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Ruminating All Things NASCAR

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Pack Racing Is Back!

Posted by Keith Murray on February 23, 2012

Darrell Waltrip can try to talk about how awesome it was all he wants, but relying on another car to team up with you to run together is not racing. I love ol’ DW, but he his cheese has slid off the cracker in this case. According to Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition, more than 80% of fans objected to the spectacle of two-car tandems.

For the first time in a long time, I actually enjoyed a race on a superspeedway. Actually, I enjoyed it so much that I have gotten tickets to go to Talladega in May. The racing on Saturday night in the Bud Shootout and in the Gatorade Duels today was actually entertaining.

This year’s Daytona 500 is poised to return to its glory years as an edge-of-your-seat event, whether you’re at the track or in your living room. Will there be another young gun that gets vaulted to stardom like Trevor Bayne was last year? Michael McDowell is starting near the front. How about Stenhouse or Cassill? Will this be Tony Stewart’s year to get that elusive Daytona 500 win, reminiscent of Dale, Sr.? Speaking of Earnhardt’s, will Junior return to former glory as the King of Plate Racing? Who knows? But I will definitely be tuned in for all 200 laps to see it all, and not sleeping through most of it as I did last year.


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Time For RoushFenway To Take Stock

Posted by Keith Murray on November 23, 2009

What a difference a year makes. Yes, it is a worn out cliche’, but what else fits? This has been a miserable year for RFR compared to last, and they are going to have to make up some serious ground to gain on the likes of Hendrick Motorsports.

This year, the best that they could muster was a 7th place finish in the final standings by Greg Biffle. Before the season started, many so-called experts were saying that Carl Edwards was going to walk away with the Championship this year. This article isn’t about me, but I did say otherwise before the season started. I did not see Edwards having the same magic this year that he did last year. In no way am I saying that last year was a fluke because those guys are very talented. Its just that when the pressure was on, the 99 team choked. And there was a lot of pressure this year for them to step up and use that success as a springboard. The result was more like a bear trap that kept them down all year without a single win.

There are some changes that could be beneficial for 2010 for RFR. Because of the changes to NASCAR’s rules, they can only field four teams from now on. Jamie McMurray’s departure means that there are no heads on the chopping block nor big personnel decisions to make regarding drivers, but something has to change, regardless. Keep doing what you’re doing, keep getting what you’re getting.

Maybe the drop to four teams is just what they need this year to focus and get back tot he top of the speed charts. We fans can only speculate as to what effect it has to have to spread the wealth of information among five teams. Only three of those teams have shown the potential to win races over the last couple of years. Other than McMurray’s fluke win in Talladega, the 26 team has been winless since it moved over from being the 97 team. David Ragan has had a less-than-stellar career so far. Focusing the attention on one less team could be beneficial. Only time will tell.

The information sharing and teamwork that goes on at Hendrick Motorsports is well-documented and renowned. Are the Roush teams that open to each other? A couple of years ago, there was tension that spilled out to national TV when Carl Edwards acted like he wanted to punch Matt Kenseth. You don’t see that kind of activity among HMS drivers – even in jest.

One thing is certain – even apart from off-track drama, there is some serious catching up to do if Roush wants to return to having a shot at more than two drivers in the Chase and especially for a shot at a Championship. And Hendrick Motorsports has shown that they are a moving target. Four straight championships and finishing one-two-three in the season standings is no small feat – we may never see it again. You would also have to think that having Dale Earnhardt, Jr. way down in the standings is driving them crazy and they are going to focus attention on getting him better this off-season.

Roush Fenway Racing has their work cut out for them if they are going to return to the top of the racing world. Maybe some of the changes they have made will help. It will be interesting to see if “Cat In The Hat” – or anyone else, for that matter –  has what it takes to dethrone the Hendrick empire.

As always, please remember to pray for our troops fighting for our freedoms – especially this week. We have so much to be thankful for. God bless.

