Thursday, September 30, 2010

Richard Childress Racing statement on Bowyer appeal being denied

The following is a statement from Richard Childress, president and chief executive officer of Richard Childress Racing, regarding the September 29 decision of the NASCAR appeals committee to uphold the penalty on the No. 33 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team following the September 19 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
"I am disappointed but not surprised by the decision knowing how the appeal system is structured. We proved beyond a reasonable doubt how the car was found to be out of tolerance after the race. Knowing how the system works, I brought a check with me to cover the cost of the appeal hearing and we have already submitted our request to appeal to the chief appellate officer. That being said, we will not let this be a distraction to the primary goal of one of our teams winning the Sprint Cup Series championship. We owe it to our fans and our sponsors to stay focused and bring the championship back to RCR. We will have no further comment on the matter until the appeal is final."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Full statement by National Stock Car Racing Commission on Bowyer appeal

On September 29, 2010, the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel heard and considered the appeal of Richard Childress Racing regarding four penalties issued by NASCAR relative to the #33 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car.  This stemmed from post-race inspection following a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at New Hampshire Motor Raceway on September 21, 2010.

The penalties concern Section 12-1 of the NASCAR Rule Book “Actions detrimental to stock car racing.”; Section 12-4-J: “Any determination by NASCAR Officials that the Race Equipment used in the Event does not conform to NASCAR Rules”; and Section 20-3: “The car body location specifications in reference to the certified chassis does not meet the NASCAR-approved specifications.”

The penalties assessed were:

-Loss of 150 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Car Owner points for owner, Richard Childress

-Loss of 150 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Driver points for driver, Clint Bowyer

-$150,000 fine; suspension from the next six (6) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Events; suspension from NASCAR until November 3, 2010; and probation until December 31, 2010 for crew chief Shane Wilson

            - Suspension from the next six (6) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Events; suspension from NASCAR until November 3, 2010; and probation until December 31, 2010 for crew member Chad Haney

The Appellants requested and were granted a deferral of the suspensions and fine until such time as this hearing could be convened.

The Appellants did not contest that the car measured out of specifications upon inspection.

The Appellants argued that, having received a warning about the car body of the #33 car being “too close” following the Richmond race, that it was inconceivable that they would bring a non-conforming car to New Hampshire. 

They argued that the left rear frame member was actually bent upward as a result of the car being pushed towards Victory Lane by a wrecker after the post-race burnouts, which resulted in the left rear measurement “hard point” being too high.  To this end, they also presented an accident reconstruction specialist to demonstrate that a wrecker might bend up the left rear strut in the trunk under certain conditions.  The specialists, however, indicated that such an occurrence would strictly affect the left rear because of the match-up between the wrecker pushbar and the angle of the racecar’s rear bumper.  He went on to say that the corresponding right rear measurements should not be affected, in his view, nor the frame member deformed as a team representative had alleged.

The Appellants also contested the severity and timing of the penalty.

Claims that the wrecker caused the infraction were negated by the telemetry from the car which did not show a sharp impact spike; by the fact that the rear template still fit snugly across the entire rear of the car; by a visual inspection of the rear of the car which showed nothing of note in the way of damage; and a visual review of the videotape of post race assistance tendered by the wrecker which appeared as relatively gentle pushing.

Of significance to the Panel were some additional facts which came to light during the hearing.  Particularly of note were the facts that both rear hard points, left and right, were high, and that the rear of the body was offset on the frame.

The Panel found that the penalties were consistent for infractions of this magnitude.

Therefore, it is the unanimous decision of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel to uphold the original penalties.

The periods of suspension shall be adjusted from the date of the hearing.

The Appellants have the right under Section 15 of the Rule Book to appeal this decision to the National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer.  The Appellants submitted such a request and the fee immediately after the conclusion of the hearing.

John Capels
Lyn St James
Waddell Wilson
George Silbermann - Appellate Administrator and non-voting member

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Where have all the cautions gone?

   Has anyone else noticed what has not been occurring lately, particularly since the Chase for the Sprint Cup started?

   First of all, there have been fewer wrecks of late but also far fewer cautions in general. At Richmond - which set the field for the Chase - there were three. Last weekend at New Hampshire, there were eight. But Sunday here at Dover, there were four.

