Lee Spencer, Sporting News
Call it the super bowl and I’ll smack you
It never fails that sometime during Speedweeks some simpleton,
in an attempt to be clever, will refer to the Daytona 500 as
the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing. What a bunch of crap.
Winning the Daytona 500 doesn't mean squat to the championship
picture. When a sports fan thinks of the Super Bowl, many visions
come to mind. Stock car racing isn't one of them. And with
Jimmy Spencer sidelined from racing, there aren't many drivers
with the junkyard dog mentality it takes to survive one quarter
in a regular-season NFL rout, let alone the main event that
culminates five months of beating and banging. Can anyone really
imagine Jeff Gordon (5-7, 150 soaking wet) going up against
the Bus (5-11, 255-plus)?
I didn't think so.
Though the word super could be used to describe 500 miles at
Daytona, a better word is exhilarating – especially if
you're the guy behind the wheel. But a bowl should determine
All the talk about how winning the Daytona 500 gives a team
momentum for the rest of the season is pure rubbish. Since
Lee Petty won the first 500 in 1959 and captured the Cup in
the same year, that feat has been duplicated only six times.
Gordon was the most recent driver to accomplish that, in 1997,
after a 20-year drought (Cale Yarborough, 1977). The King,
Richard Petty, scored Daytona 500 and Cup trophies in four
seasons ('64, '71, '74 and '79).
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the only driver among the past five 500
winners to ride a momentum wave even as far as a top five finish
at the end of a season.
If any of today's drivers has a shot at winning the 500 and
the title in the same season, it is 2005 Cup champion Tony
Stewart. He was relentless on restrictor-plate tracks in 2005.
After finishing seventh in the Daytona 500 in February, he
won the Daytona Cup race in July and was second in both Talladega
races. Stewart is hungry for a Daytona 500 trophy, and when
he sets his mind on something, look out.
If Smoke wins the Daytona 500 on Sunday, he will have won NASCAR's
season opener, kickoff or whatever else you want to call it.
Just don't call it the Super Bowl.
Bump drafting scares Stewart
When the reigning Nextel Cup champion, Tony Stewart, talks
about increasing his life insurance policy before next weekend
because of many episodes of violent bump drafting at Daytona,
it's time for NASCAR to listen.
That's the message Stewart, who obviously was upset, wanted
to send out after Sunday's Bud Shootout. Stewart said he watched
a Dale Earnhardt tribute on TV hours before the race. He said
he feared that in another five years he could be watching a
retrospective on another fatally injured driver if NASCAR didn't
take action to curtail the slamming between cars that occurs
as one driver attempts to use his bumper to push another driver
into the lead.
"We're probably going to kill somebody from Wednesday to Sunday," Stewart
said. "And it could be me; it could be Dale Jr.; it could
be anyone out there."
Stewart said this isn't a new problem, just
one that has escalated over the past few years. Although the
practice generally occurs on the
straightaways, it sometimes happens in corners, when a driver
at an angle and can't correct the car.
Stewart suggested reducing the amount of reinforcements the
bumpers get with steel bars for restrictor-plate races. The
potential damage to the cars without a well-protected front
end would force drivers to think twice before aiming a bump.
Extreme Makeover, starring Kurt Busch
WHAT: Kurt Busch's Coming Out Party.
WHEN: March 10-12, or however long it takes.
WHERE: Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
There's no better locale for Busch to have his coming out party
than Las Vegas. Not only is Vegas Busch's hometown, it's
the perfect place to start a party--or put a little Sin City
spin on a star looking to
restart his career.
Busch has been the Mea Culpa Kid since he
took on fan favorite Jimmy Spencer in 2003 at Michigan. Brash
and aggressive always has been Busch's style --on and off the
track. In former Roush Racing crew chief Jimmy Fennig, Busch
found the necessary balance to his fury. With a veteran like
Fennig to depend on, Busch was able to concentrate on
winning, and he eventually won a championship.
