Saturday, May 25, 2013

Brian France's Nose Grows

Brian France spoke to reporters before the Charlotte 300 Nationwide race and talked about several issues.   But a telling point came when he defended the heavy fine to Denny Hamlin when he criticized the Generation Six racecar; in response Hamlin wrote on his Twitter account, "Someone's nose is growing." 

France discussed the Winston Cup schedule in light of Bruton Smith's deranged rant saying he may move Charlotte's National 500 to Vegas, this before another rant about his tax fights with Cabarrus County, NC.   France didn't offer any particular insight in his comments, just the usual points about the mixture of events.  

The schedule is good as it is; the only real changes needed are to go back to 500 mile race distances at places like Pocono and Michigan and to push start times to earlier for better convenience for trackside audiences - the argument about later start times and TV ratings doesn't work.  I'd also like Texas World Speedway to be able to host some races.

But the line about not crossing a line about "our product" is the kind of self-deception that has permeated Brian France's tenure in NASCAR - the fact is the product ISN'T as good as it needs to be.  France talks about continuing developmental work on the Generation Six, but given how much work went into it before, one can't feel confidence that NASCAR can make this thing work.  Though just four months into the season, the Gen-6 has already proven a flop, though its next two plate races offer some reason for optimism. 

Someone's nose keeps growing in NASCAR.  

Selectively Citing Osama Bin Laden

In his recent speech Obama showed anew his refusal to understand that a tactic is not a strategy.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

NASCAR's Long-Term Game Plan

With the 2013 season proceding Mike Mulhern takes a look at NASCAR's "game plan" for renewing the sport's popularity. Mulhern asks what in this game plan is working and what isn't.  

My own view on the plan -

What NASCAR is doing is trying to push star power with the drivers, get in people's face through every social media outlet possible, trying to "make a NASCAR weekend about more than just the racing," trying to improve "product relevance," and trying to attract other demographics.

By any look at all this, so far it isn't happening.

The sport's fanbase is still what it always has been, and the attempts to market to the "pinkhat" crowd simply aren't working - the same thing has been happening with the Boston Red Sox of Roush-Fenway co-owners John W. Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Tom Werner, whose belligerent marketing of The Brand drew in the pinkhat crowd and angered the true fanbase of the team to where the Red Sox's relevance to New England has dropped quite dramatically.  The Sox's marketing efforts in 2013 have changed noticeably back toward a stronger marketing of baseball as opposed to the Red Sox Brand.

The first effort in NASCAR's marketing effort is of course the Generation Six racecar, and that part of the scheme is manifestly not working - the Gen-6 is not terribly different from the much-mocked Car Of Tomorrow and after a promising month where the racing showed some signs of improving, the competitive ennui of the sport's last ten-plus seasons has returned, low-lighted by an abysmal All Star weekend.

This failure really is the first of the two big individual failings in the sport - to put it bluntly, where did 60-lead-change-racing go?  

Constantly forgotten by so many in the sport is how its popularity first took off in the 1970s when, despite the factory withdrawal and economic crunch of the time, the competitiveness of the racing took off - 1971-80 the sport saw over 30 races break 40 official lead changes with another two dozen or so flirting with 40 and memorable last-laps at such races as the 1974 Volunteer 500 at Bristol and 1975 Yankee 400 at Michigan.   1981-4 it continued as 15 races broke 40 lead changes with Talladega in 1984 breaking 68 lead changes twice.   Even with the beginning of the Dead Lane Era in 1985 there were still races that at least flirted with 40 lead changes as well as wild finishes in the next 15-plus years of the sport.   In that period Talladega has been by far the best racing anywhere, breaking 40 official lead changes 21 times after 1984, while Daytona nearly reached 40 in 1993 and 1996 and then broke that number six times in the last twelve years.

As the technology arms race has increased in the last 2.5 decades, however, the result has been stifling of passing, speeds too high for the tracks to handle, and safety issues, plus the second of the sport's great individual failings - spiralling costs and utter lack of any cost/spending controls.    NASCAR's recent TV deals for Cup have been in the billions - yet it is harder and harder for sponsors to stay and the dying off of teams that rose in the first half of the 2000-10 decade has been a graphic downfall for the sport.

Related to the technology arms race has been NASCAR's idiotic "Green" initiatives, pushing as they do the perpetual myth that the environment is in some kind of serious crisis that must be dealt with - that the environment is in fact quite healthy and in no particular need of "rescuing" makes eco initiatives ultimately a waste.

