Taking Gordon in the Chase
October 23, 2004
Today starts the second half of the “Chase to the Championship” for NASCAR Nextel Cup drivers, with only three of the ten contestants having a realistic chance at the title.
Luck (good and bad) has played a huge part in the Chase thus far, but if the fortune factor evens out over the last five events, my money is on Jeff Gordon. Although Kurt Busch dodged a number of potentially fatal bullets last Saturday night at Charlotte, Gordon came back from two laps down to finish in the top five, proving that both have equal access to the luck bucket.
Then there is the fact that Gordon alone among the three contenders (himself, Busch, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.) knows what it takes to win a championship at NASCAR’s top level – four times, no less! Check the odds at your local sports book, and if Gordon is any better than 3 to 1, get some money down on him.
Remember the Hoosier/Goodyear tire wars of a few years ago? Well, Hoosier finally opted to stick with Sprint and Sports cars, leaving the battlefield to the Goodyear boys. However, another company with a fairly impressive racing resume is eyeing the lucrative and highly visible NASCAR market.
Bridgestone/Firestone Motorsports executive director Al Speyer was conspicuously in evidence in Mike Skinner’s pit box at the Craftsman Truck race in Texas last weekend. NASCAR is definitely not interested in another tire war, but the sanctioning body’s exclusive contract with Goodyear runs out in 2007, and NASCAR has never been known to choose loyalty over money. Case in point: the bidding war over TV rights a few years back, when ESPN, the network that helped catapult NASCAR into national prominence, was left out in the cold.
Bridgestone/Firestone has demonstrated in both Formula 1 and CART/IRL that it is not afraid to spend big bucks in the sport. And NASCAR is the big dog here in the U.S.
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“Of course we’re interested in NASCAR, it’s very popular,” said Speyer. “Our dealers, employees and customers are always asking us when we’re going to be in NASCAR.”
There is also the fact that Goodyear not only doesn’t traditionally spend that much money on racing, but is also in some financial straits. Goodyear lost $1.23 billion in 2002 and $802 million in 2003, enough to make stockholders question the company’s racing program.
In addition, one Nextel Cup team manager, who asked to remain anonymous, noted that there is a groundswell of unhappiness from several teams with Goodyear’s overall performance in NASCAR’s premier series. Another unnamed NASCAR source hinted that Bridgestone/Firestone plans to begin testing tires next year with either a Craftsman Truck or Busch series car. Toyota will probably provide the test chassis, either a Craftsman Truck or a Nextel Cup test mule (look for Toyota to join the Cup chase within the next three years).
And just to throw a little more spice into the stew, B.F. Goodrich is also in play. The company has purchased the Hooter’s Pro Cup series and also is involved in the American Speed Association. Tire wars, anyone?
Indy Racing League officials and fans were denied the patented IRL thousandths of a second finish at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday, and somebody had to pay. That somebody turns out to be winner Helio Castroneves, who was allowed to keep his win, but was penalized $50,000 and 15 points for jumping the last restart and running away from Andretti Green teammates Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon. The points penalty does not affect the final standings, although the monetary fine leaves Castroneves’ wallet a bit lighter. At least he didn’t use any four-letter words on the victory podium.
Although local tracks are dark for the winter, local racers are still active. Outlaw Kart racer Mackena Bell won the Intermediate Open main in her first outing at Red Bluff last weekend after finishing fourth in the trophy dash. Little sister Kellcy Bell took seventh in the box stock main after scoring a second in the trophy dash. And local Box Stock Champion Zachary Heinz scored a top five finish at Red Bluff, coming home fourth in the main.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.