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Racing Perfection and tickets are still available

Not that you need it, but here’s one more indication that the economy is in sorry shape. Long time racing fans have known for years that if you wanted a ticket to a Cup race at Richmond you needed a real good connection to hook you up, or you had to be prepared to pay well over face value through a ticket broker.
 It was not for nothing that they adopted the slogan “Racing Perfection” for the popular ¾ mile high banked oval.  The only tougher ticket in NASCAR was Bristol.  Both tracks were perennial sellouts.  With a seating capacity of over 112 thousand seats, RIR sold out 34 straight Cup races, that is until last September.  The economy was beginning to tank and last fall’s race was delayed a day because of tropical storm Hanna. For the first time in 17 years you were able to walk up to the box office of Richmond International Raceway the day of the race and buy a ticket.  
With less than a week to go, and  decent weather forecast for Saturday evening’s race, there are still tickets available.  After listening to its fans and due to the economic conditions, Richmond International Raceway announced a ticket price restructuring for NASCAR Sprint Cup series tickets in the Henrico grandstand. Tickets currently on sale for Saturday night's Crown Royal Presents the Russ Friedman 400 start at $40.00. The $40 restructured price reflects a 50 % reduction from last May's ticket prices.
RIR has also upgraded the menu and reduced prices on several traditional items at the concession stands.  The Charlie Daniels Band will perform a free concert before Friday night's Lipton Tea 250 Nationwide series race.
Today’s Richmond International Raceway is one of NASCAR’s  true showcase facilities.  It is interesting how the track evolved into  the preferred status that it enjoys today.  The track started out as a half-mile dirt track and stayed that way from 1953 until the second RIR race of 1968, when it was paved with asphalt and re-measured.  The verdict of the re-measurement?  The track was actually .625 miles in length.  
Lee Petty won the first-ever Richmond race in 1958.   Coincidently, his son Richard won the first race on the new asphalt paving in the fall of 1968.   The track was reconfigured to its present ¾ mile length in time for the fall race in 1988.  Donny Allison drove to victory in the first-ever race at the present ¾ mile configuration.
By now we have come to accept the annoying practice of selling the naming rights to stadiums and events all over the sports landscape, but the Crown Royal Presents the Russ Friedman 400?  Friedman won a promotional contest, and the right to have his name attached to the race title.
Friedman, from Huntington Station N.Y., was chosen from a group of seven finalists from around the country based on a submission detailing his experience serving in Iraq.  
Looking for a favorite Saturday night?  Defending three-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson has won three of the last four races at Richmond.   He has won the last two fall races and the spring race in 2007.   Clint Bowyer is the defending spring race winner.
Brad Keslowski’s win in last Sunday’s  Aaron’s 499 marked the fortieth year of racing at Talladega Superspeedway.  Bolstered by the immediate success of Daytona International Speedway, and the Daytona 500, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. took his ambitions to the next level when it came to building Talladega Superspeedway, which was originally known as Alabama International Speedway.  
The opening of Daytona International Speedway in 1959 revolutionized stock car racing. In 1969, Talladega opened.  Designed by Charles Moneypenny, the city of Daytona Beach Florida engineer who designed the Daytona track, Talladega was longer,  2.66 miles compared with Daytona’s 2.5 miles.  It is banked 33 degrees in the turns compared with Daytona’s 31 degree banking.  Inevitably, it was even faster than Daytona.   
In May 1970, Buddy Bake became the first driver to post a test run speed in excess of 200 MPH in a stock Car. His Dodge Daytona ran a lap of 200.447 MPH
In April 1987, Bill Elliott set a NASCAR Winston Cup series qualifying record at 212.809 MPH.  Due to the subsequent use of restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona, Elliott’s Record has never been broken.  

