NASCAR Race Weekend Central

10 Points to Ponder… After the 2008 TUMS QuikPak 500 at Martinsville

1. Talking About Times Getting Hard!Johnny Benson took command of the Craftsman Truck Series championship points battle, at least temporarily, by winning the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Saturday afternoon. Benson, driver of the Bill Davis Racing No. 23 Toyota Tundra, left the track with a 65-point lead in the CTS drivers’ championship. He leapfrogged Ron Hornaday Jr., who finished 29th after running out of gas with three laps to go. For the first time this season, the series points leader had no primary sponsorship on his race truck.

Geez… you would think that the series points lead and five wins on the season would get you some darn good sponsorship, wouldn’t you?

2. And Then There Was One? – On the heels of Dodge pulling out of the CTS earlier this year, Ford Motor Company has followed suit and opted to discontinue financial support for its CTS teams in 2009. The news leaves Toyota and the ailing GM brand Chevrolet as the only two auto manufacturers supporting race teams in the CTS.

So basically, the CTS, which is also losing Craftsman as the series sponsor at season’s end, is one financially strapped automaker away from becoming the Toyota Tundra Truck Series.

3. Mixed Bag – NASCAR announced a change of format last month in the Budweiser Shootout that would place the top-six teams in owner points representing each manufacturer in the race. Previously, the Shootout participants primarily consisted of drivers that qualified for the pole position the previous season. At this time, the lineup for next February’s popular exhibition race would consist of the top 12 Chase contenders. However, such drivers such as David Stremme, who will replace Ryan Newman in the No. 12 Penske Dodge, will be in the Shootout – not Newman. This season’s Daytona 500 winner will miss the festivities because he’s leaving Penske for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. Assuming drivers remain with their current teams, Chad McCumbee would also be Shootout eligible, and either David Gilliland or Travis Kvapil would be included in the prestigious 24-car field.

That’s a different type of NASCAR diversity!

4. Racing Economics – In the face of the current economic downturn that is making it problematic for team owners to find the financial backing they need to survive – one that includes possible takeovers or mergers involving three of NASCAR’s four participating auto manufacturers – it was reported that NASCAR is considering reducing the number of cars in the starting lineup for each race. However, NASCAR president Mike Helton denies that there is any consideration by the sanctioning body to cut Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series fields to 28 and Sprint Cup Series lineups to 36. “First of all, it wasn’t a report, it was somebody’s opinion from the garage area and it was not a NASCAR opinion. We’re not looking at reducing the fields,” responded Helton on the issue.

But should the economic slump continue to worsen, will reduced starting lineups even be NASCAR’s decision?

5. Not A Good Mix – Todd Palin, husband of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, served as an “honorary race official” at Martinsville, Va. during the running of the TUMS QuikPak 500 Sprint Cup event. It is the third time in a little over a month that a NASCAR event has recognized a member of the John McCain/Sarah Palin Republican campaign team. John McCain was at New Hampshire, Cindy McCain was at Charlotte and Sunday, Todd Palin made his appearance.

Hmm. Does NASCAR not know that there is a good reason that other major sports organizations in this country do not choose to blatantly support politicians or political parties… and is there anything good that can come from unnecessarily alienating a good percentage of your fanbase?

6. Do We Ever Really Know Why? – For the ninth time in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup, qualifying was canceled due to rain Friday at Martinsville, resulting in the starting lineup for the TUMS QuikPak 500 to be set by points. This season has shattered the previous record for rained out qualifying days of five set in 2002.

BOWLES: DID YOU NOTICE? RAINOUT RIDICULOUSNESS

Points to Ponder attributes this phenomenon simply to global warming… or black holes… or something.

7. Slim Pickens – Former Formula 1 driver and budding stock car racer Scott Speed made his Sprint Cup debut at Martinsville, finishing 30th, seven laps down to the race leaders. Speed piloted the No. 84 Red Bull Toyota, the ride recently vacated by AJ Allmendinger. Allmendinger, on the other hand, is filling the seat of the No. 10 Gillett Evernham Motorsports Dodge for the last five races of 2008 until Reed Sorenson, currently driving for Ganassi, arrives for the 2009 season. Allmendinger equaled the best finish the No. 10 had recorded all season, coming home 14th.

Though the 26-year-old has no contract with any Sprint Cup team for next season, he has four more outings to continue to impress potential employers. However… considering the teams available, how good are his chances of doing any better than the No. 10 team, or for that matter, his former No. 84 team?

8. Good PlanJimmie Johnson on the No. 48 team’s approach to the treacherous .526-mile Martinsville Speedway in respect to his position as the points leader going into the race: “We were going for maximum points.”

Mission accomplished, as Johnson not only won the race, but also led the most laps. Now, that’s the kind of planning that will win you a championship… or three.

9. Can’t Argue With Success – Not only was Johnson victorious Sunday at Martinsville, his Hendrick Motorsports teammates didn’t do too shabby, either. In fact, all four of the HMS drivers finished in the top 10, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing second, Jeff Gordon fourth and Casey Mears sixth.

And next year, Mark Martin will be driving for HMS. Can Rick Hendrick do no wrong?

10. What’s That Sound? – There are now four races remaining before the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is crowned. Johnson, already the back-to-back defending Cup champion, has extended his lead in the drivers’ championship points race to 149 over his closest rival, Greg Biffle.

OK… if the Fat Lady isn’t singing she is at least starting to hum, now!

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