Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NASCAR: "Yellow line rule keeps wrecks under control." Okay then, tell us what wrecks were caused because the rule wasn't there

I read in Terry Blount's latest column on ESPN.com that John Darby says the dreaded yellow line "out of bounds" rule keeps the number of massive wrecks at Daytona and Talladega under control.

"The yellow-line rule has been very effective in controlling some of the huge wrecks we used to have," Sprint Cup director John Darby said Monday. "The rule has at least made the width of the racetrack consistent all the way around, so the competitors know how much real estate there is to use."

And he followed that comment up with this one:

"It (the racetrack) may be 15 lanes wide if you allow the competitors to use the skid pads and everything," Darby said. "But the entrance to Turn 3 is not [that wide]. So it becomes a big game of chicken from going from 15 lanes wide down to three that ultimately created some very large wrecks."

Okay, so the logical follow-up to that question is this: can you offer up instances of accidents caused by drivers racing on the apron and then trying to squeeze back up into traffic? I've seen every restrictor plate race since 1988, and darn if I can't remember that many (if any!).

Sometimes NASCAR takes their time and evaluates situations carefully before making a change. Heck, it's been 21 years since the implementation of the restrictor plate that everyone thought would be a temporary solution to slowing the cars down at the superspeedways. But sometimes they make changes in haste without looking at or fully anticipating the unintended consequences.

Things like the top-35 rule and the yellow line rule were put in place with the best of intentions. But there are always those unintended consequences...

The yellow line might make the track a uniform width, but it also means that in a situation like we saw on Sunday, a driver fighting for the lead on the last lap won't fade under that line and if the driver he's battling keeps on coming he's going to go for one heck of a ride. I don't think the powers that be that decided to suddenly come up with an out-of-bounds rule ever considered that showering the fans with debris could ever happen as a result, but that's exactly what happened. The two drivers involved were doing their jobs and neither was at fault. The yellow line rule was.

So I'd like to see NASCAR offer up some examples. I've seen several accidents happen because too many vehicles were being crammed into too little space between the concrete wall and the yellow line that wouldn't have happened if the driver on the bottom could have dipped below the out of bounds line (the massive Truck wreck entering turn three on the final lap at Talladega in 2006 for example). Now let's hear NASCAR offer up some examples of accidents happening because someone passed below the yellow line down the straightaway and squeezed back up into traffic with just feet to spare before reaching the banking.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rearview: Talladega

The most unlikely things seem to happen in the most unlikely of places. There's no reasonable explanation other than the availability of cheap land back in the late 1960s for Bill France's choice of rural Alabama to build the sport's biggest racetrack. And of course, there's no reasonable explanation for many of the sport's defining moments taking place far away from civilization, but that's exactly what happens. There's no question now that the powers that be in NASCAR's home offices would like their grandest stages to be in megatropolises like New York or Los Angeles, but in reality they are the minitropolises of Daytona Beach and Talladega.

The driver's strike at Talladega in 1969 could have had major implications for the sport. Instead Bill France broke the strike and broke the union. The first unofficial and official 200 mph lap in a stock car came there, thanks to Buddy Baker's winged Superbird and later Benny Parsons' slick Pontiac LeMans. Bill Elliott set the all-time NASCAR qualifying record at over 212 mph and that same weekend Alabama's biggest hero Bobby Allison went sailing into the catch fence forever changing the landscape of superspeedway racing.

Brad Keselowski's win is a big deal, no question at all about that. He was only making his fifth start and it was his first Cup restrictor plate race. Brad is going to be around for a long time, but unfortunately his win has been overshadowed by Carl Edwards' flip coming to the checkered flag. On NBC's Today show on Monday, they spoke of the tremendous accident and the injuries in the grandstand but gave no mention to the winner of the race. They did say that Carl was uninjured and actually jogged across the finish line though.

