NASCAR Wins With Keselowski Talladega Victory

Keselowski and Penske Racing masterfully  orchestrated the Talladega Victory Sunday.

Keselowski and Penske Racing masterfully
orchestrated the Talladega Victory Sunday.

When the smoke clears, victory lane empties and the fans go home, there will be one group of people keeping the champagne flowing until the wee hours of the morning.

No, not Brad Keselowski, Paul Wolfe and the No. 2 Penske team – but Brian France, Mike Helton and the NASCAR brass.

The sole blemish on this weekend’s race at Talladega is that one previous champion and the fan favorite did not advance to the Eliminator Round.

Despite leading the most laps, Jimmie Johnson will have to wait at least another year to tie the NASCAR record for most championships all time, and his teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led the second most but settled for a loose race car with faulty gauges in the last quarter of the race, will do the same.

Talk about drama, though: Who would’ve thought that Danica Patrick would be leading with less than 20 to go, holding off “Six Time” himself, days after being criticized (maybe) by teammate Kevin Harvick?  Drama? Check.

And what about intensity? One errant piece of scrap metal with nine laps to go was a probable savior to many racecars participating in a ‘free for all’ up front, with some of the most exciting and intense restrictor plate racing seen this season, and arguably in many seasons.

Several drivers were on the borderline of out of control. Even the two GWC finishes created their own mini stories keeping drivers and fans alike on the edge of their seats. Intensity? Check.

Surprises were a’ plenty. Four drivers started the race needing a win to advance to the next round, and one driver did accomplish that goal, yet probably not the driver most thought or even wanted to see: An apologetic and trite Brad Keselowski was in victory lane expressing a mixture of regret for his actions last week, joy in winning, and gratitude to the team that got him the win he needed to advance to the next round, after the obligatory burnouts and tribute to the Stars and Stripes. Surprises? Check.

Check, check, and check.

For years, NASCAR has been tweaking the formula for television success when the NFL begins its season and noticeably cuts into race viewership.

Matt Kenseth’s 2003 championship run was a yawner, and it’s no coincidence that it was the final nail in the coffin of the old points championship system.

The Car of Tomorrow, now the Car of Yesterday (or, The Car That Was So Awful Everyone Hated It), which gave us tandem drafting in rather boring restrictor plate races and generally was like watching shoeboxes race, gave way to the new Gen 7 car.

And, if no one can duplicate Tony Stewart’s feat of winning half the races in the Chase on the way to tie-breaking championship, then the format will now create pressure and intensity. No more racing for points, boys. Win or bust.

To be fair, Jeff Gordon was in a position to protect his points, and did so by avoiding trouble. He didn’t have to win; he just had to not lose.

Kasey Kahne, who at one point was in, then not in, then in and finally not in again, did everything possible to run a trouble free race, while being carefully aggressive.

Even Ryan Newman, who challenged late for the win, at one point seemed unconcerned when he lost the draft and went a lap down.

Yes, indeed, the champagne glasses are clinking in Daytona tonight. There are smiles galore, and many powerful decision makers patting themselves on the back. And, they deserve to. With six races done and half the Chase field eliminated, NASCAR brass has accomplished everything they’ve wanted and more.

The sanctioning body has, at times, been the target of ire and frustration from the traditional fans when it seemed that attracting new fans, sponsors and viewers to the sport was more important than the opinions of their long time supporters.

It was a calculated risk, to be sure, and one with mixed results. But with the rules package changing for next season, most notably a reduction in horsepower, it seems that NASCAR may have finally gotten it right. Late race debris caution and all. And, with a new Chase round come new Chase storylines, starting next Sunday at Martinsville, the shortest track on the circuit.

But in the meantime, drink up, Brian, Mike, et al; you deserve it.

 

Keselowski Tightens Penske’s, And Ford’s, Grip On The Chase

With his victory in New Hampshire, Brad Keselowski won his third race of the season and assured himself, and Team Penske, of a spot in the Chase.

