How on earth is this ever going to work?!?!? (Wink, wink)

Boy, I sure hope a guy who wants to win races can fit in on a successful race team.

I mean, wouldn't Joe Gibbs Racing be better served to hire an over the hill driver like Sterling Marlin or Joe Nemecheck, someone who won't rock the boat and is happy to collect his paycheck for running 30th every week? Isn't that what racing is all about?

It's comical the repeated line of questioning regarding Joe Gibbs Racing's decision to hire Kyle Busch, who was dropped from Hendrick Motorsports when that organization had
the chance to hire Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After being asked the same things over and over and over at his JGR introductory press conference, Kyle just smiled politely and said he didn't expect to have to change. When the teams got to Michigan on Friday for the Cup race there on Sunday, JGR drivers Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin were asked about how Busch would fit in.
"He's the best young talent out there in my opinion so I think we definitely got the right guy," Stewart said. "I think it fits right in with it. I think that's why he's a perfect fit for our organization.
"He's got the same passion and desire that Denny (Hamlin) and I have to win races. If you don't have guys that think the same way you do and feel the same way you do, it's hard to work together."
If you're a fan of a race team, what do you want? Guys driven to win no matter what, or guys who are happy to points race and not cause any ripples?
Yeah, that's what I thought. The folks at Joe Gibbs agree with you.

Clark rides momentum into weekend

Johnny Clark feels like his team has built a little momentum as it heads to the PASS North Series 150 at Wiscasset Raceway this weekend.

Two weeks ago, Clark snapped a stretch of crashes and poor finishes by winning a 50-lap race at Wiscasset, the first Pro Stock race under the watch of new track owner Doug White.

Read the complete story in today's Kennebec Journal.


They won't have Wild Bill to kick around this weekend

The most recent Pro Stock winner at Wiscasset Raceway won’t be in the field for the track’s biggest race in that division in four years.

Bill Penfold of Oxford, who won the 50-lap feature at Wiscasset last Saturday, will not race in Sunday’s PASS North Series 150 at the track. Penfold said he was originally suspended by PASS officials for two races after the Miller Lite 150 at Riverside Speedway, but that he also was planning on sitting out Sunday’s event, anyway.

PASS has not been to Wiscasset since Sam Sessions of South Paris won the Big Dawg 400 there in 2003.

“A guy now can go Saturday night racing and buy tires and that’s it,” said Penfold, who will race in Wiscasset’s regularly 50-lap event tonight. “To go PASS racing, it’s $1,500 a night. To go to Wiscasset, last week I spent $390 — that’s buying two new tires and all my guys getting in. The racing’s good there, and everybody’s running really clean. I just don’t see (tour) racing anymore.”

Penfold said he will no longer compete in PASS, that Wiscasset Raceway will be his weekly home for this season and beyond. Penfold first competed at the track in 1992, the year after Dave St. Clair of Liberty re-opened the facility from a long hibernation. Prior to two weeks ago, the former NASCAR Busch East Series driver said he hadn’t raced there since 1993.

“After about 10 laps of practice, I was right back at home,” said Penfold, whose father, Ray Penfold, won the 1985 Wiscasset track championship. “To come away from somewhere that you started and then be able to go back, it’s really comforting.”

Sending it through to voice mail

It is that phone call the auto racing writer dreads.

"I just wanted to give you a heads up," the voicemail replays, as you glance at
the clock to see it's approaching midnight. "John Blewett was just killed in the Tour race at Thompson."

It's how I got the news Thursday night of the passing of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver John Blewett III, whose life ended shortly after he and his brother, Jimmy Blewett, crashed into the turn 1 wall while battling for the lead in the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Thompson International Speedway in Connecticut.

And, as we all are, I'm instantly reminded that we've all been through this deal far too many times, become far too callous to it. Already, in a decade on the job of covering motorsports, you know who to call, who to track down, what questions to ask, how to find out exactly what nobody wants to say aloud.

The call reminds me of my own death watches. Twice now, I've been on the premises and in front of the keys on my keyboard when a racer was killed. Tom Baldwin lost his life in a
Modified Tour race at Thompson in 2004. Kenny Irwin Jr. died in a practice crash at New Hampshire International Speedway before that.

