I don’t think I’ve done a NASCAR post yet this season, and last night’s All-Star Race gives me a perfect opportunity.
Before the big race, there was a 40-lap, 2-segment All-Star Challenge, where the top two finishers get to race their way into the big race. For the most part, it was a clean race, although pole-sitter Elliott Sadler got taken out by eventual race winner A. J. Allmendinger, who won his first-ever Cup series race (albeit a non-point event). Open-wheel veteran Sam Hornish, Jr. came in second, and showed a lot of progress since the first of the year. After the race, it was revealed that Kasey Kahne, who had finished 5th in the challenge race, had received the fan vote-in position for the big show.
The 100-lap, 4-segment All-Star Race was caution-free (the ones they throw at the end of each segment don’t count), and was one of the fastest ones I had seen. Each segment was dominated by different drivers. Segment 1 was led (in its entirety) by [Kyle Busch], currently the driver at the top of the standings. Halfway through segment 2, his engine dropped a cylinder, and Carl Edwards blew everyone away for the rest of that segment. During the third segment, Carl’s car went away, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. led part of the segment until Greg Biffle caught and passed him. In the final segment, it was Kasey Kahne who took the lead a few laps in, and held off Greg Biffle to become the first-ever fan vote to win the $1M prize.
Kyle Busch has been blowing away the competition in all three major series this year, but a couple of weeks ago, he and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were racing very hard and got into each other. “Junior Nation” seems to feel that Busch wrecked Junior on purpose; an unbiased viewing of the replay tapes shows otherwise. However, now Busch gets booed whenever he’s announced, or even when he wins a race, as he did last week. But, I thought one of the poorest examples of sportmanship was the cheering of the crowd as Busch’s disabled car was being pushed from pit road to the garage. Maybe it’s just my upbringing, but cheering at other’s misfortune just seems petty. Carl Edwards had it right - I can’t find a quote, but it was something like “Man, I hate that he lost his engine. I wanted to beat him straight-up on the racetrack.”
We have Junior fans in our house - he’s #1 on my middle son’s list, and he’s pretty high on mine as well. This hearkens back to last year, when Jeff Gordon was getting pelted with things for passing (and saluting) Dale Earnhardt, Sr.'s career win total. This is the sort of poor sportsmanship that reflects badly on NASCAR as a sport, and poorly on the South as a region of the country.
Rick Hendrick and his racing team, Hendrick Motorsports, have been having a phenomenal year. Jimmie Johnson, driving the #48 Lowe’s car, won the championship last year. This year, out of 14 races, they have won 10, with all four drivers having at least one win. This season has been almost magical for them; Rick has said that it’s not so much that they’re doing things to make it happen, they’re just not making mistakes, which puts them in the position to capitalize when others make mistakes. (Of course, that’s part of it, but there is an awful lot that goes into “not making mistakes.”)
But it seems that everyone in that organization is top-notch. Take Sunday’s race at Pocono as an example. After a 3±hour rain delay, the race gets going. Sixty-five or so laps into the race, a caution flag comes out. Was it Steve Letarte, the crew chief who started as a janitor at HMS, or an engineer who made the call? No - Jeff Gordon’s spotter made a suggestion, followed by the team, that they not pit. Casey Mears, Gordon’s teammate, also followed his strategy. By not pitting then, they needed to pit around the mid-80’s for fuel.
In NASCAR, if a race goes over halfway (100 laps in Sunday’s race), and has to be called for rain or darkness, the race is considered official. By pitting on lap 84, as they did, they had enough fuel to get them to lap 116. They were way back in the pack at that point. However, as the laps came up to 30 from the previous round of pit stops, cars started heading to pit road for fuel. When these cycled through, Gordon and Mears were running first and second. The rain came, and when the race was red-flagged at lap 106, Gordon was still first, though Mears had dropped to fourth. The race never started back, and Gordon got his fourth win of the season.
Then, today, who is going to join the team but Dale Earnhardt, Jr.! Rick Hendrick actually signed him to a contract on a napkin when he was 14 years old. Now, he had a real contract with NASCAR’s most popular driver.
Hendrick Motorsports is having a run like the Yankees had a few years back. It’s a good day to be a Hendrick fan. For the Hendrick haters, not so much.
Benny Parsons, 1973 Winston Cup Champion and NBC/TNT commentator, died today at age 65. I really enjoyed the way he called races - he really knew his stuff, yet his delivery was down-to-earth, understandable, and never condescending. NASCAR.com has more, including details of this NASCAR legend’s life, family, and career. Rest in peace, BP.
Anyone still want to make the case that Michigan should have been in the BCS Championship Game instead of Florida? [crickets chirping] Thought so…
By the way - as a fan of the Volunteers, I rarely cheer for the Florida Gators. But, NCAA championships in basketball and football in the same year is a first - congratulations to Florida for making history in 2006.
Here is part 3 of the series “2006 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous”. The bad things and the ridiculous things are what they are, but there was still some good in 2006.