   The common denominator seems to be it takes a piece of debris the size of a car to get a caution called of late. You don't think NASCAR has gotten sensitive to all the complaints about "phantom cautions" do you?

   The long green-flag runs give teams with problems little chance to fix them and I believe that's why you are seeing a lot of good cars falling off the lead lap more quickly. With fewer pit stops under yellow, there is much less time to work on cars without losing position on the track.

   Perhaps all the drivers and fans complaining about “phantom” cautions got exactly what they asked for – at a price. Like it or not, cautions actually help produce better racing in many respects.

   Don't get me wrong. I'm all about fast-paced races and certainly on long green-flag runs the best in the field rises to the top.

   But I go back to that old saying, "Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Denny Hamlin isn't buying the Bowyer tow truck argument

   In his media availability at Dover on Friday, Denny Hamlin went out of his way to question some of Clint Bowyer's assertions from earlier in the day during his spirited defense of his team.

   In whole, Hamlin said, "Our car came back and it was correct, but it wasn’t built incorrect and that’s one thing that their car was -- was built incorrectly. You can talk about how small the thing was off and you can really try to say that 60-thousandths didn’t help him (Clint Bowyer) perform any better -- that is a crock.  Let me tell you something, that helps a lot. I know when we gain five points of downforce our car runs a ton better. He wasn’t speeding on pit road by a half-a-mile per hour he was speeding by 5.5 miles-per-hour.

They give you a grace period. NASCAR has been very, very lenient I feel like on this car and they’ve given those guys chances. It’s not Richmond. I think that they should just be happy that they’re in the Chase at this point. They were warned and they were warned before Richmond. Everyone in the garage knows that.  They’re the ones who wanted to press the issue and get all they could to make sure they got in the Chase.  They got in it and then they were busted. They kept going with it.”

Clint Bowyer's opening salvo at Dover media availability

You always want to win races. You're very proud to win races and I'm still proud of that win. I don't believe that we did anything wrong. I guess I'll go on record and say that, first and foremost, in my opinion. I want my fans to know that. There is a lot of integrity that goes into this sport. I'm damn proud of being a part of this sport. I love this sport and I wouldn't cheat to win a race in this sport. We have a lot more integrity for myself and our race team at RCR. Hopefully I only have to do this once.

I woke up about 6 o'clock this morning, which is uncharacteristic for me. I just grabbed a notebook and wanted to make some notes. You know, for myself and for you guys. I know a lot of you guys have a lot of questions; trust me; there are a hell of a lot of questions that I have too. And I'm going to go through them. I like to have facts when something like this comes down. I've got a timeline of facts.

I'm going to start with number one: We were warned after Richmond that the car was too close to tolerances. Number two: We were told by NASCAR they were taking the car after New Hampshire, no matter what; first or 43rd. Number three: The car passed pre and post-race inspections at the race track. Number four: Monday, the rumors started about all this and in my opinion, forced NASCAR's hand to do something about it. Number five: Wednesday came and it was a 150-point fine. And the sixth thing, and at least an answer, you know, I'm looking for answers too. There are several things but one of them is a two-ton wrecker pushed me to victory lane. I'm going to elaborate on them. I think the first one (is) we were warned that both sides of the car were high after Richmond. Both sides. After the race in New Hampshire, after it got back to the Tech Center or whatever they call that place, just the left side was high. I think this shows that we definitely had it fixed; something within that race happened.

Number two: after being told that they were taking the car, we made double-sure before it went to New Hampshire that that car was right. Who in their right mind, knowing that they're going to take that car, wouldn't have made triple sure that thing was right before it went to the race track? I could have hit the wall doing a burnout, I could have done a lot of things that other drivers have done and that other teams have done in a post-race celebration this year. I didn't. We didn't want to push that in NASCAR's face. We appreciated them warning us on the fact and we tried to fix the situation. They told us about that situation Wednesday. Wednesday the car leaves. We had about two hours to jump on that car and make sure that thing was right.

And number three:  The car passed pre and post-race inspection, and three days later get such a huge fine? They take the car apart, completely apart to measure this thing and in my opinion that's not the way the car was raced on the race track. I think that's something to be said. Number four: Once the rumors started it wasn't long before the penalty. I think NASCAR has a lot of problems with a lot of cars on the race track being out of the box and I think they needed to set an example with something. Number five: I don't think the penalty fits the crime. Sixty-thousandths of an inch, folks. Grab a quarter out of your pocket (holds up a quarter). That's sixty-five thousandths of an inch thick. Less than the thickness of that quarter right there resulted in a 150-point fine. Before or after this, grab that and ask yourself if that was a performance-enhancing thing right there.

