Despite Strong Daytona Run Jeff Burton, And Others, Need Much More

Jeff Gordon ran well at Daytona but, once again, was victimized by an accident which led to a 12th-place finish. Winless, Gordon knows he must "run the wheels off" his car to become eligible for the Chase.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark DeCotis is a veteran journalist who spent 37 years in the newspaper business before beginning a second career combining leisure and earning a living.

He covered 26 Daytona 500s, numerous Pepsi/Coke Zero 400s, Busch/Nationwide, Trucks, more than a few Rolex 24s at Daytona, season finales at Homestead, Kevin Harvick’s emotional first win at Atlanta, IndyCar, sports car, NHRA, motorcycle, ATV and power boat racing.

His favorite race car driver interviews of all time were with 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force).

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In essence racing is so yesterday – as in what you did yesterday really doesn’t matter today or tomorrow or a week from now.

Just ask Jeff Burton who, despite his second-place finish in Saturday night Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, realizes a new day has dawned and with it a whole new set of challenges.

“Well, momentum is created by running well,” said Burton, who is 18th in points with no victories and only two top-five finishes.

He called his season miserable and it’s hard to argue to the contrary.

“Momentum doesn’t create good runs, good runs create momentum,” the Richard Childress Racing Chevy driver added. “So we’ve got to go to New Hampshire and perform.

“I mean, running well and finishing well here tonight is great.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean a lot about how our cars are going to drive when we go to Michigan or somewhere. We’ve got to perform. If we perform, the momentum will get built.

Carl Edwards, also winless this season, finished sixth and was pleased with that, given how frustrating races at Daytona can be. Like Gordon, Edwards intends to race as hard as he can to win.

 

“Momentum is in my eyes is a highly over used word.  Success creates momentum, it’s not the other way around.”

Burton isn’t the only high-profile driver who is struggling in 2012. He can look around and see four-time champion Jeff Gordon also winless, 15 points ahead of him in 17th and all but out of contention for the final 10-race championship playoff.

Last year’s points runnerup Carl Edwards is winless and 11th in points, but fifth in the standings that determine the two “wildcard” entrants for the playoff.

Neither Gordon nor Edwards helped their cause on Saturday night, Edwards coming home sixth and Gordon 12th, because at this point in the season the only thing that matters for them is winning.

Gordon is well aware of the challenges that await his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy team.

“I’m just going to drive the wheels off of it every weekend,” he said. “I know we can win. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s the last two going into the Chase. It’s whatever it takes to get in.”

Ditto for Edwards, who made it clear last week that the pressure is on and his entire Roush Fenway Racing Ford team- driver included – had to step up.

“We dodged the wrecks and made it out unharmed, so we’ll go to the next one,” Edwards said. “I think the finishing position will be seventh or better and I would have taken that this morning if somebody would have offered it.

“Frustrating describes this whole type of event. It’s very difficult. It’s great when you’re out front, but any other spot you’re just really trying hard not to wreck and ruin your day or other people’s day, so it’s a tough race but I’m glad we finished OK.”

And while eight races remain before the playoff field is set following the Sept. 8 checkered flag at Richmond, each lap at this juncture is important and each subsequent circuit is vital.

It’s quickly becoming now or never, or win or go home, or whatever your favorite cliché might be. As the Rolling Stones lamented in “Ruby Tuesday,” “Yesterday don’t matter when it’s gone.”

Just ask Jeff Burton.

“It feels good tonight, it’ll feel good tomorrow, and then Monday it’ll be back to work,” he said. “It’s always good to have finishes, but we need to put a string of finishes together.  This sport will – just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you’ll realize how stupid you are and vice versa.

“It feels good to finish good here tonight, but my biggest concern is how we’re going to go to New Hampshire and run and how we’re going to use our off week to improve so we can go to Indy and run well and go to Michigan and run well. That’s my largest concern.”

Disappointing Coke Zero 400 Means More Work For NASCAR

Tony Stewart and his crew chief Steve Addington pose in victory lane after Stewart made a strong run in the closing laps to win the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. The win was Stewart's third of the season.

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Back to the drawing board NASCAR.

Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 was a disappointment. Following Friday night’s scintillating Nationwide Series 250-miler that had a far less than capacity crowd on its feet, the 400 lulled a closer to capacity crowd into complacency.