With his victory in New Hampshire, Brad Keselowski won his third race of the season and assured himself, and Team Penske, of a spot in the Chase.

A while back I made mention of the fact that while Hendrick Motorsports remains the most dominant team in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, it had a challenger – Team Penske.

That’s truer now than it was just a couple of weeks ago.

Penske’s Brad Keselowski strengthened his team’s cause with his dominating victory in the Camping World RV Sales 301. It was his third of the season.

And the night before he won the Nationwide Series race which means he swept the races at New Hampshire.

He moved into third place in the point standings, behind the Hendrick duo of leader Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Keselowski is 38 points out of first place.

But, really, for now points don’t matter. Keselowski’s third win assures him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Penske teammate Joey Logano pretty much has it made, too. While a crash forced him out of the race in New Hampshire and into 40th place, the two victories he has on the season are going to be more than enough to put him in the Chase.

Which means that both drivers for Penske will have a shot at the championship.

It can’t be said, yet, that all of Hendrick’s drivers will be in the 10-race “playoff.”

Oh, it’s certain that three of the four will make it. Jimmie Johnson, who finished 42nd at New Hampshire after a blown left tire led to a wreck, has three victories this season and is a shoo-in.

Keselowski won the Nationwide Series race the day before the Camping World RV Sales 301 Sprint Cup event, which gave him a sweep at New Hampshire.

Keselowski won the Nationwide Series race the day before the Camping World RV Sales 301 Sprint Cup event, which gave him a sweep at New Hampshire.

Earnhardt Jr. has two and Jeff Gordon one.

The only Hendrick man without a victory is Kasey Kahne. He is 17th in points and, most likely, if he doesn’t win over the next seven races – a tall order – he will be out of the Chase.

To be more specific here, Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. are guaranteed Chase positions because they have multiple wins and are locked into the top 30 in points. It’s very likely others will get their guarantees very soon.

In fact, here’s how the Chas scenario looks, in order based on victories and point standings, after 19 of 26 races.

Keselowski, Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bower, Paul Menard and Kyle Lawson. Kenseth, Newman, Bowyer, Menard and Larson have no wins but are good enough in points – for now – to be included.

Keselowski’s New Hampshire win, in which he led 138 of 301 laps, marked the fourth straight victory for Ford this season.

It started with Edwards at Sonoma, followed by Keselowski’s victory at Kentucky, Almirola’s at Daytona and Keselowski again.

The last time Ford won four races in a row was in 2001, with Dale Jarrett, who earned three wins at Darlington, Texas and Martinsville, and Elliott Sadler, the winner at Bristol.

“Ford wants us to win, and they want to give us what we need to win,” said team owner Roger Penske. “I’d have to say that you couldn’t ask for a better weekend. 

“I’ve already gotten many emails from the top people at Ford.  They’re watching it every day.  Their dealers are watching it and to me that makes the difference.

At the end of the day you can’t have a great car if you don’t have the best driver, and I can tell you that at New Hampshire there was nobody that could beat Brad.”

Keselowski was the 2012 champion but had a disappointing 2013 season in which he won only one race, finished 14th in points and failed to make it into the postseason.

Before that, Tony Stewart, the 2005 champion, was the last to miss the Chase the next year.

Well, for Keselowski, being out of the Chase isn’t going to happen this season – obviously.

“I think in a lot of ways we’re stronger than in 2012,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve had this much speed before. 

“We had tremendous speed at New Hampshire and I think there’s potential left, like I said, with different things.  So that’s all very encouraging to me.  I feel like I’m in a really strong rhythm right now. 

“I think some of last year’s struggles put me in a spot to work harder and become a better race car driver and I think we’re combining all those things.

“We’re seeing the fruits of that labor with, like I said, more to come.”

Indeed, there could be more to come for Keselowski and Penske. But it is the same for Hendrick.

