NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: Observations from the Pits

It’s a chilly fall here in North Carolina, and I’m here at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the season wrap-up, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts and observations from the garage over the last couple of days.

If anyone doesn’t think top drivers don’t have a sense of humor, consider this: Juan Pablo Montoya, who is well in the hunt for his first Sprint Cup championship, took part in the Jail & Bail fundraiser on Wednesday night along with several other drivers. But he conveniently left a lot of that out when he called team co-owner Felix Sabates while trying to raise “bail” through charitable donations. The conversation went a lot more along the lines of, “Felix, I’m in jail.” The actual explanation came after a few moments of abject panic.

Is there anyone who is having more fun than Mark Martin? He’s made a transformation from Eeyore to Tigger this year, and seems to be enjoying the ride almost as much as the prospect of winning the title when its over-so much so that he signed on at Hendrick Motorsports for two more years. Martin looks like a kid in a candy store, even after dropping the points lead to teammate Jimmie Johnson in Fontana. It’s good to see, and it could also be the deciding factor in the Chase.

Speaking of Martin, the leaderboard all weekend has been pretty stationary – Martin has run second to teammate Johnson in virtually everything; three practice sessions and qualifying – and the two of them look like LMS is their own personal playground this week, head and shoulders better than the rest. The Chase is far from over, but these two are definitely threatening to take the ball and duke it out between themselves for it.

One of this weekend’s activities was a press conference with the two living Hall of Fame inductees, Junior Johnson and Richard Petty. I really think the first class should be larger. I know there will be plenty of other exhibits and things to see, but the Hall itself will feel mighty sparse. I wonder if it will be anything like Cooperstown, where the Hall has the power to silence just by the awe that you feel.

I agreed completely with three of the selections, by the way. I think that Bill France Jr. should have gone in second class, and Big Bill stood alone for a year. AS great as Dale Earnhardt was, I wonder if he would have been picked first round if he were still alive, or if David Pearson would have gone in as the second-winningest Cup driver. I kind of lean toward Pearson, myself. And Richie Evans, whose eight straight modified titles make Johnson’s bid for a fourth look like a short winning streak, plain got shafted. The man had nine championships.

The Nationwide race is sure messy (four cars go in and only John Wes Townley comes out unscathed, what are the odds?). But it was nice to see Kenny Wallace qualify well after struggling in practice last night. That team works harder than anyone out there from the driver down to pit support. They deserve a few better runs.

Finally… being here at the track reminds me of something – there is still something magic in this thing we call racing. There is always hope as long as I would rather be on pit road on a cold October night than anywhere else in the world. And so far, there is still no place that compares.

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