NASCAR Race Weekend Central

10 Points to Ponder… After the 2007 Subway 500 at Martinsville

1. Safety, Schmafety – The next time anyone from NASCAR tries to say that safety is their first priority, I want to have a tape of today’s finish on hand, showing David Ragan‘s car sitting sideways in the middle of the track coming off turn 1 and the leaders heading towards him full steam ahead. Rusty Wallace, a seven-time winner here who was calling the race, was incredulous: “The [No.] 6 car is sitting sideways in the middle of the track! They’re wide open!” he yelled before the caution came out. What’s worse was the No. 6 car was stopped perpendicular to the wall, with the driver’s side door in the direct path of oncoming traffic. This race saw a record number of cautions, but NASCAR was clearly late with the flag when it counted most. Added Wallace in disbelief, “We saw the caution flags all day long, late in the race, and they were coming wide open in turn 1 with that No. 6 car sitting dead sideways in the middle of the track.”

2. Eddie Edwards – Did you see the footage of Carl Edwards shoving and then feigning a punch at teammate Matt Kenseth‘s face when the two argued after the race? I’m sure Carl will say he was just kidding around, but it’s obvious Matt didn’t get the joke. Will Edwards, clearly the aggressor, be penalized? Will that Tony Stewart line from a year or two ago about Carl being the Eddie Haskell of NASCAR resurface? Either way, Jack Roush can’t be happy seeing this altercation between his two stars.

3. France Fleeing? – Have you seen this rumor posted in an article by Robin Miller on the SpeedTV website under the heading, Some Rumors, Some Facts: Jim France moving into the Big Chair and nephew Brian going to Grand-Am? Hmm…

4. ESPN Again – There’s really nowhere to begin to explain how bad ESPN/ABC was today, and how frustrated fans are as a result. Suffice it to say that if NASCAR has any hopes of reviving their sagging TV ratings (besides getting rid of the Chase and the Car of Tomorrow), then ESPN needs to spend the winter scrapping their entire NASCAR broadcast department and rebuilding it from the ground up. Step one: Talk to some real live NASCAR fans about what they do, and don’t, want to see and hear in a race broadcast. In fact, let’s start the list right here: 1. Don’t subject fans to 500 laps of talk about four or five drivers, while the rest of the field is treated as nonexistent. 2. (Insert yours here).

5. Chump Chase – Despite the artificial contrivance known as the Chase for the Championship, which is supposed to help NASCAR compete against the NFL for TV viewers, this season has come down to (at best) a two-man race between Hendrick teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Despite winning today’s race, Johnson only gained 15 points on leader Gordon, while Clint Bowyer – even with a top-10 finish – actually fell 37 points further behind first place. Will we see more “tweaks” to the Chase before Daytona?

BOWLES: JIMMIE JOHNSON PROVING EXCEPTIONAL IN TITLE DEFENSE

6. Testy Tony – It might surprise you to know that Tony Stewart has four top-10 finishes in the six Chase races. Yet, he seems to be doing a disappearing act these days, rarely providing an interview after the race or even a quote for his team’s official PR report. I want to hear from you fans of the No. 20 – why is he making such a hasty exit from the track every week? Frustration, disappointment, temper, apathy?

7. Accurate Acronym – I thought it a bit clever when someone first suggested that DEI must stand for “Dead Engine Inside.” But after today’s seventh engine failure this season for Dale Earnhardt Jr., it really isn’t a laughing matter. Over 20% of the No. 8 team’s races this year have now ended with blown engines. Said Junior during the race, “The motor’s gotten way, way worse. That’s why we’re losing spots! I wish it would just blow up. I’m sick of being out here losing power like this… I’m tellin’ ya, man, I’m sick of this engine (expletive).”

8. Gone But Not Forgotten, Part One – This month, a five-mile stretch of road in Wilkes County, N.C. was renamed Benny Parsons Highway in honor of the hometown hero. Parsons, the 1973 Nextel Cup champ and a beloved figure both in the garage and among race fans, lost his battle with cancer a year ago. “Benny loved his hometown, and moving back here meant everything to him,” said wife Terri at the dedication ceremony. “He would be overjoyed by this.”

9. Gone But Not Forgotten, Part Two – It’s impossible to comment on the fall race at Martinsville without mentioning the 10 people who died in a plane crash en route to the track three years ago – among them were Rick Hendrick’s son Ricky, his brother John, two nieces and members of the HMS organization, along with Stewart’s helicopter pilot. Mr. Hendrick deserves a ton of credit for being able to attend the race today, something he couldn’t do in the first few years after the tragedy.

10. 12 for 13th – Finishing the season as the highest ranking non-Chase driver isn’t as big a deal as it used to be when there were only 10 drivers in the Chase instead of 12. But there is still some satisfaction in being the “best of the rest,” and over the past few weeks, Ryan Newman, currently 14th in points, has been closing the gap on Earnhardt Jr. ahead of him. Four weeks ago, the spread between the two was 227 points – today, it’s down to just 66.

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