Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bring On Eleven Billion People

The earth's population could reach 11 billion. Problem with providing food, etc? Nope.

Being the fifth of six sibs, it always struck me as a little odd that families didn't reach six.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Talladega And The Rise Fall And Rebirth Of Kurt Busch

Well didn't that beat all.

Toyota provided sponsorship of the Richmond 400 for 2015, but it didn't help Toyota teams - or Ford teams, for that matter; the two brands combined for just six finishers in the top 20 - as Kurt Busch and Chevrolet bitch-slapped the field.  Busch led 291 of 400 laps for his first win since the 2014 Virginia 500.   Coming as the first NASCAR driver in recent memory suspended for off-track ugliness - and it says something about how disreputable a person he is that he's gotten three suspensions -  Busch's win is another twist in a career that's been controversial almost from its very beginning.

Busch's career began after the shooting death of Dick Trickle's nephew Chris Trickle, a driver on NASCAR's Southwest Tour.   Busch replaced Trickle and won the Tour title in 1999.   He thus got a tryout in Jack Roush's "Gong Show" driver development program and was signed to drive one of Roush's NASCAR Truck Fords.

His first race was the Daytona 250 in 2000 and it set the tone for his career - he hooked two trucks hard into each other in the trioval and it blasted Geoff Bodine into the fencing, ripping out 100 feet of fencing and wiping out over a dozen trucks.   He won four races and was promoted to the former Chad Little Winston Cup team, where he posted six top-tens and famously swerved Dale Earnhardt at the ill-fated Daytona 500, earning a petulant gesture from Earnhardt.   His breakthrough win came at the Southeastern 500 at Bristol in 2002 when he stayed out after pitting on Lap 325 and never pitted again.   He edged Jimmy Spencer in that race and had another more controversial pair of encounters with Spencer, first at the 2002 Brickyard 400 when he sideslammed Spencer and Spencer hit back, taking Busch out.   At the 2003 Yankee 400 the two tapped several times, then a fight erupted in the garage that earned Spencer a suspension by NASCAR; Busch was booed at Bristol the next week when he won.  

Busch got fired from Roush Racing in November 2005 when he was arrested for the ultimate driving sin of DUI and attacked cops involved.   Roush's spokesman famously declared they were finished as Busch's apologists.

Penske Racing signed him on and the fights continued, as Kurt got into it with brother Kyle at Charlotte in 2007, then came his meltdown year of 2011.  He got into Jimmie Johnson at Richmond and physically attacked Joe Menzer, a NASCAR reporter, in a postrace interview.   At Loudon he lied in a postrace presser about it, then tore up a transcript in possession of reporter Jenna Fryer that proved the fight; a November set-to with ABC's Jerry Punch finally led to his firing from Penske.

He was hired by James Finch's low-budget organization, competing in both the Busch series and Winston Cup; he crashed Ryan Newman at Darlington and nearly struck several of Newman's crewmen, which led to another near-brawl and a probationary period for Busch.   When he threatened to attack reporter Bob Pockrass at Dover, NASCAR suspended him for the Pocono race.

He then did something shocking - he won the 2012 Firecracker 250 at Daytona in one of the greatest races Daytona and the Busch series had ever seen, but the punk inside never changed; more incidents followed in 2013 and finally came the domestic abuse scandal that got him suspended (again) in 2015.

Driving for the now-powerhouse Stewart-Haas team, Busch has once again showed what his talent level is - and he's also shown that he has no business holding a competition license.    His rise, fall, and rebirth have been there for everyone to see, and the next fall will be there as well.


Talladega thus beckons as the 2015 season has become yet another all-Chevrolet show.   The fall of Ford is especially painful to those who remember the effort Ford undertook to win the manufacturer title after GM cars won it 1976-91; Ford would win six of the next eleven manufacturer titles.   Dodge's 2001-12 presence didn't change the balance of power in the series as some no doubt hoped it would, and Toyota's presence has been decidedly lackluster overall.  

Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske are the only non-Chevy teams putting up any real fight, as the collapse of Roush-Fenway continues with a driver lineup that shows no future; only Richard Petty's #43 - a team that ought to be a Dodge - has shown any other non-Penske Ford moxie.   The Michael Waltrip Toyota team likewise has been a non-starter as far as competitive fight has gone.

Not only has it been an all-Chevrolet show, it's been an all Stewart-Hass vs. Hendrick show, with Talladega almost the first weekend since Daytona to offer the chance of non-Chervolet resistance to actually win a battle.    The RCR bunch, while better than last year, still isn't any threat, and those who held out hope for the return of the number 3 have to cringe at the poor performance of Austin Dillon.  

It hasn't been all peaches and herb for Stewart-Haas, though - Tony Stewart has slipped almost to irrelevance and Danica Patrick can't sustain what little success she's gotten.

So it all awaits this weekend at Talladega.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Spring Cleaning For Coby At Thompson

The name Icebreaker took on more than normal meaning in April 2015.   Thompson Speedway opened its season after a winter that dumped over 100 inches of snow - something that brought back memory of the infamous 1978 and '79 New England blizzards - and opened amid some of the best mid-April weather in years.  

Not only did the weather bring out positivity, it brought out the strongest crowd for the Icebreaker in awhile and also showcased some eye-popping changes to the speedway, eye-popping especially to one who hadn't been to Thompson in several years.   With a strong sponsorship presence from the Mohegan Sun casino, the speedway now boasts garage buildings in what had once been merely an open paved lot for team transporters; it also boasts a revamped road course, sporting new road course pavement, SAFER barriers, and old-fashioned Armco - so old-fashioned it made the road course look like Watkins Glen.  

The Icebreaker thus opened the NASCAR Modified Tour season with the strongest field for the 150-lapper in years.   But for two-time series champ Doug Coby, it was merely a showcase of spring cleaning.   Staring on the pole in his Smeriglio Racing #2 Chevrolet, Coby took off in a race that was an exercise in close but ultimately futile pursuit by the likes of Bobby Santos III, New England legend Ted Christopher, and contender Ronnie Silk.   Silk offered the only true challenge for Coby, as pitstops past halfway under yellow put Silk in the lead; it took three laps and a nifty three-abreast slide job by Coby on the restart before he retook the lead and finished up cleaning house at the Icebreaker.

Numerous yellows kept the field close; it also put the #88 of Woody Pitkat behind the eight ball early as NASCAR briefly stopped the race to find a mysterious fluid leak that drivers reported but could not identify; finding the #88 to be the culprit, NASCAR sent Pitkat to the pits to get the leak fixed.   This done, Pitkat had to rally back to the front and he did just that, ultimately finishing second.

"Every restart we started on the bottom," Pitkat said after the race, noting the long-standing reality of Thompson racing that the low line in the corners simply isn't fast.   It thus leads to Modified racing there resembling sprint cars with slide-job passing and the cars noticeably loose in the corners.  

Coby's housecleaning at Thompson furthers a Modified career that started well in 2004 but hit a series of detours in the 2008-10 period as Coby had to go car-hopping, an experience that "promoted me a lot to the series," he has said, which stood him in good stead once he finally got settled again, first with the Dave Darling team in 2011, later with the Smeriglio outfit.  

The top nine finishers were Chevrolets, including fifth-place  Ryan Preece in Ed Partridge's #6, one of the few cars that could give even a cursory challenge to Coby all day.   The Chevy monopoly was broken by Todd Szegedy, driving Bob Garbarino's #4 Dodge; it marled a comeback of sorts for Szegedy, who ran just six Tour races in 2014.  

The Icebreaker also marked the beginning of a new TV deal for NASCAR's smaller touring classes as NBC Sports Network taped the race for airing later in the week.    If the deal helps as some clearly hope it does, it will be a step forward for NASCAR given long-standing acrimony over negligence, real and perceived, toward the sanctioning body's smaller touring classes.  

For the Modified tour spring cleaning resumes at Stafford Speedway at the end of the month.