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with Marty Smith
Do you have a question for ESPN NASCAR analyst Marty Smith? Go to Smith's SportsNation page to submit your question or comment for Marty, and check back regularly for the column in which he will provide the answers.
He loved NASCAR racing, respected it to the utmost degree, held it dear. Very dear. But at the end of the day it was fast cars driving in circles. Granted, those fast cars make people happy. And he realized that, too -- knew it was an avenue to joy for millions of people.
And that's what BP was all about. The people.
He understood what many of us enveloped by this sport understand -- we're truly blessed by the general character of the folks in the sport. Didn't matter who it was or what he or she did, BP had time for a hello.
That means a lot to people, for an icon to take the time.
He always took the time. And I'll never forget that.
On to your mail:
Last week, I solicited the help of the readership to conjure up a name for the Car of Tomorrow Era in NASCAR Cup Series racing. The Modera Era is over. COT is here. What say you?
I nominate "The American Pie" era. (You know, the day the music died )
-- Ernie, Augusta, Ga.
Tricky, Ernie. But remember this is NASCAR, land of the royalty check. If I were Don McLean, I'd be getting some residuals. Side note: Ernie signed off his e-mail as such:
"Doing my best to keep the No. 8 team funded one can at a time."
Hilarious. Gotta love Junior fans. I'm right there with ya, Big Ern. Watch out for the red label, though. It'll bite you right in the keister. It's sneaky Moving along
After seconds of deliberation, here is my suggestion for the new era in Nextel Cup. The What-The-Hell-Were-They-Thinking Era. Of course this won't be realized for years to come.
-- Ryan, Illinois
Many teams are asking the very same thing, Ryan.
With COT and Toyota in the same year, how about "The Modern Error."
-- Leslie, Norfolk, Va.
Yes, I laughed. Couldn't help it. That's actually quite clever.
You almost have to call the new era the "Safety Era" due to all of the safety advances the sport has undergone. Really then, you can backtrack it to include the introduction of soft walls, the various head and neck restraints, etc.
I was at Thompson International Speedway when we lost Tom Baldwin Sr. If I never have to see another driver lose his (or her) life on a racetrack, that's perfectly fine with me.
Amen, Amie. In all seriousness, if the COT makes our drivers safer, who cares what it costs or looks like? (I do, though, think NASCAR should be assisting more financially with its development.)
Any more new era name suggestions? Send them to ESPNsider@aol.com.
I was viewing the usual sites for NASCAR info during the lunch hour and came across the story of James Hylton attempting to make the Daytona 500. Now this guy is 72 years old! Does NASCAR really think this is safe to have a guy this old on the track? Do they drive on the highways?
I know James is a seasoned veteran and has run many races, but come on, 72? Now the fact of the matter is that if he actually made the race he would end up parkin' it early (e.g., Milwaukee Busch race 2006) but the potential to cause a big wreck even on Lap 1 or 2 is still there.
Maybe I'm alone in this but I just think it's a bad idea for this guy to still be on the track.
-- Matt Wingert, East Troy, Wis.
Undue concern, Matt. I think what Hylton hopes to accomplish is awesome, the whole holdin' it down for the AARP thing. But this is a pipe dream. He won't make the Daytona 500. No chance. Zero. None. And for more reasons than mere age. Sure, he's 72 years old and hasn't started a Cup race since 1993. That is indeed an obstacle.
But this is a guy trying a one-off speedway race. Hendrick Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Joe Gibbs Racing have entire departments that concentrate solely on speedway cars all year long. That's all they care about. They live to gain hundredths of counts of aerodynamic drag.
Hence, it's not surprising that Hylton is 1.5 seconds off the pace during testing. Moreover, he is one of some 24 cars vying for seven spots, including Joe Nemechek, Paul Menard (driving a Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevy), and Dale Jarrett, who is guaranteed the past-champion's provisional even if he's slow as molasses. Never happen.
I hope you'll get a chance to come out and see the new Iowa Speedway in 2007. It's a terrific racing venue. How long before the Craftsman Truck Series or the Busch Series come to Iowa Speedway?
-- John Dimitroff, Dubuque, Iowa
You might just be watching the Craftsman Truck Series at Iowa Speedway this year, John. Rusty Wallace Inc. spokesman John Paysor told me Tuesday that they're currently negotiating a CTS race with NASCAR for this year. As for the Busch Series, possibly 2008 or 2009, Paysor said.
Do you think a good rule for NASCAR to add during the Chase is let the drivers in the Chase qualify, but not start any worse than 10th? That way, at least the drivers that are in the Chase will start next to each other during the last 10 races.
Then at the start of the race the Chase drivers would race against each other longer. Also NASCAR could let the drivers in the Chase qualify together after the other drivers not in the Chase qualify.
Track conditions change sometimes during qualifying. The drivers in the Chase would also get their choice of pit boxes. It would be kind of a reward for making the Chase.
-- Russ H., Fort Worth, Texas
No. No. No. And no. I do, though, think it's time to reward teams for qualifying prowess. Right now qualifying well means good pit selection. Come on. That matters at Martinsville and Bristol. (Actually, teams tell me it's very important. Just seems to me great pit crews make up track position on 95 percent of the pit stops anyway, and that pit stalls rarely have bearing on overall performance.)
It's time to award five championship points for a pole. Teams put considerable effort into qualifying preparation. Reward them for it.
