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Did You Notice?

Did You Notice?… NASCAR Lawsuits Galore, Hamlin’s Media Firestorm, And Childress’ Bad Move

*Did You Notice?* … Big-time teams swimming in a mountain of money problems? I know most people come back to that sobering reality from Vegas, but these appear to be worse than that few hundred lost on a bad hand at poker. We’ll start with Rusty Wallace, Inc. whose team revealed Tuesday they’re owed $535,439.18 by former primary sponsor U.S. Fidelis. Considering a competitive Nationwide Series sponsorship can run you at least $5 million these days, that’s a significant chunk of change that went unpaid (seven races’ worth, in fact). No wonder rumors persisted the team would scale back to just one car for 2010, with Brendan Gaughan left hanging right up ‘til the end of January. The tipping point was probably a little bit extra money from daddy (the link to sponsor South Point Casino), which makes the light bulb go off as to why RWR kept him in favor of still-unemployed David Stremme.

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Did You Notice?… Toyota’s Engine Woes, Five Reasons To Fail Fontana, And Reeling Roush

*Did You Notice?* … That Michael Waltrip Racing-supported cars have suffered five of Sprint Cup’s seven engine failures this year? OK, so maybe the start-and-park efforts of Prism Motorsports shouldn’t be counted, but that’s still an alarming rate to be losing motors (their failure rate for 2010 is nearly 50 percent). It would be one thing if MWR were making all their engines in-house, like Joe Gibbs Racing. But these are motors sent directly from TRD, making you scratch your head and wonder why they’re failing on those three cars when Team Red Bull hasn’t had a single problem yet. What’s even stranger is that these failures are happening to specific cars within the MWR fleet. David Reutimann hasn’t had a mechanical failure in nearly two years, but cars driven by Waltrip, Marcos Ambrose, and *Martin Truex, Jr.* have totaled up seven in the last 34 races by themselves. The team claims there’s no such thing as a hierarchy, that everybody gets the same level of technical and engine support. But those numbers make you wonder if certain cars – especially the No. 47 – are starting the year on some sort of experimental R&D.

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Did You Notice?… NASCAR One-Hit Wonders, Potholes Pan TV Ratings, And Karma Bites A Start-And-Parker

*Did You Notice?* … Jamie McMurray is the most PR-friendly driver to win the Daytona 500 since Michael Waltrip several years ago? Not only is he a fresh face atop the NASCAR world, but his pure excitement in winning NASCAR’s Super Bowl shines through in everything he does. And whether it’s schmoozing with Regis and Kelly or conducting an interview with the hardcore NASCAR media, the once-introverted McMurray is suddenly none too shy about being himself on camera – the perfect antidote to NASCAR’s dose of political correctness spoon-fed to the nation over the last decade. Just take a look at some of these heartwarming McMurray quotes so far...

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Did You Notice? … Admirable NASCAR Underdogs, The Power Of Motivation, And Chase Boredom … Already

*Did You Notice?* … The stars of Speedweeks so far (with the exception of Mark Martin) have been drivers with something to prove? After a miserable 2009 that ended with an all-but-public pronouncement he’s leaving RCR after 2010, *Kevin Harvick* won the Bud Shootout, with fellow free-agent-to-be *Kasey Kahne* right behind him in second. *Jamie McMurray,* who was dumped by Roush and signed a one-year deal with Chip Ganassi that’s “make or break” for his career – finished third. That followed a pole qualifying session where *Dale Earnhardt, Jr.* began his “Recovery 2010” tour by putting himself on the outside of the front row.

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Did You Notice? … NASCAR’s Super Bowl Busts And S&P, Take II

*Did You Notice?* … That with the NFL’s Super Bowl now just one week before the 500, NASCAR’s own Super Bowl runs the risk of being left in the dust? A conversation with a fellow media member a few weeks back produced this one. He pointed out that on Saturday, three major things are going to happen in NASCAR-land: Daytona 500 qualifying, Danica’s stock car debut in an ARCA race, and the Cup cars hitting the track for the first time in the Bud Shootout. What a great day for the sport to build some momentum, huh?