I had to make the phone call the night Baldwin lost his life. As with Blewett's passing, though, there are numerous others where you are not so unfortunate to be the one on the premises, the ones where you rely on the phone call from a friend.

According to a Charlotte Observer story in 2006, an average of 23 people each year have been killed in racing-related incidents at short tracks since 1990.

There have been numerous close calls, too, the ones which we chalked up to a deep breath and safety innovations.

John Crawford trapped under a car while shooting footage of a PASS Outlaw Late Model race
at Unity Raceway. Modified driver Bo Gunning and his car on fire in a race at Thompson. Youngster Jordan Emerson in a coma following a racing accident last week at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway.

It is the very thing we've all become far too accustomed to, the risk of firing the engines and buckling in for 10, 100 or 500 laps.

John Blewett III certainly knew the risks and gladly faced them each week at tracks across the nation. His death saddens us all who somehow have our lives tied to auto racing.

But it was not the saddest part of Thursday night.

That honor went to some of the bloodthirsty people remaining in the grandstands at Thompson on Thursday, the ones booing NASCAR's decision to call the race with 54 laps remaing -- after a 45-minute red flag, with Blewett already dead and gone.

There's some things you just never get used to.

John Blewett III killed at Thompson

For the 2nd time in the last 3 years, a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver was killed in a race at Thompson International Speedway.

John Blewett III, 33, of Howell, N.J., was killed when he and his younger brother, Jimmy Blewett, crashed in the 1st turn of the 5/8-mile track. The New England Dodge Dealers 150 was red-flagged on lap 106 and never resumed.

In the same race in 2004, Tom Baldwin died in a racing accident on the backstretch at Thompson.

Shawn Courchesne of the Hartford Courant has the complete story.


He changed his number!

We all know the commercial by now, the one where the woman runs out into the street screaming hysterically, "HE CHANGED HIS NUMBER!"

It's another case of life imitating art. Or is it art imitating life? I forget.

Either way, we now know for sure that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not be linked to the No. 8 for his entire Nextel Cup Series career. Hendrick Motorsports made that announcement on Thursday.

So, not only will Junior not be a Bud man any longer, but he'll also not have the No. 8. And I, for one, cannot see what the fuss is all about.

The days of Junior's father and his No. 3 are long gone. Mark Martin was supposed to be No. 6 forever, but now he's the No. 01 -- in a Chevrolet! -- when he so chooses to race. Darrell Waltrip identifies himself with the No. 17, though he was dominant in a No. 11 car for a few years there.
Junior's only real identification comes with his name. He was as popular for driving the Budweiser colors, certainly, but the numeral 8 itself is nothing special.
Say "8" to me, and I'm going to think about Yaz, Neely, Yogi Berra or Steve Young.
The way drivers swap teams, sponsors and numbers these days, it's hard to make any distinction anymore -- and it's a mistake to identify a driver by his number. In fact, teams pay people piles of cash to get you to think about branding.
Tony Stewart doesn't drive the No. 20. Hogwash. Stewart drives the Home Depot Chevrolet, and the same is true for Jeff Gordon and DuPont, Jimmie Johnson and Lowe's, Kurt Busch and Miller Lite.
Given that Nextel made us all forget about Winston in the same way Sprint will do the same to Nextel, it's hard to imagine we're all going to get all wishy-washy over Junior not being in the No. 8. In fact, I don't envision myself having to hit the 'delete' key over and over when typing in Junior's new car number.

Caution: Extreme racing weekend ahead

We're upon one of those racing weekends that will, once again, tell us about the health of short track racing in Maine.

Consider this schedule: a feature race at Unity Raceway for the division that track has hinged its future on; an "outsider" tour hitting Oxford Plains; a double-dip at Wiscasset Raceway with the resurrected Pro Stocks/Super Late Models taking center stage.

If teams and fans are as eager for racing as we are led to believe they are, this ought to be a whale of a ride with an ocean full of stories over the next few days.

The 1st time Unity held a 75-lap Super Street open, a disappointing 11 cars showed up for the $800-to-win event in July. It was, to say the least, disappointing, particularly to track general manager Ralph Nason Jr. At the time, Nason lamented the modern racer's willingness to challenge themselves "to put on a show."

