Vito Pugliese

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Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

A Stupid Car and Blown Tires: NASCAR Hitting The Wall, Figuratively and Literally

The biggest racing weekend of the year has come and gone; thankfully, most of us had a day off to digest it all. From Monaco to Mansfield, the Queen City to the Brickyard, after absorbing over 1,500 miles of racing, more than a few opinions have been formulated over the last 24 hours about the state of the sport.

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2008 All-Star Weekend: Meaningless On The Track, But Memorable Off It

The 2008 Sprint All-Star race has officially come and gone, but there were a number of storylines still swirling following Saturday night’s action at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Did the racing live up to the hype? Did SPEED _really_ need a constant countdown ticker for all this since the season began? Is it really a burnout contest if you can generate more smoke with a clapped-out 5.0L Mustang than a supposed 850hp racecar? And is there a chance in hell that Joe Gibbs Racing will come back to the Coca-Cola 600 with the same hand-grenade engine package it showed up with this past weekend? Beyond these gripping questions, there were a few other articles of interest that piqued my…uh, interest. So, let's check them out: * It's clear to me that Kyle Busch is reveling in his newfound role of "villain." It's a tag that he has been unfairly labeled with — but in a sport that hasn't had a rivalry of sorts since Ray Evernham and Jack Roush pointed fingers at each other and yelled things almost a decade ago, _something_ is needed to stir things up, and that's exactly what Busch is doing these days. Rival Carl Edwards may have his backflip, but Kyle seems to have chosen a sarcastic bow as his "special" gesture for the fans — not exactly the endearing moment they've been looking for.

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So I Was Just Thinking… NASCAR Odds ‘N’ Ends

There were a few ideas I had bouncing around in my head about what to write this week. Kyle Busch continuing to win races just to spite Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans; Tony Stewart’s future plans that may include ownership of a team; Larry McReynolds' futile struggle to pronounce Patrick Carpantier’s name' or the continued phenomenon known as 'Digger' – the answer to a question that nobody asked. Instead, below are a few random musings from watching the races this past weekend at Darlington, as the track that has been deemed, "Too Tough To Tame" provided much fuel for thought.

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Kyle Busch: The Sound of One Hand Clapping Drowned Out By A Million Boos

Saturday’s Crown Royal presents The Dan Lowry 400 was a relatively quiet affair... for the first 95% of the evening, that is. At that point, Denny Hamlin had led all but one lap of 382 circuits around the 3/4-mile speedway in front of his hometown crowd. It had been a fairly smooth race, save for the Patrick Carpentier (or as Larry McReynolds says, "Partrick Compartier") pinball imitation on lap 231, followed by Michael Waltrip’s parking after mistaking Casey Mears for a Demolition Derby contestant on lap 356. But how quickly things can change in this sport. On lap 383, it was Hamlin's tire going the way of the dinosaur, eventually causing the caution that would bunch up the field in time for the last few laps. Just like that, several teams who'd simply been watching Hamlin dominate throughout the better portion of the evening suddenly became contenders.

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Chalk Up Another One For Toyota

Restrictor plate racing has always been seen as the great equalizer in NASCAR competition. The Nationwide Series, with their roof/wicker aero package that the Cup Series used in 2001 (but for some reason abandoned) punches quite a big hole in the air, usually producing the kind of competition we have become accustomed to over the years. But while Daytona is more of a handling track, Talladega emphasizes pure speed. Or -- as Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying in Talladega Nights -- "…hot, nasty, bad-ass speed." With its newly paved surface and three stories of banking, the fastest car usually stands a better chance of winning at Talladega more than anywhere else.

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Mexico City: The Answer To A Question No One Asked

Mexico City. What is the first thing you think of when you envision the second largest populated city on the planet? After you get past pollution, corruption, and drug trafficking, you can chalk up NASCAR racing as well. This past weekend, the Nationwide Series made what has become their annual stop to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit in Mexico’s capital city. NASCAR has made great strides in recent years to gain favor with the Latin American demographic; races in Southern California, Miami, and the trip south of the border are evidence of this. But to date, Mexico City in particular remains their top initiative to draw Central and South American fans into the sport in droves, adding to a fanbase that was once in need of replenishing. But while the concept is nice, and fans were relieved to have some sort of racing to watch on Sunday, it is questionable whether or not the race needed to be taking place over 1,500 miles south of the previous week's locale in Phoenix, Ariz.

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Playing It Safe: Mark Martin’s Team Trades Victory for Conservative Top-Five Finish. Why?

Mark Martin must have thought somebody had sent him through some cruel time warp last weekend. In preparation for Saturday Night's Subway Fit Fresh 500k, Martin had qualified fourth, all while posting both the third and fastest laps in two of three practice sessions leading up to the race. With those types of numbers, it was clear that the U.S. Army Chevrolet was going to be a factor come race time (i.e., whenever the Yankees and Red Sox were done with their game), giving the veteran a chance to snag his first victory since the fall of 2005. While Martin typically downplays his chances, he stated that his car was capable of winning the race; but he cautioned, however, that the team needed to guard against complacency, preventing a repeat of what happened a couple of years earlier at this very event. Apparently, no one else got the memo.

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Is Petty Enterprises Circling The Drain?

This moment helped spur some thoughts of my own concerning another crumbling American institution - Petty Enterprises. Once the dominant force in NASCAR competition, it has, for some time now, been a struggling operation. Every two or three years, there is a renewed commitment to getting the team competitive, to once again make it a threat to win on race day; but sadly, these initiatives have never seemed to pan out. And now -- after several failed attempts -- there are stress cracks showing in the foundation of a team on the verge of possible destruction, especially after the events of the past week.

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Johnny Benson Jr. – NASCAR’s Longest Overnight Success Story

There are, to be sure, a number of unsung heroes in NASCAR. You can find them in a number of capacities with many in the more obvious sources: pit crew members, the guys in the fabrication shop, tire specialists, transporter drivers, or even the person in charge of preparing food for the team. These positions are all to be celebrated and honored, as there is no task too great or too small in racing to go unrecognized. In that same vein, there are many drivers who do not get the recognition that they rightly deserve. That notion brought to mind one driver in particular: Johnny Benson Jr.

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5 Ways To Save NASCAR From Itself

NASCAR was looking to be in rough shape towards the end of last season. Ratings were consistently down, attendance figures were beginning to wane, and the general feeling amongst many fans was that the Cup Series party was over. Pessimism, not optimism, was the order of the day; the sport that had thrust itself into the American lexicon to become as mainstream as the NFL was sputtering as it began to crest. Things were looking bleak; not as bleak as, say, living in Michigan where this scribe resides... but clearly, there was cause for concern. So, what happened? The powers that be at NASCAR began to realize that, and for 2008, vowed to take action.

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