Monday, February 27, 2006

2006 California 500 Postscript

Roush Racing continues to grow at a rather frightening rate, and it continues to win. Matt Kenseth's California 500 win continues a recent near-monopoly by the Roush organization on intermediate superspeedways, and any thought that it would be derailed this time was dashed almost immediately. Roush also posted a rare sweep of all three NASCAR touring series on the same weekend when Mark Martin rather easily cruised to victory in the Trucks, then Greg Biffle led the way to win the BGN 300.

Roush Racing is for all practical purposes the only Ford organization in NASCAR, and its success in 2005's playoff format led to NASCAR's attempt to limit ownership of race teams, a fundamentally necessary idea that NASCAR needs to have the courage to prosecute to its end.

Roush so dominated the weekend that it made the blown engine of Tony Stewart and the continuing struggle of Dodge all the more graphic. Though Kasey Kahne had a good effort in his Ray Evernham Charger, that was largely it as far as Dodge went, as the Penske pair of Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman continued to struggle with the two-year-old Intrepid they brought to Fontana, a model Penske Racing's Don Miller has said will be raced as long as is allowed by Dodge.

One wonders if someone at Dodge has given up on the Charger - which if true may be a bad sign for Dodge's entire NASCAR program.


Fontana's lack of good racing is wrongly blamed on the track's flat banking. Flattish speedways have been blamed for lack of good quality racing for some years now, and among the more villified has been New Hampshire International Speedway. Many point to Homestead as the model for how to respond. Homestead banked up to 20 degrees and went with progressive banking, and Fontana's new president has mentioned with regard to the California Speedway.

The result of higher and progressive banking at Homestead has been faster speeds, but the increase in side-by-side racing has generally been less than promoted. Homestead's November 2005 400-miler saw some intense battling for the lead and a dramatic finish, but the previous two Homestead races were uninspiring affairs, particularly November 2004.

Some blame the scheduling of the first Fontana race to late February, within two weeks of NASCAR's annual trek to Las Vegas; others point to the fact the track now has two dates. Either way, it remains the lack of good racing that is the main problem here, and the track configuration isn't the reason.

One need look at Fontana's Indycar races, where the cars have more downforce, more tire, and in the late 1990s added air-displacement rails to the mix, making the draft more effective. Certainly the Busch Series package run at Daytona is worth looking at as far as tracks like Fontana go.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

"There Will Be Peace When They Love Their Children More Than They Hate Ours"

That rationality is in short supply in the Middle East is true enough, but a reminder of what the war between Israel and the Arab World is about is still necessary to understand the historical fiction that is "Palestine." But then it never helps that perpetuating the myth of "Palestine" continues when women name their children after fictitious atrocities.

NASCAR's Two-Time Loser Gets Banned

Shane Hmiel is gone from NASCAR. At least that's the word from NASCAR following failure of yet another drug test for Hmiel - he has received a "lifetime" suspension from the sport. Shane Hmiel first got in trouble in 2003 but bounced back and won at Las Vegas in the Truck Series, but got in bigger trouble in 2005 after driving Todd Braun's #32 for most of that year.

Curiously, this occurs in the wake of Ricky Williams' pending one-year suspension for failing the NFL's substance abuse policy. The Miami Dolphins rusher quit the league for 2004 to avoid a lengthy suspension for failing a drug test, then came back when the Dolphins sued to get back a massive signing bonus he received.

Now the psychology of people like Shane Hmiel and Ricky Williams can be complicated, but the question should still be asked - just what is it about drugs that is so important to them that they'd sacrifice lucrative sporting careers to indulge in such substances? Now I confess having no personal insight into addiction, but I think even people with a personal insight can be puzzled by cases like Shane Hmiel and Ricky Williams.

Being primarily a race fan, my own message to Shane Hmiel is simple - grow up. Whatever it is you're ingesting - and NASCAR isn't saying - stop ingesting it.

NASCAR may come in for some outside criticism for the harshness of their penalty, but if they do, so be it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The (Over)Selling Of Dale Earnhardt

It was a theme that if you tried to ignore it would come out and make sure you couldn't. It was five years ago that Dale Earnhardt died. It was a theme in coverage of Dale Earnhardt Jr. - can he win the Daytona 500 five years after his father's death? It was the subject of a SPEED Channel special that reinforced the impression that racing and its media are the most self-congradulatory industry out there. And it was the subject of many media pieces like this one.

