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Fanning the Flames: Petty, Childress, Earnhardt Shaking Things Up

If you’re like me, you don’t spend the majority of April Fools’ Day looking over your shoulder anymore. Yeah, I used to be one of those guys that took full-on advantage of the one day of the year where I could turn a co-worker’s office around backward or slip the occasional Whoopee Cushion in there… and people actually appreciated the effort. Or, at the very least, let it slide without too much fuss.

Not anymore, though. And it sucks.

No, these days I’m too busy, like the rest of us, I assume, just trying to keep my head above water. The “To-Do” list is 15 items long most mornings, and I got to hit the ground running.

That’s why my paranoia level jumped a few notches while making my daily perusal of NASCAR PR reports on Tuesday. Tuesday, April 1st, that is; April Fool’s Day.

General Mills is already making it official that it’s headed to RCR’s fourth team in 2009? (You know who’s bound to follow, then). Petty Enterprises’ release is backing it up, saying, “sponsorship of the famed No. 43 Dodge will become available for only the second time since ‘The King,’ Richard Petty partnered with STP in 1972.” Petty didn’t stop there, though. It appears Chad McCumbee, of 3 fame and Petty Enterprises’ prized, and only, development driver, will be stepping in for Kyle Petty at Texas.

And of course, the most jarring: Yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will in fact run a throwback Mountain Dew paint scheme at Darlington in May. Now of all the PR reports, this one is actually the one I’m seriously hoping would not be the joke. Yeah, I’d seen the diecast photos on Jayski and all, but having the Mountain Dew scheme back, and at Darlington! Look, I’ve never been a card-carrying member of Junior Nation, but I must say, “God bless you, Dale. That paint scheme is right for you and the track on so many levels.”

To my amazement, none of these reports turned out to be pranks sprung in good fun. Coincidence? Perhaps. Or maybe the powers that be got their April Fools’ gags in by sitting on all this info (or releasing it early) knowing a guy like me would spend part of his morning wondering whether or not it was all just one big joke.

Alright, let’s get to the real reason we’re here.

We’ll start with an email I received on Tuesday, just as another PR release was alerting us to developments within the BAM Racing camp,

Q: I’m a lifer Ken Schrader fan, and I read today that BAM Racing will skip the Texas race. I’ve followed Schrader from his days in USAC, and I hate to see him and his team have to sit out and give up owner points. Why doesn’t BAM align itself with a big team like others do? The determination is admirable, but at this point it is in danger of killing the team. – Terry G.

A: Imagine the horror the day after Terry sent this question when another release stated that the team would also skip the Phoenix event.

BAM Racing is in a tough spot as a single-car outfit. That. we all know. Truly aligning itself with GEM, as opposed to the engine lease program, would have done it a world of good, as Schrader can still pilot able equipment… but he’s just not getting what he needs.

However, BAM’s switch to Toyota and “collaboration” with Bill Davis Racing proves Beth Ann Morgenthau remains a player in the game. The question is, should BDR really be the company with whom you want to cast your lot? Yes, the TRD engines are making horsepower, but BAM’s problems run deeper than engines.

I’m all about rooting on the underdog… I nailed the Western Kentucky to the Sweet 16 pick and was thrilled to see BAM land the Microsoft sponsorship… and hope Ms. Morgenthau sticks it out. And as for Schrader, he’s the biggest asset the organization has. No rookie qualifies that car into three races so far; and if you doubt that, just ask Brent Sherman.

Q: Hey Matt. My friends and I were discussing, as we are in short-track season, what driver you would not want behind you for fear of being spun (or at the very least roughed up) with three laps to go. Current drivers only. Our cumulative decision, after a lot of discussion at the local hole: 1. Robby Gordon 2. Tony Stewart 3. Kyle Busch.

Your three? – PhillyFan

A: Nice. Hard to argue with the trio you and the boys threw together, but I’ll agree with Robby at No. 1, take Jeff Gordon at two and, wow, there are about four others I could slide in here, I’ll go with Stewart at three. Not because I necessarily think Tony would spin me, but because he’d be in my head.

Q: As a longtime NASCAR fan I am very concerned about all the empty seats at Martinsville. We have three short tracks left now that North Wilkesboro, Rockingham and Nashville Fairgrounds (yes, I date back that far) are gone. I still try to attend a race every year, but it is hard sometimes. I am worried that the good people of Martinsville and NASCAR fans in general are leaving the door open for ISC to strip a date away and give it to whatever 1.5-mile track they think needs it. Without the fans, the track will lose one or possibly both dates. We can’t lose any more short tracks!! – James Connell

A: James, I agree wholeheartedly that the circuit cannot lose another short-track date. These venues provide fans a major-league experience on a small-scale palette. Think about it. The Braves don’t play ball at the local American Legion diamond, and the Celtics do not visit the high school gymnasium down the street. While the three short tracks on the schedule are anything but “small-time” venues, they give fans a feel of what stock car racing is at its core. There is an essence when you’re at Bristol that this is the closest link our sport has to the 3/8th-mile ovals of our childhood… well, mine anyway. We can’t lose that.

I don’t think we will anytime soon, either. But I’ll say this about Martinsville: More than its short-track brethren, it is the closest thing to a sub-touring series level track. The management team need to step it up as much as the fans do. Richmond is steeped in history, but has still managed to evolve into a state-of-the-art facility. There is no excuse Martinsville can’t do the same.

Enjoy the weekend at Texas. For those that still care, I’m seventh in the NCAA pool; looks like I’m going to fall just shy. The East Region was my downfall…

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