2010 Off To A Great Start

Well 2009 has come and gone. 2010 has started with a bang!

The Saints won Super Bowl XLIV in fine fashion. It was the franchises first trip to the Big Game in its 44 year history which started just 2 months before the first Super Bowl was played Jan 15, 1967. This years Super Bowl took over the top spot for the highest viewed program ever, ending a 27 year run by the final episode of M*A*S*H, with an average audience of 106.5 million viewers.

Kevin Harvick won the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona. Not a points race for the Sprint Cup season but more of a pre-season all-star race which included all 12 drivers from the 2009 Chase, the 2009 Rookie of the Year (Joey Logano), past Sprint Cup Champions, past Shootout winners, and past winners of the Daytona 500 and Pepsi 400 (the July race at Daytona). In all 24 of 28 eligible drivers were in the race. Kevin won last year also to become only the fourth driver to win back-to-back shootout races joining Neil Bonnett, Ken Schrader, and Tony Stewart.

The Daytona 500 is lining up to be a great race (isn’t it always!) with Mark Martin getting the Pole and Dale Jr to the outside of row one. We will get the lineup for the rest of the field in the two Gatorade Duel races this Thursday.

With some of the rule changes recently made by NASCAR this year should be more enjoyable for the fans. They are lifting the restriction on bump drafting at the high speed tracks and giving them a less restrictive restrictor plate for the same races. They are letting the drivers police themselves which is a much welcome change to at least one NASCAR fan (me). It shows that NASCAR realizes that they have to trust the drivers on the track and not dictate so much to them.

Yes, make the cars safe, make the track safe, but for goodness sake, let the drivers DRIVE! I think they got this one right.

There is only one full time team at the Sprint Cup level driving Dodge cars this year and that is Roger Penske Racing. With three drivers in his stable he gets to have all the attention and (more importantly) money from the Dodge Motorsports folks. Hopefully their research and development programs will provide these cars and their teams some of the best that Dodge has to offer. Don’t forget, Kurt Busch finished fourth last year. One of only two Dodges in the top ten (Kasey Kahne finished tenth) and the first non-Chevy after the Hendricks juggernaut.

So for this year as a new proud owner of a 2010 Dodge Charger R/T I will be cheering the Penske teams to victory. Those drivers include the aforementioned Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish Jr, and Brad Keselowski.

Yes I will still cheer for Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson. I am forever a fan of these two drivers!

See you at the track!

I wish!

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NASCAR and Dodge

Well there is one less team in NASCAR running with the Dodge name. Richard Petty Motorsports has switched to Ford. That leaves only one big name team driving the Dodge Charger, Penske Championship Racing. Too bad I’m not a big fan of Kurt Busch or Brad Keselowski, but I will root for Sam Hornish Jr. in the 77 car. He had a pretty good year in 2009. Hope he can continue that in 2010.

There are a couple of others. One in particular is Carl Long. Remember him? Not too many folks do. You see back in May 2009 at Lowes Motor Speedway for the Sprint Showdown races before the All-Star race, Carl’s number 46 Dodge blew an engine in practice and they had to change it out if they wanted to race.

Well in doing so they had to submit the blown engine to NASCAR for inspection. Guess what? It failed. NASCAR engines can only have a displacement of 358 cubic inches (about 5.9 liters). His engine, which blew, was measured at 358.17 inches. So it failed.

What did NASCAR do? They fined Carl $200,000, suspended him for 12 races, and docked him 200 owner and driver points. He finished the 2009 season with a negative 200 points, the first driver to have ever done that. You see Carl is not only the driver, but he is the owner too. A one car, small operation owner out of Troutman, NC.

He appealed but was denied. NASCAR takes engine size very seriously and they don’t mess around with that. According to Carl, he bought his engine from a reputable provider and it was all he could afford at the time. It had 50 less horsepower than a normal Sprint Cup engine.

He hasn’t raced in the Sprint Cup since. He is a member of the Front Row Motorsports pit crew who drive Dodges, but he can’t drive.

He is currently taking donations on his website at www.carl-long.com and one of his supporters is David Reutimann of Michael Waltrip Racing.

I think this is a travesty and NASCAR needs to fix this rule. There should be tolerances like there are in other aspects of the car during inspection. Heck, he didn’t even race the engine in question. And now a small business owner is out in the cold. He can’t do what he loves and that is race cars. Too bad. I hope I can donate to help him pay his fine and I hope you can too. Any bit will help I am sure.

Back to Dodge in NASCAR, it is sad that so many teams are switching. Is it the economy? Is it that Dodge is not throwing money to the racing teams or providing them with enough support? Are they really making that bad of a product?