I completed my first deployment this year. It was a tough time, but I was in a safe place and was able to participate in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. I wrote a lot about how this deployment affected the way I view things in my posts “Appreciate What You Have” and “Do Not Bend”. The Lord protected me over there, and my family at home. My oldest son stepped up and helped a lot while I was gone, and my wife kept everything going at home, in spite of how difficult it was at times.
Saddam Hussein’s execution was an important development in the War on Terror. Although he had been out of power for years, seeing him brought to justice after a trial is a great symbol of the power of democracy. Some people are upset that he was not tried for even more crimes; but, considering the 100 or so deaths he was on trial for was enough to get him the death penalty, what more could they want? You can’t kill the guy twice! (Some folks over at the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler (language warning in effect) have some ideas - as well as the video of the actual execution.)
As the war in Iraq and Afghanistan continues, more and more of these high-level leaders are being either captured or killed. If they’re captured, the justice system will do its job; and, if they’re killed, well… that just saves time. And, as the people of the Middle East begin to see democracy and a rule of law take hold, they’ll be drawn to it.
In college football and NASCAR, my folks made a resurgence after a disappointing 2005. The Tennessee Vols followed up their first losing season since Phil Fulmer had become head coach with a 9-3 finish, losing only to #2 Florida, #4 LSU, and #13 Arkansas. Throughout the year, quarterback Erik Ainge matured greatly, and became more willing to hand off the ball to a running back, which lead to more big passes opening up for him. Freshman running back LaMarcus Coker had an outstanding year, and looks to be one of the best running backs Tennessee has had in a while - and that’s saying something. Congratulations to the Vols on a great year.
Jeff Gordon became the Nextel Cup Champion! Well, OK, Jimmie Johnson was top driver, but since Jeff owns Jimmie’s cars, he is the owner’s points champion. He did finish the season in 6th as a driver. The comes after a season when he did not make the Chase for the Nextel Cup (although he did finish at the “top of the losers” 11th spot). Consistency was the name of the game this year for Gordon, crew chief Steve Letarte, and the rest of his crew; he finished in the top 10 in half of the 36 races, and won 2 of them. Were it not for two mechanical problems and a wreck back-to-back-to-back, he would have given his protoge a run for his money. On top of that, he got married in 2006, and he and his wife are now expecting their first child. Congratulations x 3 for you, Jeff, and here’s to a great 2007!
Those are the best things to come out of 2006, in my humble opinion. If you’ve read all three parts, you’ll realize that in the big picture, these don’t quite balance out - Tennessee’s winning season doesn’t offset North Korea’s nuclear tests, for example. But, what this does illustrate is that even when bad things of enormous import are happening, it is still possible to be personally happy and satisfied.
Sunday’s win by the New England Patriots over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, their 3rd win in the past 4 years, has solidified this team as this millenium’s first NFL dynasty. Coach Bill Belichik and quarterback Tom Brady (both off to the NFL’s best postseason records) are but two of many outstanding teammates on this well-rounded team. While the first half was a defensive battle, punctuated by very untimely turnovers by both sides, the second half saw the Patriots open up a lead that proved to be insurmountable.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Donovan McNabb, quarterback for the Eagles. “We were having a pretty good game. New England is the type of team that likes to open things up early, and when the first half ended 7-7, I thought we had a pretty good shot.” Head Coach Andy Reid spoke up next. “Coming down the stretch, though, we really had it rough. (Patriot Kicker Adam) Vinateri and his “Field Goal for Truth” put us down by 10 points, and that late in the game, it was just something we couldn’t overcome.”
While they openly congratulated the Patriots on their win, there are strong feelings among many of the Eagles that the Patriots don’t really have a mandate to traipse about the country proclaiming themselves “NFL champions.” “You know, we scored more points againt the Patriots than any other team had since February 1st. And, of all the points scored in the game, we scored almost 47% of them,” an unnamed teammate said. Another chimed in, “Really - can they really go around saying ‘We won’ when they only won by 6%? These folks are just arrogant.”
And, while the Eagles are grousing about the closeness of the game, other sections of the country are complaining about being disenfranchised. “You know, this was really a regional game - Boston and Philadelphia are just 300 miles apart! Hopefully we can avoid this disenfranchisement next year. Heck, with us going 2-14 last year, we’re trying to make sure the NFL doesn’t disenfranchise us,” said Mike Nolan, recently named head coach of the San Francisco 49’ers.
Warren Sapp of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was more direct. “For New England to say they are ‘World Champions’ is ludicrous. Did they play anyone from Canada? Mexico? Europe? I don’t think so. These commentators talking ‘dynasty this’ and ‘dynasty that’ are really [torquing] me off.” His tone changed a little when asked about his XXXVII (2003) Super Bowl ring. “Well, you know, we really had a tough season that season. To come in with a new coach, and overcome losses and fines, that meant something. I don’t think those goody-two-shoe Patriots have had a dollar of fines in the whole lot of them.”
Is this true? Of course not. The Patriots won fair and square, after a hard-fought contest, and by a slim but adequate margin. No one would dispute their claim to the 2004 NFL Championship. Sadly, similar claims by those in the political arena are true. Think about this the next time you hear a DNC talking head prattling on about “no mandate” for our President. (And, for those of you that think the above just isn’t really all that funny - don’t worry, I’m not quitting my day job.)
