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Barbs, then much worse, tossed

Last week was one NASCAR would like to forget, on and off the track.

By BRANT JAMES
Published May 5, 2007


It wasn't a great week for NASCAR's still-tenuous mainstream image. Two-time series champion Tony Stewart likened the sanctioning body to professional wrestling. He changed his stance, publicly at least, after meeting with NASCAR's three highest competition officials. Then anarchy cascaded from the grandstands at Talladega in the form of beer cans (at various levels of fullness) and other objects after Jeff Gordon passed local hero Dale Earnhardt for sixth on NASCAR's all-time wins list.

The credibility issue Stewart raised cannot be assuaged simply because he recanted when stared down in close quarters by imposing president Mike Helton. His comments will be within Google-ing range and therefore fresh until someone yanks the cord on the last Internet server.

The rowdiness issue, that's simple. No beer should be allowed into any track. No cans, no glass, no beer soaked into a sponge to be squeezed into a parched mouth. Sell it for $11 a pour in plastic cups. Think the tracks will go for it? Yeah, you do.

Sure, those cups could fly, too, and they'd hurt if full, but not like a Silver Bullet from the upper deck. And even an angry man is less likely to hurl a beer with the fresh memory of the 10-spot he just burned to buy it. Beer seems more expendable when bought for $7 a case.

And yes, most of the 160, 000 fans on Sunday were restrained despite their agitation. So why should a few (14 people were arrested) ruin it for everyone? Because they always do.

Issue of the week

Though Dale Earnhardt Inc. executives have stressed a disdain for negotiating Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s contract renewal through the media, dribs and drabs keep coming out that make the process compelling. New this week was the revelation that DEI is interested in merging with struggling Robert Yates Racing in an effort to expand to the four-car fleet that has become the competitive standard.

But conflicts abound, such as RYR's status as one of Ford's longest-standing standard-bearers and DEI and Earnhardt Jr.'s similar bond with Chevrolet. Neither side expresses much interest in switching manufacturers.

Senior vice president of Toyota Racing Development Lee White said his company, struggling in its first year in the Cup series, is not interested in Earnhardt because of his "equity" with Chevrolet. But NASCAR's most popular driver would give the Japanese manufacturer the star it so needs and a healthy infusion of talent. Toyota could give DEI the engineering and processes it needs to be competitive eventually (as it did in the truck and Busch series), a sticking point for Earnhardt Jr. in staying.

 

Fantasy life

According to the Sports Business Journal, 33 percent of the more than 1.2-million who play NASCAR fantasy sports games are female, "far higher than the female audience for any other type of fantasy sports game."

The research, developed by Fantasy Sports Association in conjunction with Interactive Sports Marketing, showed women represent single-digit or low double-digit sectors of participation in other fantasy sports.

 

Loop data says ....

Kevin Harvick likely will win tonight, just like in the fall at Richmond. NASCAR's quirky, sometimes cumbersome, but useful stats package reveals that in the past four races at Richmond he has the best ...

Average start: 5.3

Average running position: 3.5

Average number of fast laps run: 16.7

Percentage of laps in the top: 15: 99.7

Percentage of laps led: 30.9

Of course, none of those numbers were amassed in the Car of Tomorrow, which runs at RIR for the first time tonight.

The Queen's delay

Several race teams had flight plans changed slightly when trying to land at Richmond on Thursday. Queen Elizabeth II made a stop there to help commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown colony, before continuing to the Kentucky Derby.

Richmond, abridged

"It's not like a Bristol where you can't pass, and it's not like Martinsville, where it's tough to pass, either. It's a short track that has good racing grooves on it. It's great now too. They repaved it a few years back, but now the bottom grip has wore down. You can use both a high and low line and still be good. It's a vision for a nearly perfect short track."

Kyle Petty, Nextel Cup driver