Oversold is that NASCAR somehow was wrong to hold onto carburated pushrod technology for as long as it has - the fact that technology still works makes nonsense of arguments against it.   If anything NASCAR was wrong to abandon carburation; its experiment with EFI has accomplished nothing as far as betterment of the sport goes.


For all of NASCAR's efforts at broading the fanbase etc. they have simply gone about it the wrong way.  

What is needed is great racing.   The Winston/Aarons 500 weekend was a boost for the sport because it produced superior racing - 47 lead changes among 16 drivers in the Nationwide 312-miler and the most amazing finishes the sport has seen in decades in both - the Ron Bouchard pass in the 312, David Ragan's spectacular charge to victory in the 500.  

Give us back the lead changes - then NASCAR will have something that it can market that's actually worth watching.  It's to be understood not every race can break 60 lead changes, but the sport can only benefit if it saw more than a few such races during the year - the much-hated "cookie cutter" tracks are manifestly capable of such races because they've had them before.

The lead changes produce the excitement that draws in fans and makes them want to learn about the sport.   Billy France understood this when he was in charge of NASCAR; Brian France does not, hence his constant pushing of The Brand.  

The bottom line is this -

NASCAR needs to figure out getting the competition package to where 60 lead changes is not the exception.

NASCAR needs to reign in the overmarketing.

NASCAR needs to figure out how to reduce the spending and thus improve the sport's affordability.  

This is a proven formula for improving a sport's popularity.

Remembering the 1980 World 600

In its history the World 600 has been among racing's most competitive events. The 1980 600 was the sport's ultimate marathon.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hillary's Benghazi Scapegoat

Hillary Milhous Clinton's Benghazi "scapegoat" is the only State Deptartment bureaucrat to lose his job after Benghazi, and it's coming out he's being sacrificed the way the Clintons sacrifice anyone who can expose them as criminals - i.e. another "bimbo eruption."

When It Rains, It Pours

Fred Barnes on Obama's continuing crisis.

Washington Post Attacks Benghazi Talking Points

The Washington Post has gone on the attack against Republicans and "conservative media" over the issue of the Obama regime's dishonest justifications for not responding to enemy attack against Americans in Benghazi. The Post's attack gets a detailed rebuttal. White House flak Dan Pfeiffer also goes on the attack against Republicans and gets its wrong. The bottom line is that people who think Republicans have somehow overreached are wrong - the Obama administration was caught red-handed as not only being wholly unprepared for the Benghazi attack but utterly dishonest about it to the point that it waged a propaganda campaign justifying the attack by citing a bogus Youtube video that no one saw.

And it continues with the NY Times' bogus history of the attack by David Kirkpatrick.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

All Star And Gen Six Fiascos

The 2013 All Star Race at Charlotte saw the latest gimmick format hoping to promote more passing and also to answer wins by Jimmie Johnson where he "gamed" the previous system to get favorable late track position. The newest format used four segments and the average finish of those segments to set pitstop entry for the drivers. It contained its own failure that went overlooked by everyone - it set the pitstop, not the restart order for the final ten-lap segment. By doing so it allowed Johnson to "game" the system again via a faster stop. In short the new gimmick failed like the others have failed, and the best average finish concept was poorly presented by NASCAR and by the FOX broadcasters.

Johnson's victory via "gaming" of the system also didn't sit well with fans, while the actual race was yet another exercise in competitive ennui, despite a few sideswipes between cars, notably Ricky Stenhouse's crash with Mark Martin as well as Brad Keselowski's blown transmission.   The Busch brothers won all four segments - Kurt Busch's efforts were about the only competitive novelty of the race given the low-budget nature of the Barney Visser raceteam.

There are two fiascos at work here.   The first is the concept of the All Star Race, an event long hyped for action and for the shackles of points racing not being there, but which has rarely produced memorable competition - 1994 remains the best All Star race because there was actual racing for the win, between Sterling Marlin, Geoff Bodine, and Ken Schrader, amid the usual spate of crashes.   The All Star Race has seen repeated changes in its format to entice harder racing, and it has always failed to deliver.

One has to serious ask the question - is it time to end the All Star Race and instead use the money for a 37th points race?   It seems the answer is yes - the All Star Race has accomplished nothing for the sport and the market for extra points races is still there - certainly giving back Atlanta its spring race would be a better idea than an All Star Race at Charlotte.


The second fiasco is the Generation Six racecar.   The All Star Race was yet another exercise in aeropush, something the sport was supposed to have solved long ago but which it seems incapable of solving.   It's old hat to point out that dirty air is supposed to create a drafting effect to increase passing - but the fact a drafting effect was noticeable in the Friday night Truck 200-miler makes this relevant yet again.   That the sport is not seeing any change where the cars want to run in dirty air is nothing but an indictment of the sanctioning body yet again for inability to solve what is supposed to be a solveable problem. 

