To Be Sure, Talladega Race Lived Up To Its Billing

Clint Bowyer won for the first time this season in a typical, unpredictable Talladega race. The win was especially rewarding for Bowyer, whose six-season tenure with Richard Childress Racing comes to an end after this season. Bowyer presented Childress with his 100th victory as a team owner.

The Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the sixth race in the 10-event Chase, was characterized as the “wild card” event of the “playoffs.”

That’s because of the typical unpredictability of the race. With high speeds and two-car “dance partner” drafting that is a part of the 2.66-mile Talladega track and its sister, Daytona, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint what is going to happen – much less an outcome.

Championship contenders could have poor finishes, or fall by the wayside, for many reasons – all related to the complexities of restrictor-plate racing. A driver in the lead on the last lap could very well find himself outside the top 10 by the time he got to the finish line. An unheralded, even unknown, competitor could find the means to win – consider young Trevor Bayne, who took the victory in the Daytona 500.

The Good Sam Club 500 lived up to its billing. It was indeed a “wild card” race.

The winner was certainly not unheralded or unknown. But he was unexpected. It’s very likely few, in any, predicted he would triumph at Talladega.

But that’s exactly what Clint Bowyer did. He won for the first time this season – his last victory came in this race in 2010 – he became the first Chase non-qualifier to win in the “playoff.” He earned the distinction of providing the 100th Cup series victory for Richard Childress Racing.

Ironically, it came five races before Bowyer’s tenure with Childress comes to an end. Largely because of a lack of sponsorship, Bowyer will move over to Michael Waltrip Racing next season and RCR may well be reduced from four teams to three.

As for the Chase contenders, overall, they fared worse at Talladega than in any other race since the title hunt began at Chicagoland on Sept. 19.

Only three of them finished among the top 10. Two placed 11th-20th and a whopping seven were 25th or worse.

Replacing them at the head of the pack were such drivers as Jeff Burton (second), Dave Blaney (third, his best finish of the season), Brian Vickers (5th), Kasey Kahne (6th), Waltrip (9th) and Martin Truex Jr. (10th).

Really, now, who could have predicted that?

And who could have predicted that the Chase leaders, those drivers atop the standings when the Talladega event began, would experience mediocre to dismal results?

Carl Edwards, No. 1 in the standings, finished 11th, his first run outside the top 10 since the Chase began. Kevin Harvick, who was hot on Edwards’ heels prior to the race, experienced on-track misfortune and wound up 32nd. Matt Kenseth, third when the green flag fell, could do no better than 18th.

Resurgence for Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch came to an end as they saw momentum die with finishes of 26th and 33rd, respectively.

For all of that, Edwards not only retains his lead in the point standings, he now has largest margin in the first six races of the Chase – largely because he finished ahead of all but two of his rivals.

Edwards now has a 14-point margin over the new runnerup, Kenseth. He’s 18 points ahead of Brad Keselowski, who ran fourth at Talladega, and 19 over Tony Stewart, who finished seventh and was a victory contender for a large portion of the race.

Harvick came into Talladega No. 2 in points, just five behind Edwards with steady Chase performances. But he was involved in a multicar accident after 107 of 188 laps and was forced to report to the garage area for repairs, including a broken oil line. He finished nine laps down and is now fifth in points, 26 in arrears.

Kyle Busch, 33rd at Talladega after his involvement in a multicar wreck, is presently sixth in points, 40 behind Edwards. Johnson’s bid to win a sixth consecutive title took a serious hit with his 26th-place finish, which puts him seventh in points and 50 out of the lead. Kurt Busch wound up 36th at Talladega, also the victim of a wreck, and he’s eighth in points, 52 down.

The remainder of the top 12 in points has, for the most part, been removed from championship consideration. They are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman.

“I don’t know that I have ever been so excited about 11th place,” said a relieved Edwards. “This race was one that was nerve-racking for everyone but we came in here with a small points lead and so it was a huge day for us.

“I cannot believe how much Greg (Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing teammate) helped us today. I owe him a lot. Greg stuck with me all day. On the last lap he was driving my car from back there. It is good to get a good finish and even though it is not a win, it is a big battle in the war and a huge day for us.”

