Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: The Latest on Bobby Labonte, Kevin Lepage & Looking Forward to Richmond

Richmond is a great track. Steeped in history yet progressive enough to keep it a state-of-the-art facility, this jewel in the capital of the South provides can’t-miss racing year in, year out. One of my most vivid racing memories as a child was watching Dale Earnhardt spin Darrell Waltrip after the two staged an epic battle in the race’s waning laps at the Richmond Fairgrounds; my NASCAR passion has been alive and well ever since.

Luckily, the green flag for this one set to fly at 7:45 in Richmond on Saturday night, because there is another race that has my full attention as well. The lighting-fast 1.25-mile Churchill Downs has a little A-Main of its own that’s set to post at 6:04 p.m.; this is dirt-track racing at its finest, folks, dirt trackin’ with a $2 million purse. The Kentucky Derby’s two-minute adrenaline rush tops just about anything the stock cars can throw out there; about the closest I can figure is Ricky Craven v. Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003 or the 2007 Daytona 500 dash, which may have been the most heart-stopping finish I’ve ever seen in my life.

The parallels are uncanny, though. Both forms of racing have infield parties that trump all others, and the Derby even has its own Danica this year courtesy of Eight Belles, the first philly to run since 1999. And it doesn’t end there.

Either Big Brown or Big Truck should both be outfitted with a big No. 44. “Race the Truck?” OK, you got it. (And completely off subject, but a burning question nonetheless: Was Big Brown sired by Huge Deuce?)

You’ve got Smoke at Richmond and Pyro in Louisville, and both look good in the 7–1 range; Recapturetheglory is being ridden by E.T. Baird in Kentucky and Jon Wood in Virginia; Anak Nakal is a 50–1 longshot whose name (and chances of winning) wreaks of an open-wheel import; and Colonel John is not a dirt-tracker – he’s never run on the stuff before – but he’s one of the favorites. Sounds like short-track asphalt ace Denny Hamlin to me.

Sorry, but for guaranteed edge-of-your-seat, pee-your-pants adrenaline I’ll take the Derby. Maybe because there is money riding on it; my money. Maybe because it’s essentially a green-white-checkered at Daytona on horses. Maybe because it’s the only two minutes of horse racing I watch all year, and I’m milking a good Derby-party beer buzz. Maybe because I know they’ll never rename it, “Crown Royal presents the Dan Lowry Derby.” Whatever the case – and with apologies to Memorial Day weekend – it’s going to be the finest day of racing all year.

OK, let’s get to the business at hand.

Q: Hello Matt. Has the Old School Racing Series been postponed until next year? I’ve heard it will not run at Charlotte this May. What’s the latest on this series? I’ve been looking forward to seeing them run, but have heard the whole deal may be off. Any info? – Beth Hawkings

A: Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait until 2009 to see the likes of David Pearson, Harry Gant, Ron Bouchard, et al. duke it out on an oval all over again. The Old School Racing Series has been postponed from a May 2008 debut to, ahh, well, let’s just say Norm and Gene Weaver – the brothers that put together OSR – are shooting for 2009. Seems a lack of funding has deep six’d the project for now; the series itself was to provide the equipment for the drivers, so without the proper funding… well, we all know what sponsor dollars mean to a racing league.

It’s a shame; in particular, I was looking forward to the series’ scheduled July visit to the Music City Motorplex (the Fairgrounds Speedway) in Nashville, not far from my own personal stomping grounds. So, keep your fingers crossed that the Weavers, who claim they’re set to go in 2009 come hell or high water, can get the series up and running. I’ll keep you updated when more concrete plans are set.

Q: Kevin Lepage pulled the dumbest stunt I’ve seen in 20 years of watching NASCAR. I won’t ask you why he pulled out in front of a pack running twice as fast as he was, but I’d like to know if NASCAR might penalize him in some way. – PhillyFan

A: NASCAR won’t, because the accident Lepage caused was not intentional and because he’d already trashed his car during the race, so it was impossible to do much else. It was quite a doozy of a mistake, though – really, about the worst I’ve ever seen – so I’d say the only penalty you’ll see is Lepage not getting a ride for a long, long time.

The only question I asked myself was whether or not Mr. Lepage was asked to pee in a cup while he was getting checked over in the infield care center.

Q: The Bobby Labonte talk has died down since many assumed he would leave Petty Enterprises after General Mills announced they would leave at the end of the season. Since Tony Stewart voiced his desire to seek other options, we haven’t heard much. What is the latest on Labonte? – Daniel Murphy

A: The latest is nothing more than politically correct-speak from the Labonte camp. I doubt we’ll hear too much from any free agents-to-be until Stewart makes an announcement on his future, as he’s the prize that will effect which seats remain open. Whatever that decision is – even if he stays at Joe Gibbs Racing – will trigger a domino effect on the free-agent market. That’s when the Labontes, Ryan Newmans, Greg Biffles and Carl Edwardses of the series will play their hand. And Martin Truex Jr.

Yes, you may have heard DEI’s head of all-things-global Max Siegel say that DEI has picked up Truex’s option for 2009. Well, it may be true that it has exercised the option, but it is non-binding. The two sides still have to agree on terms, which means if Truex really wants out, he can find a way.

And by the way, Scott Wimmer and the No. 33 RCR car’s entry at Richmond this weekend smells more like an audition to me than a paycheck. This isn’t the Brickyard he’s entered in; it’s a race with a rather standard $5 million purse. RC is covering all his bases, that’s for sure.

For cripes’ sake, I can’t resist… Give me Colonel John and Hamlin this weekend. You may not have heard it here first, but you did hear it here.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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