The Frontstretch: Ten Points To Ponder After ... Homestead-Miami by Tommy Thompson -- Monday November 17, 2008

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Ten Points To Ponder After ... Homestead-Miami

Tommy Thompson · Monday November 17, 2008


1. It’s Still The Thought That CountsNASCAR drivers Geoffrey Bodine and Scott Wimmer will join the National Hot Rod Association’s Hillary Will and Arie Luyendyk, Jr. of the Indy Racing League in a tour of U.S. military bases in Iraq and Kuwait. Billed as “The Racing Heroes 2008 Goodwill Tour,” the four race car drivers will tour for eleven days, bringing some much-needed relief to our military personnel stationed so far from home. The foursome will visit hospital patients as well as interface with our troops in “meet and greets” and autograph sessions.

Kudos to these men and women for taking time to thank the troops! But wouldn’t it be nice if some of the higher-profile drivers — some of whom have benefited from military sponsorships — took time during the offseason to also lift soldier’s spirits where they are most needed?

2. Circling The Wagons – Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Inc. announced last week that they will merge their operations for the 2009 Sprint Cup Series, creating an organization known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. The newly formed team is expected to field four cars. Presently, Ganassi has Target on board next season for his No. 41 team, with a driver yet to be named for next season. Additionally, Juan Pablo Montoya will have Wrigley’s back in ’09 for select races, but still is looking for sponsorship for the remainder of the year. DEI has Bass Pro Shops returning to the No. 1 Chevy driven by Martin Truex, Jr. and no primary sponsorship to date for the No. 8 assumed to be driven by Aric Almirola. Rumors abound that Montoya may actually drive the Target car, with Almirola inheriting the sponsorship from Wrigley’s for his own team.

Who would imagine that of all the announcements Teresa Earnhardt has made that one would come announcing the merger of DEI with another team — let alone Chip Ganassi? What would Dale Earnhardt, Sr. think about it? Even his non-gloating son wouldn’t offer up a guess.

So, as things stand now, EGRFS will have 2 ½ full sponsorships for a four car operation. One would have to wonder if this is a move to strengthen the two companies — or a desperate last stand by the two cash-strapped operations.

3. Very Mature – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who attempted to wrestle control of DEI from his stepmother last season, was asked what he thought his legendary father and founder of DEI, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. would think of the merger and the news this past week that at least 116 DEI employees would lose their jobs. “I don’t know,” Junior said. “Your guess is as good as mine. Sorry, I really don’t know. He would’ve had better luck at securing the sponsorships than they currently do with the state that they are in. When my Daddy died, all of that changed. Everything about everything changed. If he was here, he would be sad, but he is not and everybody has to go do their own thing and make their own way. Everybody has got to take care of themselves. He ain’t here to take care of everybody, so you have to do your own thing, take care of yourself. Gotta do what they gotta do and that said and I ain’t got nothin’ to do with it and I don’t really have an opinion about it. I want them to succeed, I want them to be happy. I want it to work. But I can’t exhaust any of my emotion over it because of what I got going on myself. I have to get my own thing going, I got to do better. I got things I could do better.”

Boy, did Junior pass up a great opportunity to gloat… or what?

4. A Survivor – Curiously, Jim Beam has announced that it will return as the primary sponsor for owner / driver Robby Gordon in 2009. Previously, Gordon had announced that Menards likewise would be returning to sponsor his No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports entry next year. Gordon’s one car team finished out the year with a 26th place finish in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, securing 34th place in owner championship points and 33rd in driver championship points for the 2008 Sprint Cup Series season.

Amid predictions from NASCAR insiders that nobody, including Robby Gordon, could survive as a team owner / driver in today’s ultra-competitive NASCAR, Gordon began going it alone in 2005. Since that time, any number of owners have shut down, decreased teams, merged, or took on partners. Yet, with Jim Beam on board and Menards previously announcing it will sponsor a limited number of races, Gordon is set to compete in his fifth season as the sport’s only one car owner / driver guaranteed to start the Daytona 500 in February of 2009!

5. The Forgotten? – In the closest championship points battle of the Top 3 NASCAR divisions heading into the race weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Johnny Benson, Jr. edged out three-time Craftsman Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday, Jr. to win the 2008 Series Championship. 2006 CTS champion Todd Bodine took the win in the Ford 200, but Benson finished seventh, one position ahead of Hornaday in eighth. The final margin in the championship fight is a miniscule seven points, the second closest in the history of the series. The 45-year-old Benson, who has let it be known that he will not be driving the No. 23 Toyota for Bill Davis Racing next season, was the 1995 Nationwide (then Busch) Series champion, making him the only driver besides Greg Biffle to win titles in both the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck divisions of the sport.

