Bud Shootout: They said it

Notable quotes from Saturday night's Bud Shootout at Daytona International Speedway:

"He's one of the best restrictor plate drivers there's ever been. He learned a lot from his dad, and I'm not sure he's not better than his dad, in all honesty, now."

Tony Stewart, on finishing 2nd to Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Saturday

"I thought I had the Kevin Harvick winning move, I just didn't have the car to get it done."

Jimmie Johnson, after helping push Earnhardt to the win

"I don't know what took him so long to win a race for us."

Rick Hendrick, owner of Earnhardt's No. 88

"I've never wrecked so many race cars in my career, much less come here and do this."

Bill Elliott, who crashed out of the 1st segment Saturday after wrecking his primary car in Friday practice

Junior, Hendrick team up for win

DAYTONA BEACH -- The more things change, the more they stay the same.

New cars, new color schemes and one of the most celebrated driver changes in NASCAR history produced the same old results Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway. Following up on the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports last season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. found his new digs quite to his liking, passing Tony Stewart as the field headed to the white flag en route to the win in the exhbition Budweiser Shootout.

"That was fun," Earnhardt said in victory lane, his first win in his first outing behind the wheel of Hendrick Motorsports' No. 88 Chevrolet. "The shootout is a neat race. I had a blast."

Earnhardt got drafting help from new teammate and 2-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

"I have to thank my teammates," said Earnhardt, who also won the 2003 shootout. "I didn't win that race without Jimmie pushing me. I just didn't win it."

Stewart momentarily broke the Hendrick stranglehold on the top-3 positions by driving past Earnhardt, Johnson and Jeff Gordon for the lead with less than 10 laps to go, but the fleet of cars in NASCAR's superteam ganged up to overtake Stewart.

"He's one of the best restrictor plate drivers there's ever been," Stewart said. "He learned a lot from his dad, and I'm not sure he's not better than his dad."

The Earnhardt-Hendrick marriage was apparently blessed in Daytona heaven. Junior's followed in his father's footsteps with a mastery of restrictor-plate racing, and now he's paired with a team that's also had restrictor plate success. Between them, Earnhardt (3) and Gordon (5) have 8 trips to Daytona's storied victory lane in either the Daytona 500 or the Shootout.

Four of those wins are in the 500, a race Earnhardt knows he's capable of winning again. After taking the checkered flag on Saturday night, he told his team over the radio that his car was "probably a 500 winner."

That's bad news for the rest of the field, considering teams usually reserve their best pieces for the 500 and run backup cars or experimental ones in the Shootout. Ultimately, what Earnhardt's win Saturday night does is simply serve notice that Hendrick is poised to pick up right where it left off in 2007 with a 1-2 finish in the final Cup standings.

"I thought we'd have to be a lot more patient (for wins) after all our hard work," Earnhardt said.

Tapley is spot on

Steve Tapley has seen thousands of short-track races over the years from some of the best spots in the house.

When you're a spotter on a race team, you get that kind of privilege. When you're good at what you do, you get to Daytona International Speedway. Saturday afternoon, Tapley was on top of the massive tower atop the fronstretch grandstands, spotting for Fadden Racing and its 19-year-old driver, Max Dumarey in the ARCA 200.

Testing aside, an ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway last fall, Daytona is the biggest track Tapley has spotted on -- so big, in fact, that teams are required 2 spotters. Team owner Mike Olsen manned the station on the backstretch for the 200.

"It's easier here than at Talladega," Tapley said of spotting at Daytona, which goes beyond the routine calls of 'clear.' "The cars move around so much there, it makes it hard. Mostly here you're just trying to let (Dumarey) know if he's hung out alone or let him know if there's people lined up to help him out. That way, he's not anticipating having help passing cars ahead of him when there's nobody there."

In addition to spotting for Dumarey, who has 5 ARCA races, a full Camping World East Series slate and 2 West Series dates on the slate this season, Tapley also spots for Maine racer Mike Rowe in the PASS North Series and PASS South Series.

