The Frontstretch: Ten Points To Ponder ... After Pocono by Tommy Thompson -- Monday June 9, 2008

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Ten Points To Ponder ... After Pocono

Tommy Thompson · Monday June 9, 2008


1. What Program? – NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Program has now entered its ninth year of existence as of this weekend. There are 13 Sprint Cup teams, eight Nationwide Teams, and four Craftsman Truck organizations participating in the program. But after nine years only one ethnic minority driver — Aric Almirola — has graduated to NASCAR’s top series through the program, and even then only on a part-time basis. No women or African-Americans have participated in the Sprint Cup series full-time… and none are expected to anytime in the future.

Looks like NASCAR’s best diversity plan is to hope for more open-wheel defections.

2. Getting Down And Dirty For The Kids – Tony Stewart’s Fourth Annual Prelude to the Dream was won by, well…Tony Stewart. 23,000 plus fans were packed into Eldora Speedway (with official seating for only approx. 18,000) last Wednesday evening to see some of NASCAR’s best wrestle Late Model Dirt stock cars on the high-banked ½-mile oval. The BIG winner, however, is the Victory Junction Gang Camp: Kyle Petty was presented a $1 million donation representing proceeds from the All-Star charity race, which was televised live by HBO Pay-Per-View. The sizable donation will now go towards the construction of a second Victory Junction Gang Camp in the Kansas City Area. Built solely for the enjoyment of children with life-threatening illnesses, the charity organization will now be better accessible to children living in the middle and western states.

What many may not have caught is the pay-per-view proceeds — which have not yet been tallied — were also to go to the Victory Junction Gang Camp 2. However, Stewart made the $1 million donation in Victory Lane regardless of whether those proceeds met the $1 million goal. That is really, really cool!

3. Add That To The Résumé’ – Owner / Driver Robby Gordon finished 36th in his Robby Gordon Motorsports No. 7 Dodge without primary sponsorship this weekend at Pocono. Gordon, who continues to defy all odds by maintaining his Top 35 ranking in owner points, also won his qualifying heat race and finished second in his first appearance in a dirt car at the Prelude to the Dream. “I told him for years I thought he would be great in a dirt car,” said Tony Stewart, host and winner of the event by 1.502 seconds over Gordon. “I think he’s one of the most naturally talented drivers that races every week in the Sprint Cup series. I’m proud of it [Gordon’s performance] because it makes me look like a genius.”

Gordon, whose Sprint Cup car sported a paint scheme dubbed “Back In Black,” void of any sponsorship logos on its hood, certainly could use the words of praise from a driver of Stewart’s, a two-time Sprint Cup champion’s caliber and reputation. After all, isn’t that what sponsors are supposed to be looking for… the most talented drivers they can find?

4. Junior Wins Again! – For the second time this season, JR Motorsports — founded by NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and now co-owned by Junior’s Cup boss Rick Hendrick — has visited Victory Lane. Saturday at Nashville, Brad Keselowski — driving the JR Motorsports field in the Nationwide Series Federated Auto Parts 300 — bested the field to earn his first career victory. In fact, Keselowski — driving the No. 88 Navy Chevrolet — is sitting fifth in driver championship points behind Sprint Cup regulars Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann, Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards. Mark Martin scored JR Motorsports’ first Nationwide Series victory ever at Las Vegas in March.

Remember when Junior attempted to negotiate for control of DEI and no one really knew whether he could even be a successful team owner or not?

With the security of a Top 35 spot gone, J.J. Yeley and the No. 96 team were the only ones sent home from Pocono this weekend. That leaves many wondering why Tony Raines, who had the team in the Top 35 last year, was given the boot in favor of Yeley.

5. Just Say You’re Sorry – Tony Raines and the sponsor-challenged No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team withdrew from qualifying for the Pocono 500, just seven days after Raines put the Chevrolet into the field at Dover for his first appearance of the 2008 season. Pre-qualifying inspection apparently doomed the car, as the team had problems meeting specifications with its nose. J.J. Yeley, who replaced Raines this season in the No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota, also failed to qualify for Sunday’s race — but with far more money and equipment at his disposal. Yeley moved from the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 to make room for Kyle Busch to the Hall of Fame Racing No. 96 — a satellite operation to JGR — at the beginning of the season. The car started the season in solid shape due to the performance last season of Raines, but has since plummeted out of the Top 35 due to Yeley’s inconsistent performances.

Seems like a “do over” for Tony Raines would be in order!

6. Frequent Flyer Miles – Current Sprint Cup point leader Kyle Busch completed a first for NASCAR: he competed in the sanctioning body’s three top series at three different tracks in three different states on concurrent days. Here’s the schedule:

Noon: Sprint Cup Practice at Pocono Raceway (Long Pond, PA)
3:40 PM: Final Sprint Cup qualifying
6:00 PM: Fly to Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, TX)
9:00 PM: Compete in Craftsman Truck Series race (finished 2nd)
Midnight: Fly to Pocono

10:00 AM: Cup practice
11:20 AM: Final Cup practice
12:30 PM: Fly to Nashville, TN
7:30 PM: Compete in Nationwide Series race at Nashville Superspeedway (finished 20th)
11:00 PM: Fly to Pocono

Compete in the Pocono 500 (finished 43rd)

That’s a very exhausting schedule… just to type!

7. But What Was The Point? – Kyle Busch did complete the triple-duty, tri-state weekend of racing — but without a win. At Friday’s Sam’s Town 400, he finished second after Ron Hornaday ran away from him on a late race restart — but that wasn’t enough for Busch, who said his Craftsman Series Truck “…wasn’t for me.”

