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Monday, April 09, 2007

I'm Moving

The time is finally here, my blog finally has a home of its own: troubleinturn2.mikemaruska.com. Stop by and tell me what you think.

A Look Ahead to Texas

After three weeks of racing or testing the CoT, the Cup drivers revert to the other car and head to Texas. Last year’s two races at Texas produced good racing and plenty of off-track controversy too. Unfortunately the controversies were the prevalent topics instead of the racing.

After Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle wrecked on the track last spring, their girlfriends exchanged words on pit row. Biffle’s girlfriend Nicole Lunders approached Busch’s pit box to discuss things with Eva Bryan, Busch’s fiancée. The entire event lasted thirty seconds, no punches or objects were thrown , but somehow that was the lasting image from Texas. The actual race had some decent racing including a pretty good late race battle for the lead between Tony Stewart and eventual winner Kasey Kahne.

Stewart dominated the fall race with Jimmie Johnson finishing second to pull closer to his first Nextel Cup. The race was overshadowed again by a crash and post-race incident. During the race Scott Riggs got loose and was bumped into the wall by Kevin Harvick. After the race one of Riggs’ crew members confronted Harvick and his wife Delana. After some words for Harvick, and no doubt a few retorts from Harvick, the crew member shoved Harvick from behind causing both Harvicks and a NASCAR official to fall down. The crew member was suspended for the rest of the year. Again this was the main topic in NASCAR on Monday morning.

-Here’s hoping this weekend’s race produces good, near-clean racing without the off-track drama. Texas gives teams a chance to show off a new batch of cars. Toyota was very poor on speedways at the first three intermediate tracks. This will be their first opportunity to roll out new cars since the start of the season. Can the second fleet of Camrys move Toyota forward?

-Look at the April schedule and then try to convince me it would be fun to be a crew member. The month began with a Car of Tomorrow race at Martinsville. It’s a 97 mile trip if the team returned to the shop after the race. Sunday’s race was immediately followed by a test at Richmond two day s later. That’s another 460 miles round trip.

After a weekend off to prepare their speedway cars, the teams must drive 964 miles to Texas with the older car. The bigger teams have multiple haulers so while the older car is returning to the shop (I’m not sure if every team has this luxury), another hauler will tote the CoT cars 1795 miles across the country to Phoenix. Not only is it a long trip, the Phoenix race is on a Saturday night, moving the entire schedule up by a day. After the night race, it is back to North Carolina to prepare and load the restrictor plate car to Talladega with the knowledge that the car will most likely get torn up and require body work upon its return to the shop. After another 336 miles each way to Alabama, the month is finished.

That’s five tracks, three different cars and 6747 miles traveled during April. That’s the equivalent of running 2698.8 laps at Daytona, although to the crews it probably feels more like running laps at Pocono. For context consider that the four races in April contain 1,562 miles. Six times the travel to ensure a good show on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon.

April is an exciting month of racing for fans, but is no doubt grinding for teams and crews. At least May is less ragged with every race in the southeast, including two weekends in Charlotte. Hopefully crew members were able to enjoy Easter weekend with their families.

-Question of the Day: Would any driver look somewhat normal in a cowboy hat, six shooters and a firesuit?

Friday, April 06, 2007

NASCAR notes during an off-week

-According to SI.com's Tim Tuttle four good races out of six constitutes a comeback. Dale Earnhardt Jr got caught up in a crash at Daytona (which I'm told happens pretty frequently at that track), and then lost an engine at California. Since then he has a driver rating of 104.6 and sits 11th in points. Lots of writers make the same assumptions especially when Earnhardt Jr is involved. Jeff Gordon had 4 DNF's prior to last season's Chase, but it was not really noticed because they occurred during the middle of the summer. Somehow DNF's at the beginning of the season are viewed as crushing blows that no driver can recover from. Every race pays the same amount of points.

-Dr Z puts Chrysler up for sale. That is sure to rekindle rumors of Dodge exiting from NASCAR. Until they are sold it is hard to say exactly what the impact will be, but whatever happens it's not a great sign for Dodge teams in NASCAR. As if they needed more bad news. Through six races Dodge has zero wins, zero top fives and only eight top tens. The highest ranked driver is David Stremme in 13th place. As the old racing cliché goes, “finish 15th on Sunday, up for sale on Monday”

-A field of current Nextel Cup crew chiefs, plus Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds, will compete in a race prior to the All-Star Challenge. It would be even better if drivers would have to set up the cars for their crew chiefs. Imagine Tony Eury Jr screaming at Dale Earnhardt Jr about how tight his car is, or Jimmie Johnson getting banned from the race for an unapproved modification.What might be even more comical would be a 100m foot race among crew chiefs.

