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NASCAR Notebook for February 9th

by Dave Grayson
Monday, February 09, 2009

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Kevin Harvick
Every NASCAR fan in the world has just hit high gear with the official start of Speed Weeks at Daytona. NASCAR delivered in a big way with the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday night. With that in mind let's start with:

Thumbs Up to NASCAR for changing the Budweiser Shootout's format. I probably owe them some sort of apology. I'm one of the many old school race fans who said "why are they messing with tradition?" The Budweiser Shootout's format has always been based on who won a pole position on qualifying day from the previous year. However the 2009 version of the Shootout was turned into an auto manufacturers exhibition. Each of the four carmakers had six teams in the race, based on car owner's points, as well as one wild card team for each car maker. That created a 28 car field and I must admit the Shootout was incredibly exciting. The 75 lap event was hampered by eight caution flags, and 24 laps, but it also had 14 different leaders, 23 lead changes and a green white checker finish. If it's a forerunner of things to come, then next Sunday's Daytona 500 is going to take the word excitement to new levels.

Thumbs Up to Kevin Harvick. "Happy" Harvick only led one lap of the Budweiser Shootout but it was what mattered the most: the white flag lap. Harvick made an outstanding outside move on Jamie McMurray on the backstretch and took the lead just as the race's final caution flag came out. That automatically froze the field as Harvick's Richard Childress Racing's Chevrolet sailed under the yellow and checkered flags. The last ditch effort was worth $200,000 and caused Harvick to quip "this is why you never give up until a race is over."

While we're on the topic of the Budweiser Shootout let's send a Thumbs Up to Jamie McMurray. The driver of the Roush Fenway Racing Ford drove an outstanding race and appeared to be on his way to victory lane before Kevin Harvick made that $200,000 pass on the final lap. McMurray seems to be extremely happy these days and a lot of that has to do with his reunion with crew chief Donnie Wingo. The two men reached a measure of racing success during their past tenure with Ganassi Racing. The potential resurgence of this team is extremely important. At the end of this season NASCAR will implement its new policy of limiting team owners to four cars. Roush Fenway Racing is currently campaigning five cars which means someone is going to leave the fold at the end of the year. That situation alone could make McMurray someone to watch during 2009.

What's up with beating on the Biff? Greg Biffle somehow got collected in nearly everyone's on track mischief during the Shootout. The final result was a badly wadded up race car. Despite the unbelievable evening filled with bad racing luck, Biffle still managed to smile during the post race interview. Thumbs Up for the good attitude Biff.

Thumbs Up to NASCAR for giving driver Joey Logano a break after he missed the mandatory driver's meeting prior to the Shootout. Normally missing the roll call for these meetings is a serious offense that sends a driver to the rear of the starting field.  Logano was very busy participating in the ARCA REMAX Series race, held prior to the Shootout, in an effort to gain some extra Daytona seat time. Unfortunately a horrendous accident during the late stages of this race created a red flag condition that lasted for approximately 19 minutes. That delay turned Logano‚Äôs already tight schedule into an impossible situation. Fortunately NASCAR took all of this into consideration and let the young driver keep his original starting berth in the Shootout.

What's up with the #43's blown engine? Driver Reed Sorenson was very excited about making his first official start for Richard Petty Motorsports as the driver of their #43 McDonald's Dodge. Unfortunately during the Shootout the car blew its engine. In fact the engine blew with the force of a Department of Defense weapons test. The expired engine prompted my long time racing buddy, "Six Pack Eddie", to wonder if someone from the team put McDonald's French fry oil in the car's crankcase.

On the topic of Richard Petty Motorsports, Thumbs Up for driver A J Allmendinger's fifth place finish in the Budweiser Shootout. Allmendinger was a part last year's so called open wheel invasion that featured many high profile drivers from other national and international series trying their hand in stock car racing. Many of these efforts, for various reasons, fell by the wayside. Allmendinger was with Red Bull Racing's Toyota team last year. Granted there were growing pains, sometimes even chest pains, but by the end of the year Allmendinger was showing a great deal of improvement and clearly displayed that he was getting a handle on the world of stock cars. Then, for reasons a lot of racing observers still don't understand, Red Bull released him from the ride late last year. Allmendinger's ride with Richard Petty Motorsports is at the moment a part time opportunity. How far it goes is dependent on locating full time sponsorship. But one thing is clearly evident: Allmendinger's performance in the Budweiser Shootout proves that he's worthy of strong consideration.

