NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? Truex Missed Teresa, Hall of Fame Snubs, Fan Tragedy Averted & Stewart’s Smelly Towel?

Did You Notice? With the Hall of Fame’s official selection of its top 25, debate’s now raging on which five will be picked to be part of the Hall’s inaugural class. When that happens, there will inevitably be drivers and teams that get snubbed… it’s just an unfortunate part of the process.

But with the narrowing of the field to these select few, there’s already a handful of snubs that have already occurred. While the committee did a fantastic job, here’s three people I feel should have been given the honor of being part of that special “final” group:

Bill Elliott: The 1988 Cup Series champion, Elliott is better known for winning the first edition of the Winston Million, awarded to the driver who won three of the sport’s four Crown Jewel races at the time: The Daytona 500, the Winston 500 (Talladega), Coca-Cola 600, and Southern 500 at Darlington. In one of the most exciting races in Cup history, Elliott held off Cale Yarborough at The Track To Tough To Tame, adding to Daytona and Talladega victories to claim the prize on Labor Day weekend, 1985. Other than the 1979 Daytona 500, perhaps no other feat was more responsible for launching the sport into the national spotlight; Elliott appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the story was covered by several non-racing news outlets. It was all part of a year in which Elliott dominated the sport with a career-high 11 victories, eventually finishing runner-up in the standings to Darrell Waltrip.

But that wasn’t the now 54-year-old’s only big accomplishment. With a championship, two Daytona 500s, a Brickyard 400 and 44 overall wins under his belt, he’s become a successful Cup Series driver over nearly three decades of competition. And he did it while becoming a fan favorite, too, winning NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award more times than anyone else (16). Now semi-retired, Elliott should have been removed from competition enough to be considered for the honor.

Should Have Replaced: Tim Flock. While one of the series’ greatest drivers, Flock has less wins that Elliott (39) and despite being a two-time champ, he was only seriously competitive in six seasons during a career that spanned from 1949 to 1961.

Ray Evernham: Jeff Gordon’s crew chief for three of his four Cup championships, it’s not just his chemistry with the Rainbow Warrior that merits inclusion but the way in which the man helped transform a sport. Before the Evernham/Gordon combo came along, multi-car teams were looked at as a burden, not a necessity, when it came to competing for championships. But the types of ideas this innovative crew chief brought to the table proved the multi-car concept could be successful. Rick Hendrick provided the resources to make it happen; but Evernham was the first one capable of using them the right way to give Gordon what he needed to contend.

By the time Evernham left the program in 1999, multi-car teams were sprouting up all over the place and the era of single-car powerhouses was coming to an end. His post-Hendrick stint as owner of his own team, bringing Dodge back to the Cup Series, wasn’t all that shabby either – a Brickyard 400 victory and three Chase appearances were among the highlights during eight years at the helm.

Should Have Replaced: Red Byron. While the sport’s original champion in 1949, the thing about Byron is he only had 15 career NASCAR starts. Out of the sport by 1952, he won just twice and never finished another year in the top 10 in points. Definitely notable for being the first; but if his title occurred in 1950, he wouldn’t even be considered for the top 100.

Rusty Wallace: While never winning the sport’s two biggest races of the modern era (Brickyard 400, Daytona 500) Wallace still won 55 times while becoming Dale Earnhardt’s biggest rival in the 1990s. Winning the title in 1989, he also finished runner-up twice and in the top 10 in points for 10 straight years (1993-2002).

And of course, when it came to the short tracks Wallace was truly King. His victory totals at Bristol, North Wilkesboro, Richmond and Martinsville (25 total) are only rivaled in the modern era by greats like Richard Petty and Waltrip. Retired from the sport for five years when 2010 comes around, Wallace should have been eligible – and he should have been included.

Should Have Replaced: Raymond Parks. As wonderful and lovable a character as Parks is, he’s another guy who didn’t do much beyond NASCAR’s inaugural year of 1949. With only two victories total on his car owner resume, it makes him someone who’s notable in the sport’s history as the “first” one to win a title – but does “first” automatically mean “Hall of Fame?”