Unity tries again tonight with the Gary Mitchell Memorial, another 75-lapper. The only outsider we can guarantee for sure will be there is Madison's Nate Weston, who won the July race, but even that's not a done deal considering his on again/off again relationship with the place.

The International Supermodified Association is at Oxford on Saturday for their 100-lap main event. It's an interesting draw, considering Supermodifieds have their biggest following in upstate New York, yet northern New England fans eat up the division.

The speed has plenty to do with that -- 150 mph on a short track is appealing, something that transcends the Pro Stock/Late Model/Street Stock stuff we see on a weekly basis. Oxford owner Bill Ryan said as much on Thursday, noting that there's nothing "stock" about these cars at all. But, after 3 years away from Oxford, Ryan also wants a big crowd to turn out for what is an expensive tour to host -- or Mainers can likely kiss this series good-bye in these parts.

Are Pro Stocks going to make it in the long-term at Wiscasset? A 50-lapper on Saturday night for the Weekly Racing Series followed by a PASS North Series 150 there on Sunday afternoon ought to tell us something.

Bill Penfold of Oxford won last week's feature at Wiscasset, and said he expects there could be as many as 28 cars in the field for Saturday's race -- littered with teams wanting to "test" in advance of Sunday. One guy who won't be in Sunday's race is Penfold himself; his last run-in with PASS president Tom Mayberry soured him to the point that he now considers Wiscasset his weekly home.


Busch latest young driver to join JGR

You know, maybe there's room in the multi-gazillion dollar NASCAR world for people who still treat the sport like something more than another business venture.

In another poorly kept secret, Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing made it official on Tuesday, announcing that the 22-year-old Busch will join JGR next season. Busch, winner of 4 Cup races in his still-blossoming career, will drive the No. 18s (make to be determined) through 2010.

“The Nextel Cup Series is filled with good teams and good people, but the moment I saw the shop and began talking with Joe and J.D. Gibbs, there was a level of comfort that made me feel like this is where I belong," said Busch, who is currently 8th in the Cup standings and on the verge of qualifying for his 2nd Chase for the Nextel Cup.

Busch is also the 3rd young driver to find the atmosphere at JGR to his liking.
Denny Hamlin made the move to the Gibbs development program after tearing up the Late Model ranks in Virginia. Teen-ager Joey Logano of Middletown, Conn., shunned Roush Racing a couple of seasons ago to join the Gibbs army. Currently, Logano is running away with the Busch East Series title (in outdated Tony Stewart Cup cars), while testing for Stewart and planning a Busch Series debut in '08.

For confident, sometimes cocky, young stock car racers, sometimes a little "family" time is what they're looking for. Had Hendrick not booted Busch in favor of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Busch would be there again next season. Like at Hendrick, Busch will be 3rd on the depth chart behind Stewart and Hamlin.

But, unlike at Hendrick, Busch feels like he belongs at JGR. So, too, do others. Maybe car owners should take notice.
“I want to win races and championships, and Joe Gibbs Racing’s three-car/one-team philosophy gives me the best opportunity to do that," Busch said.


You know, I got to thinking...

Being that I was away playing the role of "Joe Fan" all weekend, and "trapped" in a camper with no wireless internet and nothing but a cooler full of cold beer, there was plenty of time for tossing some thoughts around in my head.

Here's some, including a couple of gems I've been throwing around for a while:

* Eddie MacDonald might be northern New England's version of Ted Christopher. With his win in the ACT Time Warner Cable 100 Saturday night at Oxford Plains Speedway, MacDonald now has both a Busch East Series win at Stafford Motor Speedway and an ACT win in the same season. Christopher was known for years for not committing to any one series, instead hitting whichever races struck his fancy. MacDonald, whose BES ride fell apart in an amazing scandal (kind of like Christopher's Whelen Modified Tour team), has been competing here and there all season -- ACT, BES, weekly shows at Oxford. It's old school, and, when you run up front most of the time, it only adds to your street cred.

* Tony Stewart's got it right when it comes to the whole Kevin Harvick-Juan Pablo Montoya welterweight matchup on the undercard of Sunday's Centurion Boats at The Glen. "Only thing I heard is they still had their HANS and their helmets on so it doesn't impress me," Stewart said. "If they are going to do it, take their helmets off, and if not, don't waste everybody's time. I think we covered that years ago at Bristol."

