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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? The Best Sophomore Class in History? Thoughts From Phoenix & Beyond

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Did You Notice? That Ken Schrader popped up over in the Gillett Evernham camp this weekend? Patrick Carpentier mentioned him as one of the drivers most responsible for allowing the rookie to adapt to the track so quickly. That could only mean good things for the veteran; Schrader currently is without a ride in any of NASCAR’s top-three series, and could benefit immensely from developing a relationship with Evernham and Dodge. Even though the 52-year-old struggled throughout the course of the season with the Wood Brothers – he hasn’t won a race since 1991 – you’d like to think he’d have a few more NASCAR starts left in him, given the right opportunity and a limited schedule.

LUMBIS: MONTOYA LEADS OPEN-WHEEL INVASION AT PHOENIX

Did You Notice? Brian France tried to justify NASCAR’s declining TV ratings by saying that TV ratings are down for “almost everything?” Um, last I heard, ratings weren’t down for the NFL, nor were they for the Oscars this year, and a double-digit percentage drop in audience for the Chase doesn’t exactly fall in line with other declines. Even in this age of 1,000,000 options, the basic principles of sports and entertainment still apply; if you put a quality product out there, people will watch. Right now, the sport we all love isn’t doing that on a consistent basis, and how someone could be so blinded as to not acknowledge that is beyond me.

Did You Notice? Last year’s rookie class may turn out to be one of the best in history? With just one race remaining, Clint Bowyer appears to be a lock for third in points, while Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin – both Chase participants – have a reasonable shot to wind up within the top 10. When’s the last time we had three second-year drivers finish that high in points? The answer is 1980, when Dale Earnhardt Sr. won the championship in just his second season; behind him, Terry Labonte and Harry Gant finished eighth and 11th in the standings, respectively.

Talk about some exclusive company; those three drivers combined for nine championships and over 100 race wins throughout the course of their careers. Needless to say, the Class of ’06 certainly has something to shoot for.

Did You Notice? That the racing at Phoenix automatically got a second date a few years back without so much as a second thought? I don’t know about you, but I never considered the facility as one of the top-tier racetracks; while the Car of Tomorrow certainly assisted in leaving this season’s racing as much to be desired, I don’t think the old car ever made too much of a difference. And I feel for the poor souls who have to handle us press nuisances every year; Phoenix’s media center is easily one of the most cramped on the circuit.

Did You Notice? That if Jeff Gordon wins the race, hell freezes over and Jimmie Johnson has a faulty engine and a flat tire at the same time, Gordon could still win the title? I heard a few people talking about it; I wasn’t sure about all the scenarios, but don’t worry, I know there’s a two-hour pre-race show in which I’m sure I’ll hear about every, single, one.

Did You Notice? There’s actually one series title still seriously up for grabs? If you ever have a chance to sneak away from work Friday and turn on SPEED channel, I suggest you do it; this final round battle between Ron Hornaday Jr. and Mike Skinner in the Truck Series is going to be something to watch.