If it wasn’t for Tony Stewart scoring a popular, final-lap victory, this dreadful exercise in single-file driving in circles would rank with the all-time duds at usually exciting Daytona.

After all there were but two significant leaders by the halfway point at lap 80. Roush Fenway’s Matt Kenseth, who won the Daytona 500 in February, led the first 40 laps and his teammate Greg Biffle led 33. The monotony was only broken by the drama of putting gas into cars, changing tires and last-minute substitute Sam Hornish Jr. hitting the wall after cutting a tire on lap 81.

More on Hornish in a bit.

The brief interlude did little to improve the second half as the circle dance with Kenseth and Biffle leading and the others following in their footsteps droned on. In fact, Kenseth led 78 of the first 120 laps.

But he and Biffle were shuffled back and separated after a lap 123 wreck that they avoided by dashing down pit road. However they refused to be stymied by what allowed them to earlier dominate: the inability to pass.

They got to the front with eight laps to go before the race’s big wreck sent 14 cars spinning into the first turn and the race into its final two laps. That’s where Stewart prevailed thanks to a big push from Kasey Kahne and his subsequent surge down the backstretch.

Matt Kenseth won the pole for the Coke Zero 400 and dominated the race. But in the final laps he and teammate Greg Biffle were overtaken by a strong Stewart surge.

Kenseth led 89 of 160 laps but finished third.

“I’m happy to get third but yet on the other hand I’m incredibly disappointed because I feel my team kind of deserved to be down there holding the hardware and I kind of let them down,” Kenseth said.

That’s perfectly understandable.

Stewart led 22 laps for his fourth victory in the last eight Coke Zero 400s and his 18th at Daytona overall. This one was a little sweeter since he started in the rear after his car failed post-qualifying inspection.

The victory also was Stewart’s third of 2012 tying him with Brad Keselowski for the season lead.

“We’ve had really good luck at Daytona obviously,” Stewart said “It’s being in the right place at the right time. We got pretty fortunate to not have any of those close calls.”

The biggest drama for Stewart, aside from the victory, was his early race struggle to avoid going a lap down after losing the draft.

As for Hornish he was called at a TV studio in North Carolina at 6 p.m. after NASCAR announced that the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge’s regular driver, A.J. Allmendinger, was suspended for failing his random drug test a week ago at Kentucky.

Hornish was hustled to a plane and arrived at adjacent Daytona International Airport at 7:20 p.m. and at his car on pit road at 7:31. That was the only drama of the early evening until Kahne plowed his No. 5 Chevy into Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Chevy on pit road. Newman’s car then hit Keselowski’s No. 22 Penske Dodge.

Some nights are diamonds and some nights are rocks.

So despite the race ending – as usual at Daytona with a wreck as the field came to the checkered flag, this one involving 18 cars – what’s NASCAR to do?

Not much really as far as Daytona is concerned since Saturday night was the swan song for the current iteration of the Sprint Cup cars on the big track.

NASCAR will introduce new manufacturer-influenced body styles for Chevy, Dodge, Ford and Toyota for the 2013 season and hopefully they will allow their drivers to both go fast and pass.

Time will tell but they’ll have to go a long way to go out with the whimper the current car did on Saturday night.

Ricky Craven: On Career, Television And What Could Be Better For NASCAR

Ricky Craven (right) spent 11 years racing at NASCAR's top level. While today, many recognize him as a former driver, many more know him as a commentator/analyst for ESPN.


 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Craven knows racing.

The ESPN analyst drove for 11 seasons at NASCAR’s elite Cup level winning twice in 278 starts including his memorable by-a-whisker victory (.002 seconds) over Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003.

Craven also won four times in 142 starts in the then Busch Series and once in 26 starts in the then Craftsman Truck Series giving him victories in all three of NASCAR’s national touring series. He last raced in 2006.

Now dividing his time between North Carolina and his native Maine, Craven was at Daytona as part of ESPN’s coverage of Coke Zero 400 weekend. He took time out to sit down for a question-and-answer session with motorsportsunplugged.com.

Question: Aside from TV what else are you up to these days?

Craven: I have a few things going on, I keep pretty busy. Most of all I’d say my life is dominated by my three kids. I gave a lot up, in that regard, to racing. I don’t miss a baseball event; I try not to miss many of the kids’ events.

