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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

10 Points To Ponder… After the 2008 Food City 500 at Bristol

1) Can’t Get Much Simpler – Last Friday’s rainout of qualifying for the Food City 500 required NASCAR to fall back to its rulebook for determining the lineup. It’s one of the more complex plans ever created, so let’s see if we can work through it together…

OK, let’s begin. The first rule’s easy; the Top-35 teams in owner points for 2007 are placed on the starting grid 1-35. Then, out of the remaining eight positions, past winners of the race will be selected first, putting Kurt Busch (Sam Hornish Jr. was given his 2007 points) in the 36th starting spot for his previous Bristol dominance. Next in the pecking order are past champions of the series; thus, Dale Jarrett, in his final points race before retiring, started 37th.

That leaves six starting spots left; those remaining spots were required by rule to be awarded to teams that have attempted to race in the most events for 2008, to date. However, there were nine teams that have attempted to compete in all four events this season, resulting in 2008 owner points to be used as the tiebreaker. Thus, Brian Vickers (team is ninth in ’08 owner points), David Reutimann (27th), Michael Waltrip (33rd), Ken Schrader (41st), Joe Nemechek (42nd) and Mike Skinner (43rd) were race eligible. Jeff Green, John Andretti and Patrick Carpentier (driving for teams 44th-46th in owner points) were sent home.

Throw a couple more past race winners and past champions into the mix and it can really, really get goofy!

2) Redhead Needed! – Seems Bill Elliott and the famed Wood Brothers Racing Team picked the wrong week to not have the 1988 NASCAR Cup champion in their car. In the week leading up to Bristol, the owners of the legendary No. 21 Ford asked “Million Dollar” Bill to take the week off, adjusting his limited schedule to run at Martinsville the end of the month instead. For awhile, that plan looked good, as former Bristol polewinner Green posted the ninth fastest time during abbreviated practices, but then, the rains came. Had Elliott been in the seat, he would have had a guaranteed start due to his past champion’s provisional; but instead, the team missed the starting lineup a fourth time in five races, virtually assuring they will not crack the Top 35 in owner points anytime soon.

Hmm. What Wood Brothers Racing needs is an “Owners-with-at-least-50-years-of-participation-in-NASCAR-Provisional!” Yeah, that would solve the problem…

3) OK, this is just getting silly now! – Rumors in the garage have Busch’s No. 2 Penske Dodge transferring its points to the No. 77 Penske stablemate driven by Hornish. No, this isn’t old news… I mean again! The No. 2 car’s owner points were indeed transferred to Hornish’s ride at the start of the season, but after Bristol, Hornish finds himself in the 35th and final protected spot, and may need the points help should he fall any lower. Meanwhile, Busch has raced his car safely into 10th in owner points, still with some past champion’s provisionals to use if needed…

However, there is no way that NASCAR would, could… well, probably wouldn’t, ahhh heck, who knows?!?!

4) Think Before You Talk!Tony Stewart continued his tirade during the week heading into Bristol against the Goodyear Tire and Rubber company, criticism that he initiated immediately after his second-place finish at Atlanta. Stewart maintained that the tire manufacturer was not providing acceptable tires on race day, and continued to claim Goodyear had a history in other racing series of failing. Tony “The Tiger” didn’t hold back, making it clear he had no interest in hearing what Goodyear had to say at the time. So, during the rain delay in qualifying, Tony met with Goodyear officials to hear their side of the story, and issued at least a partial apology for his comments through his public relations firm. The two-time NASCAR Cup champion said, “What I overlooked when I made those comments was that they affected people who had nothing to do with the racing program,” Stewart said in a statement. “I want to apologize to the people who work in the factories and the union workers at Goodyear. We realize that they’re working hard just like everybody else, and we realize that Goodyear as a whole works hard, too.”

Wait… Stewart uses a public relations firm?

5) Calling Norma Rae – Spurred by the support Stewart received from fellow drivers for his outspoken campaign against what he considered a safety issue involving Goodyear tires, some journalists have suggested that maybe the time is right for the drivers to organize and form a union, citing the fact that other major sports’ athletes are unionized.

