NASCAR’s Call Was Right, Yet Inconsistency Remains

The controversy, if we may call it such, that arose after the finish of the Coca-Cola 600 centered on NASCAR’s decisions over calling, or not calling, caution periods.

When it comes to the yellow flag, NASCAR has, for the most part, acted on the side of safety – which, incidentally, is exactly what it should do.

Even with that, many have, and likely always will, question NASCAR’s inconsistency when it comes to making the calls.

It seems to some that the officials in the tower are quick to call for the yellow flag when there is a small piece of debris on the track.

Yet, sometimes even after a multi-car wreck, the race goes on under green – which creates a far more hazardous scenario than the presence of a mere piece of metal.

In the 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I believe few, if any, could question any of the 14 caution periods mandated by NASCAR.

But it was one it didn’t call that raised debate.

Just as the first green-white-checker restart was in place, Dale Earnhardt Jr. inherited the lead after Kasey Kahne ran out of gas and bobbled as the race went green on the 401st lap.

Earnhardt Jr. was clear of the crash that followed, which, among others, collected Jeff Burton’s Chevrolet.

It was expected that surely NASCAR would call for caution No. 15.

It did not. Instead, the race remained green and was won by Kevin Harvick in dramatic fashion.

Harvick swept by Earnhardt Jr., who ran out of fuel between the third and fourth turns.

There’s the argument that NASCAR indeed should have called for another caution following the incident that involved Burton.

After all, under the rules, it still had two more green-white-checker restarts to determine the outcome of the race. Earnhardt Jr. would have remained the leader as the field regrouped – but he’d have even less fuel.

The conspiracy theorists suggest NASCAR didn’t call for a yellow flag because Earnhardt Jr., its most popular driver, was in the lead and on the cusp of winning for the first time in 104 races.

In so many words, it needed Earnhardt Jr. to win.

Well, yes, it would certainly benefit NASCAR if Earnhardt Jr. wins, but I don’t think that was paramount on its mind as it watched the wreck unfold.

I think it was more interested in completing the race without the interference of a second green-white-checker restart.

As fate would have it, the racing lanes in the first-second turns where the incident occurred were clear long before the field could come into play.

Burton thought there were more cars stopped at the apron with him. But in fact, they had all cleared out.

“I thought there were more cars with me,” Burton told the Charlotte Observer. “Turns out there weren’t. Everybody had cleared out.”

If I may inject a personal observation here, the track was indeed clear. Knowing NASCAR’s tendency to let races play out to their own conclusion if at all possible, and having seen similar scenarios countless times, I studied the first-second turn area closely.

I didn’t think NASCAR was going to call for a yellow flag. So I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t.

At first Burton was. He felt the ‘no-call’ was wrong. But after review he said that, in terms of safety, the call was correct.

“If the track is clear then NASCAR needs to let the race continue,” Burton said.

He also asserted that NASCAR has a tendency to hold the yellow flag late in races for a couple of reasons. First, it wants the race to play out without intervention if at all possible.

Then, as was the case at Charlotte, there may be fuel issues and NASCAR might have been doing what it could to make things fair for everyone.

Still, many say, if NASCAR wanted the race to end under green it still had two more chances for it to do so. To call for the yellow flag at the time of the crash behind leader Earnhardt Jr. would have been the right call for safety’s sake.

I’ll side with Burton. I’ll say NASCAR made the right move. But like him and others, I’ll add that when it comes to caution flag calls, NASCAR is indeed inconsistent.

The sanctioning body will throw a yellow flag for seemingly innocuous reasons halfway through a race.

At the same time, it’s loath to do so late in an event, especially when the outcome is on the line. Of course, there have been many times when it obviously had to do so.

As in other professional sports, calls made by NASCAR are based on judgments – with which, of course, not everyone always agrees.

 

** All that aside, Earnhardt Jr. had a very strong performance in the 600. Despite his seventh-place finish he ran consistently well throughout the race; one he might have won without the fuel issue.

It might have been disappointing for Earnhardt Jr., but his confidence level had to increase with, perhaps, his best performance of the year.

And I think he’s forged a bond with crew chief Steve Letarte – who, noticeably, doesn’t argue with Earnhardt Jr. over the radio.

