[NASCAR] Speed Addicts

The End of Year Special

Steve Price, the “Speed Addict
Inside Pulse Sports – 11/19/2005

“And so, on these shores comes the end of our fellowship.”

– Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Good lord, I’ve been gone for ten races, and you’d think that NASCAR blew up and went all national on us in the interim. To be honest, I wasn’t dogging writing columns like I’d pretended to be; several times I got halfway – three/fourths of the way through a column for several Chase races, most notably New Hampshire, Charlotte, and even Texas. Sadly, life intervened, and some important family issues became a priori for your favorite Redneck nut.

Something else came up that I particularly wanted to get out in the open. It’s no secret that while I have a fond liking for NASCAR, I’m not exactly the world’s most patient “fan”. When the NFL returned in September (coinciding with the Chase hoopla), I found it difficult not to watch football when I’m like the world’s biggest football nut. And with my poor Red Sox getting raped into the off-season… well, there was little chance of anything getting done in my absence. I would like to thank a few people for putting up with my junk over the past several months. Slayer gets huge props, and has my endorsement as the Don of all things Holy whenever he freaking needs it. The guy is golden, and I’ve valued all the time I’ve been able to say I’ve written on the same site as him. I’d also like to thank my partner in crime, so to speak, Patrick Nguyen for allowing me to siphon off his radio show for awhile now. Patrick has been something of a mentor as I discovered that being a puss about writing what I wanted was no way to go about business here in Happy World, so major pops to him. Thanks to all the guys at Inside Pulse that have been just awesome with the content for a long, long time now, especially Oli Porter and Nick Pomazak, who along with Slayer and Patrick N. form IP’s version of the Four Horsemen. Whoo!

Now then, onto more pressing matters; with NASCAR now over and done with (thank God), we’ll start fishing with some NHL goodness here and there, along with some bits and pieces of other things as I explore the sports world in depth. There’s little that isn’t covered, including hockey now that Omar is back in full force, so I’ll play it as I see it as the hockey season rolls to a close. It may be back to NASCAR, onto baseball, or some sort of “in-between” deal like Patrick has. Along with semi-regular contributions to Moodspins, I’m hoping to get back into the gig full time now. So for all you peeps out there that were enjoying the vacation from absurdity, time to crawl back into your holes for a few months. Next week, we go all Gary Bettman and resurrect “Ice This!” for your viewing pleasure. Until then, let’s give NASCAR a proper send off, Speed Addicts style, hmm?

No, don’t say anything. Just shut up and scroll down.

The 2005 Chase for the Nextel Cup: Reviewing the Goodness
There was little doubt heading into the Chase that Tony Stewart, the winner of five races and the instigator of a two-month long bitchsmacking to everyone else in the field leading into the Chase. Once the dust settled from the Junior-less/Gordon-less Chase picture in mid-September (and following a brief scare from Ryan Newman of all people), Tony Stewart returned to the spotlight in the form that got him to the dance in the first place: calm, consistent finishes in the top ten.

Carl Edwards, the little rookie that could, gave him a run for his money all the way up to the final pit stop with ten laps to go or so, when Stewart finally secured enough of a cushion to become champion of NASCAR for a second time. Miami-Homestead was probably the best host for a race during the Chase itself, though there are several important stories regarding the choice of venues that should be addressed…

Wait, there were Chase races at Dover and Kansas? – Can someone explain why Kansas has itself a Chase race, while there are better cookie cutters out there that make more sensible locales for a race of its magnitude? Granted, Martinsville is a pea compared to most pig farms, and congrats to NASCAR for keep the machete in the shed for awhile longer in that respect. Is Las Vegas closed that weekend? More importantly, how does Kansas get off with a Chase race, while the source of Helton’s most intimate dreams, California Speedway gets shunted with a sucker date off Labor Day Weekend? Everyone that’s a real fan knows where the Labor Day weekend race belongs, and it sure as Hell isn’t at California. So why not move the Michigan clone into the date held by Kansas, and put it into the death slot. Better yet, why not put it out of its misery altogether. You can take Chicagoland with you, bee-yotch.

As for Dover… Eh, there’s just nothing really special about it anymore, especially now that there are two mile-long tracks that provide racing just as good, if not better than Dover does. How the Hell New Hampshire produced two good races this year is a mystery, and Phoenix is Phoenix. If you don’t like it, go read NASCAR.com.

