User-agent: * Allow: / CH on Track: February 2012


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Daytona relief

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Safety worke...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife
The only word to sum up the long-anticipated Daytona 500 this year is relief.

I am relieved that the Great American Race finally got underway. I'm relieved I wasn't there because sitting in the rain all weekend would have been nightmarish. And I'm relieved that real racing competition can finally get under way now that Daytona is behind us.

Who would have imagined that 2012 would be the first time the most prestigious race of the year would be rained out or that it would be postponed because Juan Pablo Montoya would, under caution, spin out of control into a jet dryer loaded with jet fuel? Who would have imagined the racing surface would ignite into an inferno?

The only thing that was predictable was the wreck fest that took place despite the obvious care being taken by drivers to prevent "the big one."

For that matter, why do we call it the big "one" when obviously that is an inadequate descriptor. Instead of the Great American Race, perhaps it should be named NASCAR's Great American Wildcard Race or NASCAR Demolition Derby.

Despite the word of the day being "relief," I have to say I enjoyed the weekend anyway. I didn't even mind waiting around all day Sunday, knowing in my heart there was no way 43 cars and 500 miles would be compatible with those huge dark green splotches covering Florida's weather map. I found plenty to do in close proximity to the television set, my attention never far away, just in case.

I should give a shout out to Fox Sports, since everyone did an excellent job staying on the air, keeping us informed. Since this was the first real race of the season and it followed a pretty eventful speed weeks, it isn't like they didn't have plenty to talk about. Then again, it isn't like all those guys don't like to talk about their favorite sport anyway.

Congratulations to Matt Kenseth, by the way. Bringing what was once a boiling motor into Victory Lane was nothing short of miraculous, a real testament to Ford engines.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Danica makes my gender proud!

English: Andretti Autosport's Danica Patrick a...
Image via Wikipedia
Danica Patrick's debut in the Nationwide Series race wasn't quite what she had hoped for, no thanks to her own teammate Cole Whitt, the 20-year old California kid that probably spent a sleepless night last night contemplating his future. I doubt this one incident will derail his career, but his actions on the track did end a perfectly good run for Patrick.

She isn't the first driver to get caught up in a Daytona incident. She won't be the last either. The best of the best often suffer the same fate.

Listening to Patrick's radio and watching Twitter comments was pretty telling. It seems there is a contingent that loves her as well as one that hates her. Personally, I think the latter is rooted in either jealousy or ignorance.

Her reaction after she was hit was raw and honest. It was real.

I'm not a "feminist," but as a woman, I know that sometimes, we have to work a little harder than our male counterparts to achieve equality. It isn't fun; it isn't fair; but that is the way it is. Danica has been in the racing world long enough to know how to handle herself.

I'm going to enjoy watching this gender dynamic unfold in the sport this year. It will be very exciting to watch. NASCAR can only benefit by the presence of a strong woman.

Patrick has attitude. I like that. There is no question she is capable. For a woman to step into a race car is proof. Her qualifying on the pole underscored it. I suspect we will see more of her achievements.

I liked what I heard on the radio, Patrick behaved much like a good student, asking the kinds of questions that could only help her understand and deal with situations. She wanted things spelled out for her ahead of time, so she could evaluate and anticipate how she might react as new scenarios arise. She was methodical, analytical, as she tried to take her driving to the next level. She and her crew maintained almost constant radio contact. It is a shame she couldn't complete her task. I would have loved to see how she would have finished.

From what I've seen so far, I think Danica is going to hold her own just fine in this sport dominated by men, both in the garage and in the stands. While there will always be those guys whose brains hold them back from seeing beyond her pretty face, I think for the majority, she will have their respect one day, because she will have to work hard to earn it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What a weekend!

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Danica Patri...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife
What a weekend! The start of the 2012 NASCAR season has so far, been extraordinary. And the biggest race of the year hasn't even happened yet. It isn't even until tomorrow.

My heart skipped a beat when Jeff Gordon flipped during the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday night. I'm glad he walked away from that one. What a wild ride! In a way, that set the stage for what was to follow. 

Tony Stewart's wreck during practice this week gave us another hint. Then there was Danica Patrick's hard crash during the Duel races. It all led up to the first competitive race of the season--the truck race Friday night. 

