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Double file restarts: here's the deal

Ever since this year's All-Star Race used double-file restarts and  turned out to be one of the most exciting All-Star events in years,  rumors  have been flying hot and heavy that NASCAR would change the restart procedure for all the races.
Last Friday it came: NASCAR announced a change in its race format with the addition of “Double File Restarts- Shootout Style” throughout each race.  

Beginning immediately, the first and second place drivers will line up side by side as the green flag flies for each restart.

Read more: Double file restarts: here's the deal

In today's environment, Junior must win

 The American automobile industry and the peoples' love affair with their cars that gave birth to the sport of auto racing has taken a blow to the chest that will leave it radically changed.  
We’re Americans and American iron can’t be beat.   More horse power.  Longer, lower, wider.  Zero to sixty in ever quicker numbers. Hundreds of thousands of young boys grew up loving cars and aspiring to work at good paying jobs in the factories of GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
 Lifetime job security, sure of a stable middle class life with a secure retirement waiting in their later years. What was not to like?  
The slogan was, “What’s good for GM is good for America.”  For nearly sixty years NASCAR rode this love affair and the American way of life with uncanny skill.    
Then came the economic collapse.  

Read more: In today's environment, Junior must win

Coca-Cola 500 not just another weekend at the track

Last wekends’s 50th running of the Coca-Cola 600 has been a staple of the Memorial Day holiday weekend since 1961.  NASCAR’s longest race is also arguably its most unique. It starts in the day, races through twilight, and ends in the night.  As a result, the longest race is long on strategy, putting a premium on the performance of not only the driver, but the crew as well. Dodging flying chunks of asphalt was the order of the day in the first race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the sport's first-ever 600 mile race on an oval track back in 1960.  It was a race of attrition that saw only 18 of the 60 drives who started the race running at the finish.  

Driving a 1960 Chevrolet, Johnson won the inaugural event by more than four laps in a race that was originally intended to be run on Memorial Day weekend, but was postponed until June 19 because the race track wasn’t ready. Jack Smith opened a five lap lead and appeared the likely winner until a piece of asphalt from the new track broke loose and punctured his fuel tank, eventually knocking him out of the race. That allowed Johnson to build his winning margin.

Read more: Coca-Cola 500 not just another weekend at the track

Indianapolis 500 and Coca Cola 600, Memorial Day weekend traditions

As long as I can remember racing has been a big part of our Memorial Day weekends.  One of my most vivid boyhood memories was the news that my boyhood racing hero, Bill Vukovich, had been killed in the 1955 Indianapolis 500. To this young race fan it was one of those moments that even years later you remember exactly where you were when you received the news.

 We were listening to the radio broadcast on the car radio headed to a stock car race in Canfield Ohio that Memorial Day.  “Vuky” had won the Indy 500 in 1953 and 1954 and was leading the 1955 race at the time of his fatal crash. There was no doubt the young gas station owner from California was the hottest racing driver in the country.  How a kid from Pennsylvania got so wrapped up following a race car driver from California, I have never been quite sure. 

There was precious little racing information in the newspapers.  No Speed Channel or ESPN on the tiny TV sets of the day.  We hung on every word we could find in the car buff magazines.  Hot Road magazine had an occasional article on circle track racing, but our bible was Speed Age Magazine.  They followed the Championship Trail in open wheel racing and had great coverage of the young but ever growing NASCAR Grand National circuit in the South East. Tim Flock, Herb Thomas, Lee Petty, Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts - the names were magic. 

In 1960, Charlotte Motor Speedway opened and began its bid to establish a Memorial Day holiday tradition to rival the long established Indianapolis 500.  In a bid to one-up the famed brickyard's 500 mile classic, they would offer 600 miles of racing.  Those were the days before corporation’s marketing departments attached their names to every venue or event that might get their name in the paper or on TV. Thus, the race was called the World 600.  Today’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway, was then simply, Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It would not be long before NASCAR’s Memorial Day classic would be marred by a tragedy of its own.  In 1964, just four years after the track's inaugural World 600, one of the biggest stars of the era Glenn “Fireball” Roberts lost his life in a fiery crash on the seventh lap.  Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson went into a spin on the back stretch. Roberts tried to avoid his two fellow drivers, but his car spun backwards into the wall and exploded on impact.  Jarrett rushed to pull Roberts from the wreckage that was fully engulfed in flames.  The badly burned Roberts lingered on in a Charlotte hospital for over a month before succumbing to his injuries.

