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Summertime Blues? Here in stock-car country it's more 'Tattoo You Summertime Black-and-Blue'

 Some like it hot....Tony Stewart does (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR) 

   By Mike Mulhern

   It's hot here. Really hot.
   It's typically hot in July in this town....and maybe it's a good moment to recall what has happened over the years to other NASCAR races in July:
   Daytona's 400: moved to Saturday night.
   Chicago's 400: moved to Saturday night.
   Bristol: moved to Saturday night in August.
   Atlanta: moved to much later in the season, now a Sunday night Labor Day weekend event.
  Talladega: moved to the cooler fall.
   Maybe the Brickyard 400 should be under the lights on a Saturday or Sunday evening....
   Or maybe this race ought to be moved to later in the season.
   But Tony Stewart, who lives on the family farm just an hour down the road in Columbus, says he likes it hot. The hotter the better.
   Indeed, Stewart over the years has typically picked up steam on the stock car tour when summer really kicks in.
   "I like it when it's hot here.  I like it when it's hot at any track," Stewart says.
   "It makes it rough inside the car, but it makes the handling more crucial.
    "And even somebody that has a good handling car is going to slide around a little bit....it makes it a little easier because it helps you pass.  Somebody is going to make a mistake, versus when the track is cooler and has a lot of grip. 
    "When it's slick, it leads to more opportunities for more guys to make mistakes, and that's when if you have a good handling car you can take advantage."
    And Matt Kenseth, who surprisingly perhaps has not yet won here, says the key to this 400 can be summed up in one word: "Passing. 
    "Last year it was really difficult to pass; track position was very important. 
    "You had to have your car right, for sure, but even if you did have your car right, track position was just unbelievably important."
    That's in part because the corners have been one-groove, high-speed one-groove at that.
   Maybe the new flat-blade rear spoiler will change that.....it makes the cars more draggy, which should help drivers pull a slingshot. Of course it's problematic what might happen when the two get side-by-side going into the corner....

  Matt Kenseth: is this his Brickyard to win? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     Tires? Goodyear has clearly solved its problems here (though the 2008 tire fiasco may still be a cloud hanging over ticket sales). The right-side Goodyears here have a bit thinner rubber, to protect against excessive heat build-up.
   Stewart says "I don't think we'll have any tire problems here.  The track rubbered in good.  Once you get rubber in the track, it really takes that out of the equation."

     What about Ford teams, still winless? And what about that new Ford FR9 engine? Greg Biffle had one of the cars to beat last time out at Chicago but his engine blew.
    "Yeah, I'm disappointed we tested the limits of it at Chicago and found a failed valve spring," Biffle says. "But that's going to happen.  You're going to have issues with new engines, there are going to be growing pains, and we found one of them. 
    "But overall the engine runs great off the corner and has lots of power."
   Kenseth on the other hand is a little more leery. He says his team has more problems to work on than just the engine: "Honestly, it's hard to tell for me (about the new engine).  I think it's probably a little bit better, but we haven't had our cars going through the corner the way they need to, so it's really hard to tell if the motor is a little bit better or a little bit worse.
    "It's pretty tough until we get our cars right."
    Kenseth is on his third crew chief this season, with veteran Jimmy Fennig. And Kenseth has been somewhat circumspect about his part of the Jack Roush operation: "I hope we're gaining on it. 
    "Michigan (June 13th) was encouraging.
    "And Chicago (July 10th) was really encouraging.  All our cars ran really good, and the Petty cars ran good. Greg ran pretty competitive; Carl (Edwards) ran great at the end.  Kasey (Kahne) ran good again. So that was encouraging."

    And what about all this 'Boys, have at it'?
    Will that again be a factor here Sunday afternoon? The season has bounced back and forth between wild and crazy racing, and sane and boring racing.
    And then there's the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski factor....are these two working on creating one of those Allison-Petty feuds?
    Some drivers, like Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, have weighed in on the Edwards-Keselowski thing.
   But Kenseth – who has had a few run-ins of his own – insists "I don't really have much of an opinion on what's going on with those guys because I don't really know the whole history. I mean there are probably a lot of things that maybe we haven't seen, that we're not thinking of, that led to the boiling point. 
    "Certainly if you just look at the incident on Saturday (in St. Louis) and don't think of anything else, it seemed like it was pretty extreme and over the top.
    "But I think there has probably been a lot that led up to that."
    Well, part of this – like part of the Joey Logano-Harvick thing – might just be 'new guard' versus 'old guard.' The new guys might not be seen as respectful enough of their elders.....
    But then remember when Darrell Waltrip broke into this sport, and how many feathers he riled?
    Kenseth says this 'Boys, have at it' hasn't changed the way he races.
    "As far as what NASCAR does, as far as taking the gloves off, honestly that hasn't changed my outlook or how I race," Kenseth says.
    "I'm not going to change the way I race because of what the rules are. 
    "Now there have been times where I've stepped over the edge and lost my mind and ran into somebody and got penalized for it...and knew I was probably going to get penalized for it. But whether there's a penalty for something after the race or not, it's not going to change my code or my ethics.
    "Whether it's so strict that I'm going to get in trouble for something, or it's so loose that I wouldn't, it really wouldn't change how I race.
    "If you respect people, most of the time you get that respect back. And that's what I'm going to try to do, no matter what the rules are."
    Well, maybe we need to check in with Jeff Gordon on some of this.....Remember Martinsville?

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