A gathering of thoughts and opinions as we head into the final off-week of the Sprint Cup season:
An Awesome Promotion: I remember, when NASCAR's top division was still called the Winston Cup Series, such promotions as the Winston Million and the Winston No Bull 5 -- programs designed to give drivers the chance at $1 million if they won select races. They were cool ideas that emphasized winning and gave both sponsor R.J. Reynolds and NASCAR an extra bit of exposure.
Since entering the sport in 2004, Sprint has created no such program ... until now.
NASCAR and Sprint announced in Loudon, N.H. on Sunday the Sprint Summer Showdown, which would have a combined $3 million payout after the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway over Labor Day weekend. Winners of the next five Sprint Cup races -- at Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol -- will go into the Atlanta race eligible for the money.
If a driver who won any of those five races also wins at Atlanta, the driver will win $1 million for himself, $1 million for his charity of choice and $1 million for a fan.
Fans can enter here.
Given NASCAR's increased emphasis on winning -- using wins as Chase seeding, offering the final two Chase spots as wild card spots based on wins, giving three bonus points to the driver who wins a race -- this promotion fits the bill. It also increases interest by getting charities and fans involved, and the Sprint Summer Showdown has the potential to make the traditional summer lull more exciting.
All around, I think this is a great move for the sport.
A Made-Up Number: A lot has been made of the fact that Kyle Busch has won 100 combined races between the Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup Series. Frankly, it's all contrived bullshit.
Tell me: before Busch came along, when have we ever lumped together a driver's wins among all the national NASCAR touring series? Never. We talk about David Pearson's 105 Cup wins, not the fact that he's got 106 total wins if you count his Bristol Nationwide Series win from 1982. What about Darrell Waltrip (84 Cup wins, 13 Nationwide wins = 97 total) or the late Dale Earnhardt (76 Cup wins, 21 Nationwid wins = 97 total)?
Or Mark Martin, who has 96 total wins between the three national series?
No, we don't do that with them. We mention Earnhardt and Waltrip as Cup legends; when we talk about Martin, we mention how, until this past weekend, he was the all-time Nationwide Series wins leader ... or we talk about his 40 Cup wins. Not both.
I used to think Busch's 100-win "milestone" was a media-driven thing ... until Busch paraded around with a flag with the number 100 on it, then signed a billboard in Victory Lane commemorating win 100. Oh, and there are shirts for sale commemorating win No. 100.
Look, if you wanna make a big deal of the fact that Busch has tied Martin in Nationwide Series wins, that's fine. It's an impressive achievement, especially when you consider how quickly Busch tied the mark. His 22 Sprint Cup wins at the age of 26 are also impressive.
But lumping all his wins into one category and placing his name on the same list as Pearson and Richard Petty? That's a stretch -- to put it politely.
Wonders Never Cease: Remember before the start of the season, when I said Matt Crafton wasn't a legitimate title contender in the Camping World Truck Series because he couldn't win races?
Crafton held off Austin Dillon for his second career win Saturday night at Iowa Speedway, vaulting the driver of the No. 88 to fifth in points, 44 behind leader Johnny Sauter. Crafton has six top-10s in 11 starts this season, and the win could catapult him back into title contention -- especially since no one seems to be dominating.
Don't let Sauter's 22-point lead over Dillon fool you; no one is running away with this championship as we near the halfway point of the season. Things are just as open heading into Nashville this weekend as they were in the season opener at Daytona.
And if Crafton can become a consistent Victory Lane threat? Then I may just be willing to eat some crow.