Thursday, December 20, 2007

The 2007 Robbie Awards

These awards are presented annually to various NASCAR drivers, crew chiefs, announcers, etc. for making my job easier or harder during the season.

Best Driver Award: Jimmie Johnson
The defending champion again showed why he is the best, with 10 wins and back to back titles. All I've got to say is: Jimmie, we got it. You're awesome.

Best Crew Chief: Steve Letarte
Although he's only been on Jeff Gordon's pit box for 2 years plus 10 races, he is quickly becoming one of the best in the business. If it hadn't been for an ill-handling racecar at Phoenix in the fall, he could be sitting at the head table in New York Friday night.

Best Car Owner: Rick Hendrick
Duh… 18 wins in 36 tries, plus the top 2 finishing positions in the points. Next year with the addition of Dale Earnhardt Jr., a 20-plus win total is not out of the question.

Most memorable moment: Final lap of the Daytona 500
With cars wrecking behind them, Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin battled to the line for the win in the Great American Race, with Harvick pulling out the victory for Richard Childress Racing, 6 years to the day of Dale Earnhardt's passing in the 500.

Most memorable lashing out: Kyle Busch
After crossing the finish line just ahead of Jeff Burton at Bristol in the first Car of Tomorrow race in the spring, the younger of the Busch brothers got out of his car and said on national television that the car, quote "sucked."

"That did not just happen" moment: Tony Stewart
It's no secret that ESPN and Smoke do not get along. After winning the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in August, Stewart handled himself fairly well through three questions for an ESPN reporter in victory lane before dropping a four letter word and sending the media into a frenzy.

Worst race broadcast: ESPN 2 Busch Race at Mexico City
I mean, I know we were in Mexico and everything, but Juan Montoya is from South America. Say it with me: SOUTH AMERICA NOT MEXICO! The broadcast almost made me throw up. It was Juan this and Juan that. From the moment from sign on to sign off, ESPN 2 wanted to make sure everyone knew who they wanted to win the race.

Worst race broadcaster: Rusty Wallace
Aero Push, Draft Tracker, hot rod, tell you what, my son Steven… If you've followed ESPN this year, these are all phrases that make you wake up at night in a cold sweat. At least we don't have to listen to him for three months. Please ESPN, replace him with Dale Jarrett!!!

Scandal of the Year: Michael Waltrip at Daytona
I felt sorry for Michael because I know he worked so hard and spent millions upon millions to get his three-car team up and running in 2007 only to have things blow up in his face. But then the illegal substance was found and he was in a hole before the season started, one he didn't pull himself out of this year and next year isn't looking anymore promising. He's a good ole boy and I hope things turn around for him.

Worst cheater of the year: Chad Knaus
This guy may have two championship rings, but he's also been at the center of controversy his entire career. He has been suspended three times in the last three seasons, and there could be several more violations that we don't know about. Hey NASCAR, how bout that three strikes and you're out rule?

Best one liner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"And now I'd like to introduce you to my new boss for 2008, Mr. Rick Hendrick." At the time, I wanted to die, now 6 months later, I'm happy because I know my favorite driver will win 8 races next season.

Most promising rookie not named Juan Pablo Montoya: David Ragan
Made his Nextel Cup debut at Martinsville last fall and hit everything including the pace car. Had a top 5 at the season opening Daytona 500 and has really improved over the last year. I think this kid might have some potential.

Most over-used story: Junior leaving DEI/Joining HMS/Free the 8/Sponsor, etc…
The first three months of the season, all ESPN could talk about was will Junior leave DEI? Then after he announced he was leaving, it was where was he going? Then what number would he take? Then what would the new sponsor be? One reason why the racing coverage was horrible during ESPN's portion of the season: because Junior announced all those things before the Chase for the Cup began. Then Junior missed the chase and ESPN was in real trouble. Point of the story: ESPN is just terrible.

That's all for this year, join us again next year for the 2008 edition of The Robbie Awards.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Top 5 of 2007 and 2008

In 5 years if you take a look back at the 2007 and 2008 NASCAR Racing seasons, you might find a strange similarity between the top 5 stories from both years. That’s because the stuff we’ve been talking about for the last 12 months will indeed be the same stuff we talk about this time next year.