Someone Call Congress! Charlotte is Juicing! – The May race was an interesting case study in the patience of a poor sap that took in two incredibly draining races before it. If memory serves, there was something like 1400 miles of racing over the span of two different continents that I felt compelled to cover, so my recapping of that particular event may be a bit skewed. Twenty-plus cautions in the May race got everyone all primed for another oil bath on the track. Well, there were plenty of cautions in the UAW-GM Quality 500 to report. Too bad they were all tire-related.

Charlotte’s fixture as the staple pin of NASCAR’s elder class is now damaged thanks to two shoddy races in a row. The tire concerns at Charlotte can only be described as “utterly-horrible”, making one wonder how bad the Michelin tire situation had to have been at the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis in retrospect. Aside from Lowe’s Motor Speedway going on a steady supplement of creo-phalt, something else caught my attention. Anyone else remember a race in Charlotte that Jimmie Johnson failed to win? Not only was this joke far out of contention for the win for oh, the first nine million miles of the race, but for the last twenty five laps, this guy had a tire rub that blanketed each turn with smoke! This in a race where drivers could only go twenty laps before slamming the wall with a blown tire. If he wins again (and something inside me suspects he will), we will have to seriously consider the integrity of Lowe’s Motor Speedway, especially when it comes to the Lowe’s Car winning every damn time.

Speaking of Quad-Ovals… Three in Four Weeks? – Not too much more to add here, since both Texas and Atlanta are far from the shape that Charlotte is in (this despite a tornado taking a nice, steamy dump on the track in Atlanta last summer). But still, a bit of foresight into the Chase scheduling would have been nice. Three quad-ovals in four weeks is almost as redundant as running New Hampshire, Kansas, Las Vegas, California and Chicagoland exclusively in the Chase. My lord, can someone through in Bristol or Infineon?

All in all, there were a few minor surprises on the track vis-à-vis the drivers in contention for the Cup heading into Homestead, but most of the fireworks this year were reserved for off-track incidents. Number one on the list: Kurt Busch. A semi-favorite to defend his 2004 Title, Busch got off to a terrible start at New Hampshire and never really recovered. Following the news that Busch was indeed heading for Penske beginning in 2006, most people assumed that we could forget about the little peon for the rest of the year, as he quietly bowed out of contention.

Sort of.

Unfortunately for race fans everywhere, a mini-controversy erupted at Phoenix of all places, in a sense taking a piss on the atmosphere that the race should have had. It’s a shame, too, since Kurt Busch has ruined both races at my favorite track this year. Anyways, if you caught the radio show three weeks ago you know the story. The background: Busch is pulled over for reckless driving near the race track on the Friday before the event. Alcohol is suspected, and even though a sobriety test proves inconclusive, Busch is brought into a sheriff’s station at the track itself. With Roush already on the outs with Busch, the decision was made by his sponsor (with Roush’s undoubted approval) to simply suspend Busch for the remainder of the season. Now, to NASCAR’s credit, there wasn’t much of a hoopla following the Phoenix race about the Busch suspension, which does my heart good and all. Sadly, Kyle Busch won the damn race in Phoenix, thus infuriating me even more by acting like a bigger penis than his brother, thanks to his smarmy victory lane interview. The things I put up with in the name of journalism.

Kenny Wallace filled in for the final two races, and did okay, all things considered. Kenny, unlike Rusty, is a pretty cool driver, and I hope he manages to find a ride in 2006, though with the impending cap on teams (we’ll hit this later), I doubt that we’ll see any moderate sized teams take a chance with a limit on the cars in the garage. We shall see, but we definitely know that there’s a blitzkrieg of drivers moving to new teams or places. Here’s the shortlist that came up during the Chase:

1. Bobby Labonte leaves Joe Gibbs Racing for Petty Enterprises in 2006. J.J. Yeley to replace him for Gibbs.
2. Ken Schrader is tagged to drive the #21 Wood Brothers car in 2006.
3. Ricky Rudd retires unexpectedly following the final race.
4. Rusty Wallace upholds his retirement promise, and will be replaced by Kurt Busch in 2006.
5. Jamie McMurray gets out of his Ganassi deal and makes the move to Roush in 2006.
6. Mark Martin, with the turn of events for Roush, sticks around for one more year.
7. Michael Waltrip opts out of Dale Earnhardt Inc. Future uncertain.
8. Sterling Marlin is out of the Coors Light car, replacement to follow.
9. Martin Truex Jr. likely promoted to full-time Cup duties pending Waltrip’s departure.