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Johnson Makes History With Four In A Row

Posted by Keith Murray on November 23, 2009

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Another Record-Setting Year For Jimmie Johnson

Posted by Keith Murray on September 15, 2009

Even with three consecutive Cup Championships, Jimmie Johnson does not get the respect he is due. This weeks a poll asked which driver had the nest chance to win the Cup of those that had multiple wins. Of the five choices, Johnson came in 4th in the voting. He was even behind Kasey Kahne in the voting.  That was a poll that people voted on out of emotion and wishes and not out of logic. I know that it is because most people despise him, but you cannot take away his accomplishments. And now he sits alone in the record books in an impressive category – the only driver to be in every Chase since its inception.

When Matt Kenseth failed to make the Chase field in Richmond last week, it set Johnson as the lone driver with that distinction. One would think that at this level and only six seasons into the Chase format, there would be three or four of the ‘top-tier’ drivers occupying that category with Johnson, but that is not the case. And it is yet another indication of just how strong that team is.

Johnson and crew chief, Chad Knaus, now have the longest driver/crew chief relationship in NASCAR. They have been together since they both moved up to Cup with a newly-formed 48 team in 2002. That first year together they finished 5th in the standings and followed that with finishes of second, second, and fifth before winning it three years in a row. Johnson has never finished worse than 5th in the standings.

Most NASCAR fans know these facts already and hate them. But love him or hate him, you can’t take away what he has done on the track. Regardless of what happens from this point forward, he will go down in history as one of the all-time greats of the sport.

As I wrote earlier this year, I was amazed at how many of the so-called experts were picking someone other than Johnson to win it all this year. One of their top choices – Kyle Busch – did not even make the Chase. The 48 team has remained mostly intact and has continued to overcome obstacles this year enroute to the record as the only team to make all the Chase fields. These last ten tracks are some of Johnson’s best on the circuit, and unless they stumble along the way, the Chase is his to lose again this year. Like I said in that earlier article, someone is going to have to pull a Jimmie Johnson to dethrone Johnson this year.

Regardless of whether he can pull off the unbelievable feat of four consecutive titles, it is still quite the accomplishment and a testimony of the resilience of that team to maintain the consistency that they have over the last seven years. And I believe that after the checkered flag falls at Homestead, Johnson will occupy another category all his own – that of winning four consecutive Cup titles.

Please remember to pray for our servicemen and women fighting around the world for us to have the right to enjoy our sport and the other many freedoms we enjoy. God bless you and thanks for reading.

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One Statistic Shows Why The Juniors Need To Part Ways

Posted by Keith Murray on April 24, 2009

Rumors have been circulating that there is an imminent crew chief swap coming at Hendrick Motorsports. Mark Martin’s win may have only delayed the inevitable; or perhaps there are other plans in the works that don’t include the 5 team.

We have heard Dale Earnhardt, Jr. tell the NASCAR world for years that Tony Eury, Jr. is his crew chief and that he is family and that comes first. We all understand the importance of family, but there comes a point when you are on one of the largest sports stages in the world when you have to decide if you want to be a champion or continue on the path you’re on. My daddy had an old saying that was a play on Einstein’s quote – “Keep doin’ what’cher doin’, keep gettin’ what’cher gettin’.”

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but here is a little fact on NASCAR history. Junior’s dad won 7 championships and not once during those championship years did he have a close relative on the pit box making the calls every week. I know, I know. Junior has been with the Eury’s for a long time, and they are close friends and relatives. But there was a little stat that I uncovered when researching the history of these guys that paints the whole picture and puts it all in perspective – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has 18 career victories, and only two of those came with Tony Eury, Jr. on the pit box.

Listen, Tony Eury, Jr. is one of the most likeable guys you’ll ever see in an interview. I have never met him, so I cannot vouch for how he is personally, but he has a reputation as being just a good ol’ boy that knows a heck of a lot about cars and racing. I also think that the problem here is not with his abilities, but that the chemistry is just not there between those guys. Yes, they fuss at each other and try to motivate one another, but the stats don’t lie. It’s just not a successful racing relationship regardless of what it is off the track.

