Here are a few more thoughts I had while watching the Bud Shootout that I didn’t have room to fit into Sunday’s Designated Hitter column.
I loved this, and it may have decided the race. Since the Shootout was an exhibition, NASCAR decided that all restarts would be double-file, which on the surface isn’t that big of a deal, except that NASCAR ruled that in this race, cars a lap or more down would start at the back of the field.
This is a fantastic idea that should be considered for the regular season. Granted, it would be tough for a driver ever to race his way back onto the lead lap (cars a lap down start on the inside line of the cars on the lead lap on restarts during the season), but it made for fantastic racing.
Maybe there could be a compromise here. Currently, when a race has less than 10 laps left, NASCAR restarts in single-file. Change the rule to double-file.
Car of Today
NASCAR has nailed it.
After drivers struggled with the handling of the COT last season, there was a lot of grumbling about how the COT would work for a full season in 2008.
If the 70 laps run at the Shootout give any indication, NASCAR has belted a home run.
The car was very racy, held up in taking some blows in traffic, and drivers made several beautiful saves when they found themselves in trouble. A couple of cars would have been airborne and flipping a billion times four years ago, leading to questions about safety during the incessant replays of a gruesome wreck.
The best part, though, was the double-file, sometimes three-wide racing for all 70 laps. If the 500 is like this next week, then look out.
Usually in restrictor plate races, a strong group of cars pulls away from the pack in a single-file line. That never happened in the Shootout, and it was never close to happening. There was constant racing.
If the Daytona 500 were commercial free next Sunday, a lot of viewers would suffer heart attacks. Good stuff.
Granted, he’s always good at Daytona, and like his dad, Dale Earnhardt Jr. could probably drive a turnip truck to Victory Lane there.
But the Shootout win is a big one for Junior, who needed only six laps to take the lead and was in contention at the front of the pack the entire race. He won’t have to worry about the questions about how he’ll fit in at Hendrick Motorsports, and the monkey on his back was drowned in confetti in Victory Lane.
I get the feeling that Junior works best when he’s not feeling the pressure and can just focus on driving. With the best race team in motorsports, that’s all he’ll have to do from now on.
They took four of the top six spots. Look for another year of dominance, and the way Junior worked effortlessly with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon throughout had to be a demoralizing sight for the rest of NASCAR’s teams.
Tony Stewart is always good at Daytona, but he almost put Toyota in Victory Lane, which would have been the story of the night had Junior not won. Dave Blaney was also a horse throughout and Toyota put three cars in the top 10.
Here’s the column:
NASCAR is back, and so is Junior
Some sports fans like to think that this is the dead time in sports, the few weeks after the Super Bowl and before March Madness and baseball heat up.
But there’s a lot to like, really. And thanks to Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, the sports world got a bit of a pick-me-up already, signaling that NASCAR season is just around the corner.
In fact, with the running of the Bud Shootout on Saturday night, NASCAR’s 2008 season unofficially is under way.
So here’s a look from one man’s point of view of the spectacle that was the Bud Shootout.
8 p.m. Well, there’s the requisite cheesy NASCAR song to open Fox’s broadcast. Here we go.
8:06 Discussion from Busch and Stewart about their reported dust-up in the NASCAR hauler after their confrontation on the track during Friday’s practice is pretty tame, with Stewart even saying that he had done much worse on pit lane to others than Busch did to him, so why hold a grudge?
So no real news to report there, other than Stewart’s ridiculous hair. Wow, get a look at the spoiler on Smoke.
8:11 More interviews, now with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. This year they plan on winning every race this season.
8:14 Sister Hazel? Sister Hazel?! What, were the Gin Blossoms not available?
8:25 There’s the first shot of the night of Dale Earnhardt Jr., clad in his mostly gray racing suit. Jarring.
Does anybody else think, though, that in the four races that Jeff and Jimmie don’t win this season, that Junior, with the benefit of a real engine department, will win those? Cause I do.
8:27 There’s a look at Mark Martin, still going strong after his fourth retirement.
8:34 Getting ready to drop the green. This race will be 70 laps in two segments and will feature all of the drivers who won poles last season. There are 23 cars in the race, all of which are the Car of Tom…., err Today. All of the races this season will be in the COT, which means we’ll be hearing even more about “aero” and stuff.
8:37 When Larry McReynolds talks, does anybody else think, “Isn’t this the guy who couldn’t win races with Dale Earnhardt?”
8:38 Time to pick a winner, and since Ward Burton isn’t racing, I’ll go with Stewart. He always wins these things.
And you know what? That will be a big story when it happens. Remember, he’s in a Toyota this year.
8:40 Boogity, boogity, boogity!
8:46 It took six laps, and Junior leads. And how about this for a top five? Junior, Michael Waltrip, Dave Blaney, Reed Sorenson and Jamie McMurray. Just like Fox drew it up.
8:51 There’s a report that Gordon’s car is losing power and not handling well. Of course, he’s running at the back of the pack and is hooked up with Johnson. He’s sandbagging, right?
9:00 Nothing brings an exhibition race broadcast to a halt like a caution and a wrecked car that takes time to get off the track. Bill Elliott brought out the caution with a blown tire and now there’s a lot of rambling going on, much of it of the dumbed-downed variety designed to give casual fans an idea of what racing is about.
And of course, with 20 laps completed, that immediately brings us into the 10-minute break between segments. Yawn.
9:06 Stewart just called his car “a brick.” Those who watch NASCAR know that if anybody can drive a brick to Victory Lane, it’s
9:19 Four laps into the second segment, McMurray is in the wall and is done. Denny Hamlin clipped McMurray, and it was over. Maybe that’s the start to some fireworks.
9:21 Only Waltrip would miss his pit box by about seven spots.
9:30 Ward Burton is in the lead! Ward Burton is in the lead! Ward Burton is in the lead!
Oh wait, that’s Blaney. For a second there I thought it was 2002 again.
9:35 Thirty-two laps to go, and on the high side it’s a string of Hendrick cars. Junior, Gordon, Casey Mears and Johnson, all in line. Get used to this, race fans.
9:41 Gordon led briefly, using a nice move to get ahead of Stewart and around Junior, who then made the same move two laps later and retook the lead.
9:44 Caution is out for another blown tire. Let’s hope that’s not going to be a trend this season. Pit stops all around with about 20 to go.
9:58 Some good racing up front. Stewart slipped inside behind Junior — and then passes him with nine to go!
10:02 Kurt Busch brings out the caution with another blown tire, but the amazing thing was how the car stayed down on the track. The COT is really making a name for itself tonight. That car would’ve been airborne four years ago.
10:06 Three to go. This may be won on the restart, which will be double-wide.
10:08 Junior leads, and it’s tight, prompting Darrell Waltrip to shriek, “Yippee! This is all right!”
10:09 It’s Junior and Stewart, linked all the way around the track for the last two laps, and somehow Junior holds him off, driving high and low. Wow.
Wonder what Teresa’s thinking now?