-The Lady in Black is getting a makeover. The 10 million dollar project includes a repaved track, a new tunnel and suite renovations. Maybe it is related to ISC's failures in New York and Seattle, but spending $10 million at Darlington is a good sign for the long term stability of the track. A few years ago Dale Jr complained about the track and offered to pay for resurfacing. I wonder if they followed up on this offer?

-Starting next week, I am moving to a new location. I am learning web design so I decided to incorporate my blog into that. The website doesn't have anything right now, but the blog is set up. At the moment I am just using a Wordpress template, but I plan on creating my own images and layout. It is still a work in progress, but I have added quite a few links. Let me know if there are any links or blogs I have left off. Let me know what you think, and be sure to update links and favorites to troubleinturn2.mikemaruska.com.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I think you hear me knocking

If you are a young hopeful Busch series driver, this is the weekend for you to make some noise. With the Nextel Cup series off, the Nashville race features only seven Cup regulars. Unlike last year, Carl Edwards is the only Buschwhacker with any kind of success at the Cup level. Edwards and Dave Blaney are the only two entrants with a Busch win in the last two years. Only 17 drivers on the entry list have 5 or more starts in 2007. Of the 60 top tens available so far, the Nashville entry list has scored only 16 top tens during the first six races and Edwards has six these. To put it another way, the drivers that have accounted for 73% of the top tens in 2007 are not driving this weekend.12 drivers are age 25 or younger. All of these numbers all say one thing: Opportunity. With all of the talk about how the Busch Series has problems, this weekend is a showcase for young talent.

The Pepsi 300 is a glimpse at what the Busch Series is ideally intended for: A series for young drivers to get experience, show their talent and get used to stock cars. Several young drivers get their chances in top equipment. Top equipment is nice; it's even better when it'spreviously driven by veteran Cup drivers. Drivers like Timothy Peters, Brad Coleman, Cale Gale and Eric Almirola get the added advantage of having someone like Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart or Denny Hamlin shake down the car. The downside is there are fewer reasons or excuses why a driver can't succeed. Some young drivers are getting early opportunities to impress while others are trying to remind people that they can still drive.

Young Guns
Cale Gale-The 21 year old Gale has 4 career Busch starts. Gale was hired last fall by Kevin Harvick to drive his car part time. Gale won an ARCA race at Gateway Int'l and finished 14th in the truck race at Daytona.

Timothy Peters-3 Busch starts, 34 Truck starts. Peters gets his third start in the #21 car. It's the same car that won 9 races last year, including Nashville, and has been one of the top Busch programs for the last few years. Peters finished ninth last weekend in the Truck Series race at Martinsville. Peters will also race the ARCA companion race at Nashville.

Kraig Kinser-A regular in the truck series, Kinser gets his first Busch start with Ginn Racing. Kinser, the son of Outlaws legend Steve has one truck top ten in 22 career races. With Sterling Marlin and Mark Martin nearing retirement, Kinser and Regan Smith are the future of Ginn Racing.

Eric Almirola, Brad Coleman-The two young Gibbs development drivers make their 4th and 3rd 2007 Busch starts respectively. Almirola ran a full Truck Series schedule (3 top 10's) in addition to nine Busch races. Coleman is only 19 but has raced stock cars, open wheel cars, late models and sports cars. Both drivers are looking for their first Busch top tens.

Steve Wallace-Growing up as Rusty Wallace's son, Steve has been in the spotlight for several years. It is sometimes easy to forget that he is only 19 and already is running a full Busch season. He has won Late Model and ARCA races and won the pole for the Bristol race two weeks ago.

Bouncing Back...
Scott Wimmer-He spent three seasons at the Cup level wth underfunded Bill Davis Racing and Morgan-McClure. Now he finds himself in a part time ride with Richard Childress. Part time is never as good as fulltime, but at least he is in a car that already has two Busch wins in 2007. Landing with a top Busch team is a great chance for Wimmer to rehabilitate his career and hopefully avoid the driver carousel involved among the underfunded teams.

Todd Kluever-A year ago Kluever was on the fast track to inheriting Mark Martin's #6 Nextel Cup ride. Then he struggled in his first Busch season with only 4 top tens and lots of DNF's (7). He was passed for the Cup ride and is only running a partial Busch schedule. In his second Busch season he is running more consistently with three top 15's in four races. Kluever won the pole at the second Nashville race in 2006, so he could do well this year. His NASCAR future may depend on it.

