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


Friday, June 29, 2012

Ryan Newman belongs in the #39 car

It makes me queasy to think of any scenario that would prevent Ryan Newman from driving the #39 car in 2013. So much has been written about how Newman's future at Stewart-Haas Racing is reliant upon the ability to acquire sponsorship.

Sponsorship is a tough issue normally, but perhaps even moreso when Newman's results have been less than stellar of late and certainly not up to his potential.

Newman's average finish in 2012 so far has been 15.9, well below his average start of 9.8. He has led only 12 laps; all of them at Martinsville in April, the only race he won this year. Winning that race has been enough so far though, to keep in chase contention. Thirteen in points, Newman holds a second and final wildcard spot, right behind Kyle Busch who is in twelfth. Every week, that position becomes more precarious.

Out of 16 races so far, Newman has 1 win, two top-5's and three top-10 finishes. He has yet to sit on the pole.

Since Newman's victory at Martinsville his subsequent race results have been poor. At Texas, he finished 21st. At Kansas he crossed the checkers in 20th. While he rallied at Richmond to finish 15th, an engine failure at Talladega put him back in 36th place. At Darlington, he came in 23rd. He seems to have rallied since then, with four top 15 finishes--results he really fought for. He earned a 12th place finish at Pocono. Unfortunately, his car limped over the finish line at Sonoma in 18th place.

Since I'm a big Newman fan, I haven't felt much like highlighting these races by writing about them. I'd prefer to forget about them. I'm concerned however, about what has caused this lackluster action. Twice in two of the last several races Newman pitted under green thinking a tire was going down only to be told that the tires were fine. In the years I have watched Newman race, I have never known him to make that kind of error.

Newman's dissatisfaction in the handling of his race car have been evident in radio transmissions. On the up side though, he is getting the speed out of the car. That wasn't always the case.

Adjustments to the race car often times make its handling worse. And it seems that every pit stop causes Newman to lose positions he just made up on the track. I hope there is not some kind of disconnect within the team.

Perhaps the problem with the #39 team is related to sponsorship pressures. That is entirely possible since some members of congress are considering banning sports sponsorships as a means of cost-cutting in the federal budget. Such a move would obviously affect the #39 U.S. Army car. Having the U.S. Army logo on the front of the #39 car is not just about a sponsor's money; it is also about pride, spirit, and heart. Newman's face lights up when he talks about meeting the soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital or some of the bases he visits. Losing the U.S. Army would be a major blow to the team. In fact, it could cripple it.

Newman is also about to become a father again very soon. While such a blessed event brings untold joy, it is a life-changing event for a family. I'm sure Newman is concerned about his wife Krissie, how will Brooklyn adapt to having a baby sister, and all the logistics involved with welcoming a new human being into your life.

So when I hear the media speak cavalierly about Newman being a free agent, it bothers me. I am concerned about his future. I read one report that indicated perhaps Ryan would stay at Stewart-Haas Racing next year by taking a cut in pay. I have no idea if that was real or not. I think SHR is a good fit for Newman. I like how he and Tony Stewart work well together. I like that they are friends.

I'm just hoping all this works out in the near future and that good luck turnaround comes soon--perhaps this weekend at Kentucky. As always, I wish my favorite driver a great finish.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

As a female race fan, Danica did us proud

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 05:  Danica Patrick,...
Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Chevrolet, climbs out of her car for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
How about that Danica Patrick?

I really enjoyed watching Danica Patrick run at Road America in the Nationwide Series last Saturday. She performed well, despite a little shove at the end by Jacques Villeneuve. If it hadn't been for that bump at the end of the race, Danica would have had a finish worthy of how she ran all day.

Villeneuve's being a "road course ringer," a non-regular NASCAR driver who only runs the road courses, made Danica's finish even more disappointing.

Danica was aggressive when she needed to be. Her car was fast and she wheeled it like the pro she is. She stood her ground, passing when she could, and didn't let any of the other drivers get the best of her.

Despite her obvious disappointment at the end of the race, Danica showed real class in how she responded to reporters questioning her about the incident. She expressed how much fun she had driving the uncharacteristic twisted, turning track. She mentioned her disappointment with a twelfth-place finish instead of fifth where she had been running. While she clearly could have blamed Villeneuve for spinning her, she didn't dwell on it. Instead she noted the positives, like taking the lead after a pit stop.

That wasn't the case with her crew chief, Tony Eury, Sr., who spoke to Villeneuve after the race. Villeneuve explained that he wasn't even racing with Danica. The incident was about his racing Max Papis.

Villeneuve said he thinks Papis wanted to cross over to the inside of Danica and probably didn't know he was there. Villeneuve was pushed into the grass. When he came back onto the track, that is when he hit Patrick from behind.

Villeneuve has a reputation of punting drivers out of the way.

For those of us female NASCAR fans, Danica really did us proud this week. I look forward to her continued success.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Junior won at Michigan; he won it for himself, not for his father

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on pit road, as his team c...
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on pit road

Congratulations to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for his win at Michigan International Speedway Sunday. He drove a good race, led plenty of laps, and held off Champion Tony Stewart for the win.
A Dale Earnhardt Jr. autograph
A Dale Earnhardt Jr. autograph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe now everyone will get off Junior's back and leave the poor guy alone. I have for some time, felt sorry for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In all the years I've watched NASCAR, and I admit I'm a newbie by most standards, at only eight years, but I have yet to see Junior live up to the enormous expectations and hype laid upon his head by fans, the pundits, and NASCAR brass. I'm not sure anyone could live up to that, (except maybe for Tony Stewart's herculean performance last year, when he won five out of ten races.)

