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Speed Reading: NASCAR needs Martinsville Magic
Whenever Lieutenants Pete Mitchell and Nick Bradshaw found their F-14 Tomcat in a pickle, it was custom for navigator Bradshaw, also known as "Goose," to shout up to the front of the cockpit to Mitchell, "C'mon, Mav, do some of that pilot s---."
Which is exactly what I, the helpless guy in the back of the plane, am now shouting up to the men up front that pilot the cars of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.
Boys, it's time to do some of that All-American, door-banging, hammer-down driver stuff that we have all come to expect. Why? Because quite honestly, we're in a pickle.
The American sports scene is currently in the middle of one those once-in-a-decade kinds of months. Last Saturday, there were more mind-bending college football contests than we typically see in an entire season. Wisconsin-Minnesota, Michigan-Penn State, Alabama-Ole Miss, and of course USC-Notre Dame were all decided on the last play of the game. The day was so unbelievable that West Virginia erased a third quarter 17-point deficit to outlast Louisville over three overtime periods, and no one noticed.
On Sunday, two NFL games were settled in overtime and another three were settled in the last minute. All while LaDanian Tomlinson rushed, caught and threw for a touchdown.
Monday night, the Colts looked headed to certain defeat down 17-0 to the Rams. They then scored 45 points in three quarters, winning their game around the same time that Albert Pujols hit one of the most dramatic home runs in baseball history.
And in the middle of it all, NASCAR managed to put on one of the most embarrassing races in the nearly six-decade history of the sport. A five-hour Charlotte-based exhibition of yellow fever, shredded rubber and finger-wagging. This coming less than one week after a Kansas City event that even winner Mark Martin admitted was "probably pretty boring to watch".
Yeah, like watching paint dry on time-released bluegrass.
We know you have it in you. We have already seen it this season when Carl Edwards edged Jimmie Johnson by .028 seconds at Atlanta. Then you managed to top that when Johnson snuck by Bobby Labonte at Charlotte to win by .027 seconds.
But that was way back in March and May. Now the other big-time sports are in full swing, and they are showing us up. The stick-and-ball guys are starting to say we racers can't get the excitement level up like they can, and we can't fight back because you aren't giving us any ammo to go back at them with. Sure, The Chase is great, but Astros and Irish fans don't want to hear about point standings. They want to see action, and this weekend on the half-mile bullring Martinsville is the time to deliver.
Like 1987, when D.W. was running 3rd on the final lap and managed to hit Dale Earnhardt who hit Terry Labonte... and by the time they came out of Turn 3, Waltrip was the winner.
Or 1999 when John Andretti came out of nowhere in the closing laps at The 'Ville to earn both his and Petty Racing's first victory in more than two years.
Or even 2003, when Jeff Gordon laid the wood to Bobby Labonte's back bumper and ran away with the victory.
The point is this. C'mon, Mav and when I say Mav, I mean Dale, Jeff, Jimmie, Ryan, Rusty, Mark, Kurt, Carl, Matt, Greg and Tony it's time to do some of the pilot s---.
Tire troublesGoodyear spokesman Phil Holmer describes Saturday night's problems at Lowe's Motor Speedway as a really bad version of the perfect storm.
Holmer says he isn't surprised that no one single group has been saddled with the blame for the rash of tire problems because the situation isn't simple enough to point fingers at one group not Goodyear, not NASCAR, not the race teams and not even Lowe's Motor Speedway management.
"Based on the data that our engineers had, from our Charlotte test in the spring as well as some of our numbers from testing at Homestead, that tire should have worked. We in fact thought it might be too hard. But a miscalculation there combined with race teams pushing their setups and an unpredictable rise in speeds all added to create the situation that we saw."
Holmer is still stunned by a development that defies common NASCAR knowledge, not to mention the laws of physics. At every racetrack, speeds normally drop off slightly with each lap as the tires begin to wear, but in this case, speeds actually increased with each lap. When combined with the super-grippy track surface and the harder tire, the amount of heat that built up in the right-side tires sent Goodyear engineers scrambling for a solution to a problem they had never before encountered.
"We will never see anything like that again," Holmer promises. "The track is already planning to repave and our engineers are already breaking down all the data from Saturday night. It is a lot of numbers and a lot of damaged tires, but I can assure you that we are already working on it to make sure no one has to go through that again. Trust me, I don't want to go through it again either!"
Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images and Senior Producer of NASCAR Nation on SPEED Channel. He can be reached at his e-mail address: email@example.com.