by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.April 26, 2012 8:32 pm UTC No Comments
As I write this, the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown is on the Speed Channel, and through 25 of 75 laps, Greg Edwards is leading the late model race. Right now, the Langley (GA) Speedway legend is doing a good job of holding the lead, though he’s got another car filling his mirrors.
Did I mention that that car is being driven by Tony Stewart?
Sprint Cup stars dabbling in late model racing has become a hot, and very entertaining, trend in the past few years, as many drivers look to run as many races as they can. The Prelude to the Dream, held at Stewart’s own Eldora Speedway, has become a major pay-per-view event. The Hamlin event also gathers some attention as local drivers get the opportunity to prove themselves against stock car racing’s best. But these races mean just as much to the Sprint Cup drivers as they do to the locals with something to prove.
Some drivers even go all out to build their own cars. Kyle Busch, of course, fields his late model out of his own shop. Guys like Kenny Wallace, Ken Schrader, and Bobby Labonte have been doing it for years. Jeff Burton spent his own money to build a brand new late model out of his own shop just for Hamlin’s event, with the goal of handing it over to his son in due time.
That got me thinking – with so many great opportunities for late model races, why isn’t there a de facto late model championship for top NASCAR drivers?
Hear me out. For one, these races aren’t about winning money, they’re about winning over competitors, making them a perfect candidate for charity benefit. Plenty of people will be willing to show up for a bunch of exhibition races between top NASCAR drivers, especially for a good cause.
Second, there are plenty of tracks on the NASCAR schedule that either already hold late model races, or could easily establish one. Hamlin’s race is at Richmond in April, while Bristol used to hold late model races for old-timers in March and New Hampshire has an ACT late model invitational in September. Rockingham could serve to add a race as a warm-up for its Truck event in April, while Lucas Oil Raceway Park could use an event in July to replace the Nationwide and Truck events. Throw in affiliations with Eldora for the Prelude to the Dream, Oxford Plains for its annual 250-lap event, and Five Flags Speedway for the Snowball Derby in December, and you have a 10-race schedule.
Lastly, there’s the hope – maybe a small hope, but still a hope – that a series like this would get some of the Cup drivers out of the feeder series and into their own exhibition races. Most of the reason they run those races is for the sake of racing, anyway. Plenty of stars have said that they want to contest the Truck race at Rockingham after watching Kasey Kahne win it this year. But if they choose to return to their late model roots rather than race in the bigger events, maybe it cracks the door open a little wider for some development driver to run once or twice more and impress somebody.
I’m sure a bunch of drivers would sign on, especially with charity involved. Stewart, Busch, and Hamlin would undoubtedly headline it, while Wallace and Schrader might even make it their primary goal to win the title in any given year. The races would make for great television, which the sponsors love, and running for points that determine how much each charity benefits adds an extra layer of motivation beyond bragging rights.
You’d watch it. I’d watch it. A lot of folks would.
Hamlin’s race is now in its intermission, setting up a 25-lap dash for the checkers. Edwards has fallen to third place, with Stewart now in the lead. For Smoke, this could be just another victory won for the love of racing. But for some other driver, a win could be the realization of a dream – beating what may be the sport’s best driver.
Some things may just be pipe dreams, but someone ought to make this dream come true.
by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowSeptember 27, 2011 9:22 am UTC No Comments
As track owner, Sprint Cup team owner and Sprint Cup Chase to the Cup points leader, Tony Stewart watched from a suite overlooking turn three at Eldora Speedway, a kid from California started kicking down some doors.
19 year old Kyle Larson did something that only one other driver has ever done in the USAC 4-Crown Nationals. He swept the midget, sprint car and Silver Crown finals. Only Larson and Jack Hewett have ever done that.
Stewart came close once, wining two of the three. Tony was so impressed that he paid Larson a $10,000 bonus – on top of the $18Gs the kid won in prize money.
Maybe that was a down payment on a future NASCAR contract. Jack Hewett, who was watching from the infield says…
“He’s the next NASCAR star without a doubt,” said Hewitt. “One day I’ll be saying, ‘Hey, me and Kyle were the only ones to have ever done it.’”
So maybe we’ll be talking about “The New Kyle” before long. Not sure if Kyle Larson has a handle like “Sliced Bread“ or “GOAT”, but The New Kyle probably wouldn’t be too bad. Robin Miller likes him and Miller is tough to please.
Kyle Larson will be a guest On Pit Row today, live at about 6 PM ET. Click here to watch.