Bob Pockrass raised the idea of running a softer tire, and so has Dave Moody - as though the sport hasn't already seen this can't work, because it hasn't.    No, the issue isn't tires, it's too much horsepower, insufficient grip, and aeropush.   The Trucks, the NASCAR Modifieds at New Hampshire - the sport has seen that restricting horsepower and blasting open air create passing.   The draft needs to be more important than handling - it has been the solution for racing forever. 


The All Star Race also showed the competitive lock put on the sport this year by Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, even with Kurt Busch's superb showing in the Visser Chevy and the surprising second for Joey Logano and the Penske #22.   Six of the top ten were Hendrick/JGR cars while the Roush Fords were terrible - pole sitter Carl Edwards never got anything going while nobody else running a Ford got anywhere close to the top ten.   The RCR Chevys weren't all that stout; they ran decent in the preliminary Showdown, but a hooligan race isn't the feature and their poor showing is a bad sign for the 600.

So it ended as basically yet another test session for the 600, and it showcased that what promise the Gen-6 had looks to be gone.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

All Star Race Pit Rule Should Be First Step

For the 2013 All Star Race NASCAR announced that for the race's qualifying format - where cars run laps at speed then make a pitstop, the cumulative time serving as the qualifying time - there will be no pit speed limit. Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observor is concerned about it being a bad precedent.

It is not. It is a twenty-years overdue change and it should be a first step. Pit speed limits were implemented in April 1991 when NASCAR was stumbling to respond to pit crashes in 1989-90. Overlooked in the whole controversy was why these crashes were happening where they generally were not before 1989 - they were happening because NASCAR (starting in late March 1989) was closing pit road when the yellow comes out, bunching up the field and basically throwing them onto pit road all at once. Pit crashes escalated sharply, yet NASCAR never considered dropping the pit closure rule that is the real reason for these pit crashes.

If NASCAR had simply stopped closing pit road under yellow and thus allowed cars to pit of their own volition instead of when NASCAR decided to throw them all in at once, one cannot see any scenario where pit road would be more dangerous - because when NASCAR didn't have all these pit rules, pit road was not a particularly dangerous place; mass pitting was not quite as frequent as it has been in the era with pit closure because cars didn't always pit at once.  

The pit closure rule and subsequent additional pit road rules are simply a manifestation of NASCAR's biggest problem - the refusal to let go of control.   NASCAR should not be closing pit road at all and the offiiciating tower should not have the control of the racing it has, because the outcome of the race is too often determined by the officiating tower more than the racers - pit "speeding" penalties should never be a part of racing.

Far from being a bad precedent, this qualifying session rule eliminating pit speed limits should be a first step toward taking away the controls the officiating tower has and giving it back to the racers. 

Benghazi Emails Directly Contradict White House Claims

Obama is caught in yet another lie with more Benghazi Emails.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Obama's Arsenal Of Smoking Guns

Benghazi has provided an arsenal of smoking guns against Obama from bogus talking points to Obama's determined effort to lie about the nature of the attacks as acts of war by state-sanctioned terrorists and Hillary Clinton's refusal to have the attackers found and punished - despite promising relatives of the dead that this would be done. Obama was wholly unprepared for the attack before it happened - and was even more unprepared for the attack after it happened. All they did was lie about it to justify doing nothing - and revealed their fundamental ethic by all but defending the attack with the lie that it was provoked by a video - all the more to avoid having to actually fight back against the enemy.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Prepping For The All Star Race

NASCAR's regular season takes a breather this coming weekend, but the tour's participants don't, as they get ready for Charlotte's All Star Race weekend. The much-hyped weekend sees the All Star Showdown for cars that have not made the field for the All Star Race (2012 winners plus winners so far in 2013, which makes David Ragan eligible), and the top two of them makes the All Star field.   The All Star Race has four 20-lap segments and a 10-lap shootout, with a $1 million bonus for winning all five segments.

A question that never gets asked anymore but which still is relevant to the sport - does the All Star Race really serve any worthwhile purpose for the sport?   The 29 runnings of this race have gotten a lot of hype, yet the moments that tend to be cited in discussions of the race are always the crashes.   As far as good racing, the All Star Race has come up short virtually every time.   Only 1994 and 2000 produced battles that were actually good racing.

Given the reported attempt for Iowa Speedway to get a Cup date, one has to ask whether it's time to end "gimmick" races such as the All Star Race and the Clash at Daytona and instead spend the money used for adding another Cup race.