Edwards wisely added that although he’s boosted his points lead, competitively, he couldn’t let up.

“We’d have to have a 100-point lead to take a breath,” he said. “Anything can happen. I’m proud of our team, where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come in the last 18 months. We’re doing well.

“But I’m a little nervous about Matt, honestly, because I know how good he is and how good his team is. Having him in second doesn’t make me breathe easier, competitive-wise.”

Despite Edwards’ surge in the Chase, the most compelling Talladega tale was Bowyer’s victory.

The Emporia, Kan., native, who has spent all of his six full Sprint Cup seasons with Childress, finished among the top 10 in points in three of the last four seasons.

But he was 14th when the Chase began this year. And as the season wound down, it became clear that all attempts to secure a sponsorship package that would allow him to remain with Childress were going to fail.

Some lame duck drivers waddle toward the end of a season. Bowyer has clearly not done that.

To win at Talladega, Bowyer hooked up in the draft behind leader and teammate Burton when the race restarted from its ninth, and final, caution period with just two laps to go.

The two were well ahead of the pack when Bowyer made his move, pulling to the inside of Burton on the last lap. Burton retaliated, the two bumped, but Bowyer held on to win by a half-car length in yet another Talladega race decided by a last-lap pass.

“Trust me, I was prepared to push Jeff to the win no matter what the cost was if we would have had people breathing down or necks,” Bowyer said. “It just wasn’t meant to be for him. He’s been a great teammate and I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s already won a lot of races. I think he’s won like 20 or so. I’ve only won five.

“You owe it to your team and to your sponsors to go out and win the race.”

Bowyer quickly admitted he wanted to win to reward the efforts of his team and to indicate he wasn’t going to be the typical lame duck.

“It’s just so important to me to be able to cap off such a good relationship with Richard,” he said. “Everybody at RCR, it’s like family over there. It meant a lot for me to be able to win before we end this deal.

“The stars were lined up today with having the hundredth anniversary of Chevrolet on my race car. If I won the race, it was going to be Richard’s hundredth win.

“I’m excited that it was.”

 

Menard’s Indy Victory Adds To Season’s Competitiveness

The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has established itself as one of the most unique in many years for a couple of reasons:

It has provided a decidedly unexpected high number of surprising, first-time winners. In so doing it has suggested that, perhaps, competition on the circuit has reached a level of equality it hasn’t had in years – or, as some might argue, ever.

When Paul Menard won the Brickyard 400 (the sports books took a beating), he not only won for the first time in the 167 races of his career, he also became the fourth inaugural victor of the season and the 14th different winner in 20 races.

This year’s first-time winners include Trevor Bayne in the Daytona 500, Regan Smith in the Southern 500, David Ragan in Daytona’s Coke Zero 400 at now Menard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Have you noticed that these guys have not only won races, they have also been victorious in some of NASCAR’s biggest and most prestigious events?

Which, by the way, is something absolutely no one could have predicted. That adds to the season’s singularity and, to be honest, it’s made things entertaining for everyone. Most of us like surprises.

The record for most winners in a single season was tied at 19 in 2001, during which 36 races were run, the same amount for 2011.

Logic dictates that the odds are good the record will be broken given that there are 16 races yet to be run. The current season is not much past halfway over.

Unless the trend that has been established so far is disrupted we can anticipate more winners – and the odds are good none will be that much of a surprise.

After all, there are those who have won multiple times in their careers, some of whom have won championships, and yet haven’t been victorious this year.

They include Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton, Jamie MacMurray and others. Would anyone be truly surprised if any, or all, of them had won by now?

The point is they still have plenty of time to do so and increase the number of different winners.

Even if this season’s doesn’t provide a record it has, for some observers, indicated NASCAR is presently enjoying something for which it always sought – equal competition; the ability for virtually any driver to win a race.

Today that appears to be more truth than hype. The numbers prove it.

While this is certainly not the only reason for this, it assuredly is a major one: The so-called new car, its technology and accompanying NASCAR legislation, have been established to the point where dominance by one team over all others is unlikely.

