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Speed Reading: Youth is served and dishes it out

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Ryan McGee

 
   
 
Some random, rapid fire thoughts from a semi-frosty Lowe's Motor Speedway garage between the 24 Hours of the Dollar General 300 and the Bank of America 500...

Jack Says Back Off Vickers
I try not to take my job for granted, I really do. But after 12 years of strolling through paddocks from Daytona to Gasoline Alley, it becomes a job just like any other, and I forget how lucky I am.

Then I have a conversation like the one I had with a kid named Jack. Jack was sitting next to me this afternoon at a Bojangles in Harrisburg, N.C., less than 10 minutes from the Lowe's Motor Speedway. (It's a regional fried chicken chain here in the Carolinas... if you've never had it, that's a shame. LeBron James never comes to Charlotte without ordering a truckload of it. Anyway, I digress... )

Jack was eight, stocky, cocky, and apparently the biggest Brian Vickers fan in the world. He wore his blue GMAC t-shirt and hat with pride and was stoked about a No. 25 Brian Vickers pennant he was going to buy in souvenir alley before the Busch Series race later in the evening. He saw it here back in May and has been saving for it ever since.

We chatted over some dirty rice and sweet tea about my job and his baseball team. Then he hit me with the question.

    "You get paid to go to races?"

    "I do."

    "That's awesome. What do you do when you get there?"

    "I interview racecar drivers... I try to make other people feel like they are getting to go to the track with me."

    "Have you ever interviewed Jimmie Johnson?"

    "Sure. Several times."

    "Will you interview him today?"

    "Maybe."

    "If you do, I would like you to tell him something."

    "OK."

"Tell him to stop being mad at Brian Vickers. He didn't mean to spin Jimmie Johnson out last week. He said he didn't, and he's not a liar. Besides, since Brian won, all my friends on my baseball team quit picking on me for being a Vickers fan. So tell Jimmie that, and maybe he'll quit being mad."

If I ever needed a reminder of just how fortunate I am to do what I do, Jack has sealed the deal for now and always. As for delivering the message to Johnson, I didn't have to. J.J. greeted the Lowe's Motor Speedway media with a smile and a line from John Lennon — "Give peace a chance!"

A Long Walk Spoiled...make that "Spoiler"
Poor Jeff Burton can't go anywhere these days without someone asking him about losing the points lead. Truth is, he isn't even thinking about it.

"I really am not thinking about points yet. Our goal is to come to the track, work on the car, make it fast, get the best finish we can and move on. When we get to Homestead, we'll start breaking down points scenarios."

The man really does look strangely calm considering his situation and this intrepid reporter has uncovered at least one reason why. Burton's business manager Russell Branham, an avid golfer, has been dragging his boss onto the golf course every week to clear his mind of all things racing. My spies tell me that Burton won't be challenging Dale Jarrett for "best NASCAR golfer" anytime soon, but the relaxation technique seems to be in, ahem, full swing.

Off With His Header Pipe!
Strangest sight at the track today? Easy. A group of people dressed in period costumes were roaming the parking lots of the Lowe's Motor Speedway to promote the medieval-themed Renaissance Festival currently running in the Charlotte area.

When asked if there had been any interest, one man who looked suspiciously like William Shakespeare said, "Don't you know? The plate's the thing!"

Get it? As in restrictor plate?

No? Neither did the guy in the Morgan Shepherd t-shirt.


Chapter 16: Safety worst
In an excerpt from his new book, 'Awesome Bill from Dawsonville: My Life in NASCAR' (on sale now), Bill Elliott reflects on Dale Earnhardt's untimely death and criticizes NASCAR for failing to address safety concerns. For more information, check out HarperCollins.com. Dale's death uncovered some skeletons in NASCAR's closet. I thought the organization's emotional and forceful reaction to Dale's tragic death highlighted its comparative lack of concern for other deceased drivers. Remember, in years prior to Dale's passing we'd lost Adam Petty, Tony Roper, and Kenny Irwin. No one rang any alarm bells when any of these guys died. No one called for investigations or softer walls, or HANS devices when these drivers died. But when Dale Earnhardt died, NASCAR went full bore, head over heels on safety. Whenever there is an incident on a NASCAR track, whom ever may be involved, the incident ought to be investigated so that it never happens again. We ought not only address incidents that kill stars. Shame on NASCAR for letting a handful of good men die before finally addressing the problem after Dale died.
  • Click here for the entire chapter.
  • Click here for a Bill Elliott Q&A.
  • Bullish on Red Bull
    Don't read too much into Red Bull Racing's failure to make the field for the Bank of America 500. Toyota officials are plenty pleased with the progress being made by all of its team for 2007, a burden greatly relieved by the signing of David Reutimann earlier in the week.

