NASCAR Race Weekend Central

MPM2Nite: An Unforgettable Day With My Father

_Writer’s Note: This article was originally run on the Father’s Day weekend of 1996, and I run it again every year at this time in memory of my dad._

The 1973 Daytona 500 probably doesn’t top most fan lists as the greatest running of the real Great American Race. Its outcome was not decided by a last lap wreck like the classic 1976 or 1979 events, nor did it feature two drivers nose-to-tail heading for the stripe, as in 1993 or 1996. But it is, and always will be, the most memorable running of the February classic in my book, because it was the first NASCAR event I attended.

My dad took me.

MPM2Nite: Thirty-Three and a Third

Traditionally I’ve always divided the (way too long) Cup season into esters. You have the Opening Drive of twelve races starting at Daytona where fans get to see who is running to be in contention for a title. Usually the cream rises to the top, but every year the Opening Drive offers up a few surprises. I call the second trimester of the season the Summer Stretch. As the temperatures heat up, the on-track action typically cools off. Legitimate title contenders try to solidify their positions as the Cup series visits some of the worst tracks that host events. There’s a reason TNT can only afford to host part of this section of the season. No other network wants it. Every year a couple drivers who seemed locked into playoff contention will falter and a couple who seemed hopelessly out of contention will rise to the occasion and grab a playoff berth. I’m not wild about the new points system, but the “Wild-Card” scenario for 11th and 12 place may see some talented drivers whose season’s have gotten off on the wrong foot rally to the challenge.

MPM2Nite: Why the World 600 Still Matters

Doubtless Monday there will be many naysayer’s proclaiming the World 600 is way too long. I’ve often expressed an opinion that a lot of stock car races are way too long and should be cut down, especially in light of the fact often the drivers don’t actually get up on the wheel until the final twenty laps anyway. But the World 600 is special and it deserves its epic length even if each lap isn’t fraught with action.

Recall the era when Charlotte opened.

MPM2Nite: Short Takes After a Short Break

Yes, shamefully I took a weekend off. As I reprioritize my life, a chance to gather with all four of my siblings – the five of us haven’t been together since 2007 – outweighed even a chance to visit one of my two home tracks. As things worked out I was off airport duty early enough on Sunday I was able to get home in time to catch the race after all. It felt kind of odd just watching a race rather than scribbling down notes and doing a few hours of pre-race prep work. Yeah, it felt odd but it didn’t feel bad at all. To the delight of my foes and the consternation of the fans who have stuck with me over the years, I’m going to be taking some more weekends off this year.

MPM2Nite: What Is And Isn’t Acceptable In The “Have At It” Age

Greetings Race Fans! It’s me again, Mr. Part Time Commentator and Formerly Official Columnist of NASCAR Kurt Smith, once again attempting to fill in the big and bad shoes of the irascible Matt McLaughlin. While I always consider the opportunity an honor, it also helps to have a noteworthy topic to write about, as we certainly do this week.

MPM2Nite: Does Darlington Still Matter?

This weekend NASCAR racing returns to the Cradle of Champions, Darlington, SC. That remains somewhat of a miracle to me. During its infamous, Mike Helton coined, “Realignment” phase when the bastards couldn’t wait to abandon another traditional date in the Southeast for a higher profile event in a bigger market (Thanks, FOX!), it appeared the unenviable date, the eve of Mother’s Day, was assigned to the track purely to justify sacking the track’s second race date because of poor ticket sales. Traditionally, and NASCAR fans tend to be old-fashioned sorts, Mother’s Day weekend was sacrosanct on the schedule. One dubious and ultimately doomed experiment was run with a race weekend that coincided with Mother’s Day.

MPM2Nite: Getting The Big Guys to Stop Picking On Little Guys

There’s been lots of grumbling about NASCAR’s Junior Circuit over Cup stars moving down a level to mercilessly beat up on lesser drivers (come to think of it, the beatings may have be the reason for the past term “Buschwhacker.”)

The last full-time Nationwide driver to win the championship was Martin Truex Jr. in 2005, when it was the Busch Series; and he was practically crowned before the season started that year because the rest of the competition was already weakening. Since then, non-Cup drivers win maybe three races a year, four or five if a road course ringer takes one in Montreal.

MPM2Nite: Clearing Off The Desk

There’s darn few weeks off included in the modern Cup schedule, three all together if I am counting correctly. The second of those three falls this weekend for Easter and the final one three months hence sits in late July. Before starting my much anticipated riding break I had some notes scribbled on various bits of paper scattered around my desk, none important enough to warrant a column of their own, but combined perhaps enough to elicit some debate.

MPM2Nite: The Next Five Into the Hall

For the last couple years, some of the buzz heading into May and Charlotte Speedweeks has involved which five NASCAR figures would be inducted into the Hall of Fame. For those of you who missed the memo, this year’s class won’t be inducted until January of 2012. In his Solomonic wisdom that has helped guide our sport to the depths of despair it is trapped in today, Brian France said he felt that the move would help the inductees garner more notice. Sure, why hold an induction ceremony while tens of thousands of race fans are in town for the twin Charlotte weekends? France feels by January, fans will be so desperate for news about NASCAR they will sit up and take notice.

MPM2Nite: No More Mr. Nice Guy

Is this stock car racing or Romper Room? What’s got into the Cup drivers lately? Nobody wants to be the bad guy. No one wants to be rude. No one wants to be booed.

The trend first caught my notice a few weeks ago. Kyle Busch, who reveled in the black hat persona for the last couple years, suddenly said he didn’t want to be the bad guy anymore. He added wistfully, “I can’t afford it.” Wait… is this the same guy who purposely parked his car on the frontstretch, exited and gave a bow to the occasionally incensed crowd, all but daring them to throw more beer cans directly at him?

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