“We’re lucky we made it home in second,” said the frustrated driver after exiting his truck that night. At Nashville in the Nationwide Series event the following day, the 22-year-old was involved in a lap 88 incident with 18-year-old rising star Joey Logano, damaging his car and finishing three laps down in 20th. And at the Pocono 500, Busch drove across the bow of Jamie McMurray, necessitating extensive behind-the-wall repairs and a 43rd, last place finish.

Really… what was the point?

8. Remember When? – Last season after the first 14 races, a Hendrick Motorsports driver had already visited Victory Lane 11 times. But this season only one, Jimmie Johnson, has bested the field (Phoenix). That’s in sharp contrast to 2007, when the whole Hendrick stable had a win under their belts by this time… Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Casey Mears.

That’s probably a good thing for NASCAR…but Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans must wonder why the team couldn’t have kept up their dominant performances just a little while longer.

9. Let’s See Some ID…Young Man! – Did viewers catch the obvious pumping of Kasey Kahne’s primary sponsor in Victory Lane at the conclusion of the Pocono 500? After climbing out of his winning No. 9 Gillett Evernham Budweiser Dodge, the exceptionally youthful looking 28-year-old made a point of chugging on a Bud again and again, after properly aligning the can’s label for the camera after completing his post-race interview..

What is Budweiser’s target audience now… high school juniors?

10. New Kid In Town – Since fans voted Kahne into the All-Star Race, he has not only won the $1 million exhibition event, but the Coca-Cola 600 the following week — and now, the Pocono 500. Three wins in four events; that’s not bad… not bad at all.

Now, the question is simply how long will it take for Kasey Kahne to move Kyle Busch off his perch as the biggest driver story in NASCAR if he continues at his blistering pace?

Contact Tommy Thompson

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06/09/2008 08:26 AM

If Budweiser were, in fact, targeting the High School, or Jr. high school crowd, they’d have never let Jr. leave DEI.

Kahne’s fan base is love starved, middle aged women.

06/09/2008 08:30 AM

HMS would probably have several wins this season if Rick wasn’t putting all of his eggs in one basket.

06/09/2008 08:34 AM

Why do we even need a “diversity program”? I’m pretty sure if there was an african-american or female “Joey Lagano” out there, they would find there way into the show without the need for special treatment.

06/09/2008 09:03 AM

Er, make that “‘their’ way into the show”…this place needs an edit button ~=)

06/09/2008 09:44 AM

JRM’s success has come after a merger with HMS. HMS spent the last half of 2007 preparing for JR rather than preparing for 2008.

mad-dog 20/20
06/09/2008 10:35 AM

Another point to ponder )Did anybody watch Dave Dispain last night? Ithought it was interesting that he felt the tension between Jr. and Eury jr. was a non issue. If you ask me there’s more to than that and I all so believe if the 88 team doesn’t win a points race this year , they may consider canning Eury jr.

06/09/2008 11:34 AM

to mad-dog

I watched WT last nite as well. IMO, and I’ve said it all year long, and even before the season got underway, the old addage is “You can’t keep doing things the same way and expect different results.”

IMO, and Jr. fans have told me that I’m crazy, HMS bringing Eury Jr. in to be Jr.s crew chief amounts to doing things exactly the same way so why would the results be different.

At nearly every race this year, Eury has done something to the car that has taken it out of contention.

I think that the old addage does apply here.

L Taylor
06/09/2008 12:56 PM

Although I think that some competitive drivers with a diverse ethnic/sexual background would make Nascar more exciting. However, You can’t expect sponsors to hand the keys of a multi million dollar ride to someone just to make that happen. i believe that there ars sponsors that would LOVE to be the first to field a competetitive minority driver. but, they have to have talent, and at that level you can’t just learn it. Just like Tiger Woods or Roger Federer or any dominant player you have to be born with some of the traits that make a champion in their field. There’s someone out there who will eventually fill that bill but they will have to have support from an early age and dedication to win.

Mike in NH
06/09/2008 03:04 PM

Actually, Marc Davis is African American and is doing well in CWE for JGR, he might be up in Nationwide now if it wasn’t for the fact that Joey Logano is coming through the ranks at the same time. However, with JGR wanting to go to four teams and Tony Stewart leaving, that might leave room for Marc to make it to Cup with JGR – and if not, his talent is bound to land him with another team. But yeah, one guy after nine years is pretty lame.

By the way, Chrissy Wallace isn’t part of the diversity program – she’s come up the old fashioned way, by earning it, and nepotism!

mad-dog 20/20
06/09/2008 07:41 PM

I agree with Otis on point number 1. At this juncture in American history no race or gender of people are being discouraged to race in any series of racing ; at least from my perception and futhermore why should “affirmative action” be the assumed remedy for a cituation such as preference?

06/09/2008 10:50 PM

06/09/2008 08:26 AM
permalink If Budweiser were, in fact, targeting the High School, or Jr. high school crowd, they would have never let Jr. leave DEI.

Kahne’s fan base is love starved, middle aged women) Budweiser did not have a voice in the matter. It was Jr’s decision. Budweiser chose Kahne and made a wise choice seeing they have already been to Victory Lane 3 times in the past 4 weeks. Two for points racing and one for a million dollars. I’d say choice is paying off quite well. Love-starved middle-aged women? Where did you get these facts? I think you need to look again, he has male and female fans. Sorry to disappoint you, but he is just like the rest of the cup drivers except he happens to be better looking.

Contact Tommy Thompson