The Southern 500 was an uncompetitive affair and yet another poor showing for the Generation Six racecar, and the postrace commentary showed the Gen-6 is going nowhere toward solving the sport's issue of aeropush - a contrast to the Kansas Truck 200 a month ago where dirty air helped create passing.   It is also telling that we lately haven't seen much NASCAR hype of scoring loop data with regard to the Generation Six.  

That the Southern 500 was run under the lights contrasts with the Winston 500 last week, which doesn't have lights, and with Indianapolis Motor Speedway to add lights for 2014 or 2015 with a $100 million state-backed upgrade. The rumor is thus already starting that Talladega will add lights down the road and we'll of course get griping that NASCAR should switch more races to night - never mind the complete lack of any improvement in the sport's ratings or popularity with night racing and the damage done to local tracks that are basically bullied out because NASCAR runs at night.


An underrated issue remains the over-centralization of engine supply in NASCAR, with basically only four teams - Hendrick, RCR, Roush, and JGR building their own engines and other teams having to get their engines from them; even more curious is the seeming lack of outside engine shops such as the old Pro Motor Engineering or Mike Ege Racing Engines or Joey Arrington engine shops that once proliferated in the sport at the Cup level.   The economics involved make sense to a point, yet also don't make sense in the larger picture of how much autonomy a team can have - one need recall Rick Hendrick's cryptic warning to Tony Stewart after he won the 2011 championship with Hendrick engines. 

Racing writer Mike Mulhern has noted the absurdity of the issue with regard to NASCAR's recent clamp-down on Joe Gibbs and how outdated NASCAR's approach now seems to be. 


It is telling that while five teams teams have won so far in 2013 with credible efforts from Richard Petty Motorsports thrown in for good measure,  Hendrick and Joe Gibbs have won all but three of the first eleven races.   The biggest surprise of the season is not the Talladega win by Front Row Motorsports, not that that gigantic upset doesn't warrant continued attention.  

The biggest surprise remains the collapse of Stewart Haas Racing, though even here the sense of shock is grossly tempered by the fact this scenario has been repeated.   SHR's newest driver has a history  not only of poor racing but of dragging down the organizations for which she races.   To say Danica Patrick is a cancer in the garage of every team she races for is to be blunt about it.   Her gender is her entitlement to race and her presence has a track record of collapsing everything around her.

RCR has just one win (with a presumed lame-duck driver in Kevin Harvick), and that fact plus the issue of engines of course tie in to the rumor of a brand switch for RCR sooner or later; if a rumored Dodge to RCR (with the resurgent Petty team as part of the package) switch happens it's definitely to the benefit of the sport, with potential improvement in its competitive depth an obvious example of benefit.

So it is right now entering Charlotte's two weeks of racing.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

NASCAR And Letting Go

Two recent decisions by the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel and the chief officer of appeals, ex-Pontiac honcho John Middlebrook, have been stunning defeats for NASCAR, involving reversals of severe penalties toward Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing by NASCAR. The reversals have led to some speculation there is some sort of "open revolt" in NASCAR as Middlebrook has "consistently slapped NASCAR's enforcement hand when it comes to the penalties it assesses." In addition Middlebrook and NASCAR have worked seemingly at cross-purposes with each other; racecaster Dave Moody notes the fundamental difference between them - "Middlebrook is concerned primarily with fairness....NASCAR, meanwhile, is focused almost entirely on deterrence."

Writer Jim Utter wonders "How far (NASCAR) will go to maintain its control..." and it's a question worth asking.   More to the point, the question is this - should NASCAR try to "maintain its control"?  In other words, despite Mike Helton's insistence that NASCAR won't change, is it time for NASCAR to start letting go of some control?

In terms of what teams do or don't do to their racecars, the long-standing criticism is that NASCAR has too many rules.  Of course that's always been the case, and usually when NASCAR tightens down on inspections it helps the competitive depth of the fields.  There is also the crocodile tears angle - team cheating has always been ahead of the NASCAR inspectors (see Tom Jensen's book CHEATING: An Inside Look at the Bad Things Good NASCAR Winston Cup Racers Do In Pursuit Of Speed for the best summary of the history of this technology arms race between teams and the inspectors) and with the escalation of the overall technology arms race in the sport one shouldn't give Penske or JGR the automatic benefit of the doubt here.

But would there be benefit to the sport if NASCAR let go some of its control?   For his part Helton said there is need for more specificity "so (we) can show a third party why we reacted the way we reacted." But beyond specificity in the rulebook, is there need to change the rulebook to allow more freedom of movement for teams?