The only thing we’re pretty certain of, at the moment, is that the two teams will have five drivers in the Chase.

Keselowski Seeks To Avoid Another ‘Flop’ In 2014

Brad Keselowski didn’t have a very successful 2013 season as he failed to make the Chase. However, he thinks he can return to form in 2014.

Daytona Beach, FL-Brad Keselowski was a huge hit in 2012 but in 2013, well, he was a flop.

Maybe “flop” is too harsh a word but the fact is Keselowski, who drives Fords for Penske Racing, won the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship only to finish 14h in points last year – which means he was not one of the 13 drivers admitted into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Reckon Keselowski would call that a flop.

“It definitely wasn’t good, but that was last year,” said Keselowski, who won only one race and finished 16 times among the top 10 in 2013.  “Much like what I did in 2012 didn’t count for much in 2013, and what you do in 2013 doesn’t count for much for 2014.  You have to reset.”

Speaking of “reset,” NASCAR has done plenty of that for 2014. It includes new qualifying and rules structures  – not to mention an altered Chase, which, among many other things, will consist of 16 drivers.

“I think almost every one of the changes benefits my team as a whole and is part of the reason for my optimism,” Keselowski said. “Well, maybe with the exception of the added spoiler to the back of the car.  That’s probably the only change of anything that’s been done, and there have been a lot of them, that I didn’t like.

Keselowski won the 2012 NASCAR championship in only his second year with Penske Racing. He won five races that season, the most of his career.

“I think if you want an explanation as to how I think we’d be here for a long time, but I think all the changes are beneficial for us.  The Chase changes, I think, fit my driving style the best.

“The qualifying changes definitely fit me very well, so I think all of them are really positive for our team.”

Keselowski admits that 2013 started out well enough, but some NASCAR-enforced alterations to his Ford helped create a competitive downturn.

“The new rear suspension package that we came out with at Texas, getting that taken away from us was big, and then everyone else developed some packages that we, quite frankly, weren’t allowed to do,” Keselowski said. “That put us behind speed-wise and speed is kind of the backbone of this sport.

“And then we missed the ball on some execution, whether that was speeding down pit road or parts that fell off the car or pit stops.  So we kind of hit the perfect storm over the summer and that’s all it took without getting a race win early in the season when we were very capable of doing so.”

“I think once we hit the Chase period and re-developed our cars I thought we were really strong.  Again, we ran into some of the same issues, but on a much smaller basis.”

Keselowski first captured everyone’s attention with his surprise victory at Talladega in James Finch’s underfinanced Chevrolet in 2009. That helped the Rochester Hills, Mich., native land a ride with Penske the following year.

One trait that has galvanized Keselowski is his willingness to speak his mind. He’s never been timid – on the track or off. A driver who tweets during a race and causes NASCAR to rule against the practice, and monitor Twitter, is no wallflower by any means.

It’s been suggested NASCAR has tried to put a muzzle on Keselowski, so to speak, but the driver, who was an excellent ambassador for the sport last year, doesn’t agree –well, somewhat.

“I don’t have a muzzle on my face right now, but maybe I should have,” said Keselowski, who has been fined many times by NASCAR. “I’m in an increasingly difficult position as a champion of this sport to try to convey the very strong situation and the health of this sport, which, although it could always be better, is not terrible.

“I think quite a few back channels have opened up within NASCAR over the last six to eight months that have given me the ability to not have to go to the media to get something done.

“That fits my personal and professional agenda, and out of respect for that I think it maybe creates a situation where what might look like a muzzle to you or to the outside is perhaps more a moment of opportunity I just don’t want to piss away.

“Either that or it’s just being so damn annoying that people start listening to you – one of the two.”

It’s obvious Keselowski doesn’t want to, uh, “piss away” his chances in 2014.

“I felt we had a really strong run a lot of times and won Charlotte, and were really strong and competitive at Texas and Homestead and Chicago,” he said. “But not quite enough to be where we want.