Unfortunately, Busch didn't fit the Roush
driver template. Make no mistake, Busch inflicted a lot of
his mess on himself. Roush Racing has plenty of talent and
engineering ingenuity, but it lacks a staff of spin
doctors who could have marketed Busch properly and activated
necessary damage control to absolve him of the errors of his
It's not surprising Busch went in search of sexy sponsor Miller
Brewing to turn his career around.
Busch hit a major roadblock when the Maricopa County Sheriff's
Department pulled him over last November at Phoenix. Roush
Racing let him hang. President Geoff Smith said the company
no longer would be "apologists" for Busch.
Busch was finished for the season, and that enabled Roger Penske
to step in and start working his magic.
As a former driver, Penske has an incredible
eye for talent. Busch is the latest driver in a stable that
has included Mark Donohue, Rick
Mears, Al and Bobby Unser, Tom Sneva, Emerson Fittipaldi and
Bobby Allison. Penske never has shied from outspoken, over-the-top
racers such as Paul Tracy and Rusty Wallace, as long as their
performances have matched their chutzpah.
Like Busch, Wallace was a former champion in need of an extreme
makeover when he joined Penske Racing for the 1991 season.
After 15 years and a lot of Penske polish, Wallace has become
a successful entrepreneur, and he possesses the necessary presence
to make the transition into the ESPN booth.
If Busch is willing to take the same direction from Penske – and
believe he is – his future will be equally bright. As
the 2004 champion
and the winner of 14 Nextel Cup races, Busch has nothing left
on the track but plenty to prove off of it.
Personally, I've never had an issue with Busch. He is always
gracious and accommodating with me. I can walk into his hauler
and discuss a variety of topics, from racecars to Cubbies spring
Miller and Penske are doing a great job of promoting Busch
away from the track. When he's not on stage or under the spotlight
and just being Kurt Busch, he can be the life of the party
The real deal is knowing when to hold off
Dale Earnhardt Jr. calls it "the killer instinct." It's
take-no-prisoners attitude a driver must possess if he's going
it at NASCAR's Nextel Cup level. But it must be controlled
aggressiveness for a driver to flourish and be respected in
A driver can be a hard charger without making idiotic moves
compromise his and his competitors' finishes. Dale Earnhardt
the master, and Junior was the perfect student. He idolized
and observed every line, every zig, every zag on the racetrack
absorbed even more moves that are likely to hit him as "aha" moments
when he least expects.
Psychologists would have a field day
trying to determine whether it was nature or nurture that helped
Driver 8 evolve into the star that he is. My deduction is it's
knows what traits it takes to make a successful racecar driver.
He's not – and I repeat not – known for
taking risks that put other drivers in harm's way. As an owner,
he wants to project those same expectations onto his Busch
Series driver, Mark McFarland. It's not a bad lesson for other
Here's Junior's recipe for success: "You
have to bring out that temper a little bit but still be able
to control it at the same time. You've got to drive these cars
with some rage. You can't always be strategic and pace yourself.
There are times you have to get after it and show these guys
who the boss is."
When Dale Sr. was on the racetrack, there
was no doubt who the boss was. He feared no one. Junior has
adopted the boss role at restrictor-plate tracks and has the
ability to do so at short tracks, especially Bristol. His stock
on intermediate tracks will improve with time.
Where Junior differs from his
dad is his reluctance to win at any cost. He won't risk dumping
another driver to take home the trophy, and that has gotten
him tremendous respect among his peers and the drivers who
raced his father.
who competed during Earnhardt Sr.'s tenure have retired. The
trend in Cup has moved toward youth, which has led to an increased
level of aggressiveness on the racetrack. Many of the young
drivers haven't had the seat time in the feeder series that
would have helped them learn to be patient.
that up-on-the-wheel exuberance sells tickets and attracts
viewers. Fans don't want to watch racers out for a Sunday drive.
Yet as the transition between mature racers and young guns
continues, NASCAR must find a way to restrain the recent over-the-top
aggressiveness before someone gets seriously injured.