Articles By Athlon Sports
In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.
Article originally published in 2009 Athlon Sports Racing annual
— by Tom Bowles
As Jimmie Johnson wrapped up his third straight championship in 2008, he stood alone on the precipice of a dynasty in the Chase era. As Johnson and co-owner Rick Hendrick sat at the head table at the Waldorf-Astoria last December, they provided Exhibit A in how to succeed in the sport of NASCAR this decade.
But in the face of declining TV ratings and economic uncertainty, the team’s record-setting performances haven’t been enough to sustain the sport’s growth in recent years. Coinciding with Johnson’s excellence has been a subtler, more disturbing trend towards consolidation of power in the Sprint Cup Series — one that has as much to do with who’s holding the checkbook as who’s sitting in the driver’s seat. Occurring at a time when changes — the introduction of the sport’s new car, the testing ban and a pending limit to four-car teams — are supposedly working to bring parity and increased competition, a small group of powerful men is quietly rising above and reaching a level of dominance the likes of which this sport has never seen.
A look at last year’s points standings shows that the top 13 finishers were owned by Hendrick and three other men: Jack Roush, Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs. Their drivers accounted for 32 wins in 36 races, accumulating 261 of 360 top-10 finishes (73 percent). Composed of 15 individual teams in 2008, the group known simply as the “Big Four” put up its highest totals of the decade in an environment that’s looking more and more like their personal playground. Only two other teams won a race last season — Penske Racing and Gillett Evernham Motorsports — and both have at least three cars in their stable. Forget single-car teams winning a race: Heading into this year’s Daytona 500, no remaining organization planning to field two cars or fewer on the Sprint Cup circuit has won since Dale Jarrett won for Yates at Talladega in the fall of 2005.
The sport finds itself struggling with a shrinking middle class. There’s parity, alright, but only at the top, condensed amongst a select group of owners in position to keep collecting the financial resources they need due to consistent on-track success. Of course, that’s not to say every individual in the “Big Four” hasn’t earned his place in the sun. For Hendrick, it’s been a two-decade-plus climb to reach the pinnacle through carefully selecting not one, but two Hall of Fame drivers in Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. For Childress, it’s been a decade of rebuilding following the death of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt. Gibbs is an NFL Hall of Famer turned racing genius, with exactly the type of management style to successfully corral “wild men” like Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch. And then there’s Roush, whose one-car beginnings with Mark Martin in 1988 evolved into a five-team dynasty in which every one of his racers made the Chase in 2005.
“Hendrick Motorsports wasn’t what it is today 15 years ago,” says Red Bull Racing GM Jay Frye, regarding the current champs. Frye worked deals with Hendrick for chassis and engine support while helping run the middle-class MB2 Motorsports team for over a decade. “But they’ve done a great job hiring the right people. They’ve done a great job hiring the right drivers. They’ve done a great job with their sponsors. You look at the sponsors that Hendrick Motorsports has, they don’t leave. They’ve done a great job with the business-to-business aspect of the sport. That’s what it’s supposed to look like. And if you do that, you’re going to be successful. That’s great. That’s America, man.”
“There’s just a lot of adjustments you make,” adds Childress driver Kevin Harvick, whose owner is in an enviable position as the only owner to place all his drivers in the Chase two years running. “I think Richard’s been the best at it through the years as far as adjusting his business to however the environment of the sport is leaning to. You know, how it just needed to be treated at that particular moment in the ’80s, to the ’90s, to the 2000s.”
No question, these men have worked hard to adapt, landing on the top rung of Sprint Cup success for their efforts. But as the sport and the country begin to suffer from a tightening economy, to those victors go all the spoils. In a time of financial uncertainty, money appears to be funneling rapidfire from the struggling teams to the ones who’ve proved they can survive.
Take Childress’ operation, for example. Needing a sponsor to replace sudden NASCAR no-no AT&T, the car owner wasted no time last spring snagging Caterpillar as a replacement for the No. 31 Chevy driven by Jeff Burton. That came just months after announcing he’d be one of the few teams to expand next season, bringing a fourth car into his stable full-time with the backing of longtime NASCAR sponsor General Mills.
It’s the concept of “survival of the fittest” at work; but as RCR celebrates its good fortune, those marketing coups allow it to beat down opponents before even stepping foot on the race track. After being associated with Bill Davis Racing for nearly a decade, Caterpillar’s departure caused the end of the team’s Sprint Cup operation after 15 years of competition. That’s because unlike other major sports, NASCAR owners are like private contractors, with no protection from the sanctioning body should they fall into debt or lose sponsorship support. That “hands off” attitude used to allow the garage to remain the epitome of the American Dream — even today, all you need is a car, a crew and a driver with a NASCAR license to participate. But when times are tough, there is no golden parachute to save you. In a matter of days, a legendary team could wind up as broke as some of today’s retirement victims suffering from bad investment portfolios they had waited a lifetime to use.
The current plight of those longtime NASCAR operations came to a head with Childress’ swipe of General Mills. Petty Enterprises, the lone NASCAR team remaining from the sport’s inaugural season of 1949, went under after failing to find a replacement for a sponsor that had been with them since 2000. Despite a series-leading 268 wins, the two-car organization was unable to sell itself as a viable alternative to the Big Four, even after bringing in a cash infusion from midseason investor Boston Ventures. Just six months after attempting to stabilize the future of the organization, new CEO David Zucker and Co. were looking to simply salvage their investment at fire-sale prices.
“No one is patient these days,” says former NFL agent turned prospective NASCAR team owner Rick Clark, who has been trying to get into the sport for the last few years, working with several investment groups to purchase and/or start an organization in the Cup and Nationwide Series. “Everybody wants to come in and be at the A game as opposed to building it over a period of time. So, now the pressure that you see with these private equity firms, they have got to show a profit back to their investors, or it’s not a good deal. And they want to get out from under those kinds of deals (if it’s not working right away).
“The most storied and most successful race teams have been ones that have been family generated, where there’s a genuine love of the sport. Now, you’ve got an environment where there’s an expectation there’s got to be an immediate and measurable return, or it’s not successful.”
That concern immediately trickled down to the Pettys, who were unable to turn around a decade of disappointment. Even the hiring of 2000 Cup champion Bobby Labonte gave the team only a handful of top-5 finishes in three years on the job. With such a poor track record, there’s some question about whether NASCAR should step in and save an operation, when that displays clear favoritism. It’s that type of fallout that made CEO Brian France announce publicly in November the sport would refuse to step in to save teams just for the sake of saving them.
“They’re individual businesses,” he says of the teams in divisions all over the country that have either closed down or scaled back for 2009. “And there are literally hundreds of them that can be affected, depending on how far you would go in our national series, different teams starting up or exiting all the time. So, we’re not talking about 20 or 25 traditional sports teams where some halo credit line could be established for them. That’s not practical.”
But if NASCAR doesn’t step in, one wonders whether the biggest challenge in 2009 will become filling a 43-car field. Already, the series has seen mergers and consolidations that included Chip Ganassi and Dale Earnhardt, Inc., joining forces — dropping two full-time cars off the roster. With the Pettys’ merger and as many as a half-dozen other teams in danger of folding, only 35 or 36 full-time machines are a real possibility.
How does the Big Four fit into that scenario? Simple: Their consistent, overwhelming success has devalued other competitors to the point that sponsors are unwilling or unable to pay the price to keep them on the racetrack.
“It reminds us that this is a performance sport,” says NASCAR veteran Burton. “If you don’t have the performance then your time here — no matter who you are — can be short-lived. The sport’s hard. Once the ball starts rolling down, it’s hard to stop it. Your funding gets less, the willingness of employees becomes less — it’s hard to slow that down.”
During the sport’s last downturn — a delayed dry-up in funds following 9/11 — the series eventually bounced back due to Toyota’s entrance. But this time around, there’s no auto manufacturer waiting in the wings with the type of cash infusion needed to start even a single-car team these days — as it is, the viability of GM, Ford and Dodge are in question due to a pending bailout plan from the federal government designed to save them from bankruptcy.
That leaves a gap of perhaps tens of millions of dollars between those on top and those trying to start from scratch. And with that, there’s concern as to whether new owners can compete with them before they even get to the starting grid.
“It would be a lot harder today than it was then,” says Frye, who helped start MB2 in 1997 as a one-car operation. “Could it be done? Yes. Could you be successful? Yes. But you’d have to have a little luck involved.
“Part of the problem is recruiting talent. Well, if you’re a top crew chief, top tire changer, are you going to take the risk of going to some one-car team somewhere who’s just starting when you can be at one of these elite teams that have had a history of being around? Hendrick’s been there for 25 years; people don’t feel the risk of something going wrong there. (On the other hand), a new one-car team would obviously create some issues, I’m sure, for some people.”
Toyota was able to overcome those concerns by simply throwing extra cash at crew members in order to get them to jump ship. But for a new prospective investor or owner, that type of extra money is harder to come by in these lean economic times. And with sponsorship now approaching levels never before seen in the sport — Roush signed Aflac for Carl Edwards to the tune of $26 million over the next three years — raising the capital to even compete with the Big Four is approaching nearly impossible levels.
“There’s so many advantages to having a multi-car team as far as being able to subsidize through sponsorship,” says veteran driver Bill Elliott, who has been trying to keep the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 above water for the last two seasons. “You have a better opportunity to keep good drivers and good crew guys because you have multiple resources.”
Of course, sometimes even the resources for the “middle class” come from the very teams who are dominating above them. As teams like Hendrick’s have achieved high levels of success, they’ve also dipped into the equipment supply business, distributing engines and chassis support to a wide variety of clients — including current two-car team Stewart-Haas Racing. While a legitimate means of gaining extra cash, it’s a questionable maneuver that’s caught the eye of fans and officials who wonder whether such a move promotes fair competition.
For the record, Hendrick, Roush and Gibbs, who all deliver equipment to other owners, insist everything is created equal.
“We had 100 percent confidence that we were getting the same stuff that every one of their other cars were,” Frye says of a chassis and engine agreement that was in place for several years with MB2. “So, it was never an issue. We were proud of our relationship. Great ethics, great morals.”
“From our standpoint, it’s just two more variables of the budget that we don’t have to create for ourselves,” adds Stewart. “It just eliminates some of the human resources that we have to have at Stewart-Haas to do it ourselves.”
Just don’t tell Stewart about the uphill battle he’s facing. It’s notable that no team receiving chassis or engine support from the Big Four has made the Chase in its five years of existence.
So if the reach of the Big Four is getting out of hand, what can be done to increase parity? Two words: cutting costs. In NASCAR’s defense, it’s tried to do just that, neutralizing resources late last season by taking unprecedented steps, such as a testing ban designed to keep the bigger teams from using their extra cash to travel all over the country each week and test. NASCAR hopes the ban keeps them from developing an additional edge on the new car. For a brief time, it looked like it would work; a rumored document appeared to be circulating among the top car owners, all of whom were ready to pledge to stay at home.
That era of good feelings lasted, oh, about three weeks — until Hendrick and others discovered Rockingham Speedway was not on the “do not go” list. No longer a NASCAR-sanctioned track, the facility may become a testing haven for organizations that have the money to keep moving forward in the offseason.
“The way I look at it, we’ll be going to Rockingham every week now so as long as we can get tires,” says Gordon. “Which means it comes down to NASCAR and Goodyear to control that. We shouldn’t have fresh tires to go to Rockingham for two days when the purpose of the testing is just that, no testing. And that’s for cost as well as competition, in my opinion. That’s something that should be enforced.”
So, as the big-money teams find ways to circumvent the rule, NASCAR’s lower class tries to figure out how to survive the winter. At this point, it’s not out of the question to see only a dozen full-time car owners by the time Daytona rolls around. Is that enough to sustain the sport? For some, the answer is yes.
“Our sport is better off — it’s safer, it’s more secure, the sponsors are better represented by having a limited number of car owners that understand what it takes to be successful in this sport,” says Burton. “I don’t think that our sport is wrong because we may have 12 car owners — I don’t think 30 car owners make our sport better than having 12. I don’t see it. Now, wouldn’t it be great if a Harry Hyde-type guy can put a team together, and come out and race with Rick Hendrick? It’s a glamorous idea. But if we had 43 car owners individually run and individually operated, overall I don’t think our sport is better off for that.”
That won’t prevent men like Clark from trying to buck the consolidation trend. He’s trying to break through with a multi-faceted plan that ties in fashion and entertainment through a movie deal and his company’s own clothing line.
“Had I come in the traditional way, I would not have investor interest,” he says. “Because the pressure would have been to perform, perform, perform, and how do you compare, compare, compare to the mega-teams. But by coming in and bringing a new face to the sport and a new market segment to the sport, the investors, they see the other vertical opportunities that don’t exist with even some of the major teams that are there that we bring to the table.”
The longer only four owners and their drivers stay entrenched at the top, there’s a question as to whether the fans will accept the cars within their stables as individual teams or simply view them as four men with a bunch of expensive toys rotating who’s got the best car in their stable.
“The negative is when we start focusing on Hendrick winning rather than Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin winning,” Burton says. “But in the environment that we’re in today, (almost) all the multi-car team ownerships have individual sponsorships.
“Look at where we are. We have General Mills. We have Caterpillar. We have Sunoco. We have Jack Daniel’s. Each one of those sponsors expects Richard Childress to give that team 100 precent effort, to do the best they can. So, it isn’t like we’re going to stop the world so just the No. 07 can win races or just the No. 29 can win races. We have to build four competitive teams.”
This much we know: The Big Four have the money and resources to remain competitive for years. It’s whether the rest of the competition has the money it will need to stay in the battle. And if it doesn’t, NASCAR’s hand may be forced.
Maybe we should have taken more time to assess Joe Paterno’s legacy. But in the age of Fox News and Twitter, what we should have done does not matter.
Death compels us to reflect on life.
In the internet age, the death of any celebrity spurs us to give his or her Wikipedia page a read, to listen closely to a song, to do anything else that allows us to briefly and concisely surmise what Heavy D, or Michael Jackson, or Sidney Pollack meant to the world and whether his death was worth lingering upon.
But what happens when everything we know is not validated by death—but instead, is sullied by life? When legacy goes up in flames, we cannot simply peruse a resume and say to ourselves, “Wow, despite all her faults, Amy Winehouse was truly an incredible talent.” Witnessing a reputation disintegrate is far more complicated than regretting having not paid closer attention to Richard Pryor’s comedy.
When a man dies, his work lives. When legacy dies and man lives, we are left with impossible ruin, forced to reconcile everything we knew with everything we now know.
Such is the case in the death of Joe Paterno, the coach. Joe Paterno, the man, persists. Now nearly 85 years old, and despite his recent diagnosis with a treatable form of lung cancer, he is, by all accounts, as lucid and “spunky” as ever.
But Joe, the coach – the former Brooklynite who is the winningest coach in college football’s history; the man whose countless histories, profiles and biographies read like one of Homer’s epics; the patriarchal figure, who, for more than half a century, was not just synonymous with Penn State football, but Penn State itself—that man is gone. And he’s never coming back.
Joe Posansnki is a writer for Sports Illustrated and the official biographer of Joe Paterno. He is also, by many accounts (including my own) the best sportswriter alive. Contracted to write JoePa’s definitive history several years ago, Posansnki moved away from his family to State College, PA, for the 2011 football season. In his words:
“I came here to write about one of the giants of sports. And my wife and I both felt that the only way to tell the story, for better and worse, was to be around it every day.”
Posnanski got his wish, but in a way that he – and the public – could never have anticipated. He was able to witness firsthand the inexorable fall of one of our society’s greatest contemporary heroes. And then, afterwards, he was forced to survey his intellectual rubble, which only grew as shock, confusion and sadness all took hold, then amalgamated, spread and infected.
As Paterno’s official biographer, Posnanski had no choice but to respond to the news. And he did, eloquently – although perhaps misguidedly, in The End of Paterno, a piece published on his personal blog.
The End of Paterno reads startlingly similarly to 2009’s “Top of the World, Pa!” a 4,300 word feature Posnanski wrote in the form of a love letter to Angelo Paterno, Joe’s late father. The situations surrounding each of the two pieces, however, could not have been more different: when Top of the World was published on October 26, 2009, the Nittany Lions were 8-1 amid incessant calls for Paterno to step down. Yet, even when faced with his current bleakness, Posnanski’s writing is permeated by the emotion Paterno so persistently evokes.
Top of the World, like almost all Paterno profiles, is filled with anecdotes of the Nittany Lion’s devotion to his players, of his formative experiences and of words of wisdom from the man himself. It is written like an epigraph, as Posnanski relays a conversation Joe Paterno once had with his son Jay, now an assistant coach for the Lions:
“You’ll understand, once you have kids, that life changes. You’ll find that your happiness is defined by your least happy child. You’ll understand. Every player we have, someone—maybe a parent, a grandparent, someone—poured their life and soul into that young man. They are handing that young man off to us. They are giving us their treasure, and it’s our job to make sure we give them back that young man intact and ready to face the world.”
Posnanski relays a stark image of a patriarchal figure. But as far as the writer is concerned, JoePa isn’t merely lending his son a guiding hand: he is showing the entire country how to live its life. We must look beyond the surface. We must keep football in its proper perspective. We must keep life in its proper, more prominent perspective.
Posnanski is almost always emotional but rarely loses his iron grip on logic. That’s why his writing is so compelling and what makes his reaction to Paterno’s downfall even more so.