"I do that when time permits," said Tapley, 45, of Hillsboro, N.H. "(Olsen's) really good about giving me time to help Mike Rowe out."

On lap 30 of the scheduled 80, Dumarey was caught up in a 20-car pileup following pit stops that put the team out of the race. Tapley was disappointed as he walked back to the infield.

"This is the hardest part for me," he said. "Until I talk to the driver, I always beat myself up. Whether it's here or at Unity, I beat myself up about what I could have done differently until I talk to the driver."

Dumarey absolved Tapley of any responsibility, saying the track had been completely blocked.

Test day

Don't believe the schedule. Drivers are still testing at Daytona International Speedway.

Only days after NASCAR chief Brian France pledged to allow drivers to loosen up and be themselves a little bit more, final practice for tonight's Bud Shootout may have put France's words to the test sooner than anyone imagined.

"Are we supposed to walk the line and see where we step over it and where are we going to get fined when we go too far?" Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked aloud during media day on Thursday. "What are they saying?"

Apparently Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch are trying to find out exactly where that line is and what exactly NASCAR is saying. After tangling viciously during practice on Friday night, the drivers -- who have a history with one another, including a wreck in last year's Daytona 500 -- were summoned to the NASCAR hauler for some serious tongue-lashing. Several media outlets are reporting that Stewart may have thrown a punch at Busch; and the Hartford Courant is suggesting that even that activity may have spilled over later in the evening.

Neither driver confirmed anything during television interviews during practice this morning.

France and NASCAR are in a tough position.

On the one hand, France has pledged for drivers to be themselves, and part of that, certainly, is to bring the sport back to its grassroots level to some extent. But allowing fisticuffs and on-track shenanigans to sneak through could be dangerous, too, if it is allowed to escalate.

Fines, yes. Absolutely. Points? It would be hard to justify stripping teams of championship points before the season even starts, for something that happened in practice for an exhibition race. Don't expect swift judgement here, as NASCAR will certainly play their hand carefully here.

Wrapping up the day in racing...

Does Kenny Wallace really need an energy drink? I mean, if anything, this is the guy who should take whatever is running through his veins, bottle that and sell it to guys like me who are up all night in front of a computer.

Despite that, Wallace has signed with Armando Fitz to run the full NASCAR Nationwide Series this season with sponsorship from Shark Energy Drink, the second-largest energy drink in the world behind only Red Bull.

Getting Shark into stock car racing has a New England connection. RT Raceparts of Hudson, N.H., will use its RT Beverage division to distribute Shark across the region. It's also likely that considering Rob Towers' involvement in racing, Shark will show up on cars locally.

I'm already hearing that up-and-comer ACT racer Joey Polewarczyk and the PASS North Series team of Ben Rowe could soon be among the first with Shark logos slapped on their cars.


Vermonter and ACT regular Eric Chase led all 25 laps to win the Crate Late Model feature Friday night at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway. It was the first career Late Model win for Chase, who finished 11th in the ACT standings in 2007.

"Man, that was a wreckfest, but we made it through,” Chase said in a release issued by ACT. “It was nervewracking trying to get the first lap in; we had 3 yellow flags and a red flag before one lap was complete. I almost crashed the car on one of the restarts, but we held on and got the job done.”

In another feature, Louie Mechalides, led by crew chief Johnny Clark, rallied to finish 10th in the 35-lap Super Late Model feature after being involved in an early multi-car wreck. Driving for Jay Cushman, Trevor Sanborn ran in the top-6 for most of that race before pulling off in the closing laps.


NASCAR Camping World East Series driver Max Dumarey, a native of Belgium, qualified 5th for Saturday's ARCA 200 at Daytona.

Dumarey was a rookie in the East Series last season while driving for owner Mike Olsen. Dumarey's spotter is Steve Tapley, who also spots for Mike Rowe in Super Late Model competition.

Day 1.5: Late night by the lake

Kind of like it used to be here at Daytona International Speedway, once you get by Dale you're going to make some magic happen.