    Red Bull Racing's new digs are coming together nicely in Mooresville, N.C. Of all the Toyota teams, RBR has had the longest way to go, from building a shop to hiring drivers to buying office supplies. The last task left is to get Brian Vickers' teammate, the final Toyota driver, signed for next season. All but maybe three people in the garage expect that driver to be Bill Elliott. If Awesome Bill does come back, maybe he shouldn't have ripped NASCAR's safety efforts like he did in his new book, released earlier this month. Then again, that might explain why he's worked so hard to downplay those comments during qualifying on Thursday night.

    The Safety Dance
    One of Elliott's biggest criticisms of the league was what he believed to be a reluctance to assemble a full-time traveling medical team that tours along with its three major series. Since Dale Earnhardt's death, NASCAR has employed medical liaisons, but it's still the only major motorsports series to rely on local rescue and EMT squads at each racetrack.

    The NHRA's crash team is legendary, renowned for its lightning-quick reactions to what are generally the fastest and most violent accidents in American motorsports. Meanwhile, Champ Car and IRL travel their medical teams all over the world. The crew that saved Alex Zanardi's life in Germany back in September 2001 was the exact same team that would have come to his aid at Michigan or Mid-Ohio.

    "They know everything about you," Zanardi told me back in 2004. "You see them every week, and they treat you for everything from crash injuries to a sore throat. There's a comfort level there that makes you feel a little safer on the track."

    Ford Re-Focus
    The boys of the Blue Oval are hard at work to try and catch up with the competition when it comes to developing — and keeping — young driving talent. Boot camps and driver development programs by everyone from Joe Gibbs to Hendrick to Evernham have eaten Ford's lunch over the last few seasons, a fact that becomes visually evident during a stroll through the Nextel Cup garage. Elliott Sadler, Kasey Kahne, even Jeff Gordon are all young drivers that Ford let slip away over the years.

    Roush Racing has always done just fine developing young talent — Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, and Carl Edwards were all homegrown — but now other Ford teams are looking for some help from Motown to identify youngsters before they get gone.

    "It is hard," admits Robert Yates. "Not so long ago, you did all your scouting by looking at the Busch Series, and maybe you heard about a guy at a local short track. Now, by the time you hear about a kid who is great at some short track somewhere, you find out he's already signed a lifetime deal with another team... and he's like 15 years old."

    Yates and his management team are to be commended for recovering from what looked to be a team-killing tailspin, scooping up David Gilliland mere moments after his upset win at Kentucky, and getting Stephen Leicht signed nearly as quick. I guess they learned their lesson after allowing Kahne to slip away back in 2003.

    Any team owner worth his salt might want to hightail it up to Bojangles in Harrisburg with a ready-to-sign contract. I'd like my chances for a great future with ol' Jack behind the wheel.


    Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images.



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    Busch Beat
    On the cusp of clinching his second Busch Series title with multiple races remaining in the season, even Kevin Harvick admits that it might be time to introduce a Chase-like postseason format to the junior circuit. "Stinking up the show is good for me," he admitted on Friday. "But it's probably not best for the series." PRN broadcaster Doug Rice opened Friday night's radio telecast with a solution that was sure to make the people at Anheuser-Busch happy — make the final six races part of a Chase-like "Busch Six Pack".

    Truck Stop
    A pair of Nextel Cup title contenders will pull double duty at Martinsville next weekend. Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin are both entered in next Saturday's Kroger 200 (SPEED, 12:30 p.m. ET), and both are on the total opposite ends of the experience spectrum. Martin has started 49 races on the half-mile, including two Cup wins. Hamlin has made only three top-shelf starts, none in the Truck Series. However, the Richmond native has run plenty of laps at The 'Ville as a local late model competitor.

