Thursday, December 23, 2010

A NASCAR Christmas list

Christmas is upon us and I'm sure you've all got you're shopping done right? Welcome to the club. We are less than two months away from the 2011 season officially starting at Daytona, here's a look at a NASCAR Christmas wish list. Some of these are reasonable, some should happen but won't, others are just, well, out there.

The winning points: There's not a lot wrong with the Chase as it's set up now, but a little tweaking would help. Let's give the winner of each race all season an extra 100 points. That would eliminate some of this so called points racing, which isn't really racing at all. And if it gets late in the pre-chase season, it would force some drivers to take a chance with strategy in order to get a win. NASCAR needs more of a go-for-it atmosphere, not a play it safe style, if it wants to regain some popularity.

Chase variety: NASCAR should start a system of alternating which tracks will be in the Chase for the Championship. If you really want to see who the champion is, make those last 10 races be on different tracks each year. Yes, we know the last three or four will be limited to warm-climate places, but shouldn't places like Daytona and Bristol be a part of the Chase at least on some years. We know the No. 48 team has those last 10 races mastered, and it might win the title no matter where the final 10 races are, but at least make them hit a curveball.

Pit rewards: The job of the pit crew is essential for a good team. Just ask Johnson after he switched with Jeff Gordon during the Chase this year. But since these guys play a vital role in winning and losing, take the total pit time of each car on the lead lap and give the winning team 10 points. We've known for years that these guys really matter, let's measure it in a positive way. With today's technology, it would be very easy to have this updated throughout the race.

Starting times: NASCAR made a positive move this year, giving us consistent starting times in each time zone. They would do better if they said the green flag was dropping at say, 1 p.m., not 1:20. Between SpeedChannel, ESPN and Fox, we've got plenty of pre-race coverage.

Pole points: Qualifying should mean at least a little something. We know some guys are no good at it, and then move right to the front during the race (see Kevin Harvick as exhibit A). So to make it at least a little more interesting, give the pole position winner 10 points. Right now, every one knows that the final practice the day before the race is usually more indicative of who's going to compete for the win rather than the qualifying times.

Team scoring: Take teams that have three or four cars, and at the end of the race, the team with the lowest total score, say, Childress cars finish 2, 3 and 4, then they get nine points, each driver on that team gets 10 points. Last season the Childress, Hendrick, Gibbs, Penske, Petty, Roush and Michael Waltrip teams regularly had three cars or more cars in the field. That's enough to make this a legitimate category.

Less Chad Knaus: OK, we know the guy is good, probably the best, even though he has the best technology to help him. We don't need to witness an attitude, more so then the actual words, that tells us he is the best.

Level technology: If NASCAR wants to really level the playing field, it should make top technology available to all teams. That means if the one-car operation of Robby Gordon wants to test his engine during the week, he should be able to rent at a reasonable price, the best machine for one day so he could get the latest info. That's where the top teams have the real advantage.

That might be the best Christmas present of all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Daytona practice Associated Press story