The Court of Public Opinion (read: the media) wields only one of two verdicts in response to celebrity crime: not guilty or lethal injection. We decide either that domestic murder nullifies all of OJ Simpson’s achievements or that Don King, after stomping a man to death over $600, is worthy of forgiveness. The only middle ground lies in determining just how long a celebrity suffers on death row. Does fame suddenly morph into infamy? Or does it slowly become engulfed by darkness, eventually rusting enough that the original luster has become completely obscured?
Just like everyone else, Posnanski—the passionate man’s rationalist—is shaken by shocking and sudden change.
But in the End of Paterno, Posnanski has an entirely different point of view. After explicitly stating three important points (that Paterno was at least partly responsible for Sandusky’s atrocities, that he could no longer be permitted to coach the football team, and that none of that was remotely important as Sandusky’s victims), Posnanski continues, “I’m not saying I know Joe Paterno. I’m saying I know a whole lot about him,” he says. “And what I know is complicated. But, beyond complications — and I really believe this with all my heart — there’s this, and this is exclusively my opinion: Joe Paterno has lived a profoundly decent life.”
When legacy dies and man lives, we experience a ‘recoding,’ but one that happens almost immediately instead of being manifested over generations. Joe Posnanski knew everything about Joe Paterno. And then, suddenly, he didn’t.
Penn State students knew that Joe Paterno was a god. Many students knew he was the defining reason why they decided to attend the university. Then suddenly, he wasn’t.
What is Penn State without Joe Paterno, the man who boosted the university’s endowment north of $1,500,000,000? When Joe Paterno first became an assistant coach for the Nittany Lions in 1950, the school announced they expected to have an enrollment of 18,000 by 1970. Today, Penn State University Park enrolls nearly 45,000 students annually.
The largest difficulty in interpreting Joe Paterno’s legacy lies in how it was destroyed. Often, we assess a celebrity’s crime in respect to his image. In 2000, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was found guilty of obstruction of justice in a double murder. Yet today – due to his renown as one of the NFL’s most aggressive defenders and his militaristic demeanor – Lewis is so well-liked it almost seems as if the high-profile arrest, indictment and conviction ever happened.
Has anyone ever batted an eye when a rapper went on trial for firearm possession, drug use, or even murder?
But in the case of Paterno, it’s hard to imagine we have ever seen such a thorough and diametric deconstruction of a man’s image.
For 60 years, JoePa was a great football coach who also happened to be a great man. He allegedly proved these qualities were not mutually exclusive. Entrusted with the fates of thousands of young men, his true charge was not to win football games; instead he looked to help young men win at life. He was a living, breathing sports movie cliché. An impossible ideal, actualized.
So, on the surface, Posnanski’s reaction is infinitely more rational than most. He is able to draw a line in the sand, to say Yes, what Joe Paterno did was horribly and terribly wrong. But that doesn’t unmake a man. Joe made a morally criminal mistake and should be reprimanded as such. But 62 years of greatness runs parallel, not perpendicular. You should no longer be able to look at Joe Paterno without thinking of Jerry Sandusky and his victims, but that shouldn’t be all you think of.
Maybe this is how it should be, but it is not how it is – even for Posnanski.
“I don’t know anything about Paterno’s role in this,” he writes, stressing the need to sit back and wait for the details to come out. “But I have seen some things in the last few days that have felt rotten, utterly wrong – a piling on that goes even beyond excessive, a dancing on the grave that makes me ill.”
Unfortunately for Posnanski and for Paterno, The Court of Public Opinion is always open. “We are in a top-you world,” he laments, “where everyone is not only trying to report something faster but is also trying to report something ANGRIER.”
In this ‘top-you’ world, individual opinion exists but becomes lost in a ‘howling.’ Even something as eloquently-written as End of Paterno, penned by a source with nearly unparalleled knowledge of the subject, is drowned out by the influence of Fox & Friends and Hardball.
‘Top-You’ is driven by a trickle-down effect. “One guy wants Joe Paterno to resign, the next wants him to be fired, the next wants him to be fired this minute, the next wants him to be fired and arrested, the next wants him to be fired, arrested and jailed, on and on, until we’ve lost sight of who actually committed the crimes here.” But as this attitude grips the public, individual voices become increasingly difficult to discern. “I hear the stories, the countless stories, of the kindnesses that came naturally to him,” he says. “I’m not going to tell you these stories now, because you can’t hear them. Nobody can hear them in the howling.”
Here, Posnanski digs his argument’s grave, perhaps even purposefully. He understands that it does not matter whether or not his point of view is ‘correct’ – if there could even be anything ‘correct’ in this mess. But that is not going to stop him from dreading the status quo. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, the only thing that matters is the volume of your voice. As Posnanski suggests, say something loud enough and you will be heard. And listened to. Especially if you have a big enough mountain — or sound stage — to howl from.
Attempt to be rational in a room filled to capacity with anger? Never. The one will always be drowned out by the many. It doesn’t matter how righteous or wrong each side is; slander be damned, collective memory inevitably trumps individual knowledge. All Posnanski asks is that we attempt to decipher Paterno’s legacy instead of instantly incinerating it. Too bad no one can hear him.
Jesse Golomb is the lead writer and creator of TheFanManifesto. Follow him on twitter.
In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.
Article originally published in 2011 Athlon Sports Racing annual
It was a tale of two seasons for Brad Keselowski, NASCAR’s Bad Boy in training. Following in the footsteps of fellow “evildoer” Kyle Busch, the sport’s most aggressive understudy won a Nationwide Series championship while balancing his first full-time big league commitment with Penske Racing. But that Saturday success never carried over to Sunday, as a season topped with just two 10th-place runs led to a deflating, 25th-place finish as a Cup “rookie.” In fact, most will remember 2010 not for those failures but for the flip seen ’round the world — a Carl Edwards retaliation shot at Atlanta in March that turned Keselowski’s No. 12 Dodge upside down and led other drivers to proclaim that “he had it coming.”
But don’t expect those negative opinions to rattle a driver who’s the star of his own show, never afraid to say what he thinks in a world where political correctness is often a prerequisite for success.
Athlon Sports: If someone had told you at the beginning of the year you’d win a Nationwide championship but earn zero top-5 finishes in Cup what would your reaction have been?
Keselowski: Well, at least we got something out of the year. But it wasn’t enough. We’ve got to keep working.
That title was something you worked so hard to earn in two years with JR Motorsports, only to see it taken away by Cup guys. Now, in your first year running Cup full-time you’ve done the same thing to promising up-and-comers, including former teammate Justin Allgaier. Justify your run to the championship considering you’ve already moved on to the major leagues.
To me, it’s as simple as I never got bitter because I didn’t win it those two years (as the top Nationwide-only driver). I felt like we put in a great effort, but we never deserved to win it. It’s as simple as that. When I had the opportunity to win it, and to get with a great team at Penske Racing — I had a great team at JR Motorsports, don’t get me wrong — but I had an even better team this year … I felt like it was my chance to turn the tables. Since I didn’t feel bad the two years I didn’t win it, I feel good the year I did win it.
Do you feel like other drivers are losing out on opportunities because you, Carl Edwards, etc., are in the Nationwide Series?
No. And that’s the key part. Nobody seems to understand that. Let me tell you why: They’re not losing out, because if we weren’t there, they wouldn’t be there either. It’s just that simple. Without us, and without Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer before I got in, I wouldn’t have made it to the Nationwide Series. I’d still be in the Truck Series.
I spent all of my career, up until the end of 2007, in the Truck Series. And let me tell you what: It’s a hard world to make a living in — a very hard world to make a living in. It’s because of the Nationwide Series having the Cup drivers that there’s a possibility for all of the others to move up. And they can find a sponsor to compete against them … We’re not taking them away. It’s hard to explain. But there’s a place for everybody to run. There’s a place for everyone throughout the sport, whether it’s the very bottom level or towards the top. To say you took an opportunity away from someone is just not a fair statement.
You’ve made much of the fact that running the Nationwide Series establishes a foundation for future Cup success. Was that the plan all along, to take guys like Paul Wolfe and groom them for roles at the major league level?
Yeah, the plan all along was to take those star people that are on your team, whether it’s mechanics or fabricators — who knows what position. It could even be sponsors, great sponsors, and give them the opportunity to move up. That is one of the things that’s lost in that whole equation — yeah, Paul is being moved up, but so is Ruby Tuesday’s. Ruby Tuesday’s is now a sponsor on my Cup car. So, we create a foundation for success on all frontiers of our NASCAR program through the Nationwide program. Paul is the easy example, but there are so many. And it’s good to reward yourself for those fruits of labor.
Do you feel like this could be the template going forward for young drivers, in order for them to succeed at the Cup level? They stay in Nationwide even though they’re running full-time in Cup … until they get their feet wet at the top level?
Undoubtedly. There’s not a question in my mind that this is the template as the sport sits right now. I don’t see anyone breaking it.
OK, explain to someone how you can go out and dominate a race on Saturday, then run 35th in a Cup race the following day with the same organization.
That’s a great question. This sport is about teamwork and chemistry, and there are times where it’s there and there are times where it’s not. There are times when you consistently have it, and there are times where you consistently don’t. We had it on the Nationwide side for the majority of the year — not every week, but consistently I’d say we did. And on the Cup side, we consistently did not have it. Combine that with the harder level of competition that there is on the Cup side, and it was a recipe for a disastrous year.
When you came over to Roger Penske, you said, “We’ve both got to change. We can’t just be, ‘Cause we’re different, we’re going to have our natural differences. We’re going to have to work together, and it can’t be on one end. It can’t be where I change and adapt to them, and it can’t be where they adapt to me. We have to be in the middle and work together that way.’” How do you feel you’ve changed your car owner in the 12 months you’ve been a part of this program? And how has he changed you?
That’s a great question. I’ve certainly had a commitment to my team that’s grown to the point where I understand way more about the sponsorship role, the sacrifices and investments that are made from those sponsors which still somewhat exceed my understanding. But I have an appreciation for them that I didn’t have before, and a harder work ethic for my sponsors than what I’ve ever had before. That’s one of the largest ways I’ve changed, which I think is all good from that standpoint.
From the Penske standpoint, it’s allowing the driver to be a leader within the company. I didn’t feel like that was necessarily the case before, but I can tell you with recent events over just the last few weeks in November alone, that’s the way the company’s heading and why I feel so good about 2011.
When people say the word ‘Penske,’ that’s synonymous with IndyCar. You’ve talked about dabbling in open-wheel. With all the changes coming to that series, do you see an Indy 500 in your future, and if so, when?
I do. If Roger would allow me to, I would jump all over it. But only if I was capable of winning at the Cup level and only after I was capable of winning at the Cup level. I would love to run the Indy 500, but I can’t knowingly say I can make a commitment to do it until I’ve gotten to where I can win at the Cup level with some frequency. We’re not there yet, so my focus is solely on the Cup side until we can get to that level.
If there’s one thing you’re missing that’s needed to bring the speed to Cup in 2011, what would that be and why?
That’s a tough question. I think we need a complete understanding of the way the front end of our cars work. That’s what we need to find speed.
Does the new nose on the Cup cars help or hurt you?
That’s an unknown for us at this point.
Other than a few incidents with Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch this year, you spent 2010 largely under the radar on the Cup side. What did you learn about the sport being able to take a step back and watch the Sunday media circus from the outside?
Not much more than what I had known before. You learn about the little quirks, and so forth. Nothing dramatic.
Probably the fact, more than anything else, that the media continues to love drama more than necessarily performance or significance. It’s kind of strange. I say that in regards to the Jeff Gordon/Jeff Burton fight at Texas, which seemed to get equal attention to Jimmie Johnson setting a record of a fifth straight championship two weeks later.
Interesting. Do you think the media’s perpetuating the Jimmie Johnson negativity then? By not giving the man what you claim is his just due?
They sure have struggled to focus on it, and give it the press it deserves. Most notable thing about Jimmie, to be quite honest, the last few years I didn’t respect what Jimmie did either, until this year. Because quite honestly, over the last few years simply taking the best team and winning with it, there’s not a lot to be said for that. The only thing you can say for that is, ‘You didn’t screw it up.’
But this year, Johnson did not have the fastest racecars, he did not have the best team, but he found a way to win the championship — the first time I’ve seen him do that in all his championships. It’s what makes it so special, and the fact the media can’t wrap their arms around that is sad. It’s damaging to the sport.
After everything you’ve been through, you’ve had incidents with Kyle, Carl, Denny Hamlin … quite a few people in the garage area. If there’s one person out there where you’re in position to gain revenge on them, who’s that going to be and why?
(Laughs) I can’t tell you that one. Sorry.
Being known as an aggressive driver, does that help or hurt your popularity? Does it cause any extra hoops to jump through getting girls?
I think it probably hurts my popularity in the short run, but in the long run I think it’ll be helpful. It’s funny, because I was looking through … NASCAR gives us some sheets on our popularity, who likes us and who doesn’t like us, and so forth based off of polling of the fans. And the area where I seem to be the least popular is within the younger female base, which is kind of quirky.
Really? Where did this sheet come from?
Well, NASCAR does some stuff with us at the end of the year, all proprietary information. But getting back to it, my popularity is best with hardcore race fans that have been in the sport, people who have been watching the sport forever.
On a personal level, how much does it matter to you that most of these guys in the garage will never be your friend, and some will never even give you the basic racetrack respect you deserve?
How much does it bother me? It only bothers me when it costs me performance on the track, and there’s a very limited amount of time where that’s true. And that will come full circle. I wouldn’t say it’s something I go home and cheer about, but I it’s not something I think about everyday, either.
I think I need to continue to grow in the garage, no doubt about that, but that doesn’t mean I feel like (the way) I came into the garage was wrong. But I could certainly grow as a person, be a more active driver and play a more active role in the garage. But the popularity inside the garage will come the most from being successful (on-track).
Looking back at all the feuds you’ve been a part of in your career, are there any you regret, and why?
I don’t regret anything. No, wait … you know what I regret? Not having faster cars.
Who’s the one guy on the Cup side you have so much respect for, you feel like you could never wreck them under any circumstances?
Well, I’d have to say my teammate, Kurt Busch. But since you probably want something juicier than that, I would say Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Are you pulling for Junior this year to turn it around?
There’s a reason they call the second year the “sophomore slump” in the Cup Series, because it seems to affect the majority of drivers out there. How do you avoid it?
Well, it could be argued that I had my sophomore slump this year (2010) depending on how you look at it. To me, if anything I’m going to come out of the gate even stronger next year with the changes we made at Penske Racing. To be honest, I feel like this is my junior year, instead of my sophomore slump. But the way to avoid it is to dig your heels and make sure you don’t become complacent.
What designates a successful season for you?
Progress. Being in contention to win races. That’s what it’s going to take.
In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.
Article originally published in 2010 Athlon Sports Racing annual
It’s Friday morning at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 2009 season is almost over. Kyle Busch emerges from his motorcoach and faces the lake — perhaps “pond” is more descriptive — in the track’s infield. The interview is preceded by the kind of chitchat that typically occurs before talk gets serious. Busch observes that the lake level has been dropping slightly from year to year, pointing to drainage pipes that are about six feet above the surface of the lake. Neither he nor Monte Dutton, the interviewer, knows much about the specifics of lake levels in race-track infields. The exchange is a more inventive version of “How’s the weather?”
It doesn’t take long to get past the small talk, though. Frankness comes naturally to Kyle Busch, and he isn’t afraid to speak his mind.
Like his older brother Kurt, who won the first Chase-formatted championship in 2004, Kyle Busch is ambitious. He and everyone else in NASCAR have been figuratively playing rhythm to Jimmie Johnson’s lead guitar for four years now. The guitar Kyle would really like to destroy is the one Johnson currently plays.
Athlon Sports: Racing has innumerable generational attachments, but it’s pretty rare for two brothers to get to the top. There must be something pretty remarkable in your parents. Is there anything in particular that you learned growing up that, you think, helped you and Kurt competitively?
Kyle Busch: One of the biggest things is that we were taught that failure is not an option. That was instilled in us, meaning, in school, on the track. I got C’s in school a couple times, and Kurt got a couple C’s, and we got our ass chewed for it. My mother wanted to make sure we got a good education. When it came to racing, my dad always wanted us to work on our cars and know the pieces of our cars, so that we knew what went into building them. We were taught that, when you tear stuff up, not only is it going to be hard to fix it but it’s going to be time-consuming to fix it, it’s going to cost money to fix it. All of that applied. They also taught us to always dream big and go for our dreams. They taught us that anything was possible and let us know we could depend on them to help as far as they could take us, but the time would come when we would have to prove what we could do on our own. They took us to the second-highest level of racing in Vegas, and from there, it was up to us to find people who would give us rides.
Did you ever have to handle conflicts between a desire to race all you could and your mother’s insistence that you get the best education you could? Were there rough spots about that?
KB: Not really. The biggest thing was I was relatively a quick learner. That may not apply to life in general (laughs), but in math and stuff like that, I could get things done pretty quickly. We’d be given an assignment and then given the last 10 minutes of class to get started on it. Most of the time, I’d be done with it by the time the bell rang. I wouldn’t have much homework to take home. Sometimes I’d have to read a book and write a story, or whatnot, but it never took me that long to get homework done, so I could go out to the shop and work on race cars, stuff like that.
Having an older brother who is a championship driver obviously has pluses and minuses. You have a lot to live up to. Were there specific incidents where Kurt’s success really put a lot of pressure on you?
KB: Kurt never put any added pressure on me.
