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Jerry Jordan, The Examiner Newspaper

Dallas race throws monkey wrench into Chase

            D-R-A-M-A! If there wasn’t any before the race at Texas Motor Speedway, there darn sure was a ton of it afterwards — and I am almost at a loss on where to begin.
            First, you have the shake-up in the points with Denny Hamlin taking the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship lead over Jimmie Johnson with his win in the AAA Texas 500. His performance was dominant, and he is definitely trying to live up to 2009 claims that he is the guy to dethrone the defending Sprint Cup Champion.
            Then you have Jeff Burton deliberately taking out Jeff Gordon in an on-track incident occurring under caution. That lit the fuse for fisticuffs between Jeff and Jeff as Gordon took an explosive swing before landing an elbow shot to Burton’s nose. That alone was enough to bring a roar of approval from the NASCAR beat reporters inside the media center.
            Add to that a swap between Gordon’s pit crew and the Johnson’s in the middle of the race and you have the makings for the best ratings explosion of the season heading into this week’s race at Phoenix.
            But if that wasn’t enough, Kyle Busch had to get in on the action by giving NASCAR officials a double-middle finger salute that “just happened” to be caught on camera by ESPN.
            So, if Eddie Gossage thought monkeys selling souvenir guides would be a big publicity stunt for the Great American Speedway, his staff must have had to sedate him following Sunday’s race.
            I can already see the ads for the April 2011 Sprint Cup race at TMS already – Jeff vs. Jeff Round 2.
            So, let’s break this down. For most of the race, the No. 48 crew wasn’t getting it done on pit road. Rather than ripping off 13-second pit stops, they were hitting the 16-second mark and Johnson was losing eight to 10 spots every time he came into the pits. Frustrated he was passing the same cars again and again on the track only to lose spots under caution because of his pit crew, Johnson lashed out over his radio. That forced an already frustrated crew chief Chad Knaus to make a decision.
            Since Jeff Gordon had already been wrecked out of the race by Burton, Knaus ordered the No. 24 crew to the pit box of the No. 48 team and sent his regular crew to pack up Gordon’s No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet for the long ride back to Charlotte.
            Obviously, the guys on the No. 48 crew were demoralized – hmmm, it’s not like they haven’t won the past four freaking championships in a row – but what do you do when you need a paycheck and the jobs in NASCAR are dwindling more and more every day?
            On Monday, it was announced the crews would be switched for the remainder of the season and this was a “team decision.” Whatever. It’s total BS, if you ask me. The way I see it, Johnson and Knaus are so worried about winning a fifth-straight championship they don’t care about the people who brought them to the dance in the first place. If either of them thinks for one minute they would be in the position they are in without the No. 48 crew, then they need to pit the car themselves. To me, this is the ultimate act of disrespect. Imagine your girlfriend getting you tickets to the ultimate concert of the year for your birthday. You are happy to go with your girlfriend but midway through the concert you hook-up with her best friend, ditching your girlfriend while the two of you head off to the after-party. Do you think your girlfriend is going to be happy? Hell no. In fact, if you don’t find the tires on your hotrod slashed into something resembling Swiss cheese, you will be lucky — and if she thinks about it there might be some colorful words carved into your custom paint job, too. It is the same thing for the guys on the No. 48 crew. Honestly, this shows a huge weakness at Hendrick Motor Sports and with Johnson’s team. No, I don’t think he will repeat as champion. And I think we can all point to this incident at Texas as the downfall of what was a mighty empire in NASCAR.
            As for Gordon, my respect meter just jumped a gazillion points for this guy. I am not saying we need drivers to go to blows every week but I have seen Burton shove people around too many times and then say, “I’m sorry, it was a\ racing deal.” This time, no matter what he says, it was deliberate and he got what was coming to him — actually he should have gotten more but the officials stepped in.
            This is what Jeff Gordon had to say as I was in the scrum asking for his comments following the fight.
            “Well, he deserved a lot more than that, I can tell you that,” Gordon said. “That kind of stuff is just ridiculous and uncalled for. Jeff and I; I just like the guy too much and we’ll be able to go on and race one another and stuff like that. I just couldn’t believe how much respect I lost for a guy like Jeff to do something like that. I thought it was really stupid. Sometimes I can’t hold my emotions back and believe it or not I was holding them back right there.”
            That last sentence caused everyone, including a couple of NASCAR officials, to bust out in laughter. I don’t think there will be penalties because of this. In fact, if we saw a little more of this and a little less of the corporate politically correct crap we have to endure, I think the ratings would go back up.
            Now, as for Kyle Busch, he was penalized $25,000 and placed on probation through the end of the season. I was also told NASCAR informed Busch the officials already know they are “Number 1” so he doesn’t need to remind them and doing so could result in a short vacation.
            Finally, operations look to be coming to an end at Richard Petty Motorsports, as the team can’t seem to find money to run the rest of the season. Last week, we were told everything was cool through the end of the year but, as of Tuesday, the haulers hadn’t left Texas for this weekend’s race in Phoenix. We will have to wait and see if the RPM guys show up on Thursday or if they pack up and head to the house.
            I want to say, “Thanks again” to our sponsors in the NASCAR VIP Weekend Getaway Contest – TimeWarner, the Dixie Dance Hall and the Embassy Suites DFW South. Lynn Spurlock brought a friend to the track and said they had a great time. I am already working on next year’s contests and I can’t wait because the next time we visit Texas Motor Speedway, it will be for the first Sprint Cup Series Saturday night event ever at the track. That’s it for this week. Check out the updated photo galleries and much more at www.kickinthetires.net.

