Kelly Murphy

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Kelly Murphy. Ever since Wednesday I’ve been trying to remember that name. See my good buddy John and I were out at the Carlisle Flea Market this week drooling over shiny old muscle cars, rusty old auto parts and chilly cans of beer. Somehow we got to talking about the first serious crush we had on a girl. And though my memory is usually pretty good I couldn’t remember her name. I can close my eyes and still see her face. I remember what dress she wore in our fourth grade class photo at Flower Hill Elementary. Heck, if I were to return to my old hometown I’d be able to walk to the house she lived in though it was a pretty good distance from my place for a kid who had to rely on a pair of Converse hightops for transportation. But I couldn’t remember her name.

There were a lot of reasons it never worked out for Kelly and I. For one thing she hated me. For another I was a complete and total geek. And worst of all her older sister used to baby-sit my sisters and I and relayed onto Kelly every stupid thing I did or said while I was in her charge. Which Kelly would then repeat to our entire class launching me into Charlie Brown grade fits of prepubescent angst.

Driving home from Carlisle can be pretty boring but you have to use a few brain cells to check for cops on the Turnpike and to operate even a car laid back as Johnny’s new Crown Vic Sport. But I wasn’t bored enough to remember Ms. Murphy’s name. Last night I battled a bout of insomnia bought on by the ill-advised consumption of six cans of Red Bull watching the ASA race. But even staring at the ceiling until five AM trembling like a blowfish just landed on a hot tin dock I couldn’t remember her name. But after watching a driver lead a mind numbing parade at California Sunday for lap after lap after lap I was so bored Kelly’s name all but appeared blazing in the sky. Had it not, most likely I’d have fallen asleep which would have been too bad because those last thirty laps were pretty good thanks to a rash of uncharacteristic cautions at the wide, smooth track and the dominant car in Sunday’s race having suffered mechanical meltdown. Still taken as a whole, I recall astronomy lectures back in school that were more exciting that Sunday’s Fontana race. Cause sometimes you can see the stars but you still can’t see the light.

Naturally Kurt Busch fans are going to think it was a pretty good race. Not only did their boy win, he became the first driver to win more than one race this season and that helped move him back up to fourth place in the standings. At one point it appeared unlikely Busch was even going to finish the race when he radioed to his team that he felt like he was dragging something under his car. Did anyone check to see if it was Dale Jarrett’s 2003 title hopes?

Bobby Labonte prevailed in a tight duel with Rusty Wallace to finish second. But perhaps Labonte had more than a normal motivation to beat Wallace after the driver of the 2 car chose to violate the gentleman’s agreement by passing Labonte heading to the eighth caution flag.

Wallace, whose last win occurred at Fontana now fully two years ago, seems to be getting frustrated as that winless drought drags ever onward. My guess is Wallace would have put Labonte into the cheap seats racing to that caution flag if he felt it might give him a chance at the win. Once again Wallace’s team didn’t do their driver any favors running him out of gas while Wallace was running second earlier in the event.

Bill Elliott scored his first top 5 finish of the 2003 season coming home fourth. That finish was also Elliott’s best result since he came home third in last fall’s Southern 500 at Darlington. Elliott’s chances at a win were also hampered by his team. A wheel was left loose forcing Bill to pit for a second time and drop to the back of the lead lap pack. Almost unnoticed by the cameras (I don’t think Darrell Waltrip likes Elliott) he worked his way back into the top 5 by race end.

If Elliott and Wallace had to overcome adversity to salvage good finishes, Dale Earnhardt Junior’s problem (like Elliott, his team left lugnuts loose during a pit stop) occurred even later in the race after Earnhardt had been running up front most of the day. Junior managed to get back on the lead lap after a fierce duel with Rusty Wallace then came flying through the pack with wild abandon to the considerable delight of the crowd. Even in California it appears Earnhardt has replaced Jeff Gordon as the face of NASCAR.

Michael Waltrip’s car was so bad at the start of the race he nearly went a lap down early before a timely caution flag allowed him to duck into the pit for adjustments. While he was never a contender for the win the seventh place finish did arrest Waltrip’s tumble through the points standings over the last several weeks.

When John Andretti qualified well (13th) on Friday it appeared to be a fluke deal. But Andretti was able to back that qualifying effort up with a solid eighth place finish Sunday, his first top 10 finish of the 2003 season. In all of 2002 Andretti only managed one top10 finish, a tenth place result at Sonoma last summer.

Matt Kenseth held onto the points lead for the seventh consecutive week finishing ninth on Sunday to score his league leading eighth top 10 finish in this ten race old season.

Sterling Marlin’s 2003 season got off to a slow start. But his tenth place result Sunday was his third consecutive top 10 finish and his fourth in the last five races. It would appear that much like the Richard Childress Racing outfit last year, the addition of a third team has overtaxed Chip Ganassi’s resources. If Casey Mears doesn’t start running better soon they’re going to put his picture on a milk carton.

I’ve come to the sad realization that there’s a lot of shallow NASCAR fans. If their driver wins it’s a great race even if there are no lead changes and the margin of victory is twenty seconds. If the driver they support fares poorly even if there’s a photo finish with fenders rubbing and tires smoking it was a “lousy” race. For the rest of us who just like to see exciting side by side action and may the best man win the problem with the sport lately is there’s too many California’s and not enough Darlington’s. The move towards cookie cutter tracks given race dates only because they are in or near key TV markets threatens NASCAR’s two decade old skyrocketing popularity. To say Sunday’s race wasn’t as bad as might have been expected based on past Fontana history is about as nice a thing as I can think to say and that’s too bad. Accepting mediocrity as the status quo has led to the demise of many a great empire.

As for Fontana I liked it better as a toxic waste dump. To date I haven’t seen anything that would make me spend my hard earned money for a race ticket if I was a fan who lived in that area. Not even if I was ten years old again and Kelly Murphy agreed to come with me. Besides, if her sister, the babysitter from Hell, was any indication, Kelly is probably the size of a steam locomotive by now. I can’t remember Kelly’s sister name but they’ll be racing in New Hampshire soon enough so I’m sure it will come back to me then.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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