Several crew chiefs have expressed this opinion. They have said that it might have taken a while, but the majority of teams now understand the nuances of the car. NASCAR’s cessation of repeated rule changes has helped.

Given that the car is singular, with just minor differences among manufacturers’ models (front ends and engine packages come to mind), and the same sternly enforced rules apply across the board, crew chiefs say there’s only so much teams can do.

They can push the envelope as much as they dare but creativity is long gone. NASCAR’s punishments have assured that.

If a team can utilize creativity only to a certain point it often cannot gain a sizable advantage over another. That, many suggest, is what we have now.

Make no mistake. Equal competition does not mean teams are now equal per se. That’s not the case by any means.

There are still the haves and have-nots, separated by sponsorship money and the equipment and in-shop talent, among many other things, it brings.

But it does suggest that this season is more equally competitive than others passed.

Bayne won with a part-time team that relies on assistance from a major organization. Smith was victorious (and has done well for a good part of the season) with a one-car outfit that is based in Denver, Colo.

Were either considered likely candidates for victory? Hardly.

Ragan is indeed part of a NASCAR powerhouse organization but, let’s face it, he was considered the weak link in a chain of formidable, winning competitors.

It’s the same thing for Menard. Funny thing, but both drivers have won while some of their teammates have not.

Again, this is not to suggest the car, and all that comes with it, is the only reason for this. Give credit where it’s due. Ragan and Menard have proven they have the talent to make the most of what they have.

In years past many drivers never had such an opportunity. A handful of teams with major sponsorship – and sometimes a sizable disparity among car models – allowed them to dominate others.

This was particularly true during the 1970s, the first full decade of NASCAR’s modern era. The number of different winners over those 10 years never reached double digits.

Hard as it may be to believe there were only five different winners in 1975.

That’s because you could count the number of teams expected to win on one hand. Equality never approached existence.

That began to change in the ‘80s when new, ambitious owners with sponsorship entered NASCAR. It carried through the following decade. There were multiple seasons with anywhere from 11-14 different winners.

Today it has risen to a new level. That is, certainly for NASCAR, a good thing.

 

** I’ve heard it said over the years that the only reason Menard has established a NASCAR career is that he can always bring major sponsorship via his father John.

His dad, incidentally, has been an integral part of motorsports for decades and his rewards, at least those publicized, haven’t been many. He spent 35 years competing at Indy before his son, appropriately, brought him the laurels.

It is true he’s had the financial means to support his son – and gain exposure for the family business over the years – and what, pray tell, is wrong with that?

It’s been long established in motorsports that fathers who have been a part of it in some form nearly always nurture the sons who follow them. They have done so by whatever means available to them.

These fathers have had names like Petty, Allison, Earnhardt, Andretti, Keselowski, Menard, Ragan – and far too many others to mention here.

Their reward has been to see their progeny succeed.

If you saw John Menard’s reaction to his son’s victory, you know it is a great reward, indeed.

 

** Menard’s victory means that he’s presently in the No. 2 position to earn one of the two “wildcard” entries into the Chase.

The top 10 will make it along with two drivers who have won the most races and still rank between 11th and 20th in points after Richmond, six races from now.

Denny Hamlin, who fell a position to 11th after his 27th-place run at Indy, has a victory.

Menard is 14th in points and, of course, has a victory. Ragan, once the only victorious driver among the top 20, is now 16th in points, just seven behind Menard and 41 in arrears to Hamlin.

Meanwhile, Tony Stewart, who had his good moments at Indy, rose from a tie for 10th with Hamlin to ninth in points.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also ran well at Indy for a time, finished 16th – his sixth consecutive finish out of the top 10 – and is now on the fence at 10th in points.

With time passing away some drivers clearly have work to do. Gotta admit it will be interesting to see how it all evolves.

Swapgate: Parrott, Berrier, Erwin, Pattie


With the brief summer break for Sprint Cup the crew chiefs of several high profile teams were replaced. Why? To take a big swing at the fence in order to make the chase or win a race. Todd Parrott, Brian Pattie, Greg Erwin and Todd Berrier all were replaced.