Riley (20), my oldest daughter is at (University of North Carolina) Chapel Hill; Richard (15), we call him “Ev,” Everett is his middle name, he’s a sophomore (in high school); Lydia (7) is in the midst of taking over the world right now.

Q: So you’re earning paychecks through TV. Do you have any business ventures?

A: I have real estate. I kind of manage my own investments. Always have. Always enjoyed it. I’m always dabbling in something. TV keeps me pretty busy.

Q: Did you ever think you would end up with a TV career because you seem so natural at it?

A: I appreciate you saying that. I do work at it. I’m certainly not natural. I enjoy it. I’m challenged by it. I don’t know as I would have ruled it out. My life was dominated by driving a race car from the time I was 15 until I was 40.

Easily the most dramatic victory Craven (32) ever achieved was his win over Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003. The finish has gone down in NASCAR history as one of the closest ever.

When I reached 35 I felt like I had four years left. As it turned out that was about right. If I felt like I lost anything in terms of passion or ability then I wouldn’t cheat the system, cheat my team, sponsors. That was really the case.

The tank was empty. The tank was empty when I retired. I took a year off. I did nothing, which seemed like the right thing to do. I went to Moosehead with my kids and I spent the summer there and it was a fabulous summer.

Around September I woke up and I was like . . . so fortunately I got a call, first with Yahoo! Sports . . . and then I got a call . . . from ESPN and I’ve really gone after it. I just really like it. I really enjoy what I do.

Q: What’s it like to work with Rusty (Wallace)?

A: I told Rusty and I’ll tell you, I’ll tell the world. When I raced against Rusty I didn’t know him that well. I knew the driver and I respected the driver because he was a hell of a driver. He was very intense, extremely intense. What I discovered working with him at ESPN is that he’s a hell of a nice guy. Just salt of the earth.

Rusty would give you the shirt off his back. That’s really been enjoyable. I feel the same way about Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree, Ray Evernham. Honestly is part of why I love what I do. I love the camaraderie. I missed it more than I realized when I stopped racing. I’ve got it back to a certain degree.

I like the culture at ESPN. Rusty, he’s very detailed oriented. He actually approaches TV the same way he did racing. He doesn’t want to miss a detail.

Q: Are you recognized now as Ricky Craven the driver or Ricky Craven the TV guy?

A: I really don’t know. It’s funny because when I was driving it was difficult, particularly in New England, to go out to dinner or something without being acknowledged or recognized. I think that most people from New England, Maine in particular, recognize me as the driver and always will.

But I think perhaps the majority of the world lives in now, real time and that would be the TV guy. I understand that.

Q: What you experience when you think back to that Darlington finish?

A: I have a lot more fun with it now than I did then. Then I had six days; seven days and I had to race again. When I think back to it, at the time it was all about winning at Darlington. If you’re an athlete it’s like winning at Augusta or perhaps or winning at Wimbledon. There are certain places that are important to you and certain places that are special.

Winning at Darlington was sort of validating to me because that’s a tough, tough place. It will chew you up. Since I’ve appreciated the experience. Before Darlington if I would go somewhere and meet people that I had never met and they recognized me it would be about Talladega and the big wreck (1996 Winston Select 500), “How did you survive that?” And almost instantaneously when I won that race it’s like nobody remembers Talladega and everybody wants to talk about that finish.

So that’s kind of a blessing because I got tired of talking about that wreck.

Q: What is the one thing fans might not appreciate about NASCAR?

A: There’s certainly more than one thing. I think everyone goes through life and there’s a certain responsibility that goes with that and if you have children there’s a certain responsibility that goes with that.

That’s what I see with this sport. There’s a certainly responsibility that goes with all this and that responsibility has become enormous. That’s something that has dominated me in the last five years is just thinking about what it was like when I first met Bill France Jr. How respectful he was and how he treated me and how he treated everyone. He gave everyone the same time.

I look at how big it has become and how difficult it is, I would think, to manage all this. Even from a team’s perspective it’s much different today than it was when I raced. This whole thing is such a big, big, big object and it’s moving every week from place to place to place.

Behind the scenes, sort of the world we live in, you see all this and you’re like “this is really amazing.”

Q: If you were in charge of NASCAR for one day what would you change?

