Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I'm Back!!

You’d Be Flippin’ Crazy to Count Out This Guy

Anyone think Carl Edwards isn’t a serious contender for the Sprint Cup after his performance in the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway?

If so, you’re a damned fool. Also known as Robby Gordon.

Edwards already had two wins this season: Fontana and Las Vegas. And had his transmission held up in Atlanta, he probably would’ve won there too, as strong as his car was. Edwards has the intermediate tracks figured out better than anyone else this season, and to seriously contend for the title, one needs to run better on these tracks than anywhere else.

Think about it: four restrictor-plate races, six short-track tilts, two road courses. Everything else is of the intermediate variety – mostly 1.5-mile “cookie cutter” tracks. He who runs best on those more than likely hoists the trophy after Homestead.

Kyle Busch will contend, as will Dale Earnhardt Jr. (don’t let his 12th-place egg on Sunday fool you). And to discount Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart because of early struggles would be like adding Jeremy Mayfield to your fantasy roster.

Edwards has performed this well under criticism and without crew chief Bob Osbourne. He also admitted after winning on Sunday that he was holding back a little bit. If that’s the case, the rest of the Sprint Cup Series is in trouble.

Car Critics, Meet Mr. McDowell

Show of hands: before Friday, how many people had never heard of Michael McDowell?

Thought so.

McDowell made a name for himself in the worst way possible, hitting the wall head-on during his qualifying run at Texas and flipping eight times before coming to rest on the apron, on fire and in pieces.

Yet McDowell went on to finish 33rd in the race and is doing the talk show circuit. Can you imagine him talking sway bars and wedge to Ellen Degeneres?

Neither can I.

The reason McDowell can make these rounds is the increased safety of the sport – specifically the new car. You know, the boxy thing with the ugly rear wing that drives like a fresh piece of dog excrement?

Sure, the energy-absorbing SAFER barriers helped – even if the crash broke them – and the HANS device did its job. But without the new car and its safety advancements, McDowell might’ve still been looking at a helicopter ride to the local hospital at best.

Imagine: a taller cockpit (which helps the taller dudes, like McDowell and his boss, Michael Waltrip). Energy-absorbing foam on the driver’s side of the car. A front splitter and a rear wing that most of the time makes spinning a car out harder. An automatic fire extinguishing system next to the fuel cell, designed to put a fire out right as it starts (which it did in McDowell’s case). The driver’s seat moved four inches to the right, closer to the center of the car. That way, in wrecks like McDowell’s (or J.J. Yeley’s on Sunday, where the driver’s side hits), the driver is further away from the impact, and not as much of the energy gets to him.

McDowell walked away from his wreck with a smile because of all these advancements, advancements that make me an unequivocal advocate for this car. Sure, they drive poorly – that makes for better racing and if the crew chiefs are any good, they’ll figure the thing out before too much longer anyway.

But drivers are coming away from horrible-looking wrecks unscathed. And given how everyone felt when Dale Earnhardt died, that’s an advancement I can live with.

Mayfield Loses Ride – To Guy He Replaced

You know things are bad when a team fires you and replaces you with … the guy you replaced.

That’s exactly what happened to Jeremy Mayfield, who Haas CNC Racing released on Tuesday in favor of Johnny Sauter. Sauter will drive the No. 70 Impala at Phoenix this weekend, but isn’t solidified as the permanent replacement.

Still, considering the team let Sauter go in the off-season in favor of Mayfield, this has to be embarrassing for the five-time Cup winner.

"Jeremy's proven resume behind the wheel of a Cup car was a real benefit to our team," team general manager Joe Custer said on "He stepped into the seat and did everything we asked him to and more.

"Ultimately, we were unable to provide him with the right balance, handling and speed he needed to be successful. We wish Jeremy nothing but the best for his future.”

Wait … the team couldn’t give Mayfield everything he needed, but Mayfield’s the one getting canned? I’m no Mayfield apologist – if anything, he needs to apologize for his lack of talent – but that seems a little backwards to me.

Then again, I guess a team can’t fire itself.

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