In a few weeks, everything should sort itself out, and life will be life until Speed Weeks come calling in February. But man, what a Chase. It may not have been as exciting as 2004… Then again, it may have. It all depends on your taste, really, but there was more than enough racing to satiate the racing lug nut out there. Martin fails to get the job done, but gets one more chance. Johnson chokes it away at Miami, and both Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle cap off Cinderella Seasons with a tie for second place in points (Edwards gets third based on the two win advantage Biffle has on him). And, in what many people suspected back in August, Tony Stewart claimed his second Nextel Cup Championship, and took a giant leap towards immortality in NASCAR lore.

Racing News & Headlines
We’ve already covered the Busch suspension twice, and there’s little need to speculate on the whereabouts of drivers in 2006, since you’ll be treated to a new NASCAR writer for all intensive purposes. Not much else on the docket in an otherwise full news plate. The big story to take out of the Chase period was the newly-instituted cap on the cars that an individual team can field. That mark is set at four, which means Jack Roush is out one driver unless he can adhere to the “grandfather clause” that lets him keep his full team up until 2009. Roush was less than thrilled with the cap, but it really is for the best. There was nothing more irritating than watching the Hendrick boys team up to give Johnson an added advantage at Homestead. With the age of the solo-car teams at an end, it became evident to the higher ups that a cap was needed to protect the smaller teams. With this new structure in place, we should find a bit more stability in the NASCAR scene. Good for them.

Also, Martin Truex Jr. successfully defends his Busch Series championship at Homestead, his second Busch crown. Truex will probably make the transition from the Busch Series to the Nextel Cup fulltime, though a lot remains to be seen. As per the Nextel Cup standings, here’s a quick final look at the points structure:

01. Tony Stewart – 6533 Points – $6,987,530 Winnings
02. Greg Biffle – 6498 Points – $5,729,930 Winnings
03. Carl Edwards – 6498 Points – $4,889,990 Winnings
04. Mark Martin – 6428 Points – $5,994,350 Winnings
05. Jimmie Johnson – 6406 Points – $6,796,660 Winnings
06. Ryan Newman – 6359 Points – $5,578,110 Winnings
07. Matt Kenseth – 6352 Points – $5,790,770 Winnings
08. Rusty Wallace – 6140 Points – $4,868,980 Winnings
09. Jeremy Mayfield – 6073 Points – $4,566,910 Winnings
10. Kurt Busch – 5974 Points – $6,516,320 Winnings

[CREDIT: NASCAR.com]

NASCAR Q & A
This was an experimental feature that I worked on for the duration of the Nextel Cup Season. I was planning on adding this in with Know Your NASCAR, but the questions that I was coming up with really deserved their own little section. With my time as a NASCAR writer now complete, here are a few of the FYI facts that you may find interesting.

Q: Why does the Speed Addict hate Kurt Busch?
A: That’s a good question. I’ll leave it to the readers to figure that one out.

Q: Was George W. Bush the first president to attend a NASCAR Nextel Cup event?
A: Not hardly. If memory serves, unless President Jimmy Carter attended a race in Atlanta in the 1970s, the first President to my knowledge to attend a NASCAR event was President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. Reagan made several appearances at Daytona throughout his two terms, actually. One thing is for sure: Reagan was the first American President to give the command to start the engines.

Q: How many laps have to be run before a race is considered a full race?
A: Though it varies depending on the track, the standard rule throughout NASCAR is that, once the lead car completes one lap past the halfway point, the race is considered official.

Q: What is the most dangerous aspect of NASCAR?
A: Unfortunately, there isn’t a safe way to really compete in an automobile race. While the odds of seeing someone hurt or killed during a race are rather small nowadays thanks to all the safety precautions added to the cars and the track, there’s no way to prevent a racer’s death from a crash. There are numerous aspects in particular that are dangerous, including crashes and the constant threat of carbon monoxide, as witnessed by Ward Burton when he almost blacked out from it during a 2002 crash in New Hampshire.

Q: Why does NASCAR take pace laps after a caution or before the race?
A: These laps serve a purpose, actually; while the cars are riding around the track, they’re accumulating debris on their tires, causing them to ware down. The laps run under caution allow the drivers to help clean their tires (this is why you’ll see cars swerving before the green flag falls). Also, pace laps allow NASCAR officials to determine whether or not the track is suitable to race on.

