1. Lowe’s High – For weeks now I’ve been wondering why everyone was depicting the Chase as a duel between Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. “Wait!” – I shouted, what about Jimmie Johnson? Heading into Fontana, Johnson was tied with Gordon for bonus points, 10 ahead of Stewart when the Chase starts, and tonight’s win moves him ahead of both Gordon and Stewart with 50 bonus points. Johnson’s team typically slumps in the summer but they turn it on when it counts. Don’t hand that Nextel Cup trophy to anyone else just yet. It’s also worth noting that Johnson and Matt Kenseth are now the only drivers to make the Chase all four seasons since its inception in 2004.
2. Enough Already! – Look, I like Dale Earnhardt Jr. as much as the next person, but the tunnel-visioned focus of Sunday’s race broadcast on Junior’s quest to make the Chase was ridiculous. Last week, Earnhardt himself complained about the media’s obsession with his points situation, stating, “That’s all y’all talk about. I shouldn’t tell you that you dictate my mood. Now you know. But anyways, when we don’t make it, everybody makes a big deal out of it. They talk about it pre-race, they talk about it post-race for a couple of weeks, and it’s a bummer.” Broadcasters, are you listening?
3. Thanks, ESPN – For once again treating NASCAR like the red-headed stepchild of the sports world. The network scheduled an abbreviated 15-minute Countdown show for the Busch Series race on ESPN2 Saturday, but couldn’t even squeeze that in due to a college football game that ran long (score 35-14 in the fourth quarter). While a scroll on the screen informed viewers that they could catch the pre-race on ESPN360 (whatever that is), many fans who went to the website were greeted with this message: “Sorry, your internet service provider does not carry ESPN360.com.” The football game finally ended just as the race was about to start, but…
4. You’ve Been Warned – In addition to the above, my favorite NASCAR TV critic John Daly reports, “By the way, next week a live college football game precedes the Nextel Cup night race from Richmond on ABC Sports. I would suggest that fans plan well ahead for their viewing options, because all of the ESPN Networks will be busy with live football as well. Once again, NASCAR will be all dressed-up with no place to go.” And they wonder why TV ratings are down?
5. Keselowski Crash – If you didn’t see young Brad Keselowski‘s crash in Saturday’s Busch race, it was one of the most brutal hits in recent memory, head on into the wall at 140-plus mph. Keselowski was airlifted to an area hospital, but reports are that he had no serious injuries and was treated and released with follow up scheduled this week in North Carolina. Kudos to NASCAR for making today’s cars safer than ever before.
6. Hot Enough for You? – As a resident of Arizona for almost 40 years, it was kind of funny hearing all the fuss about the heat in Fontana this weekend. My initial reaction was, “Hey, welcome to my world.” I got in my car last summer after parking it outside for a few hours, and it was almost 140 degrees in the car, the credit cards in my wallet were literally starting to melt, and my sunglasses actually did. But I know conditions are different in a racecar, especially for 500 miles, and I really give credit to the drivers and teams – especially after Greg Biffle reported that it was 238 degrees on his floorboard earlier this weekend. Even a Zonie like me will admit that’s hot.
7. DEI Determined – With four DNFs so far this season for the No. 8 team, there was concern that the heat and high RPMs in Fontana could result in another “Dead Engine Inside” day for DEI. Despite pushing the car hard all race, Earnhardt’s engine held up, giving him a respectable fifth-place finish, with Martin Truex Jr. coming in sixth.
8. Owners’ Outlook – The Roush drivers have a good record at California overall, and a win today would have given Jack Roush his 100th Cup victory. Although it didn’t happen, there’s a good possibility that Roush will hit that impressive milestone before the end of the season. Meanwhile, Rick Hendrick spent the weekend in the garage, apparently miffed at the performance of his cars last week at Bristol where three of his drivers finished 19th or worse. It seems to have paid off at Fontana for Johnson and Kyle Busch, who finished first and third respectively; Casey Mears was 15th, but Jeff Gordon came in a disappointing 22nd.
9. More Milestones – Two other fan favorites approached or completed milestones this weekend at Fontana. It was Ricky Rudd‘s 900th Cup start, placing him second on the all-time career starts list behind Richard Petty, who has 1,184. Unfortunately, Ricky’s day ended with a wreck and a separated shoulder, but knowing Ironman Rudd, he will be back in the car at Richmond if at all possible. And Bobby Labonte needs just one more race to make his 500th start. Fans can order a free t-shirt (you pay shipping) to commemorate Labonte’s accomplishment at www.BobbyLabonte.com.
10. Skinner Skunked – If you missed the truck race, you may not know that Mike Skinner, who started on the pole and had the points lead heading into the event, was apparently locked inside a porta-potty by another competitor and almost missed the start of the race. Perhaps it was a bad omen, as a blown tire and subsequent damage to the car dropped Skinner to second in the standings, now four points behind Ron Hornaday. Gee Mike, with friends like that…