What more do guys like Benson, Bodine, and Hornaday have to do to get another shot at the Cup series?

6. Too Little… Too Late – Carl Edwards won the Ford 300 Saturday at Homestead-Miami; however, his effort was not enough to overcome the 56-point lead that Clint Bowyer, who finished fifth, had over the Roush Fenway driver heading into the season finale for the Nationwide Series. Edwards, who was the defending series champion, ended the day 21 points behind his rival despite closing the season with nine consecutive Top 5 finishes.

But really, isn’t Brad Keselowski, the JR Motorsports driver who is the first non-Sprint Cup driver in the standings, the true Nationwide Series champ? He finished third in points, 338 behind Cup regulars Bowyer and Edwards.

7. Winning Battles and Losing Wars – It was quite a weekend for Carl Edwards, not only dominating and winning the Nationwide Series Ford 300 on Saturday but also the Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 on Sunday. In the Cup race, Edwards did everything he possibly could do in hopes of overcoming Jimmie Johnson’s 141-point advantage going to Homestead-Miami. However, not even winning the race and collecting bonus points for leading the most laps was enough. Johnson, by virtue of a 15th place run, still won the 2008 Sprint Cup Championship by the largest cushion of any of the newly crowned champions in NASCAR’s Top 3 series.

Poor Carl. He was not only the bridesmaid once, but twice in the same weekend!

8. Short But Sweet Career… So Far – With Jimmie Johnson claiming his third championship in as many years, he is only the second driver in the 60 years of NASCAR Cup history to accomplish the three-peat (Hall of Fame driver Cale Yarborough won successive championships in 1976, 1977, and 1978). Additionally, the El Cajon, CA native has never finished a year outside of the Top 5 in the final rankings in seven full seasons in Cup. Besides taking the last three championships, the 33-year-old Johnson has finished second twice and fifth twice.

So…when is it appropriate to consider Johnson when discussing NASCAR’s all-time greatest?

9. 2038 – Cale Yarborough’s string of three consecutive championships stood for 30 years until equaled Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway by Jimmie Johnson. Throughout the buildup to tying this impressive feat, Yarborough has remained mostly indifferent to the assault on his record, pointing out on numerous occasions that Johnson is tying his mark…not surpassing it. “…Jimmie’s going to tie my record. All good things must come to an end,” said the South Carolina legend shortly before the Ford 400 began.

Wow, 30 years. What will NASCAR look like in another 30 years?

10. Exclusive Company – Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Sprint Cup team, Clint Bowyer and the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Nationwide team*, and Johnny Benson, Jr. and his No. 23 Bill Davis Racing Craftsman Truck Series team!

Being a NASCAR Champion. Can it get any sweeter?

*Note: While Clint Bowyer won the driver’s championship, the No. 20 team of Joe Gibbs Racing won the owner’s championship with drivers Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano.

Contact Tommy Thompson

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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11/17/2008 03:58 AM

I think its interesting that anyone would have to DECIDE to talk about Johnson as being one of the greats . I think it stems from the fact that he isn’t perceived to be a “ great “ , more like a mediocre driver who happens to drive for a great team . Johnson was clearly outclassed this year by the performances of Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch .

11/17/2008 08:27 AM

Quote: “4. A Survivor – Curiously, Jim Beam has announced that it will return as the primary sponsor for owner / driver Robby Gordon in 2009.”

I congratulate Jim Beam for sticking with Robby!

While I do not drink, I always make sure a bottle or two of Jim Beam is in the house for either that rare occasion, or guests arrive! First thing they are offered!

(oh, by the way, on the reciprocal, you will never ever find any Goodyears in my driveway!)

11/17/2008 08:47 AM

So…when is it appropriate to consider Johnson when discussing NASCAR’s all-time greatest?

When he wins a championship in a real points system?

But really, isn’t Brad Keselowski, the JR Motorsports driver who is the first non-Sprint Cup driver in the standings, the true Nationwide Series champ? He finished third in points, 338 behind Cup regulars Bowyer and Edwards.

I’ve said the same myself in the past. He should be proud he’s the real champ.

11/17/2008 08:58 AM

I thoroughly enjoyed the points chase in the Truck Series. I find it very interesting that they were able to have such a close points race without having to do something stupid like the Chase to produce a close race. I wish that Brian France would be smart enough to take a look at this series and decide that we should do away with the Chase format.