A Hollywood writer could not have come up with more ironic, similar conclusions to the races on Memorial Day.

In the Indianapolis 500 rookie J.R. Hildebrand had the race won until he smacked the fourth turn wall hard on the last lap, clearing a path for winner Dan Wheldon.

And, of course, in the 600 Earnhardt Jr. runs out of gas in turns three and four on what turns out to be the race’s last lap. Harvick takes the victory.

Don’t see that sort of thing often, do you?

 

Coke 600, Indy 500, GP of Monaco: Helluva Weekend


All three Memorial Day weekend races were just what the Doctor ordered. Dale Jr runs out of fuel on the last corner, JR Hilderbrand crashes on the final corner giving Dan Wheldon the win and Sebastian Vettel wins his first GP of Monaco, controversial though it was.

The 600 Of 1988 Was Messy – And For Good Reason

There have been many memorable, exciting Coca-Cola 600s at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the years, some of which have been duly recorded in NASCAR lore.

And there have been others that, uh, haven’t been so exciting. They’ve been dull, messy and in some cases, controversial.

Reckon we could say that about every race at every track.

But as the longest race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, and arguably the most demanding, the Coca-Cola 600 is considered one of stock car racing’s premier events.

Also, races at CMS are so well-hyped by the speedway’s creative, indefatigable public relations and marketing staffs that many fans, and let’s face it, members of the media, are chomping at the bit to see what’s going to happen.

So it will be, again, this year.

Let’s hope the Coca-Cola 600 lives up to its billing. I think all of us would like that.

What we wouldn’t like is a repeat of the 1988 Coca-Cola 600, then known as the World 600.

It’s not likely we will because there was a set of circumstances surrounding the 600 of that year, which, thankfully, do not exist now.

Ten wrecks that helped create 13 caution periods for 89 laps marred the race – and injured four drivers, one of whom had his career cut short.

The cause of the vast majority of the wrecks was tire failure. And there was a good reason for that.

In 1988, Hoosier Tire Co. came into what was then known as the Winston Cup circuit. The small company was going to challenge Goodyear, the long-standing sole supplier of NASCAR tires – which, incidentally, had already held off a couple of challenges from other companies.

But Hoosier meant business.

Always looking for an edge, some teams quickly adopted Hoosier tires. And it looked like that would be a good move.

In February, Morgan Shepherd won the pole at Richmond, on Hoosiers for the lightly regarded Winkle team.

Then came a shocker. Neil Bonnett, driving for the Rahmoc Enterprises team, and racing on Hoosiers, won back-to-back races at Richmond and Rockingham.

What became known as “The Tire Wars” was on.

Hoosier and Goodyear prepared new tires for virtually every race. Some had more grip for speed but suffered in longevity. Others were a bit slower but could be counted on to last much longer.

Goodyear and Hoosier feverishly attempted to create tires that had grip and endurance.

Teams had to decide which tire would serve them better as they prepared for each race.

It appeared the selection for the 600-mile race at Charlotte would be simple.

Although Goodyear was intent on surpassing Hoosier, preliminary events at Charlotte indicated the compound Goodyear had developed would not stand the strain of a hot day and very high speeds.

So it was that every driver’s car in the 600 was mounted with Hoosier tires – all but one.

Dave Marcis, intensely loyal to Goodyear throughout his long career, shunned Hoosier.

Darrell Waltrip, driving for Hendrick Motorsports, went on to win the race by .24-second over Rusty Wallace, driving for Raymond Beadle.

It might have been a close finish, but the race itself was a mess.

The Hoosier tires apparently couldn’t stand the heat and speed any better than Goodyear’s. Blown rubber created wreck after wreck.

“We knew about the tire problems that would happen,” said Waltrip after the race. “I had watched guys pass me and then take off, only to see them in the wall a few laps later.”

A blown tire sent Bonnett into the wall on lap 115 of 400. He spent the night in a hospital but was able to race a week later at Dover.

Harry Gant, known as “The Skoal Bandit,” experienced the same fate. On lap 233, his Chevrolet slammed the wall hard in the second turn. Gant broke two bones in his leg and missed the next five races. Morgan Shepherd replaced him.