This time around Dale is not the late Dale Earnhardt. Dale is Dale Ross, one of the seasonal employees of the track who wards over the infield gate at the speedway. Roll up in rental car with identification from north of the Mason-Dixon line, and, well -- let's just say you'd better be prepared to catch some flack.

"They let too many of you guys in here," Dale said, referring to media members. "They come from all over the world. What do we need you (northerners) for to cover a southern race?"

It's a very good question. Maybe Dale's heard that NASCAR's popularity spans the globe. Maybe he just doesn't care.

But once you're by Dale, the world of DIS opens up. The massive grandstands, the endless backstretch, the twisting turns of the road course and, of course, Lake Lloyd.

Two things jumped out at me most, my first impressions of one of the world's most famous racing facilities.

First, the grandstands along the backstretch are incredibly expansive, larger than television is able to capture -- in part because the camera angle from the frontstretch tower makes them seem short and also because the cars blur by so fast it makes them seem short.

Second is just how far you have to drive to even get close to turn 3 after entering from the tunnel below turn 1. It seemed that we drove forever, past several different motorhome lots, from one end of Lake Lloyd to the other, by several garages. Heck, we even got lost trying to get out. There really are that many ways to go, the racing surface is so large.

The other thing that caught my attention, of course, were the bass in Lake Lloyd, gurgling to the surface to feed under the lights of the track. Unfortunately, I'm apparently an outdoors writer without an ounce of self-respect -- all this access to water and hungry fish in open water and my fishing gear is almost 1,500 miles away.

Amazing how peaceful such a hornet's nest of activity can be, less than 12 hours before roaring stock cars start piercing through the air and across the pavement.

Day 1: Getting here

This is on the list of the top 5 things you expect to hear when you're in an airplane, some 35,000 feet above solid ground...

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. It appears we are experiencing some difficulties with ..."

This is on the list of the top 5 things you DON'T expect to hear when you're in an airplane, some 35,000 feet above solid ground...

"... with the lavatories. It seems they are not flushing. We're about an hour and a half from landing in Orlando, so if you can please hold on, that would be greatly appreciated."

It's no wonder I don't fly. First they tell you to stay hydrated, then they tell you not to flush. What gives?


You're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

How do I know? As if the palm trees standing outside the pit booth at New Smyrna Speedway weren't enough, The Caretaker certainly took care of clueing me in.

Stopped off for one of the best burgers I've ever had, at a true authentic burger joint -- a Steak 'n Shake restaurant. I highly recommend the vanilla shake. And the double cheeseburger. Wolfed that down, then high-tailed it with The Godfather over to New Smyrna for the first of 9 consecutive nights of racing at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing.

It didn't disappoint, no matter that The Godfather and I waited almost 20 minutes in line just to get to the pit window. No, Unity Raceway this isn't...

And yes, they race all night. And yes, it does get chilly in the wee hours in New Smyrna -- but still not as cold as it was when I left Maine earlier in the day, and no white stuff on the ground.


New Smyrna Speedway rose out of the Florida flatlands like a real "Field of Dreams." Very, very eerie. It's darkness along a county road, interrupted by the glow of lights and the roaring race engines (even the crate ones!).

It's as high-banked and fast as promised, and they wadded up more than a few cars pretty good, too. But that's part of the whole process, I suppose -- throw an entire season's worth of racing into barely more than week.

Awesome. I can hardly wait to head back...


Following the pack

So, if a group of Mainers can head to Florida for Speedweeks, then so can I.

Jay Cushman has been fielding cars in New Smyrna's World Series of Asphalt Racing for years now, and he's taking young Maine driver Trevor Sanborn with him this year. 2-time PASS North Series champion Johnny Clark is there working as a crew chief for Louie Mechalides' Super Late Model effort. Clark's usual crew chief, Robert Green, is heading down to work with Cushman.

I figure if they can do it, so can I.

I've never been to Daytona, but I will be there for the 500. I hear it's a pretty big deal. We'll see.