Richmond: Thoughts On Busch, Montoya, Newman And A Bit More

A few random thoughts after the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway:

** The 2011 Sprint Cup season is one-quarter over and, while it’s still too early to draw any real conclusions, some drivers whom we thought would be in the championship hunt, and aren’t, now have more pressure on them.

Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Burton, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray are some of the drivers who figured to rank among the top 10 by now, and thus Chase eligible, in many pre-season reports.

However, at present, Biffle ranks 14th in points and the others are 17th and beyond. It’s especially surprising to see Hamlin at 17th, given that he was considered the man who could potentially bring Jimmie Johnson’s string of five consecutive championships to an end.

A couple of tasks face these drivers. First, they have to start piling up decent finishes, and somewhat quickly. That, obviously, could lead to a rise in the point standings.

It can be done. Clint Bowyer provides ample proof of that. At Richmond, where he finished sixth, the Richard Childress Racing driver posted his fifth consecutive top-10 of the season. He has gained 17 positions in points in the last five races. He’s presently seventh in the standings.

But, while it can be done, what Bowyer has achieved isn’t routine in NASCAR. It’s the exception, not the rule.

Consequently, the aforementioned drivers, who will certainly do their utmost to match or better what Bowyer has done, can’t rely it alone.

That brings up an alternate strategy – which is to win.

With its revamped requirements for the Chase this year, the top 10 in points are eligible after 26 races. Also in the field are “wildcard” entries consisting of the two drivers ranked among the top 20 who have won the most races.

So if the mentioned drivers, not all of whom currently rank in the top 20, by the way, and several others not in the top 10 can win a race, that adds a measure of insurance.

Jeff Gordon, who is 16th in points, is the only driver outside the top 10 in points who has a victory (yes, Trevor Bayne is another but he is not eligible for the Cup championship). So at the moment, Gordon has an advantage.

Several others would, at the least, like to match it.

But if putting together a series of high finishes is an exception and not the norm in NASCAR, what do you think winning is?

As said, it’s early in the year and there’s time for any number of scenarios to play out.

What could prove to be a very exciting one for fans is for a few drivers, desperate to make the Chase as its start looms, throw strategy and caution to the wind and make an all-out lunge for victory.

It could happen. No, make that it will happen.

 

** Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch demands respect as a race driver.

His Richmond victory was the 21st of his young Cup career. He ranks third in NASCAR to achieve that many wins by the age of 26, behind Jeff Gordon (26) and Richard Petty (22).

That Busch won should not have been all that surprising. He now has won Richmond’s spring race three consecutive times, which ties him with Petty. Hamlin has won the other two races at RIR in the last three years, which gives Joe Gibbs Racing five straight victories at the 0.75-mile track – and eight overall.

Hamlin, incidentally, was the runnerup in the Crown Royal 400 and he dominated the Nationwide Series race on the previous night.

It’s not likely that Busch will ever be NASCAR’s most popular driver – but you never know. Wiseguy Darrell Waltrip was once, like Busch, called a jerk. But he was the fans’ choice twice in his career.

You don’t have to like Busch. But I think his talent should always be recognized, even if grudgingly.

** The incidents between Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman were not atypical of short-track racing.

First, Newman rubbed Montoya and sent him into the wall. Then, later in the race, Montoya did the same thing. Happens all the time.

The only difference was that while few chose to call Newman’s actions deliberate, there was little doubt about Montoya’s.

NASCAR warned both drivers about bad behavior and even told Montoya that if he got near Newman, his car would be ordered to its hauler.

Many media members felt the issue would spill over into the garage area, especially since the haulers of Montoya and Newman were parked almost alongside each other.

After the race there could be some good chin-to-chin action – or more. Hey, it’s happened.

Instead Montoya left the track without comment – a good move on his part. Newman went to the NASCAR hauler. He told the media he was going to ask the sanctioning body what it was going to do about all that happened.

In my opinion, that was another good move. If he did what he said he was going to do, Newman effectively put the ball into NASCAR’s court; for it to tell him, and all of us, how it is going to rule on the issue.