Buddy Baker, driving for his own team, was swept up in a multicar accident on lap 244. At first he appeared be unharmed.

But, several weeks later, it was discovered that Baker had a blood clot on his brain. After 1988, he made only 17 starts before his career ended in 1992.

Other drivers taken out by tire-related accidents included Cale Yarborough, Jim Sauter, Derrike Cope, Brad Noffsinger and Rick Wilson, who was also taken to the hospital.

Even with Goodyears, Marcis wasn’t spared. Sterling Marlin experienced yet another blown tire grazed the wall and attempted to make it back to the pits.

But he drifted into Marcis’ path. Marcis hit him, sailed into the fourth-turn wall and out of the race.

Hoosier won eight of the first 16 races of 1988, but only one of the final 13.

“The Tire Wars” continued into 1989, but came to an end after Goodyear had, finally, successfully developed a radial tire for racing.

On May 8, one day after the Winston 500 at Talladega, Hoosier pulled out of Winston Cup racing.

The wars were over.

But, certainly, there had been casualties.

 

Bayne’s Words Reflect Wisdom Beyond Age

CONCORD, N.C. – After the press conference he held at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday, I have reached a couple of conclusions about Trevor Bayne.

He is mature well beyond his years. And he expresses a unique, and refreshing, perspective on life and all the good and bad therein.

Bayne made his first appearance in front of the media since he was sidelined from competition due to a mysterious, and as yet undiagnosed, illness.

The last time he competed in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race was at Talladega on April 17.

Afterward he began to suffer symptoms of inflammation, double vision, weariness and nausea, among others. It was thought he might have had a major reaction to an insect bite.

His employers at Roush Fenway Racing removed him from competition and, over a period of several weeks, had him thoroughly checked out by doctors and even sent, twice, to the prestigious Mayo Clinic.

Bayne, the surprising and popular winner of the Daytona 500 in the Wood Brothers Racing Ford, was eligible for the NASCAR All-Star Race, but was held back. It disappointed him.

Nor will he race in the Coca-Cola 600. His seat has been given to Roush teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., a friend.

Bayne’s next start will be in the Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland on June 4 and then he’ll return to the Wood Brothers at Michigan on June 18.

“I’ve been feeling fine for over a week now,” Bayne said. “Last weekend I took off as a caution and they made me take off this week as a caution.

“They have been way over the top, cautious on everything. This weekend I would have been fine to run, but I think we want to just make sure.”

Bayne is just 20 years old and was a virtual unknown until his Daytona 500 victory. Since that time he has become vastly familiar to racing fans, young and old alike.

In the weeks after his victory, Bayne set out on a whirlwind tour of media and personal appearances. Because of his celebrity, youth and good looks he became a hit among the ‘tweeners.”

I don’t believe anyone can say newly found celebrity status has changed Bayne, a level-headed type who believes faith and charity far surpass social status.

We have heard of many celebrities whose only interests and thoughts are about themselves – mind you, certainly not all of them.

And not Bayne. When he made his opening remarks at the press conference, he didn’t talk about himself. Rather, he expressed gratitude to others and appreciation for being allowed to do what he loves.

“It’s been a real eye opener of how supportive everyone in our sport is,” Bayne said. “I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned through all of this.

“Carl Edwards flew up and saw me in Minnesota (location of the Mayo clinic) and Tony Stewart was using his plane to fly my family back and forth. Jack (Roush) was sending me back and forth on his plane and Michael McDowell was with me for five days.

“Another thing that has been put into perspective for me is how blessed we are to be race car drivers. We get wrapped up sometimes and go through the motions, but when you have to sit there for four or five weeks and watch races, you realize how cool it is that you get to be the one driving it.”

At the Mayo Clinic, Bayne underwent virtually every test imaginable, including an MRI and spinal taps.

“Spinal taps at midnight aren’t exactly what you are looking forward to, but they happen,” Bayne said.

At one point, Bayne said, he had 16 needles in his body at once, along with shock pads and “things I didn’t even know existed.”

But in the end, doctors could not pinpoint the cause of his illness.

