The Frontstretch: Ten Points To Ponder After ... Texas by Tommy Thompson -- Monday November 3, 2008

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Ten Points To Ponder After ... Texas

Tommy Thompson · Monday November 3, 2008


1. Bailout Needed – According to CBS Sports, sources have said that anywhere from 750-1,000 jobs in NASCAR shops may be lost in the Sprint, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series as a result of the nation’s slumping economy. The report specifically mentions Dale Earnhardt, Inc. as a prime example of teams poised to see drastic cutbacks in manpower as the high profile four-car organization at present only has one signed primary sponsor for 2009.

Remember about a year and a half ago when Tony Stewart, who will become a team owner / driver in 2009 said, “DEI without Dale, Jr. is a museum?” Or is DEI’s, as well as other team’s financial woes, reminiscent of the 1992 Bill Clinton presidential campaign credo… “It’s the economy, stupid.”

2. Look Before You Leap – Before the Teresa Earnhardt-bashing crowd warms up their vocal chords to declare that DEI would be in better shape had Dale Earnhardt, Jr. been handed the reins of those race teams, they may need to consider the latest developments from Earnhardt, Jr.’s race team itself. In a statement released by Kelley Earnhardt, general manager of JR Motorsports and sister of Earnhardt, Jr. said, “We’ve been working aggressively to secure funding to continue with two teams in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The economic climate is difficult, as everyone is aware, and that is affecting every company’s ability to spend. The 2008 season will be ending in less than three weeks, and preparations for next season are already underway. We do not anticipate getting the funding required to field two teams after the end of this season, and we need to make adjustments now to prepare JR Motorsports accordingly. We are reducing our workforce and budgets to comply with a new plan for 2009, which at the present time is to field the No. 88 team full-time with driver Brad Keselowski, and the No. 5 team on a limited basis with a select group of drivers.”

Signs of things to come? If NASCAR’s golden boy is having trouble securing sponsorship, what does that say for the chances of less popular teams and drivers finding money for next year?

Really, when the most popular and well-liked personality in NASCAR cannot secure wanted financial support for his race team — even after partnering with mega-team owner Rick Hendrick in his Nationwide Series operation — would the result have been any better had Junior and Kelley taken control of DEI?

3. Unforgiving – Much to the chagrin of a good number of race fans that have made vigorously booing driver Kyle Busch the “in” thing to do at NASCAR events this season, the 22-year-old won Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway. Busch bested the field in the Nationwide Series’ O’Reilly Challenge 300, scoring his 10th victory of the year in the series and increasing his extraordinary combined win total between NASCAR’s Top three racing divisions to 21. The 10 wins tied two-time series Champion Sam Ard for most victories in a season. Ard, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is in need of financial assistance, made 10 visits to Victory Lane in 1983 before his career was derailed by a serious crash at Rockingham. Upon exiting his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota in Victory Circle, Kyle Busch said, “Sam Ard is one of the pioneers of this sport. To be tied with him is very special. We’re going to be sending $100,000 his way to help him out. Hopefully, that’ll help put a smile on his face.”

Still, even after that gesture of goodwill, during driver introductions before the start of the Sprint Cup Series Dickies 500 at TMS… the boo birds were present and accounted for!

4. ‘Nuff Said – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. opened-up to the media Friday at Texas Motor Speedway as he seldom does, discussing a host of current NASCAR issues. Among topics of conversation were the widely liked and respected driver’s opinion of the lengthy NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule that has 36 points races and another two exhibition events crammed into a 52-week year, stretching from February to November. “We have saturated the market with race after race after race,” said the son of legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.

Wisely, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver stopped short of suggesting which races and venues should be cut from the Sprint Cup schedule.

5. Doing It Right – The Texas Christian University (TCU) Marching Band performed the National Anthem in pre-race festivities leading up to the start of the Dickies 500. The band played the traditional, big brassy traditional rendition of the Anthem, and there were no attempts to personalize the Star Spangled Banner. No singers with a distinct twang, soulful interpretation or soon-to-be-released CD could be found, either.

NASCAR fans and Francis Scott Key thank you… Texas Motor Speedway.

6. One Of A Kind – Jeff Gordon has extended his streak to 39 races without a victory, though he came close after a second place finish in Sunday’s Dickies 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race. The four-time champ, speculating on the possibility of not posting a win in 2008, did not believe that there would be any major changes in his No. 24 team heading into 2009. That, according to Gordon, includes No. 24 crew chief Steve Letarte, who has not been able to keep pace with fellow Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus since becoming Gordon’s team leader more than three years ago. “I believe in him. The problems we’re having are not Steve,” he said. “We need to build more depth on the team, and Steve is a big part of organizing that… and has really been spearheading a lot of the ideas that are going to be improvements for us for this season and next year.”