It was a huge relief to see Carl climb out, and it was a great statement by him to cross the line on foot - even if it didn't officially count. His statements after the race were as spot on as any I've ever heard. He didn't do anything wrong going through the tri-oval; he knew Brad was back there and he had to do whatever it took to block. He also knew that Brad couldn't go below that yellow line without forfeiting the win so he tried to force Brad down to the flat apron. But Brad didn't do anything wrong either. He held his ground because he remembered Regan Smith's penalty last October.

Others will blame the track itself or the restrictor plate. There is only one cause of this crash: the yellow line rule. Brad had the momentum, and even if he had to dip below the line he would have cleared Carl and won the race (just like Regan Smith did last year).

The boundaries in racing are natural: you race on any available surface until you lose traction or hit something immovable. So at Talladega, the track would extend from the outer wall down to the grass in the infield - just like it does at Kansas or Charlotte or Texas or Michigan. The yellow line rule is like the pit road commitment cone and the top-35 rule: it's another example of NASCAR over-regulating and over-managing the sport's rules.

The yellow line rule is meant to reduce crashes as drivers race on the apron down the straightaways and then try to squeeze up in line on the banking to make then turn. Has it stopped crashes or has it caused more that it's prevented? It's very likely there wouldn't have been a huge flip and a car nearly into the grandstands if the yellow line rule wasn't in place.


Everyone says Carl Edwards' flip was reminiscent of Bobby Allison's crash at Talladega in 1987. Allison sailed backwards into the fence and ripped down over 100 feet of the fencing. Edwards's crash reminds me more of Neil Bonnett's flip in the summer of 1993. Bonnett was turned sideways and was hit by another car and it went on a wild tumble into the fence roof first. No two crashes are ever identical, but the flip by Edwards has much more in common with Bonnett's crash than Allison's.


It seems like just yesterday I was walking into the track at Homestead and was introduced to a very tall and thin young man carrying a briefcase filled with setup sheets and notes. I was working with Amy East at ESPN and her husband Terry Cook was driving for K-Automotive in the Truck Series. I was introduced to everyone on the K-Automotive team - some of whom I had known since I was a kid but hadn't seen since the days Bob Keselowski won the track championship at Toledo Speedway in 1983. I met Brad Keselowski that day, and his job then, as a teenager, was to help his father set up the family team's NASCAR Truck. Brad helped building race winning trucks. Now he's a race winning driver, not only in the Nationwide Series, but as of yesterday in the Sprint Cup Series as well.


It also seems like yesterday that I approached a young driver who just climbed out of his truck after making his first laps around Daytona in pre-season testing. He couldn't stop smiling then because he simply couldn't believe he had made it to Daytona. Testing sessions always played to a much smaller media throng than the races, and out of the dozen or so of us there to cover that race I was the only one who had ventured over to the Mittler Bros. truck to talk to the young guy behind the wheel. When the teams came back a month later, the Mittlers had lost their driver - Carl Edwards - to Jack Roush. Carl led the race that day, for a little while, before he thumped the wall extremely hard in what was the first of many lessons he learned that year. Now, six years later, Carl is one of the most respected on the track and after hearing his words after the race he has to be seen as one of the most thoughtful and well spoken in the garage area too.


Many of my friends in the Truck Series used to give me a hard time about the weather up in Ohio during the series' visits at Mansfield. In 2005 a tornado lifted a section of grandstands onto the track the day before practice and qualifying and nearly turned a plane full of crews and drivers onto its top at the airport across the street from the track. In 2007, rain plagued the race and with lightning in the area we had to make the call to evacuate the (aluminum) grandstands and the infield. There was always some conjecture as to what was said on the public address system when the call was made to send everyone for cover, but I am sure it wasn't the "run for your lives there's a tornado coming" that some insist was said. Severe weather at the racetrack isn't a laughing matter because there's tens of thousands of people there and many of them are in campers and have no where to hide should a tornado strike. But once the weather clears and everyone is safe the stories can begin. Like when everyone in the garage huddled in the tunnel at Gateway one year during a particularly hard thunderstorm. Unfortunately some of those same stories are coming out of Kansas this weekend as severe weather struck during the Camping World Truck Series race. For those there, let me know what the announcer there said on the PA system to get everyone seeking cover...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Random ramblings before Talladega