I agree with you also on Hornaday and Benson. I wish that someone would give these guys another chance in the Cup Series. They deserve it.

The Old Guy
11/17/2008 10:38 AM

I would actually put Mike Bliss as the real winner of the Nationwide series championship as he is the first driver not in a HMS, RCR, RFR, Penske or GEM owned car.

Keslowski’s car is a joint venture of JR Motorsport and HMS, or simply put, Keslowski drives a Hendrick car. So, no, Mike Bliss gets the nod in the James Finch car.

As far as Jr. is concerned, finishing last in the chase didn’t give him much to crow about as concerns his former team. Maybe, just maybe, he is learning something about humility.

Jimmie Johnson has not yet tied Cales record. When he wins three legitimate title in a row, then he will have tied. His 2007 title is about as legitimate as Kurt Busch’s 2004 title.

Benson, Hornaday and Bodine have all already been at the “Cup” level and couldn’t get the job done. Of the three, only Benson has a win at the Cup level.

Robby Gordon has won at every level and style of racing he has ever done. I’m not surprised that his sponsors are sticking with him.

With no testing, next year is sure to be a lot of fun to watch.

11/17/2008 11:22 AM

Jimmie Johnson hasn’t won a legitimate title? That statement is absurd. If anything, he is winning titles in a system that is TOUGHER than Cale Yarborough did. Remember, the field is virtually evened up with ten races to go. To come out on top three years in a row is a tough feat, no matter who you are.

I am not a Jimmie Johnson fan, but I certainly respect what that team has done. They deserve to be called a three-peat Champion. He will go down as one of the best in history, like him or not.

Kevin in SoCal
11/17/2008 12:53 PM

Damn straight, Bill. Thank you.

And what other grown man still calls his father “daddy” ? Is that a Southern thing I dont understand?

The Old Guy
11/17/2008 01:35 PM

Bill must have comprehension issues.

I didn’t say he hadn’t won a legitimate title. I said his 2007 title was a legitimate as Kurt Busch’s 2004 title. IOW, it’s not.

Jimmie’s 2006 and 2008 title are quite legitimate.

re: Kevin. I especially like it when he says “Me and Daddy.” And, no, it’s not a Southern thing.

11/17/2008 03:04 PM

Given the format, Johnson’s three championships are legitimate. You can’t say how ANYONE would have done under the old system because the teams were not racing with those rules in mind. Along those lines and while I like Carl Edwards, would he have won Homestead if Johnson needed to place say 5th or higher to win the championship? Again, different circumstances produce different results.

11/17/2008 03:44 PM

Again, Everyone was racing under the same rules, everyone had and equal opportunity to be the champion so people can groan, moan and whine but he is a three time champion by the rules that everyone else also raced under. I don’t think you can compare the current drivers with the past drivers because the cars are so much different, the funding is so much different, and the tracks are so much different. How many “cookie cutter tracks did the old 60’s and 70’s drivers race on? Michigan and Atlanta? the rest were odd ball tracks like Rockingham, Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville. Putting Carl on the circuit that Cale, Richard, Dale and others drove on and Carl might have had 1-2 wins, ditto for JJ or Kyle, with Kyle possible having the most wins because of his style of driving (if he didn’t melt down or irritate somone). Think of the COT on North Wilkesboro, it would be like a demo derby on Sunday.

11/17/2008 07:05 PM

The Old Guy: NO, I don’t have comprehension issues. You are the one with that problem in that you don’t want to believe that Jimmie is the one holding the trophy from 2007. Check the stats on Whether we agree with the way NASCAR treated the penalties along the way (which my guess is why you believe otherwise), the results are what they are. Jimmie Johnson has been named the Champion for 2006, 2007, and 2008. Believe it or not, it is what it is.

11/17/2008 10:31 PM

Why would it be curious that Jim Beam would return, on Robby’s car. Some cars were practically invisible this season. The 01, 28, 38, for instance. No car that Robby is driving is ever going to be invisible. Exposure is why companies shell out the bucks for these billboards. Robby, & Beam are a perfect fit. Look how much mileage, (read publicity) Jim Beam got out of the nose deal at Daytona. Robby’s single car, owner/driver operation is in better shape heading into ’09. Than Wood Bros. HOF, Petty, Yates, & Davis. On Par with Ganassi, DEI, & MWR. Kinda neat, huh?

Curtis Turner's Ghost
11/18/2008 07:46 AM

“Wow, 30 years. What will NASCAR look like in another 30 years?”………… A distant memeory.

Contact Tommy Thompson