Race fans will be on the edge of their seats for the next eight days, awaiting the winner in NASCAR's "Chase for the Championship."
Today's Darlington race is sure to be a nail-biter. With Friday's qualifying runs rained out the 10 "Chase" contenders will take up the first five rows, with Kurt Busch on the pole and Jeff Gordon alongside. It will be the last-ever fall race at Darlington, as the schedule has allotted the track one race per season from 2005 onward.
Even though I swore off making predictions a couple of weeks ago, I'm going to make one anyway. The Championship is going to come down to Homestead, and it will be a mano-a-mano duel between Junior and Jeff Gordon. I mean, NASCAR knows how to milk a situation, and it can see that these two guys are the ones the fans want to see in a shootout. I may be wrong, but I suspect that something will happen to poor Kurt Busch at Darlington today that will take him right out of contention.
NASCAR is returning to its legendary moonshining roots. Yes, after many sanctimonious years, the sanctioning body will allow distilled spirits products (read "booze") to have sponsorship opportunities beginning in 2005. There has been a lot of controversy over this subject this year, especially since Crown Royal sponsors the International Race of Champions (IROC) series, which is for all intents and purposes a NASCAR subsidiary.
Quoth NASCAR President Mike Helton pontifically, "Any spirits company involved in NASCAR will have marketing campaigns strongly grounded in responsibility and will follow advertising and marketing guidelines set by NASCAR that are consistent with the Distilled Spirits Council's advertising code."
That means that the hooch merchants that shell out big bucks to peddle their products to NASCAR fans have to send a "responsible drinking" message. I'm sure they'll do a better job of it than some of the beer commercials I've seen.
There will be a new driver in the No. 0 car at Darlington today. Ward Burton has been summarily dismissed from the team, with Mike Bliss to take over driving chores for the next two races. Despite what you've seen in the NetZero commercials, Burton has not been a happy camper this season, even questioning whether he wanted to continue as a full-time Nextel Cup competitor. With only three top 10 finishes this year, maybe he's right.
The Carson Kart Kids continue to show the Californians how it's done in the Red Bluff winter series for Outlaw Karts. Little Kellcy Bell set fast qualifying time in Box Stock last weekend, and Zachary Heinz won his second trophy dash in a row in the same class. The pair were battling for a top-five spot when Zach spun on the last lap of the A Main, dropping him to 16th while Kellcy went on to finish fifth.
Jennifer Purcell finished 11th, with Jay Primm hot on her heels at 13th after transferring from the B Main. In Beginner Box Matthew Roberts finished ninth in the A Main in his first Red Bluff outing, and Elizabeth Heinz was right behind him in 10th. Keith Combs failed to transfer from the B Main after running fourth in his heat race. Mackena Bell had a good run in the Open Intermediate class, taking fifth in the A Main and second in her heat race. Both Bell sisters are third in point standings in their divisions, and Zachary Heinz is fifth in Box Stock points.
I recently mentioned that Chevrolet was pulling out of the IRL after the 2005 season. What I neglected to mention was that Cosworth Engineering builds the IRL Chevy powerplant, which is actually a Ford-base piece, and also supplies engines for the rival CART series. Cosworth is on the market, and the most likely buyer is CART principal Kevin Kalkhoven, since Ford Motor Company rejected a substantial offer by Chip Ganassi. This situation may tip the balance of power in open-wheel racing back in CART's favor, as rumors abound that Toyota will also abandon the IRL after the 2006 season to pursue a NASCAR Nextel Cup effort. That would be an ironic twist for Red Bull Cheever Racing, which just announced a switch from Chevy to Toyota power!
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.