Just a few random thoughts as we get ready for this weekend's action at Talladega:

-How long will we go this weekend until a car slides out of control on the backstretch onto the area of pavement that used to be grass and hear how many times that car would have tumbled end over end if that area hadn't been paved? Every time a car spins out and slides onto that pavement, one of the experts in the booth tells the audience how it surely would have flipped and cartwheeled had that area still been grass. I've seen every Talladega race since 1986 on the tube. Sure, many cars have flipped through the grass. But many of those flips started on the pavement. Bobby Allison got airborne through the tri-oval in 1987 without coming close to the grass. Same thing with Rusty Wallace in 1993 and Ken Schrader in 1995; both may have ended up in the grass but their cars took flight on the asphalt. And furthermore, there's been dozens of spins onto the grass that didn't result in a huge flip. Paving that area is definitely a great thing because it allows the drivers who do spin out of control some added room to get back under control before hitting something.

-In four NASCAR sanctioned races at Talladega last year, Toyota drivers won them all. Who ever would have imagined back in the days of the Alabama Gang that a foreign manufacturer would one day sweep every event in the heart of Dixie and the drivers make it out of the speedway unharmed? There may still be some jeers from the most hardcore in the grandstands but the evidence suggests that Toyota has been fully accepted within the NASCAR community.

-Imagine if Kurt Busch wasn't able to start the season in the No. 2 car due to illness and missed the first two races. Imagine that his replacement scores a couple of top tens, one of them a solid top-five, and a pole. Imagine that going into the third race of the season he sits second in the points. But Kurt's feeling well enough to drive and he gets back in the car, leaving his replacement rideless. Okay, it's not 100% the same, but a similar story is playing out with Roger Penske's IndyCar team. Will Power replaced Helio Castroneves while the former Indy 500 winner was on trial for tax evasion. Castroneves was eventually cleared of those charges and returned to the cockpit. Penske fielded a third car for Power at Long Beach but will go back to a two-car team for this weekend's race at Kansas. That leaves Power, who is sitting second in points, without a ride for the weekend. He may not have the strongest team in NASCAR, but the allure of driving for Penske Racing in the Indy 500 is so strong that championship caliber drivers are willing to drive a very limited schedule in exchange for the chance to have their likeness etched onto the Borg-Warner Trophy.

-The Sprint Cup awards ceremony has officially been moved from New York to Las Vegas. I for one don't understand why a race fan would care where this event is located. I've been to my share of short track banquets and the Truck Series and Nationwide Series banquet a couple of times. At the short track level it's a chance to get together with everyone you've raced against and grab a couple of cold drinks and retell the stories of the year while a few trophies are passed out to the top drivers. At the NASCAR level it's a gala affair, with a catered meal, black ties and evening gowns. The speeches are scripted and the access to the drivers is carefully controlled during the event itself. I can understand why the drivers would care where the event is held. I can even understand why the media would care since they were also up in the cold in NYC. Whether it's a short track or NASCAR, I just don't get the hullaballoo that some fans make concerning the banquet. All anyone who thinks it's going to be easier to access the drivers in Las Vegas and that it will be cheaper to go there for a week than New York needs to do is see how cheap rooms are at the Wynn during the banquet. My guess is it won't be cheap.

-I had a long conversation with a friend yesterday about the precipitous decline in NASCAR's television ratings over the past couple of years. While I think the fact that NASCAR is now basically a spec-car series and fans want to see different types of cars on track fighting it out (yes, actual STOCK cars!) and my friend disagrees, we do have the same opinion on the broadcasts themselves chasing off viewers. If you tune into any other sport, whether it's football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, or even horse racing, the expert analysts actually offer the viewer in-depth analysis. You can break down how Team A got into the end zone because Team B's defense broke down. You can look in super slow motion at a golfer's swing. You can put an iso-cam on the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and watch as he paces the first half and then breaks through the field down the stretch. We don't get that type of in-depth analysis in NASCAR. Maybe the fans, most of which are long-term viewers, are tired of being spoken to like we're watching for the first time. We know how aero push works. We know know the draft works. We know what tight is and what loose is. Talk to us like we are passionate fans who know the basics. When someone makes a late-race pass for the lead, break it down: show us what he did, how it did it, and why he did it. When you talk to the lowest common denominator, eventually you chase off everyone but those at the very bottom of the ladder. That's what's happening now. Gimmicks like "Digger" and telecasts that offer the viewer nothing substantive aren't keeping people interested. NASCAR and the networks can say they are trying to expand the audience but the fact is right now that audience is contracting.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How the start-and-park phenomenon proves the top-35 rule should be abolished

