If it's Texas, get ready to fire 'em up. Lock and load. One of legendary Eddie Gossage's cooler promotions. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
FORT WORTH, Texas
Musings, while awaiting Round Eight of the championship chase, and the next chapter in this season's Matt Kenseth versus Jimmie Johnson saga, and a much closer look at this week's Goodyears.
-- Of all the new tracks and markets that NASCAR has added over the years, this is one of the best.
Fort Worth cow country, and glitzy Dallas.
Adding this Texas heartland to the stock car racing agenda is so perfect that it's difficult now to understand why Bill France Jr. pitched such a fit over it all, back when.
And who will ever forget that monumental first-race traffic jam, the mother of all traffic jams.
Not only was Bruton Smith prescient in building this place, despite all the adversities, he was also brilliant in putting Eddie Gossage in charge. There is no more outrageous, devil-may-care promoter in racing today, in any series, than Gossage. And he will probably be the first to remind you of that.
Remember those 'Shut up and race' tee-shirts? Wonder how much one of those would fetch on eBay or PawnStars today?
-- Yes, Jeff Gordon comes out of Martinsville with that big boost of a win, and a bit closer in this title chase. But: Wonder if Gordon still remembers that hard crash here back when. It was one of the hardest crashes of his career, and since then this has been one of the toughest tracks for him to get a decent finish.
If Gordon were racing at any other track on the tour but this one, his title hopes would be a lot stronger.
-- Wonder how long it will be until team sponsors decide to cut sponsorship money and only include the year's first 26 races....because if a team doesn't make the playoffs, for all the TV coverage it gets in September, October and November, well, it might as well stay home.
Why pay for 36 races if there's no coverage after the first 26? Especially at these prices, say $500,000 a Sprint Cup weekend, and that before 'market activating' expenses.
One downside of this chase playoff format.
"You're a nobody if you don’t make the chase," Greg Biffle says. "The face of this sport is the chase, the chase guys. That's what everybody talks about from the Daytona 500 on, the 12 or 13 cars that are going to be in the chase."
Is that good or bad?
Bruton Smith (R) and Texas promoter Eddie Gossage: Mr. Outrageous and Mr. Outlandish. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
-- What has happened to NASCAR's Hispanic initiatives?
And how did Daytona executives misplay the Juan Pablo Montoya card so badly?
How did one of the world's great racers get mired so deep in muck that he managed only two wins here since 2006?
Why did NASCAR's marketers so misplay this amazing marketing opportunity? When the Formula 1 star and Indy-car champion abruptly left F1 in midseason to join NASCAR, Daytona was dealt a handful of aces.
And stock car racing's next Hispanic superstar will be?
-- Is anyone else worried about the state of this sport when a big-name star like Kyle Busch may have to shut down his Truck/Nationwide operation for lack of enough sponsorship?
But then there wasn't much hue and cry back in the day when stars like Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd were unable to make a go of it as owner-drivers, against the surge of high-dollar mega-team owners.
Oh, and whatever happened to Dale Earnhardt Inc., come to think of it?
Maybe it's time for NASCAR CEO Brian France to revisit those plans of his to cut back the size of all these mega-teams, to break them up. Are such mega-teams really a plus for the sport any more, or just a barrier to entry for any new team owners?
Jimmie Johnson (L) and Greg Biffle. Is that TV camera live? Ooops. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
-- Curious that one top stock car marketing veteran could, on race morning, not only drive into Talladega Superspeedway with no problems on Talladega Blvd., but then drive from Talladega Superspeedway back to Anniston an hour later, and then back to the track before the race, all without any traffic hassles. And with not many traffic police along the way either.
-- Wondering if Charlotte Motor Speedway can really support three major Cup weekends each season....or if there might be a more business-effective way to handle the All-Star race.
What did happen to that Mr. Big out in Las Vegas that Bruton Smith was willing and eager to pick up the tab for a second Cup race there?
Would Smith be willing to move the All-star race to Las Vegas? Imagine the fireworks under the lights.
-- Any word on how the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte is faring? Not sure that the May race track crowd or October race track crowd is making the expected big surge to downtown.
-- Still second-guessing NASCAR's decision to move the Darlington 500 from Mother's Day weekend to another, earlier, colder weekend. The Darlington race was doing quite well Mother's Day Saturday, and there would seem no logical reason to move it off that weekend. Some speculate that if Darlington doesn't draw as well on its new date, NASCAR might just drop the track from the Cup tour, as it did Rockingham's North Carolina Motor Speedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway.
-- If Jeff Gordon does rally to win this championship, and he's third in the standings, with an outside chance, wonder if there will be much blowback over that, considering he only made the playoffs, as the 13th man, because of NASCAR intervention after all those Richmond shenanigans.