You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Bud Moore leads 2009 International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductees

    From decorated WW II veteran to Hall of Fame NASCAR team owner and mechanic,  Walter “Bud “Moore has been an integral part in the post World War II  development of automobile racing in  America.  
   Tomorrow's International Motorsports Hall of Fame induction ceremony is the cornerstone of the activities leading up to Sunday’s Aarons 499 at Talladega Super Speedway.  A legend of NASCAR and of the Ford Motor Company’s racing efforts, from his shops in Spartanburg South Carolina,    Bud Moore has been fielding winning race cars since his first season in racing. The winner of the prestigious “Bill France Award for Excellence” in 1997, Moore’s induction into Motorsports Hall of Fame,  just shy of his 82nd birthday  on May 25 is way overdue.
   Moore and his friend Joe Eubanks began racing as a hobby in the late 1940’s, with Eubanks as the driver. As the 1950’s progressed and the fledgling NASCAR circuit gained in popularity, Moore began spending an increasing amount of time at the race track, until he finally turned his hobby into his fulltime profession.  
   Bud Moore Engineering made its NASCAR debut in 1961 by winning a qualifying race for the Daytona 500 with Joe Weatherly as the driver.  Weatherly went on to win eight races that season, setting the foundation for his back-to-back title runs for the next two years.
   That was the beginning of three decades of near continuous success for Bud Moore Engineering.  During a career that encompassed the entire second half of the 20th century, Moore worked with some of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport. They included Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Buddy Baker, Geoff Bodine, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Isaac, Gordon Johncock, Parnelli Jones, Tiny Lund, Cotton Owens, Benny Parsons, David Pearson, Fireball Roberts, Ricky Rudd, Johnny Rutherford, Morgan Shepard, Dick Trickle, Darrell Waltrip, Joe Weatherly, and Cale Yarborough.
   All told, Moore’s cars won 63 NASCAR races, and 43 poles. He won consecutive Grand National Championships with Joe Weatherly in 1962-63, and was the crew chief for Buck Baker when he won the title in 1957. Billy Wade drove to four consecutive victories for Bud Moore Engineering in 1964.  Other highlights include Tiny Lund’s Grand American title in a Bud Moore built Mercury Cougar; Parnelli Jones’ Sports Car Club of America championship in 1970; Buddy Bakers three consecutive victories at Talladega  in 1975 and 1976; and Bobby Alison’s Daytona 500 triumph in 1978.
   Moore said it was difficult to pick a favorite moment in his career or a favorite driver. “I can’t come out and say who the best was,” Moore said. “For the long race tracks, Buddy Baker was real good. Bobby Allison was great, and you can’t leave out Dale Earnhardt.”
   “We won a lot of races with just about every driver who drove for me. I didn’t have any problems with any of them. We got along real well. We tried to treat everyone the same and put a good race car under him so he could go out and win races.”   Moore’s final victory NASCAR victory came in 1993 with Geoff Bodine as the driver.  Moore continued to field cars occasionally throughout the rest of the decade before finally, calling it a career in 2001.
   “All in all, I was real fortunate to come along when I did,” Moore said. “I enjoyed every minute of the 50 years I was in NASCAR.  If I had the money and sponsorship and stuff, I’d still be at.”
In addition to Bud Moore, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame Class of 2009 includes race promoter and car owner J.C. Agajanian,  NASCAR driver Donny Alison,  seven-time modified champion Jerry Cook, and pioneer NASCAR car owner Raymond Parks.
   It’s perhaps appropriate leading into this Hall of Fame induction week that the winner last Saturday night was a member of the graybeard brigade, Mark Martin.  Starting from the pole position the 50 year-old streaked away from Tony Stewart after a restart with six laps to go to notch his 36th career Cup race win.
   Martin became the oldest driver to win in the series since Morgan Shepard won at age 51   on March 20, 1993 at Atlanta.  Martin’s win was his first win since Oct. 9, 2005 at Kansas Speedway, and his first since joining Hendrick Motorsports.   Not bad, old man.
   You may reach Pet Barber at talkinracing@journa;press.com

