User-agent: * Allow: / CH on Track: July 2009


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.