* Credit goes to the area Super Late Model teams for recognizing that new Wiscasset Raceway owner Doug White is sticking his neck out to save the division at the weekly level. Another full field of 18 cars showed up for the 50-lap feature there on Saturday night in a race won by former BES regular Bill Penfold of Yarmouth. After opening night produced as many cars it was feared week No. 2 wouldn't be as strong -- with several of those opening-nighters heading for a PASS race in Nova Scotia. But some new teams and drivers showed up to put on the show Saturday and making White look like he knew what he was doing.

* Mike Rowe of Turner took advantage of some bad luck on behalf of son Ben Rowe to inch closer to the top of the PASS North Series standings. Mike won the Atlantic Cat 250 at Scotia Speedworld, while Ben finished a disappointing 15th. Travis Benjamin was 2nd to Mike Rowe, with Johnny Clark 3rd.

Gear jammin': Watkins Glen

Top 4 stories from the Centurion Boats at The Glen:

1st gear -- Where did everybody go?: Sunday's race was a great testament to the oft-overlooked difficulty of road racing, particularly when that race lasts almost 3 1/2 hours. Both Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon spun out while leading, and when guys with those road-racing resumes do so, you take notice. Turning right, then left, then right again isn't easy, and the Car of Tomorrow again proved to be a tough challenge to master. We'd have to go back a long way to find the last time 2 drivers spun all alone while leading in the same race.

2nd gear -- Earnhardt blows up again: For the 5th time this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an engine give out before the race was over. He's Dale Jr., and he generates an enormous amount of interest from the fans and, thusly, the media. If anyone thought him not making the Chase 2 years ago was big news, imagine how it will be if he doesn't make the Chase in '07 and then tries to make the transition to the spotlight of Hendrick Motorsports.

3rd gear -- Look, a fight!: Kevin Harvick is popular because he's feisty. Juan Pablo Montoya is gaining a reputation for being the same way. What fans saw on the track in the 2nd half of the race was a rare treat in today's NASCAR -- 2 drivers sharing words and shoves in an emotional display after wrecking with one another. The sport can do without the tarnish of fighting in the pits, certainly, but it can always use an infusion of the raw emotion that has been sorely lacking for the last decade.

4th gear -- It's Tony's world, we're just livin' in it: He's won 3 of the last 4 races now and has his sights squarely set on the Chase. Stewart spoke afterward of only wanting to win, of only wanting those 10 bonus points drivers get in the Chase for every win during the "regular season." NASCAR hoped that tweak to the system would put more emphasis on winning, and the last couple of weeks have suggested that -- at least for the drivers firmly entrenched in the top-12 -- NASCAR is getting its wish.

Ouch! My sinuses (or what's left of them) hurt

Spent the weekend watching top fuel dragsters and funny cars produce 300 mph horsepower for the 1st time in my life, and all I can say is 'wow.'

I mean, real 'wow.'

My nose was burning, my eyes watering, eardrums bursting, I couldn't breathe and with every pass I felt like I was about to fall over or get sucked into their jetsteam. And I thought it was one of the most amazing sensory experiences I'd ever had.

Loved every minute of it. OK, maybe not EVERY minute of it -- but certainly every minute of the IHRA Amalie North American Nationals at New England Dragway contested by the pro series cars. I could take it or leave it with the amateur divisions and their bracket racing.

For the life of me, I'll never understand why drag racers will lift off the throttle a hundred feet before the finish line so as not to go over their estimated time and "break out." Hey, it's drag racing -- line up, flash the green light and the 1st guy to the line wins. Isn't that the point?

But back to the 8,000-horsepower. We talk all the time about the boob tube serving as an injustice to stock car racing, baseball, hockey -- whatever -- but TV can't even touch what it feels like to stand 15 yards from the light tree in the staging area when those nitro funny cars go from 0 to 100 mph in 8/10 of a second.

My whole body felt every bit of it. And, by the time you looked down the track, the cars were already deploying the parachutes. Awesome stuff, awesome blend of man and machine.