Jeff Gordon pitting at Texas Motor Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
-- Wonder what to read into NASCAR's returning to Gateway/St. Louis next season, with its Truck tour. With Nationwide ending its support of NASCAR's number two series, the sanctioning body is looking for a replacement sponsor. Maybe Daytona can persuade Anheuser-Busch to get back in that game.
-- After hearing a few horror stories about sports bars not bothering to turn a TV set to the NASCAR race on Sundays, wondering why NASCAR and its big sponsors don't take things into their own hands and start putting 'NASCAR TV' sets in those places, with DVRs set to play and replay all NASCAR all the time? Technology shouldn't be difficult, for Fox and NBC to figure out.
BTW, some of the best racing on TV may be on ESPN Classic. Does NASCAR still have control over those tapes, or ESPN? And what happens when ESPN drops off the tour at the end of next season?
-- It's disappointing NASCAR didn't take the opportunity to start shaking up the schedules of the various touring series, as NBC was pushing for next season, even if the NBC-for-ESPN swap didn't come off as many hoped.
Juan Pablo Montoya: one of the world's great racers. How did NASCAR manage to misplay this marketing package? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Matt Kenseth not only dodged a bullet Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, he made a big statement, leading the most laps and nearly winning the Martinsville 500.
On the other hand, Jimmie Johnson, who has owned the Martinsville track for so many years, was handled handily by Kenseth most of the afternoon.
Yes, that was a missed opportunity for Kenseth, who should have won. But it was a bigger missed opportunity for Johnson, who lost some ground to Kenseth.
Kenseth comes here with seven tour wins this year, to Johnson's five.
For all the pre-race hype about how great the action may be here this weekend, it's hard to forget the 2012 April 500, virtually caution-free races on this 1-1/2-miler on the outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
But then it's also hard to forget those final few laps here last fall when Brad Keselowski took Jimmie Johnson to the limit lap after lap, in what could have been this sport's finest finish. Even Tony Stewart was stunned at Keselowski's level of aggression.
And of course there is still that landmark Johnson versus Kenseth duel here a few years earlier.
This place can generate some amazing side-by-side action, when drivers turn it up.
But if the speeds are as 'ludicrous fast' as Kurt Busch says, well, drivers may have their hands full this weekend. Tires were wearing at a significant rate during last week's test.
Not only is wear a potential issue but the temperatures on the inside edge of the right-front tire could be a major issue.
For some reason these new 2013 stockers have shown a propensity for excessive heat on that inner shoulder.
Goodyear has develop a new 'hybrid' tire for such situations. However it will not be using that tire here, rather it will be using the spring tire setup again.
The new hybrid worked well at Atlanta Labor Day weekend, but a different variation didn't work well at all at Kansas three weeks ago.
For years this track was easily Goodyear's hardest to build a tire for. And some of the sport's hardest hits have been right here, beginning with Ricky Craven's nearly career-ending crash.
Carl Edwards says "the thing that makes Texas different is the track itself. The surface of the track -- and it's becoming a rarity to have a surface like that.
"It's a lot like Darlington used to be, a lot like Atlanta is now, where the surface is worn out, bumpy, multiple grooves, takes a lot of rubber.
"And it's going to change throughout the race, especially when the sun goes down.
"To me, it feels a little bit more old school. A lot of people moving forward and a lot of people falling back throughout the day and the night.
"I like that part of racing, where it's dynamic."
Since Bruton Smith opened this track in 1997 only four drivers have run all 25 events, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin.
As it's aged, the track has gained "character," drivers say. Mark Martin: "It's got bumps, it's got worn pavement, the bottom groove works, the top groove works, and everything in between works. Whatever your car seems to like is where you can run."
Turn one, Martin says, "is a gradual turn, but you drive straight for the wall. Before you turn in, you get so close to the wall that it about blows the paint off.
"The entry into turn one is a fairly smooth entry, and fairly uneventful until you get down to where the tunnel is and the track has settled. The track actually feels like it's raised up.
"It's probably settled before the tunnel and hasn't settled at the tunnel, so there's a bump there that is pretty severe. It deals you handling problems. The first thing it does is try to bounce the front-end up the track. As soon as the front tires grip, it tries to spin out because you've put too much wheel in it.
"Coming on around, the banking flattens out. It will suck you into the wall.
"The entry into turn three feels fairly flat, and the cars are usually pretty dang loose getting into that turn.
"There's a series of 'chops' all the way through there, especially in the middle where the tunnel is.
"Turns three and turn four...that last couple of car lengths before you get off the corner up by the wall, if you haven't left yourself a little extra room, you will be in the fence."
Mark Martin. Not so much smoke since moving from Michael Waltrip's team to Tony Stewart's (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)