A: I’d let everyone in free for the day. No, I don’t think you could change anything in one day that could be effective because of what I just said. If you changed the question a little bit and you say, “If you could change something about the sport what would it be?” I would like to see the personality of the drivers be a little more – what’s that perfect word? –  authentic.

There’s so much responsibility for a driver now in terms of image. I think the last few months Kurt Busch went too far the wrong way. But I think a percentage of Kurt Busch is healthy because what you see is what you get. From the seat I have today I like that. I gave no consideration to that when I was driving.

When I was competing against Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. I remember my rookie year he was lapping me at Dover, I moved up two lanes. It was like he’s the leader and I’m a rookie. I’ll give him a ton of room. I’ll be a son of a gun if he still didn’t hit me and wreck me.

The next week I saw him . . . I was kind of stewing about it all week long and I said, “Gosh Dale I gave you ton of room. You flat ran over me, ruined that race car.” He’s like, “Let me tell you something son.” He talked for about 30 seconds. He walked away. As he’s walking away I was like “I think I just apologized to him.” I was trying to convince him he did something wrong and he walked away thinking he did me a favor.

That’s the character he had. That was authentic. That’s he went about his business. “Intimidator” might be a stretch. Nobody pulled over for him. But he was an authority.

If there was the one thing I would to see, I would like to see a little more personality because I know that there are drivers out there. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and contradict myself. I was hard on Kyle Busch when he wrecked Ron Hornaday last fall (in Camping World Truck Series). Kyle Busch went to Double AA baseball on that particular night and took out a guy that was running for a championship. That made no sense to me.

When I’m talking about personality, a guy takes another guy out of a position to finish in the top five. Victimized guy should go over and stick his finger in the other’s chest and say, “It won’t happen again.” I like that personality.

Victory In Exciting Daytona Nationwide Race Is Redemption For Kurt Busch

The Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway was exciting and had its share of wrecks due to pack racing. Kurt Bush (No. 1) escaped this one and others to win the race.

(Editor’s Note: Mark DeCotis is a veteran journalist who spent 37 years in the newspaper business before beginning a second career combining leisure and earning a living.

He covered 26 Daytona 500s, numerous Pepsi/Coke Zero 400s, Busch/Nationwide, Trucks, more than a few Rolex 24s at Daytona, season finales at Homestead, Kevin Harvick’s emotional first win at Atlanta, IndyCar, sports car, NHRA, motorcycle, ATV and power boat racing.

His favorite race car driver interviews of all time were with 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force).

 

DAYTONA BEACH. Fla. – After more than half the field wrecked in six separate incidents in Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona, Kurt Busch played the role of survivor and won the Subway Jalapeno 250 in overtime.

He managed to get through two big wrecks including the startling one in which pre-race favorite Danica Patrick walloped the inside retaining wall off Turn 2 with such ferocity that it drove the steering column in her JR Motorsports Chevy nearly to the roof.

The lap 83 wreck was unnervingly similar to the one Patrick was involved in coming off Turn 2 during practice for February’s Daytona 500. Fortunately for her, her team and the sport she walked away.

When the smoke and sparks finally dissipated Busch found himself in victory lane in a car damaged in one of the earlier wrecks. His smoky burnout capped a wild and entertaining evening which at times saw the field running four-wide on Daytona’s narrow racing surface and, not surprisingly, ended in a wreck involving Austin Dillon and others as the field came to the checkered flag.

At least 25 of the 43 cars were damaged in wrecks and24 of the 101 laps were run under caution. But the race did set a track record for lead changes with 42 involving 16 drivers.

Danica Patrick qualified and ran well in the race and might have had an excellent shot at victory had not she been involved in one of the race's multi-car crashes.

Unfortunately the attendance was sparse by Daytona standards. And those who stayed home missed a show that left Kurt Busch emotionally spent in victory lane – and his brother Kyle steaming in his wrecked car that he skidded to a stop just yards away while heading the wrong way on pit road following the finish.

If NASCAR was planning to penalize the sport’s premier pouter for the bonehead move was not immediately determined.

All that didn’t faze Kurt Busch.

“We just won at Daytona,” he exulted. “I’m hoarse because I’ve been screaming so loud. This is awesome.”

