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.
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.