Wow! It was a wreckfest. It is no wonder cup drivers were a little squeamish about pack racing during their two Daytona 500 practices. When final practice was reduced to just a handful of laps by a only a few drivers, Ryan Newman noted that there was simply more to lose than to learn by riding around in the pack. I'm sure he was right, given what kind of action has already been seen on the race track.

It isn't clear how the racing will look on Sunday for the Great American Race. I suspect it will be pretty mundane until the last few laps. At that point, there will probably be so much happening, we will be very grateful for the many camera angles because it is likely there will be too much to take it all in. 

For me it isn't all about the wrecks

This weekend certainly had some highlights--the kind of moments in racing that keep me coming back for more. Racing isn't just about the wrecks; not for me anyway. I like the human relations side of the sport. And there was certainly some of that. 

How about the fact that Danica Patrick's return to the race track after an earlier head-on collision with the wall resulted in earning the pole position for the Nationwide race? She is the first woman to do so. 

I stand by my earlier prediction that Danica is going to be a force to be reckoned with this season.

Another feel-good moment occurred Friday night when a rookie, who, in only his eighth career start--John King--won the truck race and is now leading the points in the series. 

If this is a promise of things to come, don't call me on Friday night, Saturday, or Sunday. I'm busy!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bud Shootout did not disappoint

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 17:  Kurt Busch, ...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Not only did the Bud Shootout not disappoint, but it probably breathed new life into NASCAR's 2012 season.

For anyone who didn't watch the Bud Shootout, you really missed something. Hurry over to and catch the highlights, or watch the video of the entire race. It is well worth your time.

The race was certainly a nail biter from start to finish.

For me, the most memorable part involved two incredible saves by Kyle Busch. Ordinarily what occurred on the track would have resulted in the "big one," except that Busch saved it; not once, but twice. He did an incredible job and has certainly earned my respect for his driving ability.

Sparks flew as his car was literally sideways, seemingly taking on a life of its own, as it hurled itself back and forth between the racing surface and the apron. Then, as it was completely sideways, what seemed impossible, Busch saved it and got it headed in the right direction. He didn't even lose too many spots as he fought his way back up to draft with Tony Stewart. That same kind of driving allowed him to finish the race just inches ahead of Stewart. It was amazing--almost as amazing as how Stewart won five of the ten final  races that secured him the 2011 Championship title.

The wrecks were nothing short of spectacular. Personally my heart was in my throat. I admit being more than a little nervous as the cameras panned in on the cars wobbling perilously close to one another at such breakneck speeds. Those camera angles illustrate just how challenging it would be to drive a race car.

Needless to say Saturday night saw plenty of on-track wrecking action,. It was scary to watch Kevin Harvick's flaming race car unable to stop because he had no brakes. The worst though was when Jeff Gordon's car, was lifted by several others, causing it to do a pirouette several times only to land upside down on its roof. Thankfully Gordon was okay. And so were all the other drivers involved in one melee or another. There was not one "big one" but several. This was only 75 miles with 25 drivers. I shudder to think of what will happen on Sunday with 43 drivers in 500 miles. I can just about guarantee it will be a wreckfest.

Some of the wrecks were due to the changes made by NASCAR this year, with the hope of putting an end to the much maligned tandem racing. Both fans and drivers alike felt the two-car draft racing was boring. Saturday night, the tandem racing was minimized in favor of pack racing, which was their intent.

In accomplishing their goal however, another problem surfaced. In changing the size of the spoiler, the side fin, and other rule changes, caused it to be really easy to turn a car in front around simply by touching the left bumper. It was evident not just during the race but in practice when Tony Stewart got into Kurt Busch.

One other change this year, is that drivers are no longer able to communicate with one another on the track. Previously, if a driver changed his line, he could warn the driver behind him. He could also communicate if a driver is slow in front. That is no longer the case and it seems to have added to the chaos.

The racing season has begun and we now look forward to the biggest race of the year--the Daytona 500--now just days away. I'm a little on edge, but excited just the same.

Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle will start on the front row. The remaining field will be set by the Duels races on Thursday. Those two races promise to be exciting as well. It is all in preparation for Sunday, the day we have all been waiting for, probably since the last Great American Race.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Danica Patrick, a new dimension in the Daytona 500

Danica Patrick at the premiere of Baby Mama in...
Image via Wikipedia
There will  be no more "Gentlemen start your engines," at least for 10 races this season. 

Danica Patrick should provide a new and exciting dimension to the Daytona 500, just 16 days from now, as of this writing.

