NASCAR Race Weekend Central

10 Points to Ponder… After the 2008 Pocono 500 at Pocono

1. What Program? – NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Program has now entered its ninth year of existence as of this weekend. There are 13 Sprint Cup teams, eight Nationwide teams and four Craftsman Truck organizations participating in the program. But after nine years only one ethnic minority driver – Aric Almirola – has graduated to NASCAR’s top series through the program, and even then only on a part-time basis. No women or African-Americans have participated in the Sprint Cup series full-time… and none are expected to anytime in the future.

Looks like NASCAR’s best diversity plan is to hope for more open-wheel defections.

2. Getting Down And Dirty For The KidsTony Stewarts Fourth Annual Prelude to the Dream was won by, well… Tony Stewart. 23,000-plus fans were packed into Eldora Speedway (with official seating for only approx. 18,000) last Wednesday evening to see some of NASCAR’s best wrestle dirt late model stock cars on the high-banked ½-mile oval. The BIG winner, however, is the Victory Junction Gang Camp: Kyle Petty was presented a $1 million donation representing proceeds from the All-Star charity race, which was televised live by HBO Pay-Per-View. The sizable donation will now go towards the construction of a second Victory Junction Gang Camp in the Kansas City area. Built solely for the enjoyment of children with life-threatening illnesses, the charity organization will now be better accessible to children living in the middle and western states.

What many may not have caught is the pay-per-view proceeds – which have not yet been tallied – were also to go to the Victory Junction Gang Camp 2. However, Stewart made the $1 million donation in victory lane regardless of whether those proceeds met the $1 million goal. That is really, really cool!

3. Add That To The Résumé – Owner/driver Robby Gordon finished 36th in his Robby Gordon Motorsports No. 7 Dodge without primary sponsorship this weekend at Pocono. Gordon, who continues to defy all odds by maintaining his Top-35 ranking in owner points, also won his qualifying heat race and finished second in his first appearance in a dirt car at the Prelude to the Dream. “I told him for years I thought he would be great in a dirt car,” said Stewart, host and winner of the event by 1.502 seconds over Gordon. “I think he’s one of the most naturally talented drivers that races every week in the Sprint Cup Series. I’m proud of it [Gordon’s performance] because it makes me look like a genius.”

Gordon, whose Sprint Cup car sported a paint scheme dubbed “Back In Black,” void of any sponsorship logos on its hood, certainly could use the words of praise from a driver of Stewart’s, a two-time Sprint Cup champion’s caliber and reputation. After all, isn’t that what sponsors are supposed to be looking for… the most talented drivers they can find?

4. Junior Wins Again! – For the second time this season, JR Motorsports – founded by NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and now co-owned by Junior’s Cup boss Rick Hendrick – has visited victory lane. Saturday at Nashville, Brad Keselowski – driving for JRM in the Nationwide Series Federated Auto Parts 300 – bested the field to earn his first career victory. In fact, Keselowski – driving the No. 88 Navy Chevrolet – is sitting fifth in driver championship points behind Sprint Cup regulars Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. Mark Martin scored JRM’s first Nationwide Series victory ever at Las Vegas in March.

Remember when Junior attempted to negotiate for control of DEI and no one really knew whether he could even be a successful team owner or not?

5. Just Say You’re SorryTony Raines and the sponsor-challenged No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team withdrew from qualifying for the Pocono 500, just seven days after Raines put the Chevrolet into the field at Dover for his first appearance of the 2008 season. Pre-qualifying inspection apparently doomed the car, as the team had problems meeting specifications with its nose. JJ Yeley, who replaced Raines this season in the No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota, also failed to qualify for Sunday’s race – but with far more money and equipment at his disposal. Yeley moved from the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 to the Hall of Fame Racing No. 96 to make room for Busch – a satellite operation to JGR – at the beginning of the season. The car started the season in solid shape due to the performance last season of Raines, but has since plummeted out of the Top 35 due to Yeley’s inconsistent performances.

Seems like a “do over” for Raines would be in order!

6. Frequent Flyer Miles – Current Sprint Cup points leader Busch completed a first for NASCAR: he competed in the sanctioning body’s three top series at three different tracks in three different states on concurrent days. Here’s the schedule:

Friday
Noon: Sprint Cup Practice at Pocono Raceway (Long Pond, Pa.)
3:40 p.m.: Final Sprint Cup qualifying
6:00 p.m.: Fly to Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, Texas)
9:00 p.m.: Compete in Craftsman Truck Series race (finished second)
Midnight: Fly to Pocono

Saturday
10:00 a.m.: Cup practice
11:20 a.m.: Final Cup practice
12:30 p.m.: Fly to Nashville, Tenn.
7:30 p.m.: Compete in Nationwide Series race at Nashville Superspeedway (finished 20th)
11:00 p.m.: Fly to Pocono

Sunday
Compete in the Pocono 500 (finished 43rd)

That’s a very exhausting schedule… just to type!

7. But What Was The Point? – Busch did complete the triple-duty, tri-state weekend of racing – but without a win. At Friday’s Sam’s Town 400, he finished second after Ron Hornaday ran away from him on a late-race restart – but that wasn’t enough for Busch, who said his truck “…wasn’t for me.”

“We’re lucky we made it home in second,” said the frustrated driver after exiting his truck that night. At Nashville in the Nationwide Series event the following day, the 22-year-old was involved in a lap 88 incident with 18-year-old rising star Joey Logano, damaging his car and finishing three laps down in 20th. And at the Pocono 500, Busch drove across the bow of Jamie McMurray, necessitating extensive behind-the-wall repairs and a 43rd, last-place finish.

Really… what was the point?

8. Remember When? – Last season after the first 14 races, a Hendrick Motorsports driver had already visited victory lane 11 times. But this season only one, Jimmie Johnson, has bested the field (Phoenix). That’s in sharp contrast to 2007, when the whole Hendrick stable had a win under their belts by this time… Busch, Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Casey Mears.

That’s probably a good thing for NASCAR… but Earnhardt Jr. fans must wonder why the team couldn’t have kept up their dominant performances just a little while longer.

9. Let’s See Some ID… Young Man! – Did viewers catch the obvious pumping of Kasey Kahne’s primary sponsor in victory lane at the conclusion of the Pocono 500? After climbing out of his winning No. 9 Gillett Evernham Budweiser Dodge, the exceptionally youthful looking 28-year-old made a point of chugging on a Bud again and again, after properly aligning the can’s label for the camera after completing his post-race interview.

What is Budweiser’s target audience now… high school juniors?

10. New Kid In Town – Since fans voted Kahne into the All-Star Race, he has not only won the $1 million exhibition event, but the Coca-Cola 600 the following week – and now, the Pocono 500. Three wins in four events; that’s not bad… not bad at all.

Now, the question is simply how long will it take for Kahne to move Busch off his perch as the biggest driver story in NASCAR if he continues at his blistering pace?

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