Jeff to Joey: setting the stage for the next generation

   Last weekend with the Sprint Cup Series on its traditional Easter weekend hiatus, it was all about Joey Logano.  
   For the last few weeks there has been a lot of conversation about the young man's Cup series debut and if he was given the seat in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota too soon.  Heading into Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, the Logano is in a precarious 35th place in the points.
   Each week the teams outside the top 35 in owner’s points have to qualify on time, which makes the 35th and last spot “on the bubble”.  Logano’s best finish of the season to date has been 13th place at Las Vegas.  Sunday will mark his first appearance at Phoenix in a Cup car.  He has one Nationwide start at the flat one mile oval. He finished 10th in that race.
 If the 18 year-old rookie is feeling the pressure, you would never know it by his performance in last Saturday’s Nationwide race at Nashville. After dueling and swapping the lead with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for much of the race, he slipped past Busch for the final time just nine laps from the finish to log his second career Nationwide Series win.  Logano also won the Nationwide series race last season at Kentucky Speedway.
   “It’s been a while,” a smiling Logano said after the race.  “We had a really good run the last time we were here and got caught up in a wreck. It was awesome to be able to get the win this time.  Ever since I’ve been coming to Nashville I’ve been trying to get that guitar, and this is just awesome.”
   The track awards a unique trophy to the winner, a Sam Bass painted Gibson Les Paul guitar, which Logano proudly carried home in a case after the race.  The race was a battle between the Gibbs teammates, Busch and Logano led 172 of the races 225 laps
   “He had a better car on the short runs, and we had a better car on the long runs,” Busch said.   “The team did a great job, and it was just a shame we weren’t able to get out there and win this thing. That’s kind of frustrating, but we finished second today.”
   With Kyle Busch at age 23, the hottest driver in the circuit, and Joey Logano at 18 settling in to NASCAR’s top series, it is shaping up to be a battle between Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports for a long time to come.
   Jeff Gordon is back on his game after capturing the checkered flag at Texas Motor Speedway, officially ending his 47 race winless streak that dated back to Oct. 13, 2007.
   Gordon has done a lot over his 18-year career in NASCAR’s Cup series, but he is using this season to settle some unfinished business.  He leads all active drivers in wins at different tracks, including 21 of the 22 tracks on the circuit.  The one track left on the active schedule where he hasn’t won is Homestead-Miami Speedway. Winning there would be big, but Gordon has set his sights on a bigger prize.
   Most notable on his list of things to do, is to win a Championship under the “Chase for the Championship” format.  His two highest finishes in the Chase format were third in 2004, and second in the2007 Chase.   “It’s great to be leading the points,” Gordon said following his Texas victory, “But you want to be the guy to beat for the championship.”  If you’re going to win the championship, you’ve got to show that you’re strong, you’re consistent and you can win.”
   Since Gordon  scored his 82nd career win at Texas, ESPN has come out with an article  speculating on whether Gordon will pass David  Pearson who had 105 career wins before he hung it up.  Not Likely.  Being realistic, Gordon is a shoe-in to pass Cale Yarborough at 82 wins,  and Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip at 84 wins each, but beat Pearson at 105?   It’s just not in the cards.  
 
   Jeff Gordon, who turns 38 on August 4th, has just a few years before entering the age where the wins begin coming further and further apart.   It doesn’t seem possible but Joey Logano was just four years old when the original boy wonder scored his first Winston Cup win in 1994.
You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

NASCAR scene news is all about the Earnhardts

   It was the spring of 2000 and a career was blossoming. Dale Earnhardt Jr., a Sprint Cup Series rookie fresh off winning consecutive Busch Series titles, came to Texas Motor Speedway.   Making only his 12th start in NASCAR’s top series, Earnhardt went to victory lane, where he was joined by his father, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. for a memorable celebration.  
   Earnhardt Jr. went on to win twice more in 2000, at the Richmond spring race and incredibly in the All Star race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, becoming the first rookie to do so.
   Junior was almost immediately considered a “champion in waiting”.  Nine years later, the waiting continues, with Earnhardt’s early season struggles attracting increased focus on his team in his second season with the Hendrick Motorsport organization.
 
