. Meanwhle, Earnhardt should’ve given Vickers a bit more room when the re-entered the track. If both gave each other a little room, Kyle Busch would be the 2009 Daytona 500 champ.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fighting for last place

The best races in the G-Duels are not at the front, but mired deep in the pack of scavengers hungry to make the Daytona 500. Sure, Kyle Busch and Mark Martin put on a great in the second heat race, but look back about seven or eight cars and you’ll find the most interesting battles and story lines.

The transfer spots are a hot commodity and make for riveting racing. Congratulations to Jeremy Mayfield, Scott Riggs, Regan Smith and AJ Allmendinger for making the big show. And no, you didn’t read that list wrong. Four guys who didn’t even have a ride a few months ago will be taking parade laps around Daytona International Speedway. Of course, I’m not predicting an impressive run by any of them, but it’s good to see hard work and perseverance by no-name teams (yes, Richard Petty Motorsports is now field-filler) can result in the fulfillment of a dream. Maybe it can even launch them into a full-season ride.

Of course, there are also the losers of Speedweeks. So long, Boris Said and Joe Nemechek. Maybe we'll see you next year. Until then, enjoy your yearlong sabbatical.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Top-5 questions of '09

What a difference a year makes. The Top-5 questions before Sunday's Daytona 500 are vastly different than what we thought would be the big stories last year. And as the famous political slogan goes, “It’s the economy, stupid!” No other sport relies on dollar bills more than NASCAR, and with corporations shedding workers at a feverous pace over the past six months, it’s hard to justify plunging evaporating capital reserves into sponsorships for race cars. And can any fans still afford to attend a race?

5: Will Kyle get Busch-whacked ... again?
Kyle Busch lost his Hendrick ride and promptly shoved it to his ex-employer by winning eight races with Joe Gibbs Racing. Unfortunately, that early season domination evaporated by the Chase. Busch and the No. 18 team had a great year, but hopefully they learned how to run an entire season together and peak in October and November this time around. They have the talent and the equipment, so it will be interesting to see if they can win when it counts.

4: Who can stop the Hendrick dream team?
Rick Hendrick continues to amaze me. Not only did he pluck Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson from relative obscurity years ago, but he also wooed Dale Earnhardt Jr. from his daddy’s company and brought Mark Martin out of retirement. Is there anything this guy can’t do with a race team? But the question remains whether all four cars can be dominant. We know what the No. 48 did last year, but Gordon did not win a race for the first time since his rookie year and Lil’ E scored the only other Hendrick win. Martin should help the organization as he keeps the seat warm for future star Brad Keselowski.

3: What team or driver will fold before Homestead?
Four organizations merged in the past few months due to sponsorship or cash problems and countless other no-name teams came to Daytona praying for some media exposure. But we’re not talking just about the no-names not making the distance. One has to wonder if any formerly major operations will shut down in the coming weeks. And look at the former champions relegated to second-hand equipment. Bobby Labonte is driving the Ask.com, Bill Elliott is toiling with the Wood Brothers and Terry Labonte is piloting the Window World car. Are you kidding me?! Get a clue guys, and go to the broadcast booth.

2: Four-peat for the 48?
Can Jimmie Johnson win an unprecedented fourth consecutive Cup title? Johnson has been the best driver in the series since his rookie season in 2002. But bad luck stopped him from winning championships his first four seasons. Well, since then, he’s been perfect when it has mattered most. Johnson and the No. 48 team had a horrendous start to last season, but they improved throughout the first 26 races and were in peak-form by the Chase. At that point, no one could stop him, not even Carl Edwards. If Johnson can win another championship this season, he will go down in history as one of the greatest.

1: Can NASCAR survive?
From the outside, it looks like NASCAR the company will be able to weather the economic storm this year. But what about the race teams and fans? One look at Daytona International Speedway last Saturday for the Shootout showed a sorry situation where no more than half of the seats were filled (and that’s being generous) for a prime-time event. The attendance at Thursdsay’s G-Duel’s and especially the 500 will make it clear whether fans have the money to come to the races. The situation might be worse for the race teams. A healthy contingent of 55 cars rolled into Daytona hoping to qualify. That’s a great number, but how many will return at California or Vegas? Cars without sponsors might be able to survive a few races, but they, too, will have to close shop within a few weeks. Let’s hope each race attracts 43 cars that show up and can actually compete. But maybe that’s asking for too much.