It's always interesting when you read a quote about one issue and it makes you wonder why it doesn't apply to a greater whole.

NASCAR has gotten a lot of heat about the prevalence of "start and park" teams in it's lower divisions and more recently in the Cup Series. The teams are not there to race the full distance. Most make a couple of laps and pull into the garage, collecting their sub-40th-place money and head for home. For a team that can routinely qualify for the races, it can be a profitable venture.

Some race fans don't like it. And the noise they've made has put the issue on the radar for some media outlets, and they've asked NASCAR about it.

In a recent NASCAR.com story, the sanctioning body said it has no plans to police the so-called start and park teams. Other stories had quotes from Robin Pemberton saying he would like to eliminate these teams and could conceivably put cars dropping out early through a rigorous inspection to validate their reason to be out of the race.

It turns out NASCAR doesn't really care how long someone stays in competition once they've made the show.

"NASCAR doesn't perceive this to be an issue. It doesn't impact the quality of competition whatsoever. NASCAR has always been about teams having the opportunity to participate in our sport; some teams might not have the full complement of resources to compete at the same level as others, but it's all about having an opportunity."

That's interesting, because there are other rules in place that limit that opportunity. Yep, you guessed it: the much maligned "top-35 rule."

No other rule has taken away that opportunity more than the rule locking in teams based on their position in the point standings.

Every team that shows up to compete should have the exact same opportunity to make the field. Yes, Gunselman Motorsports should have the same chance as Hendrick Motorsports.

There is no doubt that there should be a fall-back provision in place for anyone that falters in qualifying...to a point.

At one time, NASCAR had a wonderful process to set the field. You had a qualifying session on Friday that set the top half of the field, and a qualifying session on Saturday that set the second half. On top of that, there were two provisional positions available for the highest two teams in the owners points that weren't already in the field. That gave you two shots to make it in on speed, and if you weren't in yet but high enough in the points you could still make it. Now, it seems qualifying is nothing more than an afterthought. It shows too as crowds in the grandstand when they roll for the pole are smaller now than they've been in years.

Make qualifying mean something for more than just 8 drivers. It might just reignite some interest in the sport with some of the long-time fans who find other things to do - and other places to spend their money than at the racetrack - on Friday and Saturday.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fuss over No. 8 being parked should remind the media that numbers aren't permanent

It's the biggest news story of the Easter off-weekend in the Sprint Cup Series. The organization formerly known as Dale Earnhardt, Inc. has parked the once famous No. 8 car driven by Aric Almirola due to the lack of funding. Everyone has an opinion on it, from ESPN's Marty Smith and SceneDaily.com's Jeff Gluck.

The overriding opinion is that it's Teresa Earnhardt's fault that the number taken to prominence by Dale Earnhardt Jr. is no longer in competition. If only she capitulated to Jr.'s demands and gave him half of DEI or let him take the number to Hendrick, then the hoardes of Jr. fans could see that number grace the speedways to this day.

The NASCAR media knows what generates page views: stories on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. It's easy to go with a story that pits Jr. vs. Teresa because she doesn't grant interviews. So we get one side of the story. And of course, most of the coverage portrays Mrs. Earnhardt as the evil stepmother, which is exactly how the so-called Jr. Nation wants it.