Photo courtesy of Steve LaMothe
by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowJune 7, 2008 8:41 pm UTC 3 Comments
I can’t decide if it would be good to have more events like Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream. If there were too many, it wouldn’t be as special, I guess. But it’s a shame more fans can’t get there to experience it live.
23,000 some fans did make it though. According to the track announcer, people from 46 states ordered tickets to the ’08 Prelude as did fans from Denmark, Germany and Australia. For a race on dirt in the middle of a bunch of cornfields in western Ohio, that had about a fifty percent chance of getting rained out. Amazing.
OK, not just any dirt race. Darrell Waltrip didn’t drive the water truck this year but he did do a half dozen laps in a dirt late model with a lucky young fan along as passenger.
Eldora veterans – from their younger, pre-superstar days – were there. Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Dave Blaney, Ryan Newman, David Reutimann, Matt Kenseth and Ken Shrader. Others with lots of experience on the dirt raced as well. Clint Bowyer was fast. Kenny Wallace and old-timer Red Farmer made the trip and were quick. Mark Martin, J J Yeley and Aric Almirola wrecked. Bill Elliot had mechanical woes.
Kyle Busch and Jimmy Johnson brought there own late models. Robby Gordon drove a Scott Bloomquist-prepared car to second place. Johnson and Robby G have plenty of time driving in the dirt. Johnson in motocross and Gordon off-road.
During the driver intros, homeboy Tony got the loudest cheers. But Jeff Gordon had plenty of fans too. Even Kyle Busch heard more cheers than boos – until he stoked the booing with his “I can’t hear you” pose. From then on, the only cheers Kyle got were when he either hit or broke something. Both of which happened a lot.
Our seats were in turn three – which was the down-wind corner – so by the time the cars got to us, the twenty mile an hour breeze had brought the dirt kicked up in turn one to us and we got a double dose of dirt track in our faces each lap. I’ve got to get a pair of those yellow plastic goggle/glasses they were selling before next year’s race.
I wouldn’t miss it if I were you.
Photo credit: Split Second Sports and Panther Creek Design & Photo
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.June 7, 2008 10:00 am UTC 1 Comment
Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway hosted The Prelude to the Dream.
Twenty-five drivers, mostly from NASCAR, took to the dirt at the Ohio speedway to have some fun and raise some money for Kyle Petty’s Victory Junction Gang Camp last Wednesday night. Heavy rains overnight and throughout the morning made the race in doubt until the sun came out in the afternoon in time to get the half-mile race track in shape to race. Stewart led the crew to prepare the track as race fans could see the Cup Champ working the tractor to help bring the track in.
Big time Cup drivers love the event as it allows them to get back to their younger days before all the media and fans made their every move circumspect. Jeff Gordon talked his team mate and friend Jimmy Johnson into running on the dirt this year and were said to be working on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for 2009. Gordon characterized running at Eldora in the late models as addicting.
Joe Menzer at NASCAR.com writes about current Cup owner, former crew chief and dirt driver Ray Evernham being asked about putting a dirt race back on the Sprint Cup Series:
“That would be awesome,” Evernham says. “You’d probably see me come out of retirement and be a mechanic again. I think it would be great. These guys are the greatest drivers in the world, and, you know, why not? We run short tracks; we run superspeedways; we run mile-and-a-halfs; we run road courses. Why not run dirt, too?
“We could do it, and I think these guys would love to do it.”
The perfect opportunity to try out the concept comes up on Labor Day when the ARCA Re/Max Series heads to DuQuoin State Fairgrounds for the Southern Illinois 100. The Cup Series runs the Pepsi 500 on Sunday August 31st at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The 7:30pm east coast start would have the race finished before 11pm. Drivers could be in DuQuoin for the 1pm Monday start and get some dirt track racing in on cars that more closely resemble their everyday race car.
Current NASCAR drivers have had some success in the ARCA Series on the southern Illinois dirt. Kenny Schrader has two wins and two poles at the 1 mile clay oval. Tony Stewart has a win and three poles, while Jeremy Mayfield and Mike Wallace also have a pole. DuQuoin is one of two clay ovals on the ARCA circuit. The Re/Max Series also runs on the dirt at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield on the 17th of August.
The logistics may have been impossible years ago, but with most drivers and teams having private aircraft, a NASCAR presence is quite possible–if they truly like “Playing in the Dirt.”
by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowJune 6, 2008 9:50 pm UTC No Comments
When Kyle Busch looks in the mirror these days, he may see Jeff Gordon staring back at him. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad if he saw Ingrid standing behind him too. Sorry Shrub. Don’t get you hopes up.
