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Thoughts from the road to Phoenix....


Phoenix: A Carl Edwards rebound? A Greg Biffle romp? Kyle Busch's revenge...or more redhot Jeff Gordon? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   By Mike Mulhern

   The road from Fort Worth to Phoenix, through desolate West Texas and on, is a thousand dusty miles of idle thoughts…..

   Looking for good news?
   Good luck these days…but here's a heart-warming short – remember that horrific ARCA crash at Daytona a few weeks ago, that left the fate of two drivers seemingly up in the air for far too long, until the okay…relative okay, that is.
   Well Sunday one of those men, Patrick Sheltra, was back in the driver's seat and more – he charged to his first career victory, at Salem Speedway.   
   At Daytona Sheltra suffered a compressive fracture of the fourth vertebrae and a dislocated knee cap….and he was lucky it wasn't worse.
   Slower, cheaper, better?
   As boring as the action has been on the NASCAR tour lately – California, Atlanta and now Texas, and Bristol was no barnburner – maybe someone should wake up Daytona executives and show them the videos, and then have them talk to some of these drivers and crew chiefs.
   And maybe if NASCAR officials would throw some plates on the engines, slow 'em down, we could have some better racing. Maybe even cheaper racing.
   Another idea: Sunday double-headers. Cut the Cup event back to 250 or 300 miles, from these 500 mile snoozers; and move the Nationwide race to earlier Sunday, to give the crowd a full day's action.
   One reason for slumping TV ratings, aside from the boring action, is that who in the country, except diehard fans, is interested in watching something like this for 3-1/2 to four hours?
   Shorten the racing, make it more exciting.
   On the marketing side of this sport, with President Obama now effectively the boss of General Motors and Chrysler, it's not just the sports' world that is anxious to see just what Washington politicos think about advertising and marketing, it's just about everyone who gets GM and Chrysler ad dollars.
   The GM and Chrysler last year pumped $3 billion into American advertising.

   Another angle for marketers, and sports sponsors to consider – a recent study shows that companies with major name-brand items, if they cut ad spending, will losing market share to private-label brands, and they never get that part of the market back.

   Elsewhere on the NASCAR business front, owner-driver Tony Stewart is going gangbusters. He ran fourth at Martinsville last week, with a shot to win, and he ran fourth again Sunday in Texas, with a shot to win.
   Not bad for a guy barely two months into this thing.
   But then Stewart should perhaps remember what happened a few years back when Hendrick Motorsports was shepherding then-newcomer Joe Gibbs – once Gibbs' men started outrunning Hendrick men, Gibbs' engine program had to change dramatically, and he had to create an in-house operation.
   A NASCAR Cup motor program these days can easily be a $5 million a year venture.
    With 40 miles to go in Sunday's Texas 500 Stewart, who had led several times during the race, was running third, with a shot to win.
    "The car owner is happy, the driver is ticked off," Stewart said. "I wanted to win this thing. 
    "I felt we had a shot at it, and we did.  We were good all day; we were good all weekend.
    "We were really fast from the 30-lap mark to the end of the run. 
    "We'd run those guys down, right at the end, when it was time to pit.  We just couldn't take off like we wanted to.
    "We were really fast when the track was its warmest and everybody else was sliding around."
    Teammate Ryan Newman finished 15th. After a bad start to the season, Newman and crew chief Tony Gibson appear back on target, with that seventh at Bristol and sixth at Martinsville.

