It was only a matter of weeks before the 2007 Busch East Series began that Andy Santerre Motorsports took the step it had long wanted to take.
But last winter, Santerre got the call he wanted. Dale Earnhardt Inc. put teenager Jeffrey Earnhardt at ASM, and Santerre began preparing the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats cars for the youngster with only short-track Late Model experience on his resume.
Bowdoin's Christopher Gould gave up a career racing motorcycles because he thought it was too dangerous. On Sunday afternoon at the Moroso Motorsports Park in Jupiter, Fla., Gould was killed when his jet-powered Funny Car crashed after making an exhibition run at the Citrus Nationals.
Gould, 52, was in his 4th year driving Funny Cars on the exhibition tour.
"There wasn't a hidden agenda for him," said Brian Lohnes, who works for both the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) and New England Dragway in Epping, N.H. "He was doing what he was doing not because he saw it as some kind of stepping stone.
"He was a regular guy who was dreaming about doing something he loved, and he was out doing it."
According to Lohnes and other eyewitness accounts, Gould's car crashed violently after crossing the finish line. It was there that some type of parachute malfunction set in motion a grisly chain of events that led to Gould's death.
"He made a run earlier in the day, and the car had acteed strangely at the top of the track," Lohnes said, adding that funny car tragedies typically stem from throttles that hang open.
Whether the chutes deployed at all or deployed unevenly, which could cause the car to veer uncontrollably, was not known. The car made a "hard turn," according to Lohnes, into the grass alongside the strip and then tumbled.
Gould was pronounced dead at the scene. The remainder of the program was canceled.
A veteran of motorcyle racing, Gould gave that up more than a decade ago and first received clearance from the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to compete in the Funny Car jet ranks in 2004. The cars, with the same bodies and chassis as those Funny Cars on the NHRA and IHRA circuits, sport small jet engines.
Gould only competed on a "booking" basis, meaning he was invited by promoters to shows nationwide -- thanks to his graciousness to both fans and race directors alike.
"This one hurts, it was close to home," said Joe Lombardo, track manager of New England Dragway. "Chris was living out his dream. He bought a jet car and start touring the country.
"He was really one of the good guys in this sport. There are a lot of people who treat this as more of a business, but there are some like Chris who do it because they love it. If you went down to his pit area and talked to him, even if he was working on the car, he would stop and talk to kids and their parents about it. He’s been on other side. In that respect, he was racing because it was fun."
It takes me weeks -- well, months really -- to come down from the adrenaline feed that is the 8-month grind of the local racing season. Races, stories, analysis, finishing orders, 2:30 a.m. blog entries... Truth be told, I'm not sure I ever really get over the post-racing season hangover. Like any functional junkie, I think after a while I just hide the symptoms from the rest of the world, until March rolls around and the season starts anew.
But these few weeks do give us the opportunity to look back at what we saw, kind of take stock of the year in motorsports, if you will. And if there are 2 things we fans like, it's highlight reels and top-10 lists.
Beginning next Monday, Dec. 3, and running every Monday for the next 10 weeks, I'm planning on running a top-10 countdown from the 2007 season. We'll start with No. 10 and each week work our way toward No. 1, examining one final time the biggest stories of the local season and some of the far-reaching national headlines, too. It'll take us right up to the week leading into the Shootout at Daytona...
If there's anything you'd like to see on the list, something you don't want me to forget, let me know. I'm sure it will all spark plenty of debates...
For the first time in recent memory, ACT closed its '07 slate with a race other than the prestigious Milk Bowl, returning to Oxford on Oct. 6 for a 150-lap finale that ACT insider deemed "a favor." Though the Sept. 13 New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Oxford next season won't serve as ACT's finale (the Milk Bowl 2 weeks later will), it's a move by Oxford Plains that begs the question.
