- Marty Smith, ESPN
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It might scare the bejeezus out of you, but sometimes you just have to man up and face it.
Thanks for a nice article on Kasey Kahne's win. Congrats to Kasey and his team on their win. I just do not understand why some people are so critical of his win. He started dead last and drove his way up and won.
Now they want to mar it, saying that he should have not been in the race. What would they say if Kyle or Carl would have won? I just don't understand these fans. Keep up the good work.
-- Brenda Gentry, Baytown, Texas
Kahne won the All-Star race under the rules laid before him, and not a single competitor took exception with it. Some folks contend it's ridiculous and that Kahne didn't even belong in the race in the first place. I figure if Greg Biffle doesn't have a problem with it, we shouldn't.
Flawed system or not, the other drivers ultimately realize that once Kahne was in the show, everyone raced under the same conditions, and he whooped 'em. Johnny Benson made a great point on "NASCAR Now" the other night, too -- Kahne's a winner. He's won races in recent years.
On a night when passing was extremely difficult, Kahne passed every car, either on the racetrack or via pit strategy. It's not like he was running eighth with two to go and everyone in front of him ran out of gas or something. He beat them. And he deserved the victory.
And for Kahne, winning the All-Star race was like hitting a chip from the rough on 18 after a terrible round -- just when the frustration mounts to the point where you're ready to give up, it's that jolt you need to keep on coming back for more.
More All-Star stuff
Being a native from North Carolina I have been fortunate to attend the last 12 Sprint All-Star events. Since its inception it has been a marquee event for the sport. But lately I feel the event has lost its sparkle.
Sure, the prerace hype and promotion is better than ever, but the excitement during the race has dissipated over the years. Maybe it's the format (which changes yearly), or the prize isn't what it used to be in this multimillion-dollar industry.
Having heard the rumors of teams using this event as a free test session in race trim for the 600 are detrimental to the future of All-Star event. Fans will eventually quit paying to attend a glorified test session to watch teams throw exotic setups under the car.
I understand teams cannot lose focus of the big picture (points racing), which leads into my next suggestion: Maybe NASCAR should award an undetermined number of points just to the winner of the Open and the All-Star event.
I believe that is what its going to take for teams to raise their brow and put the effort in to winning in this event. Not to mention the excitement that will be rejuvenated!
-- Heath Byerly, Trinity, N.C.
Interesting concept, Heath. Points to the winner would certainly make the race more dramatic.
The four 25-lap segment format didn't work for me. The All-Star show needs the inversion and the 10-lap sprint at the end. The inversion number should be drawn at random from a hat by a contest winner prior to the final 10-lap shootout. That would help quell sandbagging by drivers. It's always fun to watch the best car speed back through the slower machines in the quest for a cool million.
Yes, some use it as a test. Most do, even. Once a guy realizes he's not going to win, he's searching different lines, trying different adjustments to see what works when it counts. Jeff Gordon told me All-Star weekend for him was essentially the second two-day test he's had at Lowe's in the past month. Jimmie Johnson said they made gains for the 600.
But drivers want to win the All-Star race, and not just for the money. Kevin Harvick told me that, in his mind, it's a crown jewel event, right up there with the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard. It's the very best in the business on the same track under the lights without a conscience for a ton of cash.
So this past weekend after the All-Star races, rumors started to surface saying that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart could possibly become Cup owners together. This is HUGE news to a lot of people, so before we all get our hopes up, I just wanted to know what you personally know, or think, about the situation.
I know Dale Jr. said he is strongly considering moving JRM to Cup due to rising costs and would be willing to do it with the right driver and sponsor. But do you think there's any fire behind the smoke? How likely is it that Tony Stewart could become the right driver for JRM?
-- Michelle, hometown (and last name) unknown
Reports have surfaced recently that name JRM as a potential future home for Stewart, but I don't see it happening, Michelle. Folks on both sides tell me there is no merit to it. I still feel like Haas/CNC is Stewart's desired destination.
Now that's not to say that Earnhardt won't elevate his team to Sprint Cup. He used to scoff at the notion, given JRM's foundation as a development arena for future talent. But the game has changed.
Earnhardt said last weekend at Charlotte that, in his estimation, it doesn't take much more money to field a Sprint Cup operation compared to a Nationwide program, and that the return from a Sprint Cup team is substantially higher. Moreover, Earnhardt said, he wouldn't be able to justify the cost of transitioning from the current Nationwide machine to a COT-type car.
He told me during the interview for The Magazine cover story that he's had to dump millions of his own dollars back into his team each year just to break even. He's not happy with it, he said, but he knew it would be that way.
Last weekend's admission might mean he's growing tired of the reinvestment strategy.
I'm trying to get into NASCAR because it's all my girlfriend wants to watch or talk about. She DVRs SPEED and ESPN's "NASCAR Now" every day. Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler. Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler. It's all she talks about. She went to Pocono Raceway about three years ago and was hooked.
