Another secret weapon in Chad Knaus' championship bag of tricks?
By Mike Mulhern
Now I've never met Daisuke Nakai, and never read the Asahi Shimbun, the newspaper he works for. I speak Southern and Yankee better than Japanese.
But he's got a seat in the infield media center here, and when he shows up for Sunday night's Atlanta 500, I'll just have to ask him what he really thinks about this NASCAR stuff.
Yes, that Camry may be the only stock car racing model actually made-in-America, but there are sometimes issues lost-in-translation, so to speak...like maybe Kyle Busch.
And maybe Daisuke can explain this weird suicide pact that so many American newspapers seem to have signed. In the U.S. newspapers are the new buggy whips, hopelessly outdated in this electronic world, run by editors and publishers who stand around like deer-in-the-headlights, waiting to get hit again.
Is that the way it is elsewhere in the world too?
Well, the Asahi Shimbun is one of the largest and most influential newspapers in Japan ( www.asahi.com/english/ ) with an afternoon circulation of 3.5 million and a morning circulation of over eight million.
Uh, those aren't bad numbers. Though not quite sure how many of those readers are NASCAR fans....
Hate to break it to @nateryan , USA Today's ace NASCAR journalist...whose paper is the most widely read print daily in the U.S., with about 1.7 million readers.
So I might have to check out Daisuke's twitters ( @daisukenakai ) and see just what he's been doing lately.
Looks like he's been caught up in that Clint Eastwood empty-chair surreality the other day...and he just videoed a Jane's Addiction concert....and did a road trip out to West Texas and New Mexico....
Sounds like a sort of Jack Kerouac, out looking for the real America...
Wonder what car he's driving?
NASCAR: fire and ice. Regan Smith didn't fare that well either in that dust-up at Bristol with Danica Patrick (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Why here this weekend? Maybe he wants to see what this odd little part of the great sports world is really all about. Or maybe he's just driving back home to New York City.
This fraternity of NASCAR journalists is pretty small and dwindling: Is @johndaly of dalyplanet.blogspot.com really about to hang it up too? Looks like it: http://bit.ly/N5JI4d
Daly has been doing NASCAR for some 30 years, from the television side, and his critiques of the issues and problems in TV's coverage of this sport are quite insightful, and his fan-base is very vocal.
Losing someone of his stature, well, it would hurt.
So anyone willing to wander into this midway is certainly welcomed.
Hey, Daisuke, welcome to NASCAR, dude. And if you do really play guitar, well, we'll just have to introduce you to our own @montedutton, and y'all can jam.
Want a bit of cherry bounce or some good old-fashioned peach brandy? Might be able to find a jar for you...
Toyota's Martin Truex Jr. (L), now with a new three-year contract, and TRD's Andy Graves. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR
But, good golly, would anyone really want to sign up for a tour of duty like this? Major League Baseball comes and goes. The NFL comes and goes. College football come and goes. But this NASCAR circus train runs an endless loop.
2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup
Feb 16 Daytona/Shootout (N)
Feb 24 Daytona 500
Mar 3 Phoenix
Mar 10 Las Vegas
Mar 17 Bristol
Mar 24 California
Mar 31 Easter
April 7 Martinsville
April 13 Texas (N)
April 21 Talladega
April 27 Richmond (N)
May 5 Kansas
May 11 Darlington (N)
May 18 Charlotte All-Star (N)
May 26 Charlotte
June 2 Dover
June 9 Pocono
June 16 Michigan
June 23 Sonoma
June 29 Kentucky (N)
July 6 Daytona (N)
July 14 New Hampshire
July 28 Indianapolis
Aug 4 Pocono
Aug 11 Watkins Glen
Aug 18 Michigan
Aug 24 Bristol (N)
Sept 1 Atlanta (N)
Sept 7 Richmond (N)
Sept 15 Chicagoland
Sept 22 New Hampshire
Sept 29 Dover
Oct 6 Kansas
Oct 12 Charlotte (N)
Oct 20 Talladega
Oct 27 Martinsville
Nov 3 Texas
Nov 10 Phoenix
Nov 17 Homestead-Miami
N = Night
Better pack an extra pair of boots and Wranglers.
Jeff Gordon: talk about on the edge, this guy is really ready to rumble (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Doubt Daisuke is really going to be interested in the debate about repaving this track, or some of the other NASCAR arcana.