I didn’t mean overtly. I was referring just to what he’d done, that effect.
KB: A little bit, yeah. It’s always hard to try to live up to something your sibling has done. His championships, the races he’s won. I came in trying to be like him or better, and it’s harder on the younger brother when people start to expect you to do that. For me, it’s fun. It’s a challenge. I like going out there and racing for wins and do what I can on the race track. I want to kind of give my meaning to the sport. I want to win a Sprint Cup championship, ultimately, and by then, he and I could be even, I guess, but it’s hard to do in this sport with the way competition is.
When did you first tell yourself, ‘I can do this’?
KB: I don’t know, to be honest.
Was there a point, maybe in Legends cars, where you thought, you know, I’ve mastered this?
KB: You never master it. Well, maybe not until you’re Jimmie Johnson, I guess. But, to me, when I was in Legends cars, and so was Kurt, and knowing how good Kurt was … when I started getting good enough that I could race with him, or actually beat him, that’s when I first thought ‘This could be pretty cool. This could be big’ because of how far he’d made it and how good he was. You know, ‘I’m beating that guy. I might actually be able to be better than him.’ That happened in Legends cars.
Maybe this is because I played football when I was younger, but you have a quarterback’s cockiness. It’s a personality that plays great in a huddle, that offers strength in leadership. You have confidence. Outside the huddle, though, it comes across as abrasive or arrogant. It plays well within the team. When I think about this, I always think of Steve Spurrier, who was in fact a quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy. He has a lot of confidence and is able to exude that to people around him. I can see that in you, and I think that attitude is often very beneficial within a team.
KB: That’s very true. There’s the confidence part where you go into the race weekend and, you know, the team guys who are with you because they see that confidence that you will go out there and try to win every weekend. They’re behind you. They’ll pull for you. They know they’re working with a winner. There are other drivers who don’t exude that, who just go into the weekend trying to make a living, I guess. The team guys are making a living. They take what they can get. But it means a lot to them when they know the driver will lay it on the line. I don’t want to go into a race with the attitude ‘We’ll just take what we can get and move on to the next one.’ We want to win, and anything less we’ll have to settle for, but it’s what we want and it’s not going to make us happy.
That goes back to your parents, I suppose. They didn’t want you to settle for second place.
KB: It’s me who’s mad about losing, but it’s not just that I’m mad because of self. It’s not just because I didn’t win. It’s because I wasn’t able to win for the team. Something happened in the race, and as a result, we didn’t give ourselves the opportunity to win. Ultimately, I want to get ‘my guys’ to Victory Lane. They’re the guys who work hard behind the scenes. I’ve got a guy on the Nationwide team. He comes in the shop at 5:30 in the morning and doesn’t go home until 8:30 at night. He’s got a wife. He’s got a family. He’s got kids and all that stuff. That guy is so focused and so driven making sure I’ve got a chance to win. I want to give that guy something to be proud of.
When something happens and you don’t win, when things don’t go your way, do you not talk to the media because you’re too emotional, or do you figure that talking will only get you in trouble?
KB: All right, you ready for this (pulls out a small sheet of paper)? You ever heard of Laurence J. Peter?
Yes. The Peter Principle.
KB: ‘Speak when you are angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.’
What he is better known for, the Peter Principle, is that, in a hierarchy, people tend to rise to their level of incompetence.
KB: Oh, wow. Well, he wrote that. I came across that quote, and it put into words exactly what I was thinking.
To win a championship, do you have to get better at dealing with bad weeks, bad times, bad things in general?
KB: Well, when our weeks are bad, they’re real bad. You can’t have super-bad days. If you’re having a bad day, then you need to make a 10th out of it, and we’re not very good at that. I’m not very good at that, and I don’t think our team is very good at that. Maybe that’s because of me. Maybe I’m not leading it in the right direction. I’ve got some things that I’ve got to try to work on to make us better and ultimately more championship caliber.
You had a lot of success with Steve Addington as crew chief. How was the decision made to make a change to Dave Rogers?
KB: That’s something that’s Joe’s (Gibbs) and J.D.’s (Gibbs) decision. It’s their organization, and they’re among the best at knowing what’s best for the organization. I love Steve. Steve was a great asset to the team; he did a great job over the past two seasons, and unfortunately, we didn’t quite have the success we would have liked (last) year and struggled a lot. It seems like it was either feast or famine. Either we were going to win the race or finish 30th. Some of that’s my fault, but some of that is just not having the right things in the cars for me, and Joe and J.D. felt like we needed to try something new and see if we couldn’t get a more consistent basis and something that was more championship caliber.
There wasn’t ever a time when I lost faith, not in Steve. I could say that on previous experiences with other crew chiefs. In Steve’s case, I never lost faith. He was always giving 100 percent and trying his all, working his people to death. I don’t think it was Steve who didn’t give me what I needed. I don’t think it was the engineers. It was just something didn’t click. Obviously, this is a performance-based business, and we’ve got to be the best we can out there. When you’re not beating the 48 (Johnson), something has to change. The rest of these people are all staying the same and yet they’re not beating the 48, and obviously that team’s at the head of the class right now, so you have to look at yourself compared to them, week in and week out.
Did you want the change?
KB: I wouldn’t say I wanted it. When I got told about it, I gave my opinion on the side of sometimes ‘The grass is greener on the other side,’ like it was when I came over here, and sometimes it’s not. We can only hope that Dave (Rogers) will be the right fit, and can be the right fit and we can have the right tools. I’m sure the right tools are there, and as long as Dave can put those to good use, then we should be better in the future, hopefully.
Did things ever go stale? Is that a fair characterization of last season?
KB: What got stale were results. Our cars … we just never got any better. We were the dominant force the first 20 races in 2008. The last six before the Chase we weren’t as great, things fell apart in the Chase, and we never regained anything there. We seemed to lose a little bit of what other people gained as far as speed in their cars.
Would the change have been made if you had made the Chase?
KB: Good question for J.D. and Joe (Gibbs). I don’t know. As I said, it was ultimately their decision. I’m going to stick behind Steve Addington and J.D. Gibbs both. I’m going to say that Steve gave it his all and did what he could to give us the best possible cars every week. He tried as hard as he could. With J.D. and those guys, I’m going to stand behind them because it’s their organization. They decided to make a change, and hopefully this is a change for the better. They will try to make us all better and championship caliber to beat the four-time-in-a-row champion, Jimmie Johnson.
Would 2009 have been easier to accept if 2008 hadn’t been so successful?
KB: No, not at all because you look at the guys that are up front. They’re the guys you are chasing. You want to be the guy that everybody else is chasing. You want to be that guy. Ultimately, I was that guy in 2008. Everybody was chasing us, and it was our year.
Last year or any other year that I’ve been in the sport, I’ve been chasing everybody else. I don’t like to be chasing. I like to be the guy leading, so it’s hard. But sometimes you have to look back at the big picture and realize that you can do a lot more to help and rally the team than really hurting it and dragging it down.
Given that Tony Stewart is a former teammate who went on his own successfully, have you thought about team ownership in the future?
KB: You would like to say that you could do it, but you have to have the right things fall into place. Tony sort of got into the Haas team and didn’t have to bring a whole lot to it — it was already an established team. To do a start-up deal or something like that — that’s a lot of work, a lot of craziness and a lot of money. But for me, if it was the right situation, the right scenario, then sure, why not?
Article originally published in 2009 Athlon Sports Racing annual
Joey Logano burst onto the NASCAR scene at Dover International Speedway in May last season, only a week after turning 18, the legal age to compete in one of NASCAR’s top three series. Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, the 18-year-old Logano started and finished within the top 10 in his first Nationwide Series appearance. Two weeks later, only three races into his Nationwide career, Logano became the youngest driver in series history to win a race, visiting Victory Lane at Kentucky Speedway.
But none of that was a surprise. Instant success was expected.
After living up to the hype in NASCAR’s so-called minor leagues, Logano kept his pace rolling, being named to replace two-time champion Tony Stewart in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in 2009 in the Sprint Cup Series.
Though he may have been pushed through the ranks at lightning speed, Logano says he’s ready. He credits his preparedness to his father’s devotion. And, though it’s an odd training ground compared to the fast-paced danger of racing at speeds nearing 200 miles per hour, he says his secret to success is not all of the testing miles he’s racked up, but rather simply sitting in his living room, playing video games.
Logano after all, was dubbed “Sliced Bread” by two-time Nationwide Series champion Randy LaJoie during his championship-winning Camping World East season in 2007. He is the youngest champion in that series’ history at 17.
After his June win in the Nationwide ranks, his solid performances continued through the remainder of the season, though he did not return to the winner’s circle. In running 19 races in 2008, Logano notched three poles, five top-5 and 14 top-10 finishes. In the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Logano snared the pole and finished 10th, clinching the 2008 owner’s title for JGR.
It’s been a pretty fast introduction to NASCAR. Could you explain your emotions through the learning process?
It has showed me that it’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, too. It’s been a learning experience, that’s for sure.
At the beginning, there was so much hype around you. Were you expecting all of the media attention? And do you remember the first time you were just watching TV and a commercial or interview you had done came on?
I think it’s neat. It comes along with it. It’s cool to be watching TV and see your car on TV in a commercial. That’s neat. Nationwide put that commercial out for the Nationwide Series. We were watching a race and all of a sudden it came on. I didn’t know anything about it. I thought, “Oh, that’s nice. Isn’t that cool?” It was neat to just be watching TV like you normally would and see your face come on.
You mentioned the Nationwide commercial about your debut. With that, and a few other things such as your nickname, were you confident that you could live up to the hype or was there a side of you that was a little apprehensive about all the attention?
I honestly thought I would go out there and win the first race. That’s how I go into any race. I think that’s the attitude you have to have going into it.
How has it been getting to know your crew chief in the 20 Cup car, Greg Zipadelli, and how are you building that driver/crew chief communication despite not being able to run any races together before the 2009 season?
We do work well together. We’ve known each other for a while now. Working at the shop, testing, and all of those things. I think we’ll be good. We’re getting to know each other a lot better. I didn’t really talk to him much before all of this began.
Your sponsor, Home Depot, has generally been targeted towards the older men, with families, that do home repairs. You are in a different generation, single and leading a different lifestyle. How do you target those buyers?
It is different, but Home Depot wanted to stay with Joe Gibbs Racing and it just worked out. They were with Tony when he came on over there so it’s neat that they are doing the same thing. It builds a lot of confidence in me. We’re going to do what we can to make them happy.
Aside from the performance of Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole in 2008, rate your level of disappointment that you weren’t able to get more than one win. Do you feel like the crew chief suspensions (Jason Ratcliff and David Rogers in the Nationwide Series) in the summer set the team back a bit?
It was a little bit of both. Obviously I would have liked to have more wins than just one. I think our team is capable for sure. It’s one of those things — you lose your crew chiefs, that doesn’t help you any, being a rookie and not having the guy there to drag you through it more. It’s been different. We’ve been in position to win a few more races. Eventually if you keep being in position, you’ll get them.
What are your plans for the Nationwide Series for 2009?
I’m not sure how many Nationwide races we have scheduled. I’d like to do the whole season, but I’m doing the full deal with Cup.
There’s been a lot of talk about the “new” car. Since you are new to the Cup ranks, you don’t have any bad habits in one of the older cars. There is also a lot to be said about the racing now, that it is a lot harder to pass. What are your thoughts about the cars?
It’s kind of like that in both series. The faster racetracks these days, if you get behind somebody, you don’t get that clean air. It’s real important to get that air. It’s totally different and you go a lot faster. That’s part of it but there are a lot of people complaining about that.
After saying that you were expecting to win right away in the Nationwide car, what are your goals next season during your rookie year in Cup?
We’ll go for Rookie of the Year for sure. We’ll see what we can do from there. I don’t set a bunch of goals. I’m not that type of person. I just do the best I can every time. I don’t have a goal for the year-end points or anything. I’ll just do the best I can.
With everything going on surrounding your move to Sprint Cup competition, how do you find time to enjoy just being 18?
I do some kid things. I get some off time here and there. At the end of the season, we have more of an off-time. During the season, we only get a day or two off and we’re back on the road again. I don’t have a bunch of time, but all of my friends race too. So they know how it goes.
One of the things that’s pretty well known about you is that you seem to be a video game expert. It’s also been said that they help you learn some of the racetracks before you actually race there. How does that help you when it comes down to race time?
Obviously it’s not the same as an actual racecar, but you get the feel of what the racetrack is going to look like, the shape of the racetrack and you know where the pits are, those types of things. There are things here and there that you can relate back over. It helps for sure.
Aside from racing, what other games do you like?
I play hockey a lot. Me and my buddies play hockey quite a bit. When we play that, it usually gets pretty brutal.
You’re a gamer, but are you a gambler? It’s been said that some of your teammates are into card games, poker. Do you ever get in on that?
I don’t know how to play poker. I don’t want to give my money away!
A lot has been said about your Dad and the support he gave you through your career. You won your first race the day before Father’s Day. Kids always want to make their parents proud, so what is it like for you knowing that he’s been able to see his dream for you become a reality?
He definitely did. Certainly when I was 6 or 7 years old. He put the time and money into it. To get me to (the) Joe Gibbs Racing situation. It’s amazing really, when you think about it. All of the time and money that he put into it when he could have been doing other things. He was always helping me on my racecars. There are not many fathers out there that will do that for their sons.
Article originally published in 2009 Athlon Sports Racing annual
After 200 career wins at racing’s highest level and decades as its most famous and beloved driver, NASCAR’s once and future king is a living link to the sport’s storied past and still an important voice in today’s uncertain environment. Athlon Sports Racing editor Matt Taliaferro was fortunate enough to sit down with King Richard to discuss the state of the sport he made famous, and the future of the Petty family’s relationship to it.
Your father, Lee, was in NASCAR’s first sanctioned race back in ’49, and you were there … and that’s 60 years between then and now. While there were turbulent times during the ’70s, with the manufacturer pullouts and gas shortages, have you ever seen the sport in such a precarious situation as it is today?
No, I don’t think I have. I’ve been here for 71 years. I’ve never seen the whole country as disturbed as it is right now. The financial deal really, really bleeds through the racing, because we’re in an entertainment business and we’re also in the advertising business. So, the sponsorship doesn’t come, because people are drying up on their advertising. And on the other hand, it’s going to be tough for the fan to have enough money to go to the races, so we’re getting blindsided from both sides.
How do you think the sport got to this point? Do you think it’s just competitiveness — that you’ve got to keep one-upping each other? Or was it possibly greed?
Really what happens, the sport just grew as everything else grows, and actually it took more money to make it operate. But as long as you had cash flow in the front door, it was okay. But when the economy goes upside-down, then the cash flow quits, then we’ve got to go back to ground zero and say, “Okay, how do we survive under these conditions?”
With what you’ve been through with Petty Enterprises over the last few years, do you think franchising might be the way to right the ship for the sport?
I think franchising would just give all of us a guarantee. It would give us a team. It would give what we’re trying to sell to a potential sponsor. It would give them a guarantee that you’re gonna be there. They’d be able to advertise six months or a year or two years ahead, knowing that you’re gonna be in the show, you’re gonna be doing certain things. (When) I look at Cup racing, the only thing I see to keep it from being a major, major sport is the franchising deal. Everything else we got in place. We just need the franchising in place.
We’ve determined that NASCAR is big money, it’s very corporate — and it has been for awhile. But the thing is, a lot of people feel like the sport’s kind of been neutered because of that. You know, it’s a Catch-22, because you’ve got to have big money and more technology to grow, but if you don’t grow it dies. So at this point, how does the sport go about staying true to its roots while trying to keep its mass audience appeal? Or are we past that point?
We’re in business, and this is a capitalist country, and it happens to all kinds of businesses. It happens to football teams or baseball teams or racing teams or corner grocery stores, as far as that’s concerned. So this is the system, this is the system that we work within and we can’t really control a lot of things. Things just happen and then we make the best out of them and that’s the situation we’re in now.
Okay, so let’s talk about the future now, and first and foremost, we believe NASCAR needs Richard Petty … certainly more than Richard Petty needs NASCAR. You’re the common link that’s existed between fans and the actual sport for decades, so what happens when you finally decide to hang up the old Charlie One Horse? What do you do? And who comes in as that link that carries on between the fans and the sport?
I guess you gotta look at … I’ve been doing this since I was 11 years old. Been around racing, went to the very first Cup race with my dad, and been there ever since, and I guess as long as my toes are not turned up I’ll be going to the races and still be involved. So I guess my longevity is gonna figure out how long I stay around to go to the (races).
If I sort of got out of the racing mode, I’d have to change my whole lifestyle. It’s all built around what I’ve been doing for 60 years, and so I don’t see me changing a whole lot of that part of it. As history or as time goes by, then what was done in the past gets to be more minor. What’s current news today will be history 20 years down the road, and so that’s where we fit in.
We were there, we done our thing, and as time progresses we’re getting further away from the history of how NASCAR first started and more into the modern era, whatever era that was, whether it’s (the) ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s … you know, ’10s, ’20s, on out there. So we were just part of the growing, and we were here when NASCAR was growing.
We’re still here to try to bridge that gap, but when we’re not here, then the bridge to that gap will get closer to what it is today. In other words, George Washington started all this stuff, and we still talk about George Washington, but he’s not in the media conversation of what’s going on today, because we got the new breed coming in, we’ve still got some ex-presidents wandering around, they get a little publicity but, you know what I mean? Time just sort of takes care of everything. I guess I’ll put it that way.
