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10 Points To Ponder… After the 2008 Auto Club 500 at Fontana

1. You’re Just Repeating Yourself! – Ahead of the running of the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, International Speedway Corporation (ISC) announced that they had sold the naming rights to the track located in Fontana, Calif. to the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California. The 10-year deal was for an undisclosed amount rumored to be between $50-$75 million; and just like that, the Sunday/Monday race was billed as the Auto Club 500 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.

Hmm. It’s not quite as “catchy” as, say – oh, I don’t know – the Southern 500 at Darlington, perhaps?

2. I’m Tellin’ Ya, I’m InnocentRobby Gordon was tagged with a 100-point penalty and No. 7 RGM crew chief, Frank Kerr, was fined $100,000 and suspended for six races because the team showed up at Daytona with an unapproved nose piece on their hastily-converted Ford-to-Dodge Jim Beam-sponsored Charger. All parties seem to be in agreement that the unapproved part gave Gordon no competitive advantage; in fact, Dodge has taken responsibility for the snafu, citing a clerical error that resulted in the wrong piece being shipped to RGM for the 11th-hour switch-out. Robby is appealing the decision, and in a surprising move, the whiskey distiller has generated a petition for race fans to sign – with a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Rally for Robby” to go along with that letter of protest to NASCAR officials. However, the fines and penalties levied are consistent with others handed down by the sanctioning body for rules violations on the new generation of Sprint Cup racecars; so, will NASCAR ultimately land on the side of common sense and reverse their decision, or stick with their newfound consistency in handing out punishments?

Hmm, give me another shot of that whiskey, bartender!

3. Institution of Higher, Sports? – Greg Newman, father of “Rocket Man” Ryan Newman, required his son to attend Purdue University and earn a degree in vehicle engineering (in case the racing thing didn’t work out) even as he was building a successful racing career. However, Newman the elder does not want to see the University benefit from any of his son’s $1.5 million Daytona 500 winnings (not to mention another $1 million bonus paid by Dodge). Said the elder Newman, “They should have helped him, but they didn’t cut him any slack.” Apparently, Daddy Newman took exception to the school not allowing the same flexibility being given to his son in scheduling that was afforded to the school’s other student/athletes. PU’s Assistant Athletic Director Tom Schott had a witty response: “We have 18 varsity sports here, but we don’t have varsity auto racing.”

4. Shrubbery – Congratulations to Rowdy Busch on his San Bernardino County 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series win Saturday at Fontana! The win, along with his second-place finish at Daytona, has Rowdy leading the series drivers’ standings after the first two races of the season. Just what, if any relation Rowdy has to current Sprint Cup points leader and look alike Kyle Busch is not clear, however.

LUNKENHEIMER: TRACKING THE TRUCKS AFTER FONTANA

5. It’s Raining Past Champions – There were plenty of provisional starting spots to go around for the Auto Club 500 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California. Remember when Sam Hornish Jr. was gifted owner points from last season by team owner Roger Penske, points that were earned by Kurt Busch and the No. 2 Miller Lite team? Of course, the idea was that the points transfer would secure a starting spot in the first five races of the Nextel Cup season for Hornish – for there were no fears of Busch missing a race, either, as by virtue of his 2004 Sprint Cup championship, he is guaranteed a spot on race day, too. But since Sprint Cup qualifying was rained out, the rules had Busch taking the past winner’s provisional (2007) instead of needing his own past champion’s provisional. Behind him, it was both Dale Jarrett (1999 Cup champion) and Bill Elliott (1989 Cup champion) who lined behind Busch in position 37 and 38 for the start of the Auto Club 500 at the Auto Club Sp, (I’m not saying it again!) as they were both awarded a past champion’s provisional under the rainout rules.

Why the difference? When the starting field is determined by qualifying times, only one past champion’s provisional is given. However, the “rain rules” do not limit the number of such provisional spots to past champions that are neither a past winner of the event or protected under the Top-35 rule. At this point, struggling owners might want to make their driver selections only after consulting an almanac.

6. Need A Little Help, Here! – Seems like the lap 21 accident that ended with Casey Mears‘s No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet on its driver’s side – leaning on the nose of the No. 77 Penske Dodge driven by Hornish – could have been much worse. After Hornish Jr. drove underneath the Mears ride from the rear, lifting the No. 5 onto its side, Hornish’s engine erupted into flames. Meanwhile, Mears – though able to release himself from his restraints – could not extricate himself from his car, and was at the mercy of the track safety crew as the heat intensified. No need to worry, however; the crew’s response time was so quick that they arrived on the scene even as the fire began to appear outside of the hood of the No. 77, quickly extinguishing it and then assisting Mears in safely climbing out of his car. With that type of support clearly needed, it’s a serious reminder of what might have happened had it not been for a rule change by NASCAR in 2003 that ended the practice of the field racing back to the start/finish line under yellow, instead requiring racers to slow to a cautious speed and fall into single file when the yellow flag is shown. This rule was modified to better protect stranded cars that may be in a dangerous location on the track and to allow safety vehicles to more rapidly access them to render help. Well, on Sunday, the rule worked as hoped.

7. Back To Reality? – After coming out of the corner swinging at Daytona, Dodge didn’t fare nearly as well in the Auto Club 500. Last week, the Dodge Chargers took the first two finishing positions, three of the top five and six of the top 10. But at Fontana, Kasey Kahne‘s Budweiser Dodge in ninth and the Alltel Dodge driven by Newman in 10th were the only ones able to crack the top 10. Hope the ‘ol Mopar loyalists enjoyed their week in the sun!

8. Same Old, Same Old – It was a familiar top five after the checkered flew at Fontana; Carl Edwards won, followed by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Busch and Matt Kenseth. Is the Hendrick duel of Johnson and Gordon already beginning to stoke the fire on the Hendrick Motorsports championship train?

9. Flipping Out – Edwards’s backflip off of his car as part of his victory celebration has been a fan favorite, but isn’t it time for him to take it to the next level? The drama is about gone; fans pretty much know he isn’t going to miss his landing and fall on his race-winning rear. So, how about doing it through a flaming hoop, adding one of those figure skating spins into the maneuver?

10. Got To Watch The Simpsons? – The southern California weather certainly dampened racing spirits, with nothing but the NASCAR Craftsman Truck race starting on time. As a matter of fact, the delays were maddening and left fans wanting to hunt Englishman Albert Hammond down to pummel him senseless. Of course, NASCAR will be roundly criticized for their judgment in starting or not starting Sunday’s race – and then waiting to the wee hours to reschedule the race for Monday afternoon. Of course, there sure are a lot of factors to consider before not making every effort to get the race in; but the votes on that subject that count the most should come from those fans that were in attendance and had paid to see the event. NASCAR needs to listen to them; I know it’s highly inconvenient to have to keep clicking back-and-forth to see if the race has restarted, but those folks were in the trenches.

Editor’s Note: Albert Hammond recorded the hit ’70s song, “It Never Rains In Southern California.”

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