I'm not totally against studying the possibility of implementing a separate points system for Chase qualifiers, either, simply because under the current structure drivers are hurt much worse by bad finishes than they are rewarded by good ones.
That said, Kevin Harvick made a great point last week at testing: Regardless of all the rigmarole about this change and that to the Chase, the best team in any given year usually wins anyway.
AT&T just announced it will be phasing out the Cingular name over the next several months. What does that mean for RCR and its primary sponsor for Jeff Burton? Will Sprint/Nextel allow the change from Cingular to AT&T or enforce its "no new wireless sponsors" rule? (Assuming AT&T wants to continue sponsorship.)
-- Lee Stimpson, Greensboro, N.C.
The developing situation with Cingular/AT&T doesn't look overly positive for the 31 team, Lee. Sprint/Nextel spokesman Dean Kessel told me Tuesday that his company won't budge on its original 2004 agreement with Richard Childress Racing (and Penske Racing South's with Alltel) that grandfathered in existing wireless sponsorships, and would allow no wiggle room.
Translation: an AT&T wireless-branded car won't be on the racetrack anytime before, oh, 2015.
"This is not new news for anybody, and nothing has changed and we don't expect anything to change," Kessel said. "This was part of the deal we signed with NASCAR several years ago. We were gracious to grandfather in current sponsors that were competitors in the category, and everyone was clear on rules of engagement moving forward.
"The arrangement we bought and paid for is still in effect, and will stay that way."
Jeff Burton is confident it'll work out.
"I can't tell you a whole lot, to be honest," Burton said Tuesday. "I can tell you that Cingular is extremely excited about their involvement with AT&T. They're excited about being involved in this sport and their sponsorship opportunity.
"They're going to do everything in their power to continue it. It's an interesting situation to be in and time will tell what happens. From a marketing standpoint, it's going to require some creativity and some interesting strategies. But they are committed to making it work. And I'm confident they will."
Dave got my attention with this e-mail:
If Nextel will not allow Cingular/AT&T to change its logos on the 31 car, do you think we could be looking at a First Amendment lawsuit? Exclusivity clause or not, I believe that this will get very sticky for NASCAR, because it will have to keep RCR happy.
Sponsorship dollars are so tough, so expensive, I just don't see them (AT&T/RCR) losing out to Sprint/Nextel in this battle. A compromise will have to be made. Or, as rumored by my friend at Sprint/Nextel, they are looking to leave at the end of the season or next. Their stock is in the toilet, just as it was five years ago.
I have been told that they were reconsidering their decision after the first year. And when it comes down to it, do they really want to go to toe-to-toe with AT&T, NASCAR and RCR? I would look for some resolution to happen quickly. This is the last thing NASCAR needs right now. Thanks.
-- Dave, Chicago
Whoa, Dave! Sprint/Nextel leaving? Don't think so, man. Not anytime soon. I will admit to being a bit concerned when former Nextel president Tim Donahue, the spark plug for the entire project, announced his retirement. But Sprint/Nextel is firmly entrenched in the NASCAR culture, has been from day one, and doesn't appear to be hedging in the least.
As for any concern that NASCAR might pressure them into relenting to AT&T or RCR, Kessel remained staunch.
"NASCAR has not approached us [to hedge], and we don't anticipate that they will approach us," Kessel said.
In your Monday night NASCAR interview you mentioned that many drivers are not happy about 12 drivers getting into the Chase, that it might water it down and winning a championship won't be as prestigious.
Not that adding two drivers to the Chase gives that much more wiggle room, but doesn't this open the door for teams and drivers being a little more aggressive week in and week out, knowing that they have the extra two spots to get into the Chase?
Also, the best of the best seem to always either be in the top 10 or just outside after 26 races. But, the 13th-place driver has been mediocre at best. Doesn't this give those "best of the best" drivers room to be more aggressive and maybe go for the win instead of settling for a top 10 points day?
-- Kris K., Lafayette, Ind.
I agree with the assessment that more guaranteed drivers dilutes the Chase, and quite frankly look forward to hearing exactly why NASCAR feels compelled to add two drivers to the show. (Home Depot is an official sponsor, and I can't help but be a bit cynical in wondering if that had bearing on the move.)
Ultimately, Tony Stewart didn't get it done last year, just like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. failed in '05. And about Stewart, he'll tell you himself he wouldn't have won all three of the races he won during the Chase had he actually made the playoffs. The difference in approach for in versus out is polar opposite.
To me, adding drivers to the Chase is akin to the current college football bowl structure. Teams needn't even be good to qualify for a bowl. Mediocrity suffices. Finish 6-6, welcome to the Continental Tire Bowl. The Cup Chase needs to have a higher standard than that.
How much do you think Martin Truex Jr.'s development in the No. 1 has been stunted by the fact that his name is more reminiscent of a Formula One driver than of NASCAR? How about Marty? Marty Jr.?
I honestly don't think Jimmie Johnson would have won the title in 2006 if he went by James. Or Stewart in 2005 if he went by Anthony. I bet Marty Jr. can complete a lap at Bristol faster than most fans can say his full name.
I personally think that one of the three biggest things holding back my NASCAR career is my refusal to be called Johnny (the other two clearly being talent and a fear of fast speeds). Any chance that you'll use your column to start a Truex nickname competition?
76 million NASCAR fans and several broadcasters would be relieved!
-- John, New York
You just did, John. Poll of the week: What's Martin Truex Jr.'s new nickname?
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.