Let’s just talk nuts-and-bolts racing now. You have 200 wins. Untouchable record. Seven titles. Seven Daytona 500s. Is it possible for one moment — a highlight — to stand out above all the others in a career like you’ve had?
You know, it’s really tough. While I’m saying that, I was so fortunate to be able to run for the 30-35 years and win races and have so many highlights, I guess. So when you’ve had as many highlights as I’ve had, it’s hard to pick one above the rest of them.
Well, how about in the general sense? Like we talked about earlier, you’ve seen more races than anybody on the planet. Is there one race that sticks out in your head, whether you were actually running in it or not, as a turning point where you thought, “You know, this is a defining moment in the sport I’m watching right now?”
(Laughs) You know, it’s really hard to say. Again, I was involved in a bunch of that stuff. I mean, like the ’76 race at Daytona where me and (David) Pearson wrecked on the last corner. You know, that’s an exciting moment for anybody that’s not even a race fan, you know what I mean? Cause it was down to the nitty-gritty, the very last shot, the last pass. … I won Daytona seven times; I probably remembered more about that race than I have any other thing that went on at Daytona.
Well, tell us about Pearson. Was he the toughest you ever raced against, or was it maybe Cale (Yarborough) or (Dale) Earnhardt (Sr.), or one of those guys?
As far as the winning part of it, and trying to beat him as far as winning races over him, Pearson was the toughest. Pearson was not the toughest driver. You have to go back to Yarborough or an Allison to get just tough. You know what I mean, as far as just manhandling the wheel and doing whatever needed to be done.
But the racing finesse and stuff, I always felt like Pearson was just a little bit … it was easier for him. He didn’t have to work at it. He was just a natural.
Speaking of naturals, how impressed are you with Jimmie (Johnson) and the 48, with what they’ve done?
They’ve just got it all together. I mean, we’ve had good years and bad years. I guess everybody has. You know, Earnhardt, I look at it this way: Earnhardt and myself had won four out of five years in the Championship. (Each of us) won two, lost one, then won two more, okay? Cale won three championships, and now Jimmie comes along and wins three championships. So where does he fit into the overall scheme of things? What it does from here on is tell him where he winds up on the list, if you know what I mean. And so what they’ve accomplished has been just really unreal. Knowing the money that’s behind (their team) and the experience and the engineers and — everything they’re trying to do to win — they’ve done a phenomenal job.
What’s been really good about Jimmie’s deal is they peaked at the time they needed to peak — they peaked the last 10 races the last three years. They didn’t really peak at the beginning of the year or the middle of the year — they were just basically also-rans. They (were just) running good and had a good year going. But it was just like, if you look at last season, then you look at Kyle Busch. Kyle Busch was the deal for 26 races. He was the man. And then all of a sudden, everything that can happen that didn’t happen in those 26 races started happening to (Busch). And Jimmie just hit the 10 races without having trouble. The planets just didn’t line up for (Busch). For Jimmie, they did line up. They’ve lined up for the last three years.
And, you know, I look back at my seven championships or Earnhardt’s seven championships. If (others had) won the last 10 races, would we have won those championships or would we have won other championships, you know what I mean? But that’s the way the game’s played. Everybody knows going into the beginning of the season how it’s played, and Jimmie and his team has been able to put it together and win under the rules that we’re running under. So yeah, you’ve got to admire them for that.
Do you like the way the game’s being played these days? Do you like the Chase? Is that something you think is a boon for the sport? Or is it something that maybe was just a novelty and the luster has worn off?
Well, you know, I guess … I guess every other competitive sport, or most all of the competitive sports, have a playoff at the end of the year. And so this is basically our playoff. And, you know, football, they run 16 games to see if they make it to (the playoffs), you know what I mean?
We run 26 races just to see if we make it into the playoffs. So I think it probably brought on a little bit more excitement of really what the whole deal is. The only thing is, a lot of times, the first 26 races don’t seem as important. That’s the only thing about it that you’d rather (have). A 36-race championship (in which) every race is just as important as any of the rest of them. The first is just as important as the last. There’s different ways to look at it. I think from a PR standpoint, I think it’s been a pleasure. Let’s put it that way.
Okay, we’ve been talking about championship drivers. Is there anybody out there on the circuit today whose driving style, not necessarily his talent, but his driving style reminds you of yourself when you were behind the wheel?
(Laughs) You know, it’s really hard to say. I mean, I watched Carl Edwards and … Carl drives a car I think more like I would, from a standpoint that if a car’s not working and running low, he’ll run in the middle. If it’s not working in the middle, he’ll run high. He looks all over the racetrack.
It’s two or three of ’em that look all over the racetrack, which is what I did. I was not a one-groove racecar driver. I even wound up against the wall by the end of the race, but I’d usually start low and then as the racetrack changed, I would change. And so, there’s a lot of ’em out there that don’t change their driving style, and there’s two or three of ’em, Carl, (Matt) Kenseth, you know, they change their attitude, they change. (Greg) Biffle is good about it. They change the way they look at what they’re working at.
You mentioned a few younger guys in the sport just now. Is there a time when you, as Richard Petty, the most respected man in the business, go and put your arm around one of these up-and-coming drivers and say, “Son, listen up a minute, we need to talk. You need to straighten some things out …”
Uh, yeah, I probably done that. (Laughs) You know what I mean? I did that when I was driving, I did that after the deal, and I’ve talked to two or three of the drivers that are driving now … just offer some suggestions. I said, “You don’t have to listen to me, but think about this.”
Know what I mean? And some of them took it to heart and some of them just said, “That old man don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Let’s talk about The Richard Petty Driving Experience for just a second. I’ve never participated, but the next time it comes to Nashville I’m going to.
You need to try that. It will give you the insight that, you know, you’re sitting there and you think you know a little bit about racing, you’ve been around it, but it gives you a deal of saying, “Okay, now I understand when these guys complain about their cars or when they don’t do real good with a car or why they don’t do good.”
And, you know, you’ll go out there with a couple or three cars, and then you’ll run eight laps or whatever you run. Then, all of a sudden, you come in and you’re white-knuckled and all this stuff and you say, “You mean these guys do that with 42 other cars, running 15 to 20 mph faster than I’m running, and they do it for three or four hours?” And then it gives you a lot more respect for the guys that do the job.
Well, you guys run some really cool tracks. I mean, Atlanta, Daytona, the Brickyard, Talladega, Bristol. That’s amazing in itself. But I have to ask: How many cars have you guys torn up with those people at Darlington?
(Laughs) Well, we could pay a purse, for sure!
Article originally published in 2009 Athlon Sports Racing annual
— by Amanda Brahler
Vying for the championship that has eluded him for more than 25 years, Mark Martin returns to full-time duty with ... Hendrick Motorsports?
Statistically speaking, Mark Martin has produced numbers worthy of championships, and off the track he comes across as a champion in every sense of the word, minus the official crowning moment. He made his Sprint Cup debut in 1981 and over the years has scored 41 poles, 243 top 5s and 396 top-10 finishes, in more than 700 career starts. The Arkansas native currently sits 18th on the all-time wins list with 35 trophies to date. He also sits atop the leaderboard in the Nationwide Series for career wins with 48.
He’s won championships in two now-defunct series, the short track American Speed Association (ASA), where he first got his professional start in racing, and a record five in the International Race of Champions (IROC), which showcased drivers from various disciplines.
With the big trophy in stock car’s most illustrious division lacking from his trophy case, Martin will give it one more go, with a one-year, full-time deal lined up at Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 5 Chevrolet. He has a two-year contract in hand with 2010 expected to be a return to a scaled-back schedule, with 26 races being the target. But depending on how this season goes, that could change.
It has before.
Martin spent most of his career with car owner Jack Roush, driving a Ford under the Roush Racing umbrella, but he began his career in what was then known as the Winston Cup Series as an owner/driver in 1981. He ran the entire schedule again the next year, once again in a self-owned car.
Over the next few seasons he ran for multiple teams before joining Roush in ’88. He earned his first career win a year later at Rockingham. And so began quite a successful relationship.
After 19 years that produced four runner-up finishes and 12 consecutive finishes within the top 10 in the points standings from 1989 through 2000, Martin planned to sever his business relationship with Roush in 2006. He originally announced his departure from Roush by means of retirement, but Roush was unable to find a suitable replacement for the following season, so Martin helped out his longtime friend and returned. Despite the retirement announcement for the previous season, circumstances — and his hunger for competition — forced him to reconsider his initial decision, and he latched on with another race team.
Thinking a gradual escape would be best, he made the move to Ginn Racing, which later merged with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Out of the gate, Martin showed that he would be a contender despite running a scaled-back schedule. He finished second by .02 seconds in the Daytona 500, a race he has never won, to Kevin Harvick.
The last two seasons have been a different change of pace for Martin. He ran only 24 races in 2007 and 24 again in ’08, combining for nine top-5 and 22 top-10 finishes. He hasn’t won since 2005, when he was still under the Roush umbrella.
That is what drove Martin into his new endeavor — the desire to return to his old, competitive form.
But the Hendrick Motorsports Mark Martin is a far cry from the Roush Racing-era Mark Martin. The sport has changed. Competition has changed. Martin has changed.
Throughout his career he’s seen the devastation of tragedy and suffered personal loss. He’s driven with broken bones — ribs, wrist, the usual fractures that racers think nothing of once they climb into their racecar. Martin was once known for his heavy workout regimen, but those days are long gone. A decade ago, he had back surgery to relieve constant pain. At 50, Martin has handed over the distinction as the most physically fit driver to Carl Edwards, he of backflip and shirtless magazine cover fame.
After his consideration of retirement a few years ago, some question Martin’s comeback now, wondering whether or not he’s able to be as competitive as he once was and whether he’s realistic in thinking that he can contend for a championship this late in the game.
But Martin scoffs at the notion.
“This has been my life since 1974,” he says. “Racing has been my life. I can’t tell you how lucky I am to be still participating on this level. And what it means to me to be a part of it. I sure dread the day that I won’t be able to participate anymore.
“Hendrick Motorsports has won a lot of championships and we can’t say how good it could be for us. It could be really, really good for us. Or it could be good for us, and not be good enough. That’s been the case for me in a number of tries before — where we were really good, but it wasn’t good enough that particular year.”
Martin knows all about falling short. His runner-up finishes in four championship battles have come to legendary drivers — twice to a seven-time series champion, the late Dale Earnhardt (1990 and 1994), once to two-time champ Tony Stewart (2002), and once to his new Hendrick Motorsports teammate, four-time champ Jeff Gordon (1998).
“I’m not into torturing myself,” Martin says of looking back at just how close he was to winning a title. “And I’m not into making excuses, and there’s plenty of them. I just don’t care to go there. I came to grips with not winning a championship, and to me that means that I wasn’t ever good enough. I just never was good enough. We were awfully good, but never good enough.”
His 1990 finish to Earnhardt was the closest he’s come to the title. A mere 26 points separated the two at season’s end, the fifth-closest finish in series history at the time.
Off of the track, ’98 was a trying year for Martin. His father, Julian, stepmother and sister all perished in a plane crash in Nevada. It is well known that Julian taught little Mark to drive at the age of five. Mark would sit on his father’s lap, steering the vehicle while dad operated the pedals.
Though racing with a heavy heart, he didn’t slow down. If anything, he used his father’s passing as motivation. He won seven races that season, the most he earned in a single season throughout his career, but fell short to Gordon, who won an astounding 13 races and notched 28 top 10s in 33 races.
Unable to beat them, Martin joins the Hendrick stable with three other drivers including Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, the three-time and first back-to-back-to-back title winner since Cale Yarborough, as well as fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He replaces Casey Mears in the No. 5 Chevy, who, after two years of driving for Hendrick, produced a single win, the only one of his career.
Hendrick, in his 25th anniversary as a Cup car owner, first established a relationship with Martin in 2007, when Martin piloted a Hendrick car in three Nationwide Series events. In his debut with Hendrick at Darlington, Martin finished second, and as Hendrick merged the Nationwide effort with JR Motorsports in 2008, the two visited Victory Lane together in Las Vegas.
The short introduction with the Hendrick organization also allowed crew chief Alan Gustafson to get to know the veteran driver.
Gustafson will be calling the shots for Martin this year. Together, the duo will have to overcome a slight age gap and any working obstacles it may bring. At 33, though entering his fourth year as a Sprint Cup crew chief, Gustafson has worked with Kyle Busch and Mears, who were both under the age of 30 while paired with him.
In 2005 Gustafson made his debut as crew chief along with then-rookie Busch. The duo cranked out two wins and Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors. In 2006 and 2007, they made the Chase.
In 2008, Busch left Hendrick for Joe Gibbs Racing and Gustafson was paired with Mears. For whatever reason, the two struggled to hit a stride. They failed to qualify for the Chase, finished 20th in points and notched only one top 5 and six top 10s.
Gustafson is looking forward to the next step in his career. Admittedly, he still has a lot to learn, and entering the season feels that Martin may be his best shot at a championship.
“The last two years have had some changes and it’s not something that I think any of us want to go through, from Mr. Hendrick on down, but unfortunately it’s just part of the business,” Gustafson says. “I just try to learn from it the best that I can. I try to make myself a better crew chief and a better manager. I’ve learned a ton from Kyle, a lot from Casey. I’m not saying you want to keep making changes as a crew chief, but you can learn from those experiences. What we’ve gone through as a team has made us better and really appreciate the opportunity with Mark.”
Last season, three of Hendrick’s four teams made the Chase, with Mears being the lone missing driver. Earnhardt enters 2009 in his second year with the organization, having made the Chase in his first year with the team, along with crew chief Tony Eury Jr.
Though Martin will be running his first season with HMS, the difference is that Earnhardt and Eury had worked together previously. Gustafson and Martin have only a few Nationwide Series races and a couple test dates under their belts, but both believe the newness of their team will be beneficial.
“He’s everything you could ever ask for,” Gustafson says of working with Martin. “He has incredible credentials and talent. The thing about Mark that is so special is that you look at his career and he’s still motivated and determined even with everything that he’s accomplished.
“I know Mark doesn’t like to allude to it — I don’t want to try to get too far off of the reservation — but I feel like if we can accomplish that goal (of winning the championship), I don’t know how you could have a higher achievement, in my opinion. I think winning a championship with Mark Martin would be the ultimate that you can achieve. In my opinion, he is by far the best driver in this sport who hasn’t won a championship.
“Nobody else even comes close to deserving as much he does,” Gustafson continues. “If we can make that happen in a year, which is a huge order to make that happen, that would be the highlight of my career. …There is nothing that I can say that I can accomplish in my career that would mean more to me than to win a championship with Mark Martin.
“I do think it’s tough. You get one shot. Our focus is to make the Chase first, win as many races as we can and then we will worry about the championship. That’s the ultimate goal. I think we can do all of those things.”
Adds Martin: “It has so many positive effects. If you work with the same team for very long, then you find out that you can’t do it. And you’ll never do it. As soon as you figure out that you can’t, it will never happen. When you’re new together, you don’t know you can’t. And that is when you get the very best results. When you don’t know that you can’t do it.
“There is a learning curve for me and Alan to get maximum results from one another. Sometimes he may not be able to finish my sentence, and sometimes I may not be able to finish his, but the one thing that we don’t know is that we can’t do it. I think that’s a big thing.”
A lot is expected of the Martin/Gustafson union. Once the announcement of Martin’s joining Hendrick was made last July, the speculation quickly began of how far the two could go, with the majority quickly making them a shoe-in for the Chase.
Whether or not they do make that cut, one thing is certain — they will have to figure out a way to stop teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. The Chase seems to suit the three-peat duo’s numbers in the final 10-race battle for the championship.
“I do have a really good seat to see how good they are and how hard they work,” Gustafson says of Johnson and Knaus. “They accomplish amazing feats. To formulate a plan to beat them, I wish I could say there was some trick plan. It comes down to good, old-fashioned determination and hard work. We’re just going to have to be a little bit better. They’ve raised the bar.”
Martin too, is already thinking about the competition.
“To have people predicting that we might make it in the 5 car makes me feel really good. If we get in there, and anyone puts up any numbers like the 48 (Johnson) and the 99 (Carl Edwards, who finished second in points) did (last) year, it will be really hard to expect to win a championship against anyone who puts those kind of numbers up.
“I hope that Alan and I can learn enough about one another during the first 26 races to be able to race differently for the last 10. Certainly the first half of the season, he and I are going to be focusing on getting pretty good performance and trying to win a race and gathering enough points to put us in a position to be in the Chase. But, for us more than anyone else, our game will change if we make the Chase. Because we are new together, and we will be learning more together in the first 26 races than most teams.”
Fans, colleagues and media members all expected that Martin would be out of the sport by now. Not due to age or the loss of ability but because, admittedly, his heart wasn’t in it anymore.
After the passing of his father, the realization that his son was growing up with him mostly absent, Martin opted — on his own terms — for retirement, declaring that he wanted to spend more time with his wife Arlene and his youngest child, son Matt (Martin is also the father to four daughters).
It’s possible that the opportunity with Hendrick is what he’d been waiting for. A sort of “pieces falling into place” sports story you read about, but rarely witness firsthand.
Maybe Martin was simply giving up a few years ago, thinking he and Roush had exhausted every resource they had. And maybe he felt as if all other opportunities had long since passed him by.
But whatever the reason, Martin is back full-time in 2009 with one goal in mind.
“It would contradict today’s thoughts about youth and enthusiasm overcoming age and experience, which would be really cool,” Martin says when contemplating a possible championship breakthrough. “It would definitely drive the point home that sometimes dreams really do come true. Sometimes there is such a thing as a Cinderella story. I think that’s the biggest thing — that to let it go this far and then pull one out of the hat would be pretty incredible for everyone, especially myself. I think it would mean an enormous amount to Rick Hendrick as well. I think Rick would really like to see that because we’ve been around for so long.”
It may be a long shot, but the Hendrick pairing could produce a story of old-school beating new-school, a half-century old competitor besting a bunch of 20-somethings (and even one or two teenagers), but Martin says that however it turns out, his joining Hendrick completes his career.
“It’s the biggest honor of my career. I say that the trophy doesn’t make the man; the man makes the trophy. I have a lot of really, really great trophies. Some of them are made of metal, and some are made of glass, and some are just honors that were bestowed on me.
“This is the biggest trophy of my career. To be where I am in my career, to be 50 years old, and to have a chance to drive for Rick Hendrick with this kind of effort, this kind of car and this kind of equipment. To have him pursue me to do this, means more to me than anything else in my trophy case.”
An obvious case of, “I just can’t pass this up” has landed in Martin’s lap. And whether he claims that elusive Cup title with Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 or not, he’ll never have to deal with the regret of saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
“I told Arlene when we talked about this, I’m pretty sure that the last breath I took on my deathbed would be, ‘I should have drove Rick’s car when I had the chance.’ I didn’t want to do that or regret that until the last breath I took.”
There's a few ways you can go about a sack celebration. In this day and age of football, there's everything from fake roping a calf to rolling around on the ground like a rabid dog.
Which makes San Francisco's Aldon Smith such a breath of fresh air. No dramatic scenes acted out. No screaming and yelling. Just taking down the quarterback, and then sprinting to the sideline to let the special teams come on the field and take care of their business. That's professionalism.
So it's nice to see someone pull a Barry Sanders when it comes to celebrating a good football play. If you recall, Barry Sanders, who was one of the greatest running backs of all time, never once spiked the ball when he got into the end zone. There's something classy about this. While i'm not totally against the hooting and hollering after a big play, but when you're reminded that players actually CAN just run off the field without telling everyone how great they are, it looks pretty good, too.
And at the end of the day, is much more memorable than all the waving of arms and fist pumps.
Oklahoma State might be the reason major changes take place in the BCS next year, or they may be the reason college football finally goes to a playoff system. This year, which was a very weird year, illustrates the flaws in the current college football system.
Let's look at the case for Oklahoma State versus the case for Alabama to play the LSU Tigers in the national title game. The Tigers are unquestionably deserving of their spot in the BCS title game, having gone undefeated in one of the toughest conferences in the nation.
But when you look at Alabama's resume, it looks like this:
Alabama's wins over teams appearing in last week's BCS Top 25: 2
They beat the 8th ranked Arkansas and 21st ranked Penn State.
In contrast, the Oklahoma State Cowboys have wins over 5 Top 25 teams (again, these rankings are from before Saturday's games): 5
They beat 10th ranked Oklahoma Sooners, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Longhorns and the Missouri Tigers.
Alabama's wins over bowl-bound teams with winning records: 3
The Crimson Tide beat Penn State on the road, the Auburn Tigers on the road and the Arkansas Razorbacks at home.
Oklahoma State's wins over bowl-bound teams with winning records: 7
The Cowboys beat Louisiana, Tulsa, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma. A much longer list of quality wins.
Oklahoma State won their conference, while Alabama didn't even make it to their conference championship.
The description of each team's loss:
Alabama lost a low-scoring, poorly played game to LSU at home in overtime.
Oklahoma State lost on the road to a very low-ranked Iowa State team in double overtime. And it must be said, and this is something that computers can't understand, that the Oklahoma State Cowboys team had just suffered the death of two of their coaching family members in a tragic plane crash just a day before the Iowa State game. Shouldn't that count for something?
Also, the foregone conclusion that the SEC is by far the best conference is why Alabama is playing in the BCS championship game instead of Oklahoma State. But when you look at the number of quality wins, you would think that Oklahoma State would have a much better resume and deserve to play for the national title over Alabama.
Jerry Sandusky appeared on camera in a videotaped interview with the New York Times this week and did nothing to sway public opinion in his favor.
Sandusky, who claimed he is innocent of charges of child sexual abuse in the video was only slightly better than his grotesque interview with Bob Costas when he seemed to waiver when asked if he was sexually attracted to young boys.
In this interview, the first one on video, a couple major points stick out that once again call into question his honesty:
When asked about his eery response to the "are you sexually attracted to young boys?" response, he essentially says he was blindsided by the question and that he is "attracted to people" and loves being around young people and so he was surprised that the question of a sexual nature was asked.
But put yourself in his shoes. If someone had accused you of molesting young boys, you should know that that question is coming. And if you know that question is coming, if you truly are innocent, you would vehemently deny this accusation. You wouldn't attempt to parse it out and and hedge as you hem and haw the minor nuances of that question. If you really were innocent, you would stand up and yell as loudly as possible so everyone could hear you say in no uncertain terms that you are NOT a pedophile. The fact that he paused, tells you everything you need to know.
And his lame excuse that he wanted to make it clear that he couldn't believe that this question was being asked and he wanted to make it clear that he liked being around young people--just not in a sexual way--makes absolutely no sense.
The other major point that tells me Jerry Sandusky is lying is that he continued to shower with young boys and "horse around" as he calls it.
Again, put yourself in Jerry Sandusky's shoes. Even if you did nothing wrong. Even if you were a jock who grew up showering with others and you didn't think anything of showering with little boys when you were in your 50s and blowing on the stomachs of young naked kids, the moment the police were involved and accusations were being made, would you EVER shower with another young boy again?
Imagine how freaked out you would be that there was even the perception that you were a pedophile who molested young boys. You would never ever be naked around little kids ever again. You certainly wouldn't blow on their stomachs while "horsing around." You wouldn't take kids on trips where you were alone with them.
Any logical adult would do everything in your power to clear your name. And a good way to start clearing your name is to not shower naked with kids and bear hug them.
That's why this whole story, and both of Sandusky's attempts to claim his innocence don't pass muster. He's lying, or he's the stupidest person on the face of the earth.
The other point that will come out of this is that Joe Paterno, the grandfather of college football just a few months ago, did nothing to stop Sandusky. He knew about the accusations, but he never had the guts or balls or whatever you want to call it to confront his longtime and assistant coach friend about his actions with young boys.
Which means that Penn State was complicit in Sandusky's actions. They knew there was a problem, and they told Sandusky to not bring young boys onto the campus anymore. But what we learn in this video is that his keys were never taken away, either.
This is a disgusting man and it's scary what other details will still come out in this case.
Josh Freeman won't be suited up today for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Hurting with an injured shoulder all week, Freeman was a game-time decision today. That decision has been made, and it's a no-go for the Bucs second year QB.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris made it official this morning that Josh Johnson (do you have to be named Josh to play quarterback for the Bucs?) will start in his place.
This is somewhat surprising as all reports out of Tampa during the week sounded posistive for Freeman to start. On Tuesday he had made good progress and even said himself that he could have played on Wednesday. Which now seems more like talk than reality.
From a fantasy perspective this doesn't have much impace. Definitely sit Freeman, but don't expect anything out of Josh Johnson. If we learned anything from Caleb Hanie's debacle last week for the Bears, it's hard for back-ups to step in with one week notcie and put up decent fantasy numbers.
And downgrade the already low-graded Tampa players like Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow. A slight upgrade to LeGarrette Blount as the Bucs will be leaning heavily on the run today.
Look elsewhere for your fantasy quarterbacking needs this week.
Hakeem Nicks doesn't think he was concussed last week against the New Orleans Saints, and thinks he'll be in the starting lineup today in a huge game against the Packers.
On Thursday Nicks told reporters "It was a headache yesterday (Wednesday) and they made me, just because of the hit, they told me to chill."
And chill he did on Thursday, but returned to practice on Friday and looks good to go against a Packers defense that has been giving up a lot of points this year.
The Giants are essentially playing for their playoff lives today as a loss to the undefeated Packers all but closes the door on their postseason chances.
Which is why Hakeem Nicks should be a great fantasy start this week.
Not only is the Packers defense a little suspect--yes they turn the ball over a lot and score a lot of touchdowns on defense--but they also give up big chunks of yards and lots of points to opposing offenses.
And more importantly, the Packers will be scoring a TON of points against a banged-up Giants defense. Which means Eli Manning will be throwing the football all day long today witht he Giants most likely being in catch-up mode for the majority of the day.
I am so bullish on Hakeem Nicks today that I am projecting 8 catches for 120 yards and not one, but two touchdowns.
Julio Jones is expected to suit up against the Texans and make it into the starting lineup today after battling hamstring issues the last few weeks.
Jones missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday after missing the last two weeks of football, but should be playing today for the first time since November 13th.
The questions is, do you play him?
The short answer is yes. (The even shorter answer is y).
Jones has been pretty spectacular this season and there's no reason to think he'll be anythng less against a Texans defense that hasn't been that strong against the pass.
Matt Ryan will be glad to have his rookie burner back and will look to get him involved and get their rhythm back as the Falcons make their way for a playoff push.
It's a little scary that he didn't practice this week, which means there will be some rust, and probably a few timing issues. But looking at Julio's history, he managed to come into the league with limited training camp and produce right away.
And we're hoping he can do that again after missing practice for nearly a month.
Don't expect gigantic numbers out of Julio Jones today, but something along the lines of 5 catches for 65 yards and a score is probably the low end. Unless he tweaks his hammy again. Then all bets are off.
But the Falcons wouldn't be putting him out there if they thought he would injure that hamstring again. Start Julio Jones with confidence today against the Texans.
Kellen Moore, Boise State
Kellen Moore is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the 2011 Golden Arm Award nominees.
The Boise State senior signal-caller is finishing off a brilliant career in which he set a new record for most wins as a starting quarterback with 48, surpassing Colt McCoy.
His season began with a bang in the Broncos’ win over Georgia at Atlanta. He was 28-of-34 passing for 261 yards and three scores in that contest.
In Boise State’s lone loss, Moore drove his troops into field goal range before a potential game-winning kick sailed wide as time expired.
Andrew Luck, Stanford
Andrew Luck is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the 2011 Golden Arm Award nominees.
Widely projected as a high pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Luck spurned the NFL for another year in college, and Stanford fans certainly rejoiced. Luck didn’t disappoint the Cardinal faithful and, if anything, actually improved his NFL stock with another terrific season.
Trusted with some play-calling responsibilities, the fourth-year junior has freedom to change plays and protections. After throwing an interception that was returned for a TD against USC with just more than three minutes to play, he rallied his team for the tying score and the eventual win in overtime.
Luck led the Cardinal to an 11-1 season with the only blemish a 53-30 loss to Pac-12 North champion Oregon. For his part, Luck passed for 3,170 yards and 35 touchdowns.
He has led the Stanford Cardinal to back-to-back BCS bowls.
Article originally published in 2008 Athlon Sports Racing annual
1. Has the Top 35 rule run its course?
Without question. Frankly, the rule should have never been around in the first place. It was designed at the end of 2004 to combat “field filler” operations — bare-bones Cup teams using provisionals just to start and park — and it was debatable whether such a drastic move was even needed to kill them off. There’s no doubt the rule did just that; within six months, it knocked out entire organizations looking simply to show up and collect a check each week.
But NASCAR circa 2008 is a whole different story. With 47 full-time teams now involved in the series, competition is at an all-time high. Each weekend, fully funded teams like Michael Waltrip Racing, Team Red Bull and The Wood Brothers come to the track loaded and ready to race — except that they have one hand tied behind their backs. For those outside the top 35 in points, the majority of Friday practice must be focused on qualifying, while teams with exemptions can work on race setups from the start. That creates a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario: if those “outsider” teams actually make the race, they have so much less practice time that it’s nearly impossible for them to dig out of the hole they’re in. It’s an ugly merry-go-round that never stops, and for those lying squarely on the top 35 “bubble,” the importance of maintaining their position has become so high that they wind up racing conservatively rather than letting it all hang out.
NASCAR’s motives are somewhat pure. It wants to protect both the sponsors and teams putting hard-earned money into the series each week. But isn’t sports about competition, not safety nets? To its credit, the sanctioning body at least made a change this offseason that allowed the non-top 35 teams to qualify together. But what good will that do in a system where the ninth-fastest qualifying time still could get sent home, just because the team didn’t have as many points as everyone else?
The Gatorade Duel 150’s at Daytona are now simply nothing more than a glorified math problem. How fun are qualifying races to watch when three dozen cars are automatically in the field to begin with?
Here’s the ugly truth: nowadays a major sponsor will go home each week — that’s just the way it is. But it’s time to let to the driving on the track decide which of those sponsors it will be. After all, isn’t qualifying part of the competition that makes a race weekend a ‘race weekend’?
2. Will a rivalry develop between Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Originally, we would have said no — and then two incidents during the Chase got us thinking differently. Busch’s chances at a title went up in smoke courtesy of an “accidental” tap by Junior at Kansas, a boo-boo that would be 100 percent believable — if it hadn’t occurred on the middle of the back straightaway. The two wound up coming together again at Homestead, where Junior’s pit road spinout caused him to make contact with the No. 5 car. By then, title dreams for Busch were up in smoke, but that didn’t keep him from being smoking mad at Junior all over again.
Look, it’s no secret that Busch is bitter after being pushed out of a ride at Hendrick, an organization he thought he’d be in the rest of his career. It’s not all that often you see a man who finished fifth in points switching rides at the beginning of the next season, and in Kyle’s defense, he’s got reason to complain. The fact of the matter is, no amount of immaturity would have taken him out of a ride he excelled in if Mr. Popularity hadn’t been available.
But while Junior was adjusting to a brighter future, Busch got busy landing on his feet over at rival Joe Gibbs Racing, and that’s what makes this interesting. Not only is Busch out to prove he’s been wronged by the team that dumped him, but the kid might also have the equipment underneath him to make his case. In ’08 testing at Atlanta last Fall, Busch blew his old team — as well as everyone else — out of the water, posting the fastest time of anyone there in his new Toyota Camry.
That left no doubt that Busch is fired up, but will he do enough to piss off his replacement? A laid-back personality most of the time, Junior can be fiery on the radio but rarely on the racetrack; unlike his dad, he’ll say I’m sorry after a wreck instead of shaking his middle finger. Still, with the pressure to perform at Hendrick likely to cause more than a little stress next year, don’t be surprised to see a whole different Junior if he gets involved in a wreck not of his making; and right now, it’s not a question of if he’ll receive some payback from Busch. It’s a question of when.
3. What are the potential pitfalls of financial investors entering the sport?
George Gillett, Robert Kauffman and John Henry, we don’t mean to be rude. There’s nothing but respect for the millions of dollars you bring to the NASCAR table — and the all-too-gracious attitude you’ve displayed in spending what it takes to be competitive.
It’s just that, well, you’re a different breed of “car owner” than what we’re accustomed to seeing. Bud Moore, Junie Donlavey, Junior Johnson — now these were men who cared about the traditions of our sport, mostly because they lived it. Along for the ride since NASCAR’s inception, these famous entrepreneurs succeeded at racing’s top level without the seemingly unlimited funding it takes to be competitive nowadays. Most important, though, when the going got tough, they dug in their heels. Diehard racers to the core, by no means would they ever just pack up and leave, for NASCAR wasn’t just a job for them — it was part of their soul.
Where the hesitation comes in with men like Gillett, Kauffman and Henry is whether they entertain that same type of love for a sport they’re approaching as little more than part of a business. Some might argue that these men couldn’t even name 10 drivers in a 43-car field as recently as six months ago; now, all three wield enormous power over the top level of the most prestigious stock car organization in the world.
That’s not to say these men can’t be successful. But what if they bite off more than they can chew, losing more money than expected right off the bat? Will they stick around and gut out their losses, or will they simply cut and run, leaving a trail of broken hearts and shattered dreams in their wake? Such a nightmare scenario of crashing and burning in NASCAR can already be condensed into two words: Bobby Ginn. In February, Ginn was the maverick owner with a five-year plan whose driver nearly stole the Daytona 500; by November, he was the maverick scam artist with a list of out-of-court settlements a mile long.
You can’t really blame people like Ray Evernham, Michael Waltrip and even Jack Roush for taking these guys on — NASCAR’s a game of who has the most money these days, and they’ve got to do what it takes to keep up.
For their sake, we just hope those checks keep coming in.
4. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back at DEI, and what happens now?
The worst thing any fan can hear from the insiders is “we may never know the truth.” In this case, though, the issues between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his stepmother Teresa look to be increasingly complex, far beyond the power struggle that has played out in the media. There’s a saying that family quarrels have a bitterness unmatched by others, and when it comes to a lifetime of differences, no one can adequately explain that story better than both parties, each giving their side. Unfortunately for the gossip hounds, Teresa has chosen to keep her mouth shut; that’s her prerogative, and until that changes all we can tell you is that this move came down to basic, irreconcilable differences in philosophy — nothing more, nothing less.