Danny O’Quinn-The 2006 Busch Rookie of the Year lost his ride with Roush Racing due to sponsorship challenges. O'Quinn is only 22 and deserves another shot in the Busch Series.

Other Notables
Sam hornish Jr-The reigning IRL champ and Indy 500 winner is preparing for a future jump to stock cars with as many Busch starts as he can cram in. His last Busch race at Atlanta saw him finish a respectable 15th. His move to stock cars is inevitable, especiallyif things keep progressing well.

Boris Said-When will an enterprising company or team owner get wise and hire Said for a full-time ride? He is best known for his road course skills, but he does have 93 starts among NASCAR's top three divisions. His best speedway finish last year was a 14th at Kentucky. Plus no one is a more entertaining interview.

Stephen Leicht-At one point in 2006 Leicht was close to landing one of Robert Yates' Cup rides. Luckily he wasn't thrown to the wolves and was able to learn at the Busch level. Leicht is only 19 years old and is still learning about stock car racing and Yates is still trying to rebuild both the Cup and Busch teams. He did win the ARCA race at Nashville last spring so he is talented.

While all of these drivers will have reasons to run well, the unquestioned favorite is Edwards. JJ Yeley is still looking for his first NASCAR win, but does not have as reliable car as several other drivers in the race. With so many young drivers and the lack of Cup drivers will make for an interesting race.



Foam Sweet Foam

After a good race with an exciting finish and during a week with testing, who would have thought the biggest story would center on foam? Complaints about the handling of the CoT don’t matter as much when there are still serious safety concerns.

The foam manufacturer Dow says the burning foam is not toxic. Technically that could be true., but smoke still isn’t good for you. Aside from possibly a candle I can’t think of anything involving smoke, especially in a confined space, that is considered harmless. By the way, I would love to see an in-car camera showing Kevin Harvick with a lilac blossom candle with a Shell logo on it.

Elsewhere, Kenny Wallace had the fastest lap during Richmond testing. Is that a sign that the CoT is leveling the playing field? Or is it a case of a fast lap with a capable driver?My guess is the latter, but I'm sure someone will spin at as proof that the CoT is working.

Sorry for the short post today. I have some other things to take care of, which I guess includes my paid job. I’ll be back tomorrow with a preview of this weekend’s Busch race at Nashville. Or maybe another riveting post about foam.



Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What will people do during the off-week?

-After spending two weeks cooped up in front of a TV, Mark Martin nearly explodes. In a Clark Kent-like move, he rips off his shirt to reveal his firesuit and immediately heads to the track. He will enter this weekend's Busch and ARCA races at Nashville, the F1 race in Malaysia, three local late model races and announce plans to run the full Cup schedule through 2010.

-”Hi, Chip? It's Casey, I was wondering...is the 42 still avail...? It's not. Okay, well thanks anyway.”

-Due to a Rick Hendrick imposed golfing ban, Jimmie Johnson stays at home and plays FreeCell all week. What else is he going to do, wind his grandfather clock or figure out which track is his weakness?

-Bob Dillner reports that the reason Kevin Harvick's door caught fire was because of laser-cut holes in the exhaust. He also reports the reason why Toyotas are struggling so far is that they are slower than the other cars.

-Jeff Gordon will be doing anything but going to Wrigley Stadium.

-In response to the Gillette Young Guns, DEI drivers shoot a public service announcement for goatees.
Martin Truex Jr: "Your friends might think it's cool to play with razors."

Paul Menard: "But that's not always true."
Dale Earnhardt Jr: "Remember, you can win with hair on your chin"

-NASCAR R&D is hopefully testing new kinds of foam for the doors of the CoT. All week. The rumor that Peeps will act as the replacement for foam is unconfirmed.

-After seeing Matt Kenseth's success after Robby Reiser's suspension, Greg Biffle meets with crew chief Pat Tryson to invent a way for NASCAR to penalize the team. Obviously having a car that was too low didn't work, so that means working harder on the off-weeks to get caught.

-ISC begins throwing darts at a map of North America to find the next region to propose a failed track site. Living in the Northwest I would personally love a racetrack near Seattle or Portland. The problem is that ISC wants the public to help fund it, but not share in the profits. Yes some of the lawmakers in Washington didn't exactly have open minds about the proposal, but ISC also didn't seem very willing to compromise either. On a racing note, the plan called for a 1.3 mile track. Unless it was a replica of Darlington that would not have been a popular length (and some would probably not agree with having a Darlington clone instead of a second race at the real deal either). In a perfect world any new track at the Cup level would be no longer than a mile long.