Had Newman and Montoya gotten into a scrap in the garage, NASCAR would have come down hard on both of them.

Had their entanglements on the track involved other cars, believe me, NASCAR would have acted swiftly.

As it is, it appears Newman stated his case to NASCAR and asked for a ruling. Smart move.

What will NASCAR do? If it hands out any punishment beyond probation I’d be surprised.

But NASCAR has surprised me many times.

 

Thanks To Martin Odds Beaten At Vegas – Once, Only Once

I am not much of a gambler but I admit that each time a race at Las Vegas rolls around I like to check out the driver odds. It’s kinda fun to learn what the bookies think.
I’ve discovered they have a pretty good idea of what’s going on – at least if the posted odds are any evidence. I checked ‘em out a day ago and really didn’t find anything unusual.
For example, Jimmie Johnson was the favorite at 9-to-2 and, given that he’s won four of the last six races at Vegas, that’s logical. Carl Edwards was 15-to-2, Kyle Busch was 6-to-1, Jeff Gordon 7-to-1, Denny Hamlin 11-to-1 and Tony Stewart 12-to-1.
At the other end, there were several drivers listed at 300-1, among them Landon Cassill, Andy Lally, Joe Nemechek and Michael McDowell. Well, that’s not really surprising, is it?
If I had some spare money, I think I might have put it on Jeff Burton and Kasey Kahne. Burton was listed at 25-to-1 and Kahne at 22-to-1. I think they’ve got better shots at victory than the bookies think.
Of course, I realize the odds will change by race day. They always do.
They did in 1998, when NASCAR came to Vegas for the first time, but only after some of us made some good money.
At the time a few motorsports writers – the older guys – had been to Vegas more than once. We’d leave for the race at Riverside, Calif., a few days early and drive over to Sin City, only to return to California practically broke and with severe lack of sleep.
In ’98, however, the entire NASCAR press corps descended on Vegas. While it certainly anticipated covering a new race at a new venue, the appeal of experiencing all the city had to offer – particularly gambling – was greater.
A group of us had already devised a plan. As soon as we checked into our hotel the first thing we’d do would be to head for the casino’s Sport Book. There we would get the driver odds and make our bets.
We checked into The Mirage, went to our rooms and threw down our luggage. Then we beat feet for the Sports Book.
We saw the driver odds. We were delighted because what we saw provided proof of our theories.
We figured the bookies wouldn’t know all that much about NASCAR and perhaps even less about the drivers. It followed, we reasoned, that the odds would be somewhat askew.
And they were. Dale Earnhardt and Gordon were the favorites, no surprise there, but listed at 15-to-1 were Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, then teammates at Roush Fenway Racing. Between them they had won seven races in 1997, all but one on tracks of a mile or more in distance. Vegas was a 1.5-mile facility.
“Guys,” I said, “those odds are too high for those two. Let’s pounce on it.”
They eagerly agreed and we placed out bets. We put $10 each on Martin and Burton.
Real high rollers, weren’t we? Please remember we were sports writers, not oil barons.
At the track, I sidled up to Burton and said, “Hey, I put some money down on you.”
“Don’t jinx me!” he hissed.
“I put some down on Mark, too,” I said.
“We’re ruined!”
Dale Jarrett, driving a Ford for Robert Yates Racing, won the pole. Martin took the seventh starting position while Burton could do no better than 15th.
“Good lord, I’ve jinxed him,” I thought. I made it a point to stay away from him for the rest of the weekend.
As race day approached the odds at the Sports Book changed dramatically. Jarrett was listed as one of the favorites while Martin and Burton both dropped to 5-to-1. The oddsmakers had gotten wise.
The race couldn’t have gone better for those of us who had leapt on the long odds for Martin and Burton.
Martin led 87 laps, more than any other driver, and beat Burton, who led 37 laps, to the finish line by 1.605 seconds. It was a Roush sweep. In fact, the team’s two other drivers, Ted Musgrave and Chad Little, finished among the top 10.
When the checkered flag fell a few of us were giddy. We were rich! Well, at least by our standards. And, no, we did not cheer in the press box.
We all swore we were going to keep our winnings. When you get ahead at Vegas that’s the time you should quit.
Of course, we didn’t.
My profits were soon returned to The Mirage. I left Vegas practically broke and in severe need of sleep.
I told myself there was always next year.
When it comes to Vegas, I’ve told myself that same thing for many years.