Instant Replay has been used in the NFL for a few years now, and this year, the NCAA’s Big 10 conference has instituted it as well. I prefer the NFL’s rules, where the coach is allowed two challenges, and if both are overturned, a third. Challenges are not allowed during the final two minutes of play, so they can’t be used as “extra time-outs” during the game; and, if a challenge fails to result in a changed call, the team is charged a time-out. In my opinion, it has been quite successful in helping to correct some pretty bad calls.
The most recent contender for a clearly overturnable call was the non-call of pass interference in Saturday’s LSU/Alabama game. An LSU defender pushed the Alabama receiver down, intercepted a pass, and ran it back out to the middle of the field. It was a game-changing ruling - Alabama had been struggling (and continued to struggle) to move the ball, and was close to scoring. Now, I’m no Alabama fan (Go Vols!!!), but that call was flat out wrong.
College football is such big business these days - we’ve got human rankings, computer rankings, and a collage of them together helping us decide a “national champion.” Nobody likes a tie, it seems - that’s the reason for the NCAA’s overtime rules. While we’re at it, let’s take the technology of today to help make the game more fair for the kids who are playing their hearts out Saturday after Saturday.
John Kerry - I can’t believe that we have an anti-war activist running for President who is actually being taken seriously. I also can’t believe that the self-same anti-war activist is running for President on his war record. I guess now that the military is back in vogue, the Democrats like it.
Gov. Jim McGreevey - At least he has more respect for the state of New Jersey that Bill Clinton had for the nation. Although it’s now coming out (no pun intended) that the cause is corruption more than his penchant for those of like gender, his stepping down is the right decision. (He is muddying the issue with his “I am a gay American” schtick - that link has a very interesting take on that part of the situation.) I think he should step down immediately, though, rather than his political ploy of not stepping down until after the election.
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth - Keep on keepin’ on. McCain-Feingold is unconstitutional, and will be ruled as such by the time the next election rolls around. It’s amazing that no one was upset when these 527 groups accused President Bush of poisoning pregnant women (a charge that is repeated on the Democrats’ own web site [scroll to the bottom]), but let them use facts to challenge something a Senator says, and now they need to shut up. (Still no call for moveon.org to stop their ads…)
President Bush vs. Catwoman - Sharon Stone recently said that because of President Bush, there wasn’t a lesbian kiss between she and Halle Berry in the movie Catwoman. I’m not quite sure I buy that - why would arch-enemies be kissing in the first place? And, if our President could control Hollywood, wouldn’t he be using that control to silence the hateful drivel from Michael Moore and his ilk? Sharon Stone has had plenty of opportunities to play oversexed bisexual characters (in fact, wasn’t that her first big role, in Basic Instinct?).
The pre-game show was excellent. It was a very classy, very patriotic tribute to the Columbia astronauts who left us a year ago that day. The moonscape and the astronaut in the middle of the field was genius, and very well put together. Beyonce did an outstanding job with the National Anthem - much better than recent efforts by her peers, such as Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. It wasn’t “The Beyoncé Show” featuring “The Star Spangled Banner,” it was “The Star Spangled Banner,” sung by Beyoncé. She should definitely be given repeat invitations for game-opening singing, as she did the song (and our nation) proud.
This has got to be the best Super Bowl in recent memory. Neither team was ever just waltzing away with the game, and for it to be decided in the final seconds by a field goal was priceless. Of course, that’s how New England won a lot of their games this past year. Carolina did an amazing job, having the ball for much less of the time, but still coming back to tie the game with just over a minute left. I feel for Carolina’s place-kicker, whose final kick-off was less than memorable, but he shouldn’t be blamed for the loss. Both teams played hard, both made their share of little mistakes, and, as John Fox, Carolina’s coach, said after the game, “It just came down to who had the ball last.” Great job to both the Panthers and the Patriots, and congratulations to New England for title #2 in 3 years.
And that half-time show…
Q: Was it good?
A: That’s an awfully subjective question - beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.
Q: Was it inappropriate?
The Super Bowl is not an adult program - families get together and watch these games with their kids. Notwithstanding the claimed unintentional flashing, the entertainment was not family-friendly.
Q: Should we expect any different from MTV?
A: Not really.
CBS was kidding themselves if they thought that MTV could come up with family-tolerable program, much less a family-friendly one. Have they even watched MTV lately? Evidently, MTV forgot to lend their sister network the bleeping and blurring machines that they wear out on a daily basis. This is one thing that makes the statements by CBS and MTV quite humorous - they’re basically the same company. The NFL should probably try to get a contract with Disney (or some other organization that has their finger on the pulse of family values) for future shows. Sure, Disney puts out some filth, but they do know what’s appropriate and when. How about a Hillary Duff / A*Teens half-time show?
Q: Was the flashing accidental?
A: I don’t think we’ll ever know the answer to that one.
Update Feb 4, 2004 - Okay, so it was intentional after all.