Some Thoughts On A Blustery Day

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Just clearing off some debris from the desk looking for my lost shaker of salt:

Horse Trading- In a way it’s ironic. Tony Stewart is driving one of those “uncompetitive” Pontiacs and he’s leading the points. His Joe Gibbs teammate, Bobby Labonte, finished second at Charlotte last week. But both teams will field Chevrolets next year. Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman are the fourth and fifth in the standings, both piloting Fords. And next year they will be driving Dodges, despite the fact Ford appears to have the 2001 Manufacturers Championship well in hand. So how heavily will Pontiac or Ford be able to promote a Stewart, Wallace or Newman championship?

This year offers a unique opportunity for the teams to switch manufacturers. The new NASCAR rule standardizing body location to be in effect next year means that all the Ford and Dodge teams will have to remove the bodies from their race cars anyway. Chevrolet and Pontiac teams will have a new car next year, so they’re in the same boat. In the case of Joe Gibbs the only changes he needs to make to his engines is a valve cover swap. Penske will have to build new engines to switch to Dodge, but as Smoky Yunick used to say an engine can’t read what’s printed on a valve cover. Despite small variances in bore, stroke and cylinder heads, the same tricks tend to work on all Winston Cup engines, and while they claim the deal wasn’t done until last week, Penske employees admit they’ve been working on the Dodge engines for the last three months.

There was a time when a particular make of car offered a team a decided advantage, such as back in 1981, the year of the Buick. The body was that much better. But with NASCAR adopting what’s for all intents and purposes common templates nowadays these sort of team shifts from manufacturer to manufacturer are mainly about the same thing. If you want to know what’s going on, follow the money. There will probably come a day the teams carry a full set of each makes decals and valve covers to the tracks and slaps on whichever set gets them the most bonus money that weekend.

Hey, maybe down the road Mercedes Benz will enter Winston Cup racing. After all they’ll just have to fashion a grille and some projector beam headlight decals and call the thing an E500.

Paradise By the Dashboard Light?- In the wake of the Eric Martin tragedy a lot of people involved with the sport have proposed adding a yellow light to the dashboard of Winston Cup cars similar to those used in open wheel cars and even at some bullrings around the country. When a track official hits the switch to turn on the track caution lights it simultaneously triggers the yellow lights within the car. And we’re not talking about an inconspicuous little indicator like the one in your street car that indicates a door is ajar (How can a door be a jar?) we’re talking the yellow equivalent of a shift indicator lamp, a veritable Darth Vader light saber aimed directly at a driver’s eyes to get his attention. The technology exists and it’s about as foolproof as a pop-top. So why doesn’t NASCAR adopt such a rule? Perhaps they’re trying to keep the cost of racing under control? (Note: Tongue is inserted firmly in cheek here.)

Good News/Bad News- The good news is this year’s title fight for the Winston Cup might just go down to the last race of the season. The bad news (except possibly for Tony Stewart) is that if that’s the case the title will be decided at Homestead, a track that to date hasn’t produced a Cup race worth a cup of warm spit. With an eye towards the future, NASCAR ought to look at moving the season finale to a different track just in case the title isn’t decided yet. My vote would be to move it to Richmond, a good old fashioned short track where drivers can race side by side. And besides you know NASCAR will only move the finale from Homestead if the date goes to another ISC track. That being said, a majority of posters on our message board asked where they’d like to see the season finale held wanted to see it returned to Atlanta.

Parity or Parody?- The powers that be in Formula One have a unique idea on how to make their racing series competitive rather than a Ferrari benefit event as it was this season. They are considering a rule where in the cars of a driver who scores points will have 2.5 pounds of additional weight added to them for each point that driver scores, theoretically slowing the fastest cars down to the same pace as the back-markers. Can you imagine the hullabaloo if NASCAR tried to do that? Jeff Gordon would have had to tow a trailer to accommodate all the extra ballast by the end of the 1998 season.

TNT or NOT- TNT has apparently told cable operators that they are raising the fee for their programming in light of the addition of NASCAR and NBA programming. While I support a free market economy (except when it comes to pricing of the new Mustang Cobra) TNT is trying to pull a fast one. They’re not just telling cable operators whose contracts are expiring this year that the fee (usually per subscriber) is being hiked, they’re trying to tell cable systems that have signed contracts not yet set to expire they have to pay more for the programming too in violation of those contracts. With the wealth of programming available to cable operators these days, look for some of them to balk and dump TNT. At which point as a good race fan, TNT will hope you’ll scream bloody murder at your local cable operator until they reverse that decision. All together now:
“Like a castle in a corner of a medieval game, I foresee terrible trouble but I stay here just the same…..I’m a fool to do your dirty work, oh, yeah.”

Feeling Groovy- There’s growing concern by some teams that have tested there over the “new” track surface at Martinsville. Apparently the track did some “diamond grooving” to smooth the track and add traction, but at the expense of the tire wear. Goodyear says they weren't informed in time to look into whether a different tire would be better suited for the new surface. Supposedly Ricky Rudd and the 28 team were so upset they canceled a multi-day test at the track after only a few hours of testing. My question is, with the points battle so close why throw a curveball like this at the teams. It’s like deciding when the World Series starts MLB will introduce a three foot pitchers mound and a five base field to see what happens.

Smokey’s CD- Long time race fans will be pleased to here a six CD set of excerpts from NASCAR legend Smokey Yunick’s controversial but excellent autobiography has recently been released. The set called “Sex, Lies, and Superspeedways” features sections of the book read by John Delorean, who was the guy who got Pontiac into performance cars and racing early in the 1960s, and gets much of the credit for doing an end run around GM senior brass to release the original muscle car, the 1964 GTO. While not suitable for the kids, this is a must have for serious fans of stock car racing history. It’s available for $29.95 from www.smokeyyunick.com

A Sign of the Coming Apocolypse- Playgirl magazine is said to be readying a feature on “the Boys of NASCAR” featuring some of those so called “Young Guns”. Fortunately in this instance the chaps’ “guns” will be holstered within their pants but this is going to introduce a whole new level of “How bad have you got it?” My hats off to any guy, no matter how big a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr. who can walk into the newsstand and tell the guy behind the counter “Yeah, give me a copy of Playgirl” without squirming. But I still maintain NASCAR racing won’t have really reached the big time until one of the drivers eats a mouthful of insects on “Celebrity Fear Factor.”

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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