There are some areas where the answer is manifestly yes, notably in terms of race operations.   Talladega last week showcased two chronic absurdities allowed the officiating tower - racing to the stripe when a yellow flies, and not allowing passing below the yellow line on restrictor plate tracks.   One has yet to see a credible argument against NASCAR giving up on policing those areas - certainly Regan Smith in 2008 and others before and after would benefit from eliminating any yellow line rule.

In terms of the racecars themselves the issue is more complex, for there doesn't seem much benefit to the overall sport by liberalizing some of the control wielded by the sanctioning body.  If anything, Middlebrook and company's reversals of NASCAR penalties may have the effect of enabling more extensive - and more flagrant - cheating by teams that now see they can get away with it without much damage.

The rock and hard place gets illustrated here, for one can see where NASCAR is right but also where John Middlebrook is right.

Our Strategic Ally's Strategic Clarity

Israel sees Syria as part of the Iran problem - Obama and his allergy to fighting Islamo-Arab imperialism keep getting in the way for the US.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Iowa And Getting A Cup Race

The Iowa Speedway is a 3/4-mile oval identical to Richmond International Raceway, built by Rusty Wallace as such and later sold to the Clement family, owners of the Featherlite trailers company. The track has drawn Indycar races as well as NASCAR's Nationwide and Truck tours, the NASCAR East and West series, ARCA, and other smaller tours. The most competitive race in its history came in September 2006 involving the Pro Cup stock car series; in a green-white-checker finish Woody Howard fought off Daniel Johnson for the win after 11 yellows and 25 lead changes. In May 2007 a combination East-West 200-lapper was won by Joey Logano. But the most famous finish in the track's history came in 2011 when Ricky Stenhouse won despite blowing up and getting blasted in the back by Carl Edwards.

 There has been some commentary advocating that Iowa Speedway be given at least one Winston Cup date. Commentary has become outright effort as Iowa legislators have included $8 million over four years to be spent on upgrades to the speedway in an effort to attract the Sprint Cup Series there. The bill hasn't passed the Iowa House as of yet, but state Senator William Dotzler is pretty spirited in advocating including Iowa on the Winston Cup tour.

Such advocacy of course isn't new - Rusty Wallace presumably had Cup in mind when he built the track.   Yet when one considers adding Iowa to the Cup tour, the arguments for it really aren't that impressive.

Of the speedways in racing in general and NASCAR in particular, short tracks - contrary to the argument pushed by their advocates - have never been the best venues for stock car racing.   At a local level they certainly work well such as for places like Thompson Speedway, Stafford Speedway, etc.   At the Cup or even Nationwide and Truck level they create attention more for the wrong reasons (crashes) than the right ones (good racing).   In NASCAR history when one examines the 50-plus most competitive races ever, the only short track race that makes the list is the 1991 Southeastern 500 at Bristol, a chaotic and competitive affair thanks to a one-race-only pitstop and restart procedure coming out of that season's aborted rule banning tire changes under yellow. The lead changed 41 times on double-file restarts and Rusty Wallace lost two laps on two occasions before making them up and beating Ernie Irvan by six feet.

Not that the short tracks otherwise haven't produced some memorable moments, but overall they just don't produce  memorable racing, and this is inherent in their size and design.   Even Richmond Raceway has had good moments but generally has not had great races even though it has ample room to race on. 

The argument is often made that short tracks are less dependent on aero than bigger tracks, except this has never been true; there has never been a case of an aerodynamically inferior racecar winning short track races. 

Adding Iowa to the Cup schedule also opens the debate about whether a track should lose a Cup date.   Some of these tracks simply do not have markets that are all that stout, notably Martinsville - lack of a credible racing market is why the Rockingham track, despite commendable work by Andy Hillinberg, will not acquire Cup racing ever again barring an unlikely strengthening of that demographic.   The Fontana track is often ripped for lack of a demographic, and it had two Cup dates but lost the date in September-October; the Atlanta and Darlington tracks already lost dates, and the way the sanctioning body has maneuvered the schedule it's gotten to where they really can't take a date away from a track - and speedway fratricide is never good for the sport. 

There would of course be complaints if Iowa was added as an extra date, but at this point even with the decline in popularity of the sport, demand for it is such that NASCAR may have no choice but to add dates.

