Holding A Pretty Wheel

3 Shots Heard ‘Round the World: NASCAR’s Defining Week

Another story that had me doing a double take was the news that came out just today that Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. has purchased Kentucky Speedway. Smith says he plans to have a Sprint Cup race at the track by 2009. Which begs a couple of questions. First off, the obvious: Where is a Cup date coming from? It’s speculated that Smith will move a date from Atlanta Motor Speedway, a track with attendance woes, to Las Vegas, where a sellout is far more likely and the fan amenities are far better. That leaves a couple of options. One is to swipe a date from New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but that makes little sense. NHMS holds 30,000 more fans, and that’s before the multi-million upgrade that SMI has planned which includes more seats, lights if a noise ordinance with a neighboring town can be resolved, and the possibility of a complete reconfiguration (think a change from big Martinsville to big Richmond). The other possibility is that the track will win a date away from an ISC track via the ongoing lawsuit between Kentucky Speedway and NASCAR.

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Ken Schrader: A Lot Like a Rock

Ken Schrader in a way, WAS Rockingham Speedway on Sunday, or perhaps Rockingham Speedway was Ken Schrader. Coming from a 31st-place starting spot to finish second, Schrader passed cars by using the track to his advantage. It was a brilliant performance by the veteran driver with the reputation of being one who will race anything, anytime. At one point late in the race, Schrader took the lead and proceeded to school Logano in the finer points of holding a lead-switching from the bottom-hugging low line in the turns to the high line, the only place where Logano was really able to make his best moves. It didn’t work forever, but it was great, clean racing, the way Schrader has run for most of his 53 years.

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Boring? What Race Were You Watching?

You had a driver on the radio, nerves plain in his voice in the closing laps despite his lead. The driver may be a champion, but he needs the win badly-and he's a nervous sort, anyway. You had a crew chief talking his driver through those laps, knowing they had to run smart-any other way, and the car closing in the rearview would snatch the victory. There was no guarantee he wouldn't snatch it anyway. It was this close-would the worried leader eke out a win? Or would the hungry competitor roar by to take the race? Until the moment they took the checkers, it was uncertain-either driver could take it. Does that sound exciting or what?

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The More Things Change

Author's note: I wrote the original incarnation of this column over four years ago. I found it earlier while looking for something else-and was surprised to see how little things have changed, even as racing, since March of 2004, has metamorphosed to an unbelievable degree. Although the majority of the original content has been left intact, I've added many new thoughts on things-and how the more they change, the more nothing really changes at all)

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Convenient Crashes: Karma or Coincidence?

How many times did your mother tell you to treat people the way you want to be treated? You probably laughed and stuffed your little brother in the laundry chute anyway. Maybe you went outside to play in the yard a few days later, and stepped right where the same brother walked the family dog after a particularly large dinner. Ever see something like this happen to our favorite driver? He gets a little rough with some guy and runs over debris a few laps later, popping a tire and losing a lap fixing it. Maybe he gets caught with some "creative engineering" and spins out in qualifying two weeks later. You sometimes have to wonder if greater forces are at work.

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Fan’s Reactions to Junior, Jeff, Jimmie and Jack Not What You Might Expect

It may be only five races into the NASCAR season, but there have certainly been a lot of things to think about: Toyota's surge from backmarker to contender to winner; last year's absolute domination of Hendrick Motorsports turning into not even being a serious contender to win in '08; the Car of Tomorrow; Robby Gordon's overturned penalty; Carl Edwards' uncontested penalty; and Jack Roush's accusation of Toyota stealing a "proprietary part," to name a few. The list is long and interesting. What is even more interesting is the fans' reactions to each of these stories.

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Dog and Pony Show for Sponsors Can Leave Fans With a Flea Circus

Sure the sponsors pony up a lot of money, but do they really own the drivers? Sometimes you have to wonder if they ask too much. They want a perfection from their drivers that alienates those drivers from the fans. Case in point: the defending Sprint Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson. Johnson has been accused by fans of being too vanilla, too company line, too... well, boring. But are the canned interviews really Johnson, or, for that matter, any of his competitors? Ask Johnson, and he'd say no--but that catering to sponsors from the age of 14 as a necessity to race will teach you what to say to keep them happy. Even if it's boring.

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A Scarlet… Asterisk? Giving Illegitimate Wins Their Due

NASCAR could stand to take a few pointers from the Puritans. No, I'm not advocating that Tony Stewart wear a giant red "W" for whiner, nor that the FOX color analysts wear twin "As" for annoying the snot out of me every week, but in the swirl of controversy that surrounds each and every cry of "cheating" in the garage, why not make a team with an illegal car found in post-race inspection in a race they've won carry a permanent reminder?

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No Cries of “Cheater” on this Playground?

There was barely a ripple in Race Fan World about the oil tank lid infraction on the No. 99 after Las Vegas. I suppose it's feasible that four bolts backed out and the lid migrated up to a highly unusual and visible place in the back of the racecar. It just seems highly unlikely, given that this, and four similar (lids loose, but not removed) in the Nationwide Series this year, are the first time in recent memory a car has been cited for a loose oil tank lid. Cars vibrate all the time and their bolts stay in place.

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An Open Letter to the Unsung Heroes of Racing

I think my heart almost stopped when Casey Mears, car listing sideways on its door, became momentarily trapped when the car of Sam Hornish Jr. burst into flames just inches away from his window. It was a terrible eternity to a race fan, not being able to see if Mears was moving in his car or not. But it was not the eternity it could have been, because you were there with fire extinguishers and an array of tools and equipment that I know better than to hazard a guess as to its identity. One of you was already tending to Mears before the flames were extinguished... a selfless act that not enough people these days might have undertaken.

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