    Why We Call Richard Petty "The King" Fact of the Week
    His Royal Fastness started 64 races at the Charlotte (now Lowe's) Motor Speedway, earning five wins, 23 top fives and 31 top 10s. In eight races between 1973 and '77, Petty posted seven finishes of 2nd or better, including three victories. The lone finish outside the top two was an 8th-place finish on October 10, 1976.

    Who's Hot & Who's Not
  • Richard Childress Racing: Jeff Burton keeps dodging disaster, hanging onto his points lead despite a devastating flat tire at Talladega. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick moved up to one spot to fourth in points after a solid 6th place run. Back in May, Burton finished sixth at Lowe's, Harvick finished 34th.
  • Kevin Harvick's Lowe's Motor Speedway career Cup stats
  • Jamie McMurray: Since finishing third at Watkins Glen on Aug. 13, Jamie Mac has been shockingly bad. In the eight starts since, he's failed to finish higher than 17th and posted an average finish of 27th. The good news? He's a former winner at Lowe's and finished eighth back in May.
  • Jamie McMurray's Lowe's Motor Speedway career Cup stats
  • Power Rankings
  • Fans strike back

    So, how does a lowly NASCAR writer like me follow one of the greatest, most death-defying nail-biter races of the last 10 years? I can't. I just don't have to juice to pull it off.

    However, I do always have a go-to plan for such occasions. You guys. The greatest, smartest, most educated readers in all of the World Wide Web. Well, at least when it comes to racing.

    Without any further adieu, ado, a-choo, ahem ... let's open up the old Speed Mail Bag, shall we?

    Chris in Kenosha, Wis.: What is this movie that I'm hearing about Dale Earnhardt and when is it coming out?

    Ryan McGee: Chris, the movie you speak of is Dale: The True Story and it is a documentary film produced by CMT Films and NASCAR Images in conjunction with the Earnhardt family and Richard Childress. It features never-before-seen interviews with Earnhardt and is narrated by Paul Newman. The film was shown to an invitation-only crowd in Charlotte on Tuesday night, including Dale Junior and Teresa Earnhardt. Look for the actual premiere to take place at Daytona next February, followed by rolling opening dates across the country.

    For more information check out: www.dalethemovie.com, the official movie site that is supposed to be up and running this week. Junior gave it a glowing review last week when asked about it prior to Talladega, and I hear the script is very well written by a handsome man who also happens to write for FOXSports.com on MSN.

    Jason in Charles City, Iowa: I've always wondered when the crews are changing those tires and all those lugnuts are flying around, you would have to think that the new tires would get cuts or slits in them when they take off. Is this a factor or not? Thanks for your time.

    Ryan McGee: Jason, I love Iowa. That's the birthplace of the smoothest pit reporter in the business—Krista Voda! Flying lugnuts can absolutely be a factor on pit road. For the most part, the lugs are thick enough and dull-edged enough that they don't puncture tires very often, but it has surely happened before. For the most part, the nuts fall away from the air gun and onto the ground away from of the tires, so when the car pulls out of the pits it is typically clear of any major debris. As soon as pit road is cleared and NASCAR officials give the go-ahead, crew members are out on the surface with a broom to sweep any and all trash out of the pit box. What really stings is when one of those suckers flies out of the pits and over the wall. At Rockingham in '97, Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevy ran over a lug as he was peeling out of the pits and his tire launched it squarely into my thigh, hitting me so hard it tore my pants and left a month-long welt!

  • Read the complete story
  • Speed Mail of the Week
    Tim in Cypress, Texas: Ryan, when cars are heading into Turn 1 four-wide at Talladega, and a caution comes out for debris, how do all the drivers at once know when to let off the gas? It seems if one driver got word of a caution before someone else and slowed down, it would cause a chain reaction of carnal wreckage

    Ryan McGee: Tim... the fact that it rarely happens is a testimony to the amazing job done the spotters high above the racetrack and the drivers themselves. The spotters are all packed into one riser, typically on top of the press box or high point of the grandstand. When the caution comes out, NASCAR calls it on the radio so they all receive the message simultaneously. Then they all let each other know and let their drivers know, typically in a calm manner so as to not scare the hell out of the man in the racecar. The drivers themselves signal to each other with a wave of the hand and everyone spreads out to slow down safely. It is all very organized, as opposed to when a big wreck happens and necessary knee-jerk reactions make a bad situation worse.

    Speed Mail Ryan

    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart

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