That's nothing compared to NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing, circa 2010.
After only one race, Drew Blickensderfer -- the man who led Matt Kenseth's team to wins in the first two races of the 2009 season, including the Daytona 500 -- has been replaced at Roush Racing. Veteran crew chief Todd Parrott will take over Blickensderfer's role with Kenseth starting this week in Las Vegas. Kenseth apparently asked Roush Racing to make the change.
Can you imagine the outrage if an NFL coach was fired after the first game of the season? Fans would insist that a coach had not been given time to develop the team. Some would raise Cain with the owner, calling him a meddler (I never understood how the man that owns the business could be called a meddler -- IT'S HIS BUSINESS).
But it just shows the level of pressure and the demand for results in NASCAR today. "What have you done for me lately," is the creed.
Just win baby. It's probably more true in NASCAR than any other sport.
Carl Edwards' victory celebration is unique, explaining its popularity with fans (show here at TMS in 2006). After all, not everybody can pull off a backflip from the roof of their car.
Quite honestly I'm tired of the burnouts and donuts. The others, they're OK. In fact, they're great because they are unique to the celebrants. But it doesn't take any talent or skill to do a burnout or a donut. I've never driven a Cup race in my life, but I can slide behind the wheel of a Cup car and instantly do a burnout or a donut. Instantly.
Do fans really enjoy this "celebration?" If you love motorsports the way I do, you love the sweet smell of racing fuel, the aroma of hot tires and even the odor of race car exhaust (maybe that explains some things). But I find nothing pleasant in cheering a driver to a victory only for him to lay a thick cloud of blue/white smoke on 200,000 people in the grandstands as a reward for our cheers. It's kind of like spraying for mosquitoes -- only bigger.
The unique celebrations are great. Carl Edwards' backflip is great because Carl can do it. Can you beat Jimmie, Jeff, Tony and the rest and still look like an Olympic gymnast by nailing the dismount? That's skill.
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Tony Stewart hasn't climbed the fences in quite a while, bucking his victory celebration even after winning four Sprint Cup races in 2009.
Fence climbing as a way of celebration was brought to us by Indy 500 (and Dancing With the Stars) champ Helio Castroneves after he won his first Indy Car race, the 2000 CART Detroit Grand Prix. The ever-excitable Castroneves jumped from his car and scaled the fence to get close to the fans in celebration.
Tony Stewart kind of swiped Castroneves' act. It's great fun to see the emotional Castroneves still climbing fences after a win. But it's great to see a chubby Tony Stewart struggle to successfully climb the fence. Stewart will even tell you that from time to time he's downright fat. It's part of his appeal. I just hope the fences can hold the load.
And then there is the "Polish Victory Lap," developed by the late Alan Kulwicki, the 1992 NASCAR Cup Series champ. Kulwicki, who was Polish, was an engineer and known for being quiet and studious. Those of us that knew him well knew Kulwicki had a sharp sense of humor and loved to have fun.
When Kulwicki won his first Cup race in 1988, he did his victory lap running clockwise around the track, not counter-clockwise as the race is run. When he got to Victory Lane, the media asked him about it and Kulwicki beamed and referred to it as his "Polish Victory Lap." Only Kulwicki could get away with making fun of his own ethnicity and everybody loved it. When Kulwicki died in April 1993 in an airplane crash, other drivers started doing "Polish Victory Laps" after their wins in a nod of respect to Kulwicki.
But the burnouts and the donuts? Not special. Not original. If you have nothing original, just go to Victory Lane and accept the trophy.
Travis Pastrana visited my office last week. The most successful freestyle motocross competitor in the history of ESPN's X Games and the star of the TV show Nitro Circus, Pastrana was at Texas Motor Speedway for a day of rest and relaxation with some friends.
How does Pastrana relax?
He and his buddies took the Team Texas High Performance Driving School in thoroughbred NASCAR Sprint Cup cars, hitting speeds in excess of 150 mph around The Great American Speedway! Pastrana said he has attended two races at Texas Motor Speedway to watch his buddy Brian Vickers race.
We talked about his interest in running a stock car race at Texas, and Pastrana simply said, "Where did you here that?" And quickly cut his eyes at his smiling friends as if to say, "What a great idea."
You may recall Pastrana's 250-foot shore-to-barge leap over the Long Beach Harbor in a Rally Car this New Year's Eve during Red Bull No Limits on ESPN. Two wheels or four, Pastrana is at home.
The new spoiler, the biggest adjustment to the CoT yet, is a welcome change for drivers who hated the clumsy wing.
