Monday, April 21, 2014

“I Want To Thank…” How They Do That

Edwards good at "thank you" and taking off his sunglasses
Ever wonder how the winning driver gets out of a car after 500 grueling miles on the race track and almost immediately begins to thank a list of sponsors – and in the exact order of importance to the team?  In this day of multiple primary sponsors during the course of a season, it’s even more challenging.

Fortunately, he has help.

Not everyone does it this way, but perched behind the television interviewer and carefully hidden from the television cameras you'll sometimes find the driver’s PR person, manager or helmet holder, who has a list of sponsors for the driver to see and read so he doesn’t forget anyone.   The more experienced you are and the more stable your sponsor is, for instance Jimmie Johnson and Lowe’s, the less likely the list will be needed. 

Watch the driver’s eyes, that’s typically giveaway.  The lists are often handwritten (don’t want to jinx anything with a pre-printed list) and might include a special mention for the day (the fans who sat out in the rain all day, etc.)

Eddie Sachs, an IndyCar driver from the 1950s and ‘60s, is often credited with being one of the first to realize the importance of public relations and thanking sponsors.  He’d grab the microphone with both hands before the interviewer knew what happened and launch into his list of thank yous and stories until he was ready to give it back.  He also was one of the first to feature his sponsor on his helmet, painting a red circle on top of his white helmet in deference to the American Red Ball Moving company.

These days Carl Edwards is the best at working in the sponsor’s name, even if it is a little corny at times.  And Edwards does a good job of removing his sunglasses for interviews, although sometimes he makes too big a deal of it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Year Makes Big Difference For Harvick

Harvick the early Chase favorite
What a difference a year makes.

Twelve months ago, Kevin Harvick’s place in the Chase would be tenuous at best, his 22nd place in the point standings off-setting a series-leading two victories.  But no longer.  His win at Darlington all but assures his place in the finals.

Ignore the four straight finishes of 35th or worse.  His total domination of the Darlington 500 on Saturday night – winning the pole position, leading 238 of 374 laps and running away with the green-white-checked finish on what is arguably the toughest track on the circuit – firmly establishes him as the early favorite for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.  He said his team never doubted themselves, despite the string of poor finishes.  And suddenly the team finds itself in a class by itself.

“Everybody wanted to finish the deal on weekends where we felt like we could do exactly what we did here today and did at Phoenix, but sometimes it just doesn't go your way,” Harvick said.  “You have to be able to put that behind you whether you win or lose.

“I'm just proud of all my guys, Rodney (Childers) for keeping them all together and being a part of it, and seeing it not implode from within is pretty awesome.”

Harvick’s convincing win at Darlington was even more impressive considering he had never won at Darlington.

“It's the last crown jewel race I guess you could say that I wanted.  I told them before the year even started, if we're only going to win once this year, let's win at Darlington because this is just the place that you want to race, and I love racing here.  I think it's like going to Bristol for me.  But all in all, it's a great place to race and means a lot to our sport.”

Which makes the stories about Darlington’s possible demise all the more confusing.  At least one news report coming out of Darlington said the race is again in danger of being dropped from the NASCAR schedule.  First it lost its traditional Labor Day date.  Then it lost its new date to Kansas (Kansas!?!).  And now there’s talk there may not be room for Darlington next year?

That’s even harder to believe than Harvick being the Chase favorite.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Indy To Add Another Day of Practice After Qualifying

2013 Pole Sitter Ed Carpenter hopes to be in the hunt again
Looks like the change in qualifying procedures for this year's Indianapolis 500 will result in an additional day of practice between the end of qualifying and the race. 

There’s normally been only a couple of hours of practice after the close of qualifying – on Carb Day.  But changes to the qualifying procedure this year pushed the Fast Nine Shootout for the pole from Saturday until Sunday afternoon. 

In the past, teams safely qualified on Saturday would spend Sunday working on their race setup.  More than a few were wondering aloud if perhaps their time on Sunday might still be better spent working on race setup, rather than making an all-out pole run, especially given the newly updated cars.   To head that off, IndyCar is putting word out to the teams in Long Beach that another day of practice to work on race setup will be available for all qualifiers, most likely on Monday, May 19.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Logano Comes Of Age

Joey Logano has come of age.

His victory in Texas on Monday was accomplished in dominating style, leading the most laps, holding off one of the best drivers in NASCAR – teammate Brad Keselowski – while overtaking one the sport’s all-time greats, Jeff Gordon.  A late caution setting up a green-white-checkered finish might have shaken a less experienced driver, but not the 23-year-old Logano.

The transformation started last year, when he won a race and qualified for the Chase, neither of which his teammate was able to accomplish.  And now it appears Logano is here for good.  He’s the only driver to reach the final qualifying group at every track so far this season, has been competitive in every race, and currently ranks fourth in points.

Six years ago, tagged with the unfortunate “sliced bread” label (as in, best thing since…) by Mark Martin, Logano was the youngest driver to win a Nationwide race.  A year later he became the youngest driver to win a Cup race.  Yet he was the first to admit he was far from an accomplished racer.  He’d been forced into the Sprint Cup ranks when Joe Gibbs allowed Tony Stewart to jump ship before his contract was up – and before Logano was ready to move up as his replacement.  Two years later he was railroaded out of JGR by teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who complained Logano was bringing nothing to the table to help the team improve.