So much pressure has been put on Junior that it has obviously had a negative effect. His name is evoked by announcers dozens of times during every race, pre-race, or post-race show, no matter what he does. Clearly, evoking Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s name is a mandate by NASCAR itself, since as a fan favorite, to NASCAR, that translates into dollars.

No matter what Junior does on the track, his name is mentioned--a lot! Excuses are made for his doing things like driving by his pit stall or making some other boneheaded move that only a rookie would make. After a few of those, the hype seemed to tone down a little. That all changed with Junior's latest run of obvious good luck. Junior has been running well, leading laps and being consistent enough to earn points. Finally NASCAR is getting what it wants. Maybe they will back off a little now that Junior has won a race.

Who am I kidding? They will never leave him alone. Now we will be hearing, and it has already begun, Junior can be the champion. There will likely be more pressure on him to not just win again, but to lead the points battle now and during the Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship. Yes, Junior has a big fan base, so he is NASCAR's favorite son. Let's face it--as the son of the late Big E, Junior will never be left alone to be his own person.

Not only does that affect him, but it also affects the other 42 drivers who are unable to compete on a level racetrack, so to speak. And it is so unfair to those of us who are not card-carrying members of Junior Nation.

We are called haters. We are not haters. We are just not blinded by the BS.

Funny, Junior's big win came on Father's Day, yet I didn't hear anything in post race interviews with Junior about winning this one for his father's memory, except by the media. It seems clear to me that Junior is very uncomfortable with the position he has been put into--living in his father's shadow. It has obviously been very difficult for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to live up to they hype. It would be difficult for anyone. I'd love it if they would leave him alone, for his sake as well as ours.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

NASCAR and Father's Day; one moment for me

For me, Father's Day and NASCAR is epitomized by one beautiful moment in racing history.

It was February 2008, the year Ryan Newman won the 50th running of the Daytona 500. It was the race that illustrated the pride of a father who watched his son's accomplishment. It was a moment they had worked hard for and likely shared since Ryan was a little tyke riding a go kart in a parking lot. Their dream had come true when Ryan won the Daytona 500.

That year Ryan's father Greg, one of the strongest pillars of Ryan's racing career, was his spotter. As Ryan led the pack in the last turn of the first and biggest race of the year, and drove his race car across the finish line to victory, it was a triumphant moment shared between this father and son.

Greg Newman was on the radio, his emotions raw, just like the rest of Ryan's fans who also felt jubilation that day. The exhilaration was palpable as we held our collective breaths as our driver won the biggest race of the year. Not only was this the Daytona 500, but it was a landmark anniversary of the storied race.

It was especially poignant that Ryan and Greg shared that moment together. Because this was a family experience, it was all the more special.  All of us who root for Newman each week felt like members of the Newman family that day. It was certainly a day I will always remember.

Monday, June 4, 2012

NASCAR needs to make some changes

DOVER, DE - MAY 14:  Clint Bowyer, driver of t...
NASCAR races are starting to resemble traffic
(Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Stands are no longer full; once die-hard viewers are now finding other things to do on a Sunday afternoon. NASCAR seems to have lost its edge. 

There are a littany of criticisms that could be leveled at NASCAR brass for creating so much similarity that they've all but killed the competition. The bottom line though, is that lately, the racing has simply been boring. Even the commentators have mentioned hearing complaints from fans. Perhaps that is why in their effort to boost the ratings and interest, there has been an emphasis on the air recently about big wrecks in past races complete with footage of Joey Logano's car tumbling end over end or Carl Edwards' car diving for the catch fence, and a myriad other similar events. 

To prove that wrecks aren't the draw, Sunday's race at Dover wasn't a barn-burner either despite a big wreck early on. 

Granted, there have been a few races in recent weeks that have been without wrecks. But I hate to tell them--it isn't necessarily about the creating a crashfest. 

Consider that races may be too long. The good thing about racing is watching a driver put it all out there; driving his race car on the edge. Sometimes wrecks occur, but that is only a result of intense racing. The wreck itself isn't the draw--the intensity is.

It isn't exciting to watch a single file line of race cars going fast. We want to see passing, which is difficult when the cars mandated by NASCAR are all the same. Long green flag racing runs are in themselves, boring. It reminds us of the freeway, albeit faster. For fans who watch on television, the long camera angles make the cars speed seem much slower. They look like traffic. Nobody wants to watch traffic! 

Races are 400 or 500 miles in duration. For a long part of them, it isn't uncommon for drivers settle in, trying to stay out of trouble and away from certain drivers they have pegged as problematic. That isn't racing!

But it is the kind of intensity at the end of a race in those closing laps that gives us the thrill. It isn't necessarily who wins, but how they win. We like the fight to the finish. Often times, the thrill just isn't enough to justify sitting through hours of "traffic."

At least NASCAR recognized the importance of a good ending, which is why they instituted the green-white-checker finish. It is just too bad that there are so many rules attached to it that it often times gets a little lost in the translation. When two cars fight it out to the end, and we formulate our opinion of what we saw only to learn that we are wrong because of NASCAR's rules, it is like blowing the wind right out of our sails. NASCAR's rules are excessive, and don't always seem to be applied fairly.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the races are just too long; the cars are too similar which hinders competition; and an emphasis seems to be less on the driver and more on the crew chief.