“It’s not terminal or anything like that,” Bayne said. “I head somebody say cancer or leukemia but those aren’t words I heard in the hospital. They ruled out all those things.

“I am hoping it was a temporary inflammation that caused it all and it has been going away, as they said from day one. It should be a four-week deal and then go away.”

It’s now gone away long enough for Bayne to return to racing less than a week after the Coca-Cola 600. Hopefully he’s missed his last races of the season because of any mysterious malady.

Bayne was, career-wise, as high as any racer could be after his Daytona win. Then he had to sit out for several weeks through no fault of his own.

Under those circumstances, it could be understood if any competitor said, “Why me?”

Bayne never said that. Instead, he philosophized and reasoned that what has happened has, in fact, helped him be a better man.

“This year is just helping me figure out what I’m made of,” Bayne said. “If you can handle the biggest high you can have and then the lowest bottom, the rest of the year should be easy from here.

“I didn’t want to go from the top to the bottom but luckily I do have my faith and that’s what defines me. If I was defined by anything else I’d be in trouble right now.

“I just am thankful for the ups and downs and everything that has helped me find out what I’m made of and who is there to support me.”

Credit maturity, faith or both – Trevor Bayne expresses wisdom far beyond his age.

 

Coke 600, Indy 500, GP of Monaco: World Racing

This Memorial day the world races from every corner. The Coke 600 in NASCAR, the Indy 500 and the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco. Look for Carl Edwards, Scott Dixon and Lewis Hamilton to make a play for the wins. http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

Some Personal Notes On The Hall’s Newest Class

The NASCAR Hall of Fame has inducted its second class and I am rather proud to say that I have, in my career, actively covered the exploits of three of them and interacted personally with all five.

I wrote about the achievements (and occasional failures) of drivers David Pearson and Bobby Allison and team owner Bud Moore – for whom Allison drove from 1978-81. Allison, in fact, won the ’78 Daytona 500 in Moore’s Ford.

“Have a swig of my champagne,” Moore said to me in the press box after the race, holding out the bottle he took from victory lane. I told him no, I had to work. Thinking back on it, I wish I had taken a slug.

Lee Petty and Ned Jarrett had retired before my tenure as a motorsports journalist began, so I didn’t have the opportunity to see them race.

But I certainly heard all the stories about them and, like so many others, soon grew to appreciate their contributions and place in NASCAR history.

I consider myself fortunate to have interviewed them multiple times.

When I spoke with Petty about racing in his day, he always emphasized how difficult it was for him, his peers and their families.

The schedule was grueling, he said. The work was hard, the travel intense and the financial rewards were decidedly less than they were for the succeeding generation, which included his son Richard.

At first I thought he was nothing but a bitter old man. But soon I learned that Lee Petty was simply a man who called it as he saw it.

“Heck, daddy was the same when he was racing,” Richard once said.

The elder Petty had a sense of humor. After his retirement he became an avid golfer. At a media-guest tournament, I once asked him about his game and what he thought he could do to improve it.

“There’s not much I can do,” he said. “But I can tell you this: They need to make that itty-bitty hole a lot bigger.”

Jarrett became a crackerjack radio and television announcer and, as such, those of us in the media simply thought of him as a member of our clan.

He was, without a doubt, the friendliest, most unassuming and least cynical of us all.

It seemed he was interviewed as often as he interviewed others.

As fate would have it, I became Jarrett’s colleague when he and I joined Stephanie Durner on the set of the television show “Inside NASCAR,” which was presented on TNN at the turn of the 21st century.

Jarrett was the consummate professional. He used his experience to masterfully anchor the show. When it came to mistakes, and for him they were few, he was harder on himself than any producer or director could have ever been.

One summer, circumstances dictated that Jarrett and I would be the show’s only panelists – it was up to the two of us to make it work.

I was scared to death. Not to say I hadn’t grown accustomed to the nuances of television. Rather, I wasn’t certain I’d be able to offer enough input and opinion to pick up the slack.

In other words, good heavens, was Jarrett going to have to do virtually all the talking?

He didn’t. He didn’t have to. As the consummate anchor he was, Jarrett knew how to lead a discussion and draw me into it. Soon we engaged in lively – even fun – debates.