Q: Why does NASCAR have invocations before races? The NFL doesn’t have them!
A: This one has two feasible answers; firstly, because NASCAR grew from the south, it’s likely that the strong Southern Baptist population in the south had an influence on adding the invocation into the pre-race routine. On a more serious note, because auto races are potentially dangerous to compete in, the invocation may serve as a reminder of what could potentially happen.

Q: What is the more important race? The Daytona 500 or the Indy 500?
A: Nowadays, the Daytona 500. Historically, the Indianapolis 500 is more important, if only because it’s more of an international proving ground. Not that the Indy 500 is not a major race; Lord knows that it is. But the Daytona 500 has definitely surpassed it as the most important race in North America.

Q: How come white men are the only ones allowed to compete in NASCAR?
A: There is no rule, contrary to most Northerners’ beliefs, that prohibits non-whites or women from competing. Just two weeks ago, female driver Shawna Robinson competed in the historic Mexico City race, and has previously competed in the Daytona 500. There have been black NASCAR drivers before, and thanks in part to the efforts of Magic Johnson and Sam Belnavis, there is a growing effort to increase the number of black drivers in NASCAR.

Q: Are you leaving Inside Pulse, because you spend so much time away from the site!
A: No, I’m not leaving Inside Pulse. As a matter of fact, Widro and Slayer would have to shoot me before I permanently leave… (I hear footsteps outside my bedroom as we speak)

Q: Why does NASCAR only race primarily on ovals?
A: It all has to do with the background of the sport. Whereas most European and Asian racing backgrounds involve complex circuits and Grand Prix events, American racing grew out of the dirt track lore. And dirt tracks are usually ovals, so there ya go.

Q: What is the funniest name for a race sponsor in your opinion?
A: There have been plenty of regionalized race titles that sound less than normal, but on the 2005 schedule, the honor of being the funniest race name on the Nextel Cup Schedule goes to the November race in Texas, the Dickies 500. Ha ha, hee hee.

Q: What does a partial caution mean during a road course race?
A: A partial caution means that a particular turn/corner or stretch of the track has seen an accident localized to that area, and that drivers should exercise extreme caution in that area. This is opposite of a full course caution, which would bring out the yellow flag at the start/finish line and bring out the pace car.

Q: What’s the deal with the Second Flagman at Dover?
A: This has actually become something of a tradition at Dover. Every June when the tour comes to Dover, a young man (whose name I can’t remember) will sit underneath the flag stand and wave his on set of flags in concordance with the official flag man. This guy has been doing this for something like ten years now, and even the FOX broadcasters recognize him when the cameras catch him.

Q: Is there some sort of school to attend if you want to get into NASCAR?
A: There are numerous driving schools located throughout the country that help teach students how to drive. NASCAR itself has the NASCAR Technical Institute, which teaches people about the inners workings of the sport itself. Normally, though, people get involved with NASCAR through their family tradition and/or a strong background in dirt track racing/open wheels/go carts, etc.

Q: Why can’t NASCAR race during the winter?
A: NASCAR doesn’t race in the winter, primarily speaking, because A – the weather is generally worse and not appropriate for racing and B – drivers need a break during the course of a year, because racing is very draining physically and emotionally, and it really limits the amount of time you can spend with your family.

Know Your NASCAR
And finally, the section that made me semi-popular. This section was geared more towards international readers as opposed to American readers, who probably knew a bit more about NASCAR racing by sheer osmosis. Each edition, we drove headlong into a facet of Stock Car Racing here in the United States, whether it were a bit about the sport itself, its personalities, or its history. This week, we’re looking back at the most important race in the history of the Atlanta Motor Speedway: the 1992 Hooters 500.

There are several important historical notes that should be made about the race. Not only was it the final race of 1992, but it served as the final race of “the King” Richard Petty. Petty crashed early on into the race, but did manage to turn a few laps at the very end and finished 35th to close out his career. On the flip side, a man that one day may very well be considered the Richard Petty of the new millennium, Jeff Gordon, made his NASCAR debut on this day, finishing 31st and, oddly enough, also crashing. The event marked the end of two important eras in NASCAR; firstly, it marked the final year that Darrell Waltrip, one of the all-time greats in NASCAR history, would win a race. It would also be one of the last hoorahs for Bill Elliott, who would never again be in a serious position to challenge for the Winston Cup/Nextel Cup Championship again. This race marked the official transition of “power” from Richard Petty to Dale Earnhardt. Though the Intimidator had been a dominant force for years, he was finally able to step out from Petty’s shadow. It also marked Dale’s rise to fame outside of the South as well. These points alone could make it one of the most memorable races in history.

