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NASCAR Brickyard postscript - A 1st-time brick kisser

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, August 02, 2011

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Paul Menard
Over the previous weekend in Indianapolis we witnessed the emotional joy of another first time winner during the NASCAR Sprint Cup's 2011 season. We witnessed the joy of a father and son moment in victory lane and we watched the race winner's father, after 35 years of sponsoring cars at Indy events, get the opportunity to join his son for the ceremonial kissing of the bricks. OH yeah, a high profile NASCAR Nationwide Series debut was halted by a double back flip on a motorcycle. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Paul Menard for becoming NASCAR's fourth first time winner of the season following an outstanding performance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Part of that performance included his ability to conserve fuel, during the late stages of the race, that allowed him to pass race leader Jamie McMurray with four laps remaining. THUMBS-UP to the winner crew chief, Slugger Labbe, who also did an outstanding job on the pit box especially in the area of monitoring fuel mileage. 

THUMBS-UP to John Menard, the race winner's father. The owner of Menard's Home Improvement Stores has been a long time sponsor of his son's racing career. He's also been a long time sponsor of Indy Racing League teams during the annual running of the Indianapolis 500. The elder Menard has always dreamed of participating in a victory lane celebration at the famed Brickyard. After 35 years of trying, and mega millions in sponsorship fees, he finally got that moment and got to share it with his race winning son. The sight of the two of them arm in arm during the victory lane ceremony was emotionally charged.

THUMBS-UP to Paul Menard for becoming the latest player in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship wild card drama. His first ever Cup win moves him to 14th in the standings and places in him contention, with race winner Denny Hamlin 11th in points, for a wild card starting berth in the Chase line up.

THUMBS-UP to the wild card angle NASCAR introduced into the championship line up procedure this year. It's actually been a lot of fun examining all of the potential angles and doing the math in order to track who's going to make the Chase.

Jeff Gordon
THUMBS-UP to Jeff Gordon, who finished second in the Brickyard 400, for that last ditch charge to the front that had us all paying attention. In the waning laps of the race, Gordon was informed that he was good to go on fuel. At the time he was approximately 12 second away from the race leader. The four time Cup champion put the hammer down and trimmed that margin down to 0.725 seconds before he ran out of laps and time.

WHAT'S-UP with the Brickyard 400 turning into another fuel mileage race that we've seen so many times this year? There were times when some of the front runners were barely above NASCAR's mandatory speed limit while trying to save fuel. Okay, I'll concede the point that it does add some drama to the latter stages of the race and it does make a crew chief earn his paycheck. Having made those concessions, there's no way a fuel mileage ending is ever going to top the drama of two drivers racing door to door to the checkers without so much as a thought to what's left in the fuel cell. That's what I'd like to see more often.

No. 27 Menard avoids a spinning Cassill
WHAT'S-UP with that lap 121 caution that was triggered by four cars barreling their way towards turn three? The end result was a Landon Cassill spin while a handful of cars went sailing through a grassy strip that created front end damage to their cars. If IRL cars can't do four wide there, in the Indy 500, then common logic says that four wider and heavier NASCAR stock cars certainly can't do it. This caution flag should have never happened.

WHAT'S-UP with driver Marcos Ambrose getting a penalty for jumping the restart? It seems that everyone's favorite Aussie changed lanes before he crossed the start-finish line. Amazingly, we've seen more than a few times lately. That's a NASCAR no no as well as a drive through penalty. It also raises the question: how many times is this infraction going to occur before the drivers get the message that it simply won't be tolerated?

WHAT'S-UP with only 138,000 seats being sold for the Brickyard 400? The problem here is the fact that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has seating for 257,000. Sadly those remaining approximate 119,000 empty chairs were highly noticeable on television. This situation is, of course, another by product of our national economy. It's a time when American families are having to make major cutbacks in their budgets and family recreation is a highly targeted area. Realistically, in this economy, 138,000 turning out for literally anything is actually pretty good.

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The THUMBS-UP for making chicken salad out of chicken do do belongs to NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Timothy Peters who won the AAA Insurance 200 at the Lucas Oil Raceway At Indianapolis. On Lap 91 Peters found himself spinning out and making his way to pit road with a flat tire. The incident placed Peters on a different pit cycle from the rest of the field and that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The crew spent the remaining pit stops making adjustments on their truck and also got their driver track position. Peters passed James Buescher, with six laps remaining in the race, to claim his first win of the season and his third career win. That's getting it done Mr. Peters.

Another chicken salad THUMBS-UP goes to Kyle Busch for his tenth place finish during the Sprint Cup's Brickyard 400. Busch had a full day on his hands at Indy that included lengthy repairs following a collision on pit road. This was followed by a little right side wall contact at race speed. Oh yeah, he was also credited for an early race yellow flag because a water bottle somehow escaped from his car and landed on the track. After a very long and hot day at Indy, I've never seen a driver so happy over a tenth place finish.

