Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On ThorSport, Johnny Benson, Logano's flip, and a little irony

Johnny Sauter dominated the Truck race out in Las Vegas on Saturday. After how well that truck has performed recently - read that as after the addition of Joe Shear, Jr. as crew chief - it shouldn't come as a big surprise. Yet there are still people who are surprised that a team based in Ohio with no real connection to a Cup program can win. They shouldn't be. ThorSport has assembled all of the pieces needed to be a championship contender: they have great trucks, great people, great sponsorship programs, and an owner that refuses to quit. Throughout the years numerous people have told Duke Thorson he couldn't win based in Ohio, and that had only strengthened his resolve. Now he has two teams among the top five in the series standings, and if not for a slow start by Sauter's team he could have two in the top three. No one has scored more points than Sauter in the last six races, and that's exactly why Ray Dunlap predicted early in the year that he would be the champion. He missed the mark a little but not by much. The economics of the series continue to change, but ThorSport remains on very solid ground. Look for Sauter and Crafton to figure very heavily in the 2010 championship battle.

I don't think I want to see him retire from driving quite yet, but as soon as Johnny Benson, Jr. calls it a career behind the wheel SPEED needs to hire him to be the permanent third voice in the NCWTS booth. He did a fantastic job during the three races he worked and the entire series will benefit from having someone with his experience and professionalism handling color analyst duties.

As should be predicted any time there is a significant crash with the "COT", there are columnists and fans alike lighting up blogs and message boards everywhere saying how Joey Logano would most certainly be dead if not for the safety features built into the new car. Yes, Logano's wreck was spectacular and the car did what it was designed to do. But again, must I point out the thousands of crashes in the "old" car in which drivers hopped out and walked away from? It's like every crash in that old car left drivers hobbled or dead, and that's simply not the case. The old car was plenty safe. There are hundreds of clips on YouTube of crashes involving the "old" car - and most of them resulted in no injuries at all. The "COT" was directly responsible for this particular crash too because Tony Stewart couldn't see through Logano's car to know that Bobby Labonte was coming down the track forcing Logano to get off the gas ever so slightly. Spotters are great but no spotter in the world can see something happen in a split second and relay that on to the driver. Drivers should be able to see what's happening in front of them, and that's something that needs to be worked out with the new car.

Anyone else think it was ironic that in the City of Lights the start of the race was delayed because a bank of lights went out?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On Harvick v. Hornaday, Harvick v. Crafton, Johnny Sauter, and nuclear engineers

My three week run as PR rep for HT Motorsports has come to an end. Congrats to Lori and Danny Rollins on the birth of their son Brody! I had a blast with the team during my short tenure, and it was fun to get to see the new Iowa track and visit old friends in St. Louis and New Hampshire. I only wish the team had a little better luck while I was there...

- So what exactly did Ron Hornaday do wrong at Loudon? He raced hard for a position in the top three? Isn't that his job? Did Harvick ever explain to Hornaday, or maybe put it in his contract, that under no circumstances is Hornaday to race the boss hard for position? It's hard to understand Harvick's thought process here. Sure, everyone wants to win and maybe Harvick could have given Kyle Busch a run for the money had he been able to pass Hornaday. But in order to get up and race for the win, you have to be able to pass the rest of the drivers separating you from the leader. Unfortunately, Harvick couldn't quite get it done. Did he have a fast truck? Yes. Did he have a winning truck? No, because he wasn't good enough and couldn't get there and fight for the win. Should be be upset? No, because he's out there playing in the sandbox. Yes, bring all the fire and desire you can whenever you strap in, regardless of the series or division you are competing in - but also remember that sometimes even Babe Ruth would strike out against minor league pitching talent. Just because you lose in the minors, even if your employee plays a role in it, doesn't mean you should be a total jerk about it afterwards.

- I wonder if Harvick's sponsor for the weekend was happy with his hijinks with Matt Crafton on Friday during practice and then early during the race? Crafton had every reason to be upset with Harvick's antics during practice, and his commentary on the radio to his team earned him a visit from the series director to tell him to chill out. I certainly hope that Wayne Auton paid a visit to Harvick and told him to settle down too. Afterall, something had to have made Crafton that mad, right? And although SPEED didn't cover that practice, its cameras were on and caught Happy harrassing Crafton on pit road a couple of times. Of course, there's also the little matter of Harvick's text message to Crafton immediately after the St. Louis race telling him he better buckle up tight because he was coming to get him in New Hampshire. I understand the competitive spirit and it's certainly easy to get fired up when you perceive a wrong perpetrated against you on the track, but how about showing a little class too?

