NASCAR

Off-week rewind: Tony vs. Carl; best wishes, BP

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Ryan McGee

 
   
 
As I sit here trying to determine what I will do with myself this Sunday afternoon between 2 and 6 p.m., some random thoughts to ponder during this rarest of NASCAR rarities — a midseason off-weekend...

Hey, Tony, pick on someone your own size

Tony Stewart's war of words and hand gestures with Carl Edwards did not suddenly appear out of the thin air of the Pocono Mountains. The tension between the two superstars has been building for several weeks, dating back to a post-race exchange at the Chicagoland Speedway on July 9.

Stewart's finger extension toward Edwards was uncalled for, as was Edwards' spin of Stewart at the entrance to pit road. Not to mention the early-race wreck with Clint Bowyer that led to the whole mess.

Afterward Tony and Carl apologized, each in his own unique way. As soon as he crawled from his Ford after the race, Edwards apologized in advance for what he was about to say and then said it anyway. Stewart fired his shots at Edwards without any watering down of his anger, but then backtracked on Monday afternoon with what was likely a team-forced written apology that took full responsibility for the accident leading to all the WWE-style antics.

One word of advice to Stewart: There are a lot of drivers in the Cup garage to make angry, but Edwards isn't one of them. He is college-educated, quick-witted and has a body built for taking care of business, a fact already known by anyone who has seen this month's cover of Men's Health magazine. Stewart is admittedly rougher around the edges and also admittedly not in the best shape, known to eat three meals a day from sponsor McDonald's. Anyone that saw Super Size Me knows that it is not a diet for those preparing for such physical activity as post-race fisticuffs.

When I was in high school, we had this guy named Scott McCall who was the nicest, most clean-cut kid you would ever want to meet. But the one time I saw anyone make him angry, he unleashed a monster that looked like the Kraken from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. The lesson? Leave the nice guys alone, especially the ones packing six-pack abs and pecs like an NFL linebacker.

The rookies are coming! The rookies are coming!

PHOTOS: Pennsylvania 500

PHOTOS: Goody's 250

The apparent roots of Stewart's current frustrations lie in the number of young, inexperienced drivers on the track. Those roots actually begin with Stewart's himself. The two-time Cup champ's sudden success during his 1999 Rookie of the Year campaign shocked the garage with three wins, 21 top 10s, and a 4th-place points finish — all rookie records at the time.

That instant gratification set the stage for owners and sponsors to begin taking chances on younger drivers with relatively unproven stock car résumés, i.e. Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and yes, Carl Edwards.

But for every Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch, there has been a Ron Barfield or Christian Fittipaldi. As teams go digging for the next overnight superstar — and with the addition of as many as seven new teams in 2007 — Stewart's concerns about lack of experience leading to dangerous racing are likely to get much worse before they get better.

With the high-profile and high-experienced likes of Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler already snatched or nearly snatched up, the trickle down effect has made a guy like David Gilliland the hottest free agent property in the garage. All because Gilliland has won exactly one Busch Series race. In addition to Gilliland, the '07 Cup roster will likely include 19-year old Stephen Leicht, 28-year old Todd Kluever, F1 racer Juan Montoya, and there have even been talks with AMA Supercross champ Ricky Carmichael. Those five racers combined have roughly the same amount of Nextel Cup experience as the starting five for the Miami Heat.

"It makes you worry a bit," admits Sterling Marlin, now 49 years old and competing in his 30th season of Cup racing. "Guys of my time had to ride around in junk cars for 10 years before they earned the right to get in a car that could win. Now guys are getting in the good stuff when they are teenagers. When I was a teenager, I couldn't hardly drive to the store, forget Daytona or Talladega."

Best wishes to BP

The NASCAR community received a shocker of an e-mail on Wednesday morning when the Lowe's Motor Speedway informed us that 1973 Winston Cup champion and NBC analyst Benny Parsons has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

BP is attacking his condition with the same positive attitude that has endeared him so to race fans over the last three-plus decades and is quick to point out that he quit smoking in 1978 and "since then I've hated being around smoking. I don't even allow anyone in my foursome to smoke on the golf course."

His medical team includes Dr. Steven Limenpani, who helped Benny's former employer, Rick Hendrick, defeat leukemia back in the 1990s, and he will continue to be a part of the NBC and TNT broadcasts.

Parsons gave me my first break in NASCAR broadcasting, putting in a call to ESPN to help out "a fellow Rockingham, N.C. boy," and we worked together from 1995 through 2000. At Daytona in 1997, he put his arm around me as we walked out of the office trailer and into the garage, saying, "Ryan, it is time to go out and face the Heybennies."

I had no idea what he was talking about until we stepped out into the sea of race fans outside, each of whom started waving and shouting "Hey Benny! Hey Benny!"

Let's let BP hear it from the Heybennies over the next few months and let him know you are pulling for him. You can send well-wishes via e-mail at bp@goprn.com.

This Ain't Your Daddy's NASCAR

Send your questions, comments to Ryan

Each week in our Friday "Speed Reading" column, we like to point out items that prove our sport is long gone from the days of Fonty Flock and Cannonball Baker. You know, like Mark Martin producing a rap song...

This week's example: During Labor Day weekend, the California Speedway will open an at-track luxury restaurant named Apex, with cutting edge gourmet food prepared by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.

Can't you just see Tiny Lund and Curtis Turner hunkering down with some stuffed guinea hen served on a bed of pastina with morels and pearl couscous?


Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images. He can be reached at his e-mail address: rmcgee@foxsports.com.

Tagged: Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Stephen Leicht, Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, Kasey Kahne, Todd Kluever, Elliott Sadler

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