The mirror image comes from the similar ways the two NASCAR stars have dominated the Cup Series – Gordon in 2007 and Busch this season – the last two years.
After 13 races in 2007, Gordon had won three. Kyle has four wins so far this year. Gordon led second place Jimmy Johnson by 152 points while Busch has a 142 point advantage on Jeff Burton.
In the all important – at least to the NASCAR stat geeks – Loop Driver Rating, Gordon had a DR of 111.4 including five straight races of at least 120.0. Currently, Kyle Busch has a DR of 115.2 with four consecutive, single race DR’s of 120.0 or better.
Gordon won the Pocono 500 in 2007. His Driver Rating at Pocono Raceway going into the 500 is fifth best at 97.5. He is a four-time winner at Pocono and has a career Ave Finish of 10.2. Kyle Busch has a Driver Rating of 87.0 – 12th best – for the PA track and an Ave Finish of 16.7. Are you inspired yet?
Maybe we are looking at the wrong Busch. Brother Kurt has a DR of 116.6 and series best stats of 241 Green Flag Passes, 207 Fastest Laps, 343 Laps Led and 952 Ave Points Gained. But the two-time Pocono winner would be hard to pick, given his 2008 performances so far.
The Loop Stat stud of the week is Kyle’s teammate Denny Hamlin. In his four career Pocono appearances Denny has finished top five three times and won twice. His Ave Start – 2.5, Ave Mid-Race – 3.0, Ave Position – 4.6 and Ave Finish – 2.8 are all category leading. His Driver Rating is a stunning 133.1. Unlike Kurt Busch, Hamlin is having a very good 2008. He looks like the logical choice this weekend.
Smoke and Mirrors
Hamlin’s other teammate – Tony Stewart- has Pocono’s third best Driver Rating. 2008 has been somewhat a disappointment for Stewart fans. He remains win-less for ’08, often falling victim to race incidents that aren’t his fault. His scathing, back-handed slap at Elliott Sadler after the Dover big one was funny. The result, not so much. I wonder if the distractions of silly season are hurting Stewart’s on-track performance. But after watching him do everything but take tickets at his Prelude to the Dream exhibition race at Eldora Speedway this week – and then win the feature race going away – I would say he no problem with focus during a race. Smoke is a past winner at Pocono and has a couple of category leading stats too. If the karma from Eldora carries over this could be the week that starts his annual summer streak.
Ryan Newman is the only other driver with a DR over 100 – 101.9 to be exact. Newman has run more laps in the top fifteen than anyone else at the Green two and a half mile with 931. That team has been frustratingly inconsistent since Daytona. I have a hard time pulling the Rocketman’s trigger.
Jimmy Johnson swept both Pennsylvania races in 2004. He has seven top tens and no DNF’s in his carreer here. Driver Rating of 93.8 is ninth best behind Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin and my dark-horse pick, Brian Vickers.
Vickers’ DR of 97.0 is sixth best, he’s run 810 laps in the top 15 over the last six races and led 140 of them. The Toyota horsepower should be an advantage on the three long Pocono straights. Brian could win here.
But I’ve got to take Denny Hamlin. Same Toyota motor, much better track record. Mark it down.
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media, inc.
by Charlie Turner
A work buddy of mine has attended every year and after the 2007 race I decided that, since I’m only a couple hours away, I needed to be there this year. So I was.
Western Ohio had been drenched with rain leading up to race day. It threatened throughout Wednesday too but the weather held off. The wet prelude to the Prelude was seed for some new Tony Stewart legends though.
The night before the the big Wednesday event had seen tornado warnings in the area. Reportedly it was Smoke driving his four-wheeler through the camping areas surrounding the track, advising campers to batten down for the coming storms.
The heavy rains made for a lot of extra preparation work to get the dirt surface ready for the powerful dirt late models used in the Prelude to the Dream and Tony was out personally working on the track well past one o’clock in the morning Wednesday.
Before the racing started Wednesday evening, we watched Stewart drive one of the track trucks lap after lap – part of the time with passenger Kyle Petty – trying to get the surface just right.
And it worked. The racing came off without a hitch – either natural or man-made. The crowd was big and boisterous. In the end, Tony Stewart won the feature and then presented Kyle Petty with a check for one million bucks for Victory Junction Gang Camp II.
It was a fun day and it felt a little special to be part of that million dollar donation. I’m going back next year for sure.
Photo credit: Split Second Sports and Panther Creek Design & Photo