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Holding A Pretty Wheel

Many Drivers Looking For a Breakout Year, But My Money’s On Vickers

With Speedweeks in the rearview mirror, there are 35 races ahead, and almost anything can happen. Probably at some point, just about all of it will happen-the good, the bad, and the ugly. The eye of the media is on a pair of young drivers; 18-year-old phenom Joey Logano, known as “Sliced Bread-” as in “the best thing since” and his Rookie of the Year rival, 26-year-old Scott Speed, the toenail polish-wearing Formula 1 defector. There are others under the microscope as well. Three-time defending Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson is trying to win a fourth straight title-something no other driver has done. The pressure is on Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch as the favorites to knock Johnson off the top spot. As always, fans are wondering if Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will ever live up to the over-the-top expectations they have put on him. Who will toss the nay-sayers aside and shine this year? Probably several drivers at one time or another. But there is one driver in particular who I think will have a breakout year. His name isn’t Logano or Speed, or even Busch or Earnhardt. His name is Brian Vickers.

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This Is NASCAR, Not a Bazaar

With Daytona’s convoluted qualifying procedures, it’s easy to overlook things while just trying to figure out how the heck they set the field this year. What is with setting the Duels by owner points and then qualifying speed, anyway? Was it actually necessary? But there is one insidious little thing that has been happening in NASCAR that has become such an elephant in the room that it’s impossible to ignore, even with all of the Daytona hype. One reason that it’s so hard to figure out who’s locked into the race is that these guys are swapping owner points faster than they swap underwear.

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Refocusing on What’s Right In NASCAR

Sometimes being in a position where it’s my job to scrutinize all things NASCAR under a microscope with a fine-toothed comb can skew the reality. Sometimes looking at every angle, every minute piece and part somehow takes away from the whole. And it’s that whole that I find myself desperately wanting to grasp again as the 2009 season is just beginning. Because while the pieces and parts look tainted and broken, the whole machine is still as impossibly, achingly beautiful as it ever was. I never intended to make racing a hobby, let alone a lifetime commitment. Writing was something I always hungered for, and I wanted to write about baseball. But in the late 1990’s, women still weren’t taken seriously in that field. So I gave up that dream for a steady job and the paycheck that went with it. But I never forgot the hunger.

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My Winter of NASCAR Discontent — With A Little Amusement Tossed In

With Daytona around the corner, the racing world is picking up speed, and with that comes a whole slew of questions -- but not too many answers. So after a long and eventful offseason, it’s time to dust off the things that made it notable for me... First up, I have an issue with the timing of NASCAR’s approval of the new Ford engine. While it _is_ true that Toyota’s racing engines are a whole separate species of animal, and the Chevrolet R07 was designed with an eye toward the Cup Series, I find this one more troubling. It's not so much because it deviates from the "stock" small-block engines the sport once mandated, but rather because of one feature in particular that’s reportedly far more advanced than its counterparts.

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Not Yarborough vs. Johnson; Yarborough AND Johnson

Excuses, excuses. Everyone loves a good excuse, and this week, in the wake of Jimmie Johnson’s record-tying third straight Sprint Cup championship, I think I’ve heard them all. There are excuses why Johnson’s accomplishment isn’t as valid as Cale Yarborough’s was when he took three titles in a row in 1976-1978, compared to reasons why it was harder for Johnson to win the title under the Cup series’ current rules and with today’s competition. Over and over again, you hear this kind of "logic," and I use the term loosely, trying to explain away one driver’s accomplishments compared to an earlier or later time in the sport’s history. Well, the time for excuses is over.

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One To Go, Boys-And What A Ride It Has Been

With the white flag in the air on the 2008 NASCAR season, I can safely say there have been some surprises. Looking back over the season that was, as well as ahead to what likely will be when the checkers fly at Homestead, there have been 35 races won and lost, changes of the guard at the top, veterans stepping quietly out of the spotlight while peach-fuzzed fresh faces climb tentatively in, and a constant, thrumming undercurrent of discontent with the new car, the schedule, the drivers, and the quality of a once-great sport in decline. It’s been quite a ride. With that, I’m going to look back at each month of the 2008 NASCAR season, at the stories I touched on and what has changed--or not--since.

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Amen, Junior: Why NASCAR Needs to Trim the Fat

Last week, when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. commented that the length of the season is too great, the first thought that entered my mind, was “Shut up and drive.” But then, I really thought about it. The more I thought, the more I realized…maybe Junior was right. The argument you usually hear about the 38-week season (including two exhibition races) is that it’s hard on race teams, keeping drivers and crew members away from their families for too much of the year. There is really no time off at all for most teams, as the month and a half after the season ends is spent getting ready for Daytona testing in mid-January, and after that, Speedweeks is just around the corner, and it’s crunch time.

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Just Thinking About… Lean Times, Junior as The Future of HMS, and Making a Violation Go Away-and Some Other Stuff

With just three races left on the schedule, there have been complaints of a lack of on-track action in some of the Chase races. There’s been no dearth of action off the track, however. In fact, there were so many interesting storylines this week, I couldn’t pick just one. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I have the attention span of a kindergartener on pixie stix. Something like that. In any case, here is my take on some of the recent happenings in NASCAR.

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Tragedy Only Fueled Hendrick’s Triumph In Their Darkest Hour

It was the first time Brian Vickers smiled all weekend. That was my first thought one Sunday afternoon, a scant four years ago when the dust had settled after the 2004 Bass Pro Shops 500. The second was that it took extraordinary courage and poise for the winning team to be there at all. Racing rarely gives much, but it can take in an instant. Tragedy is constantly a hairbreadth away, and inevitably, sometimes, that line is crossed. Perhaps not so strangely, in a sport that is fueled by danger and excitement, triumph can also be fueled by tragedy.

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Lean Times or Cash Cow-NASCAR Meets the Economy

There has certainly been much written lately about the state of the economy and how it effects NASCAR. Sponsors pulling out; teams, especially in the series below Sprint Cup, cutting schedules or folding altogether (remember just a year ago when four or more teams went home each week? Now it’s more often two, maybe three); teams cutting costs--the list goes on. Surprisingly, though, there hasn’t been as much written about the economic state of NASCAR from the ground up--what effect is the current economy having on the largest part of the NASCAR pyramid, the fans? While the immediate effect of an economic slowdown is on the corporate end, eventually, the fans who patronize the individual races will feel the pinch as well-and then track owners feel it. But does NASCAR itself feel the strain?

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