Saturday, August 02, 2008

A Fan Shouts "Way to Go, David Gilliland!"

As a raving NASCAR fan, I have found myself to be on The Ups and The Downs in my obsession! I lucked into NASCAR, when my employer introduced me to a driver. I then formed a fan following for a particular driver who was showing some degree of success, and became a full-bore, all-out fan. After my driver (of the time) exhibited some behavior that I could not, personally or morally tolerate, I felt it was time to move on.

And move on I did! It took a bit, but I found an upcoming driver who did not come with all of the glory and instant success of the Denny Hamlins, Kyle Busches, and Joey Loganos of the world. It is easy to follow a driver that wins right out of the box. And yet, I chose the more challenging path. I became a fan of David Gilliland.

David had a surprise win in a Busch race that brought him to a Cup level ride at Robert Yates Racing. Sadly, RYR was in the process of burying itself into a huge hole, and David struggled in his first year and a half in equipment that appeared to be demon-inspired. Now that Robert's son, Doug, has reformed the company, and is now an affiliate of Roush Racing, there is a marked improvement in both equipment and in solid finishes.

The first year of Yates Racing has presented the world with the perseverance of "The Little Train That Could!" Faced with a patchwork of sponsorship, both Yates teams have continued to show the world that better equipment produces better results. David and his team mate, Travis Kvapil, who was also afflicted with poor running cars early in his Cup career, are showing consistent improvement when in consistently prepared cars.

A little over a month ago, David drove to a steady and solid 2nd place finish at Infineon. Yesterday, he qualified his Ford Fusion to a 3rd place start. Each of these milestones have been hard fought, but they are harbingers of the future, in my opinion. These starts and finishes will become more of a norm, and I am boldly predicting both a pole and a win this year!

Following a driver who struggles is character building. It is always a challenge to come to a race, as a fan, and proudly wear the colors of a driver who is not popular. Some of the teasing and comments are good natured, others not so fun to hear. But, when a fan is convinced that a particular driver is worth it, then there is no shaking of that faith.

Viewing message boards of some of those struggling drivers shows true grit and true character on the part of the fans. Most of those drivers' fans are positive, and sure that things will get better. Why? Faith! Faith that our judgment is right. Faith that the others on the forum feel the same. Faith that WE are the ones who will lead the rest of NASCAR fans to finding the truth about our driver.

But we are still generous with our fandom! We welcome others to join us on our band-wagon. There is always room for more!

At this time, I have to say hello to a fellow blogger, Valli, from The Fast and the Fabulous! She gave a special shout-out to Gilly's Gang, a group of those intrepid fanatic followers, who are proud of being affiliated with David Gilliland. She knows us well, and is another of those proud followers of Drivers Not (Yet) Famous!

And David? Go get 'em tomorrow! Gilly's Gang has faith! And as for potential sponsors? WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU WAITING FOR? This WILL be one of the 'feel good stories' of NASCAR, trust me! (photocredit Getty)

Monday, July 28, 2008

With friends like these.....

With friends like these, who need enemies?

Jack Roush and Jamie McMurray

Jack apparently can't count to 5, as he has claimed to only have 4 teams that are important to him.

Roush discussed the value of drivers in the garage and listed four of his drivers -- Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan -- when talking about working to keep competitors from being taken by other teams. Asked later if he'd intentionally left McMurray off the list, Roush admitted that the driver has not performed up to the standard of the others.
Fortunately, Jack's other drivers came to his defense.
"Jack's like that -- I'm surprised he remembered four of us," Biffle said. "He introduces us at the Christmas party and forgets Matt [laughing]. I think it's just Jack -- I don't think there was an intention of singling out anybody.
Nicely said by Biffle, but I don't think Jamie feels very comfortable right now!

Rusty Wallace, Ryan Newman and Roger Penske

Rusty Wallace, for some reason, felt that it was important to go out on a limb, and throw Ryan Newman under the proverbial bus. Yes, Rusty and Ryan were never friends while team mates at Penske Racing. Yes, Ryan is leaving Penske. One has to wonder how much talking was actually done between Rusty and Roger. And if Roger did 'fire' Ryan, why does Rusty feel a need to divulge the conversation? Roger went to work quickly to attack the statements with the alacrity of a HazMat Cleanup Crew.
"(Newman) made a decision, we made it together that he'd move on," Penske said. "There was no issue between the two of us. There's some reports that there was and that's not the case."
Ryan however, had the best responses, as widely reported.
"Was he conscious when he said it?" Newman asked. "It doesn't matter to me. I know Rusty and his personalities - plural - and everybody is different."

As I think about this, the motivation for Rusty's commentary may well be hidden within this situation. Stremme going to work for Roger may have ramifications all the way down the line to Rusty's Busch team. One wonders if Rusty was hoping that his son Steven could step into the 12 after Ryan leaves.

The potential damage to both Roger and Ryan's credibility might be the biggest issue here. Sadly, by attacking Ryan, Rusty may well have put a wedge in his friendship with Roger Penske. And he may have harmed Ryan's chances for a new ride, and indeed even Roger's ability to get a new driver!

