1. Longtime Gone – The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has become a favorite of many race fans due to its highly competitive fields and close championship battles. The racing that the series provides has been likened to “old-school” and has steadily increased in popularity. However, there has been no race scheduled since the series visited Martinsville March 29th, over two weeks ago. The wait won’t end anytime soon, either; the series will take to the track next in two weeks, on April 26th at Kansas Speedway.
2. No One Trick Pony – Robby Gordon is continuing his quest to be dubbed “the busiest man in racing,” as the one team owner/driver of the No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports Dodge left immediately following the Subway Fit Fresh 500(K) at Phoenix to rendezvous with his Team Dakar USA team in Paris, France. Gordon is expected to compete in the Central Europe Rally, organized as a replacement to the Dakar Rally that was canceled at the last moment in response to terrorist threats in January. Gordon and his team will drive his race Hummer H3 and support vehicles to Budapest, Hungary, where the 1,846-mile rally will begin. The seven-day event is scheduled to conclude April 26th, and Gordon is slated to fly from that to race April 27th at Talladega. PJ Jones is scheduled to practice and qualify for Gordon in Alabama; and should the world traveler be delayed returning from the rally, it is expected that Jones will sub for Gordon on race day as well.
You would think that being an owner/driver in NASCAR would be enough to keep a guy busy!
3. For Starters – With just six full seasons under his belt in the NASCAR Cup Series, Ryan “Rocket Man” Newman chalked up his 43rd Bud Pole Award, moving him into a five-way tie for 10th place on the all-time career list at Phoenix Thursday. The Indiana native, who finished 43rd after his engine expired 134 laps into the 312-lap event Saturday night, is now tied with NASCAR greats Junior Johnson, Terry Labonte, Lee Petty and Rusty Wallace – all retired drivers – for the honors. Newman has also won a total of 13 times in his Cup career; but interestingly enough, only three times in those 43 attempts have those wins come from the pole.
Newman is an advocate of NASCAR awarding points for qualifying; and now, you know exactly why!
4. What’s The Scoop? – Speaking of Newman, this year’s Daytona 500 winner failed post-race inspection last week at Texas when his No. 12 Alltel Dodge was found to be too high in the right rear. As a result of the rules infraction, Newman and car owner Roger Penske have each been penalized: 25 championship driver points for Newman and 25 championship owner points for Penske. Crew chief Roy McCauley has also been fined $25,000, along with being placed on NASCAR probation until the end of the year. The penalty dropped Newman, who finished fourth at Texas, from eighth to 10th in driver points going into Phoenix. However, most assumed that the punishment would, in keeping with recent past penalties, be much harsher, resulting in a fine of $100,000 and 100 championship driver and owner points, respectfully. Additionally, in recent decisions crew chiefs have been suspended as well. However, NASCAR offered no guidance in its announcement last Tuesday as to why the Penske Racing team received lesser discipline.
Wouldn’t an explanation be nice?
5. Not Burning Any Bridges – Jeff Gordon was sporting Nicorette on the hood of his Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 as his primary sponsor Sunday, and discussed what may look like a contradiction for the four-time Winston Cup champion to be promoting a smoking cessation product now. Winston, a popular cigarette brand, was the series sponsor for 32 years. Gordon said, “You can’t take away from the past or criticize that something was a bad thing. It was a different era, a different time in our sport. A lot of things changed: For years, cigarettes were handed out in the garage and to fans.”
You can’t criticize cigarettes as a bad thing! Really, Jeff?
6. You Have Got To Be Kidding! – NASCAR officials are again finding themselves defending their drug-screening policy as suspended Craftsman Truck Series and Nationwide Series driver Aaron Fike admitted in an ESPN the Magazine interview that he had been addicted to pain killers for six years prior to his arrest last summer for heroin, a drug he had been using for approximately eight months before the arrest. But more stunning was Fike’s admission that he also used heroin on race day! The 25-year-old has now returned to the USAC Midget series, where he is required to submit to drug testing prior to each race. Fike expressed the hope that his candor would force NASCAR officials to rethink their present drug-testing policies. Well, think again. NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter responded to questions concerning testing by saying, “No system is perfect. Our current policy has served us extremely well.”
Mr. Hunter, one of your drivers said he shot heroin before races! How well is the current policy serving NASCAR?
7. Talk The Talk – Walk The Walk – Richard Childress Racing driver Kevin Harvick, along with other drivers including Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson are speaking out as to what they believe is a deficiency in the sanctioning body’s drug policy, and have pointed out that they have never been drug tested by NASCAR. “I had a long talk with NASCAR about this last year,” Harvick said. “It almost seems like it fell on deaf ears. They were more mad that I had a reaction to the situation than they were about trying to move forward. They heard what I said, but my name’s not Jeff Gordon. I’m disappointed that we have to react and answer all these questions again.” “Happy” Harvick added, “As someone who respects the sport and respects my sponsors, I’m upset that I have to answer questions about Fike. It really ticks me off, because every driver in this garage should be taking random drug tests.”
Fike drove for Harvick’s Kevin Harvick Inc. Nationwide team for three races in 2006, well after he claims to have begun an addiction to painkillers, but was not drug tested at KHI; as there was not, nor is there now a random or mandatory drug screening policy in place. Apparently, Harvick does not believe that it is the owners’ responsibility to drug test their employees.
8. What, No Boogity, Boogity? – FOX broke away from their pre-race programming to cover the rain-delayed end of the Major League Baseball game between historic rivals the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The network returned to the start of the race approximately 10 seconds after the green flag dropped.
Former crew chief and FOX broadcast analyst Larry McReynolds was the honorary starter for the race, and trackside observers offer the following description of the start missed by the TV viewing audience: “Larry waved the green flag in an up and down and side-to-side motion to start the race as the leaders exited turn 4, and were on the straightaway headed for the start/finish line.” The flag-waving was reported to be similar in appearance to how all green flags are waved to start NASCAR races.
9. The Heartbreak Kid – Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver Mark Martin may have had enough fuel to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500(K), and certainly added a touch of irony to the night race when he blew by the former driver of Martin’s No. 8 DEI entry Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead with 41 laps remaining. Said Martin, “We just about pulled this one off tonight. We changed our strategy at the end. There were a lot of laps [while leading] that I didn’t have the throttle wide open because the car was so good. But I want our guys to keep their heads up because we can win some of these races.”
Is this maturity or leadership? The answer is, a good bit of both.
10. Slow Down! – Johnson, after giving HMS and its potent stable of drivers its first win of the season in Phoenix, spoke about the gamble to stay out and not pit for fuel after the other top-five drivers decided to do so. Crew chief Chad Knaus repeatedly coached and instructed Johnson to slow down and save fuel in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, assuring his driver that he had a large enough lead on his refueled competitors to do so. “Chad didn’t stop talking on those last three laps,” Johnson said. “That was good, because my instinct was to step on the gas pedal. When he says things, it may take me a split second, but I believe him every time.”
The win improved Johnson’s position in the championship point standings by two positions to fourth.
If those two keep working on that chemistry thing, they might end up winning a championship, or three!