This time around there won't be the threat of cold weather, or the Fryeburg Fair just down the road apiece. Instead, that mid-September date comes smack dab in the middle of the Sylvania 300 weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the first race in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
You're not asking New England fans to choose which event to attend by holding them head-to-head, because for most there is no choice — and annual attendance of more than 100,000 speaks volumes to that end. Tickets to 1 of only 2 area appearances for NASCAR's top series are purchased long in advance, and the travel plans are made well ahead of time, too. With uncertainty surrounding Speedway Motorsports Inc.'s purchase of the New Hampshire track in the future, the September race could be the final one of its kind.
Tracks much further away from Loudon, N.H., than Oxford close their gates for entire weekends for fear of poor attendance.
The weekend of Sept. 20 is an open weekend on the 2008 ACT schedule as its currently comprised. The 2 Little Guy 100's are to be held on that same day as that ACT race, too -- the same day as the final points program at Wiscasset Raceway.
Nobody in the world of short-track racing should be held prisoner by the NASCAR behemoth, but the much smarter money should have been placed on holding the New England Dodge Dealers 150 the next weekend. It would help racers who want to compete in the Oxford finale, and it would save fans, once again, from being forced to make difficult choices with their racing dollars.
* NASCAR has no one to blame but itself for the fact that most of the world thinks this year's Chase has been a bore. Typically, 2 race teams separated by only a few points would qualify as real drama. Problem is, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are really one in the same — and NASCAR's ridiculously soft stance on the creation of superteams hasn't helped.
If Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte are working out of the same shop and same notebooks (which they are), is either really winning the Nextel Cup championship over the other? Of course not. It's a Hendrick Motorsports title, no matter who gets to stuff the trophy in the suitcase.
* The 2008 schedules are out for both Wiscasset Raceway and Oxford Plains Speedway are out, and, as promised, Wiscasset is making its stand as Maine's Pro Stock capital. The slate will included the DNK 250, the Coastal 200, a couple of Twin 125's and the final race of the PASS North Series slate.
The '250,' of course, is a direct response to the Oxford version of the 250 (you may have heard, there have been 34 of them to date) being handed over to the Late Model crowd. The Original 250 comes on July 20; the knock-off comes about a month later, on Aug. 17.
* In case you missed some of this stuff over the last few weeks:
- Jerry Gappens has been named by Speedway Motorsports Inc. as general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway
- Austin Dillon will drive for Andy Santerre Motorsports next year in the We Don't Have A Title Sponsor Yet East Series. Still no word on what the No. 44 and Sean Caisse's plans are
- It's Mason-Dixon Meltdown weekend in Concord, N.C. Cassius Clark is the defending champion of the event, which was held last year in South Boston, Va.
The 80-year-old businessman from Paris, Maine, sold New Hampshire International Speedway to Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports Inc. on Friday. The track in Loudon, N.H., which opened in 1990 and hosts two major NASCAR races annually, was sold for the price of $340 million.
ANDY SANTERRE, 3-time Busch East Series winner at the track:
"There were a lot of race fans in New England before, but they could never go and see NASCAR racing up close (without traveling). Honestly, that’s where anybody from New England went. Guys like myself — or Ricky Craven wouldn’t have made it to Cup — if New Hampshire wasn’t there. We got noticed because it brought the big boys to New England. Without that, I don’t think a lot of us would have had the opportunity.
“The Bahres did a great job with the place, and to have two (Cup) dates, they were very fortunate. A lot of that was what they’ve done for NASCAR in past. But if (Bruton Smith) spent that kind of money, he might want to move a race to one of his tracks that only has one race.”
KURT BUSCH, who swept the two NHIS Cup races in 2004:
"New Hampshire has a great fan base. They sell out that race track every year we go up there. The Northeast loves their NASCAR. I would hope that racetrack keeps at least one date. I would like to see us go to a lot of race tracks just once a year and maybe trim the schedule down, but that’ll never happen.
"But (moving one of the dates), it’ll make every race that’s at their race track more important and drivers will feel more excited about winning each race — to do it when there is only one win that you can get at a track each year. But, Vegas would start off in the Chase. It would be a little warm out there the first of September. I don’t know. All of it is speculation."
