Editorial

View from the Topside
Miscellaneous Pre-Season Ramblings

   by Rick Benjamin
March 2, 2006

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It’s that time once again….we’re hitting the road to begin covering a wide range of significant motorsports action for a variety of TV networks and racing series throughout 2006. Just back from a couple of days at Daytona and DIRT Motorsports’ Volusia Speedway Park, and preparing to call our first Hooters Pro Cup stock car action of the new year on SPEED.

Short track racing doesn’t get too much attention here, but that’s not for lack of quality. Short tracks are where most new fans and drivers come from. As we see week in and week out in NASCAR and elsewhere, the drivers at the top of the scoring pylon are usually short track graduates. Now, Sunday’s 500 mile snoozer at California Speedway probably won’t go down in history as one of the most entertaining Cup events in recent memory, but it did serve as a textbook example of the worth and strength of short track racing.

Dominant force Greg Biffle is a graduate of the short tracks of the Pacific Northwest. The eventual winner, Matt Kenseth, cut his teeth not too many years back on Wisconsin’s incredibly tough late model tracks at Madison and Slinger. Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson is a bit of an anomaly; he came from the off-road ranks before moving into the old ASA National Tour. But ASA in the late 90’s saw some of the all-time great short trackers doing battle on a weekly basis. Johnson learned at the knee of legendary Midwestern crew chief Howie Lettow and continues to put Lettow’s teachings into practice weekly in his Hendrick Chevrolet.

Of course Mark Martin, now two for two in his return to the Craftsman Truck tour, is perhaps ASA’s greatest graduate and a walking advertisement for the value of a short track racing education. Martin’s accomplished something I wouldn’t have thought possible…putting a Ford truck back in an NCTS winner’s circle. While Ford has done a fine job in the Cup series and with its involvement in Champ Car, their recent history in the Truck Series has been anything but stellar. Mark, though, is still one of the world’s best and now it appears Roush Racing has found some new strength for their F150 NASCAR program The rest of NASCAR’s Truckers may find themselves battling for second when Martin buckles in for the final five events on his NCTS schedule this year.

A couple of interesting developments as we head toward this first racing weekend of March. While several Champ Car teams have yet to make their final announcements regarding their driver lineups, some of the tour’s top stars know where they’ll be in the next few weeks. Former Champ Car champion Paul Tracy heads to Mexico City this weekend to run at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, his second NASCAR Busch Series start of 2006.

And there’s word today that Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira will join the Multimatic Panoz GT team for the 12 Hours of Sebring in a couple more weeks. That move immediately gives the Multimatic bunch a huge boost heading into the season opener for the American LeMans Series, and opens the door to some Champ Car stars doing double duty the weekend the two series move into Houston in May.

As for NASCAR in Mexico, PT should be right at home this week at a place where he waxed the Champ Car field in ’03. Tracy moves into the Biagi Brothers’ Dodge for this event, and he’ll have some tough competition from a group of road course ringers come Sunday. ALMS superstar Ron Fellows will drive Kevin Harvick’s 33 car, and Boris Said makes his first run for Ray Evernham’s Dodge team in the Busch Series. Marc Goossens, newly signed to a development deal by Robert Yates, makes his first NASCAR try in the RYR 90 car. And don’t overlook the return of Michel Jourdain, who’ll no doubt have plenty of incentive to do well given what’s become of his NASCAR effort since last season.

I’ll also be watching to see how John Andretti does in his ppc racing Ford. John has long been one of my favorite guys, another driver who doesn’t get the respect his glittering resume’ deserves. He’s truly an accomplished road racer with a CART victory at Surfers Paradise among his many wins. Don’t be surprised at all if John or Adrian Fernandez should end up in Victory Lane come Sunday. In fact, those seven drivers would make quite a road racing All-Star team. Any of them could drive for me any day of the week.

I’ll be off to a place that’s about as far removed from Mexico City as you could get, as a racing venue. It’s Finals Weekend for the All-American Driver Challenge, and when the final laps have been run at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina Saturday evening, we will have picked one young gun for a fully-funded Focus Midget ride this season. I’d say that come this Sunday night you’d be able to find at least two very happy race drivers in North America.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 3 Familiar Faces

2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 2 Toyota announces teams

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A peak at Champ Car TV for 2005

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