Race Weekend Central

Team Player or Manipulator: How Far Should Teamwork Go?

It was, on one extreme, an unfortunate time to have tire problems: the closing laps of the race that would decide once and for all who was in the Chase and who was left to wait ‘til next year. On the other end of spectrum sits an uglier possibility: that a driver, his own chances all but gone, either chose or perhaps even was ordered to spin the car around, bringing out the caution and giving a teammate another chance at a win that was slipping away with each lap. The question being asked after the race was, which was it?

The Day Rockingham’s Been Waiting For: Now, Will Fans Follow Through?

Dear Race Fans,

Today something happened that I, for one, never thought we would see. After seven years gone, NASCAR racing will return to Rockingham Speedway (Formerly North Carolina Motor Speedway) in 2012 in the form of a Camping World Truck Series race on April 15. As recently as a few months ago, this seemed like a sheer impossibility, as the wounds seemed too deep to ever allow bridges once burned to be rebuilt. But thanks to a massive (and expensive) effort on the part of local officials, NASCAR, and track owner Andy Hillenburg, the once-silent speedway will again roar to life as a part of NASCAR’s present, not just its storied past. The one-mile banked oval will test drivers and thrill fans. The track has been sorely missed by NASCAR’s old-school fans and purists for the exciting racing its confines produced.

Danica Patrick is Good for NASCAR; Danicamania? Not So Much

It’s finally official: Danica Patrick is leaving the IndyCar playground and coming to NASCAR. (Granted, unless you’ve been living under a large boulder this summer, this is hardly a surprise.) She’ll run the full 2012 schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports as well as a handful of Sprint Cup events for Stewart-Haas Racing, all with full sponsorship from GoDaddy.com, her current sponsor in IndyCar.

Danica is good for NASCAR.

There’s Nothing Silly About the Season’s Vital Role in NASCAR

NASCAR is a sport of rumors. Teams, drivers, and the sanctioning body somehow manage to fuel more speculation throughout the year than other sports, perhaps because in other sports, contract negotiations and schedule and rules changes take place almost exclusively in the offseason, with baseball’s trade deadline as the major exception to that rule. In NASCAR, the rumors and speculation go on mainly during the 10-month season, often heating up as summer comes to a close, though in recent years it seems to encompass more of the racing year.

It’s called Silly Season, and it’s more important now than ever before.

Wild Card Doesn’t Make Chase Exciting; It Makes it Worse

With five races to go until the Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set, most of the spots are all but guaranteed. Sure, there are a few that could change hands in the top 10 (Denny Hamlin could, for instance, oust Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or Tony Stewart by beating the No. 88 or the No. 14 by an average of five positions per race), but for the most part, the heart of the field is set.

But wait, there’s more.

This year’s Chase will feature the top ten drivers in regular points as of Richmond (instead of the previous top 12) plus two drivers who will get in via the newly created “wild card” spots. To grab one of these two places, the driver must be in the top 20 in points. The drivers in positions 11-20 with the most wins will get the two Chase bids, with points position used as a tiebreaker. As of now, the spots would go to 18th-place driver Brad Keselowski with a pair of wins and 11th-place Denny Hamlin, whose single win is tied with Paul Menard and David Ragan, but is higher in the overall standings. NASCAR, and some media as well, would have you believe this is a great thing generating excitement and forcing drivers to go for wins instead of racing for a good points day.

You Can’t Mandate Class: Where’s the Sportsmanship in Today’s NASCAR?

Racing is a sport of emotion. Passion runs deep, emotion often runs deeper, feelings get hurt, egos get bruised. That’s as old as the sport, and hopefully it will never change.

However, there is a fine line between racing passionately and racing without scruples. It’s a line that drivers will sometimes cross unintentionally in the heat of battle, and when they apologize and move on, can occasionally be forgiven for. But it seems like that line is being crossed quite often lately, without remorse or consequence. And NASCAR not only allows it, it seems that at times, when it suits their purposes, they condone it.

The line has a name. It’s called sportsmanship.

The Track That Stole NASCAR’s Innocence

This week, Sprint will kick off a bonus program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in which the winners of the next five races will be pitted against one another at Atlanta, where if one of them should take the checkered flag, $3 million will be distributed among the driver, his favorite charity, and a fan. It’s a nice gesture, but for a top driver to win twice in six weeks isn’t exactly stretching the realm of fantasy.

It’s not like the Winston Million, which required a driver to win at three of four specific races: the Daytona 500 (the most prestigious race on the schedule), the Coca-Cola 600 (the longest race), the Winston 500 (the fastest race when the program began; held at Talladega before the restrictor plate changed the game), and the Southern 500 (the oldest continuously run race). In twelve years, the Million was won exactly twice: by Bill Elliott in 1985, the first year the bonus was offered (giving Elliott the nickname Million-Dollar Bill) and by Jeff Gordon in 1997, the last year Winston had that program. The money went unclaimed for the ten seasons in between.

Wolfe Finds Success On Top of the Pit Box

Being a Sprint Cup crew chief in the 21st century takes not only technical knowledge, but the ability to keep up with a changing racetrack, coach a driver, and address the media all while at the center of a whirlwind weekend. Grace under pressure takes on a whole new meaning when things are happening around you at nearly 200 miles an hour. Racetracks change over the course of an afternoon, an hour, a few laps. Drivers get frustrated, uncomfortable, sometimes irascible. Racecars react to track conditions, new tires, mechanical issues, wrecks. And there’s just one man who has to wade through that and more, keeping up with the track, keeping the driver focused, keeping the car ahead of the curve and out of harm’s way.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway Gets It Right

There’s a certain irony in the progression of things, and Sprint Cup racing is no exception. One week after a Kentucky race that was so overshadowed by the woes of fans attending, or trying to attend, that the on-track action was almost an afterthought, the Sprint Cup Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH. A track that had traffic woes when it opened in the 1990’s-but went on to show what a track can do for the fans if its ownership really wants to.

The first race at New Hampshire was in 1993. Rusty Wallace won, and yes, there were traffic issues. But the fans kept coming, and then-track owner Bob Bahre set the bar for track owners over the next decade and a half. I first went to what was then New Hampshire International Speedway in 1997 for a sold-out show (one in a streak of sellouts that began in 1993 and lasted until 2009), and sure, we encountered traffic. I think it took an hour or so to cover the last 15 minutes of the trip on a normal day. Leaving was admittedly worse and always has been, but we got home at a reasonable hour just the same. (Since that day, I’ve learned every possible route to and from the track, and traffic is rarely a bad issue for the informed.) Local law enforcement does a credible job with traffic patterns. The track is several miles from the closest Interstate, so getting the lanes set up and moving is especially key.

NASCAR-ese: A NASCAR to English Dictionary

Sometimes NASCAR is a little like visiting a foreign country. Sure, you took the language in high school, and you understand enough to get by, but you feel like there’s an awful lot being said that you don’t understand. The little dictionary helps, but you still feel a little out of the loop. You really wish you had a translator.

A lot of times, it seems like you might need a translator to understand NASCAR-ese in the Brain France Era. So many words get thrown around and just when you think you understand, NASCAR throws a curveball and changes the game. I’ve put together a little cheat sheet to help clear up any misunderstandings that fans might have with the language. Here are a few words from NASCAR-ese and, to the best I can figure, what they really mean in the local dialect.

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