It is mind-boggling when you reflect on how many years ago that was.  We have grown up, raised our children and become old creaky grandparents.  Yet, through all those years the tradition of enjoying the races over the Memorial Day holiday has been constant.  There is just something about sports events and holidays that seem to go together.

Even to the drivers who race on a weekly basis, these venues are special. Kurt Busch, talking about this weekend's Coca Cola 600 said, “It’s just a marquee event. I think if each driver had just five races to list, Charlotte would end up on all of them. You have Daytona, you have Indy, and Charlotte has got to be right there.  Just the feeling that you have Memorial Day weekend starting off with a 600 mile race.  It’s a whole different ball game when you go into the nighttime at that race.”
Talking about the importance of the Indianapolis 500, 1986 winner and now co-owner of Rahal Letterman Racing, Bobby Rahal recently said, “Your life as a driver, at least for me, you could say “before Indy and after Indy”. You’re always introduced as Indy 500 champion. I won three IndyCar championships and that’s always the second thing they say when introducing you, so I think that shows the level of importance it’s given by everyone.”

This weekend marks the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500, and the 50th running of the Coca Cola 600.   Mercifully  racing, while still a very dangerous sport, has become infinitely safer than those long ago days.  The evolving technology of creating the car, wringing ever more power out of an engine and the talent to make the package perform feats that normal drivers cannot begin to accomplish, never ceases to amaze and fascinate.

Fan Favorite format returns

 Saturday night’s 25th running of the Sprint All-Star race will feature a 10 lap shootout as the final segment, reviving memories of some of the event's most spectacular finishes.
This year’s race will consist of four segments, concluding with a 10-lap sprint and a $1 million payout to the race winner.
The 2009 format is as follows:     
 Segment 1:  50 laps with a mandatory green flag pit stop on lap 25, at which time teams must pit and take on four tires. Following the end of Segment 1, the caution flag will be displayed for an optional pit stop.
Segment 2:  20 laps with the caution flag displayed at the end of segment 2 for an optional pit stop.
Segment 3: 20 laps with a 10 minute break at the end of Segment 3. Teams may make normal adjustments to their cars during this break.  The finishing order after the third segment determines the final starting positions for the fourth and final segment.
Segment 4: 10 lap shootout, with only green flag laps counting.
Some of the All Star event's most exciting finishes have come using the 10 lap shootout format.  How many of these do you remember?
1987 was the year of Dale Earnhardt’s famous “pass in the grass.”   One of the most memorable incidents in the history of the All Star race.
1989 Rusty Wallace Spins out Darrell Waltrip approaching the white flag to win the race.
In the first All Star night race Kyle Petty and Davey Allison battle side by side on the final lap. The two crash into one another while crossing the finish line, with Davey Alison taking the checkered flag .
1998 Mark Martin works his way through the pack over the final 10-lap segment and gets the victory when Jeff Gordon runs out of fuel entering the final turn.
2000 rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr. joins his father as the only father-son combination to both win the All-Star race.
“This is great for the fans,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “Some of the All Star race’s most spectacular finishes have come using the 10-lap shoot out as the final segment, and what better way to celebrate the 25th running of this great event than to incorporate that element back in the format. I can tell you from personal experience,  I was Kyle Petty’s crew chief in 1992 when he and Davey Allison battled all the way down to the wire and that has to go down as one of the most exciting All Star race finishes ever. The 10-lap shootout there at the end was something else. That was quite a night; one I’ll never forget.”
Mark Martin, a two-time All Star race winner, is looking forward to competing in his 20th all star event this year, which would tie him with Terry Labonte for the most All Star Race appearances.  “The All Star Race is always wild and that’s what’s so exciting about it,” said Martin, whose 1998 all star victory came using the 10-lap shoot out format. “This race is all about winning. There are no points on the line and second doesn’t really mean anything. It’s all about pride and celebrating with your team. I’ve been fortunate to win the All Star race twice in my career and would love to make it three times, especially driving for Rick Hendrick.”
The eligibility rules remain the same as past years. Race winners from either the 2008 or 2009 season through May 9th or any past champions of the all Star event, or Sprint Cup Series Champions from the past ten years are eligible for the race. In addition, the top two finishers in the Sprint Showdown, a 40 lap preliminary race scheduled for 7:30 p. m. and the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote, all advance into the All Star race line up.
Kasey Kahne, can thank the fans for giving him the opportunity to win the 2008 All Star race, as he made it into the field after being voted in by the fans.  
With zero points to be concerned with and a cool million dollars to the race winner, there are no strokers or field fillers in this crowd. Just 100 laps of all-out-pedal-to-the-metal, go-for-broke racing.