AP Sports Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Daytona 500 could have higher speeds, wilder races and closer finishes.
Drivers testing Daytona International Speedway for the first time since it was completely repaved agreed Thursday that NASCAR’s premier event will feature tighter packs — cars running three wide at nearly 200 mph — and increase the possibility for breathtaking wrecks.
“It’s going to be a lot tighter packs than I’ve ever seen,” defending Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray said. “It’s certainly going to be more Talladega-type, really close, restrictor-plate racing. ... You’ve got to hope that you’re going to make it to the end because the odds (of big wrecks) are going to be really good I’d say.”
The sport’s most famous track recently completed its second repaving project, the first since 1979, and drivers turned laps on the 21/2-mile superspeedway Wednesday and Thursday as part of Goodyear’s tire test.
The notorious bumps in turns two and four are gone, so is the pesky pothole that plagued the race last February, and pit road is wider for increased safety. The result is a smoother track that causes less tire wear, creates faster laps and more tight-knit racing.
“It’s going to be more like Talladega,” veteran driver Bobby Labonte said. “It’s going to lend to more pushing, more shoving, more drafting like that. Obviously, that’s going to lend to more things that could happen. Nobody knows that. If you sat here on a Monday and ran a 500-mile race with 43 cars and you did it again Wednesday and again Friday, you’d have three different races probably.
“It’s not a recipe. It just kind of folds out the way it folds out. You don’t really know, but it definitely lends to that.”
Eighteen drivers from six teams, including Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya, took part in the test. Some teams brought cars and engines from last season. Others tested their latest and greatest technology, including ethanol-blended fuel.
All the teams used a slightly smaller restrictor plate than the one bolted on engines at Daytona last season. The top speed was 197.5 mph, and NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said officials will evaluate testing results before deciding whether to reduce the plate even further.
“We may need to come down a little bit off of that, which would be like a 64th of an inch or something,” Pemberton said. “We’ll have to go back and talk to the teams and we’ll look at the speeds from the last two days of testing.”
Teams will return to Daytona for a three-day test in late January.
Not much is expected to change before then. Goodyear seemingly nailed the tire in the Daytona test. Although analysts had limited access to the new pavement, they used Talladega’s recently repaved surface as a starting point and tweaked a few things from there. They ended up with the same left-side tire used at Talladega and a right-side tire more like ones used at Las Vegas and Charlotte.
The combination resulted in the least tire wear drivers could remember.
“Tires, from what we’ve seen so far, are not going to be an issue,” McMurray said. “You’ll see two tires, four tires and you might see fuel only.”
Since tires haven’t shown the kind of wear typically seen at Daytona, speeds have remained fast and handling has been relatively tame. McMurray said he turned the steering wheel half as much as he used to. That kind of smooth driving should allow drivers to stay tightly packed for 500 miles.
That kind of racing usually makes for big wrecks.
“Three wide is not going to be an issue,” McMurray said. “It’s just running really close together. It’s going to be not running over the guy. It sounds really easy, but it’s really hard to do.”
The old surface proved challenging for drivers. Between the treacherous bumps to the slippery seams, cars often were a handful to keep straight.
They won’t be nearly as difficult now.
“This is more of chess game, ’When do I get aggressive, when do I not get aggressive?”’ Burton said. “A lot of times on the old surface, your car dictated when you could and when you couldn’t (take a chance). What’s going to dictate this time is how many laps are left. The workload’s actually going to be less. I think your brain will be tired, but I don’t think anything else will be tired.”
Aside from the smooth surface, pit road was the other notable difference. The repaving project included widening pit road considerably, creating more room for everyone.
“This pit road was the most treacherous of all the pit roads that we raced on,” Kurt Busch said. “It looks like green acres out there. It’s really a safer place on pit road. The environment for the crew guys will be much better and you won’t necessarily have to worry as much about getting the fender dings. I’m excited about it.”
Little else changed, drawing praise from drivers.
“They just put pavement on it, and I’m glad that’s what they did,” Burton said. “Daytona has its own history, has its own heritage, it’s entrenched in what our sport’s all about, so keeping Daytona Daytona was 100 percent the right thing to do.
“But it has a whole lot more grip. It’s going to keep that grip for a long time. ... You’re going to see the kind of racing you see in February for several years.”

They're racing at Daytona ... sort of

The first tests on the newly paved Daytona International Speedway have be going on during the last two days. The reports about the track have been good from all of the drivers.
It had to help make the track smoother. I did the Richard Petty Experience as a rider (not a driver) a few years ago at Daytona, and was a bit alarmed at how much we were bouncing coming out of Turn 2. Afterward, the driver told me you can't really adjust to the bumps there at those speeds (we were going about 150 mph, as opposed to the Sprint Cup guys who go a little under 200 mph). He said you just have to keep the steering wheel straight and ride them out.
Then there were the delays during this year's Daytona 500 with the pothole. To have that happen in your biggest event of the year was embarrassing.
It's important to note that this repaving wasn't simply putting asphalt over the old asphalt. They dug up the old pavement first, then put four layers of new asphalt down to make this a really smooth track.
The smoother surface is bound to lead to more aggressive racing and hopefully better racing there as the drivers have said they can go three-wide there all the way around. We'll find out for sure how it works during Speedweeks leading up to the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NASCAR Quotes of the Year