Mrs. Earnhardt had no obligation to allow her stepson to take that number with him when he left the team his father started for another. She was the owner of DEI and it is the team that secures a car's number, not the driver. And why should she give it up? She obviously didn't have a good relationship with Earnhardt, Jr. or his sister Kelley. When was the last time you did a favor for someone who didn't like you? Especially when that favor would generate that particular person untold millions of dollars and give you nothing in return?

When DEI started as the team Dale Earnhardt drove for in his Busch Grand National races back in the mid 1980s, it used the No. 8. It was his way of honoring his late father Ralph. When Earnhardt picked up Goodwrench sponsorship, it was originally on the No. 8 in the Busch Series. When that sponsorship carried over into the Cup team with Richard Childress, only then did Earnhardt change to No. 3 with his own team.

When Earnhardt, Jr. made his first Busch start at Myrtle Beach in 1996, it was in a No. 31 car. He raced six more times in a No. 31 and twice in a No. 7 in 1997. He moved into the No. 3 in 1998 and 1999 and won two championships. The first time he raced a No. 8 in a NASCAR series was in his limited Cup schedule in 1999.

Sure that's the number he rose to the top of the sport with and the number he used to become a fan favorite. But he didn't use it until four years into his NASCAR career. And he wasn't the first to use it and he wasn't the last to use it.

Contrary to what Jeff Gluck says in his SceneDaily.com column, NASCAR drivers have never been permanently identified by their numbers. Seriously, is there anyone in the NASCAR Nation that would ever permanently identify Reed Sorenson as "The 43"? Some drivers in today's post-modern era have had the same car number in every race they've ever competed - such as Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson - but those types of career-long driver/owner relationships are the exception, not the norm. Most drivers change teams throughout their career. And when they do, they rarely get to pick the number that adorns the side of the car.

Look at the top of NASCAR's all-time winners list and only one of the current top five had the same car number in every one of his wins: Richard Petty. David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, and Cale Yarbourough all won races with numerous car numbers. Even Dale Earnhardt won with other numbers than the No. 3; his first championship came in a car with the No. 2 on it and he even won races in a Ford with the No. 15 on it.

It's a shame EGR had to park the No. 8 team for now. Sure, there is little doubt that car would still be on the track if Jr. was still driving it. Even if Budweiser chose to leave for another team, Jr. could have attracted sponsors and that team would still be marching forward - such as it was.

But that didn't happen. Earnhardt chose to leave. And he chose to leave the No. 8 behind.

Just like Darrell Waltrip left behind the No. 11 when he left Jr. Johnson. Or when David Pearson left the Wood Bros. and they kept their famous No. 21.

It's Mrs. Earnhardt's right to keep requesting the No. 8 from NASCAR. Until she choses to relinquish the right to that number she can do whatever she wants with it, including choose not to put it on the racetrack.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

NASCAR vs. NCAA a fair comparison?

Today I read a column by one of my favorite writers (and someone I am proud to call a friend), Bob Pockrass. In his SceneDaily.com blog, Pocky says it is unfair to compare a blowout like Monday's NCAA basketball final to a NASCAR race. And furthermore, it's unfair to expect NASCAR fans to put up with a blowout the way a stick-and-ball follower does.

Pockrass makes some good points and it's hard to argue with his logic, particularly when he says NASCAR needs to work harder to be better than the other sports. But they have to be careful not to work too hard. And sadly, that's exactly what they've done for much of this decade.

I've written about it before. Not every sporting event can be a classic. Photo finishes are exciting because they don't happen every week.

The reason we see such a lack of drama at the front of the field in NASCAR races these days is because NASCAR has artificially manipulated the competition in an attempt to create it. They have gone away from what was a successful formula - racing stock cars that still had commonality with their street-legal cousins - to highly regulated spec racing with cars that look nothing like anything currently on the street. The rules stifle creative thinking. And to top it all off, many organizations have made poor driver decisions and we're faced with the biggest dearth of talent in the modern era. Cars we can't identify with, prepared identically, driven by many drivers with bland personalities with no particular reason to be there all leads to a collective yawn by the audience.

