Indiana Gazette from Indiana, Pennsylvania on March 21, 2007 · Page 16
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March 21, 2007

Indiana Gazette from Indiana, Pennsylvania · Page 16

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Indiana, Pennsylvania
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Wednesday, March 21, 2007
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Page 16 — Wednesday, March 21, 2007 Auto Racing '3% ,3l«Ma«a (lasette If you have a question or a comment, write: NASCAR This Week, c/o The Gaston Gazette, RO. Box 1538, Gastonia, NC 28053 All times Eastern Nextel Cup Food City 500, 1:30 p.m., Sunday Busch Series Sharpie Mini 300, 2:30, Saturday Truck Series Kroger 250, 3 p.m., March 31 ■ ■ -— ► At long last, the Car of Tomorrow becomes the car of today. NASCAR's new design, after years of development, debuts at Bristol Motor Speedway, a track that gets plenty of attention already. ► The COT, as it is widely known, has many critics. Count Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch as big fans of the new car, while Jeff Gordon is a notable critic. Most drivers are somewhere in between, principally because they are resigned to the change and know they have to make the best of it. ► Don't judge the COT on one race. The actual racing at Bristol won't change much, and that's undoubtedly one of the reasons the track was selected for the COT's debut. ► Why change the cars? Safety was one consideration. The birth of the COT came, at least indirectly, as a result of Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001. That shocking tragedy made safety a crucial priority of research and led to the COT in much the same way that the space program spurred the development of computers. ► The Car of Tomorrow actually looks more like the cars of yesterday. It's been designed to be more blocky and less aerodynamic than current models. The goal is to make the quality of the racing better. ► On the flip side, the COT is yet another step in the direction of the generic. The cars look even more alike than they already did, believe it or not. ► The COT will apparently also lead to the extinction of the rear spoiler. When the COT is implemented for every race, the cars will all have wings on the rear decks. ► If all goes well this year, the COT could be the only model used next season. The official plan doesn't call for full implementation until 2008, but NASCAR officials are already talking freely about making the transition complete this year. ► Who's hot — Jimmie Johnson, and when has that not been true? ... Tony Stewart's roar is slightly less intense, but that could change. ► Who's not — Dale Jar-rett has needed an ex-champ's provisional in every race, and now he's 33rd in owner points. ... Scott Riggs is also looking at the probable loss of an automatic spot in the field. Nextel Cup 1. Mark Martin 629 2. Jeff Gordon - 8 3. Jeff Burton -11 4. Jimmie Johnson - 28 5. Matt Kenseth - 62 6. Tony Stewart -122 7. Kevin Harvick - 147 8. Denny Hamlin -149 9. Clint Bowyer - 150 10. Carl Edwards -158 Busch Series 1. Carl Edwards 810 2. Kevin Harvick -144 3. Dave Blaney -169 4. Kyle Busch - 223 5. Denny Hamlin - 228 6. Tony Stewart - 234 7. Marcos Ambrose* - 247 8. Mike Wallace - 263 9. Jeff Burton - 279 10. Juan Montoya* - 281 Craftsman Truck Series 1. Mike Skinner 550 2. Todd Bodine - 69 3. Ron Hornaday Jr. - 99 4. Jack Sprague -101 5. Ted Musgrave -110 6. Mike Crafton -113 Rick Crawford -113 8. Johnny Benson -141 9. Travis Kvapil - 142 10. Dennis Setzer -192 * rookie 3 Riggs ■ Race: Food City 500 ■ Where: Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (.533 miles), 500 laps/266.5 miles. ■ When: Sunday, March 25 ■ Last year's winner: Kurt Busch ■ Qualifying record: Ryan Newman, Dodge, 128.709 mph, March 21, 2003. ■ Race record: Charlie Glotzbach, Chevrolet, 101.074 mph, July 11, 1971. ■ Last week: It wasn't what the fans wanted, but it was what the sport needed. If the fans had their druthers, a battle royal in NASCAR would probably involve a duel between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Unfortunately, though, classics are defined by achievement, not popularity, and what made the ending of the Kobalt Tools 500 classic was its matching of the two drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, who are at the top of the sport. Johnson, the reigning champion, outdueled Stewart, the 2005 champion, in a rousing encounter that made the 16 concluding minutes erase the memory of the three uneventful hours that preceded them. This era has seen no better single race that, by its results, so epitomizes just what is happening in major league stock-car racing. Unless, of course, it