Hamlin and Busch were probably right, but it was handled poorly.  At first Gibbs thought he had Carl Edwards lined up to replace Logano after one season, but that deal fell through.  The next year Gibbs lured Matt Kenseth away from Roush-Fenway Racing.  After turning down a Nationwide ride at JGR, Logano landed at Penske Racing for the 2013, where he found a teammate in Keselowski that not only wanted him, but actually lobbied for him.

Logano tangled with some of the leading drivers in the sport, including Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and, most notably, Hamlin.  But he also has done a lot of growing up during the past year and after the Texas race, Kyle Busch acknowledged a difference in Logano.

“I think Joey learned a lot over the years at JGR, but never felt quite comfortable there, for whatever reason,” Busch said.  “Sure found a home at Penske.  Those guys are really good over there.  Joey has been.  Brad has been.  They've shown good speed this year.  Shows they've got good stuff and Joey is doing what he needs to be doing with it.”

Logano agreed.

“The first time I came here, I think it was in the 02 car.  I ran terrible.  I ran 38th.  I didn't have an excuse for running 38th.  I didn't know what I was doing.  You're 18 years old with less than half a season of Nationwide under your belt.  You get thrown into a tough situation.  But I didn't realize that at the time.

“Then over the years I've been able to just kind of hone in on who I am as a driver, who I am as a person.  When you're 18 years old, you got to grow up.  You're not quite done growing up at that point.  I may not be now.  I feel like I'm getting closer.

“When I was able to go to Team Penske, get that fresh start, be able to take everything you've learned there, but you're not taken as an 18-year-old kid anymore.  I came over when I was 22.  You're looked at a little bit more as a man than an 18-year-old kid that was still in high school.

“Completely different situation now.  I've been able to take advantage of that, kind of walk in the doors of Penske the first time and say, Here is who I want to be, here is what I want to do, here is how I feel like we can win races, do it together.”

Logano also has found a team that has his back.  When he tangled with Hamlin and Stewart in last year's California race, it was none other than Roger Penske who stepped forward.

''Joey is a great driver and what happened at the end there wasn't anything more than hard racing,'' Penske said at the time.  ''I stand behind him and I think he's going to go down as one of the greatest drivers to ever race.''

Logano has matured in other ways.  When asked in Texas what other teams, besides Penske Racing, where off to good a start this year, he replied:  “I'm going to say a lot of the Stewart-Haas cars are really fast.  The 14 was fast today.  The 41 won last week.  The 4 is fast week in, week out.  They're quick.  You never count out Hendrick cars.  Roush cars have shown a lot of speed here recently.  I think even the Petty cars have shown a lot of speed here recently.”

Notice who he didn’t mention?  Any of the JGR teams.  While Busch has won and Kenseth is among the point leaders, all three teams have struggled this year.  Logano didn’t call them out by name or number, but the message was clear.

Final thought:  Did it seem a little too convenient to anyone else that Keselowski was caught speeding on pit road prior to the green-white-checker finish?  Running second, he had closed in on Logano, and then settled in a little more than a second back prior to the caution flag.  His speeding penalty certainly eliminated any questions about whether or not Brad, who with a win was already in the Chase, was racing Joey “100 percent” over the final three laps.  Probably a little early in the season for conspiracy theories, but I’ll tell you what, if someone needs to give up some places to a teammate come Richmond, speeding on pit road seems like a good way to do it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fans Might Be Surprised by NASCAR HOF Ballot

Why the rush to put Dollar Bill in HOF?
Fan voting began Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 and unless you were paying attention to an off-season announcement, you may be surprised by a couple of names on the list of 20 nominees, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte.

Previously, a driver had to be retired for at least three years before becoming eligible for the HOF.  But during the off-season the Hall said it will now immediately consider drivers who are 55 and older with 10 years of experience, and any driver with more than 30 years of experience, no matter what his age.  As a result, both Elliott, who drove in the Coke 400 at Daytona less than two years ago, and Labonte, who was in the Daytona 500 just two months ago, are both on the ballot.  

The Hall also announced it was reducing the number of nominees from 25 to 20, although the top five with the highest percentage of the 54 votes will continue to inducted each year.

It appears the rules for getting into the Hall of Fame are as flexible as the rules for getting into the Chase.

But why these changes in HOF requirements, just five years after the first class was inducted?

According to NASCAR, it’s to “…put more emphasis on the drivers.  Our sport has always been about the driver, and anything we can do to get more drivers in that discussion is where we wanted to go."

I guess that doesn’t include the likes of Buddy Baker, Fred Lorenzen, Curtis Turner, Benny Parsons, Bobby Isaac, Red Byron, Joe Weatherly and Rex White.  All those drivers are currently on the ballot and worthy of the HOF.  But at least one of those drivers probably won’t make it this year because of Elliott's presence.

I’m a big Bill Elliott fan, have been since I first saw him race at Dixie Speedway in the mid-70s.  Obviously so are a lot of other people, Elliott having been voted NASCAR’s most popular driver a remarkable 16 times.  He probably has more fans than all those other drivers combined.

And there’s the rub.  It’s no secret the HOF hasn’t come close to its projected attendance figures.  NASCAR has worked hard to attract more fans and having Elliott – and other more current driers – in the Hall is bound to help.  Next year it will be Mark Martin, another fan favorite.  The losers in the meantime, are old timers, the drivers the Hall was established to honor in the first place.

Fan voting is open online at  until May 21.  I know where my votes are going this year: Lorenzen (I’ve been pushing for him the past couple of years), Turner, Isaac, Ray Fox and Jerry Cook.  And I'm still looking for an opportunity to vote for Smokey Yunick.

Dollar Bill can wait his turn.