This is my 50th column for Frontstretch, and with just three races to go in 2008 I’m fast approaching the end of my rookie year as a NASCAR columnist. I’m not sure the esteemed editors are quite ready to pull the Yellow Stripe off my back bumper (traditionally, the sign that denotes a first-year driver) but with the season to all intents and purposes done and dusted, and while we wait for the coronation of King Jimmie Kenneth Johnson for a third time, there isn’t much to get too excited about or indeed good topics to wax lyrical on. With that in mind, I’m going to take a look back at my third column, 10 Wishes for NASCAR Heading Into 2008 to see how many wishes the NASCAR Genie granted me. I’ll list the initial wish first, then discuss how it either broke down or went swimmingly in 2008.
Friday marked the third consecutive race and the 10th time this season that Sprint Cup qualifying had been rained out and the starting field has been set by owner’s points. With that in mind, many fans and the media have wondered aloud about the ramifications of NASCAR’s deciding never to move qualifying to another day. Why can’t NASCAR stage qualifying, if weather permits, on Saturday, instead of canceling it on a rainy Friday? How are teams outside the Top 35 supposed to have a fair shot at qualifying for the race, if some are simply sent home after a rainout? How can rookies who are trying to gain seat time in Cup and get certified to run in the series supposed to do that if qualifying gets rained out? If part-time teams are sent home after qualifying, how can they gain the traction to run well, attract sponsorship, and graduate to running a full-time, competitive schedule? Several Sprint Cup drivers took some time during the Friday rains to address the issue.
From the drop of the green flag, it looked like it would be a long afternoon for Hornish. Yet again, his No. 77 team was forced to start from the rear of the pack after qualifying was rained out on Friday. Then, on lap 2, the rookie was involved in a wreck with veteran Bill Elliott and subsequently penalized a lap for pitting too early following the incident. But not all was lost for the driver of the Mobil 1 Dodge, as both he and crew chief Travis Geisler would continue working on the machine until it was good enough to make its way to the front. It may have taken most of the day to reach that point, but after running outside of the top 30, Hornish made a late-race charge that resulted in a 24th-place finish, two laps off the pace. It was the rookie’s first top-25 finish since Charlotte two weeks ago.
On lap 29, a handful of drivers came in for fresh tires and adjustments at Memphis… and it turns out that made all the difference. A caution on lap 126 after over 90 laps of green flag racing left less than 10 cars on the lead lap, including Carl Edwards, whose No. 60 Ford was the class of the field. Edwards was never seriously challenged for the lead throughout the rest of the race despite multiple late-race cautions, and made coming from the back of the pack look easy, scoring a relatively easy victory. Defending race winner David Reutimann got his No. 99 Toyota to second with a few laps to go, but he refused to use the bump and run to move Edwards out of the way, a decision Reutimann later questioned himself for making.
Q: The $700 billion bailout — an imaginary caution flag for the lucky dogs on Wall Street — included somewhere between $100-130 million in tax breaks for race track owners. Not that anyone can explain Congress’s “solutions” but why would millionaire track owners be given a nickel of my tax money?
1. Change In Direction – Joey Logano, heir to the No. 20 Toyota presently driven by Sunday’s race winner Tony Stewart, will not compete in any further races this season in the No. 96 Hall of Fame Toyota. The 18-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing phenom had been scheduled to fill the driver’s seat in the HoF ride for three of the final six races of the Sprint Cup Season. “We talked to Gibbs and both decided that, for [Logano’s] development and for our team, this the best thing for all of us. The best thing for all of us is for them to focus on Joey’s development, and for us to focus on our team,” said the co-owner of HoF, Tom Garfinkel. Is that kind of like being fired?
Todd Bodine took the checkered flag 0.074 seconds ahead of Ron Hornaday Jr. to win the Mountain Dew 250 presented by Toyota Saturday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway. Bodine took the lead in the final turn on the last lap to win his third consecutive superspeedway race. Kyle Busch, Colin Braun, and Mike Wallace rounded out the top five.
After taking a weekend off, the Craftsman Truck Series returns to action Saturday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway. Joey Logano will be making his Truck Series debut in the No. 59 Team ASE/Harris Trucking Toyota. Logano takes the place of Ted Musgrave, who resigned from HT Motorsports after being accused of intentionally wrecking his truck in practice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks ago.
Q: Hi Matt. My question is why would Hall of Fame Racing take Joey Logano out of the No. 96 car? Is this a directive of Joe Gibbs, or is HoF acting on its own? Logano got off to a bad start, but he’s only 18! Isn’t it best for them all to let him finish out the season there?
Were there any rookies in the field today? Seriously, things got so bad I had to patiently wait for update tickers to flash up with the back of the pack each time I recorded where the freshmen were running — for everyone. It was yet another pathetic performance for this year’s ROTY candidates, as for the second week in a row, the rookie honors went to the driver that finished… 29th. At this time of the year, with 29 events in the book, you would expect better. Not even the supposed second coming of Jeff Gordon — that is, Joey Logano — could do anything for the rookie average finish at the Camping World 400.
Q: Richmond was one of the few races this year that actually lived up to the hype. It’s what we should have seen at Bristol and didn’t. So, is the crapshoot [of short-track racing] the CoT, or is the “new” track at Bristol more to blame for the lack of intensity and excitement?
Did You Notice? How Joey Logano’s Sprint Cup debut never lived up to the hype? Sure, other rookies have had disappointing first starts behind the wheel… Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson come to mind. But here’s a guy that’s been driving circles around the Nationwide Series for weeks, and then he gets in a crappy Cup car and can’t drive worth a damn. If that’s not a sign of the current disparity in equipment between teams, then I just don’t know what is.