BRIAN FRANCE, NASCAR CEO:
"The success of NHIS, and the desire of the Bahre family to sell, made the track very attractive to SMI and several other interested buyers. SMI has a highly regarded record for hosting some of the most successful and enjoyable race events in all of NASCAR, and there's no doubt that will continue.
"While we don't have any details about SMI's plans for NHIS, all sanctions for 2008 have been signed and finalized. As a result, there will be no location changes to the 2008 schedule that was released last month. This is important to the fans, competitors, broadcast partners and sponsors who have already made plans for the 2008 races.
"Looking beyond 2008, NASCAR will continue to consider requests by any track operator, including SMI, to relocate race dates. Under NASCAR's "realignment" plan, we have worked with track owners to relocate race dates to meet the needs of our growing national fan base. Ultimately, any change must meet NASCAR�s objectives and serve our fans.
"The industry owes Bob and Gary Bahre a debt of gratitude for their leadership and commitment to NASCAR. All of NASCAR wishes the Bahre family well during this time of transition. They will always be considered pioneers in NASCAR."
Globe racing writer Michael Vega says that NHIS owner Bob Bahre has reached an agreement with Bruton Smith to sell the track. Smith, under the guise of Speedway Motorsports Inc., already has 6 tracks encompassing 10 Nextel Cup Series race dates.
NHIS officials, according to Vega's story, said there's nothing to report. Still, a press conference could come as early as Friday with news of an official sale.
If Smith gets control of NHIS, the fear is that Cup racing will leave New England. Smith desperately wants to add a 2nd race at his Las Vegas facility, and it's unlikely that NHIS would continue to hold its place as both the 1st race of the Chase and the 1st race in the "Race to the Chase."
* Time and again I'm asked the same question: Why do the northern drivers all travel south for PASS races, but the southern guys never come up here? The answer is an unpleasant one.
Southern Super Late Model teams have a nasty reputation for being unwilling to travel to any event in which A) they don't think they are the prohibitive favorite to win and B) aren't guaranteed a non-handicapped starting grid.
That's it. That's the reasoning. They're so busy swimming in the NASCAR Kool-Aid that surrounds them, believing anything short of a win at the local level will kill their NASCAR aspirations faster than a blown engine, they're not willing to risk much.
* With the southern guys hospitably stepping aside, Cassius Clark won the Halloween Howler at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway on Saturday. A disappointing year for Clark has been salvaged over the late part of the season. Faulty scales robbed him of a 100-lap win at Wiscasset Raceway last month, but he's won both the PASS North season finale at White Mountain on Oct. 14 and now the Howler.
Yeah, Cassius is good. And if people knew the shoestring budget his team worked with, they'd be even more impressed than they already are.
Top-5 from that Howler: 1. Cassius Clark, 2. Ben Rowe, 3. Derek Ramstrom, 4. Ryan Lawler, 5. Corey Williams.
* Want to see one of the most embarrassing things on the World Wide Web? Check out this thread on the Racin' Paper message board devoted to All-Star Speedway.
I don't know if track owner Bobby McArthur does or does not pay what he owes racers, and frankly, it's a discusssion I don't really want to have. But for him to make the posts he does under the screen name of "SHOWSTOPPA" is one of the most disgusting things you'll find in the world of short-track racing. This is the man running a NASCAR-sanctioned short track threatening his teams openly.
Yeah, that's good P.R. I wonder how many cars you'll see in the feature lineups next season -- assuming All-Star lasts that long...
* Game 4: Red Sox 4, Rockies 3. (Sox win World Series, 4-0.)
Yeah, it was THAT good. And, yeah, I haven't gotten sick of watching the post-game coverage yet. Probably never will.