The victory marks a step toward redemption for the volatile Busch. He was suspended from his James Finch-owned ride in the Sprint Cup Series in June after a run-in with a reporter that followed his being put on probation after a run in with driver Ryan Newman and Newman’s team at Darlington.

He was retained after the Finch team voted to keep him in the driver’s seat and hopefully the victory was his first payment on the debt he owes.

“I’ve got only a couple of things to give and that’s heart and that’s passion,” Busch said.

Surely Finch will accept his driver’s effort and the first-place check that can only help his underfunded and understaffed operation.

While the riveting action up front kept the crowd on its feet, Dillon came from the back after his Richard Childress Racing Chevy failed post-qualifying inspection that negated his pole-winning run.

He eventually led and finished fourth sliding sideways across the finish line. It continued a wild two weeks that saw he and his team penalized for a failing post-race inspection following his first career victory at Kentucky.

“I never got really worried about getting to the front, I thought we had a car capable of getting there,” Dillon said.

As for the penalties: “We made another mistake that’s two in a row,” Dillon said. “My grandfather (Childress) is upset with the guys. It’s like ‘Man, we’ve got to stop doing that. We’ve got to be on our game.’ ”

Kurt Busch was surely on his game in winning for the fifth time in 23 career Nationwide starts and for the second time this season, the first for Finch. He won at Richmond in a Kyle Busch Motorsports car.

“It means more to me but it means more to these guys,” Busch said of his team. “I’m happy we were able to deliver. I couldn’t be more proud of this team effort tonight.

“We didn’t give up. It’s not vindication. You want to win for James Finch.”

As for his up and down career that has seen him lose Cup rides at Roush Racing and Penske Racing due to his mercurial nature, and whether the victory could put him on the right path, Busch maintained Friday night was not about him.

“When you win for James Finch in just a few starts in the Nationwide Series for these guys that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I don’t care about me right now.”

 

Brian France: No Gimmicks But New Rules, Policies Will Come To Please Fans

NASCAR CEO Brian France admitted on Friday that he was very pleased to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. having a good season. He admitted that if Earnhardt Jr. is successful, that is very good for NASCAR.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark DeCotis is a veteran journalist who spent 37 years in the newspaper business before beginning a second career combining leisure and earning a living.

 He covered 26 Daytona 500s, numerous Pepsi/Coke Zero 400s, Busch/Nationwide, Trucks, more than a few Rolex 24s at Daytona, season finales at Homestead, Kevin Harvick’s emotional first win at Atlanta, IndyCar, sports car, NHRA, motorcycle, ATV and power boat racing.

His favorite race car driver interviews of all time were with 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force).

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France drew a very straight line in the sand – after all that’s where the sport’s rules have been written since its inception – when it came to improving things on track.

Speaking to reporters at Daytona on Friday France outrightly dismissed any notions of the sport adding any artificial ingredients to the porridge that is NASCAR’s racing product – his word not ours.

“It’s a very clear line to us,” France said. “What we’re not going to do are gimmicky things. I’ve heard we ought to throw a caution every 10 laps. That’s nonsense.

“We won’t do gimmicky things. But we’ll do things that incentivize performance, incentivize wins. That we are open to.  The wildcard does that. It does it in an authentic way. Anything that gets something better on the track and doesn’t employ a gimmick, we’d be reasonably open to.”

France said that NASCAR has to help find ways to satisfy fans better when it comes to television coverage. Many ideas will likely be discussed before the TV contracts expire in 2014.

That’s encouraging from a sport that has already given us cars getting a lap back for free – otherwise known as the “lucky dog” sans Michael Waltrip’s ubiquitous sponsor plug – and the overtime rule otherwise known as the green-white-checkered finish.

Overall France believes things are trending in the right direction especially since the sport’s crown prince Dale Earnhardt Jr. – a driver the boss has said is vital to NASCAR’s overall health – is having a good year with a victory and a second-place spot in the points.

In fact France was so eager to inject Earnhardt into the proceedings that it took him all of 37 seconds to mention him.

Keep up the good work Dale, Brian is turning his lonely eyes to you.

France also has his eyes focused on the future and the sport’s goal of providing “the most competitive and close competition as we possibly can.”

To achieve that goal France knows the sport has to continue to please its fans – among the most knowledgeable, demanding and yet self-entitled in all sports – both at the track and on TV, which is where the majority of its adherents get their fix, his word not ours.

