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NASCAR Watkins Glen postscript

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


So, it appears that mother nature had yet another mood swing and the result was another  Monday  NASCAR Sprint Cup event. Mother Nature was in a very foul mood Sunday morning and bombed the Watkins Glen International Raceway with heavy rain and lightning bolts. This was particularly stressful for fans who were sitting in aluminum based seats who understandably made quick work of vacating those seats.

If Monday NASCAR racing is going to become more the norm than the unusual then it occurs to me that it could open up a new television ratings challenge for the sanctioning body. They could find themselves in a rating war against daytime soap operas and re runs of "The Jerry Springer Show." It would likely reap more benefits than taking on the NFL, which is now here, on Sunday afternoons.  Who knows? The Monday morning price could turn out to be right.

Also from the weekend we witnessed a driver who seems to traditionally  hit a hot streak during the hottest time of the year. We were all reminded why we fell in love with "Kangaroo Meat", and unfortunately we were reminded exactly why the Car Of Tomorrow was needed to begin with. With all those thoughts in mind let's get into this week's THUMBS-UPS and WHAT'S-UPS .

THUMBS-UP to "Smoke" for running around Watkins Glen's 2.5 mile road course like he was on fire. Tony  Stewart led 34 laps in Monday's race en route to this third win of the season and the 36th of his career. There seems to be a rather unusual tradition surrounding Stewart that says he gets hot on the track when the weather get hotter. He's certainly in the process of once again proving that point.

Last January the vast majority of the racing media, including yours truly,  were saying that his decision to leave Joe Gibbs Racing to start his own team was going to be riddled with difficulty and we shouldn't expect to see very much from its first season. I personally recall writing "this new team is  going to experience growing pains and  there will be times when it will feel like chest pains." Now it appears that Stewart's new team is going to place two cars in the 12 man line up for the Chase For The Championship and Stewart is looking and sounding like a future Cup champion.

"Mr. Stewart: I was wrong and I apologize."

THUMBS-UP to Australia's Marcus Ambrose, aka "Kangaroo Meat." He did a fantastic job pulling off a race winning move against Kyle Busch during Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race. He was also a major player in Monday's Sprint Cup event with an impressive second place finish.

Naysayers may point out that Ambrose is a road course champion, in his native Australia, and is expected to perform well in this form of racing. But let's not overlook the improvements he making in the oval track events. Off the track he's one of the most likable people you would ever want to say hello to. Brad Daugherty, co owner of his JTG Daugherty Racing team, went on record last weekend as saying they were prepared to do whatever's necessary to insure that they have this driver's name on a long term contract.

THUMBS-UP for the reason that made NASCAR introduce the Car Of Tomorrow-COT to begin with: safety. When this car was first introduced there was the proverbial weeping and gnashing of teeth. But in the midst of griping over down force, handling and can't see out the back window was the real reason for the car's creation. That Monday afternoon savage wreck, involving the cars of Sam Hornish Jr and Jeff Gordon, was a grim reminder of why this vehicle was needed. The lap 63 incident brought out the red flag for approximately 19 minutes for track clean up.

But the really important issue here is the fact that both drivers walked away from the wreck uninjured. Granted, a crash like that is not going to be good for the chronic back pain Gordon has been dealing with for the past year, but he'll be the first to praise the COT safety features that allowed him to escape serious injury from a very bad accident.

There has already been outcries for Watkins Glen officials to consider safety improvements for the track where turn 11 connects to the front stretch. Here's hoping that they heed the call.

WHAT'S-UP with Dale Jr and yet another bad brake, (no pun intended). Not even the spending power of team owner Rick Hendrick's bank account could buy this team some good luck. Earnhardt crashed hard into a tire barrier after his brakes failed and has to settle for a 39th place finish. That's just plain bad luck for a team that has had more than there fair share of problems this year. One has to believe that Earnhardt would like to see New Year's Eve come early this year.  The team's only real recourse is to buckle down and salvage something good from 2009 while laying the ground work for next year.

For that matter WHAT'S-UP with Hendrick Motorsports overall performance at Watkins Glen a track where they were expected to shine at? In addition of the wrecks that ended Earnhardt and Gordon's day,  Mark Martin started this race from 28th and only worked his to 23d. Jimmie Johnson, who stunned everyone by winning the pole during qualifying, was virtually ineffective all day and had to settle for a 12th place finish.