NASCAR’s Brian Vickers: Welcome Back

Brian Vickers sat out most of the 2010 Sprint Cup season due to blood clots found in his lung,
legs and one arm. After 7 months of treatment and recuperation he’s ready to return to Red
Bull Racing. He has unfinished business. Michele Rahal of http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com,
breaks it down.

Title Contenders? Call All This One Man’s Folly

This isn’t exactly the usual “here are some drivers who could win the Sprint Cup championship in 2011” piece. Reckon you have seen – or will see – plenty of those.
But allow me to get a bit personal and list some drivers I’d like to see earn a title for reasons logical, sentimental, or, perhaps in your opinion, downright far-fetched.
Most of these drivers won’t be on anyone’s A-list of contenders but racing being what it is – which is to say the only correct prediction made about it is that it’s unpredictable – who knows?
Anyway, this is just one man’s folly. Hey, you might even agree with some of this.

Mark Martin – Probably nearly everyone’s sentimental choice. He’s nearly 52 years old, has been racing all his life, over two decades in NASCAR, and has yet to win a Sprint Cup championship. He’s finished second in points four times and third on four more occasions. He had a stellar season with Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 with five victories – but he wound up second again.
Many thought he would contend for a title in 2010 but he had an off-season in which he didn’t win and slumped to 13th in points.
Obviously, he would love to rebound in his last season with Hendrick. Plenty of fans would love to see him do at least that and perhaps more. It would suit me.
I’m sure Martin doesn’t want to retire – whenever that happens – to be known as NASCAR’s best driver to have never won a championship.
I’m also sure that if I ever write that again Martin will express his displeasure one way or another.

Jeff Burton – The driver considered as NASCAR’s most able spokesman and statesman is also one of its best drivers. The shame is that when it comes to the Chase, he climbs the mountain but has never reached the summit. Something always gets in his way.
All three Richard Childress Racing drivers made the Chase last year but Burton wound up 12th in points and, for him, that had to be disappointing.
Although he can be feisty – we’ve seen evidence of that – Burton is considered a very nice guy. Nice guys are supposed to finish last. Would be great to see a nice guy finish first.

Kyle Busch – He’s proven that he can win in anything he drives. Problem is he hasn’t been able to put it all together in the Chase. You gotta figure that’s got to change sooner or later.
Besides, he’s perhaps the closest thing we have to the image of the opinionated, cocky, no-quarter driver of the past. He’s the poster figure for “Boys, have at it.” It would be fun – maybe even appropriate – to see the principle proponent of NASCAR’s new philosophy claim the title.
Yeah, while it would be good to see a nice guy finish first, it would be a hoot to see a bad boy do the same.

Matt Kenseth – He claimed a championship in 2003 and it’s likely he’s already been considered a title threat by many. But here’s a thought:
After Kenseth won the championship, the Chase came into existence the next season and changed the NASCAR environment. Some liked it, many did not. But it’s not going anywhere.
One of many reasons the Chase came to be is the concept that the champion should never be a driver who wins only one race in a season, which Kenseth did in ’03, while other competitors gained many more victories. Don’t know about you but I heard that a lot.
Bet Kenseth did, too.
If he could win a championship in the Chase format he’d obviously be very happy – and maybe imagine himself thumbing his nose at a lot of folks.

Kasey Kahne – He didn’t win last year and finished 20th in points, his worst showing since 2005, in a final turbulent season with Richard Petty Motorsports. He departed RPM late in the season to join Red Bull Motorsports, for which he’ll race this year. Then he moves on to Hendrick in 2012. Got all that?
Kahne is certainly a much better driver than his 2010 numbers showed. That’s so widely accepted that it hardly bears mentioning. And he’s eager to prove it.
A championship would certainly do more than that. I’m guessing many female fans would heartily approve.