“We made a lot of changes in that regard internally to try to clean up those misgivings, but I don’t think we’re very far off.  I thought when we ended 2013 that we ended in a very similar fashion that we ended 2011, which set us up for a strong title run in 2012.

“So I’m carrying that optimism into this year.”

 

 

 

As Driver, Brad Keselowski Is Far More Than Personality And Twitter

As recognized as he is as a driver, Brad Keselowski is also noted as somewhat of a "character." What helped give rise to that was his willingness to use Twitter during races, as he is doing here.

Sometimes Brad Keselowski doesn’t act like he’s 28 years old. To put it another way, he doesn’t act his age – maybe it’s more 18 rather than 28.

But that’s a good thing. Beyond just outgoing and sociable, I daresay the driver from Rochester Hills, Mich., can be downright mischievous.

He’s the guy who gained a lot of notoriety when it was learned he was on Twitter during races. He has fun with it and, I daresay, a lot of other things.

Like many of you, I’ve read several of his “tweets,” (I trust that is the correct word) and sometimes he sounds like a standup comedian.
Once I thought I’d get into the Twitter act and see what would happen. I had just written a piece about him and afterward he won that weekend’s race.

So I sent: “Great race. You made me look like a genius.”

His response: “Anything to help, bro.”

I admit I got a kick out of that.

However, while personality and a good sense of humor do count in racing, they do not, alone, make a successful driver. Results count for much more.

When the results are good, and happen often, a driver eventually becomes acknowledged as one of the best in NASCAR.

For Keselowski the results have been good. And they have occurred often.

That is the reason many think he is destined to become a NASCAR star – if he’s not already. It can’t be denied his star is on the rise.

Keselowski has proven to be a winner. That first happened in 2009, when he drove in 15 Sprint Cup races.

Six of them were with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing team.

Keselowski won at Talladega for Finch in April, a truly surprising victory because he had only a few Cup races under his belt and he won with a second-tier team.

That certainly raised eyebrows. But Keselowski wasn’t immediately tagged as a driver with a bright future. After all, unpredictableTalladega has produced more than its share of surprise winners.

Keselowski's team owner, Roger Penske, is man known for his ability to recognize talent. He hired Keselowski in 2010 and to date, the union has produced excellent results.

In 2010, Roger Penske, a team owner with a well-known eye for talent, hired Keselowski. Their first year together was mundane with no wins, only two finishes among the top 10 and a 25th in points.

But that was not unexpected. After all, it was Keselowski’s first crack at full schedule.

What was unexpected was Keselowski’s 2011 season with Penske. The third-generation driver won three times.

Two of his victories came later in the season and helped propel him into the Chase. He was 11th in points before it began and fifth at the end of the season.

“We were focused on 2011, what we could do to maximize it and we’re very proud of the season that we had,” Keselowski said last year.

“I’m very, very happy with Penske Racing.

“You know, I think we’ve got a lot to be proud of. I think as time goes on, if we can continue to grow like we have this year the sky’s the limit for all of Penske Racing.”

So far Keselowski has been proven right. He’s already won three times this year, at Bristol, Talladega and most recently, Kentucky. His three victories tie him with Tony Stewart for most this season.

Keselowski is 10th in points and with his three victories is all but guaranteed a place in the Chase for the second time in three seasons.

Lest anyone think Keselowski is just a gifted driver making the most of good equipment, at New Hampshire there was strong evidence that he is a tough, resilient competitor who can make the most of unfavorable circumstances.

Keselowski finished fifth at New Hampshire, his sixth top-five run of the year – which ties his output for all of 2011.

It wasn’t so much that Keselowski finished fifth; rather, it’s how he did it.

He started 22nd and by the 90th lap he was among the top 10. He was the only driver who started outside the top 12 to finish inside it.

