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NASCAR Can’t Make A Living Playing It Safe

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoyed the Safety 400 at the Brickyard, presented by Allstate. Oh, the irony contained within that title sponsorship; for after the way NASCAR chose to run the event, I doubt the fans felt the sport was in Good Hands. In case you tuned out before the checkered flag – as many fans did – Jimmie Johnson won the seven-lap shootout, in a race that could have easily been shortened to exactly that length based on tires that no one seemed to trust. Ashes to ashes, rubber to dust, Goodyear made a mockery of the second-biggest race of the year, scurrying for cover from a problem that quickly revealed no solution. But instead of NASCAR officials leaving it up to the crews to figure out how to handle this challenge, they acted like an overprotective mother who couldn’t bear to see her child hanging from the monkey bars.

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Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard Edition

*The Key Moment:* Jimmie Johnson’s pit crew got him off pit lane first during the last of a string of competition cautions, and once the No. 48 car was in clean air there was no catching it. *In a Nutshell:* A complete and total unmitigated debacle that was unacceptable and unwatchable... but presented in High Definition to fans lucky enough to be home. *Dramatic Moment:* Anytime the drivers had managed six entire laps without a caution, we could only sit and wait to see who the next victim of a blown right rear tire might be. Other than that, the nod goes to Carl Edward’s quixotic charge trying to run down Johnson in the final seven laps. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* When there’s *a very public disaster of this magnitude* blame has to be assigned. In my mind at least, NASCAR gets 60% of the blame. With the Cup cars competing at Indy for the first time in the new car, there should have been an open test during which surely this issue would have been discovered while there was time to address and correct it. If this doesn’t prove to them that the new car is a bad idea nothing will.

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Ten Points To Ponder… After the 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard

*Identical Twins?* - Tony Stewart, on the heels of his announcement that he would be a co-owner in Haas CNC Racing -- to be renamed Stewart-Haas Racing next season -- announced Friday he will be co-sponsored by Office Depot and Old Spice. Also, Stewart revealed he will run the number 14 in honor of his racing hero, A.J. Foyt, in 2009 and beyond. Foyt and Stewart -- both drivers that have enjoyed immense success behind the wheel of midgets, Sprint Cars, Indy Cars and stock cars -- are often mentioned as two of the greatest American drivers of all time. Careful though, Tony…A.J. also was a NASCAR team owner. And that didn’t work out so well, did it?

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Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Patrick Carpentier’s Momentum Continues At Indy… Only To Be Shut Down at Pocono. Why?

*Rookies in the Starting Lineup:* Patrick Carpentier (15th), Marcos Ambrose (24th), Michael McDowell (30th), Sam Hornish, Jr. (38th), Regan Smith (42nd) *Unofficial Finishing Positions:* Patrick Carpentier (18th), Sam Hornish, Jr. (21st), Marcos Ambrose (22nd), Regan Smith (31st), Michael McDowell (34th) *Rookie of the Race: Patrick Carpentier.* Despite graduating from the open-wheel ranks, this year’s running of the Brickyard 400 represents only the second start for Patrick Carpentier at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway; and in the end, Canadian’s stock car outing proved to be more successful than his 21st place finish in the 2005 Indy 500. To get that second shot, he first had to qualify for Sunday's main event. But once again -- appearing unphased at having to put the No. 10 Dodge in the field on time -- Carpentier laid down a qualifying time good enough for 15th, his sixth Top 20 run starting position of the year.

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Bubble Breakdown: Hidden Within Indy Madness, Scott Riggs, No. 66 Team Sneak Back Into Top 35

As difficult as Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be for drivers and crew chiefs alike, it proved to be even more difficult for Goodyear engineers on Sunday. With the company's few racing tires lasting only a handful of laps before showing excessive wear, NASCAR, in the name of safety, was forced to throw competition cautions every dozen or so laps for the duration of the race. This allowed teams to come down pit road and grab fresh rubber, in order to keep the cars from blowing their right sides off during a full green flag run and winding up in the wall. But amidst all the starting and stopping, crashes, and various pit strategies, an interesting subplot emerged concerning the usual slate of bubble teams. As the clouds lifted on a strange day of racing, Scott Riggs managed to post his second straight Top 25 finish, giving his team enough of a boost to race their way back into the Top 35 in owner points. And if the No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevrolet is back in... then obviously, someone’s bubble just popped. Whose bubble was it, exactly, and how big of a hole have they dug for themselves starting at Pocono next week? To find out more, read on in this week's installment of the Bubble Breakdown ...