Marty, I'm from the city and I don't get it. NASCAR is not a sport. The way I see it it's a bunch guys making way too much money to turn left. My girlfriend said to write to you and you'd explain it to me. Go for it. I don't think you can do it.
-- Kevin Cornwall, New York City
Thanks for the laugh, Kevin. I get it. I understand why you feel the way you feel. It's somewhat akin to my thoughts on hockey. My boys always told me I'd be a puck-head the moment I witnessed the action in person. Didn't happen, necessarily.
I've attended two hockey games since 2005 -- both big-time tickets. I saw the New York Rangers play the New York Islanders -- which I understand is among hockey's greatest rivalries -- a few Decembers ago during banquet week, and the fights in the stands were every bit as impressive as the game itself. Those dudes are crazy. I had a blast. Then I went to Game 5 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals in Raleigh, N.C. -- the best in the world on the grandest stage. And the pageantry was cool, and the atmosphere was electric and the beers were cold, so I had a lot of fun.
It didn't make me a hockey fan. But it did give me a keen respect as to why so many folks love it.
You need to get to the racetrack, Kevin. Surprise your girl with some tickets. You can't truly respect NASCAR until you attend a race. Like hockey, there are so many intricacies to the competition that television can't project. Most NASCAR events are sensory overload, the whole circus. Even for me.
A couple of Saturdays ago, I slugged into the racetrack at Darlington and noticed an intriguing perch just outside the Turn 1 wall. I'd never witnessed a race from that particular vantage point, and the thought of 43 cars hauling freight directly at me under a gorgeous sunset was enticing. Especially there, where cars bounce off the fence every lap and you can't help but feel the history. I figured what the hell.
Good choice/bad choice. The experience was absolutely exhilarating, a true indication of the visceral love true fans have for NASCAR racing. Deafening. Fierce. Precise. Faster than it looks from the infield. Way faster than it looks on TV.
I'd like for you to see that, Kevin. I'd like to invite all folks who complain incessantly that NASCAR isn't a sport or NASCAR has lost its zeal to stand right there with me next May. Vise-Grips wouldn't be able hold their smiles down. Maybe we'll have a contest: The Six Too Tough to Tame, something like that.
Winners will receive one of those riot gear masks, the kind that covers the entire face with a plastic shield. I'm still picking black stuff out of my nose. Ears. Hair. Teeth. My shirt, a yellow button-down, was ruined. Seriously, it was more than two weeks ago and I'm still pulling tire particles out of my hair.
What happens Saturday night if Busch doesn't blow a motor? Do you think he'd have won?
-- Smokey Robinson, Sevierville, Tenn.
Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle, Smokey?
It is not out of the realm of feasibility that Kyle Busch, if he qualifies on the front row for the Coca-Cola 600, might lead every single one of its 400 laps.
Your twang annoys me. Can't you go to some kind of classes or something to make it go away? You know your [stuff], so I pay attention to what you have to say. But that accent is distracting.
-- Scott Accavedio, Long Island, N.Y.
Not so much, Scott. It's who I am and I don't much plan to change. It's not like I'm all marble-mouthed like Ward Burton or something.
Funny story on that note, though: My friend, Jenna Fryer from the Associated Press, spoke recently to a group of journalism classes at her alma mater (West Virginia) and was asked if she knew me. When she said yes, she was then asked if the accent was real or if I was "just playing up the NASCAR thing."
I know there's qualifying trim and race trim, but why do you see so many drivers low in the standings dominate the practices? Do the top drivers sandbag?
-- Nick, Owosso, Mich.
For exactly the reason you mentioned, Nick. The go-or-go-home teams are practicing their qualifying setups to ensure they field the best package in the quest to make the show. The top-35 cars, locked into the race through their standing in owner points, are largely practicing in race trim, save for a couple of banzai runs just to get a feel for how the car reacts in qualifying trim.
Two questions for you: (1) How can the Yates cars still not have solid sponsors when they continue to turn out performances that easily have them in the field week after week; and (2) what was with the No. 77 this past weekend, with its rear axle alignment -- the thing looked like it was driving down the straightaways in a straight direction, but with the car pointed at a 5- to 10-degree angle to the left. Even DW said it looked like a drifter car in the turns. Thanks!
-- John Landicho, Santee, Calif.
John: (1) I have absolutely no clue. It's sad. Travis Kvapil is outrunning Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears. Here's hoping someone very soon realizes the value of what he's doing and writes Doug Yates a fat check. Kvapil is only getting better, too. (2) Look for NASCAR to limit the window teams have to adjust the "yaw." The 77 looked ridiculous Saturday night. But like Kahne's win, it's the rules and they have every right to take advantage of it.
That's it. Maybe I'll go order the English version of the Rosetta Stone DVDs. I speak Southern, you know.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.