I sure will hate to see Kasey Kahne in a Ford, although he did get his start in one. That relationship ended poorly but Ford and Kahne have both come out and said that all that is behind them and is water under the bridge. I sure hope so for Kasey’s sake. He deserves to be in a great car that will help him make a run for the Championship.

Will it be in a Ford with Richard Petty Motorsports? He only has one year left in his contract with them. We can only wait to see where he will go at the end of 2010. Maybe Penske will have room for another driver in his stable to have four cars.

After all, that’s all the cars you can have as far as NASCAR is concerned. But that is another rule that needs to be discussed at a later date.

Until then…..Go Dodge!

Dale Earnhardt Jr Wins NASCARs Most Popular Driver

Again.

For the seventh year in a row, NASCAR fans have selected Dale Jr as the Most Popular Driver.

Really? I don’t see it.

I don’t think Jr really does either. And it shows in his racing.

In fact a few years ago he skipped the award ceremony all together. He said he learned a lesson from that and has personally accepted each one since then.

He hasn’t been the most dominant of drivers. Bill Elliott wasn’t really either, but he has won a Championship. He has won the MPD award 16 times. So many in fact that they will rename the award after him when he retires from the sport.

Richard Petty has won the award 9 times. We all know how popular and successful he was.

Bill won the award a record 10 years in a row. In 2001 it went to Dale Sr, the year he died, and then back to Bill in 2002.

Enter Dale Jr.

Since 2003, the fans of NASCAR have given this award to Dale Jr for what can only be explained as a proxy for his dad. His performance on the track certainly hasn’t justified it. I know it’s not all about what goes on at the track and I’m sure Dale Jr has made an impact in the lives of others be it his charitable work or the like, but I still just don’t see it.

His heart just isn’t in the sport anymore. He said upon receiving the award this year “I can’t thank them enough (the fans), so I guess I’ll just keep showing up.”

So you are only showing up to race because of us fans? Really? I mean I know this is a fan sport, but you have to have some other reason to go out there and risk your life by driving 200 mph with 42 other cars inches apart besides us fans.

He also said, “There’s a big sense of that I earned this, that I deserve this because of my family name.” You got that right.

“My father, he gave me a hell of a gift in popularity, so my job has been to try to be an asset to the sport and to maintain that gift and it’s integrity.” Then why don’t you try winning a few more races or at least be in contention to win a few more races.

He has been with Hendrick Motorsports now for two full years and has only won one race in that time, none this year.

Dale – it’s time to start being a winning driver and not just a popular driver.

Again.

4

That’s a great number isn’t it?

It’s my favorite number.

It’s my lucky number.

And now, it’s Jimmie Johnson’s favorite number.

Congratulations Jimmie, Chad, and the 48 Team!

Our thoughts and prayers are with Rick Hendrick and his family as his niece is having emergency liver transplant surgery in North Carolina. He was not able to be at the race.

Jimmie Johnson is under-rated and under-appreciated

I didn’t say that, but I wanted to.

No, the man who said that is a very respected individual in his own right. He is a 27 year veteran in his profession and is extremely respected by his peers. To have this man speak words like this about Jimmie Johnson is remarkable, but not hard to believe. This 50 year old, who holds such high esteem for 34 year old Jimmie Johnson, is none other than Mark Martin.

Why do I feel this is important to share? Well for starters, Mark Martin has never won a Championship and is arguably the best driver to have never won a Championship. He has finished second 4 times. Who were those drivers he finished behind? How about none other than Dale Earnhardt twice in 1990 and 1994, Jeff Gordon in 1998, and Tony Stewart in 2002. All while driving a Ford for Jack Roush.

For Mark Martin to say that he doesn’t mind coming in second to Jimmie is putting Jimmie in the same category as the other three drivers he has played second fiddle to. Nice company wouldn’t you say?

Only three other drivers in the history of NASCAR have won four or more Championships (Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon). Jimmie is one race from joining that club too. In fact all he has to do is finish 25th or better. For Mark Martin to win the Championship he has to win the race and Jimmie needs to finish 31st or worse. When Jimmie starts his engine, Jeff Gordon will be eliminated from winning the Cup altogether. And since Jimmie qualified on the pole, that seems a fore gone conclusion.

Three men at the top of their sport. History would be made if either of them won the Championship, but none so memorable than four in a row. For Jeff Gordon to win his 5th is awesome enough, but not spectacular. It would be Mark’s first in his long 27 year career and would be to him what the Superbowl win was to John Elway. Heck, even Dan Marino didn’t win a Superbowl so Mark won’t be alone in that category if it doesn’t happen this year.

But for Jimmie to win an unprecedented fourth in a row. It may never happen again.

