Monday, February 28, 2011

View From The Flagstand

Cactus! Cactus! You talkin' 'bout cactus? We racin' for cactus? Sorry, A.I., but, after seeing the trophy that Jeff Gordon won at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, I couldn't resist. Yes, Jeff Gordon finally won again. After unloading his old crew chief on Dale Earnhardt Jr during the off season, it didn't take the four time champ long to score with his new chief, Alan Gustafson.


Gordon looked to be the class of the field after Carl Edwards was taken out in one of them racin' deals. In fact, Gordon was involved in Edwards' mishap, but it didn't affect his 'hunger' to win. Ouch. Gustafson has now won at PIR with three different Hendrick drivers, any guesses out there?


After winning the preliminary truck and Nationwide events on Friday and Saturday, Kyle Busch was in a prime spot to hit the trifecta again. Instead, he coughed up the lead to the hard charging Gordon with eight laps left, and settled for second place on Sunday. Ryan Newman (5) and Kasey Kahne (6) had good, quiet runs, and were up front most of the day. AJ Allmendinger (9) and Dale Jr (10) had even quieter runs, and were not up front most of the day.


The 43 best drivers in the world (sorry Vettel, and Button), for the second week in a row, found it hard to negotiate their way around a huge circuit without framming into each other.... early and often. Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne returned to reality after wrecking in practice, then wadding his back up piece during the race.


The non-blame game appears to be over. After a wreck filled 500 at Daytona when no driver called out another driver, PIR caused the wronged to call out their abusers. Brian Vickers sure sounded like he was giving Matt Kenseth a warning. Meanwhile, Carl Edwards looked and sounded like he is one opportunity away from ditching his new kinder, gentler, gimmick.


It's not just for seniors anymore, is Phoenix also the place where losing streaks go to die? Gordon halted his 66 race winless run on Sunday. Last fall Edwards broke his 70 race dry spell, and last spring, Ryan Newman put the brakes on a 77 race skid.

Monday, February 21, 2011

View From The Flagstand

I'll be the first to admit... I am the most cynical NASCAR fan that most of you know. I always find the gas tank half empty when dealing with the internal politics at NASCAR. However, once in a blue moon, NASCAR stumbles onto a feel-good, story for the ages. The ending of Sunday's Daytona 500 was one of those instances.

Trevor Bayne, a clean cut, good looking, respectful, polite driver who, after turning 20 on Saturday, was making his second Sprint Cup Start in the hallowed #21 Wood Brothers Ford. The yellow stripes on his back bumper were very misleading as he survived 16 caution flags and two GWC restarts to win the Great American Race, the Daytona 500.


Bayne made all the right moves in route to the biggest prize in American auto racing. Afterwards, he was humble, excited, surprised, and poised as his enthusiasm and charm overwhelmed even us old curmudgeons. This kid could be just what NASCAR needs to infuse some new fans into the sport.


Strange bedfellows were created by the tandem drafts at Daytona. This led to some strangers to the top-10 having great finishes. Like David Gilliland in 3rd, Bobby Labonte in 4th, and Regan Smith had a strong 7th place run. Ex-series champs Bill Elliott (12th), and Terry Labonte (15th) both had much needed good finishes. Special (and, I do mean 'special') shout out to Steven Wallace for missing a sitting duck on the track, and for his lead lap finish.


Where to begin? How about a new track record of 16 cautions? Is there such a thing as a 'single car incident' anymore? It wasn't just the two car drafts, either. There are still the two, or three, drivers going for the same piece of real estate... in a big pack... for 22nd place... on lap 29. Some things never change.


Fox TV's 'heat cam'. I think it was supposed to show infra-red images of the heat on the front end of the pushing car in a two car draft. They may want to test the gimmicks before rolling them out... nah.


The Waltrips. Mike was busy wrecking anything with numbers on the side of it; while Darrell was busy ignoring just who was creating that multi-million dollar junk yard in the garage area. Shameful showing by both.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ten Years Later

I was in Daytona that fateful day, ten years ago. Sitting along the front stretch, watching the drama unfold as the afternoon went on. That year's Daytona 500 was a great race with 14 different lap leaders. This was also Dodge's first race back in the Cup series in quite awhile.

The Dodge boys were strong that day as Bill Elliott started from the pole, Ward Burton led the most laps, and Sterling Marlin looked to have the car to beat for most of the day.