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Did You Notice? … Championship Overkill, My Biggest Offseason Worry, And A Heartfelt Thank You

*Did You Notice?...* That no less than 24 hours after Jimmie Johnson captured his fourth straight Cup championship, he was in front of your television practically everywhere you turned? At 1:30 Monday, while waiting at the airport in Miami, an ESPN friend of mine texted me an “I just met Jimmie Johnson!” message. The first thought that came to mind was, “In Bristol already? Really?” And so the whirlwind tour began, with Johnson jumping from ESPN-ville Monday to “Jimmie Johnson Day” in New York City on Tuesday. Taking a private elevator to the top of the Empire State Building with Johnny Damon, he posed for photos while the cameras whirled, trying desperately to make him the mainstream figure he’s failed to become in the last three years as the titlist.

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Did You Notice? … Big Brother Gets To Keselowski, Marlin’s “Sterling” Career, And No Championship Talk (Promise!)

*Did You Notice?* … Sterling Marlin was still racing competitively? Seriously, the poor guy hasn’t run the full distance in a Cup show since Homestead in November, 2008. So that’s why, at 52, it’s no surprise to see one of the sport’s unique characters finally sit back and call it a career, all but announcing his retirement to Larry Woody of Racin’ Today this week. He’s spent this year failing to finish all seven of his starts, starting and parking in six while DNQing in five others with James Finch’s No. 09 team. Can Marlin still do it? Probably, if he had enough experience with the new car to adjust. But in a sport where technology and sponsor savvy trumps driver talent every time, the good ol’ Southern twang rings hollow in a sport Marlin claims “isn’t fun anymore.”

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Did You Notice? … Championship Collusion, Poor Media Manners, And Salvaging 2009

*Did You Notice? …* That during Jimmie Johnson’s marathon “Fix It” job inside the Cup garage Sunday, it was not just his own team but crew members from one of his _main championship rivals_ helping out? Mechanics from both Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 88 and, yes, Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 were among Hendrick’s King’s Horses and Hendrick’s King’s Men who helped put Humpty Dumpty Johnson’s car together again. Now Earnhardt's crew helping out is one thing … but Gordon's? The same guy who actually stands to gain in the standings if Johnson’s car was deemed unfixable? That’s a really hard concept for me to stomach.

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Did You Notice? … NASCAR’s Burning To The Ground, And Why The Truck Series Stays Sound

*Did You Notice?…* The out-and-out rebellion going on in every aspect of NASCAR right now? It started from the drop of the green on Sunday, when the drivers’ single-file Talladega parade for most of the race was the closest thing to a driver protest I’ve seen in 20 years of following this sport. Then, in the past 48 hours, virtually every television show, newspaper commentary, internet article, and fan email and comment (to me and others) have tilted overwhelmingly negative towards a race that smelt and looked like a farce. Let’s put it this way: If NASCAR were a piñata, we’d be at the point where just one more hit makes it break into a million pieces; and frankly, if it wasn’t for a handful of SPEED shows trying to stem the tide (in what some say is a forced preaching of the NASCAR company line) that fatal whack could have already happened. Just like every other major racing writer out there, I’ve gotten my share of fan emails, complaints, comments about Sunday in which so many have sworn off the sport for good. It’s something that should have me all up in arms, ready to carry the torch for a majority of those who feel that change is needed. Perhaps, that time will come. But right now, you want to know how I feel? Sad. Just really, really sad.

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Did You Notice? … Busch Brothers Burn Crew Chiefs Out, Officiating Mistakes, And NASCAR On WWE?

*Did You Notice?* … Both Busch brothers caused their crew chiefs to burn out at the same time? It’s ironic that NASCAR’s moodiest siblings are transitioning to new head wrenches after a similar time span: about two years. That’s how long Steve Addington worked with Kyle Busch, taking him to 12 wins and one Chase appearance, while Tryson led Busch to four and two, respectively (Tryson came on board with Busch in mid-2007). But working with such successful drivers has its downside.

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