One also has to wonder how much more patience Rick Hendrick will have with the situation. He has known to be extremely patient while teams work out their nuances and problems. He was patient with Steve Letart and that has worked out after showing steady improvement the last couple of years. He even had to sit down and work out the differences with the two guys in the longest running driver/crew chief relationship in NASCAR – Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. We have all heard heard of what a great manager and leader Rick Hendrick is, and he did not build his empire – in racing and in the business world – by not knowing how to deal with people and personalities. He knows what he’s doing and has the fat wallet to prove it. And you best believe that he will do what needs to be done. He wants 4 teams capable of winning week in and week out on the track, and that is just not the case right now.

So it all comes down to this – if Junior wants to take it to the next level and start contending for championships, something is going to have to give one way or another. Both of those guys can be successful in this sport and be among the best on the track in their perspective roles, I believe, but up to this point they have not been successful together. It is just as simple as them making a choice of whether to keep doin’ what they’ve been doin’, because we all know what that will get them.

Once again, please remember to pray for our troops around the world in harm’s way. And pray for our country in this tough time we are in. My stepdad just got laid off last week after 30 years with same company and numerous awards including 2006 company-wide Employee of the Year for a very large, nationally-known company, so that hit close to home for me. And most of all – bring on Talladega! Thanks for reading and God bless!

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It’s Time For Someone To Take Out ‘Digger’

Posted by Keith Murray on February 18, 2009

FOX has totally lost it. It’s bad enough that a bunch of grown men have to endure, “Boogity, boogity, boogity” every week, but we have also been subjected to a bad theme song – “Let’s Go Racing, Boys” – and an even worse cartoon character named Digger. Ratings are down again to start this year for the third year in a row, yet FOX is going to keep trying the tried and (un)true practices that have not helped – and possibly hindered – the growth of the sport. And to make matters worse, we had to watch a cartoon episode they made with this Digger character. When they started talking about Digger, everyone that was gathered in front of the TV Sunday started talking about how bad it was and was upset we would have to endure that again this year. And when the cartoon episode came on, that was all we could take. I had the remote in my hand and I flipped it over to another channel for about 15 minutes. I wonder how their advertisers would feel about that.

What I really cannot understand is how they can peddle that stuff when they had full knowledge that the rain was forecast to hit Daytona in the early evening. We also had to endure a Keith Urban concert. I mean, come on. Nothing against Keith Urban (at least he can sing in tune), but if I want to see Keith Urban, I can switch over to CMT or go to iTunes and listen to his music. I want to see a RACE. What they should have done was just let Urban sing the National Anthem so we would not have to endure that joke of a singer that modulated to four different keys. His name was Gavin something-or-another. It should have been “Gavin Butcher,” because he butchered the National Anthem.

I love being an ambassador of NASCAR. I love to talk it up and try to bring new fans into the sport; and I have succeeded in several cases with friends and family. I also have friends that love to joke about me wasting my time watching cars “go in circles.” What is ironic is that some getting their laughs at my expense will not miss a golf match on TV. I grew up and still live in the Augusta, GA area – the home of that little golf tournament every April, but are you kidding me? People watching some dude knocking a little ball around the course where you have to stay deathly quiet or you are asked to leave is more exciting than burning rubber and roaring engines? That is laughable! I’ll take the manly-man stuff over guys wearing knickers any day. But my ambassadorship is being undermined by stupid network tactics. Instead of thinking that racing is a joke, they can think that about our spoort without having to see a single lap because of the nonsense on the FOX broadcast if they were to tune in to try it out one time.

What makes FOX think that we want to see that Digger graphic every time they show the camera shot from a camera buried in the asphalt? The shot of the action is pretty cool, but I actually got mad about the third time they covered up racing action with Digger getting “scared” by the oncoming cars. The truth is, most of the time when he turns around with that grin on his face and sees the oncoming cars, numerous cars have already passed by him. My vote would be to see him become roadkill like any other critter that moseys out into traffic. Or better yet, let’s see a segment where Elmer Fudd hunts him down and is successful in taking him out of our misery.

If FOX had foregone the cartoons and the concert, we probably could have gotten to see the race run to completion instead of being rained-out. And trust me – fans are more interested in seeing good racing than some cartoon character. They have a channel for that, too. It’s called the Cartoon Network. Let them handle the cartoons, and you guys find a way to put on a better race. You could start by firing the cartoon department and assign them to make sure that we don’t miss any more green flag restarts.

