In a word: dominating. That’s how one could describe Tony Stewart’s run at Darlington in the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 Friday night.
A year and a half ago, Michael Waltrip was successfully wooing employees, a very eager foreign auto manufacturer, and several high profile sponsors to sign onto his new racing team. The pundits predicted that with the backing of both Toyota and cash-rich sponsorship, Michael Waltrip Racing was going to be a contender in Sprint Cup right away, maybe even winning a race or two. 46 races later, Michael Waltrip’s three Cup teams are barely in the Top 35, and that is an improvement over last season. Two major sponsors, Burger King and Domino’s, have departed. Another, UPS, is very likely on its way out, leaving only the ever-loyal NAPA and Aaron’s, at least for now. Performance that is well below the expectations of big sponsors and a heavily invested automobile brand, combined with ethical incidents raising questions about his leadership, have led to the current bleak situation for Waltrip’s team. So as usual, the pundits were wrong.
We had a good points day at Kansas for the Ford Powerstroke Diesel by International No. 14 truck and got a top-10 finish in ninth. We tried something new. Our team tested in Pocono with Tony Raines driving and tried something new there. It’s just a point where Kevin Starland and the guys on the Circle Bar race team are getting this new package together and it will start showing dividends here pretty quick. We’ve never raced at Pocono before, but it’s a pretty good testing facility. The straightaways and the corners and all that let you try a lot of different elements out of a race.
Today’s Question: Three months into one of the biggest free agent moves in history, which one of NASCAR’s two biggest drivers has the upper hand (i.e. better deal)? Is it “Good Guy” Dale Earnhardt Jr. – NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver – or resident “Bad Boy” Kyle Busch — its most aggressive?
Q: What are we to expect from the newly repaved Darlington Raceway? If speeds are up like they were in the tire tests, will it make it harder for drivers to pass? And what about the excessive tire wear? Is that still a concern, or has the repave taken care of that?
A few weeks ago, I penned a column that basically said Aaron Fike’s admission of doing heroin on race days was tantamount to holding a royal flush when it came to forcing NASCAR’s hand on reexamining its drug testing policy. Backing Fike’s play was Tony Stewart and former Fike boss, Kevin Harvick, both of which said that they have never been tested for drugs since they began their NASCAR careers. Well, this week the spot responded in their typical fashion, stating that while they do keep an eye on other professional sports’ drug testing policies, by and large, their system gave them more power and had certainly been serving them quite well, thank you very much.
Last weekend’s race at Richmond proved to be a roller coaster for many fantasy owners. If you had Denny Hamlin on your team, you were riding high for the vast majority of the race; but then, a flat tire brought you crashing back down to earth. And if you were anticipating a big payday with Dale Earnhardt Jr. his late-race run-in with Kyle Busch left you with pocket change instead of the jackpot. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for fantasy owners. This weekend in the Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington, you can expect more of the same. They don’t call this place “The Track Too Tough to Tame” for nothing! But the Lady in Black got a new facelift since the series visited there last May, making this weekend even more of a challenge.
Obviously, the number one topic following Richmond is the contact between Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. But here’s a question for you: If the roles were reversed, would the public be anointing Earnhardt. the “villain” the way they’ve been doing to Busch? Along those lines, is Busch getting a bad rap?
Fans best not forget just how close they came to seeing the oldest superspeedway on the Sprint Cup circuit become extinct. And had it not been for the tremendous fan support that the track has experienced the last three years, the “Lady in Black” would without a doubt be about as popular a tourist stop as North Wilkesboro Speedway is today. Like it or not, there have to be consistently 63,000 ticket purchasing patrons in the 63,000 seats available on race day; otherwise, the track will meet its untimely demise, no matter how popular it is among racing traditionalists. Sure, it’s only race date is on Mother’s Day weekend… but what nicer way is there to let Mom know you love her than with a tailgate party and a ticket to Darlington under the lights?
10. Pretended to befriend Brad Keselowski, gave him his sun goggles to wear, slapped him on the back, and sent him on his way.