Commentary

In the beginning ... there was equality

A new year means every team starts the season on a level playing field. But that landscape will change in a hurry, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: January 22, 2008, 1:54 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Welcome to NASCAR's version of the Optimist Club. It's the best way to describe what happens this week on the annual media tour for the Sprint Cup teams in suburban Charlotte.

Everybody is a winner this week. All say they're going to be good this season. It isn't true, of course, so you have to weed through the pablum to see the real meaning in the fluff statements.

[+] EnlargeKyle Busch
AP Photo/Bob BrodbeckThe wild card in 2008 is what impact Kyle Busch and the rest of the Toyota drivers will deliver.

What they say isn't always what they mean. Here's the guaranteed most popular comment of the week: "All our guys have worked extremely hard over the winter."

No doubt that's true. But the implication is that each team worked so hard that it will get better. Not always true.

Yes, your guys worked hard. So did every other Cup team's.

So what does the comment really mean? "We hope our guys worked harder than their guys. And if they did, we hope they worked on the right things the right way so we'll get better."

Here's another oldie but not so goodie: "We're really excited about this season."

This sentence deserves the award for most meaningless comment every January. Feel free to stick needles in my eyes after I hear this for the 100th time.

Again, the comment implies you are excited because you're going to have a great year.

Here's the real message: "We're excited right now, but check back with me on Week 10 of the season and see how excited I am when we're 38th in points and our sponsor is threatening to bolt."

It's not all the same stuff every year. Here's a new one this season for the Chevy, Ford and Dodge teams: "Those Toyotas were really fast in Daytona testing. They'll be a lot better this season."

Nothing false about that, but here's what they mean: "What the #&%* is going on here? Those guys can't be that fast. I demand a full NASCAR investigation."

And you'll even get the Mr. Obvious line from the Toyota camp about its improvement: "Having Joe Gibbs Racing on board will help all of us."

What they mean: "Are you kidding? Of course we're better. We added an all-star team with JGR. Have you read their playbook?"

Champ Car on last legs
It's time for Champ Car to wave the white flag, and we're not talking about the signal for the last lap of a race. Put the last lap in the history books.

How bad is it? So bad that a driver with a $2 million bonus on the table from Champ Car told the series to keep its money so he could run in the IRL's version of Triple-A.

Brazilian Raphael Matos, the 2007 champ in Atlantics (Champ Car's feeder league), will drive in the Indy Pro Series (feeder league for the IndyCar Series) for Andretti Green Racing.

Champ Car also lost the most respected member of its executive team in Tony Cotman, who didn't see eye to eye with the league owners.

Champ Car has just six U.S. events, none after August. Aside from Paul Tracy and Graham Rahal, it fields a group of what the casual fan must consider no-name drivers, assuming the series has any casual fans left.

Fold up this tent and let the deep wounds of American open-wheel racing begin to heal. Many die-hard fans still loathe IRL founder Tony George and blame him for the open-wheel split 12 years ago.

George certainly deserves his share of the blame, but open-wheel racing would have benefited if George had won a legal battle to take over Champ Car four years ago.

At least we would have one league with the best venues and best drivers all competing in the same series.

Good decision ... bad decision
NHRA officials made a wise decision by simplifying their playoff system this season. The first year of the Countdown to the Championship was a success in 2007 but so ridiculously complicated that many fans had a hard time understanding how it worked.

This year, it's clear: Ten drivers make it in each of the top three pro classes and compete for the title in the final six races. And the final qualifying race is NHRA's biggest event -- the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.

But the NHRA made one boneheaded decision last week, moving the season finale to the weekend of Nov. 15-16. NHRA officials want a week off before the last event.

Only one problem. They broke a cardinal rule of racing: Thou shalt not schedule a race opposite the Chase finale. The Cup playoff ends Nov. 16 at Homestead Miami Speedway.

Show him the money
Formula One racer Lewis Hamilton received the biggest salary increase in racing this year. Hamilton earned about $300,000 as a rookie last year -- when he almost won the championship -- poverty level by F1 standards.

This season, at 22, Hamilton will earn a reported $20 million, more than 66 times his original salary. Try asking your boss for that kind of raise and see what happens.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter