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Monday, November 23, 2009

2009 Season wraps up at Homestead

The 2009 NASCAR season is one for the record books.

For the first time ever, Jimmie Johnson won an unprecedented fourth consecutive title in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship Sunday when he crossed the finish line in fifth place in the race at Homestead, FL.

Johnson ran a conservative race, at times seeing what the field looked like from near the end of the field of cars. At one time, he fell back to 23rd place, which was flirting with disaster, since his guaranteed championship was dependent on a 27th or better finish.

It didn't take Johnson long, however, to make his way back up the field into the top five where he ultimately crossed the stripes.

The only other contender for the championship, as of the Homestead race, was veteran driver Mark Martin. During his long career, he has come close, but so far, the championship has eluded him. Many thought this was going to be his year. But it wasn't to be.

Despite Martin finishing just 141 points behind the four-time champion, Martin didn't complain. He had a dream season, after coming back from semi-retirement into a car owned by Rick Hendrick, with a team he worked well with. Martin and his crew chief Alan Gustafson enjoyed five wins during the '09 season. Martin seemed to revel in the fun he was having being a full-time racecar driver again.

Past-champion Jeff Gordon achieved third in the points ranking, finishing 169 points behind Johnson. The top three winners are teammates at Hendrick Motor Sports giving owner Rick Hendrick a trifecta in the points standings.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is also a Hendrick teammate, but the sports' most popular driver who is the son of Dale Earnhardt who was killed in a crash at Daytona in 2001, did not make the chase this year. Earnhardt, Jr. finished the final race in 28th place, giving him a ranking of 25th in the points standings.

Denny Hamlin won the race at Homestead, giving him a boost in the points ratings to eighth place.

Nationwide Series

In the Nationwide Series, Kyle Busch finished off his stellar season by winning the final race and taking home the championship trophy. Busch was nearly unstoppable as he enjoyed nine trips to Victory Lane.

Carl Edwards came close with five wins during the regular season, but finished 210 points behind the leader after the final race Saturday at Homestead.

Both drivers ran dual programs—in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series.

Camping World Truck Series

In NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series, Kevin Harvick was the big winner. Harvick is an owner/driver. As a driver, he won the race. As an owner, his driver won the championship.

Not only did he drive his own truck to victory, but he enjoyed celebrating with his driver, Ron Hornaday, that series' champion for the fourth consecutive season.

The only other contender for the title in that race was second-place driver Matt Crafton who finished 215 points behind.

Season's end

The final checkered flag at Homestead marked the end of the 2009 season, though already plans are underway by the various race teams to prepare for the 2010 season. It will start at Daytona with the 52nd running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 14, 2010--just 81 days from now.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NASCAR must cope with Talladega

No other race track on NASCAR's 36-race circuit gets as much publicity as the Talladega Super Speedway in Talladega, Alabama. While it is one of NASCAR's most popular tracks, what is being said is far from good news.

NASCAR's present controversy surrounding safety at last Sunday's race on the high-banked oval, has ramped up along with race speeds, of about 200 mph. Two cars went airborne in separate accidents in what Talladega fans refer to as the inevitable "big one.”

In the closing laps of the race, Ryan Newman's #39 went backwards into the air, back-flipped onto the hood of the #29 car driven by Kevin Harvick, skidded upside down into the wall, where it rolled and pirouetted several times, finally coming to rest in the grass, on its roof. Radio silence immediately after the crash added to the heart-stopping action as emergency workers hurried to aid the driver. The top of the roof had to be cut off to gain access. Race cars were stopped seemingly in their tracks, on the field in a red flag condition. Silence fell over the grandstands while safety crews righted Newman's car. He emerged sore, but uninjured.

Then on the last lap, veteran driver Mark Martin's #5 car, bumped from behind, rolled over, righted itself again, enabling him to simply get out and walk away. A dozen other cars were involved. Newman's wreck took out five.

Talladega in the spring

Sunday's race was reminiscent of last spring when 17-year old Blake Bobbitt suffered a broken jaw after a crash that caused parts of a crumpled race car to hurl toward her through the fence. This too, was in the last laps of the race as the #99 car driven by Carl Edwards was bumped from behind. His car went airborne just as Newman was racing to the checkered flag along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Edwards' car flew into Newman's windshield, which propelled it higher and into the fence. The fence held, but debris shot through it, hitting Bobbitt in the face. Several other fans were injured as well, though not severely.

Following the spring crash, Newman, one of the only drivers with an engineering degree, made an impassioned plea for work on the design of the cars to ensure they stay on the ground. Ironically, it was Newman's car that left the ground on Sunday, the very next trip to Talladega.

NASCAR controversy

Part of the controversy surrounding racing at Talladega involves NASCAR as a sanctioning body. Supporters laud NASCAR's safety innovations and rules that were evident by Newman walking away from such a horrific wreck. There are also the detractors. Some claim NASCAR needs to do more to ensure driver safety. Others want the many rules repealed.

Commentator Larry McReynolds was the first to say that perhaps NASCAR has made too many rules.

NASCAR has mandated the design of the cars, to take away any aerodynamic advantage for race teams. The race car is in its first full year. Known as the COT (car of tomorrow), it was developed over a few years. It is anything but a stock car, which is what NASCAR, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing stands for. The inspiration for the COT car was safety.

Another NASCAR mandate is to slow the engines at super speedway tracks—Talladega and Daytona. A restrictor plate is used to limit the engine's horsepower by decreasing the amount of air that flows through the carburetor.

The draft, when one car tucks up tightly to another, manipulates the air flow over both, has become a product of restrictor plate racing, however. Drafting, reduces the drag of the first car, resulting in more speed. Another product is bump drafting, which is a push from the second car to propel the first forward. It must be done squarely, or it can turn the car, causing disastrous consequences. It has long been prohibited in the corners, but just hours before Sunday's race NASCAR officials said bump drafting in the corners would bring driver penalties.

NASCAR has also banned driving below the yellow line, between the racing surface and the apron, if it means advancing a position. This rule contributed to the crash in the spring. Brad Keselowski refused to drive his #88 car below the yellow line. Had he done so and finished first, the infraction would have cost him the win. So when Edwards tried to block a hard-charging Keselowski. Edwards' car went flying. Keselowski won the race.

Potential mayhem results in boring racing

Talladega is known for spectacular wrecks. To avoid the potential mayhem on each lap, drivers have elected to just ride around for most of the race until it is time for a mad sprint toward the finish line in the last few laps. Until then, cars are lined up in one long line, nose-to-tail, much like rush hour traffic on a busy interstate, but at speeds teasing 190 mph. NASCAR fans complain that the race has become boring, except for the spectacular endings and "the big one" for which restrictor-plate racing has become known.

Just driving during a race adds another element in NASCAR's controversy corner.

Three-time champion Jimmy Johnson has been criticized for running at the back of the pack for the entire race. Diehard NASCAR fans have little patience for a champion that plays the strategy game in a race.

Johnson finished sixth, earning enough points to all but ensure a likely fourth consecutive title.

Should a championship race car driver be respected for playing the smart and safe strategy or chastised for hiding out at the back of the pack?

Newman's remarks

After Newman was released from the in-field care center Sunday, his remarks added fuel to the controversy.

"It's just a product of this racing and what NASCAR has put us into with this box and these restrictor plates with these types of cars," Newman said. "The more rules, the more NASCAR is telling us how to drive the race cars, the less we can race, and the less we can put on a show for the fans."

"I will go back in the day, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, all those guys, they respected each other. In the end there were some big accidents, but geez, we don't need the cars getting upside down like this. This is ridiculous." Newman said, adding that there is technology available that can help. He said it was a shame that not more is being done.

With three races left in the season, NASCAR will likely have to spend some of the off-season dealing with issues associated with restrictor-plate racing at Talladega, such as long periods of single-file racing, keeping the COT cars from going airborne, a review of rules, fan discontent, and the ever present driver safety.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ryan Newman wreck in Sprint Cup race at Talladega

Something must be done about Spring Cup races at Talladega Super Speedway. For the second time this year, Ryan Newman has looked death in the eye. Thankfully, it blinked.

Newman caught twice at Talladega through no fault of his own
In the spring race, Newman's race car plowed into an already airborne wreck piloted by Carl Edwards. The result was injury to fans as the car flew into the catchfence. Yesterday, close racing resulted in Newman's car spinning around backwards and lifting off the ground, standing vertical and doing numerous pirouettes as it landed on its hood in the infield. Newman was uninjured.

After the first incident, Newman, an engineer was critical of the car, saying that not enough has been done to keep the car on the ground. His point was proven Sunday after this wreck and a last lap wreck that turned Mark Martin's car onto its roof only to be righted again. Several other race car drivers were also caught up in the melee.

Carnage excluded, racing at Talladega was boring

These horrific wrecks occurred in the last laps of the race. The rest of the race, prior to these incidents, resembled the stereotypical non-NASCAR fan description of a NASCAR race--a bunch of guys driving in a circle making left turns. Watching the race was like sitting on an interstate watching traffic funnel through a construction zone. That isn't fun!

Both the fly-through-the air wrecks and single-file, half-throttle, traffic-resembling display are poor examples of good racing.

NASCAR's answers are 'make new rules'

Perhaps NASCAR's answer to all things, "make more rules" is the wrong answer. Ryan Newman was angry after he had to be cut out of his race car. He reminded the viewing audience of his remarks following the spring race at Talladega, about doing something to keep the cars on the ground. He said they never go through the wind tunnel backwards in their tests, stating that perhaps they should. Newman is right. This wasn't Talladega racing as it has typically been. If as commentators claim, the technology has gotten away from us, then let's do what Newman suggests--use technology to our advantage to make the racing better. This is a problem to be solved by engineers, not the decision-making body.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

NASCAR should inspire competition

I know, I know. I haven't written anything for a while--not since the Fontana, CA or Charlotte, NC races. But I'm not just a NASCAR fan, I'm a writer too. I write when I'm inspired. And frankly, there just wasn't much to say about those two races. They were not only boring, but they were predictable. Those are two words that should never be uttered about a competitive endeavor like a race.

It is somewhat sad that two wins by the three-time champion doesn't invoke enough desire to write about the results of two consecutive races. But that is just the way it is. Blame it on Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief.

Chad Knaus is perhaps too good at his job. He figures out just what Jimmie Johnson's #48 Chevy needs for optimum speed and handling. This allows Johnson to wheel it across the finish line while everyone else in the field struggles with the car's balance that ultimately affects its handling and thus its speed.

Perhaps it is Chad Knaus and the job he does that has contributed to NASCAR losing its luster. The empty seats at several tracks are not lost on the fans. And I doubt the only factor is the economy. Someone should do a study to determine how many NASCAR fans watch only the last 100 laps of a race. I bet the ratings would look better than for those who tune in for the entire event.

I personally don't want to miss one lap. I time bathroom trips to the commercials. And God knows there are enough of those--commercials, not bathroom trips.

Since the NASCAR-controlled COT (car of tomorrow) as it was called prior to today, came onto the scene full time, racing has lost some of its competitive edge that made it the most fun to watch. It is sad when fans have to rely on poorly designed tires, dangerous wrecks, or stupid rookie mistakes to make the races exciting.

The outcome of the races no longer seem to be reliant on the drivers, especially on the cookie-cutter tracks. Now they are reliant on who can tweak the COT the best. Knaus obviously wins that race hands down. But is it right?

This will likely not be the case this weekend at Martinsville, VA. Here, we will likely see a great race where drivers' skill comes into play, as it should.

I can't help but add that since Ryan Newman won the pole in qualifying Friday, I can't wait to tune in to watch every lap of this one.

Friday, October 9, 2009

California Dreaming

I've resisted talking about the last race at Kansas. It was hard to watch Ryan Newman struggle from his 30th place start only to finish 22nd. Toward the end of the race he was doing much better, but time seemed to run out.

This seems to happen quite often to this team. From fastest in practice, to 30th place to losing two places in the championship points standings.

The #39 team may not show consistent results, but there is consistency in the effort that goes into it.

I continue California dreaming since that is the next race in the circuit. It is not Newman's favorite track as he has stated many times. Mine either because the race can be flat-out boring.

Newman's qualifying run got shuffled into a 37th starting spot, but as he was 8th fastest in practice, I'm looking for a happy Happy Hour. And there is always the chance that the car will be fast at the start of the race.

Since this is California, I have a crocheting project all lined up and ready to go, so I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be.

Go Ryan!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Newman remains in 7th position

I was only mildly in-tune to Sunday's race at Dover. My husband and I had out-of-town company. Although we all watched, it wasn't with the intensity that I generally devote to race day.

Still, I saw enough to appreciate the high points.

I was certainly glad to see Joey Lagano walk out of that hideous crash. Wow!

Chalk up another win for Jimmy. But Mark Martin remains at the top of the points standings. This could be the year for him.

And chalk up another top 10 for Ryan Newman. It is always nice to watch Newman lead laps. It felt really good to watch him in the lead with Kurt Busch behind him. It really brought back great memories. I had hoped for a better finish for Newman, as did he, from what I understand, but he was able to maintain his points standing -- at 7th.

I cannot believe we are only 7 more races til the end of the season. I'm trying not to think about it. So, on to Kansas.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mark Martin wins at Loudon

Two races in one
Sunday's race at Loudon, NH was one of the most exciting Cup races I've seen in some time. There was even a little drama as some of the drivers seemed to be very aggressive.

It seemed there were actually two races in one. One was a typical race with 43 drivers, but the other -- the championship race with only 12 competitors -- was really the one to watch.

The top 12 drivers in stock car racing competed in a knock-down, drag-out race to the finish. There was no hanging back in a comfortable spot clocking laps, measuring time. Instead there was a real effort by each of the dozen to pass as many cars as possible to get to the front of the field. There seemed to be almost a frenzy to do so. It is clear that each and every one of these drivers want to win the championship, and wants it badly. And if this race is any indication of the good racing we will see in the coming weeks, certainly count me in.

Congratulations to a very contented Mark Martin. Martin is probably not second-guessing his return from the lap of retirement, fleeting as it was. Martin is old enough to own an AARP card, but mature enough to show the younger race car drivers how to get it done.

Martin was able to maintain and improve his points lead. And it doesn't hurt to enjoy the momentum of winning the first race of the 10-race championship shoot-out.

Martin is probably lucky that three years ago, he acted as a mentor for Juan Pablo Montoya. The respect Montoya has for Martin may be the reason Montoya didn't run Martin over. I was a little surprised at how aggressive Montoya has been. He seemed to plow through the field, not letting anyone stand in his way.

Denny Hamlin was very aggressive, and it earned him a 2nd place finish. David Reutimann was aggressive, but all he got for his trouble was a tongue-lashing from Dale Earnhardt Jr., whom he tangled with and Ryan Newman who escaped a potential melee.

Hello Newman
Speaking of Newman, he had a great 7th place finish that resulted in a jump of three spots to 7th in the points standings. Way to go Ryan! Newman said in a post-race interview that had it not been for the incident between Reutimann and Earnhardt, which cost him four spots, he would have had a better finish.

Newman passed cars all day long, as did boss man Tony Stewart, who pulled out a 14th place finish after his long pitstop to tighten a loose axle-cap. The long pitstop was needed to tighten the thing; it took Stewart's potentially-winning race car out of contention.

Kurt Busch did an admirable job as well, wheeling his car into 6th place with its face crushed in during a pit road incident.

Kasey Kahne got the rawest deal of all as his car's engine blew up less than 100 laps into the race. He is now in the 12th spot in the standings.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Championship Prediction

I am going out on a limb, to make a prediction for the 2009 Sprint Cup Championship. It will either be Tony Stewart or Mark Martin. Anything can happen in the next ten races, and probably will.

Tony Stewart is, in my opinion, probably the best driver on the track. He can drive anything, as evidenced by his recent successive win at his own race track, earning top points in the regular season, and cruising into Victory Lane three times. Stewart has really come into his own this year. There is something different about his temperament, his attitude, and what seems to be a new approach to racing as an owner/driver. He has already won a championship, so he knows how to get it done. Winning this time, in his new status as owner/driver would be like winning it for the first time. Stewart's being top in points is acknowledgement for his ability to get it done.

Besides, I'm partial to Stewart-Haas Racing because Stewart's teammate Ryan Newman is my favorite driver. Nothing would please me more than for Ryan to win the championship, but realistically, as much as that would be the greatest thing, I don't see it happening. Winning a race in this next series of races is certainly within the realm of possibility, however.

Mark Martin winning the championship would be an ideal scenario. This goal has long eluded him. It is the one thing he has not achieved in his long and storied career. This could be the time. Mark knows how to get it done. He has proven himself in the regular season with four trips to Victory Lane. He is happy with his race team and with himself. It would be really nice to see it happen for him.

Mark Martin is a genuinely nice man. I feel a sort of kinship to him, since by about 100 miles, he is my neighbor. And, I've visited his museum where he stores his immense number of trophies, cars, and other racing memorabilia.

I also expect a win or two from outside the Chase for the Championship from Kyle Busch. Kyle has something to prove since he was squeezed out of the chase this year. And, I suspect he will come back in fighting form.

To see the results of the Race for the Chase, check out the following:
NASCAR Chase Decided

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NASCAR Race to the Chase

Could it be that I actually slept better last night, after watching the satisfying conclusion of NASCAR's race to the chase at Richmond?

A good outcome

Except for a few glitches, the outcome of the race was very satisfying.

My own personal satisfaction

Ryan Newman overcame immense obstacles to make the Chase. I have chronicled some of them in this blog. I predicted he would accomplish his goal to make the chase early in the year. I never gave up, because he never gave up.

Over the course of this season I have heard Ryan's voice on the radio exhibit frustration and anger, that accompanies falling short, being victimized by Lady Luck, or a bad-handling race car, or making an uncharacteristic mistake.

I've heard him sound defeated, exhausted, and sickened.

But I've heard the exhilaration and hope that comes from a job well done. I've seen him place in the top 10 with a car capable of running no better than the 20th spot.

It was quite satisfying -- to hear the sound of Ryan's voice following the Richmond race, the happy banter between he and Crew Chief Tony Gibson as the last lap pass that put Ryan into 10th place in the race.

There was no doubt that this race was adrenalin-driven, perhaps even more so than usual. That translated to the fans. Not only was there a race to watch, but for me, it was also the numbers element. I watched the performance of each of the drivers around the latter end of the top 12 on the leader board.

I didn't see qualifying, but when I learned that Ryan was to start 21st, I was nervous. It was said that he'd have to finish 16th to remain in the chase. But as I watched, I realized that figure was meaningless. It failed to take the other drivers' performance into account. I soon realized this would not be as difficult as predicted.

Other goals were achieved

Denny Hamlin won his first race at his home town track.

Tony Stewart accomplished greatness, both as a team owner and driver this year. Not only did he win the points battle overall, but both of his cars made the chase in Stewart-Haas Racing's first season.

Mark Martin had a great night -- and a great season. He is genuine when he says this is the best season of his career. He has worked very hard and done very well.

Juan Pablo Montoya accomplished his 3-year goal.

Brian Vickers worked his butt off to make the chase this year. And he did it, by just 8 points.

Not everyone had a good night

It was not a satisfying race for Matt Kenseth or Kyle Busch.

Matt Kenseth had no preconceived notions about this race. His team had not been performing well all season. While he had a few good runs, he had more that were not. He is a past champion and certainly championship caliber. So, he knows what he has to do in the future.

Kyle Busch was a gentleman about his near miss. He finished eight points out. That fact paled in comparison to the good run he had that caused him to finish in the top five. I admit being surprised by his reaction. The Kyle Busch we saw a few months ago would not have been so genial about his loss. This was good to see.

Will the Sprint Cup Champion be the Best of the Best?

It is entirely possible that the new champion may be one who has not won a race. So the burning question that must be asked, however: With four wins this season, why isn't Kyle Busch in contention for the Sprint Cup Championship? There are those who believe that the championship should be based on wins, not some arbitrary points system.

This debate will likely rage on just as it did in 2003 when Kenseth became the Champion with one win while Ryan Newman won eight races.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Atlanta race outcome dictated by tires

Sunday's race in Atlanta was not a good race. There was certainly no shortage of action, but it was not the kind of action that is indicative of good racing.

Goodyear Tires

The real excitement came from the points battle. And of course there was the potential for crashes, due to so many poor-handling race cars on a track with no grip. Hmm, it isn't the track that lacked grip, it was the tires.

So here was another race, where the outcome was dependent on which team could best deal with the tires they were given. That doesn't make for good racing.

So why can't teams choose their own tires? Why can't they modify their own cars? Why can't NASCAR stop dictating every variable? Next, they will institute a height and weight limit for drivers.

Return to southern roots

It was very nice to see a night race at Atlanta. And NASCAR was wise to bring the Labor Day Race back to the south.

Dodge seems to have made a comeback

It was very interesting that Dodge seemed to prevailed in this race, with not only the run by Kasey Kahn, but Juan Pablo Montoya. Perhaps the problems that plagued Dodge last year have been resolved.

Tony Stewart

Stewart took no unnecessary chances, but then he didn't need to. He had an ill-handling car, so why wreck it -- especially since fixing it now comes out of his own pocket. Stewart and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing can hold their heads really high. No one expected so much out of these two teams. They have far exceeded expectations.

Ryan Newman

It was another frustrating night as Newman turned his lemon-like race car into lemonade with another top 10 finish. He crossed the stripes in 9th, even after struggling the entire race with an ill-handling race car again. Tires seemed to be the problem, as each set seemed to provide inconsistent results.

Under enormous pressure, Newman ran in the 20-somethings for most of the race, when it counted most he got-er-done!

Newman seems to be in a pretty good place in the points, despite a loss of two spots in the standings -- moving from 7th to 9th. With another top 10 finish at Atlanta, he can feel good about the final race before the Chase at Richmond, one of his favorite racetracks. Still, his position is not locked in and anything can happen. But as long as he finishes in the top 16, he will be guaranteed a place in the Chase.

Kasey Kahne

Congratulations to Kasey Kahne who had a great day.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick came oh so close. He should have had an Atlanta sweep. Congratulations for his stellar job in Saturday's Nationwide Race.

Ray Evernham & Erin Crocker

The two were married recently. Congratulations to the happy couple.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Great race at Bristol Motor Speedway

As expected, another good race at Bristol. I'd like to make several observations:

Congratulations to Mark Martin who started his 1000th race tonight at Bristol. As an Arkansan, I am very proud of Mark. The pre-race show on Speed that told his story was moving. Mark drove a great race tonight. He led the most laps and came so close. His second place finish is nothing at all to be ashamed of. It is just too bad he couldn't have made it to the front one last time.

Congratulations to Kyle Busch, who seemed a little bit humbled (even if it was an act, I am buying it). He pulled off a great win tonight. While he is still not in the chase, it is just a matter of time.

Congratulations to Ryan Newman who proved with his 6th place finish in tonight's race that this week at Bristol had no effect on his precarious 9th points position. It is nice to see him prove this point and to allow me a little 'I told you so' by moving up two spots in the points race - to 7th. Good job Ryan!

Kurt Busch did a magnificent job, finishing in 7th place after all the adversity he had to overcome.

Poor Tony Stewart - did they give him Ryan's race car by mistake? I have a funny feeling that Tony will rebound by winning the next race, or maybe even the next several races or perhaps the championship. Tony can do just about anything. He is that good!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ryan Newman capable of four-peat

I just read a citizen journalist's story that was picked up by a blogger. I refuse to provide the links because no one else should waste their time reading either.

But the headline was:

Ryan Newman could risk NASCAR Chase spot by attempting four races at Bristol

I responded to both posts just as I will respond to this headline here:

That is just baloney! Ryan isn't risking any more by entering other races than he would without them. Bristol is a crapshoot for all the drivers. Staying out of trouble, usually cause by someone else is the real risk. And that has nothing to do with driving in other races. One race has nothing to do with another. Besides two of the races are tonight. One is Friday. How does that affect Saturday night?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sprint Cup Race at Michigan

Whew! What an interesting race. I don't know how much of the actual race I saw. I was so busy monitoring points, positions, and times on's live leaderboard that I probably missed some of the action on the track.

The early part of the race was disheartening as I watched a very frustrated Ryan Newman struggle with an ill-handling racecar. I have to hand it to his crew, however, because they pulled together to get the car drivable again. And the two-tire strategy to get track position was just what the doctor ordered. It was enjoyable to watch Ryan start picking off positions once again. This race could have been a total disaster for him in the points standings, but they pulled it out, leaving him with a no-gain, no-loss scenario. The way this race started today, that is good enough for me. Ryan remains 9th in the points standings. The pressure is really on, however.

A few of my other observations in this race include:
  • Congratulations to Brian Vickers. He deserved to win one. He fought hard, especially when considering his run yesterday when he was so close.
  • If I were Jimmy Johnson, I wouldn't listen to Chad Knaus next time he wants to try the fuel strategy game. Johnson finished 33rd. That marks twice at Michigan that he led most of the laps of the race and came up short at the end.
  • Good run for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. However, even though it has been some time since he ran well enough to gush over, it was disgusting to hear the ESPN guys, especially Andy Petrie rave over how Dale Earnhardt, Jr. could win this race, even though he was running sixth. Yes he was the fastest on the track at the time, but that has happened before only to see him lose it and smack into the wall. Can we not have a little reality check boys? They actually put up a graphic showing Jimmy Johnson, Brian Vickers, and Dale Jr. as the commentators talked about the amount of fuel each had left. Trouble is they were running first, second, and sixth at the time. C'mon! They were practically salivating over the possibility that Jr. could win this race, totally discounting the other drivers ahead of him, not to mention those behind him who could have come from behind to win it. This Dale Jr. thing is just a wee bit sickening!
  • Kyle Busch was not a factor in today's race. And I'll bet he wasn't happy about Vickers' win after the way the two behaved in yesterday's Nationwide race.
  • Poor Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya. They were doing great until lady luck bit them where the sun doesn't shine.
All things considered, that's racin'. So now -- it's on to Bristol.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Nationwide Race at Michigan

I am really becoming a fan of the Nationwide races. They have been fun to watch, and at times, more enjoyable than the Cup races. Ouch! Did I say that?

Today's race at Michigan was no exception, especially the ending. Congratulations to Brad Keselowski, not so much because he won the race, but the way he won it. He just sneaked in there, pretty as you please, pissing off Kyle Busch in the process. It always seems to be a good day when NASCAR's bad boy comes up short.

Funny, I'm really enjoying Kyle -- he has spunk. He's every inch a competitor. He is Popeye's Bluto. I'm waiting for him to tie a competitor to a railroad track or grow a mustache he can twirl. Kyle is necessary to the sport. He brings real life to it. I like how he handles the fans' boos. And, you can't take away from him, the fact that the boy can drive.

I had to laugh when Brian Vickers said he didn't know this was the Kyle Busch show. I really don't like Vickers' style. I saw that little sideswipe he gave to Keselowski as the #88 went around him. I don't think he is a clean racer. He was fast though. And the fact that he kept it out of the wall is certainly testament to his skill. His car was obviously loose, but he ignored it and hung on.

Ryan Newman being in the race is always a draw for me. Ryan had a decent finish. I was hoping for more though. I feel cheated, since I couldn't hear his radio transmissions. Why doesn't NASCAR allow Nationwide races to be on Race Day Scanner too? That would be awesome. Truck races too for that matter.

Tomorrow is going to be a good day - race day!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Race at Watkins Glen

While the road race at Watkins Glen today was anything but boring, it was rather hard to follow. Just by the nature of the race, it is impossible to know where all drivers are at all times and just what they are doing. To be able to comment on 43 drivers, their crews, and 11 different corners all at the same time has proven to be just about impossible for the media.

I am grateful for NASCAR's raceday scanner. I love the technology that allows me to keep track of the #39 car. There were times today, I wish I didn't know what was going on. Ryan Newman was lucky -- in that he didn't lose points today.

From the moment he started the car, there were problems. The alternator was apparently malfunctioning. And although Ryan wanted to have it changed, the process would have been too complex, so batteries were changed instead. For the entire race, Newman ran on less than optimum power. Since there are two batteries in the car, the driver can switch from one to the other. Newman was advised to do that every ten laps. Imagine trying to concentrate on hitting your marks, driving at about 120mph through curves and corners, with 43 other drivers doing the same thing, at the same time as having to play with switches on the dashboard?

Newman also had to turn various fans off and on throughout the course of the race. That includes the fan inside his helmet that keeps him cool. He went through numerous bottles of water -- not just to drink, but to pour on his face and into his fire suit. It was hot today. Most drivers, stopped after the huge wreck on lap 60, complained about the heat because they had to turn off their engines, which meant their fans. In comparison Ryan ran that heat equivalent magnified by the what heat the engine put out for the whole race with only minor relief when he turned on the fans intermittently. The burning fuel also emits fumes.

On top of all that the car was "wicked loose," according to Ryan's radio transmission. I may be mistaken, but it didn't sound to me like there were many adjustments made to the car during its multiple pit stops. Tires, gas, and batteries took up most of the crew's time and attention.

But that is where the luck came into it -- he didn't lose any points in the race for the chase. He remains in 9th position. In fact, he even passed several cars in the final laps of the race.

Other than Ryan Newman's issues, the race was quite eventful. It was good to see Sam Hornish, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton walk away from that crash on lap 60. It was probably the most violent wreck I've seen.

Congratulations to Tony Stewart for a job well done. He ran a pretty much flawless race and it paid off.

Next week is Michigan, Ryan Newman's home track. That can only be good. I wish him well, both on the track and wherever he decides to plant his fishing pole.

Today is race day, again

Well, let's try it again -- Race Day at Watkins Glen -- after it was rained out yesterday.

As much as I love rainy days, and I do love rainy days, how can we get it across to the rain gods that NASCAR races as well as qualifying and practice is off-limits?

Hey, interesting news about Ryan Newman saying races should be shortened. Perhaps he read that here at CH on Track. Sprint Cup Race at Indy was boring

Only kidding. I'm sure I picked up that idea from something Ryan said earlier -- certainly not the other way around. The timing was coincidental however, since I only wrote that post Sunday, July 26 after the Indy race. Then a week later, Ryan said just what I wrote. I'm not fool enough to believe that he was influenced by CH on Track. But what it does prove is that I am in complete agreement with him on many philosophical issues. That is probably why he is my favorite driver.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New race day tradition!

Happy Race Day!

I think I'm going to start a new tradition. Every race day, I am going to watch this video: to serve as inspiration for every upcoming race.

The video is my favorite NASCAR moment -- the 50th running of the Daytona 500 in 2008. Even for those who are not Ryan Newman fans, though I can barely believe anyone would fall into that category, this win was special on so many levels. It is my answer to why I am a NASCAR fan.

It was the first Daytona win for the Captain, Roger Penske, after so many victories seemed to elude him. There was a built in bias favoring whoever won this race because it was the 50th running on the historic racetrack, filled with pomp and ceremony for the entire week preceding it. Has there ever been a better feel-good moment as when Greg Newman, Ryan's father who also serves as his spotter, knew his son was going to win?

As a Ryan Newman fan, I recorded the moment on our Dish Network DVR. All of the interviews were there. I recorded the final laps. I watched often, just to relive that heart-stopping moment when I saw the #12 which I had coveted for several years, cross the finish line in the biggest race of the year. But, our DVR bit the dust. It was all lost. It had been a while since I was able to watch again, until this morning. I just happened to see it, even though I wasn't looking for it. That is when I decided -- for me, a tradition is born.

Good luck today on the road course, Ryan. May you have many more of these moments.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

NASCAR at Pocono

I learned first hand Monday, about the difference between actually being at the track, and watching the race on TV. As a real fan of the sport and all its nuances, I have always considered watching at home to be superior, in terms of following the action, to watch racing from the living room, rather than live from the track. I know the sacrifice is the experience -- the smell of burning rubber and race fuel -- the electricity of being with other fans, and the sense of how fast 205 miles per hour really looks like when a pack of 43 cars whizzes past. But I figured that with the help of commentators, the in-car radio, live leaderboard, and control of the mute button on the remote during mindless talk and endless commercials, generally provides a good picture of what is happening as my favorite driver -- Ryan Newman -- makes his way around the track 200 times.

But, I'm starting to wonder if being there wouldn't provide more of a sense of just what happens. I may never know the other side of the equation, however, because I've never been to a race. I don't see myself going to the track anytime soon, for many reasons, not the least of which is the distance I live from a track.

It appears there was some major action on the track that was completely lost in the shuffle.

All of a sudden, I watched in horror as, with virtually no explanation, Newman, who had been driving in or around the 7th position for most of the day, was suddenly in 28th place. I heard tidbits of an angry Newman on the radio mention the #33 car of Clint Bowyer causing him to hit the wall, but it was never mentioned by the ESPN crew. That is nothing new. They rarely talk about Newman unless he moves mountains. I'm not sure why. He is funny, engaging, and intelligent. Over the years he has gotten more comfortable with a camera too, so he does a good interview. I have to admit that he is less ignored since he is driving for Stewart-Haas racing, but he doesn't get the air time that some of the other drivers do.

It was exciting to watch Newman come from behind to finish 14th. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough since he dropped two positions in the Race for the Chase standings. He is dangerously close to that precarious 12th place cutoff. I'm confident though, that he will not only remain in the top 12, but will better his position. Still, it is a little more pressure, and that is never fun -- for Newman, his team, or his fans.

I'm not sure why his team didn't use one of a couple of different opportunities to lead a lap for the five extra points. That would have put him in eight place with Montoya in ninth, rather than the other way around.

Congratulations to Denny Hamlin. I'm sure his first win of the season was a great comfort, despite his grief over the death of his grandmother.

And how about Jimmy Johnson? It looked like he was done at first, but to go from three laps down to a 13th place finish was nothing short of incredible.

And isn't it nice that we didn't hear much burbling over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I imagine the poor runs he's had of late, at least give him some relief from the mindless gushing he has to endure. I doubt anyone could live up to all he's received.

It seemed as though Juan Pablo Montoya had his mind set on retaliation over being robbed last week, even though from all accounts, it doesn't appear he was robbed. It appears that he attempted to speed on pit road to increase his lead and he got caught. Still, he played the victim, practically running down everyone in his way. It paid off for him because he gained positions in the standings, putting him solidly in 8th place.

All-in-all, waiting for the race at Pocono to finally commence on Monday following Sunday's washout, was worth the wait. It was a sharp contrast to last week's race at Indianapolis, which was boring.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Well, this was a mighty disappointing Sunday afternoon. We were all settled in, getting ready for a great race, ... Mother Nature must not be a NASCAR fan.

Let's hope tomorrow will be an even better day. Bring it on ...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sprint Cup race at Indy was boring

Friday night's Truck race and Saturday's Nationwide race at O'Reilly Raceway Park was great. Not so much for the Sprint Cup race Sunday at the beautiful 100-year old Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In face, the race was b-o-r-i-n-g. And I am an avid race fan.

There was some side-by-side racing, but passing was virtually impossible. Tire wear was not a problem this year -- thank goodness -- due to extensive testing by several teams and folks from Goodyear, but perhaps a few extra cautions -- with double-file restarts -- would have livened things up a little. It is sad that one of the most prestigious tracks on the circuit was home to a dull race. Even the end, because Mark Martin was unable to slip past or even run neck-and-neck with Jimmy Johnson, was not worth watching.

I even felt sorry, for the first time ever, for Juan Pablo Montoya who got robbed by a speeding penalty after he carried almost the entire race single-handedly. I actually wanted him to win because he earned it.

Personally, I'd like to see the COT scrapped. But, if we must be stuck with the COT, and NASCAR wants to keep fans interested, then races should be shortened or super speedways eliminated from the circuit.

There are some bright sides for me, anyway. My favorite driver Ryan Newman maintained his points standing. Tony Stewart, who is now my second favorite driver, had a great run and is probably the 2009 champion, and I got to get some work done on my latest crocheting project.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chicagoland Speedway

Relief may be on the way for Chicagoland fans which indicates there will be a change in how tickets are sold at the Joliet, Illinois race track. It was a fascinating to read for me, especially since I was unaware of the problem. While I used to live near the track, and even watched it being built, I had no idea how tickets were sold. I never attended a race there. Had I still lived in the Chicago area, I certainly would have added my voice to the other disgruntled fans.

It certainly was hard not to notice the empty seats at the Sprint Cup race, one of which could have easily accomodated my butt, had I not been 500 miles away. I had to settle for coverage and commentary from TNT.

Did you know that the track ended up in Joliet only after it was rejected at its original site -- near Peotone -- not far from where the State of Illinois has and continues to try to build a new airport? Read about the Peotone airport at CHBlog. Feel free to peruse the site, but don't expect to find information about the race track. Building the track, predated the blog and its posts.

NASCAR is family entertainment

Whether it is on-track racing, cheering from the stands, or following racing on television, NASCAR is a sport the entire family can enjoy.

For many of the drivers, racing was a big part of their childhood. Ryan Newman for example, began running go-karts around a make-shift racetrack in the parking lot of his father's repair shop when he was barely old enough to walk. Jeff Gordon was one of many NASCAR drivers who raced quarter-midgets, open-wheel cars especially designed for kids between the ages of five and 16. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was weaned at the race track, as his father and grandfather were race car drivers before him. Like many professions, racing and turning wrenches is generational. Following in father's footsteps is traditional. And NASCAR's traditions are deeply rooted.

Parents can rest assured that NASCAR does not condone alcohol or drug use by drivers or team members. In fact, the sanctioning body of the sport recently suspended a driver -- Jeremy Mayfield -- indefinitely, for failing a drug test. While there is some question about the activity of some of the spectators who drink to excess and may behave inappropriately, that is not the fault of the sport. And that can occur in any sports venue. Unfortunately, bad behavior is reality. Children are to be protected from it and educated about it, not isolated.

Children and parents can look up to NASCAR drivers who are some of the most fan-friendly figures of any sport. Though drivers are similar to other celebrities, they are probably the most accessible to fans. They know that racing is a spectator sport. And they often refer to racing as 'a show.' Drivers participate in autograph sessions and fan-appreciation days, as well as just mingling at the track where they can get up close and personal with those who admire them or follow their careers.

There is no doubt that NASCAR drivers are well-paid, but they put their money to good use as most drivers engage in philanthropic efforts. That makes them good role models for kids. Many drivers give back as they contribute to worthy causes, such as that which was started by Kyle and Patti Petty -- the Victory Junction, a children's camp that enriches the lives of kids with chronic health conditions. It was built in honor of the Pettys' son Adam. It was Adam's dream to build such a camp, but he was killed in a race-related accident in 2000. His parents built the camp to fulfill their son's dream.

The Pettys are not the exception. NASCAR drivers and team owners are regular contributors to philanthropic organizations. Just a few of the many foundations started by those involved with NASCAR include: race team owner Richard Childress and his wife Judy, who have started the Childress Institute for pediatric trauma; The Dale Jr. Foundation founded by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. focuses on youth resources to improve confidence, education and the opportunity to achieve; The Denny Hamlin Foundation works to ease the suffering of children with pediatric cancer and cystic fibrosis; the Jeff Gordon Foundation supports children battling cancer; the Ryan Newman Foundation educates and encourages the spay/neutering of pets and encourages adoption from animal shelters as well as teaching the importance of conservation. In addition to their own foundations focused on interests personal to them, many other activities include charity motorcycle and snowmobile rides, fishing tournaments, and many others.

Sports, like life has pros and cons about them. Yes, race car driving is dangerous. People have been killed and badly hurt, but that can also happen on the road in front of your house. In a family context, sports can be a good teaching tool for children. By observing sports-related activities, kids learn lessons that they can use throughout their lives. They learn competition, how to win and how to lose, teamwork, and a myriad other benefits that help them grow into healthy, competent adults. The lessons are all there. But sometimes it takes an observant parent to point them out. But isn't that what parents are for?

Racing at Richmond

originally written May 21, 2009
There is nothing like short track racing under the lights. Richmond, Virginia was host this weekend on May 1 and 2, to the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup series races.

A race at Richmond offers drivers and fans a back-to-basics kind of racing that is a favorite among them. It often reminds some of the sports' premier drivers of their own humble beginnings when they began their racing career on a neighborhood short track.

The weekend culminated with the Sprint Cup race, NASCAR's top series, where the drivers are arguably the best in the country. The Richmond International Raceway is a D-shaped oval with fourteen-degrees of banking in the turns and room for more than 112,000 fans. Sprint Cup cars are engineered to exact standards, using precision tools and years of innovation, not to mention millions of development dollars. Race teams hire pit crew members which consists of the best and most consistent in their field.

These refinements are in direct contrast to local dirt-track racing where race cars often begin as junkers, but are artfully transformed in a garage, backyard, or carport by men who turn wrenches for fun. Usually on a shoestring budget, they work hard to enter a local race, where they can earn enough in winnings to buy more or better parts to improve on what they have. Despite the sharp contrast, there is an element of similarity in the feel of a professional race at Richmond and those amateur Saturday night venues.

Short-track racing is a fan favorite as it offers close side-by-side racing, passing, and the proverbial 'beatin' and bangin' that has come to be expected at a track like Richmond.

Drivers' skills are always put to the test at the three-quarter-mile oval. Patience is necessary in the 400-lap race, as drivers in the rear of the field try methodically to pass the cars in front of them, one at a time, always trying to advance positions. They are intent on working their way to the front, in anticipation of being the first to take the checkered flag.

Each position is nearly a race in itself as drivers battle one another for each coveted position. The give and take sometimes causes problems as the cars become two- three- and four-wide across the track. Something has to give and usually does. And then there are times that patience simply runs out. The result is often crumpled fenders, flattened tires, visible sparks, and smoke billowing from beneath the car as one or more limps its way to pit road.

Richmond is a feel-good race track. And that translated into the top five finishers at Saturday's race. Kyle Busch won the race. And what could be better than winning a race on your twenty-fourth birthday? He also won Friday night's Nationwide series event on the same track.

In second place was Tony Stewart who is enjoying a phenomenal first year as a team owner/driver. Stewart left the comfort of Joe Gibbs Racing last year after a 10 year association to become co-owner in his own team, Stewart-Haas Racing.

NASCAR at Talladega, always thrilling, sometimes scary

Originally written April 27, 2009 NASCAR racing at Talladega Super Speedway this weekend did not disappoint. It was all about action Sunday as a 13-car melee occurred on only the seventh lap, taking out cars whose drivers had a real potential to win. 

Another multi-car wreck occurred near the end of the race, which took out another 10 cars. Ryan Newman, who started this season with hideous luck that weighed on his performance, wheeled past his competitors to make his way to the front of the pack in both Saturday's Nationwide race and again Sunday in the Sprint Cup event. 

For his fans, it was exhilarating. In both races, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was glued to Newman's back bumper, which added push to Newman's already fast run. Saturday Newman drove the #33 car for Kevin Harvick, Inc. Leading into the last lap, Newman had to settle for second place after a photo-finish pass by David Ragan who received a triumphant push by rookie Joey Logano. 

Newman and Earnhardt, Jr. were in the same position Sunday, but finished third after being involved a dramatic last lap crash. For Newman supporters, anticipation was high; the adrenalin flowed. But it was quickly replaced with a horrible sick feeling. During the last lap, Newman's car was passed by what must have seemed like a freight train made up of two bumper-to-bumper race cars driven by Carl Edwards and rookie Brad Kezelowski respectively. 

They shot past him. The two tangled as the car piloted by Edwards went airborne just ahead of Newman who plowed into the flying racecar. As Edwards' car sprung off the front end of Newman's car, it sailed viciously toward the fence headed for unsuspecting fans. 

Fortunately the fence held, though some were injured by flying debris. The injuries were not serious or life-threatening, according to reports. Newman and Edwards were unhurt. A similar take-off occurred in Saturday's race when David Ragan's car touched that of his teammate Matt Kenseth, causing it to roll several times along the back straightaway. He too was unhurt. Though the result was not his preferred option, Newman's points position soared. He ended the race 13th in points after starting 17th.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Alltel Dodge comes to Arkansas

When Ryan Newman drove the #12 Alltel Dodge for Penske Racing, I was crazy about the look of that car. Now I know its appearance has nothing to do with the way the car handles and how much horsepower it has, but let's face it, that was one fine-looking car.

A little over a year ago, when Ryan Newman was racing around the track at Chicagoland, I was having a racing experience of my own, right in my own home town in Arkansas.

The Alltel Dodge show car was on display at the new Alltel store in Arkansas. I was thrilled. I couldn't wait to see it up close. I donned on my Ryan Newman shirt, and like the NASCAR nerd my daughter claims me to be, I set out to see a replica of the car I strain to see every weekend. What a nice way to spend some time, sharing NASCAR stories with Alltel employees, who just happened to follow the same driver I did.

Ryan Newman profile

I had the occasion to write for an on-line writing service. I noticed that other drivers were profiled, but when I couldn't find Ryan Newman's profile listed, I wrote the following:

Ryan Newman was born to race. Not only was that the vision of a proud father the day his son was born, but it has been the experience of the 31-year old driver who stepped into his first racing machine -- a go-kart -- at the tender age of four.

Ryan Newman was born Dec. 8, 1977 in South Bend, Indiana, the first of two children of Greg and Diane Newman. Ryan has a younger sister, Jamie.