While most other major NASCAR speedways have undergone major resurfacing, Atlanta Motor Speedway's asphalt is now 15 years old, and bumpy. And still darned fast.
Time to repave? It looks like it will be hard to get drivers to vote for that.
Like Jeff Gordon-san:
"I think we're hurting the sport by doing all these repaves.
"I really try to always see all the different sides of the business side of the sport, whether it be from the team standpoint, the driving standpoint, sponsorship, tracks, NASCAR, you know, and give the benefit of the doubt. So I understand a lot of these tracks -- especially after Daytona (and that infamous Daytona 500 pothole) -- have got to repave.
"(But) I think they've really missed it on what they're repaving the surfaces with. It's extremely disappointing to me. I feel like it's challenging Goodyear in ways that's got to be frustrating to them. It challenges the teams, everybody. I think it takes away from putting the best race out there as well.
"This place is old, worn out, cracks everywhere... and yet every driver loves it. We're slipping and sliding around. The racing is pretty spectacular.
"From a surface and pure driving on the track standpoint, I'd like to come here five times a year.
"Unfortunately, eventually they're going to have to repave here too.
"I just hope more tracks start looking at how they repave -- because we're paving these tracks with what we're trying to pave highways with. And this is not a highway, this is a race track.
"I think the whole model of repaving needs to be rethought out, readjusted. I know we can come up with better surfaces.
"Not more longer-lasting surfaces, but one that's better for racing."
Tony the Tiger, and his other brother Tony (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Of course Gordon has more on his mind at the moment than just asphalt. He's got barely one week left in his bid to make the Sprint Cup championship playoffs. And his own teammates, particularly red-hot Jimmie Johnson, charging Kasey Kahne and surprising Dale Earnhardt Jr., aren't making it very easy on him.
Johnson could easily win Sunday night's Atlanta 500. He's got the best finishing record at this track, and that August slump he used to get mired in, well, that's history. Johnson's won three times this season, and he could have easily won six more too, and the chase -- his forte -- hasn't even begun.
Johnson is the only driver to make the chase all eight years, and he's locked into the ninth. In those eight he's won 20 playoff races, nearly twice as many as the next man.
He's NASCAR's Mr. October and Mr. November.
Best driver in NASCAR history? Well, he never had to go up against Dale Earnhardt. And how much would you pay for a ticket to that mano a mano? Remember Talladega 2000? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Now anyone who was here back in '92, when Gordon made his tour debut, as a little-known 21-year-old, might have a hard time picturing this four-time champion as one of the sport's elder statesmen. But that he is.
And Gordon can sense another Johnson championship juggernaut roll....
Maybe without that crash at Charlotte last fall we'd be looking at Johnson this fall going for his seventh straight title.....
To say Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are on their game is understatement. They are perhaps the premier 'closers' on the tour this season.
Missing last year's title, Gordon says, gave Johnson "a little more time to relax and look at life and family and racing, and all those things, and put it in perspective.
"When we won the title three out of four years, and finished second that other year, from '95 through '98, you're in this whirlwind. It just seems like at the speed of light, it's all going by so fast.
"Sometimes until you don't win that championship, you don't really look back on it or think about it; you just keep going to the next event.
"I can only imagine what Jimmie has gone through, winning five in a row.
"I know he stepped up his training. He's doing triathlons, riding long bike rides... plus being a dad, and that commitment to parenting.
"He certainly seems content and happy."
Isn't it about time Chad Knaus stepped up to Formula One? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Gordon, on the other hand, is at the moment on the outside looking in. Can he make the playoffs? He almost certainly needs to win here.
And there is a hard edge in Gordon's attitude right now, that's been easy to sense the past several weeks.
Will that be enough to get him and crew chief Alan Gustafson one of those wild cards spots?
"We want it bad," Gordon says.
"You have ups and downs. It's how you handle those ups and downs, and minimize them from being big peaks and valleys, that allow you to stay focused.
"When you've had the type of season we've had, it's a little hard to rebound from those.
"For us it's kind of hit-or-miss. Last weekend was a great weekend for us. We had a car we thought was capable of winning. Came home third. It was a solid weekend.
"But that's the way our season has gone. We have a hard time building that momentum."
Hey, Daisuke, if you need any of that translated, well, you shoulda been at Bristol last weekend. Tony Smoke is the master of momentum.
But we'll do the best we can for you here this weekend....
Tony Stewart: this dog will bite. Just ask Matt Kenseth (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)