1. No Popularity Contest – Joe Gibbs Racing “hot shoe” Kyle Busch, winner of Saturday night’s Dodge Challenger 500, won honors as the First Quarter Driver of the Year for 2008. The voting panel, made up of individuals knowledgeable in the numerous disciplines of U.S. motor racing, picked the 23-year old Las Vegas, Nev. native for his winning performances in not just his Sprint Cup gig, but his impressive results in NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series and Nationwide Series as well. Busch trounced his nearest rivals, totaling 142 points to runner-up and fellow NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, who garnered 72 points. IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, the first female in history to score a win in that series, placed third with 51 points. The voting period ended after the Talladega race and well before Busch was involved in a controversial late-race accident while battling fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Richmond. Busch went on to finish second to Clint Bowyer while Earnhardt Jr., though also finishing in the top 10, lost any chance he may have had to end a two-year winless streak due to what many believed to be overly aggressive driving on the part of Busch.
Earnhardt Nation will not be allowed to cast votes in the Second Quarter Driver of the Year for 2008 balloting, either!
2. Everything’s Cool – Neither Denny Hamlin nor Michael Waltrip received further discipline for their transgressions at Richmond during the Crown Royal Presents the Dan Lowry 400. Hamlin appeared to have intentionally stopped on the track to bring out the caution, a no-no that cost Earnhardt Jr. 25 points in 2004, when he intentionally spun his racecar to get a yellow flag. Waltrip intentionally drilled Casey Mears in the rear and stayed on the gas long enough to push Mears’s Chevy from the top of the track into the grass infield in retaliation to being accidentally slammed into the outside retaining wall by Mears. Waltrip was parked for the remainder of the race and Hamlin was given a two-lap penalty at the time of the infraction.
Is this part of NASCAR’s new “get back to our roots” policy… or are they just taking Mondays and Tuesdays off now?
3. No Repeats – The legendary Wood Brothers Racing Ford Fusion went retro for Darlington, with a paint scheme that harked back to the days of tremendous success for the now struggling Sprint Cup team. The No. 21 Ford Fusion driven by Bill Elliott was painted candy-apple red and white with the recognizable gold lettering that they campaigned with great success during 1971 while running Mercurys. Elliott placed 30th Saturday night, four laps off the pace.
The car looked great, but hardly had the results that the “Silver Fox” David Pearson enjoyed while chauffeuring the No. 21. Pearson who leads all drivers with 10 wins at the track “Too Tough to Tame” scored five of those wins, as well as eight poles with the old-school look.
4. Bow Ties or ‘Yotas? – Chevrolet has announced that its racing division has completed development of a new purpose-built 2.7 liter four-cylinder race engine that conforms to specifications to compete in the USAC Midget Series. The new engines will debut in Tony Stewart Racing Midgets driven by Tracy Hines and Levy Jones. Said team owner Tony Stewart, who is under contract to Joe Gibbs Racing, a team that switched from Chevy to Toyota this season, “The Chevy Racing and marketing staffs have really embraced the TSR racing programs, and the debut of this new engine is the start another new chapter in our relationship.”
Gee… any guesses as to what the next chapter might be?
5. Sidewinder – Four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon is pleading with the sanctioning body to take a closer look at the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford driven by Edwards. Gordon believes that a rear housing adjustment that has the car appear to go down the straightaway sideways gives him a competitive advantage in the turns. NASCAR officials aren’t buying it. Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby insists that the car is within allowable tolerances and noted that Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teams were among the first to experiment with the rear housing adjustments.
OK, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line… but it’s not necessarily the fastest?
6. Who’s Counting This? – Kevin Harvick and his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team extended their current streak of consecutive races without a DNF (Did Not Finish) to 55 races at Darlington even though Harvick pretty well wadded up his Chevy early in the event. 14 crewman went to work replacing front-end parts, most of the right-side sheetmetal and the rear spoiler, to name just a few of the repairs required to get Harvick back on the track some 80 laps later. Several more visits were made to pit road to get the car to maintain the minimum required speed. The modern-era record for consecutive races without recording a DNF is 58… also held by Harvick and his Pennzoil team.
Ahhh… come on! Harvick finished 102 laps down and in 39th place.
7. Good Job, Guys – How well did Darlington’s new $7 million resurfacing job go? A new track record in qualifying was set by Greg Biffle at 179.442 mph, besting the old record, posted by Ward Burton 12 years ago, by 5.645 mph! The famed “Darlington stripe” was not lost!!
And… two-tire pit stops at Darlington!!?
8. Redheaded Stepchild? – New track record holder Biffle was pretty tough on his Roush Fenway No. 16 Ford team when, after leading much of the early going of the Dodge Challenger 500, his engine expired, relegating him to a last-place finish. Said Biffle, still unsigned after this season, “Typical of our equipment, I guess. Lost wheels… then we blow up.” The disgruntled driver then concluded, “All I want is equipment that holds together.”
The Biff’s three Roush Fenway teammates weren’t complaining about the equipment, though. Edwards, who already has three wins this season, finished second. David Ragan continued his much-improved string of finishes with a fifth-place run and Matt Kenseth came home in sixth place.
9. Even Steven – Before the start of the Dodge Challenger 500, Darlington track officials announced that the event was a sellout for the fourth consecutive time since having their remaining race date moved to Mother’s Day weekend. The track had hosted the Southern 500 on Labor Day for more than four decades and was stripped of that event in favor of the California’s Auto Club Speedway, due in part to lackluster ticket sales. At the time of the schedule change, many believed that the race date would be a difficult one to sell and might be the beginning of the end for the “Lady in Black.” The Fontana, Calif. racetrack has yet to come close to selling out either of their two Sprint Cup race dates per year.
Is it possible that Darlington Raceway would be willing to “sacrifice” their only race date of the season, swapping Mother’s Day weekend for that sorry ‘ol Labor Day date? You bet. In a heartbeat!
10. They Are So Cute When They Are Babies – Busch became the youngest winner in the 58-year history of Darlington Raceway on Saturday night. The driver has now won a race in either one of NASCAR’s three top divisions or in a late model for six consecutive weeks. However, not quite a fan favorite, he was loudly booed and jeered as spectators showed their personal dislike for him during driver introductions… even with his mother by his side.
Or were they booing Mom for her role in bringing the extremely unpopular driver into the racing world?