Despite how she came to be listed among the participating drivers in the prestigious first race of the 2012 NASCAR season, her presence in the race will likely add to the NASCAR devotees looking forward to Sunday afternoons, starting, Feb. 26. Imagine; she could give Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a challenge for that most popular driver moniker. Feminist types, if there are any that follow NASCAR, as well as other females will root for her, because she is a woman. And women are still a rare commodity in the NASCAR garage. Men will root for her because, let's face it, she's stunning to look at, even when she isn't donning a bikini atop a race car. 

Granted, her guaranteed spot in the Daytona 500 was a little weird and certainly complicated. It was controversial and caused major aggravation for some. 

Basically Patrick was the beneficiary of a deal between Stewart-Haas Racing, (SHR) and Tommy Baldwin Racing, (TBR). In the spirit of cooperation, and perhaps a bit of cold hard cash, TBR will transfer owner points from TBR which finished in the top 35 in points last year. TBR's No. 36 car finished the season 33rd in points. It was piloted by Dave Blaney who remains a TBR driver this year. 

Because the No. 10 is brand new this year, it had no standing as far as last year's owner points were concerned. This deal between the two race team blurs the lines between the two teams, giving Patrick the golden opportunity to run in the 500.

Points earned by the No. 36 car ensured a starting spot in the first five races of the season, including the biggest race of the year--the Daytona 500. The deal will transform the No. 36 into Patrick's No. 10 car, fielded by TBR, but with all other aspects belonging to SHR. Greg Zipadelli, of SHR will be her Crew Chief. will be her sponsor. 

Patrick will run a limited schedule--10 races--in the Sprint Cup series. In those races where she doesn't compete, TBR driver David Reutimann will fill in. Otherwise, he will drive his No. 36 car for TBR. 

In addition to sharing a car, the two will also share team support and sponsorship. 

Patrick will also run a full schedule in the Nationwide Series, driving for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. which will likely  boost ratings on Saturday afternoon as well.

Some are furious that Patrick didn't have to race her way into the sport's most prestigious race like all the other drivers. They also say it isn't fair that Blaney who did earn his way in will have to race his way to a spot on the starting grid. Some blame Tony Stewart and Tommy Baldwin for taking advantage while others blame NASCAR for allowing such large loopholes in their ownership points rules. 

Personally, I'm just going to just be faithful to my gender. I'm excited to see Danica Patrick in the Daytona 500. If testing a few weeks ago is any indication, her presence in the sport will prove to be another exciting factor. The lady can drive. The fact that she is driving for my favorite race team doesn't hurt either. Wow, just 16 more days. I can hardly wait for the command, "Drivers, start your engines."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ryan Newman is still the Rocketman!

English: Ryan Newman stands beside his Number ...
Image via Wikipedia
The season hasn't even started yet and already we read things like, "These days, a more suitable nickname for Newman might be 'Mediocre Man.' The 34-year-old driver seemingly does just enough to keep his ride--making the Chase every now and again and good for about one win a season."

This was a horrible mischaracterization from Scene Daily this morning.

Now I don't know what races Scene Daily is watching, but mediocre certainly does not describe the Ryan Newman I've observed during the 2011 season and before. While it may be true that team 39 only one won race last year, but for cripes sake, Newman's team finished in 10th place last year. That is better than 33 other drivers. How can you call a top-10 driver in the sport mediocre?

And need I remind anyone that in some cases, the end result of a race may not be reflective of the driver's ability alone. Ryan Newman is a top-notch driver, but some things are out of his hands. This is a team effort. In To win a race, the entire team must perform flawlessly. Ryan Newman doesn't change the lug nuts or refuel his race car. He does not go out of his way to run into other race cars.  

I just wonder why Newman is too often treated differently by some reporters/analysts/critics, not to mention NASCAR brass, than some of the other drivers. Yes, Dale, Jr. certainly comes to mind.

Newman has done some incredible things on the race track. I've listened to him when he is forced to limp an inferior race car to the finish line after being involved in someone else's mess. I've heard the never-ending determination, always striving to be better. I've heard his frustration. I've held my breath when a lug nut gets wedged in the nether reaches of a wheel causing a vibration; or some of the other bazaar things that have occurred. I've seen him go a lap and still finish in the top 5. Ryan Newman drives his heart out--every lap. There is nothing mediocre about him.