Here are at least some of the top quotes of the year in NASCAR. My favorite was probably Joey Logano, who never gets upset, being mad at Kevin Harvick. It was also entertaining when Jeff Gordon vented some frustration toward Jimmie Johnson.

1/21/10 NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton at NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., setting the tone for the season.
“As it relates to the Sprint Cup Series, there's been a lot of debate and talk over the winter time, as everyone knows. The bump drafting as we’ve known it at Daytona and Talladega over the past few years will be totally eliminated. We’re gonna put it back in the hands of the drivers and ‘Boys, have at it and have a good time,’ that's all I can say.”

1/31/10 Hurley Haywood, five-time GRAND-AM Rolex 24 winner, on his final lap as a pro racer in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“The guys at Brumos are all big stock car fans and one of them said, 'If you get close to Jimmie Johnson, I want you to run with him and see if you can pass him,' so I got on his tail and we were having a pretty good time and that's where the (1:42.2) lap came from so it was fun and Jimmie's a class act. He's not only a great stock car driver, but he's also a very good sports car driver so it was a pleasure to be able to race with him on my final lap (as a professional sports car driver.)”

2/14/10 Jamie McMurray after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
"It's unbelievable. I can't really put it into words the way it feels. I talked to Christy my wife this morning. She was like: 'You know, what would it mean to you if you won this race today?' I told her it would be like a dream come true. I'm trying to be genuine and as sincere as I can and not sound cliché. As a kid growing up, this is what you dream of, of being able to win the Daytona 500."

2/21/10 Kevin Harvick on the No. 48 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team after losing to Jimmie Johnson in the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
“They're really good, but they're really, really lucky, too. I mean, Jimmie is a good friend of mine, but there's no way of getting around how lucky they are. You don't win four championships and do all the things they've done. They did a good job today in winning the race, but they have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass. I mean, there's no way to get around that.”

3/21/10 Kurt Busch after losing to Jimmie Johnson, who claimed his 50th career victory and first at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500.
"I'd rather lose to any of the (42) cars out there than this No. 48 car. I thought we had them beat. I gave it my heart, but to come up short ... it's a shame we didn't bring it home for a victory.”

4/25/10 Jeff Gordon after Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson made contact with the No. 24, for the second consecutive week at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala.
“The ‘48’ (Jimmie Johnson) is testing my patience. I’m hard to get mad, and I’m pissed off.”

5/8/10 Denny Hamlin as he crossed the finish line first in the Showtime Southern 500, one of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season-best eight wins, at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C.
“All we do is win!”
5/11/10 NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France at the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.
“I see a lot of our fans are out here, right in this corner in particular. They're the big benefactor from all over the country and all over the world to come into Charlotte, stay in the community, go to the events in May and October and, most importantly, walk through and take in the history of this sport. Get to know it. Get to know their drivers a little bit better through the things you’re going to see. And so for that, I want to tell our fans, you have the best Hall of Fame in the world right here in Charlotte.”
5/14/10 Jeff Gordon on NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing in 2010 at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del.
“The think right now the sport’s selling itself because the racing has been phenomenal. We’ve seen some of the closest finishes, most action, not only at the end of the race, but throughout the race everywhere we’ve been. The double-file restarts, the green-white-checkers, the spoiler – there’s just a lot of reasons right now why I think we’re putting the best show in sports out there each and every weekend.”
5/14/10 Former NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Carl Edwards on the new NASCAR Nationwide Series car that made its debut with four races in 2010
“Those Mustangs look great. I think that’s one of the neatest things that NASCAR’s done for a while, for us to run those cars. That’ll be cool. I’d love to be the first guy to win in a Mustang in a NASCAR race. That’d be really neat.”
5/23/10 Richard Petty inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in Charlotte, N.C.
“The fans then is what it's all about, guys. We wouldn't be here without the fans. There wouldn't be a Richard Petty. There wouldn't be a NASCAR. But the press was telling the fans about NASCAR. The fans came. So the fans developed a love, a real love, for it...”
6/6/10 Joey Logano after an on-track incident with Kevin Harvick in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 presented by Target at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.
“Racing the 29, and he let me go in the middle of the straightaway and decided to dump me in the next turn. I don't know what his deal is with me. It's probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do, so it's probably not his fault.”

