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Holding A Pretty Wheel

Johnson Gives Fans Plenty to Talk About-But Really, Now…

Johnson Gives Fans Plenty to Talk About-But Really, Now…

Halfway through the Chase for the 2009 Sprint Cup, things are…well, things are predictable. Jimmie Johnson has the points lead (I know, shocker). No. 48 haters, can, I suppose, take heart in one statistic: no winner of the fall race at Charlotte has ever gone on to win the whole shebang. But really, around NASCAR Kingdom, many fans and media are firmly (if prematurely) focused on Johnson. Part of that is natural--Johnson is, after all, the reigning (and reigning and reigning) series champion, and that alone draws a certain amount of scrutiny. Being the point leader five races from the end is going to draw attention. There have been four pervading storylines this week focused on the No. 48 this week, and there have been a whole lot of headlines surrounding them. The problem is, all four are a bit…er, misguided. Read More »

Before My Brain Melts… Thoughts For These Summer Nights

Before My Brain Melts… Thoughts For These Summer Nights

I need to admit I’ve been at least sort of wrong on one point for the last few years. Largely in part because of prior accomplishments, I have had Tony Stewart pegged as the best driver on the Cup Circuit over the past decade. And, well, I took a second look after Indy; and at this point, Johnson is now clearly the best, despite the fact that he didn’t even join the Cup tour until 2002. Statistics don’t lie, and Johnson’s are better than Stewart’s over the course of the decade. The equipment is equal, the two drivers had the best crew chiefs on pit road -- and Johnson’s numbers are simply better. I stand corrected. Read More »

Best Of Holding A Pretty Wheel : Refocusing on What’s Right In NASCAR

_Amy Henderson is taking a well-deserved week off; but have no fear, we have pulled out an oldie but goody for your reading pleasure. This edition of Pretty Wheel originally ran on Thursday, February 5, 2009. Amy will return next week with another all-new, thought provoking commentary as well as LIVE coverage from New Hampshire._ Sometimes being in a position where it’s my job to scrutinize all things NASCAR under a microscope with a fine-toothed comb can skew the reality. Sometimes looking at every angle, every minute piece and part somehow takes away from the whole. Read More »

50 X 600 = One Big Race

50 X 600 = One Big Race

It used to be, not so terribly long ago, that there were three races a driver wanted to win in his career: the Daytona 500, the World 600, and the Southern 500. Sure, it was great to win anywhere, but one of those three really defined a driver in some intangible way. From 1985 to 1997, Cup Series sponsor Winston offered up a million dollars to any driver who could win any three of four important races in any one year: The Daytona 500 (the most prestigious), the World–now Coca-Cola-600 (the longest), the Winston 500 (the fastest-remember this started before the advent of the restrictor plate), and the Southern 500 (the oldest race on the circuit until NASCAR decided that history isn’t important). The million-dollar bonus was won only twice, and that just made everyone want it more. Read More »

NASCAR’s Finest: Two Heroes and Their Enduring Legend

NASCAR’s Finest: Two Heroes and Their Enduring Legend

Racing, like other sports, is built on heroes. Most of NASCAR’s heroes are the men and women who, over the years, pulled on their colorful, if not dashing firesuits, climbed into a snarling beast of a machine, and drove straight into the sunset (and back out, as they came off the next turn). They court danger and flirt with mayhem, run with the stuff of dreams. Yes, racecar drivers are the stuff of legend. But not all heroes drive the cars-some make the cars go fast instead. There are two heroes in NASCAR who never reached the status of some of today’s top drivers, and yet each has carved a niche so deep and so intricate that no others will ever fill those spots, though both are now vacant, made so by the years that slip by. One passed on this week, and the other is ill and living in an assisted living facility not far from the race shops where today’s generation is building their own dreams. Read More »

Five Simple Ways to Make NASCAR Fans Happy Again

Five Simple Ways to Make NASCAR Fans Happy Again

It wasn’t that long ago when every major sport could have taken a page from NASCAR’s book. This was a sport that was fan friendly. The drivers were accessible to the fans and happy to oblige. The sport was rich in tradition and the racing was good. Everyone wanted to win the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500, the two notches in the fencepost that mattered most to teams. It was a family sport that parents could watch with their kids. What was not to love? Then, seemingly overnight, things began to change, although the changes have come over the course of a few years. The sport is not so fan friendly-watching the sport together has turned into watching the start and then sending the kids off to do their homework. The oldest race on the circuit has been gone for several years, replaced by a “market.” The drivers are scarce in public areas, and the tradition and good racing are all but gone, replaced by trends and fans who will likely only ride this bandwagon until the next stop, and then jump onto the next trend when it rolls in, leaving longtime fans and purists scratching their heads and wondering what happened to the sport they once loved. Read More »

My Winter of NASCAR Discontent — With A Little Amusement Tossed In

My Winter of NASCAR Discontent — With A Little Amusement Tossed In

With Daytona around the corner, the racing world is picking up speed, and with that comes a whole slew of questions -- but not too many answers. So after a long and eventful offseason, it’s time to dust off the things that made it notable for me... First up, I have an issue with the timing of NASCAR’s approval of the new Ford engine. While it _is_ true that Toyota’s racing engines are a whole separate species of animal, and the Chevrolet R07 was designed with an eye toward the Cup Series, I find this one more troubling. It's not so much because it deviates from the "stock" small-block engines the sport once mandated, but rather because of one feature in particular that’s reportedly far more advanced than its counterparts. Read More »

Amen, Junior: Why NASCAR Needs to Trim the Fat

Amen, Junior: Why NASCAR Needs to Trim the Fat

Last week, when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. commented that the length of the season is too great, the first thought that entered my mind, was “Shut up and drive.” But then, I really thought about it. The more I thought, the more I realized…maybe Junior was right. The argument you usually hear about the 38-week season (including two exhibition races) is that it’s hard on race teams, keeping drivers and crew members away from their families for too much of the year. There is really no time off at all for most teams, as the month and a half after the season ends is spent getting ready for Daytona testing in mid-January, and after that, Speedweeks is just around the corner, and it’s crunch time. Read More »

Just Thinking About…Lean Times, Junior as The Future of HMS, and Making a Violation Go Away-and Some Other Stuff

Just Thinking About…Lean Times, Junior as The Future of HMS, and Making a Violation Go Away-and Some Other Stuff

With just three races left on the schedule, there have been complaints of a lack of on-track action in some of the Chase races. There’s been no dearth of action off the track, however. In fact, there were so many interesting storylines this week, I couldn’t pick just one. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I have the attention span of a kindergartener on pixie stix. Something like that. In any case, here is my take on some of the recent happenings in NASCAR. Read More »

Tragedy Only Fueled Hendrick’s Triumph In Their Darkest Hour

Tragedy Only Fueled Hendrick’s Triumph In Their Darkest Hour

It was the first time Brian Vickers smiled all weekend. That was my first thought one Sunday afternoon, a scant four years ago when the dust had settled after the 2004 Bass Pro Shops 500. The second was that it took extraordinary courage and poise for the winning team to be there at all. Racing rarely gives much, but it can take in an instant. Tragedy is constantly a hairbreadth away, and inevitably, sometimes, that line is crossed. Perhaps not so strangely, in a sport that is fueled by danger and excitement, triumph can also be fueled by tragedy. Read More »