I remain mystified that the sport continues to engage in historical revisionism on Dale Earnhardt, the biggest lightning rod of controversy the sport had ever seen. Nowadays many a driver is a lightning rod of controversy - Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson come to mind immediately - but in the 1980s and a lesser extent the 1990s it was not something the sport was quite used to.

In remembering Dale Earnhardt the sport does a disservice to its history, for it has glossed over very real shortcomings in Earnhardt in its effort to glorify him.


The biggest disservice done to history is the glossing over of Earnhardt's on-track tactics. Tony Stewart set off the week-long controversy over "aggressive driving" during Speedweeks 2006 and then proved himself a supreme hypocrite once the shooting started. Dale Earnhardt was a common instigator of such controversies and certainly got an earful about it over the years.

"His mind goes out of gear when he turns on the motor." - Richard Petty, 1986

"If a man's got to put you out to beat you, that ain't what I call racing." - Bill Elliott, 1987

"I don't think NASCAR fined Dale Earnhardt for what he did at Richmond, I think they fined him for all the things he's done leading up to Richmond." - Darrell Waltrip, 1986

"Whoever wrecked us was driving a black car with a 3 on it." - Dick Trickle, 1992

"Why did he do that (wreck Al Unser Jr.)? He didn't have to do that." - Al Unser Sr., 1993

"He hasn't seen the last of me. I'm not going to stop racing him. I can tear up as many cars as I need to." - Mark Martin, 1993

"He's always the one who cries about the manufacturers championship, well he didn't help the Chevrolets today (at Phoenix)." - Ken Schrader, 1993

"He took the air off of me, then he hit me. It wasn't close at all." - Bobby Hamilton, 1996

"Has he ever said he meant to spin someone out?" - Terry Labonte, 1999

Earnhardt may have been the first NASCAR driver in history to be the subject of negative news coverage over his driving tactics - ABC News for one focused on that in 1987. And it led to an important anomoly - Earnhardt was perhaps the very first NASCAR driver ever who had a national fan club that was dedicated to opposing him. Fans Against Dale Earnhardt sold merchandise at all the NASCAR tracks before abruptly disbanding following his death.

Fan hatred of Earnhardt usually made him the most booed driver during introductions and led to several incidents, such as at The Winston 1994, where Earnhardt crashed against the wall in the trioval of Charlotte; roughly 100 fans gathered at the scene and many reportedly dumped beer on Earnhardt's head as he was climbing out of his car. There was also a near-riot at Bristol following his last-lap crashing encounter with Terry Labonte, where fans were seen burning Earnhardt merchandise in the track's parking lots afterward.


There is also the frequent assertion about how much influence he had with NASCAR, about how when he spoke, NASCAR listened, and how he spoke for the drivers. Race drivers are a notoriously divided lot and Earnhardt usually spoke for himself, and was as big a hypocrite as any driver in the garage, particularly on restrictor plate racing, which Earnhardt always griped about yet so often excelled at.

As far as influence in the sport goes, one is hard-pressed to remember a single policy issue where NASCAR made changes because of Earnhardt. One can easily recall a recent policy change brought on by a driver's lobbying - NASCAR's change to lower downforce and softer tires from 2004 onward was a direct result of frantic and very public lobbying by Rusty Wallace, who was serially incensed at the fuel-mileage success with a package of high-downforce and hard tire compounds exhibited by his Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman in 2003.

One can also recall the influence of another driver on the sport. Alan Kulwicki turned down offers of high-dollar NASCAR rides to build his own team; he won the 1992 NASCAR title as an owner-driver and following his death numerous NASCAR drivers, notably Geoff Bodine (who purchased the #7 Kulwicki team from his estate) and Ricky Rudd formed their own teams and became owner-drivers. Bodine and Rudd together won ten races in the 1994-8 period, a period where the balance of power had shifted toward the owner-driver.

One simply can't recall similarly dramatic influence by Dale Earnhardt.


Earnhardt is sometimes called The Dominator, and it is periodically stated that he dominated his era of the sport. Yet a simple check of the sport's history proves this wrong. Including ties with other drivers, Richard Petty won the most races in a season on seven occassions - 1963, 1967-8, 1970-1, 1974-5. Darrell Waltrip did it six times - 1979, 1981-4, 1989. Jeff Gordon did it six times - 1995-9, 2001. David Pearson did it four times - 1966, 1968, 1973, 1976. Cale Yarborough did it four times - 1974, 1977-8, 1980. Bobby Allison did it twice - 1972, 1983. Rusty Wallace did it four times - 1988-9, 1993-4. Bill Elliott did it three times - 1985, 1988, 1992.