He was able to do that at a track on which it is notoriously difficult to pass and in a Dodge that wasn’t, well, perfect.
“We had really good long-run speed but we weren’t as good as we needed to be on the short runs,” Keselowski said. “Our balance was a little bit shifted.

“That played a big role in it all. Track position is everything and the further up you are, the better air you’ve got. We just never really had that.”

Keselowski agreed that to finish fifth from a poor starting position was indeed a good day.

“But it wasn’t easy,” he added. “It was tough. It was hot. That’s racing and it’s not supposed to be easy.”

Clearly, Keselowski can meet the physical and mental rigors of the sport. He can overcome. That certainly enhances his status.

“It was hard fought,” he said of New Hampshire. “We drove from the back to the front. Had a really strong run.

“You hate not to be happy about it. Being happy for us is winning. But at New Hampshire, that was all we had and we all had to make the most of it. I’m proud of our effort.”

I have no doubt that many other people are as well.

For them, probably the best way to let him know is to “tweet.” He’ll get the message, for sure.

Richmond Race Ranks As One Of The Best, For Many Reasons

RICHMOND, Va. – The Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway was the most entertaining race of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season for many reasons.

It lived up to its billing as a potentially emotion-charged event featuring some edgy drivers. It was also described as a race in which competitors with nothing to lose would entertain fans by taking chances, which they did.

It was characterized, often, as a race that would magnetize our attention because it would determine the starting field for the Chase.

And it was what it has always been: A race conducted on a tough short track that provides singular challenges to competitors. As they attempt to meet those challenges, anything can happen.

Saturday night at Richmond, it did.

Before it was half complete, the race looked like a demolition derby. It was supposed to be conducted by 43 of the best drivers in the world but to many it looked like they failed to show up and were replaced by amateurs.

Perhaps the numerous wrecks, and resulting caution periods, were simply coincidental. But it’s more likely hard racing fueled by daring and even desperation caused them.

It’s a given that for cars to get three abreast at Richmond is to invite disaster. It happened regularly.

Chase scenarios changed with almost every passing lap.

Early in the race it appeared the “playoff” hopes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin – and even Clint Bowyer’s slim chances – were dashed. All three were involved in accidents.

The cars of Earnhardt Jr. and Hamlin were thoroughly beaten up. In fact, over the radio a disgusted and frustrated Earnhardt expressed his anger over his battered car’s performance.

While he was doing that, durned if he wasn’t involved in two more accidents. They were with Travis Kvapil. Kvapil whacked Earnhardt Jr. to create the first and the second? Well, suffice it to say it was payback from the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Earnhardt Jr. might have been frustrated for another reason. As he toiled just to hold his position in the back of the pack, Brad Keselowski, the man who could oust him from the top 10 in points, raced his way into the top 10 – and then into the top five.

For a long time Earnhardt Jr.’s hold on a Chase starting spot was tenuous. The last thing his anxious fans wanted to see was their favorite driver fail in the last race before the “playoffs” begin.

But as the race progressed, Keselowski faded and Earnhardt Jr. – who benefited from three “lucky dog” scenarios that allowed him to regain three lost laps – moved up a handful of positions.

When the race was over, Keselowski was in 12th place, Earnhardt Jr. 16th. Earnhardt Jr. held on to his top-10 position and eked into the Chase.

Keselowski is in as a “wildcard” entry by virtue of his three victories on the season.

Meanwhile, Hamlin, normally a force at Richmond, which is his hometown track, was not a factor, at least as far as victory was concerned.

He persevered to finish ninth and he also made the Chase – as the second and final “wildcard” selection.

For a time, it seemed Bowyer would buck the odds. He was 14th in points going into the race and had virtually no chance to make the Chase.

To do so, first, he had to win. He tried hard as he moved into the top five. But he, too, came up short as he finished 22nd.

As did David Ragan, who also had to win to move into the top 20 in points and made the Chase field with two victories on the season. Ragan also raced into the top five.

But at the finish he was in fourth place and out of the Chase – barely. It was a solid effort.

