NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Buyouts & Points Swaps… A Greasy Affair for NASCAR

The end of the offseason always seems to bring an unexpected surprise… and this year was no exception. Just when you thought the driver/car owner dance was over, up jumps Robby Gordon like one of the girls in Grease sitting along the edge of the gym, waiting for some guy in an ill-fitting suit, white socks and sporting a ducktail to get in Rydell High’s dance-off. George Gillett proved to be that guy… and in the course of one short musical number, the No. 7 team left Ford sitting alone in the corner.

Hey, more power to ya, Robby. You’ve gone to this dance stag the last two years and finally got a Danny Zucko-type to whirl you around the joint for awhile.

What strikes me about this preseason switch-a-roo is how seamless it’s likely to go… and how it may be the start of yet another trend. Think about this: In the past, if an owner were to buy (or buy into) a team from a competing manufacturer at this point of the offseason, the amount of work – building new bodies, chassis, engines, etc. – would have made it impossible for the deal to go down in time for a successful Speedweeks. But now – thanks to the common-template cars we all so thoroughly love – it’s as easy as a decal change and a new engine to pull off.

It all sounds so easy. More money, different engines and presto, You’re a Dodge! Go get ’em, Rob!

That brings us to another situation we witnessed this offseason that I hope does not become a trend: The transfer of owner points. I know it’s highly, highly unlikely – heck, it may be impossible – but let’s hope for Robby’s sake that his dancing partner doesn’t steal his owner points and give them to a prettier, possibly French-Canadian, dancer. Then, they’d have to settle it on Thunder Road… and the ending won’t be pretty.

OK, onto our first batch of questions after a short, not-too-cold offseason. First off, thanks for rebounding late and giving me some fodder. The questions were much appreciated, but don’t ease up now.

Q: I need some help settling a bet with my buddies. I say that Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt have the most NASCAR championships with seven each. My buddy says there was a guy that had nine. I think he’s crazy. There’s a steak dinner riding on this, Matt. Who’s right, me or my demented buddy? Steve Jarboe

A: That’s tricky, Steve. While no Cup driver has eclipsed Petty or Earnhardt’s seven titles on the premier circuit, Richie Evans won nine NASCAR Modified (now Whelen Modified Tour) titles from 1973 – ’85. Tell your buddy to get that slab of beef medium rare, and as my late Grandad once said, “Put A-1 on that steak, I’ll kill ya.”

Q: Is there any chance that NASCAR admits failure and drops the CoT somewhere down the road? Or has too much money (and ego) already been invested? Nathan R.

A: Admit failure? Drop the CoT!? Neither is gonna happen, Nate. The new car is here full-time… and it’s here to stay. Despite the continued grumblings from some drivers and a large faction of the fanbase, the sanctioning body will no doubt trudge on, singing a happy song when asked (or cornered) about the piece.

So, here’s my suggestion: Accept it. Plain and simple. The King himself said as much last month:

“I accepted (the CoT) to begin with. I started this stuff in 1958, ’59, and every year we had a new car. We didn’t have wind tunnels. We didn’t test. We showed up at Daytona in ’69 with a ’69 Plymouth, and then we showed up in ’70 with a ’70 Plymouth, completely different body styles. I thought that NASCAR may have stayed with the (old) body style (used from 1981 to 2007) too long.”

“It’s going to be interesting (running the CoT full-time), but I look at it like, once they run four or five laps, I forget what the car looks like. I’m looking at the car as a number or a competitor.”

Q: OK, I know this is gross, but what do the drivers really do during those long races when they have to go to the bathroom? My sister said they wear Depends, but I don’t believe her. Wouldn’t they melt if the car caught on fire? Sydnee Knight

A: Ah, the age old question. While I can’t speak to the durability of a pair of Depends at high temps, Syd, I can tell you that Tony Stewart really “stunk up the show” at Infineon in 2005. It’s hard getting out of a car that’s on its way to a checkered flag, ya know, regardless of how loud nature is calling.

Q: With Rick Hendrick busy building a Dream Team with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and now Dale Earnhardt Jr., what are the odds that Stewart (who has yet to extend his contract with Joe Gibbs and seems to be resisting the move from Chevy to Toyota) joins the new Evil Empire in the near future? Rush Rocket

A: Only Tony could tell us for sure, and I doubt after that last answer he’s fielding my calls. Here’s what I find strange, Rush: Last season Tony said he didn’t want to talk about contracts, that he and his agent or manager or whoever would get to it in the offseason so he could concentrate on racing. But once the offseason hit, he said he didn’t want to talk about contracts or racing so he could enjoy his time away. Hmmm, What other time is there besides in-season and offseason?

Points to ponder here: Stewart’s World of Outlaws and USAC teams are still backed by Chevy, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Stewart enters 2008 with a new teammate that he hasn’t always gotten along with in the past; also, rumor has it Chevy would like to do whatever it takes to get Stewart back in the family (and that would have to involve more than just a large chunk of change). So, I don’t know, Rush… we’ll have to wait and see.

Uh-oh. With that, Silly Season ’08 has officially begun. Oh, well, Rama Lama Ding Dong.

Enjoy the Shootout, folks!

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