The Frontstretch: If France Wants "Back To Basics," Then Getting There Starts With Daytona Dreams by Thomas Bowles -- Monday February 4, 2008

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If France Wants "Back To Basics," Then Getting There Starts With Daytona Dreams

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday February 4, 2008

 

It's been nearly two weeks since Brian France spoke the words that made everyone covering NASCAR do a double take.

"We're going to minimize change the best we can," he said of the upcoming season ahead. "“Change is good to a certain point - but we’ve done all the changing we think the sport can stand, and now we want to build on that. And that means getting back to basics.”

With that, on the eve of the 50th Daytona 500 the NASCAR brass finds itself in the midst of pondering a change in direction, working on a future that's based on history they only recently chose to rewrite. The path to reconnect the two won't be easy - now without the guiding hand of Bill France, Jr. to lean on for advice and support, the powers that be will have a far more difficult time figuring out just what those "basics" really are. After all, Brian France has made so many adjustments to the format of how the series works, it's hard to even tell the NASCAR of 2002 from the one we have just six years later.

Sometimes, even the most hardcore of longtime fans forget what that was like, how the sport worked then compared to how it functions now. That's why it's important to take a breath, think back, and remember what exactly "getting back to basics" means on the eve of a season critical to halting NASCAR's decline.

For in the beginning, it all starts with a dream.

Every year at Daytona, over four dozen drivers and teams show up because of their passion to achieve it. Sure, there's money, there's points, and even pride on the line; but at the end of the day, teams are at Daytona because all they want is their hands on a trophy they haven't stopped thinking about since almost every single one of them were five. And through that youthful desire, the Great American Race embodies a Great American Spirit; with hard work and the right combination under their belts, every member of every crew truly believes their car get to the front and take the checkered flag at the end of 500 miles.

Of course, the chances for the privileged prove far better than those without. Over on one side of the garage, Rick Hendrick Motorsports heads to the starting grid with all their ducks in a row and the expectations befitting of a reigning champion. With solid financial backing, one of the best four-driver lineups the sport has seen in quite sometime, and a line of engineers that would make Lockheed Martin blush, the team is more than prepared - they're entrenched as favorites here for years to come. For them, making the field is already predetermined; Speedweeks is simply about putting themselves in position to win. Along those same lines, other high-dollar car owners roll into town already focused on the ultimate task at hand; Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, and Richard Childress Racing all take the shortcut, not the long road ahead to potential Victory Lane.

For them, Daytona's importance is just as pronounced as anyone else; but the way in which Speedweeks embodies the basic principles the sport was founded on isn't because of them. Instead, the most unlikely of sources bring us a connection to the NASCAR past France desires now — men like James Hylton and Carl Long.

James Hylton is the proud owner of two career Cup victories, both of which came as an independent.

Hylton - a racing veteran of nearly five decades and the 1966 Cup Rookie Of The Year - nearly turned the sport on its ear last year by qualifying for the Great American Race at 72 years old. Piloting an underfunded, single-car effort that had a one-off sponsorship deal with Retirement Living TV, Hylton used pit strategy within his 150-mile Gatorade Duel to put himself in position to make the starting field. In the end, a missed shift proved the ultimate downfall; but for one fleeting moment, fans were forced to forget the unending domination of the multi-car superpowers and focus on the living, breathing hard work of an independent whose best racing days had long passed him by. Looking back, all the veteran wanted was a chance to be a part of a race he hadn't made since 1983 - the conservatism of the season-long championship and the worries of media criticism were meaningless to him. While others were spending millions to later cave under the weight of unrealistic expectations, Hylton simply did what every stock car racing fan used to believe they could - he showed up at the track with little more than a shoestring budget, put forth both a lot of hard work and the heart of a champion, then played the odds in hopes of seeing his dream come true.

