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The Tooth Fairy? Is she really braced for NASCAR racing?

The Tooth Fairy? Is she really braced for NASCAR racing?

The Tooth Fairy's sidekick at Richmond: Mr. Blue Dragon (Photo: 3M)




   By Mike Mulhern


    Are drivers 'gaming' NASCAR's championship points system?
    That's what both Darrell Waltrip and Jimmy Spencer are suggesting.
    And Elliott Sadler offers great support: "As drivers, we live and die by 'the point.' Our rides, our sponsors…."
    That of course is nothing new. Racing for 'valuable points' is a stock car racing tradition.
    However this season's recent run of less than thrilling racing  -- 900 miles at Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway with nary a caution for a significant on-track incident, for example – along with smaller than pleasing crowds at Bristol Motor Speedway following years without its classic bump-and-run action have led to a great debate over 'boring' racing.
     Indeed drivers seem marked more conservative right now.
     And fans are asking why.
      "Racing is changing," Sadler says. "Racing has changed, and racing is changing.
      "Right now there is so much emphasis put on the almighty 'point.' Racing is segregated by 'making the chase' and 'not making the chase.'
       "It's not that the guys aren't running their butts off…you saw Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. doing just that last Sunday at Kansas, racing right up against the wall, and Jimmie Johnson sliding around trying to catch them – that's good racing...though I know it's not a lot of caution flags.
       "But it's all about the almighty point now, and you can't take as many chances as you could seven or eight years ago. Because if you finish 30th or worse, it's going to take you three or four races to get back up there in 'chase' contention."
   If a man is lucky.
      "I understand where fans are coming from," Sadler goes on. "I can see both sides of the fence. It's not that these guys aren't racing hard as they can, it's just they're racing smarter.
       "The sport has changed. We live or die by that one point we can gain or lose each weekend.
      "So drivers are making a little more educated decision before going three or four wide. Guys are more cautious now, taking fewer chances, and being smarter about the passes we're making. Because you cannot risk giving up 15 points just to try to make one point. It takes a whole lot longer to make it up than to lose it."
      So does the point system need to be tweaked? Perhaps even scrapped altogether?

    As NASCAR physicist Diandra Leslie-Pelecky ( http://www.drdiandra.com/  ) points out, the number of NASCAR Sprint Cup tour cautions has been decreasing since 2005, the year after the current point system was established.

     (Graph: Diandra Leslie-Pelecky)


And as Spencer adds, while the average number of cautions per race over the past 10 years, over the season's first eight races, has been nine, this season the average is 5.4. About half as many.

   (Graph: Diandra Leslie-Pelecky)

   Kevin Harvick, who made a lot of headlines last season in his controversies with Kyle Busch, says action comes and goes in this sport: "You just never know what kind of race you are going to get.
    "Here Thursday night, the Late Model race was boring, and the K&N race was awesome.
    "So I don't think it has anything to do with tires, cars, or anything like that. It's just a matter of how everything lines up on that particular night, and how the cautions fall, and how the race plays out.
    "You look at last year's first Martinsville and second Martinsville – couldn't have been more different races."
    So, with all the questions about 'boring' races, is this sport primed for Saturday night's Richmond 400 to be a real barnburner?
    "I hope not," Matt Kenseth says with a laugh. "I especially hope I am not in it."



   Greg Biffle, who knows first-hand the marvels of modern dentistry, with the Tooth Fairy (Photo: 3M)



  You'll find a lot of, ah, curious creatures prowling the NASCAR midway.
   However the Tooth Fairy may be the last thing you'd expect to see.
   But here she is, hanging tight with Greg Biffle.
   Now this sport is renowned for its marketing prowess and even gamesmanship.
   But this weekend's Big-Tent-Midway curiosity is a showstopper – a dental extravaganza, with two dozen dentist chairs and all the accompanying equipment to make this a high-tech mobile clinic, manned by some 15 dental specialists…who are giving free dental screenings, treatment and education to 300 local school kids.
   It's another example of creative marketing, yes, for Biffle's stock car sponsor, 3-M, which has a booming business in the dental market, $1.3 billion in first quarter revenues in the health care division.  
   And it's also an interesting example of this sport working to expand its demographic reach, this time by bringing to the track youngsters who might otherwise be disinterested, in both NASCAR and dental work.
   How to get a kid, who probably has the typical fear of dentists, into that chair?
   Throw in a Friday off from school and a day-trip to Richmond International Raceway.
   Yes, it's an odd mix, hearing the roar of stockers wafting over the midway, and watching a train of kids marching into this full-fledged dental clinic.
   "But it's a good mix," Jeffrey Dalin, DDS, says. "We've got a lot of kids here, and a lot of families."
   Kids and families that might otherwise not be here at the track.
   Dalin, from St. Louis, is helping organize this part of the long-running American Dental Association program. "We were at Charlotte last fall, and now here at Richmond…and who knows in the future how much we'll be hooking in with NASCAR.
   "We look for kids who don't have a dental 'home,' and bring them out here. We look to the schools in need. We bring the kids here and teach them how to brush and floss their teeth, do some fluoride varnishes, put some sealants on their teeth…and give them a pit tour of this beautiful race track."
   Elliott Sadler: in NASCAR, championship points drive just about every move a driver makes....and doesn't make (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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