Biddeford native Slugger Labbe, best known for his Daytona 500-winning work with Michael Waltrip at DEI, will take over as the crew chief for the No. 36 Bill Davis Racing Toyotas. Mike Skinner will try and qualify the car for the next 2 events (Atlanta, Texas) and Johnny Benson will try and steer the cars into the final 2 (Phoenix, Homestead). The seat became open when Jeremy Mayfield announced his decision to sign with Haas-CNC racing for the remainder of 2007 and through 2008.
Labbe, 39, had been working with Jacques Villeneuve at BDR. He's also served in crew chief capacities at Gillette-Evernham Motorsports, Robert Yates Racing and the now-defunct Ginn Racing.
Labbe's start in NASCAR racing came as a crew member for Kelly Moore's Busch North Series operation.
One constant that, thankfully for track owner Doug White, will be back for a 15th straight season of racing at the facility. Ken Minott confirmed this weekend that, despite swirling rumors to the contrary, he will be back as the track's lead announcer in 2008.
Minott is a true gem on the local racing scene, a guy that people like myself can lean on. Want to know who won the Late Model feature last weekend? Ken's on top of it. Want to know how many times Chris Thorne finished 7th or worse in that division over the last 3 seasons? Well, Ken's got that info, too.
When White bought the track in the middle of the 2007 season, he brought with him the engergetic and sometimes abrasive John Crawford. Crawford was originally brought in as a consultant to White, someone who then could sell the place to potential advertisers and help bring it a little more visibility -- like he'd done with Unity Raceway when he leased that track from Ralph Nason a few years back.
But, Crawford soon ended up on a microphone, and then on a radio to help officiate races. In fact, Crawford was everywhere all the time it seemed. It became clear that it grated on Minott's nerves -- when during one Saturday night, Crawford left the announcer's booth with a scrape on his forehead.
(For the record, Minott didn't swing at Crawford. He simply knocked over a pile of "stuff" that caught Crawford's melon...)
More than Crawford's appearance, however, Minott had to weigh what all of us are forced to at times -- family obligations vs. our vocations. On a couple of occasions, Ken had asked me if I ever felt torn between work and my family. At first, it seemed an innocent enough query, but by September I knew something was on his mind.
For 14 years, Ken has missed out on Saturday cookouts, trips to Red Sox matinee games on Sundays in Boston, on watching his kids do things themselves.
He's not ready to give up either -- the family or racing. And all he wanted from this year was permission from White to miss out on a race here or there to tend to things such as, oh, I don't know, his daughter's graduation. Seems reasonable enough.
Minott will also get his Sundays, too. He's giving up the media relations portion of his gig at Wiscasset, meaning he won't have to spend hours and hours compiling race results, recaps and press releases.
Good for Minott for putting family first. Good for Doug White for understanding the asset he has in Minott. Good for Wiscasset Raceway fans for getting the best deal of all.
Now I'm not one to criticize NASCAR (uh....) but don't you think they would have had this a couple of weeks back, when they made the announcement that Nationwide Insurance was taking over as the title sponsor of Nextel Cup final practice?
I mean, let's get the ducks in a row people.
Yeah, I know. It's slow this time of year.
Like sprint cars in Maine or dirt racing in Canada, Modified racing just hasn't caught on in the northern reaches of New England. That's not stopping Curley from bringing in the True Value Modified Series for an event to run as part of a doubleheader with the American-Canadian Tour on Memorial Day weekend next season at Thunder Road Speedbowl.
It will be a 100-lap race, the 1st Modified race at Thunder Road since 1965.
The 2 sides announced the event after series owner and competitor Jack Bateman (umm, yeah, it's a, uh, mild conflict of interest, isn't it...?) tested on the 1/4-mile and reported running lap times in the mid-12-second range.
Still, Curley likely hasn't gone into this blindly. The TVMS has its roots in northern New Hampshire -- not exactly a Modified hotbed -- and this little grassroots series has found a way to prosper. While the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has petered out in northern New England, the TVMS raced at Oxford Plains Speedway this season and races in New Hampshire still, too.
