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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

10 Points to Ponder… After the 2008 Samsung 500 at Texas

1. “Turn Left In 500 Ft.” – Garmin, makers of the popular portable GPS systems, will sponsor Gillett Evernham Motorsports’ No. 19 and driver Elliott Sadler for two races this season. Garmin’s branding will be on the hood of Sadler’s Dodge at Talladega April 27th, as well as Kansas on September 28th. The nifty devices have gained popularity at a rapid rate and prove handy when you need the best direction to a destination; they will talk you through your trip, start to finish.

These also might be what Sadler – winless since California in September of 2004 – will need to find victory lane these days!

2. Cheerio! – General Mills has signed on as a primary sponsor for a fourth team to be fielded by Richard Childress Racing in 2009. The food conglomerate will transfer their support, after nine years, from the famed Petty Enterprises No. 43 to the new RCR No. 33 team at season’s end. For the time being, at least, PE does not have a sponsor commitment to replace them on the No. 43, the team that took stock car icon Richard Petty to 200 wins and seven NASCAR Cup championships. To compound the organization’s problems, 2000 Cup champion Bobby Labonte is heavily rumored to be leaving PE, possibly for RCR next season. With Labonte behind the wheel, the No. 43 Dodge has shown steady improvement, and is sitting 21st in points after Texas.

Although the Pettys have to find a driver, is there any reason – if a sponsor cannot be found – that the No. 43 cannot be funded with tax dollars by the National Historical Society as the national treasure that it is?

3. Qualifying Should Matter?David Reutimann, driver of the No. 44 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, was questioned before qualifying Friday for the Samsung 500 on his options should he not be successful qualifying into the field. Reutimann inherited the UPS ride following Dale Jarrett‘s retirement, and lost his Top-35 protection that he had earned piloting the No. 00 MWR entry prior to the team transfer two weeks ago. MWR developmental driver Michael McDowell was brought in to fill the void created by the driver switch, and was given the No. 00 ride and its valuable owner points. But Reutimann said that he would not expect the MWR brass to put him in the No. 00 should he fail to qualify the No. 44 into the race day lineup on speed and that, “The No. 00 is the car that Michael McDowell drives, and as far as I know, if I don’t get in, I’ll be watching. I wouldn’t want to do that. My job is to get the No. 44 car in. If I can’t get that car in, then I don’t need to be in the race.”

That’s the kind of talk that could get a driver run out of NASCAR. Believing it’s a driver’s job to qualify for a race? Now, that’s just nuts!

4. Safety – Job 1! – During qualifying runs for Sunday’s race, the aforementioned McDowell entered turn 1 to start his second qualifying lap when he lost control of his MWR No. 00 Toyota and crashed in what veteran driver Jeff Burton, critical of McDowell in his Cup debut last week, described as “…the hardest wreck I’ve ever seen in my life… in qualifying.” The 23-year-old rookie hit the outside SAFER barrier retaining wall at a frightening near-head-on angle that was eerily similar to impacts that have been fatal to other drivers in past years, and then proceeded to barrel roll no less than eight times down the track, kangaroo-hopping hard on his rooftop at least twice and on fire. McDowell immediately exited his mangled racecar and walked under his own power to the trackside emergency vehicle for transportation to the infield care center. Upon completion of his obligatory medical examination, he exited the care center and assured concerned fans and racers. “I’m fine,” said the seemingly unfazed driver before returning to practice and racing throughout the rest of the weekend.

LUMBIS: SPRINT CUP ROOKIE REPORT AFTER TEXAS

NASCAR, when it announced the development project that has resulted in today’s car (formerly known as the Car of Tomorrow) stated the primary objective would be to put a safer racecar under its drivers. Mission accomplished?

5. Two Peas In A Pod – Legendary American racecar driver AJ Foyt, longtime friend of two-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, disagreed with Stewart’s recent very critical and public assessment of Goodyear Tire’s NASCAR performance after Atlanta. The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota suggested that NASCAR ought to switch tiremakers, possibly to Firestone, in the near future. Foyt, who campaigned on Goodyears during much of his driving career, said of the Indy Racing League tire supplier Firestone before the IRL season-opener at Homestead, “We’ve got junk for tires.” As if that criticism wasn’t enough, he added, “I have no love for Firestone, they have no love for me.”

In 2004, Stewart had tentatively planned to run a Foyt-prepared Indy car at the Indianapolis 500, and on the same day, his JGR entry in the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte. However, contractual obligations prohibited Stewart from attempting the feat. Foyt once said of the younger but every bit as fiery-tempered Stewart, “He’s a friend of mine. He stays in trouble and I stay in trouble, so we’re friends.”

6. Big Money! – Yates Racing brought both their teams to Texas without primary sponsorship on either the No. 28 driven by Travis Kvapil or the No. 38 piloted by David Gilliland. Doug Yates, who took over control of the team when his father, famed engine builder Robert, retired at the end of the 2007 race season, simply had a team website displayed on the cars: www.sponsoryates.com.

At an estimated cost of $600,000 to bring one fully functional team to the track, just how long can the respected Ford team – with 57 Cup wins, two Daytona 500 wins, and a NASCAR Cup championship – continue to compete without sponsorship seems awfully questionable.

7. Short-lived Careers – Yesterday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway only had four drivers in the field that have participated in all 15 NASCAR Cup races held at the facility since 1997.

You know, 1997 really wasn’t that long ago!

8. Texas Messes With Gordon – A true NASCAR rarity occurred at yesterday’s running of the Samsung 500, when four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon brought home his Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet in last place. Gordon, who fought a poor-handling racecar from the drop of the green flag, finally slapped the wall on lap 110 of the 334-lap race. Gordon elected to take his Chevy into the garage and change out suspension pieces in an attempt to at least figure out what the problem with the car had been. However, after returning to the track, the car showed no improvement, and he retired it for the day to wind up 43rd. Texas continues to be only one of two tracks where Gordon has yet to win (Homestead being the other). Gordon had not finished dead last in a Sprint Cup event since 1999; and yes, that’s right – that occurred at TMS!

1999! OK, that is a long time between last-place finishes.

BOWLES: JEFF GORDON’S KRYPTONITE SPELLED T-M-S

9. Just Playing With Ya’ll – NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked like the odds-on-favorite to win his first points-paying Cup race for Hendrick Motorsports after setting a blistering Bud Pole Award-winning performance Friday. Junior bested second-place qualifier and eventual race winner Carl Edwards‘s qualifying time by almost 1.5 mph. After that, Earnhardt Jr. stayed competitive for the win through at least a third of the race before he and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. lost the handling edge on the No. 88 Chevrolet.

How much heartbreak can Earnhardt Nation take? But there’s a silver lining; although Junior finished one lap down in 12th position, he improved his standing in driver points by one to fourth, only 69 points behind leader Burton. There is no doubt; a Sprint Cup championship for Junior will mend many a broken heart!

10. Ooops!Ryan Newman‘s No 12 Penske Racing Dodge finished a solid fourth at Texas, but failed post-race inspection. According to NASCAR, the right rear of Newman’s ride was 1/8 of an inch too high. The top-five finish had moved Newman up three positions in the points standings to eighth, giving the No. 12 more breathing room within the top 12. Of course, only the top 12 will be eligible for the Chase to the Sprint Cup championship during the last 10 races of 2008.

No doubt, there will be some anxious days as Newman and the No. 12 team, winners of this year’s Daytona 500, await word from the sanctioning body on what if any fines and/or penalties will be levied against them.

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