NASCAR wants us to believe every race is the Super Bowl. The pagentry we see in every pre-race show with drivers and their wives or girlfriends posed with their hands over their hearts as they listen to the national anthem and watch as some military jet flies overhead leads one to believe they are seeing just that: an event of epic scale. Never mind that there are maybe four or five events on the schedule that truly deserve that annotation.

NASCAR racing used to be about rough and tumble everymen manhandling a metallic beast for three or four hours and the first one to the finish line gets the glory. Now, it's glitz-and-glamour pretty boys driving cars that are so planted to the ground that seemingly anyone can do it. And, has been proven by the lack of recent performance by the sport's current biggest superstar, you don't have to win to enjoy all the glory.

Maybe that's why NASCAR fans complain. Not that there's a bad race now and then. I think most true racing fans understand that not every race is going to come down to 10 cars in a pack fighting for the lead on the last lap. And the also understand that it's unrealistic to expect it. It's that the sport they love has been taken out from underneath them and has been changed to something virtually unrecognizable to what we saw even just ten years ago.

NASCAR would be better off to understand that not every race needs to be a photo finish and not every championship needs to be decided by one position on the last lap of the last race of the year.

Back in the mid 90s, there were weekly rules changes, giving one manufacturer an extra inch here and taking away a half an inch there. Eventually, it left the cars virtually unrecognizable and led us down the path we're on now. Make the cars look like "stock cars" again, and the teams work their magic and find what works best for them.

Imagine if the NCAA told North Carolina or Michigan State that they had to use a 5'10" point guard, a 6'2" forward, and a 6'8" center. Also imagine them saying these new rules were to "level the playing field". That's where we are now in the NASCAR world. NASCAR mandates springs, gears, spoiler angles, and has every body on every car look exactly alike (with the exception of headlight decals and a few minor differences in the rear windows). All to level the playing field. It seems to me that the loud complaints that NASCAR racing is boring started to get louder when all of these changes were implemented.

What will the NCAA do as a result of the blowout in the championship game? Can we expect them to move in the three-point line? Maybe lower the rim height to 9'6"? Shrink the court length by ten feet? My educated guess is they won't make a single major modification to the way the game is played, the score is tabulated, or the way the champion is decided.

Good for them.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gordon back in victory lane and other weekend motorsports notes

There is no doubt that Jeff Gordon has not lost the competitive fire after a winless 2008. Kicking off the season with five top-ten runs in the first six races, Gordon broke a career-worst winless streak with a dominant win at Texas Motor Speedway. Prior to Sunday, Gordon had been held winless at Texas for 16 races. With the turnaround in performance in the 24 team since the start of the season, it almost seemed prophetic that Gordon would go to victory lane at the track that had so long denied him.

Now that Gordon has the monkey off his back, maybe the media will move on to his other streak: the number of years since his last title. Gordon racked up four titles in quick succession: 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. He has been shut out since then, although he has scored the most points on the racetrack for two of the seasons since the Chase has been implemented.

If you look at the history of the sport's most prolific winners and champions, there was a time in their career that the explosive number of wins per season tailed off. The recent numbers we've seen from Gordon suggest that he has reached that point in his career. It's been since 1999 that he's won more than six races in a season, although he did win 6 times in both 2001 and 2007.

Other than an anomolous 2005 when he finished 11th in the standings, Gordon has still been a strong points racer. Since his fourth title in 2001 he's finished in the top five in the point standings four times, finishing as the runner-up behind Jimmie Johnson in 2007.

Gordon should again be a threat to win the title in 2009. Winning at Texas is a great first step but there are still 19 races left before the Chase starts. Gordon needs to stay consistent but he also needs to click off more wins, particularly once the Chase begins. Bonus points given with each win not only seed the drivers in the Chase but can mean the difference between winning and being an also ran in the post season.


Everyone following the Nationwide Series this season has seen the struggles of the No. 88 team and it's promising young driver, Brad Keselowski. Brad won two races in 2008 becoming the newest driver to break through to the road to stardom. Many observers infer that the quick rise to success and driving for the sport's biggest name have put Brad in a bad position and the added pressure is what's causing his early season struggles in 2009.