McMurray Member of Elite Club

            To steal a quote from the movie based on my favorite video game, “It has begun.”
            No, it’s not Mortal Kombat. It’s the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, and the winner of the first battle wasn’t Liu Kang but rather Jamie McMurray, who like the character in the game, has the respect of nearly every competitor on the chosen field of battle.
            But standing on pit road between McMurray’s pit stall and the one of the comparable crowd-favorite Johnny Cage, or in this case Dale Earnhardt Jr., there was definitely some doubt as to whether soft-spoken warrior could survive in what has now become the most important race of his life.
            Dale Earnhardt Jr. was pushing through the field like a mad man. I listened after the race about how he gained ground from 10th place to second in the final two laps, but what most didn’t realize was that Dale Jr. was actually in 22nd place when the field retook the green on Lap 198. He didn’t just make up eight spots – he made up 20. In my opinion, Dale Jr. was set up to deploy Cage’s signature split punch move, a shot to the groin, which in NASCAR terms would send McMurray up the track and into the safer barrier, making him wish he’d been punched in his privates.
            For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the race was about redemption. He has now kicked off the first race of the season with a stunning second-place finish and a statement to those who have doubted him that he isn’t a has-been – or worse, a never was.
            For McMurray, the 2010 Daytona 500 represented a pride-filled and emotional celebration for a man who five months ago didn’t know if he had a future in the sport. He was able to return to Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates after being kicked to the curb by Jack Roush. It was his first race out with Ganassi and no one expected McMurray to come to the checkers first. But he ran strong all day and he held off each challenger to get a win in the sport’s biggest race of the year.
            A very emotional McMurray was in tears in Gatorade Victory Lane and that emotion carried over to the media center during the post-race press conference. Some said that McMurray was being a baby for blubbering over his win, but those people don’t know what it is like to join an club that includes only a select few.
            McMurray’s name will now go down in the history books alongside those of Lee Petty, who won the very first Daytona 500; and Fireball Roberts, A.J. Foyt, Richard Petty, Mario Andretti, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarbrough and Dale Earnhardt Sr., just to name a few.
            It is a special club that not every racecar driver gets to join, but once you are in the club, you are in it for eternity.
            No, McMurray had every reason to shed tears; after all, he will forever be known as “Jamie McMurray, Daytona 500 Winner.”
            And while most wins in NASCAR only last until the haulers pull into the next track, the thrill of McMurray’s Daytona 500 victory will never fade.