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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

10 Points to Ponder… After the 2008 Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond

1. How Low? – “When times are tough, there are certain things that are lower on the priority list than others,” said Dodge Motorsports senior manager Mike Delahanty in announcing that the company would not support any Craftsman Truck Series teams beginning next year. Actually, the only truck team that the manufacturer still funds was Bobby Hamilton Racing-Virginia. Dodge had previously enjoyed success in the series with the late Bobby Hamilton, winning a CTS championship with him in 2004 and then with Ted Musgrave and Ultra Motorsports in 2005.

Low Priority? Is that an insult to the Craftsman Truck Series… or what?

2. Not Car Guys! – Dodge, bought by the private equity firm Cerberus in 2007 from German-based Daimler, has been on a downhill skid for sometime in the racing world. This year, they trail Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota in all three of NASCAR’s top series: Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck. To top off Dodge’s ineptness, with Kasey Kahne’s disappointing finish in Sunday’s race at Richmond, the beat-up automaker will have no Dodge team representing their brand in the 12-team NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Go figure; you would think a bunch of equity investors would be top-notch racers, wouldn’t you?

3. Devaluation – Driver and one-car team owner Robby Gordon was slapped with court papers this past week. It seems that the maverick Sprint Cup driver/owner had entered into an agreement to not only partner with Gillett Evernham Motorsports, but to sell his Robby Gordon Motorsports operation to them at a reported price of $23.5 million to GEM before the 2009 Sprint Cup season begins. However, GEM has accused Gordon of breach of contract, claiming an agreement that had been signed at the end of January was violated once Gordon started shopping his racing enterprise around to others – all while publicly criticizing the GEM Dodge engines that he has received from them beginning at Daytona in February.

“They want to fight this and get relief from the agreement, and we’ll let a judge decide if they can get out of it,” Gordon said. “This caught me by surprise, and I don’t feel I have breached anything.”

By virtue of Gordon’s 42nd-place finish (eight laps down) at Richmond International Raceway Sunday, his No. 7 RGM Dodge has also now slipped to 36th in owner points, thus losing the advantage of the Top-35 rule that left Gordon guaranteed a start in Sprint Cup races. Better believe that Gordon will be saying his prayers that the final decision is in his favor in court – because his organization’s value just took one heck of a hit.

4. A Little Compassion – With last Friday’s qualifying for the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race scheduled for Saturday night rained out, NASCAR officials quickly postponed all weekend race events – including the Nationwide Series’ Emerson Radio 250 scheduled for Friday evening until Sunday. The schedule change resulted in what was supposed to be a primetime event on ABC being pushed over to the less lucrative time slot Sunday, covered on ABC’s sister network ESPN. But it turned out that weather forecasts were indeed correct in their predictions that the Richmond, Va. area would feel the effects of Tropical Storm Hanna.

Good for NASCAR! Don’t you know that at least some of the decision makers were tempted to wait and hope for the best before postponing – resulting in soaked fans standing in shin-high water and mud in the parking lots.

5. Plenty Of TimeJoey Logano’s much-heralded Sprint Cup debut was put on hold by the rainout of qualifying at Richmond on Friday. As per NASCAR rules, car owner points set the starting field, leaving Logano and the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 02 Chevrolet entry out of the race. Logano, who will take over the driving duties of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet presently piloted by Tony Stewart next season, said of the disappointing turn of events, “I can’t change the weather, so I just go with it.”

And at 18 years old… what does another week matter, anyways?

6. Headin’ In The Right Direction – With Michael McDowell’s 20th-place run at Richmond in the No. 00 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing now finds all three of its entries inside the Top 35 in owner points. The No. 44 MWR entry of David Reutimann, with back-to-back ninth-place finishes, has the UPS-sponsored Toyota sitting 27th in owner points while owner/driver Michael Waltrip’s No. 55 is 32nd. McDowell also moved up to 35th in the all-important owner points after the Chevy Rock & Roll 400, locking in a spot in the field for New Hampshire and perhaps beyond.

Not earth-shattering results; however, considering a year ago MWR was the laughing stock of NASCAR… it’s certainly an accomplishment.

7. Root Of The Problem? – None of the four Dale Earnhardt Inc. teams consisting of Mark Martin/Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Regan Smith or Paul Menard will participate in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship 10-race shootout this year. Yet Martin, who in another strong effort finished fifth at Richmond, now has three top-five and nine top-10 finishes in just 18 races this season. In fact, based largely on Martin’s results, the No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet is 15th in owner points, even with the rookie Almirola’s ride-sharing arrangement with Martin. Truex Jr.’s No. 1 Chevrolet is 18th in owner points, with the No. 15 driven by Menard and the No. 01 with Smith just 28th and 29th, respectively.

At this point, even the most ardent critics of the DEI organization and its controversial owner must wonder how much of the problem is equipment – and how much of it is driver.

8. Buschwhacking… Junior Style – Stock car racing’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun out the sport’s most booed driver, Kyle Busch, on lap 211 while battling for the lead Sunday afternoon at Richmond. Earnhardt Jr., who led the race five times before settling for a fourth-place finish, accepted blame for the incident and explained that he drove in too deep and made contact with the 23-year-old Sprint Cup points leader. “Not on purpose, as much as I would like to take credit for it,” said Junior.

When a usually amiable and mild-mannered fellow like Earnhardt Jr. starts taking jabs at you… don’t you think you might have a problem?

9. Just Rewards – Despite Kahne finishing 19th Sunday at Richmond, he was not able to gain enough ground to make the 12-team Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. Although he overtook Roush Fenway driver David Ragan for 13th spot in the point standings, Kahne still fell 69 points short of a playoff bid. The GEM driver has won twice so far in 2008, making him one of only four drivers with multiple wins on the season; in comparison, five Chase-eligible drivers have no wins for the season to date.

Are 10 bonus points for a Sprint Cup win enough?

10. Ahhh, Oh… – Two-time back-to-back NASCAR Sprint Cup defending champion Jimmie Johnson, driving the familiar No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, won the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at RIR Sunday. It is Johnson’s fourth win of the season and second in a row; in this one, he bested Stewart’s Home Depot Chevrolet by a mere 0.365 seconds.

Is 2008 starting to look like déjà vu… all over again?

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