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Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2008 Kroger 200 at IRP

*In a Nutshell:* On paper, Saturday night’s race was not much of an event, with Kyle Busch leading a record 197 of the 200 laps run to win the Kroger 200 at O’Reilly Raceway Park. The win marked Busch’s sixth Nationwide Series victory of the season and the 14th of the year for Joe Gibbs Racing through 22 events. However, minus the dominance of Busch’s No. 18, the event at ORP produced fantastic racing throughout the field, and allowed a large crop of development drivers to shine -- with Colin Braun, Josh Wise and Cale Gale all posting career best finishes. The newsworthy rule change that NASCAR made to Toyota’s engines did not keep Kyle Busch out of Victory Lane, but it definitely seemed to curb Toyota’s performance as a whole. Joey Logano and the No. 20 struggled more than any other race they’ve entered all season, and no Toyota not fielded by JGR finished inside the Top 15. The true effect of the rule change may not be seen until the Series returns to a longer oval at Michigan, but Saturday night did mark some progress for parity.

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Tracking the Trucks: 2008 Power Stroke Diesel 200 at IRP

*In a Nutshell:* Johnny Benson took the checkered flag 0.484 seconds ahead of Ron Hornaday, Jr. to win the Power Stroke Diesel 200 Friday night at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis. Benson held the lead in a two lap shootout with Hornaday, Jr. to score his second win in a row, extending his point lead in the series to 15 over the defending Truck Series champ. Erik Darnell, Matt Crafton, and Shelby Howard rounded out the Top 5. *Who Should Have Won: Ron Hornaday, Jr.* Hornaday, Jr. qualified fourth and clearly had one of the strongest Trucks on the track, taking the lead just five laps into Friday night's race. The driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet held off Johnny Benson through multiple restarts before relinquishing the lead when the driver of the No. 23 used the high line to make a pass with 38 laps left. In the end, Hornaday, Jr. led 153 of 200 laps, but was never able to retake the lead from Benson.

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Stewart-Haas Racing Press Conference Transcript to Announce 2009 Sponsors: Office Depot and Old Spice

TONY STEWART: Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion GEORGE HILL: Senior Vice President, Office Depot JIM O’CONNELL: Vice President of Corporate Marketing, NASCAR TERRY DOLAN: Terry Dolan, Manager of Chevy Racing ALEX KEITH: Procter and Gamble Beauty, General Manager, North America Deodorants MIKE ARNING: Moderator, Vice President of True Speed …

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Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or Patrick Carpentier–Marketability Matters

Last week I started my very own hypothetical race team and picked my short list of the most talented drivers racing in Sprint Cup today. Any of the five would make a strong start for a new team for sure, and talent like that should attract sponsorship to the team as well. But I said I wanted to start with a two-car team, and being an upstart, I might not get all the top talent I’d like to have. So what to look for in a second driver? Well, part of success in today’s NASCAR is marketability. That’s right, the ability to look good on TV and push a product to its intended demographic has become increasingly important. I’ll admit, I’ve never quite gotten it--after all, shouldn’t driving ability be paramount? But it’s not always that easy. These days, in addition to being able to wheel a car like he stole it, a driver has to look good on television, be able to speak flawlessly to a group of VIP’s, act in commercials if the sponsor so desires, and do windows. Okay, so I made the last one up, but it’s not really that far off. Today’s driver cannot simply be a driver anymore. That’s why, with the notable exception of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., I paid special attention to drivers outside the typical NASCAR spotlight--the guys who always seem to find a ride because of their personal appeal. Here’s my list of five guys in Cup who have those intangibles needed to woo and impress sponsors and fans alike--even if they don’t always get the spotlight.

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Driven To The Past: Holding On For Dear Life

The Dri-Powr 400 was a three-day event, and we switched off jobs during those long days. One year on Friday, which was mostly devoted to practice, I was handling the stop-go board at the end of pit lane. Jim Cushman, a really good driver from the Columbus, Ohio area, had the only Mopar in the series at the time (one of the first Chrysler kit cars – a Plymouth Duster or some such model). Jim is also generally credited with being the first to put a wing on a supermodified, back in 1958 at Columbus Motor Speedway. On this afternoon, Jim came screeching to a stop right in front of me during a practice session. I called for a yellow and leaned in to see what he wanted. "There's a big bolt laying in the track at the end of the back straight," he said. "C'mon, I'll take you over there."

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