The NASCAR Modified Tour is dominated by a driver roster hailing from virtually every corner, city, town and village in Connecticut, but the TVMS has a more geographically-diverse roster. That should serve it well moving forward.
Still — Modifieds at Thunder Road? Boy, it just doesn't sound right.
"The Chase is a fraud format and has failed to deliver on its promise," he wrote.
Hey, you may not like the format gang, but it has absolutely delivered on its promise. Brian France and the rest of the ring masters running NASCAR's traveling circus never promised any great shakes when the Chase for the Nextel Cup format was introduced a few years ago.
All we were promised was a contrived championship battle, one that wiped out whatever anyone had done during the first 26 races of the year and essentially reset the competing field at an equal points position. Once that was done, you were going to get 10 races toward the Cup -- a format that would compete with the NFL, college football and MLB playoffs for fan interest (read: TV ratings and, thusly, advertising revenue).
It didn't matter if you were the best team for the whole season or not. It only mattered that you could be better than the 9 or 11 other teams in the Chase with you for the last couple of months of the season.
The racing hasn't been any better on the track, with or without the Car of Tomorrow (read: Talladega, or at least I think that was Talladega we saw) -- but that's not what NASCAR promised. A "true" champion hasn't necessarily been crowned -- but that's not what NASCAR promised. There haven't been any great worst-to-first performances, either -- but that's not what NASCAR promised.
All NASCAR promised was a controlled setting for its final 10 races, and they've continually found themselves tweaking that system, rightly or wrongly. And that's all they really promised.
In that vein, the Chase is EXACTLY what NASCAR promised. We just don't have to like it.
Not that someone isn't entitled to changing their mind.
Is it just me, or are we seeing the Jeff Gordon of the late 1990s, the one who couldn't lose no matter what he did?
Hard not to remember how excited I was when the Sox got him at the trading deadline. Now, though, I'm wondering if we'll see him in another game (meaningful or otherwise) in a Boston uniform.
But it's all relative, isn't it? Just ask Russ Wicks.
Driving what was supposedly a stock car built to "NASCAR specifications," Wicks set a new world speed record in a Dodge Charger on Tuesday. Wicks, who holds world records of more than 200 miles per hour on both land and water, has set the stock car mark of 244.9 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
The record was confirmed by Guinness World Records. The new mark shatters Wicks’ previous stock car world speed record of 222 miles per hour.
Practice for the annual season-ending event at Unity Raceway was rained out by persistent showers across the state on Friday, though track officials remained optimistic that the grounds would be ready in time for practice to begin on Saturday morning.
In addition to the $1,500-to-win Long John 100 for the Super Street division, there is also a 100-lap event for the Limited Sportsman machines paying $750 to the winner. There are 5 other divisions on the card, too, running features varying in length from 15 to 30 laps.
Heat racing begins at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Someone should tell New Englander Jeff Simmons that the market is hot right now for open-wheel drivers over on the stock car side. So hot that, well, Patrick Carpentier can make the move straight to Cup.
Gillett Evernham Motorsports made it official on Wednesday, the former CART driver will run a full-time Sprint Cup Series schedule and part-time Nationwide Series schedule for the team in 2008. Carpentier debuted with the team by finishing 2nd in a Busch race in Montreal, following that up by leading 7 laps in the Cup race at Watkins Glen the next week.
These days, you don't have do a whole lot more than that to warrant a million-dollar Cup contract. Carpentier resume is as follows: 2 Champ Car wins, 3 CART victories and a Toyota Atlantic Championship. That's it.
Still, GEM is ready to roll Carpentier out.
“Patrick (Carpentier) has shown tremendous talent in every series he has driven throughout his career and has a bright future in NASCAR," George Gillett said in a release. "We are committed to giving Patrick the best resources and opportunities available to make this transition and we look forward to a great deal of success together both on and off the track.”