Now, DEI looks to the future, and to do so it must first come to terms with the past — and that goes beyond digesting the fact that Junior is gone. Last July, DEI ingested a sprawling operation in Ginn Racing, and as of November it was still struggling to integrate that merger into every facet of its program. Luckily for DEI, that merger came packed with one heck of a secret weapon: Mark Martin. Even at 48, Martin possesses the type of leadership skills and insight this organization needs to formulate a plan of cohesive success. Having taken youngster Regan Smith under his wing in ’07, Martin hopes to do the same type of tutoring this year with co-driver Aric Almirola.
But the individual who really could benefit from Martin’s teachings is the other Martin. Martin Truex Jr. emerged as far more than Earnhardt’s sidekick in ’07; once his buddy became a “lame duck,” Truex stepped up and took the leadership role to heart over at DEI. However, a frustrating Chase seemed to cause him to revert to the Truex of old, letting emotions get the better of him one too many times. For DEI to step it up, Truex needs to bring it down a notch — driving with his head and not with his heart. If he can learn to be patient, there’s nowhere to go with this four-car program but up — especially now that the loss of Joe Gibbs Racing has bumped it up the ladder at Chevrolet.
5. Are team orders ruining racing?
It’s on the verge of happening. Fans may remember the ugliness of 2004 at Richmond, when we believe that this all began. In a desperation move, Chip Ganassi Racing angrily demanded that James Finch’s car driven by Mike Wallace should “slow down” in order for Jamie McMurray to pass. At the time, Ganassi gave technical support to Finch’s group, and with a berth in the Chase at stake for McMurray, it figured competition be damned.
Luckily for the good of the sport, Wallace didn’t give in, but the price tag proved high, as the small-time team lost its partnership with Ganassi soon after. You’d think that ugly incident would have sounded the NASCAR alarm, but ever since that day, it seems the problem has gotten 10 times worse.
At Dover this season, a glimpse into a repulsive future was offered to all of us; at the end of the race, Casey Mears reluctantly pulled over for his teammate Kyle Busch at the request of the Hendrick organization, giving Busch five more points in the battle for the ’07 title. At the time, Busch’s car was a mangled mess, damaged in an earlier wreck; but even though Mears had four fresh tires, his shot for the win became secondary to “being a good teammate.” When that move went public, the garage reaction was even more revolting. Not only did people feel Hendrick was in the right, but they also claimed that the team was merely doing what was necessary to keep up with the Joneses. Why, just one week earlier, Greg Biffle had done the exact same thing for Roush Fenway Racing at New Hampshire — all in the name of giving Carl Edwards that three-point boost for the title.
But what’s good for the team isn’t good for competition. What’s going to happen one year when Mears is leading the final race of the season at Homestead, but Jeff Gordon’s running second and needs to take the win in order to complete his Drive For Five?
At this point, there’s virtually no doubt Mears would pull over, cutting the fan base in half with the white flag of surrender. Now, if you’re NASCAR, how do you police this? We don’t have the answer yet, but throwing up your hands and doing nothing about it — the sanctioning body’s response to this so far — is not going to help correct this problem.
6. Car of Tomorrow: Success or Failure?
NASCAR’s latest method for tightening its control over the sport came in the form of the much-heralded (and ballyhooed) Car of Tomorrow. The CoT made its debut at Bristol last season to not-so-rave reviews. Race winner Kyle Busch went so far as to say the car “sucked” in his Victory Lane interview.
The car, which was implemented to provide a safer machine to the competitors while increasing competition and saving owners money, has widely been panned by drivers, teams and fans alike.
While the first two CoT events, at Bristol and Martinsville, witnessed .064- and .065-second margins of victory — not unusual for a short track finish — the other 14 CoT races proved hard to watch.
With aerodynamic adjustments off-limits to the teams, the cars were cookie-cutter recreations of one another with no aero differences. While that may sound like a recipe for great racing — bunch the field up and the drama goes up proportionally — it instead made it hard for drivers to pass, as Matt Kenseth pointed out.
“If everybody is running the same speed, how are you gonna pass?” he asked. Good question.
Drivers, teams, officials and NASCAR understand that the car is still a work in progress and will most likely improve the financial conditions that owners now face. The racing itself will also improve a bit over time as drivers and teams continue to perfect the nuances of the piece.
In the short term, though, NASCAR must deal with a backlash from fans who accurately see a series that once rewarded ingenuity transformed into a resurrected IROC Series.
So the answer seems to be that the Car of Tomorrow Era is off to a shaky start, and that the directive from the sanctioning body will continue to be a less-than-popular one. But the car is not going away, so like it or not, this is the face of the sport, circa 2008.
7. Which driver at Roush Racing stands the greatest chance of losing his ride as the company condenses from five to four teams by 2009?
Trick question! The answer is none. In case you haven’t noticed, the two-car team that was Yates Racing has quietly transformed into a little dinner joint we like to call “Roush B.” Ever since former owner Robert Yates announced his retirement, the organization he led to the ’99 Cup championship has now deteriorated into little more than the new right arm for Jack Roush’s future R & D projects. Consider these facts:
Within 48 hours after transferring the deed to his son, Doug, the open seat in the team’s No. 88 (now No. 28) car was magically filled for 2008 — by none other than Roush Fenway Truck Series driver Travis Kvapil. Kind of funny how that worked, considering the team already seemed to have a driver in place. Kenny Wallace was busy subbing for an injured Ricky Rudd at the time; up until Yates’ retirement announcement, he appeared all but a shoe-in to get the ride the following year.
But Wallace was kicked off the ship of the future, and soon afterwards, a lot of old-time Yates employees jumped off to join him on shore. The team quickly announced a move from their shop in Mooresville, N.C. to a building right next to the main Roush Fenway facility down the road in Concord. Right away, the new neighbors figured Doug Yates would need plenty of help, so they wasted no time sending a housewarming gift — a new co-owner. Former Roush Fenway GM Max Jones pledged to work together with Yates to oversee construction of chassis delivered by — you guessed it — the Roush Fenway program next door.
No offense to Jack Roush, but how much more obvious can you make the fact that you just expanded from five cars to seven? Now, all he has to do at the end of this season is have the Yates/Jones group “purchase” one of the teams currently in his possession. Like clockwork, the cars move one building down the road and — voila! — Roush is technically down to a four-car organization, washing his hands of this whole NASCAR team limit rule.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the elder Yates was OK with letting this happen. No doubt, it’s a sad state of affairs for a team that used to run circles around Roush no more than half a dozen years ago.
8. How will Dale Earnhardt Jr. fare at Hendrick Motorsports?
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his intention to leave Dale Earnhardt, Inc., last May, Rick Hendrick realized the potential of teaming his wildly successful organization — a company that boasts four Cup titles over the preceding decade — with the sport’s most recognizable, popular and marketable personality.
Although some have questioned Earnhardt’s true driving ability and where it stacks up against the greats of the sport, the 32-year-old does boast 17 career Cup wins, two Busch Series titles and three finishes of fifth or better in the Nextel Cup point standings. That’s more than many drivers — some thought to be more naturally gifted and in better equipment — can claim.
Junior left DEI to win championships, and the fact of the matter is, Hendrick Motorsports is the perfect place to go to achieve that goal. While he will have to learn to fit into the system at a company known for its white-collar approach and clean-cut, wholesome reputation, it should only be a matter of time before he finds his niche within the organization and learns to succeed working within its parameters.
How many princes can live in the same kingdom will be the larger issue with a group that includes Cup champions Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. But Hendrick is a leader of the highest caliber, and if anyone can make everyone play nice, it’s him.
Don’t expect Earnhardt to set the circuit ablaze this season, but he will rack up his share of wins in the next few years and should win the championship that proved unattainable at DEI.
9. Have the latest changes to the Chase format worked as expected?
It’s a mixed review of sorts. To a man, each driver liked the new way in which the playoff format was “seeded” in ’07; the extra bonus points for wins made finishes more exciting, as the extra incentive to go all out for a regular-season race trophy paid off.
But it seemed like having 12 drivers compete for the title made far too many people feel like they had a chance at the Chase, diminishing the focus on the racing at each individual event. Certain title contenders also pulled so far ahead of the 13th-place bubble that by the last month of the regular season, they spent a four-race stretch literally twiddling their thumbs. That’s a consequence of the 10-point win bonus; if a “locked-in” Chase driver doesn’t have a car that could win the race, why would he bother to take any chances? A fifth or a seventh wouldn’t really matter for Jeff Gordon in the grand scheme of things, since it wasn’t going to earn him a better playoff “seeding.”
So if the Chase still has to exist — and it looks like it’s not going anywhere — early results seem to be better with 10 drivers gunning for the title, not 12.
Check out this Richmond drama if the field had been cut by two in ’07: Clint Bowyer would have made it in by the skin of his teeth, at ninth in points by 19 over Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch. Those two would have tied for the 10th and final spot in the Chase, giving us an unlikely field of 11 contenders, with Kevin Harvick missing the boat by only five points.
Now that’s one heck of a battle for the playoffs. Instead, fans were treated to three straight hours of seeing if Brian France would simply change the rules and let longshot Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the Chase in 13th.
Such nonsense didn’t happen, and now the question is whether France has one more rule change left in him. Let’s see if he’ll use it for 2008.
10. Should Greg Biffle have been awarded the win at Kansas last season?
In one of the craziest races seen in quite some time, Greg Biffle was flagged the winner of the LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway last season. The event had been shortened by a lengthy rain delay and chopped from 400 miles to 315 on account of impending darkness.
After a late caution that would have taken the race into a green-white-checker finish, NASCAR decided to call the race then and there, with Biffle leading the field but running on fumes.
Coming to the checkers/yellow behind the pace car and at caution speed, Biffle’s car slowed, appearing to have run out of fuel. When Biffle dipped to the apron of the track, second- and third-place Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson cruised by, crossing the finish line ahead of Biffle.
Biffle claimed he was not out of fuel, but just conserving enough gas to do a few victory burnouts. He never did, though, as NASCAR asked his team to push the car directly to Victory Lane instead.
While Biffle and team claim otherwise, it seemed obvious that he was, in fact, out of fuel, and because he could not keep a “cautious pace” gave up his spot in the running order.
The rule book, which leaves plenty of room for interpretation, states:
“…cars will be scored on the basis of their respective track position. No passing will be permitted, as long as cars maintain a reasonable speed considering the conditions that exist on the track. The determination of respective track position and a reasonable speed are judgment calls that will be made by NASCAR Officials.”
Get that last part? “Reasonable speed (is a) judgment call that will be made by NASCAR Officials.”
How a driver can be flagged the winner without having crossed the start/finish line first remains a mystery. Although the field was frozen with Biffle in the lead, he could not keep a cautious speed, which truly is the central point here.
The singular objective in racing of any form is to complete the full distance of the event before all other competitors. Biffle did not.
So no, Greg Biffle should not have been awarded the Kansas win, but because the guys in race control seemingly fell asleep at the wheel, his victory will stand.
11. Why did Joe Gibbs Racing defect from Chevrolet to Toyota?
Three reasons: pecking order on the GM food chain, lots of cash and foresight.
JGR, although successful to the tune of 58 wins and three Cup titles in 16 seasons in the sport, would never supplant Hendrick Motorsports as GM’s top dog. At Toyota, the Gibbs powerhouse brings the swagger and success the new manufacturer desires. In short, JGR will receive the best resources Toyota has to give.
Some of what Toyota can give may have already been delivered. Gibbs was the recipient of a reported $60-$75 million to jump the GM ship. In a sport that is strictly a business six days a week, the bottom line demanded that Gibbs make the decision.
Lastly, Joe Gibbs is a man of vision. Whether winning Super Bowls or Cup titles, he has obviously mastered the art of motivation and leadership. If Gibbs’ transition results in wins and championships, other owners — Roger Penske and Ray Evernham come to mind — will wish they had had the foresight to capitalize on Toyota’s new way of doing business.
12. Is it time for NASCAR to revamp the schedule?
This topic is one that demands a feature unto itself but can be summed up quickly enough. The simple answer is yes, NASCAR needs to shake up the logistics of the schedule to better accommodate the teams and the fans. After all, 14- and 17-race streaks could be divided up to give everyone a well-deserved break.
NASCAR’s larger problem centers around the stagnation of the Chase and its venues. A 10-race playoff stretch is much too long to hold the attention of a fanbase already weary from a 26-race regular season. Further, said events need to be rotated among all of the circuit’s venues to ensure a renewed interest in a playoff format whose legitimacy and entertainment value are questioned by many as it now stands.
The unfortunate truth, however, tells us that changing the venues and/or dates may prove to be difficult at best. With Chase-hosted tracks basing their year-long marketing programs around the fact that they host a coveted spot on tour, the call would depend in large part on the blessings of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., and Dover Motorsport, Inc.
Like many issues alive within the sport today, the question is easier to answer on paper than to enact as policy.
13. What tracks are in jeopardy of losing a date now that Bruton Smith owns New Hampshire International Speedway?
The obvious answer is New Hampshire itself. When Smith, the owner and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., bought the one-mile oval from Bob Bahre in November 2007 for $340 million, the assumption was that he would move New Hampshire’s September date — the event that kicks off NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship — to Las Vegas, where the billionaire could host a spectacle in a city known for spectacles.
SMI owns and operates seven race tracks that host Cup events: Atlanta, Bristol, Infineon, Las Vegas, Lowe’s, New Hampshire and Texas. Atlanta, Bristol, Texas and, currently, New Hampshire each have two dates, and Smith has made his desire for a second date in Vegas widely known.
While New Hampshire is candidate No. 1 to forfeit a date, it also makes a case for itself to retain its events because of its location. NHIS, along with Watkins Glen and Pocono, are the only tracks in the coveted Northeast market to host Cup races. Also, if Smith were to upgrade the facility, installing lights and variable banking, the quality of racing would improve as well.
Atlanta is a candidate to give up a date as the South is well-represented, and the track has difficulty selling out both races. One of its dates could go to Vegas, with the new date swapped with NHIS to accommodate the first Chase date.
What Smith plans to do with his two new dates remain a mystery, but his track record (read: North Wilkesboro) points to a track being purchased for its dates, not its specific events.
Article originally published in 2008 Athlon Sports Racing annual
— by Monte Dutton
Many NASCAR insiders would prefer that the spots in the starting fields of Sprint Cup races were determined by franchises. It’s a team sport, they say, so why shouldn’t it be composed of organized teams assured of a chance to compete in every race?
“There are two or three of us who like the idea of a franchise,” understates Richard Petty. “NASCAR, basically, does not.”
It’s a complicated issue, and the central complication is the complexity in comparing auto racing to other sports. Stock-car racers are fond of calling theirs “the ultimate team sport,” though, by definition, it isn’t a team sport at all.
Two teams don’t meet and race against each other. Forty-three contestants — yes, they’re composed of drivers with teams behind them — compete on an individual basis, which is more comparable to what would otherwise be referred to as an individual sport, like golf. There’s an element of teamwork in every sport. Even golfers use clubs that are constructed for them. The team element is more relevant to NASCAR, but it isn’t definitively a team sport.
The absence of franchises undermines the market value of teams because they have no reliable right to compete in every race. NASCAR has evolved in a way that protects teams in a manner that would’ve been unthinkable a decade ago. Now, for instance, 35 spots in each race’s 43-car field are guaranteed on the basis of owner standings. During the season’s first five races, those spots are determined by the standings of the previous year, which makes it difficult for start-up teams to acquire security. This very issue greatly complicated Toyota’s entry into what is now the Sprint Cup Series in 2007.
“I believe that a franchise system — and I hate to use the word ‘franchise’ — is the right thing to do for the investment of the car owners and, primarily, the investment of the sponsors,” says Jeff Burton. “By the same token — what about, in baseball, when the Florida Marlins win the World Series and then dump everybody afterwards — there ought to be a way you can lose your franchise. You shouldn’t be able to operate with a continuing losing record. You should not be able to keep your franchise without putting a competitive team on the court.”
Or the track.
“You should not be able to do that,” Burton continues, “but I believe that we are to the point where our car owners have so much invested and our sponsors have so much invested that we’ve got to find a way to protect them. The ‘top-35 thing’ works better than the way it used to be, but in this environment, it’s not good enough.”
From NASCAR’s perspective, the current system works. It conveys a fleeting, unofficial franchise system based on recent performance. While franchising appeals to many within the sport, it’s objectionable to hard-liner fans who think every race ought to be contested between the fastest 43 cars based on qualifying speeds. The fact that qualifying mainly determines the starting order, not the composition of the field, is disturbing to purists.
The controversy even divides families. Petty, who won more races than anyone in NASCAR history, still heads up the team founded by his late father, Lee, who himself was a three-time champion. Richard is an ardent supporter of franchises. His son, still-active driver Kyle, is unsure. “I think it should be the fastest 43 cars. I have no problem with that,” says Kyle Petty. “That’s from the competition side. This is where this is a goofy sport. From an owner’s side, I should have a franchise. We’ve been here 60 years doing the same thing, beating our heads against the wall pulling from California to New York to Florida and back six times a year with some of the schedules they’ve made throughout the years, and we’ve got nothing to show for it.
“Is it a sport or a business? It’s really a business six days a week. It’s only a sport on Sunday, but it’s a business Monday through Saturday. That’s the way it works. From a business side, I’m not against the top 35 having a free ride. I’m not against a franchise, but for the quality of the show, it should be the 43 fastest cars.”
The official NASCAR position, as conveyed by spokesman Ramsey Poston, holds that the current system is an effective compromise. From another perspective, though, it has the effect of creating a makeshift franchising system in which all the value and power remains centered in the ruling body’s hands. There’s no long-term value for teams like Petty Enterprises and the Wood Brothers that have been instrumental in the sport’s history. And most observers don’t see any further shift toward franchising in the foreseeable future.