Elliott Sadler, Doug Yates and Jack Roush.

And this is by far the most bizarre of all the 'what in the heck did he just say?' scenarios involving Elliott Sadler. And this time, his accent has nothing to do with it!
Elliott Sadler said Yates Racing does more with less than any team in Sprint Cup. But Sadler also believes the two Yates Fords don't receive the support they deserve in the partnership with Roush Fenway Racing. "When I was there, they never helped us," said Sadler, who drove for the Yates organization from 2003 until the middle of the 2006 season. "And [RFR] still doesn't help them. I really feel for those guys [at Yates Racing]. "I hate to see what they're going through. I would love to see them get with a manufacturer and team that actually supports them." ... Roush and Yates began building engines together while Sadler was there, but the two teams formed a more direct partnership at the end of last season when Yates Racing was in danger of going out of business. ... RFR president Geoff Smith and the RFR marketing team have been actively involved in helping co-owner Doug Yates find sponsorship for the No. 28 and No. 38 Fords. ... Sadler believes his old teammates at Yates still need more help, but he also is impressed with what the organization has accomplished this season. ..."I think it's phenomenal what they've done this year," Sadler said. "For Travis to come in and do what he's done on his first year with that team has been really impressive. I know how hard all those guys work there and I want to see them do well."
Why in the world would Elliott decide that now is the time for him to comment? He makes a point to claim that Jack is not supporting the Yates team, and indeed insists that Jack essentially 'takes' and never gives back. Long time fans of Sadler claim he bears a grudge with Roush that starts back to the days of driving for the Wood Brothers. One likely explanation is that he is using the media as a forum to slam Jack, after Jack's comments about Jamie McMurray (see above) who also happens to be close friends with Salder, and indeed are next-door neighbors. One other possible explanation is that Sadler is setting the stage for GEM to acquire Yates, but frankly, I don't see Robby Gordon getting great benefits from the affiliation with GEM. And the commentary about Travis Kvapil, with no mention of David Gilliland by Sadler, leaves no doubts as to how Sadler feels about his replacement. Of course, anyone listening to Sadler's scanner would have already realized that there is animosity towards the driver of the 38 car..

At any rate, the timing of Sadler's commentary could prove to be damaging to the efforts of his 'friends' at Yates Racing. If there is any doubt cast on the relationship of Yates and Roush, it could well shred any potential relationship with interested sponsors. Thanks, Elliott, for all of your help!

Again, having friends like the above suggest that it may better to consort with your enemies. But then again, it might be getting difficult to make that distinction in the NASCAR garage.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Allstate Pit Crew Competition 400

All I can say is..."I am TIRED! Tired of hearing about TIRES!" (And for the first time, my header picture allows me to not use any other image from anywhere else! How appropriate for the subject!)

Today's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard has been wildly flamed among the world of NASCAR fans who live on the internet. There were immediate concerns while we watched the tire cords springing into view yesterday during the final practice sessions. Little did we know that the issue was going to explode faster than a right rear tire on a diamond-cut track.

NASCAR did not notice a problem Friday during practice, as most of those cars were making 3 lap runs, in preparation for qualification runs. Saturday's post qual practices are when the problems first arrived, due to the longer runs being made by teams. Many teams curtailed the last practice, in fears that there would be an extreme shortage of tires for Sunday's race.

Early risers on Sunday discovered that Goodyear had sent out orders to bring in 800 right side tires originally designated for Pocono next week. NASCAR made contingency plans on how to use the extra tires, and buckled down for a long race.

Announcing that there would be a competition yellow at 10 laps, the early part of the race saw several tire issues. The first caution was on lap one, and was caused by Michael Waltrip getting loose, and was probably NOT a product of the tires. The next caution at Lap 14 was also from a loose car, but there may be more of a tire issue on this one. As the cars continued through the race, it became apparant that the first signal that a tire was going south was a loose feeling. Many drivers did not react fast enough to get into the pits. Matt Kenseth had the most dramatic explosive tire rupture, with the tire even blowing into the cockpit, and dislodging the right side window.

After that, the race was made up of Competition Yellows every ten to 12 laps. Many drivers started taking care of their tires, with some improvement in cording. My driver, David Gilliland, observed that the restarts were where the cars were burning up the right front, but that the right rear was also impacted from a loose car. Keeping the car tightened up, and playing it safe on the restart helped him finish in 20th. Not flashy, but certainly safe and indeed a good finish under the circumstances. Jimmie Johnson ran a race to finish, and had flawless pit strategy coming from Chad Knause and his pit crew.

The internet fan-dom pundits are loudly blaming NASCAR and Goodyear, with outraged opinions that this was the worst race in the history of the sport. I am totally unable to disagree, and yet, I can see that there were really not a lot of options left.

The most dramatic suggestion of the day was that the race should never have been run. The fall-out of canceling the race would have been something that would deal such a strong blow to the sport that there would be no recovery.

It is hopeful that NASCAR and Goodyear learn from this, and are better prepared next year for the trip to Indy. Surely the open testing next year will help bring better knowledge for NASCAR, Goodyear, and for the teams. At least, today, the pit crews all had extra practice!