Stewart looks to be a lock

There are two topics I wish I didn't have to write about this week, but I don't see how I can avoid them.

First, of course, is the final race in the seemingly unending Nextel Cup season. It's the second year of the "Chase for the Championship" playoff format, and this year nobody seems particularly interested in calculating how the points would have shaken out under the "old" system.

If Tony Stewart has a ninth place or better finish today at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it doesn't matter what anybody else does. Jimmy Johnson can lead every lap and win by a 10-lap margin, but if Stewart hangs in there ninth or better, it will all be pointless. I can imagine Jimmy Johnson and Carl Edwards fans sitting in front of their TV sets with a little voodoo doll of the No. 20 car and a copious supply of pins to stick in it. But I think Tony's MoJo is strong enough to counteract such attacks. Well, we will know in a few hours, won't we?

The second subject I refer to is of course the unfortunate situation with Kurt Busch. Busch, who is as celebrated for his driving skills as he is disliked for his immaturity and arrogance, was unceremoniously dumped by the Roush organization for the last two races of the season, to be replaced by journeyman driver Kenny Wallace.

After a flurry of conflicting pronouncements that would do a White House press secretary proud, the Maricopa County's sheriff's office finally revealed that Busch took a preliminary sobriety test as a result of his confrontation with deputies after an alleged reckless driving incident. Initially, it was reported that the testing equipment malfunctioned, but now the cops say that Busch's blood alcohol level was measured at 0.017, well below Arizona's legal standard of 0.08 for drunken driving. The Roush folks, sensitive to sponsor Crown Royal and any intimation of drinking and driving, benched the Penske Racing-bound Busch for the remainder of the season.

What is most troubling to me about the whole incident is the damage it does to racing's reputation of standing apart from other professional sports. Baseball, football, basketball, and other more "traditional" sports have been plagued by scandals involving steroids, drugs, sex, alcohol, firearms, gangsterism, etc.

Most of this activity is caused by sports stars being lavished with huge sums of money and fan adoration without the maturity to handle it. I'm afraid the new, younger breed of racers may be more prone to falling into this same trap. Note Shane Hmiel's indefinite suspension for drugs and Scott Wimmer's DUI conviction last season.

Older drivers had a much harder climb up the racing ladder, and by the time they reached the point where they were making the big bucks, they had (for the most part) the maturity to handle it. OK, I'll grant you that in the early days of the sport there were some pretty wild individuals, but that was before NASCAR was anything more than a Southeastern curiosity.

Last week we touched on some of the roster changes in the Nextel Cup ranks for next season. Here's more. Ken Schrader will replace Ricky Rudd in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford for 2006, and ARCA championship runner-up Brent Sherman will take over Schrader's seat at BAM Racing.

Over at the Evernham Racing camp, even more fundamental changes will take place for the 2006 season. Tommy Baldwin, Kasey Kahne's crew chief, is leaving to become a team owner with blessings and support from Evernham. But the big news is a sweeping reorganization that will eliminate the traditional position of crew chief on the three Evernham teams.

The new table of organization will feature a team director, a car director and an engineer working in concert. It will be interesting to see what effect this will have on Evernham's Dodge teams next year. Personally, I think that getting NASCAR to approve a redesigned nose for the Dodge will make a lot more difference.

And finally, look for changes in the "impound rules" for 2006. Apparently the TV folks aren't happy that the procedure cuts down on on-track activity during a race weekend, limiting the air time they can sell to sponsors. NASCAR is "taking another look" at impounding.


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