“The issue of franchises in NASCAR has generated quite a bit of buzz, mostly because of all the new owners and investors coming into the sport,” says Michael Smith of SportsBusiness Journal. “As people try to put two and two together to read the changing landscape of ownership in NASCAR while wondering why so many new owners are suddenly interested, many have speculated that franchises are on the horizon.
“But there’s really no reason, from NASCAR’s perspective, to believe that franchises will be issued in the near future.”
Even as NASCAR officials strain to come up with meaningful cost-cutting measures, costs associated with every aspect of the sport are escalating at a rapid rate. Teams that once constructed race cars in a somewhat modest shop are now employing hundreds. They own and maintain private jets to transport personnel to tracks all across the country. Some field teams in all three of NASCAR’s so-called “major touring series” — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck.
One of the chief recent developments is the soliciting of lucrative investors with relatively little prior knowledge or interest in the sport.
John Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, is now Jack Roush’s partner, hence the name Roush Fenway Racing. George Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens, bought into Ray Evernham’s team, making it Gillett-Evernham Motorsports. Two members of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ ownership group, Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkel, now own controlling interest in Hall of Fame Racing. It’s a trend that shows no sign of abating, and all this new capital makes it more and more difficult for family teams like Petty Enterprises to remain competitive.
Rob Kauffman, a London-based investor, bought half of Michael Waltrip Racing. One of Kauffman’s advisers is real-estate developer Johnny Harris, who also acquired a stake and now sits on the team’s six-member board. Harris is a member of the Carolina Panthers’ ownership group.
“John Henry is an excellent example of a strategic investor,” says Timothy Frost, whose firm, Frost Motorsports LLC, has participated in securing sponsors and investors. “These investors own companies active in a wide range of activities related to sports. They’re able to use their resources in ways — marketing, sponsorships, media exposure, souvenir and collectible sales — that benefit the race teams in areas other than just performance on the track.”
Still, the ultimate value and power remain firmly centered in NASCAR’s hands. The system as it has evolved has conveyed only fleeting, short-term value to the participants. The sport is changing rapidly, and it’s hard for longstanding teams not to be swept away in these changes.
“If you don’t have an open mind, you’ve got to be surrounded with enough people who do have open minds to help you make the transition or change you have to make,” says Bobby Labonte, who now drives for Petty Enterprises.
“It takes a while to change.”
A Forbes magazine article estimated that the average NASCAR team is valued at $120 million. Its estimate rose by 67 percent between 2006 and 2007. According to the article, 20 percent of NASCAR’s top teams were losing money, in part because Forbes judged there to be 41 in the “top teams” category. The most valuable team, by those estimates, was Roush Fenway Racing at $316 million. Hendrick Motorsports, the most successful team of 2006, was valued at $297 million, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing at $173 million. The Forbes estimates were based on total sponsorship values and race-related income.
As a comparison, the average National Hockey League franchise is worth $150-200 million, according to Forbes.
Forbes’ Jack Gage writes that licensing is on the decline in NASCAR, and sponsorship rates have flattened out since 2003. Despite rising costs, the average NASCAR team still banks $12.3 million in profits, or roughly 15 percent of revenue, and estimates say that $100 million will be saved sport-wide over the next two years by switching to the Car of Tomorrow.
“What franchising would do is give team owners the security to know that they’ll be able to compete from year to year, that they’ll have a spot on the track, compared to the current model where teams are often reliant on sponsorship to keep their doors open from year to year,” says SportsBusiness Journal’s Smith.
“Many of the top owners in NASCAR have operations that take on franchise tendencies anyway, which is why there’s a deepening gap between the haves and have-nots. Hendrick, Roush Fenway, GEM (Gillett-Evernham) and now MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing), among others, all can rest assured that they’ll be around for years to come because their owners don’t rely on their NASCAR teams for income. They all have developed alternate sources of income. … Teams that rely on sponsorship for 80 percent of their revenue without any other significant streams of income are more likely to run the risk of going out of business.”
Jack Roush admits his agreement with Henry and Fenway Sports Group began partly as a response to Toyota’s entry.
“Toyota will not find that others will wither in their path as they have found in other series in which they’ve competed,” says Roush, a longtime Ford owner.
“Toyota is bringing about changes in the way we do business. They are willing to pay more for a service than sound business practices would otherwise justify.”
“NASCAR certainly understands (the Toyota) problem,” Roush adds. “I regard the Car of Tomorrow as primarily NASCAR’s initiative to limit technology as a way of controlling technology.”
Joe Gibbs took another tack. The Washington Redskins head coach, whose NASCAR operations are managed by his son J.D., switched his three-car team from Chevrolet to Toyota. Three of the sport’s big names — two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, 2006 Rookie of the Year Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch — will compete in Toyotas this year, greatly enhancing the likelihood that the sport’s newest manufacturer will begin winning races this year.
That move, in turn, is a reaction by Toyota to the frustrations associated with entering the sport. Had Toyota not successfully wooed JGR away from Chevrolet, it would have begun the season with only one driver, Dave Blaney, assured of a spot in the Daytona 500 field. Now there will be at least four.
Burton, one of three Sprint Cup Series drivers competing regularly for RCR, admits the future is fraught with uncertainty.
“I’m nervous about having manufacturers, sponsors, and millions and millions of dollars put into this program for marketing reasons, without the product on the race track, and that’s going to happen to major teams and major corporations,” he says. “In the long run, I don’t think it’s good for our sport. I do believe that there is a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality in this sport that has worked for a long time.
“In today’s economy and taking into account the ultra-competitive nature of the sport, I believe there need to be some changes. I don’t believe it’s in our sport’s best interest, being that without corporate involvement, we’re nothing. We can’t even come close to running our programs on the purse (prize money). It’s not even a thought. It’s NASCAR’s charge to find a way to make that work for everybody. … The current program, locking in the top 35, is the best we’ve ever had, but it’s time to find a way to do it even better.”
To Burton, teams deserve even greater security.
“With the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers, they know they are going to have a chance to play in every game,” he says. “They don’t know if they’re going to make the playoffs, but we need that here. I think it would protect the owners, and it would protect our sponsors and I think we have to find a way to move toward that. I think we need 43 teams that know they are going to be in the show, but, at the same time have to do things to validate that they deserve a franchise.
“We need to find a way to guarantee everybody they are going to be in the show for our sponsors and car owners. It isn’t about the drivers; it’s about the sponsors and the car owners. At the same time, if a car owner doesn’t do a certain amount of things, he could lose his franchise.”
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon owns a stake in Hendrick Motorsports, giving him a perspective derived from seeing the issue from two sides.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be franchising,” he says, echoing Burton. “I’m a big fan of making these teams hold their value. Look at our team. It basically has no value other than the people, the machines and the building space that we have.
“Somebody can go out there and basically start up a new organization. Maybe Hendrick Motorsports is a bad example because it’s an organization that has been so solid that it might have a little bit more value than some other teams out there, but other than having our sponsorship dollars and … the winnings that you get, the value that should come along with it isn’t there. Hendrick has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to get our organization where it is.
“If something catastrophic were to happen, then it wouldn’t be worth the money that’s been invested at this point.”
No reliable, specific plan has emerged to accommodate the concerns voiced by Burton, Gordon and others. The absence of a balanced plan is itself an obstacle in persuading NASCAR to move further toward a franchise system.
“When you support the sport and help build the sport, you should have something for that,” says Jimmie Johnson, the Cup champion of the past two seasons.
“We’ve all talked about franchising our sport, and I’m sure it will never happen, but this (stability for the top 35 in owner points) is the only thing that these owners have that they can count on that they can sell to their sponsor.”
The current system is a compromise in itself, of course. The official NASCAR position is that it provides a balance between the extremes of cutthroat competition and docile stability.
“There should not be a welfare system in sports,” says Kyle Petty. “When kids play baseball, and I’m going to be very politically incorrect here, they ought to keep score, and there ought to be a winner and there ought to be a loser.
“You learn from losing. Kids learn from losing. You learn sportsmanship from losing. That’s what we do out here on Sundays. There are winners and losers.
“In the business world, there’s a totally different set of rules. If I look at this as a business, there are certain things, and I’m not going to call it welfare. Call it sweat equity. We put 60 years here, and we deserve something back for those 60 years. The Wood Brothers deserve something back for their 50 years.
“For the sport to have potential to grow, it also has to be built on the back of some of those guys. Call it what you want to call it, but I do think there’s a different standard from the business side to the racing.”
Richard Petty’s career — begun working on father Lee’s car, then racing at the highest level from 1958–1992 and now with a still-active role in the family team — has spanned the sport’s entire history. In fact, Lee Petty competed in NASCAR’s very first race in 1949.
“The guys who helped build NASCAR paved the way for the guys that come in now with money,” Richard Petty says.
“When it first started, Junior (Johnson), Bud Moore, us, all these guys were racers. They didn’t have any outside business. All they wanted to do was race.
“Then, all of a sudden, there was some money in it, so people with money came in and said they were going to spend money to make money. The first thing you know, the money runs the racers out of the racing business.”
Why does NASCAR oppose the concept of franchises?
“I don’t know if they think they lose some of their authority over everybody if there were franchises. One of these days, it will probably happen,” opines Richard Petty. “I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see it or not, but it will probably happen some day.
“I think the only thing in my mind that keeps NASCAR from being completely legitimate, major league, with golfing or football or baseball or whatever, is being franchised. All the other entities are basically franchised. As they are franchised, you get a lot of people’s ideas thrown in the middle of the thing.
“And in the long run it winds up better for everybody.”
Article originally published in 2008 Athlon Sports Racing annual
— by Tom Bowles
Every Sunday, 43 drivers strap in, armed with the guts the rest of us wish we had. Going door-to-door at speeds up to 200 miles per hour, they put their lives on the line in a way few of us ever will, dancing precariously close to the edge of a cliff where the consequences of falling over are often injury or death. Clearly, stock car driving is not a profession for the meek.
So, why have races become a procession for the cowardly?
Throughout the 2007 season, the knock against NASCAR from its fan base was that when people curled up on a lazy Sunday, they turned on the television and got 500 miles of lethargy staring right back at them. All too often, side-by-side finishes like the one between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon at Martinsville last spring were juxtaposed with three quarters’ worth of Talladega tedium, in which racing resembled a 200-mph straight-lined version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade — with none of the floats or pizzazz that keep people coming back. Sure, Santa Claus comes through at the very end of the show, but after hours of watching the same monotonous march, are you really going to stick around that long to see him?
“There were times — at the speedways and restrictor plate races — where you’re (just) riding and riding and riding,” said ESPN commentator Rusty Wallace, referencing an eerie comfort level among the top-level drivers in the series that made fans less than comfortable with the current state of the sport.
No matter what Mike Helton or Brian France might tell you, that failure to push the envelope is a noticeable problem. In fact, they’ve got their own letters of warning signed, sealed and delivered from a group of anxious TV networks worried about a second straight season of ratings decline.
So, what’s at the root of it all? The answer appears simple — better safe than sorry. In a sport where drivers are supposed to make the rules, it’s the rules that are bending the drivers into submission, turning a culture based on aggression into one that may have mistakenly concluded ‘racing’ and ‘conservative’ go hand-in-hand.
THE SAFETY CULTURE
NASCAR has been criticized from all angles of late, but if there’s one constant where it has escaped the damnation, it’s in the arena of keeping drivers safe. Only one Cup driver, Ricky Rudd, missed significant time due to injury in 2007, and no one has been seriously hurt since Jerry Nadeau’s crash at Richmond in 2003. This decade, no series has done more to make the cars safer for the men behind the wheel. This process began only through the tragic death of a driver, the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Nicknamed the Intimidator, Earnhardt’s fears in racing were simply that he was never going fast enough. Throwing caution to the wind, he had no problem speeding to 76 wins and seven titles. But on Feb. 14, 2001, he ran into one opponent he just couldn’t outrun.
Seven years after the man most thought was invincible proved to be all too mortal, the Intimidator’s legacy now extends far beyond the record books. While some modern initiatives had started before Earnhardt’s untimely passing, there’s no doubt his tragic crash on the last lap at the 2001 Daytona 500 clearly accelerated that process.
“It really woke everybody up,” says Wallace of that fateful day. “When we lost (other drivers), a lot of people said this just had to be a fluke. But then, we lost Dale Sr. and we went, ‘Oh my God, the sport has really lost one of the biggest stars and there absolutely is a problem.’”
Earnhardt’s death followed that of the Busch Series’ Adam Petty, Cup’s Kenny Irwin and Truck Series driver Tony Roper — all killed in wrecks one year earlier. That four-pronged hit at the sport’s top levels struck when many of today’s drivers were impressionable youngsters rising through the ranks. After a relative lull in NASCAR fatalities, it was an eerie reminder of the risk they took once they strapped on their belts every Sunday. As drivers made their ascendancy from relative unknowns to booming superstars throughout 2001 and ’02, their own safety was suddenly an issue; after all, these weren’t unknown drivers losing their lives — they were friends.
“I swear that never enters into a driver’s mind while he’s driving,” Wallace says about the fear of death. “The drivers are nervous … but as far as when they’re in the car, it just completely goes away.”
However, Wallace is old school, from the Earnhardt and Rudd generation of hard knocks. Wallace flipped end-over-end at Talladega in 1993 and broke his hand, only to suit up and drive in the next race. Rudd actually was so desperate to race, he taped his eyes open in order to run the 1984 Daytona 500.
Notice, though, that Rudd stepped out of the car last September with a separated shoulder, in a different place in his life when it comes to risk versus reward. You talk to drivers like Johnson, the 2007 Nextel Cup champ, and you realize that mentalities around the circuit may have changed.
“Yeah, all the time,” says the Nextel Cup champion of the fear he sometimes feels during the race. “That’s something I’ve seen a lot lately. There certainly are times when I’m in the car and things are going wrong and I am scared. It’s going to hurt. You can get hurt, and those things go through my head.”
Of course, Johnson knows the consequences of wrecking firsthand. One of his best friends in racing, Blaise Alexander, was killed in the fall of 2001 during a wreck at Lowe’s. That was also the same weekend Johnson made his first start in the Cup Series, a chilling reminder about the blurry line that exists in this sport between who makes it and who doesn’t.
“The scariest thing that still hovers out there is hitting a wall at close to 200 miles an hour, driver’s side first,” says Wallace. “And fire.”
Fiery fear has led to NASCAR doing everything in its power to prevent the Earnhardt nightmare from happening again. Several fixes have indeed gone on to markedly improve the safety of drivers. For example, the HANS Device, a head-and-neck restraint system mandated by the sport since 2002, has been credited by many as saving them from serious injury. The installation of soft walls at tracks has also transferred a large degree of energy from the driver to the car, tearing up more sheet metal and not the men behind the wheel.
However, in its safety crusade, NASCAR seems to have literally thrown caution to the wind. Yellow flags — once only used as an absolute necessity — are now waved for anything as simple as a small piece of metal lying on the apron of the track, out of harm’s way. The rate of cautions in races has gone up significantly this decade, with more questions than answers surrounding the level and consistency of their use.
“To me, it’s about the integrity of the sport, and when I feel our own sanctioning body isn’t taking care of that, it’s hard to support them,” Tony Stewart said following the Phoenix event last year. NASCAR forced a retraction of his statement soon after, but his accusations were what many had been afraid to state for years.
In truth, some debris cautions do have legitimate safety concerns behind them; a piece of metal can rupture a tire at lightning speed. Throughout a race, so much falls off these cars — and out of the stands — that debris cautions could be called at any time. Rupturing the consistency of the race, they affect outcomes of long green flag runs — while arbitrarily inflating lead changes in the process.
CONSERVATISM IN A BOX
Something that won’t be arbitrary this season is the full-time use of NASCAR’s ultimate safety fix — the Car of Tomorrow. Making its debut last March, the new car was built around the concept of safety first, leading to a list of landmark advancements.
“NASCAR really stepped out and said, ‘Well we’re going to go further yet and make this racing safer yet,’” says Wallace. “Taller, wider, impact-resistant foam, wide seats … They definitely took the Car of Tomorrow to the next step.”
There’s only one problem; in its rush to put a safer product on the track, NASCAR ignored the car’s real purpose: how it would compete. With a new rear wing and a front end splitter designed to provide both downforce and support, it has instead raised questions as to just how much safety should affect competition.
“It doesn’t have much front end travel,” says Kurt Busch of the new CoT. “That front splitter hits the ground way too soon, and so the rear is sitting there bouncing around like it normally does. But the front is so restricted by its movement, it makes it very difficult to drive. And if a car’s tough to drive, we’re not going to run side by side as much.”
What it’s also done is aid the “aero push,” the by-product of aerodynamically sleek stock cars running up against each other with too much downforce. It’s a problem the CoT was supposed to eliminate, but instead it has made the phenomenon worse.
“I used to go to the race track with lift,” says Wallace. “I’ll never forget going to Daytona (in the late 1980s). I went to Daytona with 100 pounds of lift in the front and 100 pounds of downforce in the back and it was one of the best-handling cars I ever had.
“Now, the car’s got close to 1,000 pounds of downforce.”
That’s caused frustration, in no uncertain terms, for the men for whom the CoT was made.
