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Will Darlington Deliver for NASCAR?

Will Darlington Deliver for NASCAR?

A beautiful night in the neighborhood: Darlington Raceway under the lights (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   By Mike Mulhern





   Will Tony Stewart's post-Talladega tirade light a fire under this sport, where the action has been rather bland and, well, mediocre so far this spring?

   Stewart, ah, was not that pleased with how the Talladega 500 went, and he made that clear.

   However the new NASCAR limits on engine cooling – ostensibly to break up the two-car packs that dominated at Daytona and Talladega last year – turned Sunday's race into something other than expected.

   Now drivers have, for the past 10 years or so, turned these 500-mile races into 100-mile sprints, playing it all very cautiously the first two hours or so, before cranking it up at the end.

   Still, drivers spent so much time Sunday watching their water temperature gauges that they didn't seem to have much time for real racing.

   It would appear to be another piece in the puzzle that has taken shape this season.

   Is it time for some fresh leadership around here? Have the guys in charge become just too stale?

   When Bristol and Talladega, two of this sport's most exciting tracks, can only generate a big case of the blahs, there is some wrong.

   The season opened with Kyle Busch's dramatic win in the Daytona Shootout. But since then there really hasn't been a whole lot to write about or discuss around the office Monday morning.



   One year ago at Darlington: Kevin Harvick & crew versus Kyle Busch & crew (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   This sport needs red-hot action and sizzling stars: if rubbin' is racin', well, there hasn't been much racing here lately.

   And when NASCAR officials get so wound up about C-posts, well, that certainly looks like a big waste of time and energy. Harassment? Well, you decide.

    But what was really the point of NASCAR putting Jimmie Johnson's car through the runaround pre-race at Talladega?

    Heck, what was the point in NASCAR making such a big point about those C-posts at Daytona to begin with?

    Of all the problems facing this sport at the moment, Jimmie Johnson's C-posts would look to be pretty far down the list.

    Throw in that half-race at California, a major disappointment for the sport in the key Los Angeles market...and the missing crowd at Bristol....and the bland shows in Texas and Kansas City...and the scoring snafu and needless penalties at Richmond....and it's looking like someone in Daytona needs to be making a to-do list of improvements to make.

   And maybe it's just time for a change. People get stale, and some of the people running this sport seem a bit stale, or maybe jaded and immune.

   Fans are talking. So who's listening?

   One more thing about Richmond's penalties:  Yes, Johnson's right-rear tire guy didn't have complete control of the tire on its way back over pit wall. And that is strictly speaking a violation. However a little commonsense needs to prevail in some of these situations – pit road rules are there to help ensure pit road safety for crew men....and yet NASCAR officials do nothing if a driver actually hits a crewman on pit road. NASCAR officials need to be looking at the big picture of pit road safety and not nitpicking on minutia.

   That pit road situation contrasts so sharply with the Danica Patrick-Sam Hornish run-in at Talladega, where Patrick deliberately put Hornish in the wall at 160 mph after the Nationwide race was over. Same situation as between Kyle Busch and Ron Hornaday last fall at Texas, that NASCAR responded to by immediately parking Busch for the weekend.

    In Patrick's case, NASCAR's no-call speaks volumes.

    Perhaps yet another example of this sport needing some fresh leadership.



    The man, the legend: Roger Penske (L), with Brad Keselowski, after winning the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide  championship (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Maybe Roger Penske has some ideas.

    He's been working this sport longer than just about anyone in Daytona.

    And Penske is certainly one of the top stories on the stock car tour this spring.

    Brad Keselowski's win at Talladega, believe it or not, was Penske's first at this sport's biggest track. And Penske has been racing here since 1972.

    It was also a big boost for Dodge, down to just two cars on the grid, with Robby Gordon's decision to drop out for a while.

    For Penske the win follows several weeks of issues with NASCAR's new electronic fuel injection systems.

    Ironically a number of teams had fuel issues Sunday at Talladega, running out at most inopportune moments – leading to a huge crash. Why the new EFI setup wasn't better tuned in those cars is something of a mystery.

   Penske is running Dodges for the 10th season, but he is also planning a switch to Fords for 2013.

   Penske and Ford kingpin Jack Roush met a few weeks ago, but neither man has much to say about what was said.

   One major issue yet to be resolved is how Penske will get his Ford engines next season – from his own 80-man shop, or from Roush.

    Penske, when asked about how he is setting up for the transition to Ford, has little to say: "We haven't made any decision yet.  Right now what we're waiting for is we're waiting to find out what are going to be the rules. 

    "In any case we're going to have to take our front clips and cut them off.  The Ford engine is different from what we've seen from the Dodge. 

    "And the aerodynamics on the new car are going to be completely different.

    "I think we've probably got another 30 to 60 days before we start going (on Ford). 

    "We have to stay competitive now; our commitment to Dodge was to do everything we can.  We don't want anything or any comment that I make or someone else makes to derail what we're doing."

    Penske insists he still hasn't decided what to do with the 80 men in his engine room.

    "Those guys are wide open in the engine shop for sure," Penske said. 

    "They have great capability.  We'll see where we go as we end up this season. 

     "At this particular time it's full focus on the Dodge NASCAR program."




    Darlington Raceway: always provides action (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)













Mr. Penske

Roger Penske has probably been racin\'more years than most of the Nascar braintrust has been alive. I\'m sure he noticed how the crowds have dwindled while the astute braintrust keeps flinging ideas at the wall to see what sticks; let me step out on a limb and shout, \' It ain\'t workin\'!. Not only have these good folk messed this up, they could screw up a birthday party!.Back when it was as much feud as competition; now they can\'t even give \'em away. When the new markets soon realize their MLB team is playing across town we\'ll here \'em say it was a great ride while Fox and the other broadcast partners are packing up to go cover MLB,Golf,Bowling maybe Westminster Dog Show. OH Well


I get a big kick out of Darlington because I hope it lives up there in the fact its the 500 before the 500.

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