Might be a good idea, but, the NHL had their 2004-05 season canceled due to labor strife. A 1994 Major League Baseball strike resulted in the cancellation of the World Series. And who can forget the 1987 NFL strike that came with, Replacement Players?

The moral of the story is simple: Unions aren’t automatic tickets to unity, especially for a sport that’s really never had much of one in the first place.

6) Silence Is Golden? – Colorful FOX analyst and former Cup champion Darrell Waltrip was taken down by laryngitis Sunday. Hoarse throughout, Waltrip steadily lost his voice as the race broadcast progressed, speaking very little. Of particular loss due to Waltrip’s condition was his traditional energetic race-starting chant, “BOOGITY, BOOGITY, BOOGITY, LET’S GO RACING!”

Now, had the FOX team been fast on their feet, they could have run down and snagged Ned Jarrett to sub for the day. The two-time NASCAR Cup champion threw the green flag to start the Food City 500 in honor of his son Dale’s last points race, and probably could have warmed up to the microphone again in no time.

7) No Return On The Dollar – Things kind of started off slow and seem to be fizzling out completely in the much talked about move of Jamie McMurray to Roush Fenway Racing to start the 2006 Cup season. Though Ganassi at first balked at letting McMurray, the 2003 NASCAR Rookie of the Year, out of his contract to drive the No. 42, he eventually allowed the 31-year-old Joplin, Mo. native to move over early to the Roush Fenway camp in order to fill a void left when Busch bolted for Penske Racing. McMurray’s contract with his new team was rumored at the time to be the richest in NASCAR at a reported $20 million, plus bonuses. But with McMurray’s 43rd-place finish at Bristol, his No. 26 Ford has slipped out of the Top 35 in owner points, and he now must join the “go-or-go-homer” group at the bottom of the standings that must qualify for the precious few remaining starting spots at Martinsville, Va.

Is it the man or the machine?

8) Who Should Get Waxed? – Stewart, while in second place in the closing laps of the Food City 500, wrecked when it appeared that the No. 29 of Kevin Harvick drove a tad too “hot” underneath Stewart’s No. 20 Home Depot Toyota and drifted up the track into him, relegating Stewart to 14th in the final race results. Monday night, Stewart is to have his back waxed at an undisclosed location while Harvick fills in for him on his Sirius Satellite radio show. It is all in good fun and will benefit the Victory Junction Gang to the tune of at least $100,000 raised by Harvick and his fans. Stewart has also offered to match the $100,000 if Harvick allows Stewart to shave his head.

But after the two tangled on Sunday, there is no telling what Stewart would prefer to do to Harvick besides just giving him a haircut. As Clint Bowyer said after the race: “Monday is going to be exciting at Harvick’s house, with whatever he and Stewart have goin’ on over there. I might just have to go check it out and bring some boxing gloves for them.”

9) A One – A Two – And A Three! – Good win for Jeff Burton, who seemed to be in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the mishap between Harvick and Stewart. Pushing ahead of them both, Burton benefited a second time on the final restart when then leader Denny Hamlin‘s inability to get up to speed allowed him to pass on the outside and hold on to finish first. The win moved Burton into fourth in the driver standings; and in a rare 1-2-3 position sweep for an owner, Richard Childress Racing teammates Bowyer and Harvick followed Burton to the finish. The win also was the first for Chevrolet in 2008.

It was just a year ago that Burton followed current NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Kyle Busch to the checkered flag in a green/white/checkered restart. Many admired the fact that Burton, though capable of catching the younger Busch, would not employ his front bumper to pass the young and aggressive driver. See, nice guys do win!

10) NASCAR’s Loss – It would have been great to see a strong run by 51-year-old Jarrett in his last NASCAR Sprint Cup start before retiring; but it wasn’t to be, as Jarrett battled an ill-handling car (he finished 37th). However, the run certainly takes nothing away from his great NASCAR Cup racing career. Jarrett will be remembered as a top-notch wheelman and a gentleman, truly a credit to the sport of auto racing. The man retires with 668 starts, 16 poles, 32 wins, 163 top fives and 260 top 10s over two decades of competition.

And, the 1999 Winston Cup championship! Thanks for the memories, Dale.