NASCAR Sprint Cup teams tested recently at Texas Motor Speedway using a spoiler as opposed to the rear wing, which has been used exclusively on the "Car of Tomorrow" since its introduction in 2008. Word has it that the spoiler will replace the wing by March 21 at Bristol or March 28 at Martinsville. That would mean that Texas Motor Speedway would be the first of the important 1.5-mile speedways to use the spoiler.
Driver Jeff Burton thinks the spoiler will make a big difference as teams are focusing all of their testing (on-track, wind tunnels, computer simulated, etc.) on using the spoiler. Burton believes the season can be broken down in "before spoiler" and "after spoiler." Because intermediate tracks like Texas make up the majority of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup at the end of the season, how the spoiler performs on these tracks is critical.
If it is used at Texas for the Samsung Mobile 500 on April 18, it may be a wild card for the teams and could result in a surprise winner if a team finds the right combination. And it could make for an interesting championship run next fall.
Why is NASCAR making the change? They have heard from the fans that they don't like the look of the rear wing. Stock cars have traditionally -- but not always -- used a spoiler to create down force on the rear-wheel drive Cup cars. The wing was new and, quite frankly, turned off some long-time fans. Credit NASCAR for hearing you on this one.
Clearly the car to beat at Daytona, Harvick again had a strong car at Auto Club Speedway, finishing second in Sunday's race. An unfortunate speeding violation on pit road may have cost him a chance at the win. Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's race, the 48th of his career.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Kevin Harvick led 27 laps Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.
Harvick's "speeding ticket" forced him to chase Johnson down to the wire. His car looked faster than Johnson's, but Harvick brushed the fourth-turn wall with four laps to go. Without the violation, Harvick may not have been forced to press so hard at the end, perhaps making a mistake.
Teammate Jeff Burton finished third in the California race. After Harvick wounded his car bouncing off the fourth-turn wall, Burton closed but ran out of laps to make the pass.
Despite not winding up in Victory Lane in either of NASCAR's first two races, Harvick has reason to smile. It appears his Richard Childress Racing Team has made improvements and put Harvick, Burton and teammate Clint Bowyer in contention. Last season all three failed to make The Chase. It was a long fall from grace for the team that Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove for en route to six of the seven NASCAR Cup Series titles.
At Daytona, Bowyer finished fourth, Harvick seventh and Burton wound up 14th.
Sunday, not only did Harvick and Burton finish second and third, but Bowyer came home eighth.
It's too early to be counting points, but coming out of the box strong is important. Harvick and his RCR teammates are picking up points and confidence. And confidence breeds confidence.
Look for Harvick to win races and contend for the 2010 title.
It was somewhat surprising to see engines blowing during Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway. It used to be a common thing to see smoke erupt from a car and have four or five cars sitting in the garage with blown engines.
Ryan Newman had to drop out of Sunday's Auto Club 500 with a blown engine.
But engine builders today in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have gotten so good that you seldom see a "smoker" on the track.
Engines from top-notch teams, including those of Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman, went up in smoke today. Both drivers retired from the race. It's just not a common thing anymore.
If your street car hits 3,500 RPMs, you are really pushing it. But a Cup car today runs more than 9,000 RPMs. Engine builders have become so adept at building the Cup engines and the parts and pieces they use have improved so much that it's just a rarity to see a blown engine.
Although the problems with the two engines appeared to be different, it makes you wonder if the teams had either run into a bad batch of parts or if the two teams were experimenting with parts under the hood. Both are running Chevys. Montoya had qualified second for Sunday's race and is a teammate of Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray. Newman is a teammate of Tony Stewart.
I had a three-hour dinner this week with Randy Bernard, the new CEO of the Indy Racing League. Since it was just the two of us, it was great to talk uninterrupted.
The guy is a sponge. He barely said hello before launching into a series of questions. The IRL has some big decisions facing it with regards to chassis and engine agreements. He is trying to learn as much as he can about the sport, the people in the sport, the IRL staff and more. Quickly.
My sense is this is a very good hire. Bernard served as CEO of the Professional Bull Rider's Tour. The PBR has rocketed from infancy to huge success over the last 15 years under Bernard's direction.
One thing I did learn is that Bernard is a promoter. That's his first instinct. The IRL racing product is quite good (especially since changes were made before last August's Kentucky race). What it needs is a promoter to market the product to the mainstream and help build the names of its stars. That person also needs to be able to juggle the needs of fans, teams, sponsors, promoters, media and the rest.
Bernard has experience in both. He has a flair for colorful promotion. Go to a PBR event and see the production, pyro, spotlights, sound and more to realize he can build an event to a crescendo. He, too, had to balance the needs of fans, bull riders, stock contractors, sponsors and more.