THUMBS-UP for the always fun Boris Said who was driving the #09 Ford, normally driven by John Wes Townsley, in Saturday's Nationwide Series race. A comment from the ESPN2 broadcast booth said "this car wasn't exactly made for Boris' large frame, (6 feet four inches), his knees are practically up to his chin in that car." It was also later pointed out that Said was "driving in the fetal position." Later in the race, when his crew chief asked the driver what the car needed, Said replied "I need it to turn better and I need three more inches of leg room." By the way, aren't the fans of this driver, the Said Heads, a lot of fun?

THUMBS-UP to the multiple car group. grand prix style, qualifying session observed prior to Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen. The cars were sent out in nine groups, approximately five cars in each group, and their fastest laps were recorded during the runs. This made the live television coverage of qualifying, which can often get somewhat tedious, a lot more interesting. I, for one, would like to see more of this format.

WHAT'S-UP with those temper tantrums between drivers Robby Gordon and Joey  Logano during the Nationwide Series event? Nothing good comes from on track retaliation and the end result of this incident was Logano's car coming to a fiery stop following a crash launched by Gordon. 

Gordon claims that the tempers started flaring during the race when he felt Logano hit the back of his car in turn 10 and then knocked him sideways in turn 11. In some post race commentary Gordon said "to show my displeasure, I ran him down towards the inside wall on the front straight. I tried to do a cross over move in turn one to get back by him. However, I misjudged a little resulting in both of us getting flat tires."

By the real temper tantrum came several laps later when both cars were a lap down and racing for the lucky dog position. Logano made contact with Tony Raines' car and Gordon saw an opportunity to pass him for the lucky dog spot knowing the Raines spin out would likely bring out a caution flag. Gordon claims that Logano realized he was being passed for the lucky dog position and tried to block the move resulting in the cars again making contact. Logano crashed hard into the tire barriers which caused a fuel line to get loose and the car to catch on fire.

"At the end of the day I'm just glad that Joey is okay," a subdued Gordon said. "this is a highly competitive sport, and we are all passionate when we are on the race track. Tempers have a tendency to flare, but hopefully in the future we will race each other cleaner. Under my own doing, I did stop by the NASCAR hauler to converse with them about the incident. There will be no repercussions from the event," he added.

However a clearly upset Logano had different thoughts and said "apparently, we got into a little grudge match after I cut down his tire. It's a pretty raw deal. You can't fix stupid, it's forever. You put that in your memory bank."

THUMBS-UP to Kyle Busch for setting a new NASCAR record during the Nationwide Series event for ten consecutive series finishes of first or second. The original record was set by Sam Ard back in 1983.

But, WHAT'S-UP with another one of this driver's surly, not to mention arrogant, post race interviews? Busch didn't seem to care about setting a new series record. That's too bad. To have your name mentioned in the same sentence with a NASCAR pioneer like Sam Ard is within itself a honor.

The truth of the matter was: Busch was incensed by getting caught off guard by race winner Marcus Ambrose. Ambrose pulled an unexpected move in turn one, following the final restart of this race, that turned into a winning effort and another second place for Busch. Busch was caught so completely off guard that he had to sail down the emergency lane, off of turn one, to keep from wrecking his car.

Once again Busch failed to use live television time to say thank you to the people who support his racing effort. Granted, only one person can park a car in a NASCAR victory lane but it takes a small army of dedicated people to create that special moment in time. Busch failed to thank his hard working crew and failed to thank his sponsors who spend mega millions so he can enjoy his great American dream. Perhaps it's again time for someone, from the Gibbs Racing Public Relations Department, to remind this young driver how important a thank you on national television really is. Then again, the fact that he needs to be reminded of this at all it yet another reason for a WHAT'S-UP.

THUMBS-UP to Coach Joe Gibbs. The owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, along with writer Jerry B. Jenkins, recently published an inspirational book titled "Game Plan For Life: You Personal Playbook For Success." Last Sunday Gibbs learned that the book debuted at number three on the prestigious "New York Times" best seller list. Way to go Joe.

On the topic of way to go Joe, let's send the final THUMBS-UP of the week to Joe Nemechek for his willingness to help out  fellow driver, and good friend, Mike Bliss.

As noted last week Bliss was released from his Phoenix Racing ride in the Nationwide Series despite the fact that he was sixth in the championship standings and gave the team a major win last May. Wanting to keep his position in the top ten of the points, Bliss drove the MSRP Motorsports car last Saturday at Watkins Glen in an effort to gain any points possible.

Nemechek, the owner driver of a financially struggling team in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, told Bliss that he would let him drive his car in Nationwide Series races at Michigan and Bristol to help him keep his name out there in hopes of finding another ride. This is exactly why anyone within the NASCAR fraternity will tell you that "Front Row Joe" is a class act.

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