And the last thing, my question is, is it possible that a two-ton wrecker could bend the quarter panel of this thing sixty thousandths of an inch? You have to ask yourself that. I got hit during the race, turned a couple of times; racing is tough. Now if this thing was knocked out a half of an inch, I could see something being made. But if it passed the height sticks afterwards, the very height sticks the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) did not pass, then miraculously enough when that same pit crew pushed it back around after 20 minutes it passed, that was pretty amazing. You know it passed those same sticks.

You know, my dad owns a towing business and has since I was born in 1979. I know a little something about wreckers. About 15 years ago they took them push bumpers off the front of them for this very reason. I remember back when people used to come (during) a snow storm and (say) please, push me out of the snow bank. You push them out of the snow bank and two days later they'd show up with a body shop bill in their hand, wanting you to pay the body shop bill for the damage you did to the back of their car. This could happen. That's the only question I had for you guys (media) is to ask yourselves if it is possible for that to happen. That's all I've got to say.

I'm angry about the whole thing. This tarnished my win. It's something you're very proud of. I'm very angry about it. I'm angry for my fans for our sponsors. I'm angry about it. I think that there are a lot of things a lot of people don't know about, media included, and I don't understand it about as much as you do. So I found myself all week, instead of celebrating a win, trying to figure out what the hell they were talking about. The rumors, in my opinion, I truly believe that these rumors forced their hand in making a decision.

I think NASCAR does a great job of policing and maintaining common ground. Look at the racing. Now last year and the last two years, when an organization was as dominant as they were, do you think they had something up on the competition? This year it's as close as it's ever been. I think it's pretty damn good racing on the race track. I think it's the best as we've had since this car was put into inception. So, I think they do do a good job. I respect the fact that what they have to look at each and every week. My personal opinion, I don't like the R&D Center. I think what you bring to the race track is what they inspect. And, you know? Three days later the car the car (is) completely taken apart from something that you haven't even raced. I mean it's a completely different vehicle, you know? You take the suspension off the thing; these are all components that bolt on. It ain't a decal you took off. These things are bolted on and could interrupt the way the car is measured. How can that possibly be kept in the same box? 

So I think there is a lot of cars that are close to being on the out of the box side. I think that's what crew members and crew chiefs are paid to do and you know, yeah; I do think there are a lot of cars that are very close. I think they do a good job. I appreciated the fact that they warned us, you know? That's why we tried to fix the thing. That's why we did fix the thing before it went to New Hampshire so this wouldn't happen. Not to rub it in their face and say well you know what you're talking about, we're going to continue to do this and don't think you're going to do anything about it. I mean you've got to appreciate this sport and respect the sport and we darn sure did and it bit us in the rear for it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How can you enjoy a sport if you believe nothing is ever right or wrong?

   There is an interesting quagmire that encompasses a lot of discussions in NASCAR lately and it showed up again this week when NASCAR levied some harsh penalties on the team of Clint Bowyer, who won last weekend’s Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire.

   NASCAR really seems to raise the ire of fans whenever it makes a ruling on one of many issues covering some of the “gray areas” of the sport.

   The issues range from ruling whether someone was in the “act of passing,” or whether an on-track incident was “intentional” or not.

   Whether fans agree or disagree, most in those circumstances lament NASCAR having to make judgment decisions, often preferring more things in the sport were more “black and white.”

   That doesn’t sound like a bad idea, actually. But then fast forward to when NASCAR does issue black-and-white rulings, like how Bowyer’s New Hampshire car failed a post-race inspection under scrutiny at the research and development center.

   In this case, the car was outside, not only the initial measurements, but also the tolerance area NASCAR grants as well.

   You would think a clear cut case here, right? Nope.

   Instead, we hear about how “it was the smallest of margins,” or explanations – some plausible, some not – about how something else could have caused this measurement or that to be “slightly out of tolerance.”

   In either case, NASCAR can’t win.

   There will always be judgment calls in sports – it’s what produces some of the best fan arguments in sports.