    Elsewhere on the car dealer front, Sunday wasn't kind to Toyota. Kyle Busch ripped the field in Saturday's Nationwide race, but Sunday the Toyota guys were never really in the game.
   "Our team needs to get a little bit better on the 1-1/2-mile tracks," a disappointed Denny Hamlin said. He was his own problem early Sunday, wheel-hopping on a pit stop; he never got back in the game and finished 12th.
   "Obviously Kyle (his teammate) doesn't have the speed he had last year on these big tracks.  I think we're a little bit behind."
    But then at least he finished; Toyota's Marcose Ambrose and Robby Gordon blew up their TRD engines. Joe Gibbs' men run their own motors.
    Hamlin points to other issues too, on the chassis side:  "It seemed through practice our cars were good…but when it gets to race conditions, with a lot of rubber on the track, it seems to really be a struggle for us. 
   "Toward the end of these races we're really fighting loose.
   "But it's a long season, and if you harp on it too bad, it can get to you.  You especially don't want to get frustrated the week before a week off.  You want to be able to enjoy your weekend."
   David Reutimann, who started from the pole, had the best day, finishing 11th. He's looking like a comer this spring.
   He led 40 laps, backing up his claim to speed. But a pit road mistake proved costly, and he never recovered.
   While pitting he wound up over the line, but the crew ignored NASCAR officials warning them to push the car back….and that resulted in a costly penalty.
   Such pit road mistakes – and penalties, for crews simply ignoring NASCAR – have become common this season, and it's surprising crew chiefs, during weekly pit stop practice, haven't thrown some of those situations at their pit crews, to make them better prepared.
   "We just had that trouble on pit road -- a car was coming out of its pit stall, and we had to take evasive action," Reutimann said. "I slid it out the box -- which is my fault. And they started changing tires before they got it back. 
   "That cost us a lap…We spent the rest of the day trying to battle back."



There is NO evidence that

There is NO evidence that shorter races are better. On the contrary, the entire history of the sport has shown it is the 500 milers that have usually been the most competitive. It's not the length of the race that has made them uncompetitive, it is the lack of lead changes.

The restrictor plate deal right now is the only short-term change that can actually do something. People will of course cite New Hampshire in 2000 as if the mere presence of restrictor plates created unprecedented impediment to passing, and they're still be wrong.

Good to see Patrick Sheltra is back after that bad deal at Daytona.

What's the scoop on the truck

What's the scoop on the truck series? Alot of rumors are floating arond about Camping World's sponsorship and the future of the truck series.

Is Camping World stretched too thin and wants out or is NASCAR looking to get more money from a new sponsor. Little stability lately - a sponsor change would not be too good.

"Another idea: Sunday

"Another idea: Sunday double-headers. Cut the Cup event back to 250 or 300 miles, from these 500 mile snoozers; and move the Nationwide race to earlier Sunday, to give the crowd a full day's action."

Not a bad idea, Mike, but remember half the Nationwide field is composed of Cup drivers these days. NASCAR is not going to put them in a situation where they have to run two races back to back. If the two series were there own separate entity, that would be great. The Martinsville double-headers, and later triple-headers, featuring late model sportsman (now Nationwide Series), modifieds, and late model stocks were the best racing events I've ever attended. Those don't exist much anymore.

I would rather cut the Cup race lengths by 100-200 miles/laps, depending on the track, and have heat races for qualifying on the same day before the feature. I think it would be more entertaining overall for the fans, and it should open up the door for more teams to come in. Even if they did not make the feature, they would still get some TV time in the qualifying race. This would also forego the need to show up on Friday and qualify for the drivers and teams. Teams could work on race setup on Saturday, run 3-4 qualifying races beginning at 1pm local time on Sunday, and the feature would begin between 3:00-3:30. Get rid of the Top 35 mess, and everybody has to race their way in. Starting position for the qualifying races would be determined by the average of a car's 10 best practice laps on Saturday.

Heat races! Damn good idea.

Heat races! Damn good idea. Instead of single lap qualifying. Give the fans something to watch. Brilliant! In fact I really think that same-day thing might really be cool. But I still think a 200 mile Nationwide race at noon, followed by a 300-mile Cup race would be the right Sunday package. and why can't these guys run both races the same day -- it would still be only 500 miles. Race your way into the field. Yes!
And after the ISC stock fall Tuesday, I imagine those guys in Daytona are looking for every angle they can to put some spark back in this thing.
and think about all this some and send us some more ideas.

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