was the previous Atlanta race, won by Stewart on Oct. 29, 2006. Johnson finished second, 1.195 seconds behind. This time Johnson returned the favor by 1.311 seconds. ■ Race: Sharpie Mini 300 ■ Where: Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (.533 miles), 300 laps/159.9 miles. ■ When: Saturday, March 24 ■ Last year's winner: Kyle Busch ■ Qualifying record: Greg Biffle, Ford, 127.132 mph, March 26, 2004. ■ Race record: Harry Gant, Buick, 92.929 mph, April 4, 1992. ■ Last week: Jeff Burton, in a Chevy, won for the second week in a row, taking the checkered flag in the Nicorette 300 in Atlanta. ■ Race: Kroger 250 ■ Where: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (.526 miles), 250 laps/131.5 miles. ■ When: Saturday, March 31 ■ Last year's winner: David Starr ■ Qualifying record: Rick Crawford, Ford, 95.966 mph, Oct. 21, 2005. ■ Race record: Jimmy Hensley, Dodge, 74.294 mph, April 17, 1999. ■ Last week: Mike Skinner, in a Toyota, also won his second straight race, Atlanta's American Commercial Lines 200. March 25 Aug. 25 PIT ROAD I tM Bristol ^KBr Motor Speedway I Distance: 533 mile oval Length of frontstretch: 650 ft. Length of backstretch: 650 ft. Miles/Laps:..266.5 mi. = 500 laps Kyle Busch Nextel Cup Series No. 5 Kellogg's/Carquest Chevrolet Futile Finisher Younger Busch having hard time finishing strong By Monte Dutton NASCAR This Week HAMPTON, Ga. — So far, no one has led more laps than Kyle Busch. Whether in Nextel Cup or the Busch Series, Busch's No. 5 Chevrolets have been at or near the front of the pack week after week. Except when the checkered flag waves. Busch still awaits the first victory of 2007, but he has plenty of time. It's early in the season, and he won't turn 22 until May 2. Given his age and obvious skill, the future holds almost limitless potential. It's an exciting time to be a NASCAR driver, said Busch, noting the many changes taking place this year. "Toyota and what they'll do. Juan (Pablo Montoya) and how well he'll do. It's an extraordinarily different year, but it's not going to be too much different in terms of challenges," said Busch. "It couldn't get any more challenging than what this sport already is." The next big change hits the track this week when the Car of Tomorrow debuts at Bristol Motor Speedway. As a driver, Busch said it's no big deal. "It's more teams adjusting to it than drivers," he said. "There's definitely a lot of technique involved in how to set it up, definitely more technique than what's involved in how to race the thing. "There are still a lot of unknowns with the car. It hasn't been raced and it hasn't been wrecked that many times. ... Everything on paper works out, but you never know until you get to the race track." Busch, whose older brother Kurt John Clark/NASCAR This Week Kyle Busch, whose older brother Kurt won the Nextel Cup championship in 2004, made the Chase last year but knows he must improve in the area of consistency to have a chance at the title himself. won the Nextel Cup championship in 2004, made the Chase last year but knows he must improve in the area of consistency. "We're trying to redo what we had last year," said Busch. "Have some consistency, a little bit more consistency. Try to win a few more races throughout the year instead of just one. "Another big thing is make the Chase, which we did, but do better within the Chase once we get in it. If a guy wins three or four Chase races, it's going to be tough to beat that guy. ... It's still tough to be able to figure out what exactly will happen." Contact Monte Dutton at hmdutton50@aol.com n g Stewart Jimmie Johnson vs. Tony Stewart Johnson came from behind and left a touch of hard feelings by pinching Stewart's Chevrolet into the wall, but it was a rousing duel between the drivers who, at this moment, represent the best NASCAR has to offer. NASCAR This Week's Monte Dutton gives his take: "This is a feud in a positive sense. Having these guys racing each other week in and week out would be great for the sport. It's been a while since there's been a potential rivalry like this one." Martinsville winners all know what time it is Need a grandfather clock? Richard Petty has 12 of them. Jeff Gordon has seven. The founder of Martinsville Speedway, the late H. Clay Earles, decided 43 years ago it was time for something original as a reward for winning NASCAR races at his track. Since Sept. 27, 1964, when Fred Lorenzen won the Old Dominion 500, a grandfather clock manufactured by Ridgeway (Va.) Clock Company has been presented to the winners at Martinsville. The Independence, the latest model presented to winners, is valued at more than $11,000. NASCAR's first champion overcame many obstacles NASCAR's