I know some people actually like Digger – although I do not personally know of a single racing fan that does. But even if it was a good marketing idea (which it is not), it played out last year and now they are just beating a dead horse. The better option would be to beat a dead gopher and let’s get back to seeing more racing and less marketing antics that are old, tired, and just plain dumb. Follow the advice of your theme song and DW, and “Let’s Go RACING, Boys.”

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Vickers To Blame For “Big One” At Daytona 500

Posted by Keith Murray on February 16, 2009

Sorry, folks,but the blame is not squarely on Junior’s shoulders for this one. What happened to the rule about blocking someone? That move by Vickers was just plain dumb. If you have the guy cleared and try to block, that’s one thing, but Earnhardt had a fender on him and had to get below the yellow line to prevent wrecking them both. If you look at the above video at the 0:34, 1:30 and 1:54 markers, all three times they show Vickers putting the block on Earnhardt and you can see that Earnhardt’s car gets loose and he takes out Vickers. There is nothing intentional about it from that perspective.

I am not an Earnhardt apologist, nor a fan of his, but he has gotten a bad rap about this in my opinion from numerous writers and commentators, and especially from the FOX commentators during the race. Junior did indeed have a bad day, but he has never been the type of guy that wrecks people or moves them out of the way. As a matter of fact, a lot of fans are disappointed that he has not been more like his dad in that way. When folks saw that #3 in the rearview mirror, it invoked a measure of fear. Not so in this era of politically-correct racing, and especially not for Junior. He drives clean.

Another one of his character traits that some fault is his openness and honesty. I have never known the guy to lie or even stretch the truth in any interview I have ever seen him in. Some say that he is open and honest to a fault. His honesty is something that more people need in this world today, and it is a refreshing change of pace from the norm in society. But it just goes to show who the guy is and why he is so likeable. So when he says that it was not intentional, I believe him until I have reason not to. And as I pointed out, his car looked to get loose as he tried to get back on the track.

For all the whining we heard from Vickers after the wreck yesterday, I guess he forgot that he did the same thing a couple of years ago to Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson in Talladega on his way to his first (and only) Cup series win. The biggest difference between then and now is that this time Junior is paying oforVickers’ stupidity off the track instead of on it.

In any case, I am sure that Junior is glad to be leaving Daytona after the day he had.

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Edwards Emerges As Preseason Favorite – You’re Kidding Me, Right?

Posted by Keith Murray on February 11, 2009

I am starting to think that the majority of writers, bloggers, and armchair crew chiefs have started smoking something this off-season. Everywhere I turn, people are saying that Edwards is the odds-on favorite to win the championship this year. And most cite his “stellar” run to end the season last year.

Huh? Someone correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t there someone that had a more stellar run to end the season than Edwards? I seem to remember that Edwards was not seated on the stage during the awards banquet in New York last year, but rather there was someone else up there. Then again, maybe it is me that has inhaled something inappropriate because I could have sworn that Jimmie Johnson had the more stellar run to end the season.

Yet, most people say that it is Edwards’ title to lose this year. I don’t get it. OK, maybe I do get it. I am starting to believe that a lot of what we see when these writers prognosticate is simply what their desires are. I get it. People don’t normally like a dynasty. And that is exactly what the 48 team has emerged as – a true dynasty.

The funniest part of the whole thing is that Johnson has won three consecutive titles and is bringing back his championship team mostly intact. Where is the chink in the armor? Do people just think that since he won three in a row that the odds MUST be against him? One thing that I have learned is that you cannot count those guys out – ever; especially with a Chase format and Chase tracks that they have dominated over the last few years.

I am not taking anything away from Carl Edwards. Although he’s a bit two-faced with his, “Aw, shucks” attitude on-camera and fits of temper and fighting off-camera, he is an amazing talent and has a determination that is obvious to all NASCAR fans. He has the looks. He has the charisma. And although Johnson does not exude that type of characterization (my mother would argue about the looks comment – she loves her some Jimmie Johnson), he consistently shows up and gets it done on the track. The results cannot be disputed. Now that I mention it, “consistency” is the best word to describe the 48 team. And until they lose that consistency or stumble in some way, they are the ones that are the odds-on favorite to win it again. With the team returning intact, everyone else is running for second place unless Johnson and Company make a huge mistake during the Chase and give it away.

Predictions for 2009

Here is where I see the final standings ending the year:

10. Kasey Kahne – Kasey will return to better form this year and show more consistency with the newly-merged team. Look for a couple of wins from him as well during the season.

9. Tony Stewart – I really have mixed emotions about this because of how owner/drivers have fared in times past. However, Tony is an amazing talent and with the capable Darian Grubb on the pit box and Hendrick power under the hood, I think they will win this year.

8. David Ragan – Ragan showed us during the second half of the season that he is ready for primetime. Look for these guys to running up front a lot more this year.

7. Mark Martin – Martin’s last hurrah will be a good one, but he will not get that evasive championship this year. The eternal pessimist does have a reason to be positive this year, though. He seems to have fit right in with his Hendrick teammates, and although he has a lot to offer, he will also learn a lot from some proven winners in that stable and the results will show on the track.

6. Jeff Gordon – The Drive for Five will fall short again this year, but Gordon will break his winless streak. If he starts off slow, look for Steve Letart to get replaced; even though we have been told that won’t happen. We have also been told that Ray Evernham could back and help the team in some capacity other than crew chief. If Gordon can’t find the magic, look for that “non-crew chief” promise to possibly be broken, as well. I’m not saying anything, I’m just saying…

5. Carl Edwards – Edwards will have a good season, but not a great season like last year. He could fill all the other writers’ expectations (or wishes) and win it all, but they showed too much inconsistency in the Chase last year, in my humble opinion.

4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior had a good first half of the season last year. He may be the most underrated driver in NASCAR today. Yes, he is extremely popular, but although he got into the sport on his dad’s coattails, he has proven time and again that he is one of the best out there and that he deserves to be where he is because of his ability and regardless of his heritage.

3. Greg Biffle – The Biff gets overlooked a lot in the Roush stable, but I believe he is the best driver they have. They have a better-than-average chance of winning the Championship this year and returning Jack Roush to Champion’s Table at the banquet in December.

2. Kevin Harvick – Harvick has become one of the top drivers in the sport. He has everything he needs to win it all this year – equipment, a great crew chief, and the resources of RCR; not to mention an owner in Richard Childress that is hungry to put another championship notch in his belt. If the 48 team falters, this will be your champion this year.

1. Jimmie Johnson – If you read my article above, you know why I picked him. The fourth in a row is his to lose and someone is going to have to pull a “Jimmie Johnson” in the last ten races to rip it from their hands. As that great philosopher and pro wrestler – Rick Flair – used to say, “If you want to BE the man, you gotta BEAT the man.”

Sleepers – AJ Allmendinger is poised to have a great season. A lot will hinge on how well he does in the first few races to secure a spot in the top 35. But I think this guy is extremely talented and learned a lot about these cars last year. When he stepped into the 10 car last year, he took that program up another notch.

Disappointments – Casey Mears will remain mired in the 20’s in the standings. He is such a likeable guy, but just has not been able to perform in NASCAR’s top levels. He had some of the best equipment on the track last year and was mediocre at best. Unless the problem was indeed the driver/crew chief relationship as many surmised, look for more of the same.

Bobby Labonte – I don’t know of any NASCAR fan that dislikes him. I wish that he could have found a ride with a good team so that he could have a chance of winning some races as his career is winding down. I believe he still has some fire left in him, but the team he has joined has never left the ground. Labonte could help change that, but this sport is not a one-man show.

Once again, please remember to pray for our troops in harm’s way. And pray for our leaders in Washington – they need it badly. Thanks for reading and God bless!

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It’s Here Already?

Posted by Keith Murray on February 4, 2009

Man, it is hard to believe that the new season is already upon us? can Jimmie Johnson make it 4 in a row? Is it Carl Edwards’ year? Can Gordon or Earnhardt get it done this year? Can a change of scenery get Labonte and Mears on track?

We will be covering it all in the weeks to come. Pull those belts tight and hang on. The green flag is upon us!

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Posted by Keith Murray on November 11, 2008

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