-Sadly, Red Bull will spend it mourning the senseless loss of a team member.

Torqued Off Tuesday:
-Hendrick Hating. I am far from a fan of Hendrick's drivers. And there have been times when it seems like NASCAR lets the organization off the hook with minor penalties for larger infractions. That still shouldn't take away from how well they are performing right now. Many NASCAR fans are saying they are sick of Hendrick cars dominating or even implying that there is a fix with NASCAR. One, there is no way possible that NASCAR can be fixed. There are plenty of questionable practices in NASCAR, but fixing a race is simply not one of them. Two, Hendrick is dominating because they have great crews and engineers that spend all year working on building great cars. They have the past, present and future Cup Champions as their top three drivers. Roush Racing was similarly dominant in 2005. Things are cyclical in NASCAR and right now Hendrick cars are the class of the field. The 48 and 24 put on a pretty good finish at Martinsville. As a racing fan it was an exciting finish no matter what team the two drivers come from. Cheer hard for your team and driver, but also step back and marvel at what Hendrick has done.

-Billy Packer. Watching a the National Championship game, it's hard to tell if he enjoys college basketball. At times it seems like he relishes cutting down teams and players. He picks two or three key points in the first five minutes of the game and then hammers these points for the final 35 minutes. There were times when Jim Nantz tried to correct him or spin something positive and Packer would grumpily interrupt to disagree. I don't care if he has called every title game for 33 years, CBS needs to find someone (not Dick Vitale) who at least conveys passion and excitement while informing the audience. With Packer all we get is an attitude of someone who apparently has somewhere better to be.


Monday, April 02, 2007

View from the couch: Martinsville

Unless you are Kevin Harvick, it was pretty much same old Martinsville. That’s a good thing and at least for non-aero tracks, the CoT works pretty well. It was an exciting finish between teammates beating and banging, but not wrecking. That finish would have probably happened in any car, it was a product of a tough, tight race track rather than the car. After watching the Truck race, it’s a huge contrast in the driving skill and patience of the Cup guys.

-The corporate team line from Jeff Gordon wasn't very believable. He didn't win the race and he is initially upset, but he has no right to be upset with Jimmie Johnson. Johnson did not drive dirty and deserved to win as much as Gordon. Gordon is not entitled to win just because he has the best car or is close to making the pass. Because it was a teammate he certainly wasn’t going to pull a Montoya. It's also interesting that he said he would never wreck someone to win. I wonder what Matt Kenseth would say about that. If Gordon won he deserved to win, but you have to say the same thing about Johnson. No one is entitled to wins. Jeff Burton was probably upset he didn’t win last week, but he was at least content with second because he raced the right way.

-Speaking of Burton, the start of his season has been nearly flawless. If not for a lost cylinder at Las Vegas, he would have six top tens in six races. Instead he has 4 top fives and 5 top tens. His average finish is 5.7 and he has two Busch victories. Last year was not a fluke.

-Last fall David Ragan was everywhere at Martinsville, hitting several other cars and drawing the ire of several drivers. The same was actually true last weekend. This time at Martinsville Ragan basically kept his splitter clean and finished on the lead lap in 15th. This year is obviously a steep learning curve, but he is headed in the right direction.

-Ken Schrader qualified 4th and then dropped like a rock. It was never really explained why. He settled in and ran the rest of the day on the lead lap before finishing 19th. The finish also moves the #21 car within 11 points of 35th place.

-People make too big of a deal about Practice times. Martin Truex Jr. was great in all three practices, while Jimmie Johnson was last in one practice session. It gives some indicator of how good cars are, but a lot of the time it doesn't show the whole story. Truex struggled all day before suffering mechanical problems and Johnson won.

-Rain delays are usually a big drain of excitement, but it was perfectly timed for an errand run.

-Is anyone else bothered the Fox graphic that turns yellow when a pit reporter is talking? Most NASCAR fans can tell the difference between Dick Bergerren, Matt Yocum and Krista Voda by the voice. On quick glance the yellow logo looks like a caution was waved. It's very confusing.

-When Kevin Harvick's car door caught fire Darrell Waltrip immediately claimed NASCAR said it was impossible. He later revised his statement, but it was still a puzzling claim. Several drives complained about the problem last week, yet NASCAR's PR people say it's not an issue. From the outside it’s impossible to say whether this was a preventable issue, but it’s definitely an issue. It still seems pretty fundamental to make sure the car is safe from toxins before addressing competition issues.