In the years since, I have often told Jarrett my thoughts about the television experience with him, how much I learned and how much I enjoyed it.

In response, he always smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Finally, in this unabashed personal recollection of the newest inductees in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, when I saw Donnie Allison speak about his brother during the induction ceremony, I was reminded of an incident that played a role in both their careers – especially Donnie’s.

Ironically, it happened in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the next race on the Sprint Cup schedule, which was known as the World 600 on May 24, 1981.

Bobby Allison, driving for Harry Ranier, won the race over Harry Gant to earn the 64th of his 84 career wins.

His brother Donnie, driving for John Rebhan, was involved in a bad crash on lap 152, when his car spun out of control, bounced off the wall and into the path of a speeding Dick Brooks, driving for Billy Matthews.

The impact between Allison and Brooks was horrendous.

Allison was unconscious when removed from his car. At the hospital he was declared “unsatisfactory but stable.” He suffered several fractured ribs, a bruised right lung, a broken left knee and a broken right shoulder blade.

Brooks suffered a double fracture of the right shoulder.

It wasn’t the end of Donnie’s career, but it might as well have been. He competed in only six races before the accident put him out of commission for the remainder of 1981.

He drove in only 19 more events from 1982-88.


Bobby, meanwhile, went on to compete full-time for another eight years until a near-fatal crash at Pocono ended his career in 1988 – ironically, the same year Donnie drove his last race.

We all recognize achievement and know that it is what ultimately propels men into the Hall of Fame.

Given that, I daresay many of us also have personal, fond recollections of those already inducted – and those that will come.

I consider myself fortunate to be one.

 

Edwards, Stenhouse,Busch, Raikkonen: Good Weekend

Carl Edwards took the 1.2 million dollar prize in Saturday nights All-Star, Ricky Stenhouse gets his first win, Kyle Busch wins in Trucks and Raikkonen had so much fun he’s going to run the Nationwide race at Charlotte. Alex Tagliani take the Indy 500 pole. http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

The All-Star Race: Hype Wasn’t Reality, But That’s Not New

A few notes about the NASCAR Sprint Cup All Star Race:

 

** As usual, the race was hyped as a “dash for cash,” “checkers or wreckers,” and even “payback time,” because of its format.

As you know, the race is not about points. It’s all about money – at least $1 million to the winner – and is tailored to end with a 10-lap “shootout” finish, one in which drivers, supposedly, will take all manner of chances to win.

On paper it sounds good. And, admittedly, there have been some all-star races in the past in which a driver surprised everyone over the final 10 laps and pulled off an upset victory.

There has also been some closing-lap mayhem – plenty of it, in fact.

Not this year, however. It a race decidedly devoid of virtually everything for which it’s hyped, Carl Edwards pulled away over the final 10 laps to win easily and earn $1.2 million.

“Checkers or wreckers?” No one got close enough to Edwards to crash him. Hey, the Roush Fenway driver did it to himself.

After his victory, as he plowed through the frontstretch grass, the front end of his Ford dug into the sod, hit a drainage port and nearly turned over.

The car was severely damaged. Edwards was embarrassed but still entertained the crowd – a very large one, by the way – with his victory backflip and a dash into the grandstands with the checkered flag. He posed for photos with fans as the theme from “Flipper” (you read that right) played over the public address system.

For Edwards, the all-star race was “checkers AND wreckers,” but as far as many others were concerned, it was “boring and snoring.”

Normally, drivers do go somewhat bonkers in the special event and there’s usually plenty of crumpled metal to go around.

This time, there were just two unscheduled caution periods caused by two minor, one-car wrecks.

There were no frayed tempers, such as displayed last year when Denny Hamlin crowded teammate Kyle Busch into the wall during a fight for the lead, which prompted Busch to question the value of his teammate’s life.

There was, however, some good, hard racing among NASCAR’s top stars, such as Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and David Reutimann.

But when it comes to the all-star race, many folks think that’s just not enough. It’s not what the race is all about. They expect to see a free-for-all, a heavyweight slugfest with knockdowns aplenty.

And let’s be honest. That is exactly how the all-star race is hyped.