   But when you also start questioning the legitimacy of black-and-white calls, or instead produce excuses for each and every one, you begin to proffer the theory that no one is ever right or wrong.

   It’s hard to see how anyone could enjoy a sport where none of the outcomes are ever accepted.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Entire Richard Childress Racing statement regarding Clint Bowyer's NASCAR penalty

The following is a statement from Richard Childress, president and chief executive officer of Richard Childress Racing, regarding NASCAR's penalty on the No. 33 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team after last week's race in New Hampshire:

"First of all, I'd like to apologize to our sponsors, our fans and everyone at RCR for the situation that has resulted from this ruling. RCR has a long-standing reputation of integrity on and off the race track. We pride ourselves on working within the rules established by the sanctioning body.

NASCAR informed us after the Richmond race that we were very close to their maximum tolerances. They also told us they were going to take our New Hampshire car to the NASCAR Technical Center after that race. It doesn't make any sense at all that we would send a car to New Hampshire that wasn't within NASCAR's tolerances. I am confident we fixed the area of concern and the New Hampshire car left the race shop well within the tolerances required by NASCAR.

We feel certain that the cause of the car being out of tolerance by sixty thousandths of an inch, less than 1/16 of an inch, happened as a result of the wrecker hitting the rear bumper when it pushed the car into winner's circle. The rear bumper was also hit on the cool down lap by other drivers congratulating Clint on his victory. That's the only logical way that the left-rear of the car was found to be high at the tech center. We will appeal NASCAR's ruling and take it all the way to the NASCAR commissioner for a final ruling, if need be."

Monday, September 20, 2010

How long can Clint Bowyer race with nothing to lose?

   Any NASCAR fan had to be happy with the end of Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
   You had a driver, Clint Bowyer, who was willing to risk everything - perhaps any chance at his first Cup title - to earn the win in Sunday's race, allowing his gas tank to whither to fumes to get to Victory Lane.

   The payoff was great. Bowyer moved from 12th in the standings to second, trailing leader Denny Hamlin by 35 points entering next weekend's race at Dover, Del. He has gone from underdog to a top contender in the course of an afternoon.

   The question remains - and it was rightfully asked during the post-race news conference - how long can Bowyer and his No. 33 Richard Childress Racing team afford to race with nothing to lose? Because at some point now, there is everything to lose.

   Bowyer seems willing to continue with the same philosophy. Of course, it is what got him here. Yet there has to come a time when the risk outweighs the reward. Just ask Tony Stewart. Or Jeff Burton.

   I'm not saying it's time to start "points racing." Those words are just make NASCAR fans and media alike cringe.

   I'm just saying, while everyone would love to see Bowyer's penchant to approach this Chase with reckless abandon continue, I would not be surprised - nor should fans - if there comes a point, when Bowyer may need to get a tad more conservative.

    In any case, it seems Bowyer's championship quest - no matter how it turns out - should be one of the more entertaining to follow.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Where was the media outrage?

   At 2:15 p.m. Friday afternoon, several NASCAR media members had gathered in the media center at New Hampshire Motor Speedway waiting for the arrival of Kurt Busch for his scheduled media availability.

   They were still waiting at 2:30 p.m. And still at 2:45 p.m. (those who hadn't already left anyway). Busch was nowhere to be found, not even by NASCAR officials who attempted to track him down.

   Eventually NASCAR officials made an announcement that Busch would come in the media center following his qualifying attempt instead - no explanation offered.

   What is worse is no explanation was requested.

   Now think about this for a moment. If that had been Tony Stewart and he was scheduled to be in the media center at 2:15 p.m. and simply didn't show, can you imagine the outcry? At 2:16 p.m. there would be some media opening their laptops ready to fill their blank screens with musings of Stewart's disrespect and how NASCAR should hammer him mercilessly.

   Instead, the general consensus was a collective "Oh, well." And that's wrong.

   At the Bristol race, I said on Twitter that I thought some media members' dislike of Stewart was more personal than professional. And many disagreed with me. But let's look at the evidence.

   Busch simply didn't show for a scheduled media availability and were it not for NASCAR pointing out he would come in during qualifying, it probably would have gone unnoticed by many. If the rules should be touted and defended when Stewart breaks them, then it should be the same for every driver.

   Don't get me wrong. Stewart's actions are no more defensible than Busch's on Friday. My only point is one driver has been getting repeatedly raked over the coals for his conduct while others are left untouched for something at least as bad, if not worse.