My top 5 for 2007 and 2008 are as follows:

5) Mergers between teams and other investors.
It started in January with Jack Roush announcing he was taking on Boston Red Sox owner John Henry as a partner in his racing ventures. The birth of Roush-Fenway Racing was made just before the Daytona 500 and then the race was on to see who would partner up next. Roush would close the year announcing that Roush-Fenway and Yates Racing would partner up in the Ford Racing Development arena, essentially creating a 7 car team, as both individual stables will share the same equipment and some of the same personnel. In addition, Evernham Motorsports has taken on investors and Ginn Racing merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in August. I would look for even more mergers next year.

4) Toyota’s entrance into Cup Series racing.
Toyota came in slowly to the Craftsman Truck Series in 2004. By 2006, they had their first NASCAR championship. Also in 2006 the foreign brand announced they would make their debut in Cup and Busch in 2007. Things did not exactly go their way in the Cup series, especially when Michael Waltrip went under the gun at Daytona with the illegal substance found in the 55 car’s engine. No Toyota team won a race but they did get a pole at New Hampshire with Dave Blaney. Toyota may have upped their brand name into the upper echelon of NASCAR Racing by signing Joe Gibbs Racing to a long-term deal in August. That basically means you’ve got veteran and 2-time champion Tony Stewart, promising young gun Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch who some people think is the best driver out there. Toyota will definitely get their first Cup Series win next season, and maybe even contend for a Sprint Cup.

3) The Car of Tomorrow becomes the Car of Right Now.
We knew it was coming in 2007. We just didn’t know what it was going to do. The wing car made its debut at Bristol in March to mixed reviews. 16 races last year wasn’t really enough to tell us if the car will be successful long term. Of course in 2008, it will be the only car the Sprint Cup Series competes with. Maybe a full season of just dealing with this car will be the spark to allow drivers and teams to figure the car out and produce even better racing. That after all was one of NASCAR’s goals with the new car: better racing, safety improvements, and cutting costs. Safety, yeah. Better racing, not sure. Cutting costs, not according to Jack Roush. I think the new car is better than the old one and will produce better racing while lowering costs. Will it allow a team like BAM Racing to compete door-to-door with the Hendrick Motorsports of the world? Well, I don’t think anything will allow that.

And now for the top 2. These can be combined but they are better served as one and two.

2) The Dominance of Hendrick Motorsports.
18 of 36 is 50% no matter how you slice it. Add into that 3 cars in the chase with the champion and second place finishers being from your stable and you can call Hendrick Motorsports’ 2007 season complete and total domination. While Hendrick won 18 races, no other team won more than 7. Jimmie Johnson won 10 races, including 4 of the last 5. Jeff Gordon had one of his best years ever with 6 wins and 30 top-10 finishes, which is a new record. Kyle Busch is leaving but was strong for most of the year, and Casey Mears broke through with a very popular win in the Coca-Cola 600 in May, and rallied to finish 15th in the final standings. With Joe Gibbs Racing switching to Toyota next year, GM will give even more support to Hendrick. Honestly, 25 wins in 2008 is not out of the question, especially if you add in our number one story.

1) The Saga that is Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Voted as the most popular driver for the 5th consecutive season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made headlines by leaving the team his father started, in which Junior has driven for his entire career, to move to Hendrick Motorsports. Many long-time Earnhardt fans said there was no way they would continue to support Junior if he was Jeff Gordon’s teammate. I was one of those until I decided I could deal with the issue at hand. Junior was the focus in what I would say over 50 % of all newspaper, internet, and television stories on the year, not to mention the fact that all ESPN could talk about from February to May was Junior. With better equipment, a renewed focus, and not having to deal with the “jerks” at DEI in 2008, this guy has his best chance ever to contend for a championship and live up to the legacy set forth by his father and grand-father. Why is this guy the sport’s most popular driver? Just look in the grandstands this year and notice how the sea of red has turned into a sea of green and blue. Then you’ll know.