Next race is at Texas, but first it’s time for an off week. It gives a chance to catch the opening week of baseball, watch the men’s basketball championship game and of course, celebrate the true reason for Easter.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Martinsville Preview and Predictions

Martinsville is one of the most exciting tracks on the Cup circuit. It’s short, and tight, and there are zero aerodynamics involved. The turns are concrete with asphalt straightaways. It’s a half mile track so drivers are always battling traffic. Brakes fail, cars get hot and tires get cuts and flats. Two of the more impressive drives of recent time have come in the last two spring races. In 2005 Jeff Gordon lost three laps early on die to an unscheduled pit stop. He earned two laps back by passing the leader and then got a lucky dog near the end of the race. With several of the best cars having problems, Gordon took advantage and worked his way to the front for the win. The impressive win was not without controversy. On his late march to the front, he made contact with Kurt Busch spinning him into the fence.

In 2006 cars got bunched up on lap one, resulting in a large accordion-like wreck. Dale Earnhardt Jr’s car suffered severe damage with the right front fender torn off. As he limped back to the pits, hoses snaked out of the hole, giving the appearance of a car that would spend the rest of the day merely turning laps. The team pitted several times under the caution, but managed to stay on the lead lap. The cars’ entire right front tire was exposed, but Earnhardt Jr. continued on. As the race progressed,the 8 car kept climbing the leader board, getting as high as 5th. A second incident with Ryan Newman sent Earnhardt Jr. back to the pits for repairs. Despite two major incidents during the race, Junior still was one of the fastest cars at the end of the race, finishing 4th.

Neither of these finishes could happen at most tracks. The speeds are too fast and it’s too hard to overcome three laps or major body damage. Some might complain that Martinsville is too slow or it’s too hard to pass. What is wrong with a track being tough to pass on? It is much different than an intermediate track that is hard to pass on because of the aero-sensitivity. It’s simply a small track with one groove. It actually puts more responsibility in the drivers’ hands and that’s where everyone wants it anyway. If it was too easy to pass, every race would be like Michigan.

-Fox is televising the Craftsman Truck Series event at Martinsville on Saturday. It is the first CTS race on network television since 2000. For many fans without the Speed Channel (including myself) it is a look at the most consistently competitive series in NASCAR. With many sponsors and manufacturers withdrawing support, it’s a needed boost of exposure for the series too. It’s also a good thing the race will finish before the Final Four games tip off.

-The only Martin to win at Martinsville is Mark (’92, ’00). He is not entered this weekend so it is up to Martin Truex Jr. to try and carry on the Martin’s Ville mantel. That is unless Matt Martin shows up or maybe Marty Snider takes a hot lap.

-Richard Petty has won the most grandfather clocks with 15. Darrell Waltrip has 11 wins. The only active driver with more than two is Jeff Gordon (7).

-Hendrick Motorsports has won six of the last eight races at Martinsville. They have also won the last three weeks in the Nextel Cup in 2007.

-This week is the CoT is again the focus. Expect the usual teams and drivers to be at the front: Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson. My pick this week is Stewart. In the last four races he has led 818 laps at Martinsville. He has three straight top fives including a win last spring. Watch out for Jamie McMurray as a dark horse. He ran well last week at Bristol and has 5 career top tens in 8 races at Martinsville.

-My other predictions are Ohio State and UCLA to meet Monday night. Watch out for Billy Packer,Billy Packer Man-Crush Award include Joakim Noah, Sean May, Chris Duhon and of course, the all-time great Mateen Cleaves. Who will it take the Man-Crush Award this year? My guess is Ohio State point guard Mike Conley Jr.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Top Reasons why Greg Biffle was not fined for his low car at Bristol:

10. The Ladder of Tomorrow was an unapproved modification, so the 16 team lowered the car.

9. Mike Helton was promised a spot on Boston’s opening day roster.

8. Nicole Lunders threatened Brian France with an Aquafina bottle unless he waved the penalty.

7. No jetfuel, no foul.

6. Mark Martin was a week early with an April Fools gag.

5. Biffle brought party Subs to the NASCAR hauler and also offered free tax service from Jackson Hewitt.

4. Jim Hunter didn’t think anyone in Nextel Cup would cheat on purpose.

3. Instead of a points or monetary penalty, Biffle will now have to drive the Car of Tomorrow at Texas.

2. Somehow it was Hendrick Motorsports’ fault.

1. The Fusion low-rider was Ford’s answer to the Chevy Impala commercials with Dale Jr and rapper T.I. Holla!

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