Of course, the odds for teams like Hylton's are harder than ever before. The modern rules of the Top 35 qualifying exemption mean that his underdog team was fighting for one of eight spots in the Daytona 500; in Hylton's case, that meant finishing no worse than 2nd among cars not yet qualified for the race in the Duels. The rule is far more difficult than the one it replaced, when the "locked in" drivers were merely two and even men named Gordon, Earnhardt, and Stewart had to technically race their way in. Back then, the Hyltons of the world truly started on a level playing field with everyone else; but even under this format, at least they're still willing to try.

Try is what Carl Long will do, hoping to make the Great American Race for the fifth time this decade. In each previous attempt, the independent driver best known for flipping end over end in his self-owned No. 46 car at Rockingham hasn't come close to making the field; but showing up with teams lucky to pull the hauler in the infield, he was just happy to have the opportunity to try. This year, he's in a bit better shape, paired up with the No. 08 E & M Motorsports machine that has sponsorship from Millstar Tools and Rhino's Energy Drink. But as a true single-car team, the task won't be easy. Long doesn't get to share information with three teammates, nor will he put his car through a wind tunnel to check for aerodynamics. A team of engineers won't follow him through the garage area; instead, it'll be a hard-scrabble group of semi-volunteers. But make no doubt about it, if you stopped Long in the garage area and asked him what his chances were, he'd tell you he believed he could win as much as any other driver out there.

But the list of Davids signing up to defeat Goliath is growing smaller by the day. Just in the past month, the single-car team of Morgan McClure Motorsports - themselves the owner of three proud Daytona 500 trophies - closed up shop, confirming they won't be around to try for a fourth. Robert Yates Racing has become but a B-List extension of powerful Roush Fenway Racing; and owner/driver Robby Gordon has all but sold his team to Gillett Evernham Motorsports, becoming a secondhand cog in a wheel full of multi-car corporate pizzazz. Call me crazy, but the ultimate underdog has a little less of a ring to it when they're simply No. 4 on a multi-car race team totem pole.

Of course, Gordon claimed he made the move in order to keep his team competitive. That's the world of NASCAR 2008; for every James Hylton who strives to be independent, there's two Robby Gordons that sign up for the mansion across the street because the future as an underdog is simply too bleak to make a go of it. For if you're not in either category, you're just another Morgan McClure – resigned to relive the past rather than build on a future in a sport they once loved more than any other.

Once France awakens this Monday morning - a stick and ball sports fanatic – I'm sure he'll research a Super Bowl upset of the ages. The most popular sport in America featured that David vs Goliath matchup we crave in which the underdog (the New York Giants) upset a heavily-favored opponent in the near-perfection New England Patriots. As he sips on his coffee and ponders the future, I'd hope he gets lost in his own dream. It's one where underdogs in his own sport could prosper as such, a place in which fans once again have a list of those teams to choose from - and the belief that an unlikely upset could one day happen in NASCAR once again.

That, to me, is the start of what "back to basics" is all about. And France is right about one thing - he must turn the tide.

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Mike
02/04/2008 12:58 PM
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I agree… For me, the best part of speedweeks was always watching the underfunded teams try to make the show. There was actual drama in the old gatorade twin 125’s..
Getting back to basics would be getting rid of the stupid top 35 deal altogether.

Clumsy Grandpa
02/04/2008 03:02 PM
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I think NA$CAR hurt independents when they eliminated second and third day qualifying at DI$. Unfortunately top 35 may become moot if economy keeps going down.

nascar roots
02/04/2008 04:16 PM
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back to basics ha ha i bet hendrick has already bought jrs daytona 500 win. back to basics thats a joke just like there parity and level playing field they pushed untill the chevys started winning and leading more laps now those words are gone so the new car makes them even, do we as fans know that for sure nascar wont release windtunnel data or dyno data so the fans know for sure, thats their little secret afterall the bodys are not made from a mold,so how identical are they , we may never really know for sure unless the chevy camp starts getting beat then well hear were the ford, dodge or toys have an advantage and rule changes will come

bwcougar
02/04/2008 06:41 PM
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in other words he has screwed up nascar to the point of no return so that leaves nothing left to change.
The falling TV and at the track attendance sez it all…the people hate what it has become, myself included.