Brad's family is no stranger to the world of motorsports. His father Bob is an ARCA champion and a winner as a driver, owner, and crew chief in the Truck Series. His mom has been involved in running the family racing team since Bob was running the short tracks in the midwest and his older brother Brian is an ARCA winner too. Racing is the family's nature.

I've known Brad since he was a lanky kid helping with the setups of the family-owned No. 29 truck in 2001. He moved on to the driver's seat in local late models in 2003 and took over the family truck in 2004. Most of his big-league racing had been with teams without major funding but he was spotted by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and picked to replace Shane Huffman in the middle of the 2007 season.

There has been a quick but logical progression in Brad's career. Sure, the pressure is a lot more now than three years ago but the best drivers in the business relish having pressure to perform.

What Brad needs to do is remember who he is - he's Brad, not Dale, Jr. A lot of media think since he drives for JR Motorsports, the two drivers must be a lot alike. They might have a lot in common, but they are two different people. If Brad stays true to who he is and where he came from - and all signs point to him doing just that - then the pressures of big-league racing won't be a problem. It's the same pressure his father felt as a driver and as a team owner and crew chief.

Racing is a game of ups and downs. Prior to Texas, Brad's year had been all downs. A good run at Texas has him pointed back in the right direction. He needs to keep doing what he's been doing and the results will improve.


The IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg was an interesting race. The final rundown shows the top five drivers representing five different teams. Justin Wilson, who lost his ride with Newman-Hass-Lanigan Racing after last season and driving for Dale Coyne - a long-time owner that has never won a race - was just 14 laps away from victory when he was passed on a restart by Ryan Briscoe.

Briscoe himself was a castaway; he was dumped by Chip Ganassi after a lackluster 2005 season. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second for Vision Racing, the team's best finish. RHR spent the entire off-season looking for a ride after losing his seat at Rahal-Letterman Racing and was signed to drive the Vision car just a week prior to the start of the season.

It was an accident-filled race, with the first wreck coming on the initial green when Tony Kanaan hit polesitter Graham Rahal causing a melee in the first turn. Others involved in wrecks throughout the day included defending series champ Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, Danica Patrick, and Raphael Matos.


Lightning indeed struck twice as Brawn F1 picked up where it left off in Australia by capturing the team's second straight Grand Prix. Jenson Button, who was nothing more than an afterthought for much of his F1 career, qualified on the pole and was leading when a monsoon struck in Malaysia. Officials waited out the storm for a short while before calling the race official. Interestingly, they only award half points when a race is canceled after just half the distance is completed. It will be interesting to see how that affects the championship later in the season.


I attended the USAC Mopar National Midget Series race at Columbus Motor Speedway on Saturday night and saw Darren Hagen have his way with the field, leading all 40 laps en route to victory. The Columbus track is a nice facility although the flat, circular third-mile proves tough to pass on in just about every class that competes there. The only driver that was able to make a pass on the outside was fast qualifier Bobby East, but it took him all 40 laps to move back to sixth position after dropping two spots on the initial start. Inclement weather forced a cancelation of Sunday's scheduled event at Anderson.


Patrick Sheltra was the news after the ARCA RE/MAX race at Daytona for the wrong reasons. He was slammed by Larry Hollenbeck in what will end up being one of the most spectacular crashes of the year. He spent some sheet time recovering from the wreck, but it didn't take him long to get back into the swing of things once back in the racecar as he claimed his first career series victory on Sunday at Salem Speedway.

Only 31 cars were on hand for the second race of the ARCA season. Long-time car owner and nine-time champion Larry Clement was not one of them as he has been forced to cut back his schedule due to sponsorship issues. It is a sign of the sad state of the sport overall when a cost-effective series like ARCA can't attract full fields.

Unfortunately, the Salem race was not televised. ARCA is probably the most versatile stock car series in the country, racing on superspeedways, some of the most historic short tracks in the country, fairgrounds dirt miles, and even a road course. Yet the races that make the series different are not televised. Hopefully once the economy turns around, SPEED will see the value in showing fans those dirt miles and the short tracks.