Did You Notice? Fans standing on the fence at Daytona as the final-lap wreck unfolded? Go back and look at the replay closely – can you see how many fans were that close to the action? And who can blame them – after all, racing is our passion. We’re attracted by speed, mesmerized by the competition and understandably excited during the final laps of a race as competitive as what we had Saturday night.

But that’s where security needs to step in. Take a second and think about what would have happened to those fans if Carl Edwards’s car came flying at them like at Talladega. How many would we have seen killed? No question it would have been a disaster of epic proportions; yet here we were, two months later, and these people were allowed to roam free as Kyle Busch’s car came hurtling toward them at well over 180 mph. If Kasey Kahne hits that car the wrong way, we’re seeing a similar Edwards tumble that could have done some serious, serious damage.

I hope this offseason, Daytona does the right thing by revamping its security procedures and leaving permanent space between the walkway and the outside wall. If they’re not going to change the racing… the least they can do is work hard to make the fans as safe as they do the drivers who sit behind the wheel.

Did You Notice? That during Martin Truex Jr.’s press conference today, he answered a question about whether he’d be at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing the rest of the year by saying “Chip” and himself were on the same page. At no time did he mention or refer to Teresa Earnhardt as co-owner of the organization.

Why is this small slip up important? Two related reasons, both of which add up to the first-grade math equation that spells out why Truex wanted out at EGR. For starters, it shows how the former matriarch of DEI has all but left the organization. Notice there were no statements by Teresa on Truex’s departure, the future of the No. 1 team, or pretty much anything going on with the organization this season. While she remains a part of the team by name, sources tell me that’s the limit of her association with the program – and by the end of the year, it’s questionable as to whether the “E” will even remain a part of “E”GR.

Regardless, Teresa’s pullback from the sport leads us to our second important point: her absence has left Truex stranded in an organization that had no plan to keep him their lead driver – a position Teresa supported following Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s departure. With the merger, that was thrown out the window, as Truex was like any awkward office employee retained while the rest of the company’s positions were replaced. It’s not that Truex wasn’t respected by Ganassi – far from it. But when you consider his new teammate, there’s no question the promising driver was currently overmatched on his resume. Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya’s long list of racing accomplishments make Truex’s look mundane by comparison, leaving no question as to who’s to be the primary focus within the newly merged organization. No matter what Truex accomplished, the long-term prospects were clear as crystal: he would always play second fiddle to Ganassi’s desire to make Juan Pablo a stock car success.

Of course, over at Michael Waltrip Racing Truex has no such concerns. With top dollar sponsorship and underrated crew chief “Bootie” Barker leading the program, Truex could easily become the lead driver within a multi-car organization once more. Add in the fact his younger brother is a development driver with a growing team, and the move is a no-brainer during a Silly Season where there’s few, if any, top rides available. And perhaps most importantly, in Waltrip Truex has assurances he’s got one owner who’s definitely going to be in the sport for the long haul. That sounds like a such a silly thing; but when you’re someone who’s been through an ownership change, suddenly little details like that become a hell of a lot more important.

Did You Notice? You can own – get this – Tony Stewart’s sweaty towel he used to wipe himself off in victory lane? That’s not exactly what I’d want for a racing souvenir; but hey, it’s for a good cause. Right now, you can go and bid on Stewart’s blood, sweat, and tears (literally) on eBay, as Old Spice is auctioning off the towel he used after winning last weekend’s Coke Zero 400. Just keep in mind that if you’re going to make an offer, you better have a ton of cash in your wallet. The current bid, last time I checked, was $455.01.

Don’t have the cash to buy this particular towel? Don’t worry… you’ll get another chance as long as Stewart gets another victory. Old Spice has actually been holding these auctions since 2006, raising over $21,335 in funds for the Tony Stewart Foundation by selling the towels off. So, kudos to everyone for taking something most people would throw away and turning it into a way to raise money for charity. And for those looking to display these things in their homes… I’d recommend a glass display case. A really, really thick glass display case.