With negotiations on renewing the TV contracts that expire at the end of 2014 reaching what France called the serious stage, NASCAR has a unique opportunity to blunt the rising tide of criticism of its product and its presentation from a glut of commercials to a dearth of live action – not to mention overly centric attention on certain drivers.

To accomplish that France promises an approach more focused on science than art. But he also stated no matter what new rules are put in place they like, the countless others that have been written over the years, will be authored in the shifting sands of Daytona Beach.

“Even when we get them where we want them, they’re going to change,” he said. “That’s just the nature of this business.”

That’s what has allowed NASCAR to become the behemoth it is. But the road ahead is fraught with challenges and the sport cannot traverse that road alone. It must bring along its fans, its teams and its partners – France’s word, not ours.

And NASCAR and its partners must enlist the best and brightest minds in their respective businesses to ensure the sport remains on course with the ultimate goal being the best show the fans’ money can buy, all gimmicks aside.

 

Annett, Dillon – Nationwide Kids Emerging From Shadow Of Greatness

Austin Dillon, grandson of team owner Richard Childress, drives the iconic No. 3 car in the Nationwide Series and has become a winner this year. He's a past truck series champion.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark DeCotis is a veteran journalist who spent 37 years in the newspaper business before beginning a second career combining leisure and earning a living. 

He covered 26 Daytona 500s, numerous Pepsi/Coke Zero 400s, Busch/Nationwide, Trucks, more than a few Rolex 24s at Daytona, season finales at Homestead, Kevin Harvick’s emotional first win at Atlanta, IndyCar, sports car, NHRA, motorcycle, ATV and power boat racing.

His favorite race car driver interviews of all time were with 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force).

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They sat erect and alert at the podium, their squared shoulders and “I’ve done this before” demeanor bearing up to the pressures born of the prestige of their car numbers and their car owners.

NASCAR Nationwide drivers – in alphabetical order since putting one before the other in any other measure would be unfair given any number of parameters – Michael Annett and Austin Dillon met with reporters at Daytona on Thursday.

It didn’t take long for the inquisition to arrive at the expectations inherent in their respective rides – Annett in the No. 43 raised to the stratosphere of NASCAR lore by now 75-year-old Richard Petty and Dillon in the No. 3, elevated beyond any mortal reckoning since it belonged the sport’s patron saint Dale Earnhardt.

From all outward appearances Annett and Dillon are handling things quite well.

Dillon, the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion won his first Nationwide race last Friday night and is second in points in the car owned by his grandfather Richard Childress – we’ll get to that dynamic later – who also was Earnhardt’s boss when the driver ran roughshod through the sport, winning seven championships at NASCAR’s elite level.

Only one other driver in NASCAR history has won seven championships – that being Petty – so the pairing as the speedway kicked off its annual mid-summer three-day show was not purely coincidental.

Michael Annett is a Nationwide driver, who, like Dillon, competes for a storied NASCAR competitor - Richard Petty. Both he and Dillon are now racing amid the shadows of greatness.

It was revealing and a bit of a throwback to racing’s earlier, and some would say better, days right down to the cowboy hat – courtesy of Charlie 1 Horse, the same company that supplies Petty’s iconic lids – worn by Dillon.

Although Dillon, 22, maintained it was more of a matter of he and his younger brother, 2011 ARCA series champion Ty Dillon – who has a full-time ride in the truck series in, yes, the No. 3 – just being boys, the fact that a high-profile NASCAR driver was appearing publicly without a sponsor’s logo adorning his head cover caught a few eyes.

For his part Annett, 26, had a career-best fourth-place finish at Kentucky and is seventh in points. While his future might not be as secure as Dillon’s, given the parade of drivers who have passed through the revolving door of Petty’s Cup operation and that his grandfather is not his boss, he maintained Petty made him feel “like you’re his kid or his grandkid.”

Stepping back, that is cause for a pause given that Petty lost his grandson Adam Petty in an accident at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000, a void that will never, ever be filled.

To that end it was only natural to inquire of Dillon of how Childress managed the relationship of grandfather to grandson.

He answered from the heart, with humor.

“It’s pretty interesting if you listen to a radio conversation between my grandfather, my dad, myself, crew chief,” he said.