Hype did not become reality this year. But, in all honesty, that’s nothing new. We don’t always get what’s advertised.

 

** That said, there have been ongoing suggestions as to how the format of the all-star race might be changed so that it more often lives up to its billing.

These suggestions, offered by media and fans, started well before the race was over. That clearly indicated many observers weren’t pleased with what they saw.

The most prominent suggestions referred to shortening the race and eliminating episodes of what were called “momentum killers.”

The race was formatted thusly: It had a 50-lap opening during which there was a mandatory four-tire pit stop. There followed two 20-lap sessions. After the second, teams took a 10-minute intermission (with on-track running positions frozen) to make permissible changes to their cars.

Then followed another mandatory pit stop for four tires. This, ostensibly, would allow pit crews to play a role in the outcome. With fast, mistake-free work, they could advance their drivers’ starting position on the restart.

There followed the 10-lap “shootout.” In all, the race consisted of 100 laps.

The most prominent suggestions were to reduce the 50-lap opening segment; make it shorter so that drivers feel more urgency to get to the front rather than nurse their cars.

It was also mentioned that there is no need for the 10-minute intermission. It brings racing to a stop. Why not, some said, reduce the inactivity time? Simply throw a caution, require another pit stop and then restart the race – with cars aligned in the order they left pit road.

In a published report, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that the 50-lap opening segment was too long and that the race would be better served if, overall, it was shorter.

“From a fans’ standpoint I think the first segment is too long,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Make the event a little shorter and make it a little more about the fireworks that the drivers provide in the event.”

Jeff Gordon, who has competed in the all-star race throughout all its mutations over the years, maintained that fewer cars and shorter segments are the answer.

“Let’s face it, it’s a 10-lap shootout,” Gordon said. “So it’s whatever process gets you to that 10 laps. The four different segments, to me, seem to be pulling and stretching things a bit.”

Gordon also favors the revitalization of the now-defunct inverted field created by a fan vote. It was put in place at least one segment before the final 10 laps.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” he said.

Other drivers, I’m sure, have their own opinions about the all-star race’s format.

Frankly, I can see where trimming some fat would help. An opening segment of 50 laps is too long – drivers have said they feel no sense of urgency and prefer to race calmly as they sort out their cars.

I also agree that the 10-minute intermission kills all racing momentum. Is it really needed?

But, to be honest, as far as NASCAR is concerned what I think doesn’t matter.

However, fan opinions do. I daresay the format of the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star race is reviewed every year. And we can assume the sanctioning body isn’t foolish enough to completely ignore its supporters’ views.

So if you feel the need, speak up. Change never comes for those who remain quiet.

 

Darlington Victory Means, Yes, Smith Belongs

CONCORD, N.C. – Not so long ago, anyone who spoke about the NASCAR Sprint Cup All Star Race might well have said thus: Regan Smith doesn’t belong.

For that matter, he didn’t belong in victory lane after the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, either.

See, Smith drives for Furniture Row Racing, a one-car organization based in Denver – Colorado, not North Carolina. It has a limited number of personnel and relies on at least three major Sprint Cup teams for its pit crew, engines and chassis.

Given all of that, it seemed unlikely Smith and Furniture Row stood any chance of holding their own against the mega-teams – not to mention winning a race.

But you knew all of that.

You also know that Smith pulled off a major upset at Darlington, where he held off Carl Edwards to score an improbable victory at the crusty old track and, in so doing, have his name placed alongside such NASCAR legends as Richard Petty, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough, among others.

And you also know that the win earned him a spot in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, scheduled for tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The fact is, yes, by golly, Smith does belong in a race reserved for only a selected few, all of them winners. After all, he is one of them.

“I’ll be honest with you,” said Smith during a press conference, “you are extremely motivated before you get that first win. Then when you get that first win, you know how to do it.

“I’m even more motivated now than I was before, if that sounds right. You get that first one and you want another one. As fast as you can get it and as soon as you can get it.”

The 27-year-old Smith, who, in one man’s opinion looks more like 17, admitted that he and his team knew the victory at Darlington made them eligible for the all star event. But then, for a week at least, their mindset changed.

“Yes, we thought about it as soon as the race at Darlington was over,” Smith said in the CMS garage area. “It was a pretty big deal.