Dale Earnhardt did it only twice - 1987 and 1990.

One can also argue that Earnhardt's titles came amid less competition than that Richard Petty raced against. In the period of 1970-84, facing over 40 races with at least 40 official lead changes and another 30 with 35 or more lead changes, Petty had to race very, very hard to win. In contrast, Earnhardt's heyday of 1985-2001 saw just seven races with at least 40 lead changes and seven with at least 35. There are numerous reasons for this decline, but a major one undoubtedly is that Petty raced two generations of drivers who raced for the win while Earnhardt raced two generations who raced for points.


The sport did not see five-year retrospectives on the deaths of Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki; it has not seen any recent retrospectives on the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, or Tony Roper; it has all but ignored Tim Richmond following his 1989 death; it has forgotten Ernie Irvan after injury ended his career. What retrospectives there have been have been low-key and quite dignified. The continuing rememberence of Dale Earnhardt, meanwhile, has become a continuing spectacle with an embarassing level of marketing behind it.

One has to ask when the sport will tone it down and be more honest about its past.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Will NASCAR Rethink The Whole Misbegotten Yellow-Line Rule?

Amid the varied topics for discussion after a very competitive Daytona 500 weekend, one worthy subject has gotten overlooked but requires attention. It is the rule that cars cannot pass other cars below the yellow line at restrictor plate tracks. Throughout the Daytona 500 we saw cars clip the yellow line trying to pass, and backing off to avoid drawing a penalty. The result was usually a jam-up behind the cars in question, including a near-wreck in the trioval when Mark Martin had to jump up the outside into the lead. It has made blocking more of an issue, especially since as Casey Mears put it before the Daytona 500 that has been more of a factor in wrecks rather than push-drafting - notably the jam-up leading to Steve Kinser's flight in the IROC race.

Will NASCAR rethink this whole misbegotten rule? History suggests not yet, but the absurdity of the rule continues to baffle. Put in place at Talladega in April 2001 immediately following the BGN 300, it was almost entirely a panicky rule because NASCAR was collectively scared to death of a wholesale driver park-out occurring during the Winston Cup 500. The rumor had been circulating in the weeks before that Talladega weekend of a driver boycott or park-out following the death of Dale Earnhardt and NASCAR's initial ruling that its roof spoiler package - all but openly blamed for Earnhardt's death in several media pieces, notably an infamously maukish piece by The Charlotte Observor's David Poole in the immediate week after Earnhardt's death - would remain in place.

Following Talladega's BGN 300 that weekend and a loud protest by Jimmy Spencer over drivers passing below the yellow line, NASCAR ruled it would flag drivers for going below the yellow line. It led to Tony Stewart's infamous confrontation with Winston-Salem Journal writer Mike Mulhern after the Firecracker 400 when Stewart passed below the line for fifth and was flagged to the rear in the final laps. Since then there have been numerous instances of drivers flagged for passing below the yellow line and a more-infamous no-call for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega in 2003 - there Earnhardt passed Matt Kenseth on the apron of Turn Three with five laps to go but was not flagged, NASCAR lamely claiming he had "already passed" Kenseth when he got below the line, never mind the two were still nose to nose when he hit the apron and Earnhardt had to go on the apron to clear Kenseth.

It was a lame non-call universally recognized as favoritism by NASCAR toward Junior then and later, poor officiating on a par with infamous no-calls and bad calls in NFL lore. But it also raised questions about the sagacity of the yellow-line rule to start with.

Now we've seen numerous near-wrecks by cars clipping the yellow line and having to hit the brakes to avoid penalty. So NASCAR has some serious rethinking to do here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Daytona Slap-Happy Hour, And More Dodge News

Final practice for the Daytona 500 went off without a hitch for the most part, other than some tire trouble for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brian Vickers painting the second-turn exit wall black ever so gently. Reading the Bull Sheet shows the speeds, but then that really doesn't say much, since the 500's weather is predicted to be some 15-20 degrees cooler than Saturday, more in line with Friday practice. Also, a striking aspect was how few cars ran the entire session - most ran the first quarter to third, then it steadily thinned out until only about half a dozen cars were still on the track by the session's end.