As NASCAR readies to make a switch to the Nationwide Series and the Busch Series' identity erodes bit by bit, it's understandable that NASCAR wants to tout the achievement of someone like Keller. What we have to hope is that this business won't all get run over by a pace car after Friday's Dollar General 300 is complete.
"There are so many agendas in the Busch Series, I hope that we maintain enough spots for all those agendas and not just become a series with 25 or 30 Cup drivers on a Saturday, and then just a couple of spots just left for everybody else," Keller said. "That's what concerns me.
"I mean, I think the series is great when you have 12 to 14 or so Cup drivers, because they are more recognizable. They are more known to the fans, and that brings notoriety to our series, so I'm all for that. But when you start getting up to the 24, 25, even higher, numbers of Cup drivers in the series, it kind of puts it over to one side and that concerns me a little bit."
Keller is a driver with a different agenda. Like former series champion Randy Lajoie before him, Keller has no real interest in Cup Series racing and the circus that goes along with it. He's far too happy spending Sundays at home with his wife and kids.But choosing his family has come at the cost of his racing career. And, because he's 37 years old and not the 18- or 19-year-old polished kid that every team is looking for in its development program, he's had to settle for what he can get this year.
"It's tough because I want to be a part of a series week-in and week-out," said Keller, whose made only 16 starts this season. "I mean, I equate it to only playing golf once a month. It's hard to get in a rhythm. It's very tough for me to get in a rhythm over the summer months because I raced for a couple of different teams. I mean, there for 2 months, I had a team for every other week and a different spotter every other week, and some of the small things that go along with that — it's just it's hard to get into a rhythm."
These are the words a PR man must live by, and Quirk has done the job.
Spend any amount of time in the newspaper business, and you'll quickly lose track of the hundreds of PR people who aren't worth the threads in their own shoelaces. The flip side of that equation, of course, is that you can count on one hand the number of people who excel in the position.
Quirk is one of those people I count on my hand. Problem is, PASS doesn't always see the need for someone who is media savvy.
At some point last season, Quirk and PASS had a falling out. Quirk isn't usually one to tell tales out of school -- particularly to some snot-nosed little racing writer -- so the details of that divorce have remained somewhat muddled. Suffice it to say, through piecing it all together from a variety of sources, Quirk and PASS president Tom Mayberry disagreed on a few things, Mayberry turned to the bigger PR monster at 51 Sports and Quirk was out.
While Quirk was out, a few things happened in 2007. Or, better said, a few things failed to happen -- namely, press releases and results were not getting out to media outlets. If you weren't willing to subject yourself to what Speed51.com purports to be journalism and motorsports coverage (you know, as long as you're one of its clients), you could find the results a day or so later.
At races, there were no entry lists, no media kits, no starting lineups and, if you weren't quick enough to tackle a scorer with a copy of the finishing order before they left the tower, no results. From April through mid-June at Unity Raceway, I received exactly ZERO in the way of literature from PASS.
For those of you that may or may not care, that's no correspondence on behalf of PASS with the one media member who regularly covers its events. You can read between the lines.
On Sunday morning July 1st, my first interaction of any kind with a PASS PR representative came as the sun was coming up. That morning, I'd written about how Kyle Busch had been wrongly credited with a PASS North Series win less than 6 hours earlier at All-Star Speedway.
A few minutes before 7 a.m., Bob Dillner approached me in the media center at New Hampshire International Speedway. Diller, the SPEED Channel reporter covering the Nextel Cup Series, is the founder of 51 Sports and, as of then, handling PR for PASS.
After first telling me he hadn't actually read the entire article (uh, rule no. 1, Bob, at least do the author the service of reading something in its entirety before quibbling with it), he told me what I wrote was wrong (again, without having read all of it) and followed up by lecturing me on how I should have done my job. Imagine that -- the guy who erroneously broke the story in 2006 of Richard Childress Racing teams using tricked-up shocks in the 1st race of the Chase that year lecturing me on responsible journalism. It was laughable.