But most importantly, this race marked the conclusion to, in my eyes and most everyone else’s associated with NASCAR, the most exciting Winston Cup Championship points race ever. On that cold November day in Atlanta, the stage was set: three men, with different backgrounds, personalities, and heritages would be vying for the Winston Cup, the best of the best. The points leader, Davey Allison, would have to outpace Dawsonville, Georgia’s Bill Elliott and the man who has since been immortalized through the Polish victory lap, “Special K” Alan Kulwicki. The race began, with Allison running well, and both Kulwicki and Elliott running nose to tail, when the points leader suffered the most devastating collapse of his career; Davey was unable to avoid a multi-car crash down the front stretch, and he was wiped out by Ernie Irvan’s Kodak car. Allison would finish the race, but the crash would keep him off the track long enough to knock him out of contention for the points championship. So the final two were set; Alan Kulwicki running in first, Bill Elliott running in second. Kulwicki lead for awhile, gaining valuable laps in the process. Elliott frantically tried to pass Kulwicki before he could accumulate more laps led than Elliott could make up. He finally passed Kulwicki with a good twenty-five to thirty laps to go when Kulwicki made a green flag stop. As Elliott tried his best to hold onto the lead until the end, NASCAR officials tried to gauge the laps led tally. With five laps to go, with Elliott in first and Alan Kulwicki running in second, it became apparent that Kulwicki would lead the most laps in the race, and would pick up the five bonus points. Elliott, with the situation out of his control, came across the start/finish line to win the Hooters 500, praying that Kulwicki would drop out of second place, the only way Elliott could still win the points race. However, Kulwicki would not be denied, as Alan drove his car across the line in second place, claiming the Winston Cup Championship. The margin of victory between Kulwicki and Elliott? One lap. One Lap is all that separated Kulwicki from winning the Winston Cup and finishing second. Had Elliott taken the lead from Kulwicki one lap earlier, he would have won the Winston Cup Championship. Incredible.

That race essentially marked the beginning of the end of an era in NASCAR. After 1992, the sport would slowly but surely begin to grow nationally, culminating in the national power we know it as today. The work of Richard Petty was complete, as he passed the torch to Gordon (and Earnhardt, essentially). The race also marked the last time fans would really get to smile when talking about Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki. One year after the race that changed all three men forever, both Allison and Kulwicki were dead. Elliott himself was never quite the same, either. But for one cold afternoon in Georgia, three men went at each other in a race for the ages, all the while watching the King step down, a Rainbow Warrior emerge, an Intimidator become the top dog in the sport, and a new era dawn in a sport that is at the very heart of the region it helped define.

The Finish Line: Final Thoughts on the Season That Was
I love that KYN bit, and I don’t care why. It’s hard to believe that the season is finally over! Thanks in part to some well timed personal issues, I got around to covering half the season. And I pray that the same issues will not arise again anytime soon. Having said that, there’s nothing much more to note as it pertains to NASCAR. It’s been a fun ride, and I thank all that took the time to read the sparse columns, because you guys make Inside Pulse what it is; a great place to write at. I also want to apologize to all you true NASCAR fans out there; I know I let you down in a lot of ways, but when I did manage to come through with a column, I hope I entertained you to the best of your expectations.

Victory Lap for the Pimps
Patrick Nguyen sleeps with your girlfriends, since I’m apparently delegated to your moms. Nguyen!

And, of course, Eric gets the obligatory God Spot #2. The Man that Dub-Ya Fears

Dave Savior is our new boss. Nice to meet you, Dave. Get ready to put up with my shit now.Savior!

The wholesome goodness within is addictive! Mr. Rogers!

If I can become half the writer that Nick Pomazak is, I’ll be eternally thankful. I mean it, too.

Slayer, man, you’re the best! Slayer!

Yo, Omar! Make room, I gotta siphon some more heat off another IP mainstay! Omar!

Victory Lane
That’s it, my little chickadees. I’ll see you soon for the return of Ice This! Until then… buh-bye, NASCAR!

Peace, guys.