1. No Way, Daddy-0h! – The legendary Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford did not qualify for the UAW-Dodge 400 on speed last Friday. Instead, their chances hit a wall – literally – when Johnny Sauter wrecked the car coming out of turn 2. The single-car team, outside the Top 35 in owner points, has now failed to make the starting lineup for two of the first three NASCAR Sprint Cup races. Jon Wood, who is the grandson of legendary Wood Brothers Racing founder Glen Wood and the son of Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood, had been scheduled to take the wheel at Las Vegas, but backed out at the last minute, stating that he “wasn’t ready.” Wood has been scheduled to share driving duties for the season with 1988 champion “Million Dollar” Bill Elliott. Official word was that Elliott had a previous engagement last Sunday, forcing Sauter to take the wheel; he’ll be back in the driver’s seat at Atlanta, and it ultimately may be up to him to turn the fortunes of this legendary team around – especially with Wood unsure of when he’ll make his debut.
Have you ever heard of an up-and-coming young driver opting out of a Cup opportunity like that? Hmph.
2. What A Crazy Idea – Officials from the International Race of Champions (IROC) announced that an auction of all its tools, equipment, racecars and memorabilia would take place March 7th and 8th. The auction is to be held in Tinton Falls, N.J.; during its nearly 30-year run nationally, the series featured 12 equally prepared racecars driven by 12 of the best drivers in the world from various disciplines of auto racing. Unfortunately, the IROC series had been inactive due to lack of corporate sponsorship since the end of their 2006 schedule.
Small wonder, why would anyone think a racing series where all the cars are alike would work, anyways?
3. Speaking of IROC – Mark Martin, who won the most championships in that series (five) added to his Nationwide Series record career win total in the Sam’s Town 300 Saturday by chalking up career win 48. It’s just there was one big difference this time; Martin got to victory lane by taking out the other contenders for the win. While running in third place, Martin bumped former Roush teammate Carl Edwards from behind with five laps to go in the event, causing him to lose control and wreck not only himself, but Martin’s JR Motorsports teammate for the race, Brad Keselowski. Keselowski was challenging for his first Nationwide Series victory; but even with his wreck, it was JRM’s first win in the series since its inception. In victory lane, Martin apologized for his gaffe and Edwards said, “I’d like to be mad at Mark, but he’s a heck of a guy, and I’m sure he just made a mistake.”
See, kids; reputations really do make a difference!
4. Whatever They Are! – Someone needs to come up with a “catchy” name for those Sprint Cup regulars that moonlight in NASCAR’s second-tier racing series that were formerly known as “Bushwhackers.” The moniker obviously is a play on words based on the former-series sponsor’s name, Busch.
What works with Nationwide?
5. Together, Again – After a messy divorce in 1995 between the two American open-wheel racing organizations, IRL and CART, there has been reconciliation. The IRL and the Champ Car Series (successor to CART) have agreed to merge their operations immediately, unifying open-wheel racing into one governing body. The 12-year split saw a steep decline in attendance and TV ratings, with both organizations generally attracting small car counts and both on the verge of, like CART before them, bankruptcy.
Wonder if a stock car split would have worked any better?
6. Play Free Bird! – The appeal hearing for Robby Gordon‘s Daytona 500 parts infraction that cost his one-car race team 100 points and $100,000 will be heard by NASCAR March 5th. Gordon said that if the penalty isn’t mitigated and he is not in contention for the Chase to the Sprint Cup in May, he would attempt to race in the Indianapolis 500 open-wheel classic. From 2002-2004, Gordon had raced the same day in both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, but a change in start times has made the feat logistically improbable in recent years. But says Gordon, “If the fine sticks, I will go to the Indianapolis 500.”
Guess the NASCAR speech that goes “You need us more than we need you,” would probably fall on deaf ears in Gordon’s case.
7. Head First – Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said (possibly tongue in-cheek), “I’m offering $15,000 to any driver who throws their helmet between now and the Samsung 500” (TMS – April 6th). He also set a couple of stipulations for the action, with one in particular certain to earn disfavor from NASCAR. According to Gossage, the helmet must be thrown in anger onto the “field of competition,” with TMS taking ownership of it once it’s thrown.
Of course, Gossage did not disclose how much he would pay for a driver to throw a competitor’s helmet, competitor attached.
8. Ouch! – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Tony Stewart slammed his No. 20 Home Depot Toyota hard into the wall on lap 109 of the UAW-Dodge 400. Stewart was slow exiting his Toyota Camry and walked gingerly, aided by track workers, to a safety truck for transport to the infield care center. Kurt Busch put his Penske Miller Lite Dodge into the wall in similar fashion in the closing laps of the race; in that wreck, Busch also was slow climbing out of his Charger and appeared groggy. Finally, with six laps to go, Jeff Gordon slammed his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet viciously into the inside wall, also walking unsteadily away from his Chevrolet. Luckily, all three drivers escaped serious injury.
But the three dramatic impacts were a reminder to NASCAR fans that head restraints, custom seats, energy-absorbent foam or safe walls aside – stock car racing is still a dangerous sport!
9. Ford Tough – Only seven of the 43 entrants at Las Vegas were driving Ford Fusions. In comparison, Chevrolet and Dodge each had 13 teams in the race representing their brands; even upstart Toyota, notorious for their poor early performances in the NASCAR Cup Series, managed to qualify 10 Camrys into the show. But on race day, the Blue Oval gang, led by Roush Fenway Racing, showed plenty of get up and go. Ford driver Edwards won for the second week in a row and a strong performance was put in by teammate Matt Kenseth, who had a legitimate chance to win until a late-race accident with Jeff Gordon that was not of his making. Roush Fenway drivers Greg Biffle finished third and David Ragan sixth; Ford also got a top-10 run out of Yates Racing’s Travis Kvapil, who finished eighth.
Sometimes it’s quality, not quantity that counts.
10. There’s A First Time For Everything – The second Sprint Cup win in two weeks for Edwards at Vegas wasn’t without its moments. During Edwards’s last pit stop, it appeared that the No. 99 Office Depot over-the-wall crew had made a second costly mistake when a wheel from his pit stall wondered out into pit road. However, replays showed that the crew was unable to retrieve the wheel due to interference from camera crews in the pit area. NASCAR ruled that the infraction was through no fault of the No. 99 team, and the decision allowed the Missouri native to restart in the third on lap 219, putting him in position for the win. As a result, Edwards left Sin City leading the driver points standings with a 21-point lead over previous leader Kyle Busch.
Tell the truth, who knew that Edwards had never led in the NASCAR Cup Series standings?