   Criticism has surfaced this season from both media and at least one rival in the series, Kyle Busch, who lost his seat at Hendrick Motorsports when they signed Dale Jr. away from Dale Earnhardt Inc.
   None other than Rick Hendrick himself defended the No. 88 team last week saying, “I am 100% behind this group. I have no intention of making any changes. I have all intentions of making it better.”
   Said Earnhardt, “We’re just trying to hear out everybody’s opinions on some things we can try or do differently, and if it will help.  We’re just working hard to get better.  We don’t sit on our tails hoping it’ll turn around on its own because it probably won’t happen that way.”
   Hard work paid dividends at Martinsville where Junior finished an encouraging eighth, his best finish of the season.  He came into last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway in 16th place in the points standings. "We have excellent equipment,”  Earnhardt said. ”We just have to know what to do with it. We got to get a little bit better as a team to compete. The stuff is right there in front of us, but man we just gotta figure out what to do to make it work.”
   In more Earnhardt news:   Kerry and Jeffrey Earnhardt have joined Rick Ware racing in the Nationwide series. Kerry was to make his debut with the organization last Saturday in the O’Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, but failed to qualify.  His son, 19 year-old Jeffrey, Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s grandson, is scheduled to make his nationwide debut at Dover International Speedway May 30.
   Jeffrey has experience in the Camping World Series East where he was fifth in the standings as a rookie in 2007 and finished 15th in the rankings last year.  Both father and son will be paired with former NASCAR champion crew chief Paul Andrews until they do battle together at Atlanta Motor Speedway this fall. At that time Clyde McCloud will serve as crew chief for Jeffrey Earnhardt.
   Jeffrey will race a progressive schedule this year, running in seven events from a one mile track, to a two mile oval as he prepares for the 2010 season and a campaign for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. He will also compete in the Nationwide series event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
   And finally, in spite of their merger with Ganassi Racing the situation continues to deteriorate for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.  Fox Sports is reporting that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is about to shut down the No. 8 team unless they can come up with a sponsor pronto. If that happens, in addition to Aric Almarola losing his ride, three contracts are affected: Martin Truex Jr., Bass Pro Shops, and Chevrolet.  
   Truex’s contract states that he must have two teammates or he can leave.  Bass Pro Shops has a performance clause and with Truex 28th in owner’s points, the No. 1 team is in a very shaky position. In addition to all the uncertainty over the government bailout of the auto industry, Chevrolet can alter its support of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing if three teams are not in operation.  
   Speculation has Truex going to Joe Gibbs Racing, either to replace struggling rookie Joey Logano on the Cup circuit, or to run a fourth JGR car with sponsorship from Farm Bureau. As for Bass Pro Shops,  Fox Sports speculated that if Truex Leaves Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, they will move their sponsorship to Ryan Newman’s car at Stewart-Haas Racing.  Bass Pro Shops already sponsors Tony Stewart Racings sprint cars on the USAC and World of Outlaw circuits.
   You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

25th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports first Cup series win

With 25 years, 175 wins, and eight NASCAR Cup series titles and counting, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick knows how to mark special occasions in the sport.  So how did he celebrate his first series win on April 29, 1984 at Martinsville Speedway?
Armed with several rolls of toilet paper,  Hendrick and some friends set out on a road trip that Sunday night to Geoff Bodine’s home in Pleasant Grove N.C., where they redecorated Bodine’s front yard.  
While victory celebrations have evolved, Hendrick Motorsports transformation from the fledgling All-Star Racing, as it was known then, to its current powerhouse status began at one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks.
On that April day in 1984, Bodine led 55 laps, passing then defending-series champion Bobby Allison with 48 laps remaining to take the lead and the win. The odd part is that Rick Hendrick, a Palmer Springs, Va.  native wasn’t even there. “I had promised my wife that I would go to a church service with her and I did that Sunday.  I didn’t know until we got out of the church late that afternoon that we had won the race.
"I found out on the phone talking with my Mom, but I can tell you this: a couple of weeks before, we were going to have to shut the team down because we had no sponsor. You know, I told our crew chief, Harry Hyde we absolutely were going to quit two races before that.  And we went on and won Martinsville and picked up enough help to make it through the year.”
Through the last 25 years, Martinsville has been the scene of some of Hendrick Motorsports biggest race triumphs.  Not since the heyday of Richard Petty, who raced to victory an incredible fifteen times at the tight half mile track, has a team so dominated the circuit's oldest active track.
 Jimmie Johnson, the reigning and three-time series champion, and Jeff Gordon, the four-time series champion, both excel at the famed .526 mile short track.  Gordon and Johnson have combined to win ten of the last thirteen Sprint Cup events at Martinsville.  
The highlight was undoubtedly their fender banging one-two finish in the spring 2007 event with Johnson narrowly beating his mentor Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag.   
As much success as Hendrick Motorsports has had at Martinsville since that first win in 1984, it has also been the scene of one of the sport's greatest tragedies.  Each trip to NASCAR’s popular southern Virginia track has got to be personal anguish for Rick Hendick.  In 2004 he lost his son, brother, two nieces and his team’s chief engine builder when a Hendrick Motorsports plane bringing them to that weekend’s race crashed into Bull Mountain near the tiny airport that serves the Martinsville region.  Ten people  lost their lives in the crash.                              
Asked at a press conference last week, "What images go through your mind when you hear Martinsville or when you are at the track?"
  Rick Hendrick replied, “It’s a really tough deal for me. It’s a track that I remember going to watch a convertible race in’63 and Rex White was a guy, I was a big Rex White fan. I got his autograph through the fence there. It was right down the street from where I went to South Boston every Saturday night with my family.
“Martinsville always has been a special place.  I think we’ve won 17 races there. You can’t fly down the east coast on a clear day and not see Bull Mountain, and I can’t go up there and land on a helicopter that I don’t circle and look at the cross and think about all those folks, and during the race and after the race. It’s always an emotional time if we win the race since then. It’s just one of those bittersweet things that the Martinsville track didn’t do. It just – that’s where they were headed.
“It’s awful hard. It doesn’t get any easier, and every time it comes up, I question whether I really even want to go.  And then when I start thinking about it,  it’s tougher being at home than it is being there, too, because it’s just then you know you should be there with them.
“You know, but the track is so special to me. And it meant so much to my dad and my son and everybody else. I mean, we all wanted to win there, because that was home. We were from Virginia. You know, it was a piece of history. But I don’t expect it to ever be any different as the years go by.”  
You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