“It seems like it takes a win or running good to get them off the radio. Anytime I start slipping back or something goes wrong I hear more and more. So I do whatever I can to stay up front so I don’t have to hear from them.

“My grandfather, he does a good job of balancing that. He steps in when he sees something that could be going wrong and that’s when he kind of becomes the leader that he is.”

So, while praising his grandfather, Dillon also didn’t pass up a chance to give him a dig either, saying the reason Childress didn’t wear a cowboy hat like Petty, Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and others from the rough and tumble era was that Childress had “pretty hair.”

That’s not the kind of remark one would expect to emanate from the more reserved Annett who naturally is still getting comfortable with Petty. But in the end it comes down to young kids hoping to emerge from shadows cast by giants.

And so far, so good.

Drivers To Bruton: Forget The Mandatory Cautions Idea, Already

Bruton Smith, the successful promoter known for his sometimes outlandish ideas, has suggested mandatory caution periods might help improve the quality of racing and make it more exciting for the fans.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark DeCotis is a veteran journalist who spent 37 years in the newspaper business before beginning a second career combining leisure and earning a living.

He covered 26 Daytona 500s, numerous Pepsi/Coke Zero 400s, Busch/Nationwide, Trucks, more than a few Rolex 24s at Daytona, season finales at Homestead, Kevin Harvick’s emotional first win at Atlanta, IndyCar, sports car, NHRA, motorcycle, ATV and power boat racing.

His favorite race car driver interviews of all time were with 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force).

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Bruton Smith, the at times bombastic chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. is a man accustomed to getting what he wants.

But his latest proposal – introducing mandatory cautions into NASCAR Sprint Cup races to enliven what he and some others obviously believe are boring shows – didn’t go over too well at Daytona on Thursday.

Drivers Kevin Harvick, defending Daytona champion Matt Kenseth, four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards flatly rejected the idea. Kenseth, Gordon and Edwards used diplomacy.

Kevin Harvick is one of several drivers who reject Smith's suggestion for mandatory cautions. Harvick, known as a man not to mince words, chastised Smith as the man who ''ruined" Bristol.

Harvick didn’t.

“Same guy that ruined Bristol,” Harvick, known for his bluntness, said in rebuffing Smith.

That’s all he initially said and needed to say.

Pressed later to elaborate Harvick wasn’t much more expansive but he certainly was expressive.

“Originally it was great,” he said about Bristol. “It was our most popular race. ”

Kenseth initially tried to dodge the issue saying he hadn’t heard Smith’s proposal, adding “I don’t know that I have much of a good comment on that.”

He too was pressed for a more in-depth answer and thus dismissed Smith’s idea for mandatory cautions with a long, true to his careful nature in interviews, non-controversial reply.

His most salient point: “No, I don’t think we need that.”

For his part Gordon injected a bit of humor and a dig at Smith.

“If we really wanted to go in that direction, let’s go to heat races,” he said. “Invert the field and the feature and have a 50- or 100-lap shootout. Bruton is not going to vote for that because it’s not a long enough day.”

But, surprisingly, Gordon did not fully reject the idea of TV timeouts. As part of his proposal, Smith suggested a halftime to break things up and get the field back together for restarts where mayhem always lurks.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t have some TV time outs,” Gordon said. “I’d rather have that than some mysterious debris caution to be honest.

“If you are going to do it obviously it’s got to be something that is planned in advance and you know going into it. I’m not totally against it, but I’m also more leaning toward just let the race play out the way it’s supposed to.”

What a novel concept.

Even Edwards acknowledged he hadn’t been aware of Smith’s proposal. Once it was explained to him he sent it packing with a novel comparison.

After saying he has never been a race promoter and doesn’t understand how ticket sales go, he drove right into his point.

“From a competitive standpoint, auto racing is auto racing, that’s what it is,” he said. “To me if you start affecting the competition like that, that is analogous to stopping a basketball game if the score gets too far apart and putting the score back even.

“If you let these races play out naturally and you let the racing be racing sometimes there’s some wild things that happen.”

Anyone who witnessed February’s Daytona 500 can attest to that.

To that end Bruton should let the sleeping, albeit sometimes flea-ridden, dog lie.

Hopefully NASCAR is of the same mind.

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