“But it sure didn’t play on our minds at Dover the next week. That was another race for which we had to be ready.

“This week, however, it’s played on our minds a lot more than last week simply because this is all-star week. We’ve done things differently because when you are in the all-star race, there are different requirements and different things you have to do.”

One thing that is decidedly different about the all-star race is the qualifying procedure, which includes a couple of hot laps and a four-tire pit stop.

All of which is completely new to Smith and his team.

“I have never done the qualifying procedure here with the pit stop and everything,” said Smith prior to Saturday night’s time trials. “I’ve never seen a tape or DVD of it being done.

“But anything we do or learn in qualifying, I’m not sure how relevant it is going to be the night of the race. The track is really warm night now and it’s going to be dark when we race.”

Smith’s lack of knowledge might well have been a factor in qualifying, in which he was, overall, 17th fastest of 18 cars to take to the track.

As you might expect, Smith and the Furniture Row team felt surges of confidence and motivation after their Darlington victory. The emotions spilled over to Dover and remain in place at Charlotte.

“There was just more of an air of confidence about the guys,” Smith said. “A lot of guys on our team have ever won before at anything.

“For most of us it was a first experience and that same confidence that I gained as a driver, I can see that confidence within them as a team, which is really cool to see happen.”

Like Trevor Bayne, who won his first career Sprint Cup victory in the Daytona 500 – yet will not compete in the all star race due to a lingering illness – Smith has been thrust wholesale into the consciousness of his peers and the racing public.

Over the past week he has made whirlwind public and media appearances, just as Bayne did.

“I have been busy, real busy,” Smith said. “But it’s been a good busy. You really don’t mind it when it’s for all the right reasons.

“There were, for example, a lot of media obligations. I got the opportunity to go on Sportscenter in Connecticut and that was really cool. I always wanted to do that.

“It’s just been a lot of neat, little stuff that I probably would not have ever done without the win at Darlington. Certainly the win has had a lot to do with what has happened.”

I was privileged to be on a radio show with Smith just two nights after his Darlington victory. I suggested to him that, in the days ahead, he observe, as much as possible, how he is perceived by his fellow competitors.

After all, he not only won a race, he won it at Darlington.

“As for the competitors, the coolest part for me is that you never know where you stand in the garage area or with them.” Smith said. “Me, I’ve been around only a little while and had only limited success.

“But still, it was all the same. As many guys that have come up to me and said congratulations, including the ones in victory lane in Darlington and thereafter, well, it really means a lot.

“I can’t thank everyone enough for the support they are showing my team and me. It’s exciting.

“It’s been so good we want to go out and do it all over again.”

Maybe that will happen in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Why not? It wasn’t supposed to happen in Darlington.

But it doesn’t matter. Smith and his team can derive great satisfaction from this: They belong and everyone knows they do.

 

Hall-Of-Famer Allison Helped Make The ’72 Season What It Was

After the 1971 season, during which Junior and Richard Howard brought Chevrolet back to NASCAR, the two determined that, rather than special appearances for the car, they would campaign it for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship in 1972.

But they needed two things: A sponsor and a driver. As fortune would have it the driver they hired also happened to have a sponsor.

He also had a lot more, as Junior thought he might. Thus the 1972 season was one of the most successful, and tumultuous, of Junior’s career.

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplggged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

I have already said this but I think it bears repeating. I am very proud that a man who drove for me, Bobby Allison, will be a member of the next class of inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

He came around at a perfect time – when he was needed.

After the 1971 season, during which Richard and I enjoyed so much success with the Chevrolet, we decided rather than charge promoters $10,000 to have our car enter their races, we’d just go for the whole thing.

We’d try to win the Winston Cup championship. That meant we would run every race, which, in turn, meant we had to have sponsorship.

We both knew about Bobby. He could drive anything and win in it. He knew all about cars and engines and had maintained his own stuff.

Turns out that he was with the powerful Holman-Moody team in 1971. However, that team folded at the end of the season and Bobby was out of work.

Now Bobby had $80,000 in sponsorship from Coca-Cola in his pocket. That, and the fact that he had the skill and determination to win races, made him an easy target for Richard and I.