 

Back to back short track racing is indeed back to basics

   For competitors and fans alike, short tracks are the sparks that ignite a deep passion for racing. Whether behind the wheel or in the stands, for many, the love of racing was bred on local short tracks across America.  
   For the fifth consecutive season, the Sprint Cup Series travels to both half-mile tracks on the circuit, Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, in back to back weeks.  The excitement and highly charged emotions that come with short track races energizes all who watch.
   “The two week short track stretch of the schedule offers the drivers a greater set of challenges, both from mental and physical standpoint,” said NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director John Darby. “If the average lap time for a speedway is around 30 seconds and the average lap time at Bristol is let’s say, 15 seconds, then the driver has half the time to think and react on the race track.  They are seeing the corners twice as fast as they’ve seen them so far this season.  Things happen quicker and the drivers must react quicker.  That reduction of reaction time lends itself to creating a new element of excitement for our fans and for the race teams.”
   Based on his five wins at Bristol Motor Speedway, one would think that the track is a favorite of Kurt Busch.  It is in fact his “Absolute Favorite” track and one at which he always looks forward to racing.  The fact that Busch is off to his best start in his nine-year Cup career has only added to his excitement.     Speaking during practice prior to last Sunday’s Food City 500  Busch said,  “Coming off  the win two weeks ago in Atlanta only added to the oomph we’re bringing to Bristol.  We have the momentum growing and the excitement building within and around our team.”
   Despite having five Bristol wins, Busch hasn’t won at the track since March 2006, his fifth start with Penske Racing.  Busch grabbed his first win at Bristol in just his third trip to the Tennessee track.  Younger brother Kyle won the spring race at Bristol in 2007, then came back in the fall race last season to lead 415 of the 500 laps  and it appeared he was about to notch his second Bristol win.  It was not to be as with the laps winding down Carl Edwards put the bumper to the left rear corner of Kyle’s Toyota, moving him up the track.  While Kyle was regaining control of his car, Edwards scooted past to claim the win. Busch had to finish second.    
   Last Sunday Kyle came right back with another dominating performance at Bristol.  He led for 376 laps, and even though it came down to a green, white, checkered finish, the younger Busch would not be denied as he logged his 14th career win.   
   With all the success the Busch brothers have had at Bristol, Martinsville is a whole other story.   Kurt Busch scored his lone win at the Virginia short track in the fall 2006 race.  Kyle has yet to visit victory lane at the half mile Virginia track.
   When you talk Martinsville, you have to talk about the Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.   Heading into this season, Gordon leads active drivers with 6 wins at the tight paper clip shaped half mile.   Teammate Jimmie Johnson is right behind with 5 wins.   The last few years it has been all about Jimmie.   While Gordon scored his last Martinsville win in the fall race in 2005, teammate Johnson has owned the fall race, since his first Martinsville win in the fall race of 2004, Johnson has won four of the last five fall races, including the last three straight. Johnson’s lone win in the spring race was in the 2007 Goody’s 500.
   Talking short rack racing, it’s hard to bet against the Busch brothers or Gordon and Johnson.  If any driver is due, it’s Jeff Gordon. He leads the points race, but goes into Sunday’s race at Martinsville with a career high slump of 46 races since he has had a win. It’s hard to believe, but true:  Jeff Gordon has not won since the Bank of America 500 in Charlotte, in October of 2007.
 

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