first champion, Red Byron, was a disabled veteran of World War II. Byron had a withered leg that made driving, let alone driving at speed, difficult, but he won the first championship of what was then known as NASCAR's Strictly Stock Division in 1949. It became Grand National the following year and later morphed into Winston Cup and Nextel Cup. Byron was born in Colorado but moved to Anniston, Ala., at an early age. He died of a heart attack at age 45 in 1960. McMurray still looking to duplicate immediate success By Monte Dutton NASCAR This Week HAMPTON, Ga. — Quite famously, Jamie McMurray won the second Cup race in which he ever competed. Quite sheepishly, he hasn't duplicated the feat in the 153 races since. McMurray has learned how to keep his chin up during the period in which he struggled, first at Chip Ganassi's team and then at what is now Roush Fenway Racing. "I think, when things are going bad, you just have to keep your head up," he said. "It's harder to do than what you would think, but you just always try to find a positive out of everything that's happened. "A lot of times, in our sport, things are out of your control, and there's not a lot you can do about it, so you can't get beat up over that." Hard to finish fifth — Jeff Burton said he found it humorous that "people think we ride around to finish fifth." "Riding around," he said, is a misnomer. "There's a time in the race when you have to do the assessment that you can't win the race," Burton explained. "You find yourself in a position where you determine you can't win. That doesn't mean you don't still try to finish the best you can. I think the problem is you hear me say, 'Well, we at least made a 15th out of it, and it wasn't a terrible day' "I'm not saying I'm really happy we finished 15th. What I'm saying is I'm much happier finishing 15th than I am finishing 30th." Mimicking Jack — Ray Evernham has had his differences with rival owner Jack Roush over the years, but on Sirius Satellite Radio, he admitted his team is headed down the same trail blazed by Roush. Evernham is negotiating with George Gillett Jr., whose sports properties include the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League and the English soccer franchise Liverpool. Boston Red Sox owner John Henry invested heavily this year in Roush's team, hence the new name Roush Fenway Racing. "I watch what Jack Roush does," said Evernham. "Jack and I probably haven't been best friends because we compete against one another, but I respect really what the guy has built in auto racing in America. If you look at what he's done with drag racing, road racing, stock cars ... he's been an amazing businessman." Oh, a comedian — Tony Stewart showed his playful side when asked, "How futuristic is the Car of Tomorrow?" "It looks prehistoric, I think," he replied. When the laughter subsided, Stewart added, "There's nothing about it that's futuristic, by any means, but you're not going to when you try to make the top of the car taller like that. When you think futuristic, you think more sleek than what we have now. Their goal of trying to make the bodies a little bit more like the Truck Series and how they're able to stay closer together, NASCAR is being proactive in trying to make things better." Old school — An underlying theme here was the health of NASCAR vice chairman William C. France, who has been ailing for several years and was hospitalized again last week. Frequently referred to as Bill France Jr., he succeeded his father, founder William H.G. France in 1972 and served as president of NASCAR until 2000, when he turned the duties of president over to Mike Helton, and 2003, when he passed the position of chairman to son Brian France. "He's an old-school, tough- nosed kind of a guy that I have a tremendous amount of respect for, especially after getting to know him better," said Jeff Burton. "His impact on the sport has been huge. "He ain't a wafflier. He ain't a guy that's going to say this is what I think and then (halfway) do anything. He's just going to go do it. Part of leadership is having the guts to make a decision and then having the guts to stand by it and make it work. That's what he did on a lot of occasions." He looks familiar — There was a familiar-looking No. 9 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but it was a Bandolero car. Chase Elliott, Bill's 11-year-old son, is competing this weekend in races here on the quarter-mile cut through the tri-oval grass. Bandolero competition is a logical step up since the younger Elliott raced go-karts successfully in 2006. Bill also competed, though in a Thunder Roadster. ooo ooo

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