There is one other angle worth commentary because it deals with tracks such as Nashville and St. Louis that no longer race at all and further explains why Iowa wants a Cup date - NASCAR's TV rights package for Cup, which pays billions for Cup but reportedly pays little more than metaphorical pennies for any other series.   The Nationwide Series is not broadcast by anyone except ESPN while the Trucks are limited to what is now SPEED Channel; why NASCAR doesn't invest more than it presently does into these series (or put them up for television bid) is baffling, since they can be more valuable competition properties if NASCAR would treat them as such as thus better deal with demand for racing.   It should not have come to the point that the St. Louis and Nashville tracks had to close because of lack of Cup dates, especially after in 2010 the St. Louis track saw a spirited battle for the lead before the most vicious crash in NASCAR in awhile.

So Iowa will get advocacy for NASCAR to add it to the Cup schedule.   But one should not blindly assume it deserves it.

Romney On Marriage

Mitt Romney made some innocuous remarks about marriage that angered liberals because - natch - liberals think they know what in fact they don't.

Disconnecting the Dots in Benghazi

The Obama regime works harder and harder to deny that the Benghazi attack was an act of war, with Hillary Milhous Clinton as its Liar In Chief.

Monday, May 06, 2013

The Upside Down Status Of NASCAR After Talladega

Suddenly the sport - for now - doesn't look the same.

 The Winston 500 was not the most competitive race (it had just 30 lead changes), yet it produced the most amazing finish racing has seen in years, this following an Alabama 500k that almost was the most competitive race in the history of NASCAR's second-tier stock car tour (47 lead changes, just short of the all-time record 56 set in 2011's 312-miler) and topped by a three-abreast finish almost more astonishing than in the 500.

Talladega's Aarons Upsets are just part of a striking change in the sport so far, seen in the varied winners and losers of the weekend.



Front Row Motorsports for the biggest upset and most amazing racing finish in years.  The team is a small outfit even though it is fielding three cars.   What kind of competitive boost comes from this win remains to be seen, but to have gotten this far this fast suggests they can build something going forward; indeed Ford should be working to shore up the depth of its fleet by helping Front Row be able to build its own engines.

David Ragan specifically is also the winner not only of the race, but also the winner in terms of erasing a negative view of his racing career, as he drove Roush Fenway Racing's #6 and managed just one win (the 2011 Firecracker 400); being axed from RFR carried the stigma of career failure, a stigma wiped out in the Talladega rain.

Regan Smith is another big winner, as he was in contention for the Winston 500 and nearly pulled off the Talladega sweep.   Suddenly upward mobility in modern NASCAR may not be extinct after all.

Historically one wouldn't consider Richard Petty's #43 any kind of darkhorse, but given where The King's car owning career has gone the last decade-plus the comeback of the #43 in 2013, notably Aric Almirola's victory bid at Talladega, this on top of Marcus Ambrose's two Watkins Glen wins, counts as the surge of a darkhorse; it also gives Petty ammo if/when Dodge comes back to the sport.

Roush Fenway Racing is also the winner, as it has taken the mantle of restrictor plate mastery from RCR and Hendrick as well as Joe Gibbs Racing.

The other winner is NASCAR the sanctioning body, this despite another example of a race marred because the officiating tower has too much control of the racing - the Alabama 500k was marred because NASCAR ruled Regan Smith the winner based on a scoring loop with the yellow flying instead of by the cars racing to the stripe.   Even with that and the disappointing level of competition for most of the Winston 500, the shocking finish on Sunday combined with the exhilarating level of competition Saturday more than made up for shortcomings.   Sunday also showed real competitive potential with the Generation Six - there was noticeable push-drafting on Sunday and it's no longer implausible to see the Firecracker 400 breaking 40 lead changes and October's Diehard 500 going for 60, and other darkhorses suddenly stealing thunder for the sport. 

NASCAR also deserves praise for finishing the two races despite the persistent rain, though the inevitable calls for lighting at Talladega should be ignored given night racing has not been the benefit to the sport often claimed.


But with winners there are also losers.   Richard Childress, winner at Richmond and once the dominator of Talladega, had a very rough weekend and little to be happy with by the end of Sunday.   Joe Gibbs Racing was also a loser despite Matt Kenseth's 142 laps led - the most at Talladega since Jeff Gordon in 2005.    Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing isn't making anyone ignore the rumored sale of the outfit to John Menard.   Penske Racing had a disappointing weekend.    And Trevor Bayne - the comparisons with Tim Tebow work more than he'd like, because like Tebow Bayne has been MIA since 2011. 