“My car pretty much sucks from unloading it to loading it back up,” says Kyle Busch. “We work on it and try to make it better, but never really get it the way you want it.”
“In the past, the cars weren’t as competitive as they are, so the little things, you didn’t notice as much,” says Jeff Burton. “The reason we notice them now is all the cars run so close to the same speed.”
That result is more in tune with adjustability than anything. With NASCAR so focused on making the cars generic enough that they can be assured of basic safety controls, it has forgotten to give teams the tools needed to make the cars better or worse.
“You build this rules package and you make everything the same aerodynamically and they give you so little stuff to adjust … it’s just the closer they are to the same speed, the harder it’s gonna be to pass,” says Matt Kenseth.
“That’s easy to figure out. If everybody is running the same speed, how are you gonna pass?”
RACING FOR POINTS, NOT PRIDE
These safety innovations come four years following another modern NASCAR contraption, the Chase for the Championship.
The playoff format, introduced in 2004, has always been controversial, but even with all its tweaks, the points scored during the stretch resemble the same system NASCAR has had in place since 1975. Under that format, consistency proved to be the key to success, and the Chase has proved to be the same. Only once in four seasons has the driver winning the most races during the Chase won the title. Johnson was the first to accomplish that feat in ’07. Usually, the opposite is true. In fact, Stewart won the Chase title in 2005 without winning a single race during the postseason.
“In the old format, you were penalized for having bad races, just like you are in this format,” Jeff Burton says. “The key to winning the championship in the old format was running well. The key to being in the Chase is running well. So the performance hasn’t changed, but the pressure to (get in championship contention) is higher today.”
That pressure comes by virtue of a 26-race regular season in which drivers fight to be one of 12 eligible for a shot at the title.
The format makes one quarter of the starting field title contenders; it’s a major difference from years past, in which three to five drivers would usually find themselves in realistic contention. That has many teams thinking differently during the regular season — their strategies revolving around the equivalent of a complicated math problem.
“You have to make every lap, every race is a calculated risk,” says Burton. “With the situation I’m in, what risk am I willing to give?”
In the regular season, that apparently means running conservatively.
“In race four, I’m sure as hell not going to wreck trying to pass a guy for eighth when I’m running ninth with 10 laps to go,” says Carl Edwards. “You’ve got to think of the big picture. That’s just how it is when you’re racing for points.”
What of the little guy, you ask? Surely, the underdogs will go all out for 500 miles, trying to prove to sponsors and competitors alike they belong.
But in the past few years, NASCAR rules force even backmarkers to concentrate on just bringing it home in one piece. Fighting for a coveted exemption for the top 35 cars in owner points, the DNF is now a dreaded killer. Being forced to qualify on speed each week — and facing your sponsors when you fail to make the field — is a lot less enticing than coming to the track knowing you’re in the show. So, these teams play it safe, running just well enough to keep their exemption until the following week rather than taking a chance and letting it all hang out, even when you’re running well.
“Our first goal was to get back in the top 35 in points, so I had to take care of the car all day,” says Dave Blaney, who was driving for bubble-team Bill Davis Racing when he finished third at Talladega. “I didn’t want to do anything to put it in harm’s way. I was way more cautious than I probably wanted to be.”
CHOKING DOWN EMOTION
In August, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kevin Harvick held a war of words on the race track at Watkins Glen. But it wasn’t what the two said to one another that was newsworthy. After the two got involved in a wreck and both felt they were the innocent victim, a verbal barrage of insults ensued that would make your mother blush.
Afterwards, neither got fined, an unprecedented break from an aggressive fining system.
As NASCAR has raised the level of safety this decade, it’s also done so for image-conscious rulemaking in order to push forth marketing appeal as a “family sport.” In the past few years, drivers have lost championship points for saying a cuss word in Victory Lane, been fined for a post-race shove, or suspended due to off-track incidents amounting to little more than a speeding ticket. Personality appears to have fallen by the wayside in favor of political correctness, with financial backers carrying more power than at any time in the sport’s history.
“It’s just a phase in our sport,” says Kurt Busch. “It used to be where you jumped out of your car and had a fight on the back straightaway in the first Daytona 500 ever broadcast on live TV. Nowadays, your sponsor would call you and tell you they’re going to drop you, or your old car owner would call you and say they didn’t like you getting pulled over and getting a harmless traffic ticket. And so those things don’t bode well.”
“It’s more than just NASCAR trying to keep us from tearing each other apart after a race,” adds Johnson, speaking from the standpoint of someone who’s been criticized for starting major melees due to ill-timed driver aggression.
“There are other things and other influences that aren’t fun to experience when the world hates you. And I don’t know many guys that like to go around being booed and being picked on and having that negative media attention on them.”
HOW TO FIX IT
With evidence mounting, you’d think there’s a simple solution to stop the conservative wave facing the sport: fix the rules.
“Give out incentives from leading a certain lap of the race,” proposes Kyle Busch, who claims that the 10-point bonus drivers received in the Chase for winning regular-season races will promote aggression long-term.
“I think you could break down the race tracks in quarters and have more awards to stay on the throttle, give a three- or four-point bonus for running in the top 5 in certain stages of the race,” adds Wallace.
“You could have whoever’s running in the top 5 get more money at the one-quarter point of the race, and halfway through the race you get more, and three quarters of the race, etc.
“Keep them up on the wheel so they’re grinding like hell for the winnings.”
That’ll help, but fixing personalities is also a necessity. Drivers need to say what they feel and do what they think is right at every moment — as the fans seem to see through anything less.
“The winner ain’t the one with the fastest car,” Dale Earnhardt Sr. said. “It’s the one who refuses to lose.”
More than ever, that type of attitude is exactly what NASCAR needs. Otherwise, it will be the fans staying the hell home, not the drivers scared of going too fast.
This ultrasound photo of a fetus "Tebowing" may be the first time anything having to do with Tim Tebow has been inside a woman.
If you look, you can clearly see that the baby is kneeling down, with his/her right fist on his/her head in the perfect Tebowing form.
We're not sure what he's praying for (A healthy trip down the canal? For his mom to stop playing Mozart 22 hours a day? For Tim Tebow not cut off his foreskin?), but this little guy would probably make Tim Tebow proud.
What's also unclear is if this baby is a fan of the Broncos, or is just inspired by Tebow's on-field heroics. Either way, we're pretty sure this baby is going to grow up to be a winner. Even if he can't throw a football.
The father of this baby is John Keller (@JKells1). We don't know who he is or anything about him. But we really like what he made.
Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Landry Jones is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the 2011 Golden Arm Award nominees.
Even though the Sooners lost two potent weapons on offense during the season in wideout Ryan Broyles and running back Dominique Whaley, the Oklahoma offense led by Jones is still averaging 43 points a game.
Jones turned in a huge performance in the annual Red River Rivalry with Texas, throwing for 367 yards and three touchdowns in the Sooners’ win. Jones established a new school record with 505 yards passing against Kansas State this season.
Jones has already topped 4,000 yards with 4,052 yards passing this season with 28 touchdowns. He has three five-TD games passing in 2011.
Article originally published in 2008 Athlon Sports Racing annual
Just 16 years removed from his first go-kart, Martin Truex Jr. has come a long way in the fashion most racers prefer: Fast.
In a family-owned Busch North ride by 2000 that spawned sporadic trips up to the Busch Series, the New Jersey native got the call to drive the Chance2 Chevy for JR Motorsports in 2003. It’s been a fast track to success ever since.
Two Busch titles followed in 2004 and 2005 driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. A promotion to Cup in ’05 came next.
After a breakthrough 2007 season — highlighted by a win at Dover and a spot in the Chase — Truex now sits poised to lead Dale Earnhardt, Inc. into the future without its famous son and Truex’s good friend.
That’s OK with Truex, though. He stepped up admirably in a season of turmoil at DEI and is now ready to “Just go race!”
Athlon Sports’ Matt Taliaferro sat down with Truex after a practice session on a sunny autumn afternoon in Charlotte and found the 27-year-old to be the ultimate combination of old-school, fix-it-yourself short-tracker and new-school, big-money NASCAR driver who is living his dream.
Athlon Sports: Your dad was a Busch North champ and you cut your teeth driving up there — and with him. How proud a moment for you and him was it when you got the call from Chance2 to drive in the Busch Series?
Martin Truex Jr.: It was surreal for me. You know, I remember sitting there just working on my (own) car, building cars to go racing. I was having fun doing what I was doing and I watched the Busch races and the Cup races on the weekends and just dreamed about what it would be like to race with those guys. And the next thing I know I am racing with them and beating them and winning championships. So, it was just cool to get the call, and the way everything went down so quick it was really kind of shocking to me.
So tell me about when you made the transition to Cup in 2004. You’re already on your way to a Busch Series championship that year and DEI enters you into the Atlanta fall race. Now you are on the track with the big boys; intimidating as hell or ‘hell yeah!’?
Hell yeah! It was like, you know you just wanted to do it, and then when I got there and started doing it, you just wanted to win just like it was anywhere else. So it’s no different than when I first got out there racing go-carts. First time I got out there I wanted to win.
The Bass Pro team showed signs of life late in 2006 when you almost won Homestead. You guys got off to a rocky start in 2007 but rebounded with the Nextel Open win, the big Dover win and ran consistently enough down the stretch to earn a Chase spot. What turned the season around?
Nothing. Just good timing. Like you said we got off to a rocky start but we had been fast all year. We had great racecars; my guys were doing a great job for me. And it was like for a while there it seemed that everything that could go wrong would.
Just like it is right now (during the ’07 Chase), you know, we would get a flat tire (and) the caution would come out when we pitted under green. Just anything that you could imagine that could go wrong, went wrong and that is what took us out of finishes.
But we had fast cars and we just kept doing what we knew how to do and then sooner or later the bad luck went away. Things started going the way we needed them to and that was the only difference.
Do you think we will ever see another team like yours that really got it started — as a group — in the Busch Series, stayed there for a couple years, won championships, then made the jump to Cup and now contends for titles? There is a different mindset to building teams now, one where a team rushes a driver through the ranks and sticks him with an experienced crew. You guys did it all together.
Yeah, it doesn’t happen that much anymore. I am not sure why. It’s worked great for us. Obviously, you know, I think when people come into the sport now, there are (more) demands. They have to have success right away to stay around. I don’t think doing it the way we did it is the formula to come in and be successful right away, but I think in the long run it makes you stronger.
The Car of Tomorrow made its plate-track debut at Talladega last October to mixed reactions. What was the quality of racing like from your view?
Sometimes it was wild and crazy like we all thought it would be and sometimes it was mellow. I think the times that it was single file and everyone was riding around the top it was just people being smart and trying to be patient. You know, usually everyone gets yelled at and says that people are driving stupid and being idiots, so a lot of us were being smart and not doing that. Then we got criticized for the race being boring … It’s just one of those deals where you can’t win.
Mark Martin once said that racing within the Chase was one of the most stressful racing conditions that he had ever been subjected to, and coming from Mark Martin, that is saying something. You’ve now been through the rigors of racing in the Chase. Does Chase racing feel the same for you, or is this just going out every week doing the same thing?
It hasn’t been stressful to me at all. We just take it as it comes. We go out there to race and do the best job we can do, and that’s all you can do.
So do you have a different mindset when you go into a weekend during the Chase?
Absolutely not. Not at all.
Junior’s decision and subsequent announcement last June coincided with a hot streak for you that produced four top-3 finishes in five races. Coincidence or statement?
Both. You know, it was a bit of a coincidence because, like I said earlier, we had been running well enough to be able to do that (all season). And it was (another) coincidence that we had been able to do it at that exact time.
You know, finally, the things that we needed to start going right started going right when he made his announcement, which was definitely a coincidence. We weren’t doing anything different by any means. The racing gods looked upon us and quit doing bad things to us, I guess.
Let me ask you what was more special: that first career Cup win at Dover or qualifying for the Chase?
Whoa. I would say the Dover win. You know, that first win, there is nothing like it. It’s great to be in the Chase and all, but that win was part of the reason we are in the Chase. So it’s definitely the win at Dover.
Tony Stewart told us he realized he ‘made it’ when he saw his face on a Coke machine in his hometown. Have you ever had an incident like that were you saw something and said, “Wow, I’m officially here?”
No. You know, I’m happy with the way things are going. I don’t need a sign or a picture to let me know that I’ve made it. I am happy with the way things are going.
I live in Nashville, which has a Bass Pro Shop where I spend too much time and money. I know you have a great love for the outdoors as well. How cool is it that you get to combine your passion for the outdoors and your passion for racing? That would just be the ultimate for me.
Yeah it’s awesome. You know, if I had to pick a sponsor — and just say Bass Pro was never in the mix and was out of the sport — that’s what I would want to be a part of. It’s been a dream come true for me. I got really lucky and just kind of stepped into it and met John (Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops), and they were kind of sponsoring the car when I came in to drive it. We just formed a relationship and it’s been great ever since.
I love hunting and fishing. When I am not here at the racetrack I am doing something that I can support Bass Pro Shop with. So it’s been a dream come true for me. It’s a great relationship.
What is your biggest bass?
My biggest bass? About 8 pounds.
You got me beat by a couple ... I’m still looking for the wall mount. Do you get to fish at all on race weekends around the country?
Sometimes, yeah. Actually the biggest bass I caught was down in Atlanta (at) the first race this year. I went with Ryan Newman on a Saturday after practice in the afternoon and caught some big bass.
You got the Tracker boat and everything?
I got the Nitro Bass Boat. Yep, absolutely.
At the end of a 36-race season are you ready keep racing or go home?
I am ready for a break. Ready to do some hunting. Kick back.
You ever been hunting with Richard Childress?
Nope. But I have been hunting a good bit.
Probably. I don’t know. It’s fun to get some time off and do whatever you want. You have no schedule — hopefully — no schedule to commit to.
I know that your goal every year is to win a championship, to win races. Well now you’ve won races and you have made the Chase. Are there specific tracks, specific events, a specific number in mind that you look at at the beginning of the season?
No, we just tried to be prepared the best we can for all the racetracks, the different types of racetracks. Not put all our eggs in one basket and, you know, just go race!
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina's college football coach was trying to make a case for his team earlier this week and made the following statement: "We may not be LSU or Alabama, but we ain't Clemson."
That didn't sit too well with Clemson Tigers coach Dabo Swinney. After hearing about Spurrier's remarks from a reporter, the Tigers coach proceeded to detroy South Carolina's history and program with lines like "they're never going to be Clemson, and no three game win streak will change that," while giving political answers like "I have a lot of respect for Coach Spurrier."
This isn't the first time Steve Spurrier has irked others around college football. He likes to get a dig in here and there, but no one has ever calmly and completely detroyed one of Spurrier's comments.
A few favorite lines:
"My grandkids won't live long enough to see this turn into a real rivalry."
"We've won more bowl games than they've even been to."
"We got 100 plus more wins than South Carolina. That's reality."
"The best era of South Carolina football is right now. After five years [at South Carolina] coach Spurrier has 35 wins. If I had 35 wins in five years there'd be a new coach here. Because there's a different standard at Clemson than there is at South Carolina."
"Now what do you want to talk about, anything else?"
Well done Dabo. Well done.
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
Brandon Weeden is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the 2011 Golden Arm Award nominees.
Triggering one of the most potent offenses in the land, Weeden has kept the Cowboys in the national title hunt through the season’s final week.
His most brilliant performance this season came during a second-half comeback against Texas A&M with 438 yards passing and two touchdowns. He threw for a school-record 502 yards and four scores in a win over Kansas State.
He has now thrown for more than 4,00 yards and 34 touchdowns in consecutive seasons, despite playing for two different offensive coordinators.
Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Robert Griffin III is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the 2011 Golden Arm Award nominees.
RGIII, as he is known around Waco, is easily the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in football this season. The senior may not be solely responsible for the football resurgence at Baylor, but he is the primary source. His play-making ability has led Baylor to five Big 12 wins — with one game to play — for the first time in history. He tossed a touchdown pass in the final minute to give Baylor its first-ever win over Oklahoma.
Griffin has thrown for more than 3,600 yards this season and 34 touchdowns while getting intercepted just five times. He can frustrate defenses with his legs as well, accounting for 612 yards on the ground so far this season.
Some people in this world are idiots. And Oklahoma fan Matt Lynch is one of them. This weekend Oklahoma State play their bitter inpstate rival Oklahoma in a game known as "Bedlam."
To try and talk trash to a couple of the Oklahoma State stars Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, Matt tweeted out this gem:
As if this wasn't a bad enough joke to begin with, Matt is referencing the tragic plane crash that killed Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, members of the Oklahoma State basketball staff. As you can imagine, trouble ensued for young Matt.
Weeden himself couldn't believe it and tweeted:
And that's when the trouble started. It seems that Matt was like most kids these days and thought that hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet made him free from repercussions for his actions. But he was wrong.
Anyone who knows anything knows that information can be found, if you know where to look. Hence, this tweet:
Here's a hint, if you're going to make a tasteless joke, don't expect to hide in your mom's basement. Shit will rain down on you.
And the shit kept raining as the community college he attended felt they should tweet out their lack of affiliation with their dirt bag student:
And now, Matt's twitter page no longer exists. We also wonder how his parents feel about this. Because everyone who goes to a community college lives with their parents, unless they're, like, 47 and their a working mom who's trying to learn Excel so she can get a job that isn't waitressing.
Anyway, maybe Matt will think twice about spraying his hate-filled crap all over the Internet. I doubt it, but we can only hope.