Unless, of course, HMS is successful in developing a Knaus clone!

7. Throw A Blanket Over Them! – Though Jeff Gordon was not able to end his winless streak Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, he did capture the pole position with the fastest qualifying lap of 28.652 seconds. It was the fourth time that Gordon has captured the Coors Light Pole award this season. Friday’s qualifying session was the first in the last four races that was not canceled due to inclement weather, necessitating the race day field to be set by owner points. The slowest qualifier in the 43-car field was Travis Kvapil, driver of the No. 28 Yates Racing Ford, with a best lap of 29.380 seconds around the 1-½ mile circuit.

Was the competition for a starting spot in the Dickies 500 fierce or what? The difference between the fastest and slowest qualifiers (Gordon and Kvapil) was a mere 7/10 of a second, or, to be exact, .732 seconds. The fastest of the five qualifiers not to make the 43-car field for the Dickies 500 was the No. 70 Chevrolet driven by Tony Raines, and Bryan Clauson in the No. 40 Dodge – who posted identical lap times of 29.422 seconds. Their times were just .770 seconds slower than pole sitter Gordon.

8. It’s All Good – Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards dominated almost from the start of the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and by the checkered flag lap had led 212 laps of the 334-lap event. The No. 99 Ford driven by Edwards clearly was the class of the field, at times during extended green-flag runs building leads of eight seconds or better on the nearest competitor. However, following a lap 264 pit stop, Edwards found himself in sixth place when the race resumed and unable to track down the race leaders. But driver and team gambled on fuel, as competitors ahead of Edwards visited pit road while the No. 99 managed to conserve enough gas to win the race.

Ever heard the saying, “I’d rather be lucky than good?” Sunday, Edwards and his Roush Fenway Racing organization were both!

9. Roushkateers – Said winning car owner Jack Roush on Edwards’ victory and fellow Roush Fenway driver Jamie McMurray’s strong third place performance, “I thought Jamie was going to win the race. With 20 laps to go, I thought Carl would have the benefit of gaining some points, but I didn’t think I’d be sitting with Carl [in the post-race winner’s news conference]. I thought I would be sitting here with Jamie.”

Roush, in fact, had a more than a couple of possibilities for a good shot at victory as his stable of drivers took five of the Top 11 finishing positions. Besides the win by Edwards and McMurray in third, Roush Fenway drivers Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, and David Ragan placed 5th, 9th, and 11th, respectfully.

10. Rejuvenated Excitement – Carl Edwards’ win, in which he ran the final 69 laps without fueling, coupled with Sprint Cup point leader Jimmie Johnson’s disappointing 15th place finish, has narrowed the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet driver points advantage over Edwards to 106 with two races remaining. At Texas alone, Edwards shaved 77 points off of Johnson’s lead.

Wasn’t it just last week that most assumed that Johnson had built an insurmountable lead and had all but wrapped up the 2008 Sprint Cup Championship?

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11/03/2008 06:57 AM

The 11th Thing to Ponder: When do they start to bring in the vinyl blow-up fans to fill the empty seats? That place looked pretty empty to me. Let’s see if this rejuvenated “Chase” changes the attendance next week. I’m thinking not.

11/03/2008 07:29 AM

RE: Marks comment about empty seats! While I watched ZERO of this fiasco called “CUP RACING”, while it was being run, like who cares, I did see some replays on the later programs!

YOUCH!! The seats were indeed EMPTY! Even the stands around the start/finish line looked maybe 30% empty! And other entire sections bare!

Congratulations Brian, your bringing the sport to it’s knees!

What an absolute embarrassment!

11/03/2008 10:50 AM

It is not just the economy…I know more people that have walked away from NA$CAR new and old fans the old fans still go to races..just don’t follow this circus…

John Potts
11/03/2008 11:26 AM

Amen on the National Anthem, Tommy. I have always advocated using the instrumental version, played at the proper tempo and in the proper key. At the local track, I use recordings of college bands. That’s one thing Formula One does right. They use recorded versions to make sure the National Anthems of the winning driver and constructor are done right.

11/03/2008 08:36 PM

I have missed the last 4 Talladega races, an event that I used to love, simply because there is nothing to watch.

11/03/2008 10:31 PM

The 1.5 mile tracks are slowly killing nascar. Not to mention California. The drivers love them. The fans don’t.

Then add in the late start times, three networks, etc.

I used to watch or listen to qualifying without fail but because of the top 35 I don’t do that anymore.

A lot of old timers like me are trying to hang on to a sport we used to really love. But I find myself turning to something else more and more.

Contact Tommy Thompson