How does that stack up against other sports? Well in baseball for example, only the New York Yankees have won four in a row (twice) and one those was actually five in a row. The Green Bay Packers won 3 NFL Championships in a row (twice), including the last NFL Championship and the first two AFL-NFL World Championship games which would later be renamed to Superbowl I and II.

The Chicago Bulls won three in a row (twice), the Lakers have done it (twice, once in Minnesota), and the Celtics stand alone with eight wins in a row and 9 of 10 in that same stretch.

In the NHL you have two teams who have accomplished four in a row, the Montreal Canadiens and the new York Islanders.

So where does the 48 team fit into this?

My response? They fit in right along with the rest of them.

Don’t believe me?

Just ask Mark Martin.

Jimmie and the 48 team does it again!

A few months ago I wrote about how well the 48 team did in Pocono to overcome engine problems and stay in the race and not get a DNF. Not only did they finish the race that weekend, they made up lost laps and finished thirteenth. Jimmie Johnson passed 17 other cars on the lead lap to do it. I said enough then about how great of a champion he is.

I’ll say more now.

After watching the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday, I have a renewed since of Jimmie and Company’s efforts to not only be competitive and win races (even when they don’t), but to win Championships. I’ll admit. I was scared on lap three when he was spun out and went into the wall. Hard.

Not scared for his safety, but for his points lead. Luckily the car wasn’t that bad. Sure, they pretty much rebuilt the car. New complete rear end. New front end, including the steering and suspension. They had to rebuild the body of the car. They had to make sure it met basic NASCAR rules for the track.

Oh and it took them only one hour and ten minutes to do it. Laps lost? 112. Points lost? At that point his 184 point lead was down to 30. He would eventually make up five spots and with Mark Martin’s fourth place finish Jimmie has a 73 point lead.

But you already know all of this. You’re a NASCAR fan right? You watched the race right? So why am I telling you all of this?

It has come to my attention that there are people in this world who don’t like Jimmie Johnson. I can’t figure out why. I think it has something to do with people believing he is unstoppable or infallible. Well they can put those ideas to rest.

He can be stopped. He can loose races. He can loose control of his car, although he almost saved it. He is not unlike every other driver. He is more like them than most people are willing to say.

And when the chips are against this team, they don’t pack up and go home like other drivers. They buckle down and get to work. Seeing Chad Knauss in the garage taking off tires and getting under the car and directing what was going on in there was just as much of an awesome sight as seeing Jimmie cross the finish line in first place.

I just hope I get to see that again this year.

Playing the Rain Game

If you don’t know what that means, stick around for a bit and I will explain.

There are strategies and then there are strategies. Whats the difference? Well one allows you to out wit, out last, and out play (Survivor anyone?) your opponents. The other one is more luck than anything else. In NASCAR at least, the latter happens when a race is threatened by rain or some other type of natural phenomenon that would otherwise prevent the race from completing on its own. When this happens after half the scheduled number of laps have been completed, NASCAR officials will normally call the race as complete. Some other sports like baseball do this as well. If it is before half way, they try to postpone it until Sunday or Monday and if they can’t get the race completed, they will call it.

This happens at least 2 or 3 times a year in NASCAR, thrice this year already. The SuperBowl of NASCAR, which oddly enough is at the beginning of the season, the Daytona 500, was called on the account of rain as some would say (including me) a bit earlier than they should have. The Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway was delayed after the start until Monday and then it rained more that day and was called 27 laps past halfway. And then just today, the Lenox Indutrial Tools 301 in Loudon, NH was shortened because of rain.

Why did I drag you all through that? Because in each of these races, the winner may not have been the best car on the track or someone who may have won had the race finished normally, but someone who played the Rain Game. Here is how it works. All the pit crew boxes have a lot of computer equipment where they track their cars telemetry (speed, rpm’s, tires, fuel mileage, etc.). They also track the weather. As the race progresses, crew chiefs monitor storms as they move towards the track. What they are hoping for is to be in first place when NASCAR calls the race. Does it work? It does if you are Matt Kenseth, David Reutimann, or most recently, Joey Logano. Was he the best car on the track today? Hardly. Was he lucky? Absolutely. He even said it himself, “I guess I’d rather be lucky than good right now, obviously, we didn’t have the car to win, but we’ve overcame a lot [Sunday] — tires down and more issues than you can imagine.” Read it here for yourself.

With the win, he has become the youngest driver to win a Sprint Cup race and it is his first win in the series.

Do I like it? No. Is it a strategy? Yes. Is it risky? You bet. Joey ran out of gas when they finally brought the field down pit road and red flagged the race. If they restarted it his car would not have.

But like they say, to finish first, first you have to finish. I guess that is what Joey did today in New Hampshire.

Just barely.