What's up with those frequently heard comments that says Tony Stewart's departure from Joe Gibbs Racing to form his own Sprint Cup team is tantamount to career suicide? We just keep hearing that about the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing and so far there doesn't appear to be an ounce of truth to that statement. First off both of their cars, driven by Stewart and Ryan Newman, have sponsorship programs in place that other team owners dream about. The team's first racing venture had Stewart's Old Spice Chevrolet in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout where he raced his way to a competitive third place finish. Then on Sunday Ryan Newman set the third fastest time during the Daytona 500 qualifying session and Stewart ranked tenth on the speed charts. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with this organization.

Thumbs Up for Tommy Baldwin Racing. The veteran NASCAR crew chief, as well as a former Nationwide Series team owner, has put together a Sprint Cup team, with driver Scott Riggs, and plans to run the 2009 schedule as a single car team. Many thought that this was crazy especially during the country's harsh economic times. But Baldwin was intelligent enough to recognize that hard times often breeds opportunity. In a period of less than 30 days, Tommy Baldwin Racing has covered all of the massive details that's required to go Sprint Cup racing and has put together a Toyota team in time for the Daytona 500. This is a very shrewd move because the Daytona race pays $240,000 in purse money for finishing dead last. The team has sponsorship issues at the moment but if Scott Riggs can make quick work of keeping in getting the car into NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points within the first five races of this year then Baldwin could land that coveted sponsor because this is a Cinderella effort that everyone is watching. Making this story even more significant is the fact that all of this effort was completed in a very short time by the help of volunteers who were laid off last winter by other NASCAR teams due to economics. Baldwin also provided one of the better interview lines, so far during Speed Weeks, when he said "I'm going to keep racing until I run out of money and then I'll be back next week."

What's up with that Joey Logano pit stop during last Saturday's ARCA REMAX Series race? Logano was driving a Venturini Motorsports Toyota in this race in an effort to garner some much needed extra seat time for his official debut as a full time driver in  NASCAR'S Sprint Cup Series and the upcoming Daytona 500. This venture had the full backing of team owner Joe Gibbs and sponsor Home Depot. Logano also had the full support of his Sprint Cup team to service him on pit road. It very rare for a Sprint Cup team to completely botch a pit stop. But what happened on pit road during the ARCA race was simply embarrassing. First off the young driver overshot his pit stall and had to back the car up before the seven man crew could begin the four tire stop. Then the rear tire changer rolled the used tire to the pit wall to a crew member waiting behind the wall to retrieve it. Somehow this crew member slipped and both feet landed on pit road. Making things worse was the fact that the now unauthorized eighth man in the pit stall was not wearing a mandatory safety helmet. ARCA officials held Logano on pit road for a one lap penalty while J D Gibbs, President of Gibbs Racing, stood there watching this embarrassing episode completely stunned and speechless. Ironically enough it all worked out for the team in the long run. The race was barely back under the green flag when another caution flag, that plagued this event all afternoon long, came out. That gave Logano the lucky dog pass and put him back on the lead lap. He made quick work in racing through the field for a second place finish after making a strong challenge to win the race on the final lap.

Finally we have a rarely issued DOUBLE Thumbs Up to the Atlanta Motor Speedway, (AMS), who recently coordinated with 20 Atlanta area hotel and motel franchises to create a special rate package for racing fans during their two NASCAR weekends this year. During these tough economic times speedway owners and general managers have recognized the need to create special ticket packages to help the fans with the cost of attending their races this year. But AMS has taken that concept a giant step further with these lodging packages. This is a program that every speedway on the NASCAR schedule should be looking into.

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