Opinion: Idle Thoughts

Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Pistone: "Some media members believe this pairing is and will be the biggest story in NASCAR this season. It’s a giant stretch in my opinion and is actually an insult to a sport that has tried its best to reinvent itself in the off-season with new cars and old fan favorite policies in hopes of igniting more interest." (Photo: Getty Images)

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A lap around the NASCAR world and a look at some of what’s been passing as news stories over the last few days.

The countdown to Daytona is officially on with only two weeks left before the season starts in earnest. In the meantime here are a few observations to while away the time before thankfully cars are finally back on track:

Patrick-Stenhouse Frenzy
Apparently the story of the century broke last week with the revelation that Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. were an item. What had been rumored for months was finally confirmed when Patrick confessed to the Associated Press, “I have a boyfriend and his name is Richard.” The ridiculousness that followed was beyond embarrassing.

It’s a “story” I guess when two competitors are dating, something which is rare in professional sports (as far as we know anyway). Of course in NASCAR these days such a revelation is front-page news, especially since it starts with D and ends in Anica. There may be some competitive ramifications for the new couple but how does it differ from brothers, fathers, sons, uncles and even a husband and wife in Elton Sawyer and Patty Moise back in the 1990s racing against one another?

Some media members believe this pairing is and will be the biggest story in NASCAR this season. It’s a giant stretch in my opinion and is actually an insult to a sport that has tried its best to reinvent itself in the off-season with new cars and old fan favorite policies in hopes of igniting more interest. Most believe NASCAR is heading in the right direction on the brink of the 2013 season. Nothing could be further from the truth if the Danica-Ricky dating game commands more headlines as the year rolls along.

Support for Start and Parks
The cry to eradicate start and park teams was heard once again during last week’s Media Tour in Charlotte. Speedway Motorsports Inc. head Bruton Smith called for NASCAR to eliminate those teams and told media members “start and park should not be a part of what we do. I think it’s derogatory toward our sport. I’m going to try my best – and I hope you’ll join me – to see if NASCAR can do something about this. It certainly isn’t adding anything to our sport, and it certainly takes away.”

What Smith continues to forget is the future of the sport may very well rest with teams who are trying to stay afloat today. Let’s face it, Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs, Roger Penske and Richard Childress aren’t going to be around forever. NASCAR needs new owners and full-time teams aren’t exactly falling out of trees these days.

Hendrick himself tells the story of how he was literally one race away from having to shut down his race team in the 1980s due to a lack of funding. Geoff Bodine’s Martinsville win saved the day and we all know the rest of the story.

Chloroforming a small team today may stop any similar stories from taking place. There are several organizations that used the start and park business plan to keep their doors open and were able to evolve into full time operations. The independents not able to run a whole race take nothing away from the overall race experience. Even though some promoters resent paying those positions from the purse, these small teams should be allowed to participate if they can qualify and make the show.

Pressure is on for Edwards
There are a number of drivers under the gun this coming season but Carl Edwards is definitely at the top of the list. The Roush Fenway Racing driver’s disappointing 2012 season may have been one of the sport’s biggest let downs in recent years. And no one is more aware of it than Edwards.

However, he refuses to put any additional pressure on himself or the race team.

“When you start running around and worrying and trying to make up for things and selling yourself short, that is when things go bad,” Edwards said. “That has been my mission, to go do the best I can to surround myself with the best people. … Winning is easy when you are doing it but losing is really easy too.
“You have to stay on top of your game and keep your confidence.”

The odds say there’s no way Edwards can have the same kind of frustration two years in a row. He’s too talented a driver and with an organization at RFR supported by some of the deepest resources in NASCAR.

But the pressure will definitely be on Edwards to prove Roush didn’t make a mistake signing him to a long-term contract while letting Matt Kenseth defect to Joe Gibbs Racing.

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