I know this much — I'm as excited for New Smyrna as I am for Daytona. From people who have been to both, I'm hearing that I'm not too far off the mark for that sentiment.

I know it's supposed to snow here every day this week. I also know it's been in the 80s all week in eastern Florida. I'm not one to shy away from old man winter, but I admit it's probably going to feel nice to throw on a t-shirt and a pair of shorts come Friday afternoon. Did I mention the flip-flops?

Then it's 10 days of covering racing's rock stars. When I told Oxford Plains Speedway owner Bill Ryan that I was going to be there for 10 days, he asked if I knew a good divorce lawyer.

Funny. I get that.

Beaches. Stock cars. The Daytona 500.

Do I even need to be married anymore?


Daddy wants to drive "a NASCAR"

Uh-oh. I feel a rant coming on...

You know what I can't stand? I can't stand hearing someone refer to a NASCAR stock car as "a NASCAR." God, does that ever grind my gears. I mean, it's one thing if my wife says it or Kelly Ripa says it (let's be honest, we'd take it with a grain of salt) but when a self-proclaimed race fan says it...

Oh, man, oh, man. Revoke the "official fan" card. For life. Know what I'm saying?

Saw on another message board where someone said Dale Jr.'s "NASCAR" was going to be on display at a local business this week. Jeezum criminy — my 4-year-old knows the difference.

And while we're on the subject:

* They're not Pro Stocks.

I can't believe I'm about to quote Marco Thomas (heck, I'd venture that even Marco can't believe I'm about to quote Marco Thomas), but he's absolutely right. A Pro Stock is a drag racing car, not a short-track oval car.

It's a Super Late Model. Period. I will forever refer to it as a Super Late Model, even if I'm covering the 50-lap (Super Late Model) feature at Wiscasset Raceway this summer. If the regional touring series running the same cars (read: PASS North Series) says they're Super Late Models, I'll go with that as the standard.

Pro Stock is a northeast thing for some reason. Rest of the country calls them Super Late Models. Let's get with the times here people.

* NASCAR's done some good things regarding the top-35 automatically qualifying for its races this year, grouping those cars together at the end of a qualifying session to give them a fair shot against one another. I'm with that.

Ideally, I'm an idealist. I'd like to see the fastest 43 qualify for each race – period — but I understand that it's not the best economic model for the sport.

Having said that, NASCAR's got to take a hard stance against the points-swapping thing. I don't understand it, nor to I want to commit the time to understand it. I just know that when Ginn Racing and the No. 14 folded last year, it gave Paul Menard in DEI's No. 15 a spot in every race. This year, rookie Sam Hornish Jr. has a spot in the Daytona 500 and Kurt Busch has a champion's provisional at his disposal, despite the fact that Hornish had trouble just qualifying for races last year.

Neither case comes even close to being just.


Reverse gear: 2007's Top 10

No. 1

Doug White purchases Wiscasset Raceway

It began with conversations that Dave St. Clair didn't think were that serious. Then, in a midweek auto racing story in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel that followed the late-May Coastal 200, it was reported that while the track was for sale, there were no serious inquiries.

That got Doug White on the telephone, and in a matter of a few hours, the .333-mile high-banked Wiscasset Raceway was en route to becoming his.

In the days and weeks that followed the announcement of the sale, White's energy served notice that he could singlehandedly change the face of stock car racing in Maine. A former driver himself, he announced his intentions to resurrect the Pro Stock division that the track and aligned himself with the regional touring PASS North Series.

Instantly, the facility went from being a place that existed soley on its own to one that spread its wings to gain attention across the region. That kind of attention also served to ignite a Pro Stock vs. Late Model debate that had subsided somewhat. But now, Pro Stock supporters had a track that was picking up the cause for them.

2008 promises to be an interesting year for Wiscasset. White will try and run the Pro Stocks weekly, and he has pieced together an ambitious schedule of touring series and big shows. How fans and teams will respond to his plans will speak to the future of the track under his leadership.