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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

10 Points to Ponder… After The 2008 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona

1. The Other Big Three – American automakers GM, Ford and Chrysler have just about reached the panic stage as their financial well-being becomes a critical concern. GM stock has lost approximately 75% of its value over the last year, Ford Motor Company has seen a 50% decline of stock value in the last three months and Chrysler is expected to either file bankruptcy or sell off what profitable segments of the company they can. NASCAR’s Chairman and CEO Brian France, speaking on whether there’ll be continued support from the “Big Three” in the sport considering their financial crunch, summed up the situation by saying, “… we’ll just have to see.”

On the other hand, in 2007 Toyota earned about $16 billion on sales of 9.37 million vehicles, surpassing GM as the No. 1 maker of automobiles. But although they’re expecting a decrease in profits for 2008 due to the economic downturn, the company’s expected to still be very much in the black and continue to expand their world markets.

Brian… time to give Honda and Nissan a call and see what they are up to!

2. Gettin’ Kinda OldMark Martin, who finished 10th at Daytona Saturday night, embarked on the “Salute to You” tour in 2005 with Roush Racing, following an announcement that he no longer wanted to race full-time and would dabble in the Craftsman Truck Series. Later, Martin capitulated only when longtime owner and friend Jack Roush asked him to return full-time in 2006, filling a driver void in his organization that occurred with the departure of 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch.

Immediately following the 2006 season, the Batesville, Ark., native announced that he had signed to drive part-time for now-defunct Ginn Racing, an agreement that was honored by Dale Earnhardt Inc. when they bought out the Ginn organization. In fact, they agreed to keep Martin as a part-time driver through the 2009 season. But on July 4th, absent fireworks, Martin announced that he will drive the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet full-time in 2009… and, oh yeah, part-time in 2010.

Ummm… whatever, Mark!

3. Call The Cops! – Chip Ganassi Racing is rumored to be facing hard financial times, spurred by the announcement that the No. 40 Dodge driven by Dario Franchitti in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series had ceased operations. In part due to the loss of the No. 40 team, the organization has embarked on a plan to reduce its work force by more than 100 employees – over 70 of those have already been released. But the layoffs didn’t just affect the members of the No. 40 crew; in fact, many of the cuts came at the expense of longtime employees that were around well before Ganassi bought into Felix Sabates’s operation in 2002. Many of those personnel were assigned to positions on the No. 41 and No. 42 CGRFS race teams, with employees from the defunct No. 40 car moving over to replace them in the race shop. Apparently, many of the soon-to-be-displaced employees were not too happy with the decision to let them go… and, according to an article in the Florida Times Union, Chip Ganassi Racing called in 12 police offers to maintain order.

Well, well, well… so it’s not just Talladega where people can get unruly.

4. The Family Car – During his post-race interview, third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. repeatedly congratulated Tony Stewart on his win Friday night at Daytona in the Nationwide Series Winn-Dixie 250. It was a nice gesture by NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver… except it was not Stewart who Earnhardt Jr. followed to the checkered flag, but Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin! The mistake is understandable, though, as Stewart has taken the No. 20 Toyota to victory lane five times this season. Hamlin’s win Friday night was just his second in the car for 2008; victories have also been recorded by JGR stablemates Kyle Busch and 18-year-old development driver Joey Logano.

KEITH: NATIONWIDE SERIES BREAKDOWN AFTER DAYTONA

If you add ’em all up, that’s nine wins with four different drivers so far this season. Impressive! But in the future competitors – just to be safe – should consider just congratulating the No. 20’s crew chief, Dave Rogers…

5. See… That’s How It’s Supposed To EndMike Wallace was noticeably irate after being wrecked by his nephew Steve Wallace on the last lap of the Winn-Dixie 250 Friday evening. Mike Wallace, currently eighth in the Nationwide driver points standings piloting the No. 7 GEICO Toyota, had a solid finish in his grasp before being spun by the younger Wallace and hitting the inside wall hard. But not everyone in the family believed Mike’s side of the story …

“Stevie… Way to go cuz! That’s what I’m talking about,” offered Mike Wallace’s popular TV cousin Loren Wallace after the race.

6. Hint?Kyle Petty, who is on “hiatus” from driving the No. 45 Dodge for Petty Enterprises while serving as a race commentator for TNT, was the honorary driver of the Corvette Z08 pace car for the 50th running of this summer classic from Daytona.

Honorary pace car driver… hmm. Don’t retired drivers usually do that kind of stuff?

7. R-E-S-P-E-C-T? – Generally a stout qualifier, Ryan Newman could muster only a 32nd-place starting position for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400. The Penske Racing driver quickly made his way up to 18th before being spun on lap 45 by Jamie McMurray, requiring a pit stop for repairs to fix the damage. Then, after battling back up to the top 10, he was hit by David Gilliland on lap 124 when Gilliland had a tire blow going through turns 3 and 4.

But wait… there’s more. After staying on the lead lap and still pushing his racecar towards the front – despite heavy damage on the right side – Newman was then collected in a lap 136 accident that occurred when Martin Truex Jr. hit Hamlin. Hamlin then collected the No. 12 of Newman as he lost control coming off turn 4, making heavy contact with the Alltel Dodge. It took extensive behind-the-wall repairs to fix the car after that one, but Newman returned to the track to ultimately post a 36th-place finish in the final running order.

Guys, is that any way to treat the defending Daytona 500 winner?

8. Oh, Nurse! – Stewart, who started 17th for Saturday night’s race, felt ill and had taken fluids intravenously before the start of the event for what was considered flu-like symptoms. When those conditions worsened once the green flag flew, he had buddy JJ Yeley relieve him during a lap 72 pit stop. “Before the race, the nurse said she was going to buy us a couple of hours, and we got three hours out of it,” said the two-time Sprint Cup champion of his decision to vacate his seat. “We still had to go out there and try, [but] it wasn’t worth putting those [other drivers] at risk and me making a mistake in front of them and creating a bad day for those guys.”

Good decision, Smoke!

9. Ohhh… Brother – Coke Zero 400 runner-up Carl Edwards, speaking about the green-white-checkered finish that had him racing with Kyle Busch before the last-lap yellow flag that ended the race: “I hate to lose that. I had his brother [Kurt Busch] behind me. I know they don’t get along that well, so I was planning on a really good finish.”

Well… maybe that is a little vindication for those that just can’t warm up to the exceptionally talented driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota. Even his brother prefers the other guy!

10. Not Half Bad – Kyle Busch won the Coke Zero 400 for his sixth Sprint Cup Series win of the season. The victory extended his points lead in the series to 182 ahead of Earnhardt Jr., who gained one position in the driver championship standings by moving ahead of Jeff Burton.

Six wins in a season is awesome! Oh, wait… that’s in a half of a season, isn’t it. Still plenty of time left in the year… and plenty of more opportunities for Busch to double that total in the second half.