   Now, that's personal.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Penske Racing won't stand in the way if Allgaier finds a ride elsewhere for 2011

   With no current sponsorship secured for a fulltime Nationwide series ride for 2011, Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said the organization would not stand in the way if driver Justin Allgaier is able to secure another ride for next season.

   “I’d hate to say he was free to go, but there is a mutual respect there,” Cindric told Sirius Satellite Radio’s Claire B. Lang on Wednesday night. “We haven’t been able to put (anything) together yet and we want to see him land on his feet.

   “Certainly if he has another opportunity out there, we would be more than happy to see him succeed and we would work with him on those fronts, although our first choice would be to keep him in one of our cars.”

   Allgaier, 24, is in his second full season driving for Penske in the Nationwide Series. He earned his first career win earlier this season at Bristol, Tenn. He is currently fourth in the series standings.

How about sending the Chase drivers on tour?

   Since NASCAR has already said it is considering making some “tweaks” to its Chase for the Sprint Cup format for 2011, I’ll like to add my own suggestion.

   After looking over the star-studded media lineup Chase drivers have had in New York City this week – insert sarcasm here – I think it’s time to revamp this whole Chase media blitz as well.

   When Chase drivers were appearing on shows such as “Late Night with David Letterman” or “Regis and Kelly,” I could see some benefit in the exposure. It could still be considered worthwhile even though the media event was held in a city that doesn’t host a NASCAR race.

   This year’s media “hit list” for Chase drivers in New York is very underwhelming.

   For one, there are multiple appearances on ESPN programs and Sirius Satellite Radio. That’s fine, except both are broadcast partners with NASCAR, so it’s not something those entities couldn’t do whether the media event was in New York, Charlotte or Martinsville, Va.

   Then there are the appearances on “mainstream media” outlets.

   You got Kevin Harvick on The Weather Channel. Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle were on something called “The Daily Line” on Versus. And Denny Hamlin was a guest on The CW Morning Show. Well, at least some of the drivers made it on Fox Business Channel.

   Here’s an idea.

   Instead of wasting time on media outlets that have little connection to NASCAR racing, how about sending the Chase drivers on a coordinated multi-market appearance, with at least one driver in each of the 10 markets which host Chase races over the next 10 weeks.

   You could, you know, help sell tickets to the races in those markets. Perhaps even generate some media exposure in the actual areas where NASCAR races are actually held.

   It certainly can’t go over any worse than last year’s pie-throwing contest.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Meet some of the NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees in person

 The NASCAR Hall of Fame has been inviting some of the nominees for the next Hall of Fame class to drop by the Hall and visit with those in attendance. Already this month, Bobby Allison, Jack Ingram and Ned Jarrett have visited the Hall. Richard Childress and Dale Inman are at the Hall today for a 1 p.m. appearance.

The visits coincide with voting season for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Once a year, a panel of experts convenes to vote on the next five inductees for the Hall. In addition, race fans can vote on through the end of September on who they think should be nominated. The next class of inductees will be announced at 4 p.m. Oct. 13.

Also coming up this month at the Hall is a joint appearance by Rick Hendrick and Darrell Waltrip on Sept. 21. They will tell stories and take questions from Hall guests. In addition that day, the documentary film, "Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story", will show every two hours in the Belk High Octane Theater and is included with NASCAR Hall of Fame general admission. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Credit Denny Hamlin with a win and a very good answer

   What makes a good race?

   Too many opinions and too little space to provide everyone's answer to that question. But the issue was sure to arise Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. Denny Hamlin won his sixth race of the season and captured the No. 1 seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

   While that is an impressive accomplishment, the immediate consensus by fans following the action on Twitter was that the racing was "boring" or fell short of expectations.

   Why? More than one person pointed out that there were "only" three cautions. Count me among the faction that does not believe good racing only comes because of wrecks or the cautions those wrecks create.

   The drivers with the two best cars most of Saturday night - Hamlin and Clint Bowyer -passed each other under green five times. Granted, that's not a lot of action in a race with only three cautions, but it certainly doesn't count as "bad racing" in my book.

   After the race, I thought Denny Hamlin provided a good explanation from behind the steering wheel as to how it is out on the track, even during times when fans watching on TV may be less than enthralled with the competition.