As if the ever-changing Chase scenarios didn’t make Richmond galvanizing enough, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch got into it again – not once, but twice.

After their run-in, confrontation and name-calling in Pocono, while virtually everyone figured Johnson and Busch wouldn’t have dinner together, they thought the case was closed.

Not so. At Richmond, Busch locked up his tires and slid into Johnson, who hit the wall. Johnson later deliberately clipped Busch’s rear end to cause both of them to spin.

Johnson completed 362 of 400 laps and finished 31st. Busch came home in fifth place. The name-calling continues and folks are eager to see what the two might do over the final 10 races of the season.

Kevin Harvick won the race to earn the second seed in the Chase. The top position went to Kyle Busch, sixth place at Richmond.

The three drivers in the most danger of not making the Chase prior to Richmond did indeed make the “playoffs” – but not, as said, before some very anxious moments.

Tony Stewart, who finished a comfortable seventh at Richmond, Earnhardt Jr., and Hamlin are all in. Stewart is the ninth seed, Earnhardt Jr. 10th and Hamlin 12th, behind Keselowski.

There were times during the Richmond race when it appeared not all of them would advance and would be overtaken by the prodigious efforts of others.

That’s one reason the Wonderful Pistachios 400, nearly always an exciting event on the challenging short track that is Richmond, was more riveting than ever – and one of the best races of the year.

Pocono: Of A Gutsy Keselowski And “Doc” Mattioli

Noting the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway:

 

** I think Brad Keselowski ably showed us what a stock car driver is all about.

He’s supposed to have skills beyond measure when behind a steering wheel of a race car that goes very fast. He’s supposed to be daring and not afraid, especially when it comes to taking the kind of chances that separate victory from defeat.

And he’s supposed to be like every other professional athlete. He is required to play with pain whenever possible.

That, by the way, is something NASCAR drivers have done routinely over the years. If a competitor is unable to race, his physical debilitations must be significant.

Most of us would think a broken left ankle, a pain-ridden right foot and a very sore back would be enough to keep a driver out of his car.

Not Keselowski and not at Pocono.

After he sustained the serious injuries during testing at Road Atlanta on Aug. 3, there was some doubt that Keselowski would be able to compete at Pocono.

But he was cleared to do so – he insisted all the while he would – and in a gutsy performance the driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge won the race and earned his second victory of the season.

Under caution, Keselowski stayed on the 2.5-mile track with old tires with 21 laps left in the rain-interrupted race.

On the restart, leader Kyle Busch left an open path for Keselowski when Busch shot low on the track to fend off a charge by Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski led the rest of the way.

With the victory, which accompanies his first of the season at Kansas, Keselowski is now in a position to claim a “wildcard” spot for the Chase.

He moved up three positions in the point standings and is now 18th, the only driver in the top 20 with two victories. That currently makes him first in line among the “wildcard” candidates.

He’s moved ahead of Denny Hamlin, 11th in points with one win, and Paul Menard, 14th in points, also with a single victory.

Last year at this time Keselowski was 25th in points with no top-10 finishes.

His improvement is impressive, almost as much as his fortitude.

“For him to go through that wreck this week and get back on his horse and find success, it’s only going to make Brad Keselowski a better race car driver.”

And to think he’s pretty darn good right now.

 

** Of the drivers whose chances of making the Chase hinged on improved points position, victory or both, there were no major gains at Pocono.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced to his first top 10 in the last seven races with a ninth-place run. However, he remains 10th in points with no victories.

Tony Stewart overcame tire problems to finish 11th, yet remains ninth in points, also without a win this year. He’s only a single point ahead of Earnhardt.

Hamlin led plenty of laps in his bid to win at the speedway for the fifth time in his career, but his chances were spoiled by a wayward lug nut during his last pit stop.

He finished 15th and is still one spot out of the top 10.

Paul Menard, a winner at Indy last week, finished 10th at Pocono for his seventh top-10 run of the season.