He's experienced in both. I look forward to helping him.
Commercials in the Daytona 500 are as much fun to race fans as commercials in the Super Bowl. This is the time all the big sponsors roll out their new TV spots and try to out-do each other.
It seems the fan favorite was the Toyota commercial giving fans the chance to design a paint scheme that will actually be used in a race this year. Seeing wild man Kyle Busch in a pink uniform driving a car with kittens painted on it was clever. I especially liked Kyle's helmet with the big kitty painted on top.
That's the talk of the week. Some media folks that have never been to a race track in their lives and only talk about racing in derisive fashion have gone to great lengths to trash the sport and the unfortunate problem that sprung up (or was it cratered) during the Daytona 500.
The broken asphalt, which twice caused stoppage of the Daytona 500, is getting a temporary fix.
I don't remember them ranting about an NHL game that I went to many years ago only to see it postponed because the ice wouldn't set. I don't remember them railing about the NBA game that was stopped because of condensation on the floor that formed due to the ice for hockey games that is found below the playing floor at most major arenas. For that matter, can't they produce a backboard that doesn't shatter during a slam dunk, resulting in a stoppage in play while the backboard is replaced and the glass is cleaned up?
Like the bumper sticker says, stuff happens.
At Texas Motor Speedway, we try to be prepared for all eventualities. In cases involving the asphalt, catch fence and the safer barriers, we have a truck that is stocked with supplies to fix all those problems. It's got tools, cutting torches, welding machine and more, including materials to patch asphalt in all types of weather conditions. Between races, no one is allowed to enter the truck's storage compartment and "borrow" a tool, supplies or equipment for fear that it won't be returned and cause a delay in repair work on race day.
The folks at Daytona International Speedway this week have asked for photos of the truck to see how we prepare for the race. We gladly sent it to them as well as an inventory list.
Is everything in there? We think so. Is there a chance we'll have a problem one day that the contents of the truck can't fix?
After time to reflect, Sunday's Daytona 500 ranks among the best races I've ever seen in 31 years in NASCAR. Even with the two red flags, the race ranks in my top three.
The best race I've ever seen was the 1992 running of The Winston, now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. In a three-man competition between Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty and Davey Allison, the race saw three lead changes between the third turn and the finish line. Earnhardt crashed in Turn 3 while Petty and Allison crashed just before the finish line. Allison's car spun across the finish line to win before hitting the outside wall hard. He was airlifted to the hospital because of the impact (he was bruised and battered but otherwise unhurt) instead of going to Victory Lane.
Eddie Gossage's second-best finish: When Sam Hornish Jr. beat Helio Castroneves to the checkered flag by 0.0096 seconds to win the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in 2002.
The second-best I've seen was the 2002 Chevy 500 Indy Racing League event here at Texas. Sam Hornish Jr. edged Helio Castroneves at the finish line by 0.0096 seconds. Hornish not only won the race but nipped Castroneves by that margin for the season-long championship. It was an instant classic.
And so was Sunday's Daytona 500, pothole and all.
Do you think anybody hates NASCAR's rule change of last week on the green-white-checker overtime rule more than Kevin Harvick? NASCAR changed the overtime rule from one try at a green-white-checkered finish to three tries. If the rule hadn't been changed, Harvick would have been declared the winner when a caution came out during the first overtime period.
As it was, Jamie McMurray was in the lead at the end of the second overtime. The change cost about a million dollars between the first-place payout and the seventh-place payout, where Harvick finished. More importantly to Harvick, he wanted the win because he hasn't won a point race since taking the Daytona 500 three years ago. The winner's paycheck could have been 10 cents and Harvick would have run over his grandmother to win Daytona. By the way, I like the rule. Sorry Kevin.
The top five in the Daytona 500 included three Chevys, one Ford and one Toyota. The highest-finishing Dodge was Kurt Busch way back in 23rd. It makes you wonder if Dodge is on equal footing with the other three manufacturers. It may just be a restrictor plate issue for Dodge. We'll learn more this weekend at Auto Club Speedway in California, where the plates come off the engines. Perhaps an even better litmus test will be at Las Vegas in a couple of weeks.
New Indy chassis concepts
Indy cars excite me. When I look at one, I see something bred specifically for the purpose of going lightning fast. I just love watching Indy car races.
The IRL plans to move to a new chassis in 2012 and last week three different makers rolled out their concepts -- one by chassis maker Dallara, one from Swift and one from Delta Wing. The Delta Wing is championed by Indy car team owner Chip Ganassi.
After looking at the concepts and thinking about it for five days, I honestly don't know what to say about them. I'm speechless. Particularly about the Delta Wing. Seriously?