We talked to him at Rockingham at the end of the season. We needed a driver and a sponsor. Bobby had a sponsor. Our regular driver, Charlie Glotzbach, didn’t. It wasn’t that we were trying to dump Charlie. Bobby had a sponsor and Charlie didn’t. It was that simple.

I felt the combination of Bobby and our Chevrolet was going to be hard to beat in 1972. Bobby was a cagey driver. When he could lead a race, he did. But more times I’d see him stalk someone else and just hunt him down, then go and pass him.

It was like whatever obstacle was in front of him, he’d do his best to get around it. When it came to winning I knew it was just a matter of time.

That came in the sixth race of the year, the Atlanta 500 on March 26. Bobby was third, seven seconds behind A.J. Foyt with 30 laps left. With five laps to go, Bobby passed Bobby Isaac for second place.

A lap later Bobby got around Foyt and went on to win by 0.16-second. It was the first victory for Chevrolet on a superspeedway since I won the National 500 at Charlotte on Oct. 13, 1963.

Needless to say, long-suffering Chevy fans went nuts. Even though Charlie had won a year before, this was the first Chevy victory as a regular NASCAR competitive model in 10 years.

I knew we’d win more races. What I didn’t know is if we would win the championship. To do that, we had to overcome a sizable obstacle: Richard Petty.

The championship he won in 1971 was the third of his career and most folks thought he’d win again in 1972.

I didn’t have to say a thing about Richard to Bobby. He knew the man he had to beat. I always thought that Bobby figured that red-and-blue car of Richard’s was the one thing that stood in his way and he really wanted to beat it. I never told him to back off.

Which Bobby certainly didn’t as the season came to a close with mostly short-track racing. Bobby and Richard staged some of the most vicious battles I’ve ever seen.

It started at Nashville on Aug. 27. Richard got black-flagged for ignoring the stop sign on pit road and lost by 10 cars lengths to Bobby. Richard was furious.

Two weeks later at Richmond, Bobby and Richard were the only contenders for the championship. Richard won despite the fact he slid sideways along the top of the guardrail, dropped off and bounced back onto the track.

We were at Martinsville two races later. Over the last 50 miles, Bobby and Richard just couldn’t stay off one another. Richard tried to pass once, hit the curb and whacked Bobby. When that happened, it knocked Bobby’s gas cap loose. He got the black flag from NASCAR. He ignored it. Good for him.

But in the closing laps Bobby sideswiped another car and cut a tire. That allowed Richard to pass for the win.

The final short-track race of the year was at North Wilkesboro on Oct. 1. Again, Bobby and Richard pounded each other.

They crashed together into the wall. They separated and durned if they didn’t do it again with just two laps remaining. Richard won by two car lengths.

Both their cars were smoking wrecks after the race and neither driver had a good thing to say about the other. They were mad and I can tell you a good many fans, of both drivers, were too.

I never got in the middle of it. I’ve seen two or three occasions where, I think, certain people were madder at the car than they were the driver and I think that’s the way it was with Bobby. He resented Richard’s car.

We lost three of those four short-track races and that didn’t help our cause. Richard won the title by 127.9 points.

We didn’t lose the title because of the short tracks. As far as I’m concerned there were many other reasons.

Bobby was a headstrong guy with his own opinions about car performance. Although I disagree to this day, he claimed there was a huge lack of communication between us.

I think Bobby had his own agenda, too. I suspected he was going to run his own team in 1973, or at least run for Ralph Moody once his lawsuit with John Holman was settled.

And I wondered about his commitment, especially after the Winston 500 in May. We burned an oil line early but got it fixed in plenty of time to go back out and earn a lot of points.

But we couldn’t find Bobby. He had left the track.

Hey, that’s all in the past. None of it matters now. What matters is that without Bobby in 1972, I don’t think Richard and I would have won 10 races and finished second in championship points.

Bobby helped make Chevy’s return to full-time NASCAR competition very successful.

And he went right on winning races in his own cars, and for other team owners, for many, many seasons after 1972.

Yep, I did, too, starting in 1973 when Cale Yarborough came on board.

That’s another story.

 

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