But he, too, failed to advance in points and remains in 14th place.

David Ragan got into a crash that severely damaged his Ford. After lengthy repairs he limped home in 34th place.

His Chase hopes took a severe blow. Although he, too, has a victory, he fell three positions to 19th in points. The odds are now very much against him.

 

** When Dr. Joseph “Doc” Mattioli met with the media at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 5 to announce he was retiring as CEO, I suspect several people felt as I did.

Retire? The “Doc?” Heck, he’s 87 years old and in a wheelchair. Hadn’t he put himself out to pasture several years ago?

Obviously not. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why someone continues to work until he or she is nearly 90 years old, and one of them has to be a love of the task and all that comes with it.

I’m certain that applies to “Doc” and his wife Rose, who has been at his side as an associate (and maybe his boss from time to time) for decades.

When Mattioli came along as a force behind the creation of Pocono back in the late 1960s, he became part of an exclusive fraternity. He was one of those few men with the ambition and daring to build a speedway and become a part of NASCAR.

This was an undertaking that promised nothing when it came to financial success. It was always a calculated risk, as was proven so many times over the years as one track after another ceased operations and fell victim to weeds.

I’m sure there were folks who thought that to build a superspeedway in the Pennsylvania countryside was a crazy idea.

I’m also sure that from time to time Mattioli may have thought he’d lost his mind.

But he was very much like the track owners who came along before him – he was determined, smart, stubborn and, most important, tough.

He was no different from his peers, whose tracks survived tough economic times, unsavory characters and the changing local political atmosphere.

They included Clay Earles at Martinsville, Larry Carrier at Bristol, Paul Sawyer at Richmond, Enoch Staley at North Wilkesboro and, yes, Bill France Sr., the NASCAR founder who was also the head of the fledgling International Speedway Corp.

There was also Bruton Smith, who helped create Charlotte Motor Speedway. But his resolve and determination were better displayed after the track went bankrupt.

Smith disappeared, returned and created a racing empire.

Speaking of empires, once there were none. A speedway’s owner was the absolute boss who didn’t answer to stockholders for one very good reason. There were none. There might have been a partner or two but a track was the bastion of a single man and his family.

The track bosses ruled with an iron hand and were fiercely defensive of their speedways.

Once, when I criticized the use of guardrails at Richmond, Sawyer threatened to remove my head from my body.

I suggested that Thursday qualifying at Martinsville was a waste of time. Earles responded by suggesting he’d make my career a waste of time.

This is not to say all these pioneer track promoters were marketing geniuses or, in some cases, even cared to be.

Some realized that in order to attract more fans, make more money and assure a future with NASCAR, funds had to be spent on track improvements, especially when it came to fan amenities.

Others did little or nothing. They simply sold tickets and opened the gates.

Mattioli was often criticized because, to some, his track didn’t keep pace with the times. He’s admitted he heard what he’s called “the bad stuff.”

But, despite the time it might have taken, Pocono has improved all the way around and is a firm part of NASCAR today.

And it stands on its own. It hasn’t folded, like North Wilkesboro, or been gobbled up by ISC, as have Martinsville and Richmond, or is it part of Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. outfit, as is Bristol.

In fact, Mattioli has rebuffed Smith’s offers many times over the years.

“He wanted to buy it for many years,” Mattioli said. “But we always felt that it was something special.”

Pocono has always been a family-owned and operated property and that will continue for many years.

Mattioli’s grandsons and granddaughter are now in charge, holding the positions of CEO, president, COO, Executive Vice President and secretary/treasurer.

They cannot sell the track until after the passing of the Mattiolis and their children.

So Pocono remains the type of track that once was prominent in NASCAR – its success remains in the hands of an enterprising man and his family.

Which means that while he may be 87 years old and in a wheelchair, as a promoter who adhered to the ways of the past and made them work, “Doc” Mattioli stands alone.

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