Southern 500 returns to Darlington Sat. night

DARLINGTON RACEWAY

One of NASCAR’s most storied venues, Darlington Raceway, celebrates 60 years of racing by bringing back one of the sports most cherished traditions, the Southern 500.
It's Mothers Day weekend instead of the traditional Labor Day weekend race, but they have revived the name, and it’s racing at Darlington.  
One of the most ridiculous moves of the Brian France NASCAR regime,  was when the geniuses that run the sport took away the Labor Day date from Darlington, South Carolina and gave it to California Speedway.  Darlington being just a dot on the map, and Southern California a major market and all that.  The California track has never drawn particularly well, and Darlington Raceway is the granddaddy of all the Super Speedways.
Many of us grew up with two must-tune-in race dates each year.  Memorial Day, we tuned in to the Indianapolis 500, and on Labor Day it was the Southern 500 from Darlington South Carolina.  
Each year we planned our holiday weekend activities around these races.  After a few disappointing Labor Day races at California Speedway, recently renamed Auto Club Speedway,  NASCAR has given the Labor Day date to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the 2009 season. It’s a shame they didn’t give the date back to Darlington, but you’ve got to make the best of the decisions that come out of NASCAR headquarters.
For now, let’s take mom to Darlington.  No less a racing icon than two-time Grand National champion Ned Jarrett, and the car owner from his glory years, Bondy Long, made the announcement this past February. If you remember  Bowani Racing from Camden South Carolina, you are certifiably an old timer.
Jarrett, one of the sport's most beloved champions, recorded 50 wins during a 13-year career with 27 of them coming during the 1964 and 1965 seasons, driving the famous No.11 dark blue Bowani Racing Ford.  The duo also claimed victory in the 1965 Southern 500 by a NASCAR record 14 laps on their way to winning the 1965 Grand National Championship.  
“Winning the Southern 500 in 1965 was the biggest win of my career”   Jarrett said.  “It was even more special because at the time we lived in Camden S.C., and when we got back to our house it seemed like the whole community was waiting for us to get there and celebrate the victory.”
To this day Cup drivers covet a win at Darlington.  Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick, and  Elliott Sadler tested tires for Goodyear at Darlington in March. All four drives gave the track good reviews and talked about the importance of winning at Darlington Raceway.
“Well obviously this is a very historic race track” said Harvick.  “It still has a lot of the characteristics that it’s had for a number of years, so to come here and race , as a driver  I think it’s something special for everyone in the garage.  This is an exciting place for us to race at and to win would be really cool.  We’ve been close a couple of times and it would be nice to finally win one.”
“This is a place I got to come to as a kid and watch races because it is not far from where I grew up.  To come here and have a chance to win this race is a dream come true,” said Elliott Sadler.  “I love that we race here, I’m glad it’s a night race.  It’s a great event for us and since we only come here once a year, we put a lot of effort into running well.”
“They repaved the track last year and you hated to see it in one way, but they did a great job and it’s still the same Darlington,” said 2000 Southern 500 winner Bobby Labonte.  “Speeds have picked up, the surface is smoother, but the racing is still great and it still means the same thing to win here.”
Legendary driver Cale Yarborough, a Timmonsville, S. C. native and five-time winner of the Southern 500 will serve as honorary pace car driver.   Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven wins at Darlington.  David Pearson leads all drivers with ten wins at “The Lady in Black.”  
Driver Kurt Busch sums up the mystique that is Darlington very well, “Darlington is really a crown jewel in our sport.  It reminds me that if you go to a ball park, whether it’s Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, it has that old, nostalgic feel.  It’s something very special.”

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