Today, Newman is one of the top drivers in NASCAR's elite Sprint Cup series, driving the #39 U.S. Army Chevrolet.

Greg Newman was an auto mechanic who owned a repair shop. Greg's penchant for racing must have been part of his DNA because Ryan certainly inherited it. Today, Greg makes his living as an employee of Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan's race team. His job is a vital one. He has a hand in helping to guarantee his son's safety.

Greg is Ryan's spotter on race day. He sits high atop the racetrack with binoculars honed in on his son's car as it races around the track. Greg literally acts as the eyes in the back of Ryan's head. Because of all the safety gear, once strapped into a racecar, Ryan has little vision to the rear or peripherally. He sees directly in front of him, but Greg watches the rest. Greg alerts Ryan to accidents on the track that may be out of Ryan's view. Greg
advises him whether to go low or high on the track to avoid being caught in the melee. Greg sees for his son when Ryan is temporarily blinded by smoke, dust, or intense light from the setting sun. At speeds nearing 200 mph there isn't much time to react, so correct and rapid information is key. Greg scopes out the drivers behind Ryan, letting him know how fast a car is coming. And if there is one passing, Greg describes its location precisely. Greg knows what Ryan wants to know and he tells him via radio communications.

Ryan Newman has had a storied racing career. From an early age, he has excelled at every level of the sport, stringing together successes like a strand of pearls. By age 10, he had already won 75 races and two championships in various Quarter-Midget classes. Quarter midgets are scaled-down versions of the open-wheel Midget car that is especially designed for young racers between the ages of five and 16. The cars comply with specific safety standards and run about 30 mph.

When Newman was 11, he won the U.S. Quarter-Midget National championship. At 15, he won the All-American Midget Series championship. In 1999 he won the USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Championship and achieved Rookie of the Year honors. At the same time, he was also working toward his eventual engineering degree at Purdue University in South Bend.

Newman had enjoyed the open-wheel racing of his youth, but he really had his sights set on stock car racing. And as it turned out, stock car racing had its eye on him as well. New talent is always being sought in the racing world. And it just so happened that Don Miller, President of Penske Racing South, owned by Roger Penske, a legend in auto racing. Miller was impressed with what he heard about Newman's talent. He was even more impressed when he watched Newman race. He arranged for Newman to test in a Penske stock car in April 2000 at Gateway International Speedway near St. Louis, MO. NASCAR legend Buddy Baker was
invited to the test. He was impressed as well. As a result, Newman became one of the newest drivers for Penske Racing that year.

In 2000, Newman won three out of five races in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. He made his Winston (now Sprint) Cup series debut in Phoenix that year.

The following year, Newman made seven starts in the Winston Cup series. He earned a pole, the top starting spot in a race based on the fastest qualifying speed in one lap, in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway (Lowes). In September of that year, Newman earned a second-place finish at Kansas.

In 2002 Newman had a full-time ride in the #12 Alltel Dodge in the Winston Cup Series. He set an all-time record for the number of poles by a Rookie of the Year candidate. He earned six which beat the record five set by Davey Allison in 1987. He edged out Jimmie Johnson to become Raybestos Rookie of the Year. And he won the 2002 All-Star Race. On Sept. 15, Newman won his first Cup victory at New Hampshire.

In 2003, Newman had his best season so far. He earned eight wins, 11 poles, 17 top-five finishes and 22 top-10 finishes. He earned the nickname Rocketman because of his fast-lap qualifying prowess. He was named SPEED Channel's American Driver of the Year, the National Motorsports Press Association's Driver of the Year, and the Daytona Beach News-Journal Driver of the Year.

Newman decided in the middle of 2008 to take a huge gamble with his career. He decided to change teams, to walk away from Penske Racing where he had enjoyed so much success. But things were different. Newman hadn't changed his driving style, but he was no longer achieving the results he wanted. He was frustrated. Don Miller had retired. The only crew chief he had ever known, Matt Borland was no longer with the organization and other changes in personnel made Penske a different organization.

Newman made the difficult decision to go with a new, start-up team, one that would be co-owned by fellow Indiana native, Tony Stewart. Stewart would be Newman's teammate as an owner/driver at Stewart-Haas Racing. Despite the speculation, early indications are that it was a good move for Newman who is back to top-five finishes and leading laps. He has regained his confidence and feels it is only a matter of time before he goes to Victory Lane.

There is no question that Newman will have many more good moments ahead in his racing career, but there is one he will never forget and it can never be equaled. It came at the beginning of 2008, his final season driving for Roger Penske, when he won the Daytona 500. Not only is the Daytona 500 the most prestigious race for a driver to win because it holds a distinctive history in the stock car racing world, but because 2008 marked the 50th running of what is known as the "Great American Race."

The Daytona 500 has always eluded Roger Penske. Victory has always been just out of Penske's reach. Bobby Allison came close to a win in a Penske car in 1975. And Penske always thought veteran driver Rusty Wallace would get the coveted win. But Wallace retired three years ago, unable to achieve that dream. Allison came in third in 1975. But, although the Penske team tallied 82 poles, 57 victories in the past 927 races, they could not muster a win at Daytona International Speedway - until Newman did it in 2008.

And the thing that made the win especially sweet for Penske was that when Newman crossed the finish line it was with the help from his teammate Kurt Busch, in Penske’s #2 Miller Lite Dodge.

The two blue Penske cars were unstoppable when it mattered most, in the last laps of the race, as they squeezed up to the top of the track like a two-car freight train, pushing past the man who would ironically become Newman's new boss, Tony Stewart. Stewart led the most laps in the race and was the expected favorite to win. It would have been his first Daytona 500 win as well, but it wasn’t to be.

Newman was able to share the moment with his father, Greg, who he heard on the radio, pulling for his son, rooting him on, knowing what it would mean to him to win this race of all races. When Greg told Ryan, "you could win this thing," it was heart-stopping. Ryan said he could hear his father's tears fall onto the radio. When Newman crossed the finish line and took the checkered flag, he was a new person, humbled by achieving a moment he had only dreamed about. His father ran to Victory Lane to share the moment with his son, exploding into a huge bear hug. And Roger Penske, who in many ways was like a father to Newman, beamed with pride. Ryan's wife Krissy sobbed. His mother couldn't be there, but he tried to talk to her on the phone. She was so overcome with emotion that she could barely speak.

Ryan Newman has seen struggles, and he has overcome odds. He has walked away from horrific accidents. And he has achieved so much, but he will not rest on his laurels. He still has a goal -- to win the Sprint Cup championship. He is in the position to do just that. But even if it doesn't happen this year, there is always next year or the next. But, as determined as he is, Ryan Newman will be a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion one day.