But the biggest loser is Stewart-Haas Racing, in a race that illustrates that Danica Patrick is doing again what she did in Indycars - dragging down the organization for which she races.   SHR has struggled as an organization with Ryan Newman leading the way with four top ten finishes but a paltry 17th in points.   Little Miss Danica is 27th in points and the surge from Daytona Speedweeks has gone the way of expectations after the 2005 Indianapolis 500.   But the biggest surprise is Tony Stewart himself, with one top-ten finish.  

That Newman is right now SHR's top dog is surprising given how much he has slid competitively even with three wins 2010-12 and amid the rumor he is on the way out to be replaced by Kevin Harvick in 2014.   Newman's semi-petulant tantrum after the backstretch melee merely underscores that there is something wrong with how he races to be constantly involved in these crashes. 


And so we approach Darlington, site of Regan Smith's first official Cup win.    In the upside down world of 2013 NASCAR, he may be the favorite.

The Benghazi Talking Points

The Obama coverup of the Benghazi betrayal continues and how Obama's neglect enables America's enemies.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Talladega Sees A Ragan Revolution

We've seen it all before.

Yet when it happens again, it feels like we'd never seen anything like it before.

This is what we get when racing produces a darkhorse winner even at a speedway whose history is filled with them. 

There were of course numerous candidates for darkhorse winner, even after one of them flipped over down the backstretch. Kurt Busch's tumble set up a green-white-checker finish and then saw what seemed impossible - the Saturday Alabama 500k produced a finish seemingly impossible to top - yet the Winston 500 actually topped Saturday's three-wide photo finish, and reintroduced the sport not only to David Ragan - the winner in the 2009 500k - but reintroduced the sport to the Talladega jinx.

Of all the tracks in racing, one cannot think of any other that has seen as many darkhorse winners as Talladega.   From the 1969 opening marred by a mass driver park-out over speeds too high for available tires to handle, Talladega has been the stage for the darkhorse.   Richard Brickhouse was the first.   James Hylton in 1972 after a new Goodyear compound literally blew up in Goodyear's face was the second, going with year-old tires and rocketing from 22nd to domination.   Dick Brooks 40 years ago this season was the next one, whipping a year-old Plymouth from 24th to a wild upset win.  

Dave Marcis outlasted another ferocious 500 in 1976 for his lone Talladega win.   Lennie Pond in 1978 then whipped to his only win.   The most famous upset of all remains Ron Bouchard in 1981 in a finish that always comes to mind when there is a three-wide photo finish, be it Regan Smith's win in Saturday's 312-miler or Tim Richmond's 1986 Pocono win or Sam Hornish's 2003 Chicago Indy 300 win.

After Bobby Hillin Jr., Davey Allison, and Ken Schrader in Richmond's #25 won Talladega, the darkhorse era at Talladega appeared to end in the 1990s as only Greg Sacks in the 1996 Alabama 500k pulled off an upset for the track in that decade.   The darkhorse era then started creeping back in 2006 with Brian Vickers; Regan Smith's stolen 2008 win pushed the darkhorse era closer to the fore, but it was 2009 that truly brought it back between Brad Keselowski's slugfest with Carl Edwards and then Jamie McMurray's surprise win that autumn.


This spectacular win has also reintroduced the sport to new team owners getting the win.   Front Row Motorsports began with Jimmy Means and restaurant chain owner Bob Jenkins (not the Bob Jenkins of ESPN fame).   Being small has of course been a strike against them, and with the win, being small is also an illustration of how much opportunity Talladega Superspeedway opens up for racers.  

The Jenkins team was not the only darkhorse outfit strutting its stuff in this race, as James Finch's team with Regan Smith (who had a legitimate shot at the end for the Talladega sweep) as well as the Baldwin Racing #36 were also in contention with the #30 of David Stremme.   No one will ever confuse the #43 for a darkhorse but Richard Petty's mount damn near pulled off the win as well.     No one will ever confuse Jeff Gordon's #24 for a darkhorse either, yet after two wrecks Gordon finished 11th anyway.  


Given how much positivity the 2013 Winston 500 produced, it seems inappropriate to pick nits, yet one should point out this race was not quite the ringing endorsement of the Generation Six racecar the spectacle of the final laps showcased.   The racing at the end was spectacular, and one wishes the combat up front had been at something close to that level for the event's duration as was the case in the 312-miler the day before - after seeing 47 lead changes on Saturday, the 30 produced Sunday ought to have been twice that number.  

The other nit to pick is Ryan Newman, who continues to be an insufferable baby; one should be concerned that Kurt Busch flipped onto his racecar, but to blame it on NASCAR is another case of Newman going too far. Newman is 100% wrong; restarting the race was the right call; he should be angry at whoever spun out whomever to detonate the crash; Newman should also reexamine his own racing competence given how far he's slid down the racing totem pole.