Meanwhile, another Dodge team will run the Intrepid at Fontana, which would seem to be a factory call, and a no-confidence vote in the beleagured Charger. The blunt nose is being blamed, since it was designed for a higher-downforce harder-tire package than what NASCAR threw at everyone.

Dodge hopes to at least get some concession on spoiler, but the exercise is a symptom of a larger problem - the failure of the low-downforce package. Advertised as the way to eliminate the aeropush, it has had the opposite effect. And yet NASCAR is stubbornly sticking with it.

Dodge teams will press on, but there still remain issues to resolve before the racing gets back where it needs to be.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tony Stewart Gets Some Comeuppance While NASCAR Chickens Out

A little-noticed occurance happened during Tony Stewart's pop-off about push-drafting at Daytona - he got a bit of comeuppance in the form of a writer asking, "Aren't you overreacting?" Stewart of course popped off along the lines of "Why don't you drive the car instead of me?" He even threatened to take Wednesday practice off.

Seeing Stewart pop off is a reason why, for all the improvement in his public deportment in 2005, he still can't be fully embraced as an ambassador for the sport. He still has a streak of overpaid underworked prima donna in him, and he's certainly not alone. When he played the death card with regard to push-drafting racing, not only was he overracting, he was insulting the intelligence of racing.

"Trust me, I did my share of push-drafting out there," Stewart acknowledged - which wasn't much given the all-too-obvious reality that he was as guilty of it as anyone else. But it does point to a level of hypocrisy involved - if he's so scared of that kind of racing, then why does he keep doing it? The old answer is "We're forced to do it." No, they're not, they do it of their own volition - because it is the best way to pass on the racetrack.

Too bad more of the NASCAR press corps doesn't take more drivers to task for acting like cowards in this fashion. Being taken to task is what the drivers need.


Unfortunately, NASCAR has once again chickened out and taken some aggression out of the racing with the announcement that they will establish "no bump" zones in the corners at Daytona and presumably Talladega. Mike Wallace cuts to the chase - "How are you going to enforce it? What's the difference between bump-drafting and someone checking up in front of you?"

More to the point, will favoritism come into play as it does with NASCAR's yellow-line rule? Few forget that Dale Earnhardt Jr. got an indefenisbly favorable call on a pass below the yellow line at Talladega in 2003, solely because he is Dale Earnhardt Junior. Meanwhile, Mike Skinner, Tony Stewart, Kenny Wallace, and now Carl Edwards have been shafted by NASCAR calls on passing below the yellow line.

The yellow-line rule has never been plausibly defended by NASCAR or anyone else, and efforts to defend this new "no bump zone" rule will invariably strain credulity, because the whole controversy about push-drafting is overreaction by certain drivers.

And then there is research by NASCAR into a softer front bumper to dissuade teams from push-drafting without hurting the nose's aerodynamics. Softening the bumper is never a good idea for safety and is just more overreaction to Tony Stewart acting like a drama queen. The more NASCAR takes aggression out of racing, the worse the sport gets. It can't defend this rule or the yellow-line rule, and it makes taking drivers to task for cowardice all the more necessary.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Chad Knaus Gets Push-Drafted Out Of The Garage

Daytona's first round of racing has wrapped up and two big stories promptly developed.

First, Ray Evernham's former car chief Chad Knaus lived up to his former boss' comment after being fined heavily for a cheating infraction around 1995: "I guess I'm this week's ass." Chad Knaus, though, got pushed clean out of the garage area, reminiscent of Talladega last October when Kevin Harvick's crew chief was likewise escorted out for cheating. The cause of this brouhaha was some illegal offset put into the right rear of Jimmie Johnson's #48 Chevrolet, offset that got noticed by smoke coming off Johnson's wheel wells during his 500 qualifying run.

In the same post-qualifying inspection, Terry Labonte, driving Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman's #96 Chevrolet, got his time disallowed for running a carburator with illegal modifications. Now we've seen things like this before - Staubach and Aikman's team is a Joe Gibbs Racing satellite effort with its engines from JGR's engine shop; years ago (I think it was 1997 at Talladega) Billy Standridge qualified at Talladega with a Tony Santanacola engine at a time when Santanacola was Cale Yarborough's head engine builder; the Santanacola engine run by Standridge was found to be less-than-legal.

The deal here in 2006 sounds like Hall Of Fame Racing (the Staubach-Aikman #96) became the fall guy for some experimentation by JGR's engine shop.


