Matt McLaughlin · Tuesday May 15, 2007
Editor’s Note : With Matt back from his Mother’s Day adventures, he wrote in with these nuggets of racing knowledge for us to keep us entertained in the middle of the week…
What They’ve Been Talking About At The Water Cooler This Week
If I had a dollar for every word written about the great Dale Earnhardt, Jr.-D.E.I. split that was announced on Thursday, I could arm a town the size of Abilene. Thus, I will keep my comments on the matter brief. Who won? Clearly, Junior is in the driver's seat with most every team owner wishing they could come to terms with him.
Now, I tend to be cynical when I hear anyone say “it's not about the money,” because it usually is… but I truly believe after a few frustrating seasons (this being one of them) Junior really does want to find a new situation where he can contend for race wins and championships. As for D.E.I., the company's ability to attract and maintain drivers and sponsors has to be called into question with their biggest asset now gone. Teresa Earnhardt's decision to allow Junior to leave rather than give him majority ownership may one day be recalled alongside the Red Sox's Harry Frazee to trade Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Who knows? Perhaps now faced with the reality of the situation, D.E.I. management will reconsider and still win Junior back. But in my opinion, he'd be nuts to go back. After all, this is a team that has struggled all season, and yet senior management was still seemingly more concerned with opening an entertainment division than figuring out the Car of Tomorrow program. A few years down the road, Junior might still have his chance to own D.E.I., and at a fire sale price to boot.
So, where will Junior end up? I've got the rent money on RCR. Rick Hendrick isn't allowed to expand to five cars, and Joe Gibbs won't run an alcohol related sponsor on one of his cars due to religious reasons. (Which would make a lot more sense to me if our Lord changed wine to water during the wedding in Cana or grape juice was served at the Last Supper…but that’s besides the point.)
The opinion won't be popular with some, but if I were in Junior's position, I wouldn't be resistant to talking to teams competing for other manufacturers. (Well, let's be honest; if I were Junior I'd cash in my chips right now, retire to the islands at 32 and spend the rest of my life consuming epic amounts of boat drinks and chasing younger women… but I'm lazy.) The way the NASCAR universe has aligned, all the stars are in the Chevy camp. You've got four-time (very likely heading for five-time) champion Jeff Gordon. You've got two time champ Tony Stewart. You've got the hottest new comet in the sky, Denny Hamlin. You've got Jeff Burton, one of the most likeable guys in the garage area and Kevin Harvick, one of the most volatile guys in the garage area. At Ford, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would be the undeniable top gun. Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle have talent but little charisma. Ford would likely move heaven and earth to land Junior and see to it he got all the best stuff. Dodge would likely do the same…and Toyota? Well, let’s just say Toyota's top execs are still trying to figure out which one is Junior and which one is Apu from The Simpsons based on their results to date. Yeah, some fans would abandon Junior if he drove a Ford, but many more would tag along even if he was driving a Fiat. So, does he want to be "The Anointed" or just a utility outfielder for the Bowtie Guys? The biggest concern is if Ford will even survive and if they have the money to dump into racing to return to competitive status. For the record, Bill Elliott used to drive the Budweiser Ford and was a perennial Most Popular Driver pick. And Mr. Goodwrench himself, Earnhardt the Elder, drove Fords for Bud Moore in 1982 and ’83.
Speaking of Junior (and has anyone been speaking about anything else all week?) isn't this an odd coincidence. The week he announces he is leaving the team, the No. 8 car is found to have illegal mounting brackets for the rear wing in pre-race inspection. I'm sure that's a coincidence. I mean, NASCAR wouldn't be mad at Junior for announcing he was leaving without their permission. And surely nobody at D.E.I. would want to throw Junior under the bus, right? Personally, I'd like to see a rule stating it is illegal to mount a wing on the back of a stock car punishable by having the offender have to use a neon blue Scion XB with a lowered suspension, a fart can muffler, and dubs for a year. Oh, and apparently FOX is issuing an edict we should all car the car that was yesterday known as the Car of Tomorrow the “new car.” I won't be playing along. In fact, after Darlington I think I'll call these things "The horror of tommower'."
How many more races can Denny Hamlin give away before he wins one? You never want to throw a pit crew under the bus. They have a tougher job than most of us can understand…but great teams rise to the occasion, they don't cause the occasion.