- If Johnny Sauter had pitted one lap earlier on Saturday, I have little doubt he would have won the race. That team has turned the corner since adding Joe Shear, Jr. as crew chief. After years of struggling to build a competitive program with one truck, ThorSport now has two legitimate contenders week in and week out. And now there's the possibility of a third truck? With many teams on shaky financial footing, ThorSport could be positioned to make a serious charge for the championship with both (or is it all three?) teams in 2010.

- I had a chance to give a pit tour to some guests of David Starr's sponsor, Zachry, during the weekend at New Hampshire. Several of them were involved in engineering nuclear power plants. They were a lot of fun to talk to and had a ton of questions about racing - both current Truck Series racing and some vintage 1980s Cup racing, two of my favorite racing topics. But I had a lot of questions of my own too, I mean, who wouldn't have questions for nuclear engineers, right? I thought about it later on, and this is the power that NASCAR and the drivers have to the general public, but it's amazing that these people who work on and build some of the most technologically amazing structures known to mankind can look at a guy like me and think I have it made in the shade. I mean, afterall, I was merely a fill-in PR dude! A paid spectator that really has nothing to do with making racecars go fast! Meanwhile, they are the ones out there making our country go, and on top of that, they are employees of the company that makes it possible for that race team to go out and compete. In reality, it was me who was in awe of them...

Friday, September 4, 2009

On Iowa Speedway, the ARCA RE/MAX Series on television, and RCR bringing back the No. 3

A few notes and thoughts while watching practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Iowa Speedway...

- It is amazing that no one ever thought to build a track this size before. The length, shape, and banking at Iowa has produced awesome racing for every division that has every competed here. It's a short track that offers superspeedway speeds. But those speeds aren't so high that you can't beat and bang in the corners and trade some paint. Watching the Trucks buzz around as quick as they are, one can only imagine how fast the Indy Cars are when they race here. Kudos to the staff and management for designing and building a wonderful facility. Hopefully when the next round of cookie cutter tracks are built they use this place as the template.

- It's too bad the economics of television don't allow for the ARCA RE/MAX Series short track races to be televised. SPEED covers most of the companion races when ARCA is with Cup or the Truck Series, but the real heart of ARCA lies in short track races at Toledo, Salem, Berlin, and the dirt miles at DuQuoin and Springfield. In a perfect world those races would also be shown year in and year out. Toledo has produced dozens of exciting races over the years and is very television friendly, but for some reason neither Toledo race was televised this year. That's a real shame, considering the fact that last year's season closer there was probably the best ARCA race on television in many years. Some tracks don't have the facilities for a complete broadcast to be produced, but surely there could be something done for those of us hardcore enough to want to watch. For those -- like me -- who care, you can watch streaming video from all non-televised ARCA races by joining the ARCA Nation at

Austin Dillon sits in the No. 3 Bad Boy Mowers Chevrolet during a break in practice at Iowa Speedway
Charles Krall photo

- It's really neat to see the RCR No. 3 truck out on the track here again. Richard Childress Racing fielded the No. 3 in the Truck Series from 1995 through the 1999 season. Sure, there are some writers out there who are saying watching the No. 3 on the track in any NASCAR division is an afront to Dale Earnhardt's memory. But Dale Earnhardt never drove the No. 3 in the Trucks. When he was involved in the series as an owner, he used the No. 16. Childress used the No. 3 on his Cup cars long before Earnhardt joined the team. Much like Earnhardt's fans believed his family's legacy number - the No. 8 - should have gone with his son when he left the family-owned team I believe the No. 3 is Childress's to do with as he pleases. I think he's honored his late friend by not running that number in the Cup Series, but I also think he has every right to use it in the Truck Series where he is a former champion as an owner. And who knows, maybe one day a Childress family member will bring that number back to prominence in the Cup Series, should grandpa so desire.