By the way, no word on whether Burger King will follow up by offering Stewart’s half-eaten Whopper to the general public. No comments from the PR staff, but sources say the biggest roadblock is getting him to stop eating one partway through…

(Sorry, that one was just too easy!)

Did You Notice? Mark Martin may have the worst luck of anyone I’ve ever seen at Daytona? Still winless there in 49 career starts, the self-proclaimed restrictor-plate hater has been the poster child for everything and anything that can go wrong at those tracks. Consider this summary, given to me recently by a Martin fan who will remain anonymous:

  • 2000 Daytona 500: Mark looks like the class of the field late, only to get stuck behind upstart Johnny Benson in the No. 10 car who took on two tires on the last green-flag pit stop and came out ahead of the Fords. Mark gets a promise from Dale Jarrett that he will go with Mark to pass Johnny. Mark steps out of line to do so – and Jarrett promptly leaves Mark out to dry.
  • 2007 Daytona 505: Martin leads on the last lap and seems headed to his first ever Daytona victory until a crash breaks out behind him coming off turn 4. Anticipating a caution, Martin slows up just enough for the momentum of Kevin Harvick to bring his car alongside – eventually nudging out Martin at the start/finish line by inches to claim the victory.
  • 2009 Daytona 500: Martin starts on the front row, has a car capable of contending for the win, but comes down pit road for fresh tires even with rain fast approaching – putting him at the back of the lead lap. After just a handful of miles of green-flag racing, the downpour comes, washes out the rest of the race and leaves Martin stranded in 16th.

In his last seven starts at Daytona, Martin has also wrecked three times – twice in the last 10 laps. And with an average finish of plate tracks this year a disappointing 32.3, you know exactly where to point if the 50-year-old winds up missing out on making the postseason this fall.

Did You Notice? Over the last four to six weeks, my columns weren’t as crisp and strong as they should be? Not to get too personal, but there’s a reason behind that. I got really sick with a normal virus the beginning of May, and while the phlegm went away my physical feelings of tiredness and dizziness never completely did. What began as walking through the day in a daze worsened slowly but steadily over time. I suddenly started feeling dizzy doing normal, basic tasks, struggling to keep up with my workload while going through the day, feeling drunk. But being the normal 20-something who thinks they’re invincible, I refused to go to the doctor right away. “It’ll go away,” I thought, even as my concentration and memory started to suffer. Fear replaced common sense, and not knowing was better than facing something seriously wrong.

These issues peaked on vacation a couple of weeks ago, where I had several instances where I felt I was going to pass out. So I finally, finally went to the doctor to find out what was wrong. Turned out I had a fever and didn’t even know it; and in what was a scary 24-48 hours, I went through a battery of tests to make sure my brain and my heart was still intact. It took a few days, but a clear diagnosis was finally made – and thankfully, it was something treatable, a serious inner ear infection made 10 times worse by vertigo and me not doing what I needed to nip it in the bud. It had begun to touch my nervous system, affecting my speech, concentration, and overall focus.

Why did I share this with you all? Because now that antibiotics have brought me back to 100%, the health scare was a clear, serious reminder to go to the doctor as soon as you’re feeling sick. I know I’ve got a lot of 20-something readers, and I know there are a lot of people out there who just don’t like going for even a six-month checkup. But trust me on this one: you’re never invincible at any age, and knowing your symptoms, sucking it up, and taking that trip to the doctor’s office for early detection is exactly what you need to do. Yes, it can be scary, especially if you think you have something serious. But when it comes to your health, we never get a second chance.

Alright, speaking of vacations I’m off to a wedding, skipping the Windy City and watching the race the same way I used to – on television. See you ‘round the bend next week….

Tom Bowles is now on Twitter! Click HERE to become a follower.

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