Jamie McMurray – He’s a guy who wasn’t sure he had a ride as the 2009 season ended. Then he reunited with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Bank of America 500. It’s quite a Cinderella story.
Be interesting to see if the clock hasn’t struck midnight for McMurray and the story gets even better.

Juan Pablo Montoya – Think of it: A Colombian wins the championship in a sport that has its roots in the South with a bunch of good ol’ redneck boys. Ah, the irony.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – I don’t really have to say anything, do I?

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The Respected Mr. Burton May Go To Washington But Only In His Own Good Time

One thing that is easily acknowledged about Jeff Burton is that he is a highly competitive, successful NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has 21 career victories.

The native of South Boston, Va., who competes for Richard Childress Racing, will tell you he hoped his 2010 season could have been better. After firmly establishing himself in the top 10 in points during the year, through the Chase for the Sprint Cup he slumped to 12th in the final standings.

For the season he didn’t win and had six finishes among the top five and 15 among the top 10 – good, but he expected more.

No matter. That is all about Burton the competitor and has nothing to do with Burton the man.

See, another thing that is easily acknowledged about Burton is that he is NASCAR’s most able statesman and diplomat. His opinions are valued because they are logical and based on solid reasoning. He has earned respect throughout the garage area. His candor has long since made him a media magnet.

It’s been said, more than once, that Burton would make an excellent public servant. He thinks so too. He once said that Senator Jeff Burton has a nice ring to it.

But if indeed Mr. Burton goes to Washington, it’s not going to happen for a long time.

“Whenever I’ve talked about it, I’ve always wanted to make it clear that it’s a long way off,” said the 43-year-old Burton. “We’re talking about 20 years from now. I love what I am doing and there are goals I want to achieve while I’m in NASCAR.”

Burton certainly views NASCAR as his livelihood. But he also has a unique perspective on it – one that helps define his status.

“I really don’t view being a part of NASCAR as any different from being part of a community,” said Burton. “You have to understand that you are going to spend a lot of time with the people in NASCAR and if you want to earn their respect, you have to respect them.

“You have to understand that you have to do your part and you have to understand that there are going to be disagreements and the way you handle them is important. To me that just is being part of a community. It’s not politics, which is a word I think is overused.”

During his career Burton has had his share of disagreements. But, as he said, it’s all part of being a member of a community. And he likes it that way.

“I like to be involved in what I’m doing,” said Burton. “I don’t like to sit on the sidelines. I’m going to be involved all the way and that includes with other drivers and NASCAR itself.”

Involvement does include arguments.

“I really enjoy debate,” said Burton. “I like for someone to disagree with me and make some arguments that make me think. When it comes to the things I care about, like racing, well, I want to hear opinions. The things I don’t care about I don’t even want to hear about them.

“I value people’s opinions and I don’t take it personal when they disagree with me. In so doing, I believe being around the people I have in NASCAR has made me a better person.”

It’s a given that the majority of the garage area is staunchly Republican. But Burton says that politics goes well beyond being a member of a party and following its lines. The issues should be judged separately on their faults and merits.

“The deal is that it has to be issue by issue, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “I’ve always considered myself a conservative – I’m definitely a fiscal conservative – but over the last five, six or seven years I have tried to look at the issues for what they are, make some decisions and not care about what color jersey I’m supposed to have on.

“The problem with a lot of politics is that it’s thought that once you vote for a guy people think you can no longer disagree with him. That’s not the case. You can and, if you feel the need to do so, you should.

“It’s the same in NASCAR. You have to look at the issues and make some decisions. And you can disagree.”

While Burton enjoys debate, the opinions of others and maintains politics is best served one issue at a time – and not necessarily along party lines – he is firmly entrenched in the overall American ideal.

“We live in a free country,” he said. “Our freedoms apply to everyone and, for some people, that’s difficult to accept.

“But in this country you can’t walk a fence. You can say you want about freedoms but you can never say you want them only for yourself.

“That’s not how it works.”

If, years from now, if Mr. Burton indeed goes to Washington, it appears he will serve very well.

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