The other story was the Daytona Shootout and JGR's double-header. First there was rookie Denny Hamlin winning the race, the first rookie to ever do so (the closest analogy was Jeff Gordon's 1994 win in the Busch Clash as a sophmore). The second part of the double-header was Tony Stewart's post-race commentary about how "dangerous" push-drafting is and how "NASCAR has to do something about it." Incredibily, Jim Hunter of NASCAR acknowledged Stewart's comments and talked vaguely about push-drafting being a problem.

Why does NASCAR have to do anything here? Push-drafting dates back to the 1960s and '70s - the old Car & Track television series filmed the 1974 Daytona 500 and that footage shows plenty of push-drafting; it also filmed circa-1972 NASCAR at Michigan and that footage shows Richard Petty punting Bobby Allison, Bobby Isaac, and others through the trioval area to pass other cars.

The wrecks that happened in the Shootout had nothing to do with push-drafting - even Kyle Busch's tag on Mark Martin wasn't about push-drafting, that was trying to knock Martin out of the way. For Stewart and anyone else - Jeff Gordon comes to mind immediately - to gripe about push-drafting is more hypocrisy from race drivers.

This was about the kind of terrific racing that has been in such short supply in NASCAR circles the last 20-plus years. There was the usual caveat that the 500 will be different, but we should hope it isn't different, as the sport can use a Daytona 500 as ferocious as last October at Talladega.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Islam's Cartoon Violence

If you thought the infamous Peggy Charren was an enemy of cartoon violence, then you haven't seen anything yet. The violence over cartoons spoofing Muhammad says a lot about civilization versus savagery and it says a lot about the fundamental failure that is Islamo-Arab ideology. They may have military power and suicide bombers, but their lack of any redeeming societal quality makes their defeat a requirement.

Quick NASCAR Take With First Daytona Practice

It should of course be kept in mind that the following discusses one practice sesson for the Daytona 500, but glancing at first practice speeds before Daytona 500 qualifying, some quick thoughts -

1 - Talk about quick turnarounds. In 2005 RCR Enterprises Chevrolets were so down on power that they rented a couple of Hendrick Motorsports engines to test at Daytona. RCR later hired some personnel from Cosworth Engineering and it's showing up in Kevin Harvick's strong first practice run. Harvick's #29 led the first practice, while teammate Jeff Burton's #31 practiced 11th and rookie Clint Bowyer in the #07 clocked 16th.

The other quick turnaround were Petty Enterprises Dodges, as #45 Kyle Petty hit third and #43 Bobby Labonte hit ninth in the first practice. The key to watch with the Petty organization is that in Bobby Labonte they now have a driver whose temperment and driving style mesh with Kyle's. Petty Enterprises may also be in a much better position within Dodge's engineering totem pole given Toyota's pending arrival and related uncertainty about some other Dodge organizations.

2 - To no one's surprise the Hendrick Motorsports empire is all over strong practice speeds. #24 Jeff Gordon, the defending 500 champ, hit second; #48 Jimmie Johnson, perhaps smarting from Greg Biffle's preseason trash talking, hit fifth; #5 Kyle Busch hit a respectable 17th and #25 Brian Vickers overcame a blown engine in pre-Shootout practice and hit 23rd for 500 practice.

The Hendrick satellite teams also timed pretty well in the first practice. Morton-Bowers Motorsports, running Hendrick-built cars and engines, has three cars for the 500. #36 Bill Elliott hit seventh and #01 Joe Nemechek tenth, while the disappointment lay in #14 Sterling Marlin's 27th.

The other Hendrick satellite outfit is Gene Haas' #66 Chevy, and new driver Jeff Green reached 18th in the first practice.

3 - Joe Gibbs Racing won the Firecracker 400 last year and has won the Daytona 500 and once at Talladega, but their Chevrolets had a rather up-and-down practice. Rookies #11 Denny Hamlin and #18 J.J. Yeley hit the top 15 running, but defending NASCAR champ Tony Stewart was only 34th and JGR's satellite outfit, Hall of Fame Racing - how ironic that Washington Redskins coach Gibbs is helping Dallas Cowboys Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, owners of the #96? - managed only 36th in the #96. One has to wonder if Gibbs' engine shop may be a little stretched right now.

