1. Road Course Reflections – Don’t know about you, but I have never been a fan of road course racing for NASCAR. Sonoma is a lovely place and Infineon is a lovely track that draws a lovely crowd, but I just don’t care for stock cars racing there. I don’t like the use of “ringers” (such as they are) and I don’t like follow-the-leader racing. I don’t like the number of contenders who run out of gas and the fact that today’s finish wasn’t even close, with Juan Montoya crossing the finish line four seconds ahead of the field. The average speed at last week’s Michigan race? 148 miles per hour. Average speed at Infineon Sunday? 74.5 mph. Yawn.
2. Dashboard Confessionals – It’s interesting to note the notes that some teams tape to the dashboard to keep drivers focused and motivated. Last week, Tony Stewart’s dashboard note said “one at at time,” reminding Stewart to be patient as he picked his way through the field from 41st to 3rd. This week, Jamie McMurray’s guys taped a photo of Robby Gordon to his steering wheel to remind the pole sitter who he’d be battling in the early going. Gordon himself added devil horns to the photo to emphasize his self-described “devilish tactics.” If you’ve never read the story of Darrell Waltrip’s wife Stevie’s dashboard notes for Dale Earnhardt, and the one she posted on his dash the day he died, it is worth a read: http://msn.foxsports.com/story/3263700. Clearly, these things can serve an important purpose.
3. Sprint to the Cup – I was surprised that anyone was surprised about the rumor of the Nextel Cup Series being renamed the Sprint Cup Series starting in 2008. That rumor has been around for a year or more, but NASCAR’s current lawsuit with AT&T might be playing into the decision. It’s going to get really complicated for drivers who’ve been in the series since the Winston Cup became the Nextel Cup, soon to be the Sprint Cup, to try and remember which “Cup” they’ve won when.
4. “Gray Area” My Aunt Fanny! – If you’ve seen the way the “claw” template comes down and measures points on the hood of the Car of Tomorrow, and if you’ve been paying attention at all this year to NASCAR’s dire warnings about fooling around with the car’s fundamental configuration, you would have to know that the No. 24 and No. 48 teams’ fender tomfoolery would not get a warm reception – and it didn’t.
5. But the Bigger Issue – Now that they’ve been busted, the real question is what penalties the two Hendrick Motorsports teams will face. As many have pointed out, neither points, nor money, nor crew chief suspensions are really going to make a big difference at HMS. Both Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are all but guaranteed starting spots in the Chase, and with the new 10-point per race bonus system, both will be seeded on top of the standings after Richmond. What do you think would be an approriate and effective penalty? What do you think the penalty will actually be?
6. Stewart Hitting His Stride? – Although Tony Stewart has not won a race yet this season, he has a reputation for getting hot about the same time as the summer temperatures. Well, the cautions didn’t fall right for Stewart on Sunday, but he finished sixth and climbed another spot in the points to, ironically, sixth. Stewart now has six Top 10 finishes in the last seven races.
7. The Ram Finally Rules – Not only was Juan Pablo Montoya’s win the first for a Dodge driver in the Cup series this season, it was the first ever for a Dodge in the Cup series at Sonoma. By the way, the F-1 veteran Montoya was very impressed by the skill of his fellow Cup competitors on the road course: “I’ll tell you the truth, I was very surprised by the level of the drivers here. In Mexico, I had a very good car and the drivers were very strong, but here, man the Top 20 were — you had to work for your money.”
8. Buschwhacking Bedlam – It’s been a nice three weeks for fans of the Busch Series. While the Cup boys have been at Pocono, Michigan and Infineon, the Busch drivers were at Nashville, Kentucky and Milwaukee. This has greatly limited the number of Buschwhackers, which is a good thing – but it has also increased the “drama” of watching those few who did pull double duty try to get to the track on time. Carl Edwards complained that he had “the slowest golf cart in Wisconsin” taking him from the helipad to driver’s sign-in, and Denny Hamlin circled helplessly above the track in a chopper during driver intros, unable to obtain landing clearance. The whole thing might have made a great Keystone Cops sketch, but it was hardly worth the manic TV coverage it received.
9. Speaking of the Milwaukee Mile – Did you know that the first race held on this track took place in 1903, eight years before the first Indianapolis 500? That makes the venerable track “the oldest continually operating motor speedway in the world.” Cool.
10. Almirola Abuse – It really was unfair to pull Aric Almirola from the car during the Busch race, even though the late-arriving Denny Hamlin put on a masterful show and won the event. Almirola not only qualified the car on the pole, he led most of the early going before being replaced by Hamlin in a move which Denny himself did not approve of, but which was aimed at pleasing the car’s sponsors. There is something very special about a young driver’s first win at the Busch level, and Almirola was robbed of that joyful experience through this mismanaged series of events.
10a. Open Mic Night – TNT was very excited about their experiment with Kyle Petty “broadcasting” the race from the cockpit, but it went awry pretty quickly when Petty, Matt Kenseth and Marc Goossens got together on the first lap. They opened Kyle’s mic just in time to hear his uncensored query, “What the f—- was that?!” Note to TNT: Having a driver call a race that he’s in? Not a good plan.
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