The upshot is that pointing out the nits to pick only illustrates that the Gen-6 actually is making progress toward living up to the hype.   There was some serious push-drafting at the end and that's a manifestly good sign for the sport, for that opens up passing - and the sport needs all the passing there is to have.

So the Aarons Talladega weekend after two drawn-out races can only be considered a smashing success, which produces yet one more illustration -  The Thrill Isn't Gone after all.

Regan Smith And NASCAR's Comeuppance

NASCAR's 2013 Aarons Talladega weekend got off to a nasty start with rain galore and delay of the Alabama 500k race - aka The Aarons 312 - by some three hours. The wait turned out to be worth it as far as mind-blowing racing goes. It was also worth it for NASCAR getting some much-deserved comeuppance. The race was cut short by seven laps because of impending darkness, and it turned into an amazing thirteen car shootout and a three-abreast finish that should have been a photo finish - except the initial ruling of Kasey Kahne as the winner was reversed by NASCAR based on freezing the field when the caution comes out instead of racing to the flag. NASCAR ruled Regan Smith was ahead of Kahne based on a scoring loop as the yellow flew, so Smith was declared the winner.

Regan Smith being involved in controversy over a win at Talladega - the irony is delicious, because this time Smith is the one benefitting from a NASCAR rule that objectively speaking has no business existing. NASCAR stopped allowing cars to race to the line after the 2003 New Hampshire 300 because of foolish driving by Michael Waltrip amid a crash involving Dale Jarret. NASCAR had had similar incidents before - such as involving Geoff Bodine at the 1989 Summer 500 at Pocono amid a crash involving Bobby Hillin Jr. - and dealt with them sensibly without changing the rule. The objective reality is the finish ought to be determined at the start-finish line, not by a scoring loop when the yellow comes out. Several races have seen the wrong winner declared because of not allowing racing to the stripe when the yellow comes out - the infamous 2004 Winston 500 won by Jeff Gordon, the 2005 Diehard 500 won by Dale Jarrett, the 2006 Diehard 500 won by Brian Vickers, and the 2008 Firecracker 400 won by Kyle Busch come immediately to mind - and then there are the races where a crash happened and the yellow DIDN'T fly, in effect allowing the field to race to the line - the 2004 Firecracker 250 won by Mike Wallace and the 2007 Daytona 500 won by Kevin Harvick come to mind.

What NASCAR thinks it is preventing by not allowing racing to the stripe, especially in situations such as listed above, does not come across as valid. Freezing the field is not preventing any crash; all it is doing is creating controversy that should not even exist. That Regan Smith is the beneficiary here is the comeuppance for NASCAR for the 2008 Diehard 500 - Regan Smith drafted past Tony Stewart to the stripe, but NASCAR disqualified the pass because Smith went below the yellow line - a rule dating to Jimmy Spencer's petulant bitch-fest at the 2001 Alabama 500k. To that point passing below the yellow line had never been an issue to the racers; suddenly NASCAR now had controversies based on giving the officiating tower more element of control over the racing - it blew up with Dale Earnhardt Jr's 2003 Talladega win where he passed on the apron of Turn Three; there have been other incidents of passing below the yellow line - some like Tony Stewart at the end of the 2003 Diehard 500 went unnoticed; others have resulted in NASCAR penalties - none bigger than Regan Smith in 2008.

The fact is NASCAR was wrong in 2008 - there is no objective legitimacy to the rule against passing below the yellow line; making it more devastating was a quote attributed to Ramsey Poston of NASCAR claiming that the yellow line rule did not apply to last-lap passes. So five years later another rule that has no place in the sport - freezing the field instead of racing to the line when the yellow flies - winds up in effect making up for the wrong rule (and ruling) of 2008.


The rain and the controvery merely added to the exhilaration of another amazing Talladega Busch/Nationwide race.   Because NASCAR's rules czars have largely left the N'wide cars alone for the plate tracks, the tandem draft is extremely effective and it showed in 47 lead changes among 16 drivers, not a record for NASCAR's second-tier stock car tour (2011's 56 lead changes is the record) but darned close and an awesome number even for a 500 MILE race.    

The race showcased not only superb competition from Smith and Kahne, it also showed strong efforts by cars wiped out in the plethora of wrecks - notably Reed Sorenson and Travis Pastrana after a tag from Brian Scott while racing with the leaders. And there was also another Danica crash.

It's regrettable rain plagued the weekend this way, but when the sport produces racing this ferocious and this competitive, it's all worth it.  

It also proves that sometimes what goes around does come around.