<
>

Ah, December in Manhattan: Glitz, glamour ... and camouflage pants?

NEW YORK -- It took a decade, but I no longer feel out of place in Manhattan. That's scary and somewhat troubling. I figure it's the ESPN neckties. I need to take my act back home to Virginia and drink some red-label Budweiser and chew some Red Man and shoot some guns and move some dirt. And wear the same camouflage pants for days on end. With my high school football jersey.

Marty,

Why the heck does NASCAR have the awards in New York? Those people don't give a dang about NASCAR, and it's a slap in the face to fans like me and my friends who DO give a dang. Why continue to support them when they don't support you? I bet you half the people in the Waldorf or whatever it is don't even know who Jimmie Johnson is. Go Hogs!

-- Kevin Dellavia, Fayetteville, Ark.

Folks cast in the NASCAR soap opera incessantly debate the Beverly Hillbillies' annual pilgrimage to New York City, Kevin. Should we pack up the truck and head north?

The question in fact was posed Tuesday evening by a dear friend at the Waldorf=Astoria bar just prior to our fourth $35 round of Jack. At that point, you offer simple answers. Honest ones, anyway. So here's the simple, honest answer (not so much).

I love coming here. I love everything about Manhattan in December. Nowhere else on Earth produces this feeling, whatever this feeling is. Excitement. Bustle. Exuberance. Relevance? I don't know.

Whatever it is, the residual electricity could light the big tree down the street. Charlotte is home. But Charlotte doesn't feel like this.

This was Bill France Jr.'s vision -- for NASCAR to matter in Manhattan. It was genius. He was genius. But I'm not certain the initiative is still pertinent. We've ridden, quite literally, around the block here.

Used to be, when NASCAR was "regional," the major Manhattan-based publications didn't care about it. So NASCAR dropped its drivers in their laps. That's no longer necessary. And Manhattan ain't NASCAR.

NASCAR is Darlington, S.C., and Martinsville, Va., and Charlotte, N.C. NASCAR is Daytona Beach and Hampton, Ga. NASCAR is the Southeast, and its brass should take their own advice and embrace that more.

They want to. I believe that. I don't think they always wanted to, especially in recent years, but like a wayward teenager who must stray to find himself, they quickly are realizing that family isn't so bad.

Folks in small country towns are NASCAR folks. That's why Dale Earnhardt Jr. resonates so loudly. Core fans -- i.e., fans who spend hard-earned dollars to support NASCAR -- look at Junior and say, "Damn, I could drink a beer with that guy."

Granted, the sport has grown tremendously during the past decade and truly become a national pastime. A national pastime. Not the national pastime. Folks love racing. Take anyone to the racetrack, and he'll remember what his first crush felt like. (Mine, I think, was Lindsay Hendrix. She moved away in sixth grade, though.)

Anyway, I understand fully why the sport's brass continue to make Manhattan its championship home. It's pretty and it's fancy, and it's the media and financial center of the world, and people dress well.

Dreams are born here and die here. I love NASCAR in New York. I think most folks involved in the sport do, because it signals the culmination of yet another fruitful campaign.

But man, outside of us -- and the same handful of folks who stand outside the lobby every single year hounding autographs -- no one really seems to care much whether we're here or not. New York doesn't stop for NASCAR. It barely so much as taps the brake. Doesn't have to.

And that's fine, so long as we always remember to embrace those who do.

Marty,

With all the talk about the testing ban and savings for the teams, most of the commentators have said testing is about $100,000 a day, which I assume is travel costs, fuel, tires, labor, etc., but also would include track "rental." Somebody this weekend mentioned Rockingham was $5,000, which seems cheap. But I've never heard any mention of how much other tracks popular for testing (Kentucky, Nashville, Milwaukee, etc.) cost to rent and was curious how much they might be.

Also, didn't hear anyone mention the financial impact on these tracks like Kentucky, which it seems many teams test at multiple times per season. Gotta believe places like Kentucky, Nashville and others can't be too happy with the ban.

-- Bob in Peoria, Ill.

I spoke with officials at Kentucky Speedway, which is inarguably the most popular testing facility for Cup teams, and was told it had roughly 65 NASCAR test days in 2008 at approximately $6,000 per test. By that math, it stands to lose nearly $400,000 in revenue next year.

Marty,

What's up with AJ Allmendinger? Is he going to get a ride or is he just completely screwed?

-- A.D., Clinton, S.C.

I corresponded with Allmendinger on Wednesday, A.D., and he tells me he still has nothing in the hopper. He's speaking with some teams -- Ganassi and Gillett Evernham -- but he's still jobless at present.

I don't get it. It has to be sponsorship-driven. His talent is indisputable.

Song of the Week: "Where I'm From." Jason Michael Carroll.

"Where the quarterback dates the homecoming queen,
The truck's a Ford and the tractor's green,
And 'Amazing Grace' is what we sing.
There's a county fair every fall,
And your friends are there no matter when you call.
It may not sound like much, but its where I'm from."

Love it.

OK Marty ...

It's time to earn your paycheck with a little investigative reporting. Prove to me that the keyboardist of Night Ranger isn't Carl Edwards' long-lost brother. (Not the guy at the piano -- the guy at the keyboard.) Just put Carl in a Hannah Montana wig and you have a "Sister Christian" video. C'mon! That has to get me in The Six. And not the Nikki Sixx.

-- Wade, Lake Worth

Wade: You're in The Six, man, but only because you made me laugh like a drunken hyena.

Personally, I don't think Johnny Keyboard looks anything like Edwards. Then again, I've never seen Edwards in leather pants or a mullet.

I remember a couple of years ago, a San Diego newspaper did a "separated at birth?" comparison between Jimmie Johnson and Dave Matthews. The only thing that looks similar on those two is their wily locks, now that Johnson has some again.

Just for the record, Wade, the Crue still kills it, and you have entirely too much time on your hands. Arguably the best question of the year.

That's my time this week. The red team won the Cocozza Family Turkey Bowl, albeit barely. It was like Texas-Texas Tech -- more points than the Denver Nuggets and about as much defense. (None.) We had one concussion and one high-ankle sprain. I have a black left eye and a fat lip. Good thing I have Cover Girl.

Advice from Captain Tourist: If you're in New York, head to Broadway and spend the money to see "In The Heights." There's a reason it won best musical at the Tony Awards. Lainie and I were floored by the performance.

It has to be neckties.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.