   "It’s so more than what people can see on TV," he said. "It’s so tough and mentally it’s tough to see a guy barreling down on you with 40 laps to go and know that you just cannot force yourself to go any harder than what you know your car is capable of.”

   There is no way a race fan or media member for that matter has any idea the pressure - mentally or physically - drivers face at any given moment in a race.

   I, for one, am not going to try to guess at an opinion based only on what I "see" - in person or on TV.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Leave the Chase alone, please

There’s lots of attention on this season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup with it set to start at New Hampshire.

What we haven’t heard a lot about lately is next season’s Chase and the “tweaks” NASCAR has said it was considering to alter the format.

That’s a good thing.

The worst thing NASCAR can do for the Chase right now is change it yet again (They could always eliminate it, but I don't hold out hope).

The more changes, the more “tweaks,” the more expansion and retraction of the Chase field that is incorporated with new rules to create more drama, the more the Chase becomes just that: artificial drama.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France has talked about trying to create “Game Seven” moments, like in a World Series. The point forgotten, however, is every World Series doesn’t go seven games. And the reason those series that do go seven games are remembered the most is because they don’t happen very often.

Although NASCAR said it may not make any changes, it is becoming increasingly clear the Chase is headed into some sort of “elimination” format, where the original field of drivers is expanded but two to three times in the final 10 races a certain number of drivers are eliminated from contention.

I hardly see the point of expanding the field only to kick those same people out a few races later. Since the Chase started in 2004, no driver seeded worse than third when it started has won it. That means for all the “drama” around the drivers who squeak into the Chase, little is heard from them after it starts.

And any “winner takes all” format where two or more drivers are left battling for the title in the season’s final race at Homestead, Fla., does little to recognize the winner for a great season of competition.

It will, however, certainly make that driver the champion of Homestead. Unfortunately, the Cup series only visits there once a season.

So what exactly, have you won?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Felix Sabates calls Bruton Smith's comments 'irresponsible'

   Felix Sabates, a minority owner in Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, did not take too kindly to the comments made over the weekend by Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith. Smith has repeatedly said he doesn't think the Sprint Cup Series should end its season in Homestead, Fla., and this weekend repeatedly referred to the track as "North Cuba." You can read about Smith's comments here.

   Sabates sent the following open letter to the Observer and today in response to Smith's comments:

   I am a very proud American that happened to be born in Cuba. America has been my home for over 50 years and America is the greatest country in the world - not even the politicians in Washington can screw that up. I love both countries and when I see irresponsible comments such as the ones made by my good friend of over 40 years, Bruton Smith (AKA Money Bags), it saddens me. He knows better than to take a swipe at a whole country (believe me I learned the hard way). He must be mad because he will never get the last race of the Chase. In fact, he used to have the last race of the season in Atlanta but lost it because he could not draw anything close to a full field.

   Perhaps he is afraid that if the political unrest ever came to and end and Cuba was free again, then some of us Cuban born Americans might build a proper world class road course in Havana. A track specifically built for stock cars with all the amenities Las Vegas has to offer, plus white sand beaches and the cool trade winds of the Caribbean Sea. All of a sudden there will be no need for NASCAR to take our premier series to such far-away places like Sonoma. NASCAR teams will take just a short ride to a new Paradise with a track built specifically for NASCAR and where passing would be routine rather that the exception.

   Anyway, Bruton be nice to your Cuban neighbors and friends. You are a great promoter and a great American success story. We might let you buy in for a little piece of our new race track in Havana. It won't hurt as much when you lose a date.

   Your buddy.

   PS, Cuban coffee is good for the soul.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Remember when races were "special"?

   I was having a debate with some race fans before Sunday's race at Atlanta about proposed changes to the Chase and one common denominator kept resurfacing.

   Ever since the advent of the Chase format, there has been something missing from every race weekend - that's the idea that each race was a special event in and of itself. Yes, race fans care about who wins the championship and certainly that's a focus in other sports as well. But in NASCAR more than other sports, each race weekend always seemed to be looked on as a special event in itself.

   Today, races like Richmond next week are branded as "the 26-race cut-off" and New Hampshire, the weekend after, as "the first Chase race" as if those titles in and of themselves should more greatly entice fans to attend in person. Long before race No. 26 was "the cutoff to make the Chase" fans still filled in the grandstands at Richmond to see who won that weekend.

