Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tuesday's Feature: The Straightaway

(every Tuesday, "Out of Bounds" will feature The Straightaway -- NASCAR commentary by contributor Siddy Hall)


by Siddy Hall


The man could have walked straight off the “Dukes of Hazzard” set. Remove some hair, add a couple of wrinkles and perhaps you are looking at “Boss Hogg,” the wealthiest, filthiest man in Hazzard County. The real life counterpart to the Man in White from the old TV show is none other than O. Bruton Smith. The “O” stands for Ollen.

NASCAR just finished running at one of Smith’s tracks, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. As usual, O. Bruton was talking up a storm to the media. His company, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) owns six tracks that play host to 10 of the 36 races run in the Nextel Cup Series. If Smith could have it his way, that total would increase to 11. He wants another race in Las Vegas. Usually what O. Bruton wants, O. Bruton gets.

Smith: NASCAR's Boss Hogg (left)

Currently, the NASCAR tracks are nearly all owned by SMI and the International Speedway Corporation (ISC). All but seven races are run on their turf. ISC, which hosts 19 races, is run by the France family. This is the same family that started and operates NASCAR. The France family has a great deal of power. The ownership of NASCAR plus the power to designate race sites smells like a monopoly. A rivalry has developed between these groups. Call it the NASCAR Hatfield’s & McCoy’s.

O. Bruton Smith succeeded in obtaining a second race for his Texas track. He did so by talking a lot and filing lawsuits. It appears that he may threaten court action again to get a second race for his Las Vegas track.

As these billionaires battle for control of NASCAR turf a disturbing trend has entered the sport: the proliferation of “cookie cutter” tracks. Like baseball’s love affair with the symmetrical, synthetic turf stadiums circa the 1970s, NASCAR can’t get enough of the 1.5 mile D-shaped oval. Seven of the ten SMI races run on this configuration. If Las Vegas does receive another NASCAR date, then nearly one quarter of the races will basically be run on the same track. Texas, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Las Vegas are beginning to resemble baseball’s Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and St. Louis from yonder.

STARTING GRID BLUES: How important is starting position at a race? Not much, at least this week at Las Vegas. The top-10 starters all finished outside the top-10. According to LTPicks.com, this has not occurred since July 5, 1965 at Daytona, or 1421 races ago.

NINE LIVES: Teams are battling to make the top-35 in Owners Points by the completion of Race # 5 at Bristol. That’s when the current standings determine which cars gain automatic entry to each race. Each week the top-35 teams are safe. Keep an eye on Kyle Petty. The guy hasn’t threatened to win a race since he drove the Mellow Yellow car in 1995. But he’s a survivor. He ended 2006 exactly 35th in owner points, thus protecting himself for the beginning of ’07. Currently, he’s 33rd, just five points ahead of 36th place Kasey Kahne.

"Survivor NASCAR": Starring Kyle Petty

TOYOTA TEAMS STRUGGLE: Time is running out for some of the new Toyota teams. Jeremy Mayfield and his Bill Davis Racing machine have yet to make a race. The Red Bull duo of Brian Vickers and rookie AJ Allmendinger are a combined 1-6 at making shows. Michael Waltrip has collected two DNQ’s (did not qualify). These are four fully-funded teams that have combined for two appearances in twelve attempts to qualify. Sponsors surely are getting itchy and may stop the cash flow without results. Things will not get easier in Atlanta this week. There are already 51 cars attempting to fill the 43-car field. Never has qualifying been filled with as much tension as this year. How much longer can some of these teams hold on?

Mayfield and some of his Toyota teammates have had little to smile about in '07

THREE DOWN, TWO TO GO: Three teams have qualified for all three events without the benefit of 2006 Owner Point guarantees. They are the veterans Joe Nemechek and Sterling Marlin, both from Ginn Racing, and most surprisingly, Johnny Sauter. Pre-season, absolutely nobody was talking about Sauter. Now he’s two races away from being one of the survivors. He’s currently 24th in points. Another driver to watch is Paul Menard. He’s the third entry from the Teresa Earnhardt stable and is sitting 37th in points despite missing one race. For all the bad news leaking from DEI, Menard’s successfully attaining a top-35 spot would be a coup for this outfit.

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