A few odds and ends leading into this weekend's action in Las Vegas...
It's interesting that after two races Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is teetering on the brink of the "top 35" in Sprint Cup points. The chances that he would fall out and stay out of the top 35 in owner points and then fail to make a race is microscopic. But if there was ever a chance for NASCAR to decide to get rid of that silly rule, having the sport's most popular driver miss the show because of it would be it.
There are probably no stats in this category dating back to the sport's origin, but Drew Blickensderfer is in elite company by starting his Cup crew chief career 2-for-2. Matt Kenseth has had great success at Las Vegas before, so there is a decent chance Kenseth can become the first driver in 12 years to start the season with three consecutive wins.
Where are all of the reporters who were talking about the resurgence of Richard Petty Motorsports after the team placed three drivers in the top ten at Daytona? Not every one of those reporters was a NASCAR beat writer, but some were. It's easy to overlook those stories by writers that don't follow NASCAR week in and week out, but those who are in the garage every week should have known that Daytona is it's own animal. Predicting season-long success for a mid-pack team after a decent run at Daytona is like playing roulette. Those writers should have said it was a surprisingly good result for the newly merged operation but the chances of them crashing back to earth at Fontana and beyond was almost a certainty.
Maybe it's because I grew up going to races at Michigan and I have grown accustomed to the type of racing the 2-mile D-shaped ovals produce, but I don't find the races at MIS or Fontana to be boring. I like seeing cars run several different grooves through the turns. Seeing them spread out three and four wide down the straightaways is always spectacular. The racing isn't the same as it is at Daytona, but that doesn't mean it's worse. It's a different challenge. Teams must find the combination to allow their driver to keep the foot on the loud pedal deeper into the corners and then get back on it the quickest. Just like in baseball, sometimes you get a 1-0 snoozer and sometimes the Fontana and Michigan races are the auto racing equivalent. But sometimes you're going to get a game when you see seven homers and the game comes to the last at bat in the bottom of the ninth too.
I heard a discussion on Sirius NASCAR Radio yesterday between hosts Rick Benjamin and Chocolate Myers and a caller about the "S" in NASCAR not standing for "stock" any more. The hosts seemed put off with the caller and dismissed his opinion as rubbish. Sure, it's nice that the COT is a "safer" car but many (myself included) wonder why the cars all have to look the same and have virtually nothing in common with their street counterparts. I firmly believe there is a direct correlation to the decline in NASCAR ratings and attendance at events to the introduction of common template cars. NASCAR fans may like the sport's focus on the driver and only the driver, but racing fans liked seeing the drivers race different vehicles on the track. Now that all the cars are the same, the racing fans are gone and the NASCAR-only fans are what's left.
Looking at the Camping World Truck points...how about a call to Timothy Peters? He's driving for an independent, self-owned team that works out of a garage behind his partner's house and he's fourth in the series points after two races. Tim got the short end of the stick during an ill-fated stint at RCR a couple of years ago. Here's hoping he finds some sponsorship and can keep his team on the track throughout the 2009 season.
Looking at the SPEED predicitions for the NCWTS top-five at the end of the year brought one glaring oversight. Not one member of SPEED's on-air crew picked Matt Crafton to be in the top five at the end of the season. Crafton was a contender all season in 2008 and currently sits third after the first two races of 2009. There are many worthy drivers that could be - and were - selected for their lists. But Crafton should have been included on at least ONE of them.
It's easy to call someone out when they deliver a sub-par performance but too often good performances go without mention. Coming after a bogey at Daytona, Darrell Waltrip shot an eagle with his delivery at California. Waltrip's experience behind the wheel and knowing what Jeff Gordon was thinking over the final laps really gave the viewer at home an added bonus as the front two battled for the win.
Although I do enjoy the new layout at Las Vegas with the added banking, I still miss the old layout. Maybe it's because every time I had been there was for a night race with the trucks, which was a totally different show than the Cup and Nationwide cars running in the daytime, but I loved the racing on the old track. The new garage area is one of the coolest in all of racing though.
Last weekend saw the three national touring USAC divisions kick off their season at Manzanita Speedway in the Copper on Dirt. While the event tries to replicate the old Copper World Classic that used to be held annually every late January/early February at the nearby Phoenix International Speedway, it doesn't get the same level of attention as the true Copper Classic used to. One can't argue with the success of International Speedway Corporation as a promoter of big-league racing events, but the France family hasn't been quite as successful with it's grassroots events and tours. As soon as ISC bought into the Phoenix track, the Copper World suffered. Sadly, it's now a two-division warmup act to the November NASCAR weekend instead of a three-day, four-division stand alone event that it used to be. And of course virtually every one of NASCAR's touring short track divisions has died off in the past five years.