They had to know when they moved Darlington's sole remaining Cup date to the eve of Mother's Day, eventually rain was going to force the race to be postponed until Mother's Day. Some fans are very upset the race wasn't run on Monday instead, but there's a solution to the problem to be sure it never happens again. There's no reason the All-Star race has to have its own weekend. Move the Darlington Cup race to the Sunday after Mother's Day. Run the All-Star race on the Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend, the Busch race on Saturday evening, and the Cup race on Sunday evening, with Memorial Day itself held in reserve in case any of the three races are postponed by rain. They'd sell more tickets to the Winston (erâ€¦whatever) because race fans would already be in town for the Cup race, and what better way to steal whatever little thunder Indy still has left than to make stock car racing a three day extravaganza on Memorial Day weekend.
Oh, and maybe we need to clarify what FOX is going to do if a baseball game runs over into a time slot scheduled for a Cup race that isn't rain delayed. I mean, I don't want to watch a Phillies game, and I'm from Philadelphia.
If you blew off Mom to watch Sunday’s race, shame on youâ€¦but I understand.
Racing used to be watching the guys in good handling cars battling for the lead while the guys in the evil handling cars took up the rear. Now, racing is watching 43 guys racing evil handling cars with at least a second between the front runners after the field sorts itself out on restarts.
There was a nice crowd on hand this weekend at Darlington despite the rain delay on Saturday. Anyone want to estimate how many tickets Fontana would have sold on Mother's Day weekend? The over / under is a dozen.
Seeing Mark Martin racing a Rick Hendrick Chevy in Friday's Busch race, I felt a lot like Truman Burbank looking at the wreckage of a stage light that had fallen from the sky into his driveway one seemingly otherwise normal day.
Quote of the Month: When Bob Bahre was asked about Darrell Waltrip, who had publicly said Bahre's NHIS track was too dangerous for Cup racing and claimed a date should be moved to Kentucky, a track Waltrip is paid to promote, he responded, "I have no respect for Darrell Waltrip. I wouldn't piss on the man if he was ablaze." Of course, there might be a pretty long line of folks not willing to piss on Waltrip if he ever catches fire.
There has been some praise but more criticism of ESPN's efforts since they returned to the sport with Busch Series coverage. Some rough edges still need to be sanded, but anyone who saw the Busch Series race Friday saw some of the best camera work sinceâ€¦well ESPN left the sport. Not only did the video coverage convey the story of the race, it highlighted the speed, the close quarter races, and how out of control many of the cars were after only five laps on new tires. If anyone ever wants to make another "Days of Thunder" style movie about stock car racing and to tell the story correctly, priority number one is to hire ESPN's Neil Goldberg to edit the project.
So, who knew NAPA actually stood for Not A Point All season? Seriously, has Waltrip become the Paris Hilton of NASCAR? He's constantly in the headlines and in view without having seemingly doing anything of consequence other than having a famous last name. Meanwhile, our friend Ms. Hilton is being sent to jail for driving on a suspended license, and claims she was unaware her driving privileges were suspended because it was somebody else's job to tell her. Waltrip was busted for doctored gas at Daytona and says he was unaware he fooled with the fuel. Note to Paris: next time you wreck after a few drinks, take off your shoes and run home. My guess is Ms. Hilton will be out of prison and back on the club circuit before Waltrip makes his next points race. Hell, she'll probably be married to Junior and bearing their third kid barefoot in the double-wide before Waltrip makes his next race.
For the record: NASCAR officials said that this is the first time that two consecutive races had to be postponed due to weather. I can think of at least one other instance this occurred. Both Martinsville and North Wilkesboro were pushed back to Monday in the Fall of 1992. As a Bill Elliott fan with a 9-5 watching Elliott's championship drive implode at the time, I remember how difficult it was to call in sick two straight Mondays when my boss was a stock car racing fan.
Am I the only one who thinks about our old pal J.D. Stacy every time he hears the name “Bobby Ginn?”
One of those advertising plans was seen towing a banner over Darlington with the trailer consisting of a Confederate flag, a checkered flag, and the legend “Don't forget your roots.” That loud pop you heard in the control tower was Brian France's head exploding. Look for a new rule giving NASCAR control over what messages can be flown over their tracks on race weekends soon.
Was it just me, or did the cars look like they were running in slow motion most of the day?
Maybe Jeff Gordon is fortunate most hardcore David Pearson fans have either left the sport or are too old to throw a beer can at him (or too wise to waste a good beer.) Because it looks like Gordon will eventually overhaul the Silver Fox as far as race wins. Of course, Pearson ran part-time schedules in his prime.
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