I told Dillner that until PASS reversed its decision, I was absolutely right. Dillner said that something would likely come about "in the next few days." I said until that happened, I wasn't going to back off my story. Dillner told me he hoped I'd write something more positive when a decision was announced. I told him I always called it like I saw it.
Two hours later, Mike Rowe was officially credited with that victory as Busch was stripped. I did not hear a word from PASS (or Dillner) in the aftermath. PASS has since (in a good move) divorced itself from Dillner's 51 Sports.
The next time I heard anything from PASS? When Mayberry asked Quirk to help him out with some press releases in August.
Not coincidentally, PASS coverage has been easier to come by in newspapers, in trade papers and on the Web since Quirk was brought back into the fold. There have been timely press releases and results from PASS, not just for the Super Late Models, but also for the Modified and Sportsman divisions, too, which were essentially ignored previously.
The upgrade in coverage is entirely Quirk's doing, and it shouldn't be overlooked. Officially, Quirk still doesn't have a job with the series -- he's simply being used as a "PR consultant."
It's time to remove that label and put him on the payroll. ACT gets a ton of attention in New England, in part, because its PR staff is second-to-none when it comes to being both accessible and personable. They have information, they are willing to share it, and they are available when you need anything and everything, both at the race track and away from it.
Without someone like Quirk, PASS boasts none of the above. With someone like Quirk, the media remains more inclined to pay attention to all of your series, because they know where to turn when they have questions.
The job of a PR man can't be an afterthought, not when people have so many entertainment choices these days. A PR man who's on the job can have a direct impact on the perception of a series.
In these parts, there are few in that group.
1st gear -- Gordon is the master: If Jeff Gordon's not careful, people are going to start saying he can see the air the way Dale Earnhardt was often accused of. The move he pulled off to cut in front of Tony Stewart and take advantage of that momentum was masterful, plain and simple, Gordon fan or Gordon hater. If there's a better driver out there in the Cup Series right now, I say prove it. He's got 6 career wins at Talladega now, 5 series wins in 2007 and inherited the points lead from teammate Jimmie Johnson with the victory.
2nd gear -- DEI/Childress engines: What it is now, like every other race that Junior's blown up in? Clint Bowyer was the only DEI or Childress driver in the Chase not to grenade it at some point, which leaves you wondering not only what happened to the 2 teams -- who happen to have an engine alliance -- but why these problems are still popping up at DEI. The future is, at best, a tenuous one moving on to 2008.
3rd gear -- Villeneuve doesn't cause the big one!: So Jacques "He-Doesn't-Belong-Out-Here-With-Us-NACAR-Good-Old-Boys" Villeneuve ran all 188 laps, finished 21st, never got into a scrape and didn't wipe out all 12 Chase contenders by deciding to hang a hard right across 4 lanes of traffic. Amazing that a Formula 1 champ can drive, isn't it? And, for the record, for all the accusations of inexperience -- Bobby Labonte (yes, THAT Bobby Labonte, a former champion and guy with a resume that's 7 pages long) was the one who caused the dreaded "big one." Not that it was necessarily his fault, but it just served to show that restrictor plate racing is such a crapshoot, anyone can have troubles.
4th gear -- Cut to The Chase: It looks like it's down to a 4-horse race with 6 Chase events left. Gordon, Johnson (-9), Clint Bowyer (-63) and Stewart (-154) are the only guys with legitimate hopes. For 5th-place Carl Edwards, 200 points back (assuming his appeal is denied this week), is a lot of ground to make up on 4 teams that are running really well right now.
2. Roger Brown, Lancaster, N.H.
3. Donald Theetge, Boischatel, Que.
4. Brent Dragon, Milton, Vt.
5. Eddie MacDonald, Rowley, Mass.
6. Shawn Martin, Turner
7. Alan Tardiff, Lyman
8. John Donahue, Graniteville, Vt.
9. Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H.
10. Tracie Bellerose, Gorham, N.H.