BRING BACK THE OLD DAYS no plates no cookie cutter cars and bumpin and rubbin is racing not worthy of a trip to the red trailer after every lil bump on the track.

Larry Burton
02/04/2008 06:51 PM
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I don’t like the chase. A true champion has the most points after 36 races not after 10! Give the winner of the race 50 points and make all the other teams go for wins instead of riding around for a top 10 or top 5 finish. Another one that is a no brainer is move the southern 500 back to Darlington and run under the lights. One complaint about Darlington was the heat but running under the lights would eliminate a lot of that. By the way, California was kinda warm for the Labor Day Race wasn’t it? So there you go!

Gary Hammond
02/04/2008 07:10 PM
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1. Dump the stupid and insulting chase for the chump points farce.
2. Put the Southern 500 back at Darlington on Labor day.
3. Put Rockingham back to its rightful place on the schedule.
4. Dump toyota. They make a fine car but have NO PLACE in NA$CAR.
Until this happens, I’ll NEVER come back.

Harry C. Risher
02/04/2008 09:14 PM
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NAZICAR’s Big Bucks Bosses led by third generation spoiled brat Brian France has alienated all REAL Race Fans with their BIG Money ,Rules Controlled “SHOWS”. Nascar’s “Bosses in the BOX” are paid off by GM (Soon Yota’s big Buck$ will displace decdes long Nascar favorite GM),and orchestrate the outcomes of their “Shows” to fit those Big Buck$ sponsors who pay them the most “under-the Table” Money! It’s all about the MONEY-REAL RACING in Nazicar ended in the late 1960’s.I’m going fishing and leaving Nascar’s “Rules Controlled SHOWS” for the airheads who are fooled by the hype!

J Flouhouse
02/04/2008 11:32 PM
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The days when I first got interested in NASCAR are unfortunately gone forever. It was in the early 1970’s when 20 of us in 2
motorhomes, ( not the luxury models ) pooled our money and traveled
from the northern panhandle of West Virginia to Charlotte Motor Speedway. My first favorite driver was King Richard. it was in that very race that a young driver named Jeff Gordon made his debut, From that race forward I saw the King retire so I switched to the Gordon team. I have never wavered. It was the right choice. Today it is almost impossible to recognize any team that existed then. Bill, bring back the excitement and the entertainment that we felt then as the REAL races unfolded. I have seen ticket prices double, and gasoiine increase from just a few cents a gallon to just a few dollars a gallon. That is PROGRESS? The rules of NASCAR are now so damned technical that even NASCAR doesn’t even understand them, much less enforce them equally. They have been altered over the years to favor the big boys, who grease` the coffures of the FRANCE family. I cant prove this, but its the feeling most fans have now!!! Get uit fixed or a hell of a lot of us are done . I made about a dozen trips like I described earlier to tracks like Pocanose, Daytona , Charlotte, Bristol, ETC. NO more trips til its fixed. NOT even VIA television.. Come on , get a grip on your recklessness…..

raymondo
02/05/2008 03:35 AM
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Hey Jay, Cannot agree with you more.I am a west coast gut, but remember the King rolling over, and over, and over again. I wonder if any of these Kasey Kaneheads remeber that.I used to go to any thing close, Riverside, Sears Point (or whatever they call it now), Vegas, Arizona, Fontana. NOT ANY MORE! You want to see what Nascar is suppose to be … Head on out to Watsonville, Roseville, Altimont, Bakersfield, Madera, and on, and on, and on! And I am fullt aware that other states have GREAT SATURDAY NIGHTBACK TO BASICS” Punch your lights out racing, Just the way I LOVE IT.Take Your Nascar, Your T.V. and SHOVE IT!

raymondo
02/05/2008 03:49 AM
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Oh! I for got Ontario, Oh well, I guess it is better to forget, than to not know how it is suppose to be. GET A CLUE BILL. You have lost your “BACK TO BASICS CROWD”.I loved to see Terry Win His second, Oh!, Was It Mark Martin that drove that Folgers car?

 

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