   You've heard the sayings: "I would never miss Talladega." "I love restrictor-plate racing at Daytona." They are numerous and repetitive and they have nothing to do with what system is used to determine the champion or whether there is a champion at all. I know one family who just loves the "experience" of a race weekend and uses it as family vacation each year. What they take out of their weekend together doesn't change based on who wins that race or that season's title.

  This is the challenge tracks face today. You can sit at home with your computers and gadgets and FanViews and listen to radio communications and see 12 different angles of the race and all 43 pit stops. You can even DVR the race and skip the commercials. Everything is at your fingertips to enjoy NASCAR in the comfort of your own home. Except one thing - the experience of being there in person.

   There is still value in that. And that value is what each track promoter must try to collect and advertise and improve upon each event. As someone who has attended too many races to count since 1998, I can emphatically tell you watching a race on TV is NOTHING like watching one in person.

   You may not have as good a view of all the action. I may not know what the points are "as they run now" (like that ever matters). But being in the thick of the experience is still the foundation on which millions of NASCAR fans were created.

   There was - believe it or not - people going to races long before they were on TV. And for good reason. It's past time NASCAR and all its partners focused on why that was.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Traditionally speaking, Darlington is doing just fine these days

Woody Allen once said, “Tradition is the illusion of permanence.”

That’s certainly true as to how many NASCAR fans feel about racing anywhere else but Darlington, S.C., on Labor Day weekend.

Almost seven years removed from the last Southern 500 at Darlington in 2003, fans still cringe when reminded NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series is running 500 miles this weekend somewhere else.

Why is that?

It certainly can’t be because the Cup race was so much more successful on Labor Day weekend than its current date on Mother’s Day weekend. Darlington has never had bigger crowds since it moved to a Saturday night race in May.

It can’t be because of weather. While races in March and even the one tried in November didn’t exactly bring out the best from Mother Nature, if one thing was constant about the Labor Day weekend race is was the weather – hot and humid.

I saw many a driver crawl gingerly out of their cars after 500 miles in the baking sun at Darlington. Surely, running on a Saturday night in May has to be better conditions.

It can’t be because it’s gotten any easier to win the Southern 500. In the past five years, the 500 has been won by some of the best the Cup series has to offer –Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin.

So what is it? Why after seven years does it still smart for many in NASCAR to travel someplace other than Darlington on Labor Day weekend?

Maybe it’s just because that’s what so many people did in this sport for more than 50 years. It was comfortable. It was close to home for many. It’s just the way they always did it.

That’s doesn’t mean it should always be that way.

It may well be an awesome tradition to play baseball in the cozy confines of a 10,000-seat stadium but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do in 2010.

In all reality, tradition does indeed provide an illusion of permanence. After doing something the same way for so long, it seems wrong to do it any other way.

Yet sometimes – not always – the new way is the better way.

Former Observer writer Tom Higgins to be inducted in NMPA Hall of Fame

Former NASCAR champion driver Dale Jarrett, crew chief and engine builder Waddell Wilson and former Observer motorsports writer Tom Higgins will be inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame in January.

All three were selected on more than 65 percent of the ballots cast by NMPA members to earn induction into the Hall of Fame. Wilson was selected on 70 percent of the ballots. Higgins was selected on 68 percent of the ballots, and Jarrett was selected on 66 percent of the ballots.

“These three men have impacted the sport on the track, in the garage and in the media center. Their contributions are significant," said NMPA President Dustin Long.

Higgins covered NASCAR and other motorsports in a 40-year journalism career, including 34 years at The Observer. He was one of the first reporters to cover NASCAR full time. He received NASCAR’s Award of Excellence in 1996. He also won the NMPA’s George Cunningham Award in 1987.

As a crew chief, Wilson won the Daytona 500 in 1980, ’83 and ’84. His engines powered teams to 109 wins, 123 poles and three Cup championships. Wilson built the first engine to exceed 200 mph with Benny Parsons behind the wheel.

Jarrett, now an ESPN analyst, won the 1999 Cup championship. Among his 32 Cup victories were three Daytona 500s (1993, ’96 and 2000). He and father Ned are the second father-son combination to have each won at least one series title behind only Lee and Richard Petty. Dale Jarrett follows Ned into the NMPA Hall of Fame. Ned Jarrett was inducted in 1973.