7/3/10 Dale Earnhardt Jr. after winning the first NASCAR Nationwide Series new car race in his final run in a No. 3 car at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach. Fla.
“I'm really happy with what NASCAR did the first time out with this car. They will work on it, improve it, learn a lot from it. But the first go-round I think was a great success.”
9/9/10 Carl Edwards about the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va.
“I can’t pick a favorite as a fan looking at it and I can’t say who’s gonna be the favorite and I don’t think you can say what rivalries are going to build. I think this is going to be the best Chase we’ve ever had.”
10/24/10 Denny Hamlin after starting the second half of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a win in the TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va.
“Who said it was over? Told you it wasn't over.”
10/31/10 Kevin Harvick on Jimmie Johnson after the AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala.
“No offense to him, but somebody else needs to win. Everybody but them wants somebody else to win. I like Jimmie as good as anybody. But for the sake of the sport, one of the two of us needs to make something happen.”

11/7/10 Mike Ford on the No. 48 team after the No. 11 team’s eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of the season at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.
“You've watched them play mind games with people in the past, and I'm completely immune to that. I could care less. I'll be right in their face saying, ‘It doesn't matter.’ I think our race team is better than their race team, and I'm not going to tiptoe around them because of where they're at. I'm going to do what it's going to require for us to win a championship and beat them. Not that I'm playing dirty by any means, but take what's ours, and I'm not afraid to go toe-to-toe with them.”
11/21/10 Jimmie Johnson after winning a fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla.
“People tell me they hate me, but they respect me, and that's always cool. A guy that had an "I hate 48" t-shirt on when I was on the SPEED stage, but was giving me a thumbs-up and said congratulations. So in the moment, it's tough I think for fans to maybe look at what we have accomplished, because they want their guy to win and I understand that. But I know what we’ve done today is respected sports-wide, not just in our little bubble we live in, but sports-wide…”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Junior get a win, sort of

Dale Earnhardt Jr. did get a victory this season, even if it wasn't on the track. It came as no surprise that Junior won NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award for the eighth straight season. Junior is as likeable as any driver out there, but a win or two next season would surely help his reputation.
Which leads to the next point. When team owner Rick Hendrick announced changes for three of his four teams, one of those included putting Junior in the same building with Johnson. The crews exchange information and set those cars up exactly the same way. So, if a set up is good for Johnson it should be for Junior right? While Hendrick is trying to help his non-Johnson teams become stronger, it also puts more pressure on Junior to win. He's really got no excuses now.
And, while you may or may not like Hendrick, the fact that he made changes shows that he's not just basking in the glow of Johnson winning a fifth straight title. It would have been easy for Hendrick to wait until after next season, when Kasey Kahne joins the team to make those changes. But Hendrick is not one who waits around when changes need to be made. Sure, this team's got the best financial resources to compete for titles, but it also has an owner who doesn't accept mediocrity.
Finally, the paving is almost complete at Daytona. It will be interesting to see how the new pavement affects tire wear, with better grip in the corners and the overall speeds. It could also make for some better racing as it will eliminate the bumps that made Daytona a sometimes hazardous place to race.