A never before issued WHAT'S-UP for making chicken salad out of chicken do do. only to see it turn to do do again, goes to NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Elliot Sadler who had a horrible Saturday at the Lucas Oil Raceway At Indianapolis while participating in the Kroger 200. The process began when Sadler crashed his Kevin Harvick Inc Chevrolet during qualifying and start the race at the back of the line. After apologizing to the team for the incident, Sadler grabbed some tools, crawled under the car and helped his guys with the repairs. He deserves a THUMBS-UP for that. Only a veteran would even think about helping with the crash damage. During the race Sadler drove like the proverbial bat out of hell and became a major player during the race's waning laps. Unfortunately, it all unraveled for Sadler on lap 200. Following a restart for a green-white-checker finish, Sadler spun and collected Austin Dillon, his Kevin Harvick Inc team mate. He had to settle for a 16th place finish and took a hit in the championship points standings.

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THUMBS-UP to Brad Keselowski for a late race charge that allowed him to win the Kroger 200, Benefiting the Riley Hospital For Children Nationwide Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway. Keselowski passed Ricky Stenhouse Jr with three laps remaining in the scheduled 200 and then had to survive a green-white-checker finish before parking his Penske Dodge in victory lane. It was his second win of the season and his 14th career series win.

THUMBS-UP to team owner Richard Childress for making three appearances in victory lane within a period of nine days. That delightful journey began on July 22nd when his grandson, Austin Dillon, won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Nashville. The following Thursday his other grandson, Ty Dillon, won his sixth ARCA Series race of the season at the Lucas Oil Raceway. Then of course Childress capped off the celebrations by joining his Cup driver, Paul Menard, in victory lane following the Brickyard 400 win.

THUMBS-UP to NASCAR driver/team owner Tony Stewart for his latest career milestone. A long time alumni of open wheel racing, Stewart won his first ever WOO, World Of Outlaws, race July 27th at the Ohsweken Speedway in Hamilton-Ontario-Canada. To get that first win Stewart had to hold off a late race challenge from series icon Sammy Swindell. Stewart has been firmly entrenched in the WOO Series for many years now as a team owner and has three team championships to show for it.

WHAT'S-UP with the horrible luck that prevented Travis Pastrana from making his NASCAR Nationwide Series official debut at the Lucas Oil Raceway event? The action sports hero had a very busy schedule that weekend. He was in Los Angeles on Friday night to compete in the annual X Games. He was supposed to fly to Indiana later that night for the Nationwide Series event on Saturday and then fly right back to California for Sunday's final day of the X Games. It all went horribly wrong-two times. On Friday night Pastrana was going to attempt the 720, a double back flip motorcycle jump. It's a trick he been working on for nearly four years now. The first attempt resulted in a crash. So did the second attempt which, sadly, also resulted in broken bones, in his right foot and ankle, that required surgery. There was no way the Nationwide Series debut was going to happen after that.

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In some final thoughts THUMBS-UP to Roush Fenway Racing for the retro paint scheme, on David Ragan's #6 Cup car, honoring Ned Jarrett's induction into the NASCAR Hall Of Fame. It was a classy thing to do for a true NASCAR icon and gentleman who deserves this type of recognition.

THUMBS-UP to country music superstars Reba McEntyre and Rascal Flatts for their patriotic music performances prior to the start of the Brickyard 400 Cup race. McEntyre performed an emotionally charged medley of "America The Beautiful" and "God Bless America". The harmonies of Rascal Flatts, performing "The National Anthem", were pristine.

The final WHAT'S-UPS of the week involves NASCAR team marketing and the placement of sponsor brands. WHAT'S-UP with the new fangled racing caps that makes it so difficult to see the sponsor's logos? These are the caps that has the logos on the extreme left front of the hat. During national television interviews, where camera shots are often close and tight, you can't see the logos on the hats at all. It makes me wonder why the public relations squads, who represents drivers and their teams, hasn't noticed this yet. There's two obvious solutions: first, have the driver stand completely still while located on the left side of the television personality. Then you have a chance of the sponsor logo being seen. The second solution is even easier: have the PR people pass out the old style of hats. Frankly the new racing hat design is kind of goofy looking anyway.

WHAT'S-UP with the new fangled sunglasses, with their mega sized lenses, that the young drivers seem to prefer these days? At the beginning of a television interview these drivers have a tendency to remove the glasses and place them on top of their racing caps again blocking the sponsor's logos. Also again, why aren't PR reps picking up on this?

Actually these new sunglasses really aren't that new fangled. Those of us who recall the disco years probably owned a pair of them. (A brief pause here for someone, not yet born before 1975, to ask "what's a disco"?) The bottom line here is: doing anything and everything to display your sponsor logo is a good thing. Doing anything that hides the sponsor logo is bad.

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