The 'big one' came on lap 174 that year. I wouldn't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure that it was Robby Gordon that turned Tony Stewart on the back stretch. Stewart went sailing through the air, directly over his JGR teammate, Bobby Labonte's, car. Probably the most cars I've ever seen wreck in person. The race box score lists 19 cars involved in that melee.

When the green flag flew on lap 180, Dale Earnhardt Jr was leading, and the fans were in for a 20 lap shootout. Marlin took the lead for a lap, then Dale Sr powered to the front, for one lap, on lap 183. Mike Waltrip got by Sr on the very next lap, and never was headed off. Winning the race on lap 200, as all hell broke loose, in NASCAR's world, behind him.

With his two, self-owned, DEI cars running first and second, Dale Sr was determined to hold off the pack of hungry drivers nipping at their wheels. Earnhardt was the master at Daytona, but he was mortal after all. He tried to block two different lines of cars going into turn three. First, he pulled low to stall out Marlin. Sr's car was a little loose after that, but he still went high to block Ken Schrader.

He didn't quite pull it off, as his car was out of control, and heading straight for the wall as Schrader's car also hit him. At this time Waltrip and Jr were crossing the finish line, still one, two. I doubt anyone in attendance then, would have suspected that Sr was even hurt, let alone, so much worse.

I know I didn't, as I was giving Sr and his fans a few choice words about him wrecking Schrader. Looking back, I'm embarassed to admit I did that, but no one knew his condition at that time.

A few hours later, driving up I-95, through the dark woods of Georgia, we heard the announcement on the radio..."We've lost Dale Earnhardt." My head was spinning. How could this be?

We were stunned. I called my brother, a big Dale fan, he was crying when he answered the phone. There wasn't much to say, he just relayed to us what was happening on TV.

We spent the rest of the trip home holding back tears, and sharing Dale Sr stories. How he amazed us. How he enraged us.

Dale Earnhardt Sr.....The Best Driver I ever saw!

First posted 2-18-09 at Foxsports. Originally titled 'February, 18, 2001'.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

View From The Flagstand

After completely repaving the huge tri-oval in Daytona, NASCAR gave us a surprising Shootout Saturday night. The drivers figured out that two cars, lined up in a tight draft, were much faster than three or more together. Ten to twenty MPH faster! The closing rates were ridiculous! As I write this, early Sunday afternoon, NASCAR is already looking at various ways to break up the two car guided missiles. So, who knows what will happen next week during the Daytona 500.


Dodge had never won a Shootout in Daytona, until Saturday night. Kurt Busch, with Jamie McMurray supplying the horsepower, picked up the win after Denny Hamlin was penalized for going out of bounds coming to the flag. It was Busch's first restrictor plate win of any kind, and also gave his new sponsor, Pennzoil, their third straight win in the Shootout.


Ryan Newman and Jeff Burton led over half of the 75 laps during the race. Not that their cars were that much faster, they had powerful pushing partners behind them. Jamie McMurray (2nd) and Kevin Harvick (7th) both had strong cars, though neither led a lap. Look for those two to dominate the plate tracks again, as they did last year. Bobby Labonte had the highest finishing Toyota in 10th.


The Shootout entrants, mostly, are the best NASCAR has to offer, and they don't really have a handle on the tandem draft system yet. What happens when twenty less talented drivers, and 125 more laps, are added to the mix next Sunday? Poor judgement by veterans, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart, led to them turning around the cars they were pushing going into a turn.


I'm sorry, I couldn't even make it to the regular season before becoming ill over the TV 'experts'. On Speed TV's pre-race show, Kenny Wallace actually claimed that he wasn't kissing NASCAR's butt, while doing exactly that. Somehow, DW was an analyst during Speed TV's ARCA coverage on Saturday. What a pro! He didn't know most of the drivers, so he identified them by car number only... all race long! It's going to be a loooong season.


The TV experts were falling all over themselves to exonerate Martin and Stewart for taking out Kyle Busch and Michael Waltrip, and I'm sure the two vets didn't mean to do it. But, I have to wonder if the fans would have accepted the no-fault theory if the wreckers and the wreckees had been reversed? If Busch had spun Martin, and Mikey had done the same to Smoke, would the fans have been so accepting of the 'expert' analysis?