4 - Petty Enterprises weren't the only Dodges showing something. Their engine benefactor, Evernham Motorsports, put #19 Jeremy Mayfield eighth in the practice session, while new teammate #10 Scott Riggs got in a decent practice time in 20th. However, the rest of Evernham wasn't so strong - #9 Kasey Kahne, who has generally plummetted since his breakthrough win at Richmond, was only 32nd.

The other high-profile Dodge teams are Penske Racing and Ganassi/SABCO Racing, and it is here that the Toyota cloud hangs closely - particularly with Ganassi, which won the 24 Hours of Daytona running Lexus racecars with Toyota's 2007 NASCAR engine design. Roger Penske's carpetbagging with manufacturers is well known - he ran Chevrolets then switched on little more than a whim to Mercedes, then when his CART effort eventually folded and moved to the IRL he ran Chevys then switched to Toyota. In NASCAR he ran Pontiacs when he came back in 1991, then switched to Ford to get more money and engineering help. He did it again when Dodge's NASCAR effort changed philosophies following Lou Patane's departure and the assumption by Stuttgart of control of the program. Dodge then went after Penske, cut back on helping their other teams (leading to the present Bill Davis Racing imbroglio), and Penske went with the money again. When Toyota enters, Penske is widely expected to switch again when his Dodge contract runs out - if not before.

Penske's Dodges were a mixed bag - Kurt Busch, fresh from resolving his traffic spat with Phoenix cops, clocked 13th in the practice while #12 Ryan Newman had a disappointing 31st. Of all the drivers in NASCAR Newman may be the most one-dimensional, as he exploded to eight wins in 2003 but has consistently struggled since the switch back to lower downforce and softer tires from 2004 onward.

Ganassi/SABCO were looking even less impressive with their new lineup following JGR's approach of two rookies led by a veteran. The veteran, #42 Casey Mears, was just 29th while rookie #41 Reed Sorenson was 28th and rookie #40 David Stremme was a lowly 39th.

5 - The crowd favorite remains Dale Earnhardt Jr., and amid some annoying maukish rememberences of Dale Sr. by the media, Junior didn't light up much in first practice as the #8 was 26th. DEI teammates were even worse - #1 Martin Truex was 40th and #15 Paul Menard, a former Andy Petree project, was 42nd.

DEI is paying for being too dependent on an aerodynamic gimmick to win on the plate tracks - aero work on the transmission tunnel and underside of the car. In the 2004 500 Michael Waltrip flipped and the underside of his Chevy was exposed and viewed to the world. Don't think rival teams didn't record that footage and glean something from footage of that underside.

6 - With Ford's program basically a Jack Roush effort, there aren't that many Fords to talk about. But some of them are pretty fast. Robert Yates' pair, with their engine program merged into Roush's, hit the track running and hit the top six together. #38 Elliott Sadler, though, may be feeling some pressure to perform, as he won twice in 2004 but has been disappointing quite a bit as well. #88 Dale Jarrett's comeback triumph at Talladega may be the shot in the arm he needs to run to the front more consistently.

The Roush fleet was up and down the first practice chart. #17 Matt Kenseth hit 15th and new teammate #26 Jamie McMurray was 19th. Perenially cheerful #99 Carl Edwards continues to ride the magic carpet as he clocked a decent 22nd, while loudmouth #16 Greg Biffle was 24th and is looking a bit surlier this year, and #6 Mark Martin in a year he wasn't scheduled to race was only 33rd.

The only other Ford of note is the Wood Brothers #21, beginning an ambitious alliance with Tad Geschteckter but getting off to an uninspiring start at 38th in practice for #21 Ken Schrader.


One of only two other noteworthy teams is Bill Davis Racing, presently running Dodges, point man for Toyota come 2007, and struggling so far in 2006 - #22 Dave Blaney was only 45th, #23 Mike Skinner 47th, and new teammate, perennial loudmouth #55 Michael Waltrip, using BDR as springboard for his own team and presently allied with ex-Jasper Racing head Doug Bawel for the now-defunct #77's 2005 owner points, was an embarassing 50th.

The other noteworthy team is #4 Morgan-McClure Motorsports, the Chevy that won three Daytona 500s and two Firecracker 400s in the 1990s but is now a team priced out of contention by the bigger outfits. #4 Scott Wimmer was 43rd and needs a superb run in the 150s as they do not have owner points to fall back on for the 500 field.


All this is of course subject to change as Speedweeks proceeds, so stay tuned.