The hype that is NASCAR moved into over-hype late yesterday (Sunday) when Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished first in a race for the first time in four years.
You would have thought it was the second coming the way everybody reacted when he won the Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.
The fans went nuts, which is fine.
But the announcers also went nuts - please - and SPEED Channel publicists quickly sent out a media release with supplied quotes from eight – count ‘em, eight – analysts and commentators ranging from Dave Despain, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds to Bob Dilner and Kenny Wallace all saying what a wonderful thing this victory was.
You'd have thought he'd cured cancer.
Tony Stewart – God love him – was the only driver with any sense. "National holiday tomorrow," he quipped when Little E crossed the finish line.
Greg Biffle, Jimmy Johnson, Jeff Gordon – to a man – all said how happy they all were for "Junior" but Stewart said he sure wasn’t because he’d wanted to win the race.
"Just because NASCAR wants him to win a race doesn’t mean the rest of us have to roll over for him," Stewart said.
If I’d been asked, I’d have wondered out loud how a guy could possibly drive for Rick Hendrick and have that equipment and that crew chief and that pit crew and not win a race for four – count ‘em, four – years.
I’d have wondered out loud about his talent and commitment. Yes, I would most certainly have been in the minority, and maybe not even believed some of the stuff I was saying, but they are questions that should have been asked – have to be asked – in a situation like that one.
They say that if you sit a thousand monkeys down in front of a thousand typewriters that one of them will write a best-seller. It’s a law-of-averages thing.
So I maintain that some beer league hockey player could score at least 10 goals in the NHL if a team let him play three shifts in every period of every game all season. Ditto with hitting a baseball at the Major League level: make some amateur the DH for a team in the American League and let him go up to the plate a minimum of three times a game every game all season and I guarantee you he will hit .200 with a dozen home runs.
The preceding paragraph was a warmup for this one: most of the drivers in the Nationwide Series, or even the trucks, could have done better than Dale Jr. these past 48 months if sent out to do battle 36 times a season in a Rick Hendrick-prepared race car with a Rick Hendrick crew and crew chief in support.
So how did Dale Earnhardt Jr. manage not to win?
Those are the questions the high–priced help on television should have been asking instead of gushing all over what might be, could be, may have been . . . a fluke.
I mean, if he wins again next weekend, then maybe the world will sit up and take notice.
Otherwise, the counting up of his losses will start all over again.
Full NASCAR results here
Okay, here are some other questions after a weekend of racing:
– For the second consecutive year, a "gentleman" racer nearly killed a top professional during the running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 2011, Mike Rockenfeller was driving the No. 1 Audi and passing a GT class Ferrari driven by Robert Kaufmann when Kaufmann moved into his lane. How Rockenfeller survived that accident is still a mystery.
On Saturday, ex-F1 driver Anthony Davidson, piloting a Toyota hybrid, was passing a – What? Again? – GT class Ferrari driven by Piergiussepe Perazzini when Perazinni turned into Davidson and sent his car somersaulting down the track.
Davidson suffered a broken back and remains in hospital. Perazzini wasn’t injured.
Two close calls in two years. One of these days, Alice . . .
Meantime, Audi became the first manufacturer to win the Le Mans 24 using hybrid technology. Andrew Lottere, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer drove to their second straight Le Mans win in Audi’s R18 e-tron quattro diesel-powered, flywheel-based hybrid car.
And race engineer Leena Gade, who became the first woman race engineer to win Le Mans in 2011, was the engineer on this team too.
Le Mans results here
– Why is the IZOD IndyCar Series running heats to set the field for next weekend’s race at Iowa Speedway? Don’t those people ever learn?
Last year, they had a lottery to determine the starting field for the second of "twin" features at Texas Motors Speedway. It didn’t work well and the drivers hated it. So they scrapped it for this year.
Now they want to hold three heat races at Iowa next Friday night (lineups for those will depend on practice times) to set the field for the race itself next Saturday night.
What if there are accidents and cars are destroyed? What if a driver in the top five in the standings can’t race or isn’t competitive because of something untoward happening in one of those heats?
If you thought the drivers bitched about the lottery at Texas, wait till you hear the reaction after one of them finds out they’re starting 17th after winning the third heat. And so on.
Oval track time trials are fair and they’ve worked for a century. Why does the IndyCar series think it has to manufacturer excitement?
If the product is good enough, people will buy it. NASCAR plays around with the All-Star race but it doesn’t matter because it isn’t a points race. I don’t think NASCAR would mess around with a points race; F1 sure doesn’t and IndyCar shouldn’t either.
This new leadership was supposed to be enlightened. The jury remains out on that one.
The race at Milwaukee this weekend, won by Ryan Hunter-Reay with Tony Kanaan second, was so-so. James Hinchcliffe of Oakville finished third and is now second in the standings behind Will Power. He could be leading the standings when the series heads for Toronto in three weeks.
I suggest it will be time to get excited about this very soon.
Full IndyCar results here
– How come the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series attracts 27 cars for its first road race of the season (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) and 29 for its second (Circuit ICAR) and only 21 for its first oval race of the season (CTMP)?
I always figure that if you support a series, you show up – regardless if the type of racing isn’t your particular cup of tea.
Once upon a time, when national stock car racing was made up mostly of ovals, what would have happened at the one or two road-racing venues if half the oval guys had said the hell with it, as a half-dozen or more road racers are now saying to oval racing?
Maybe the NASCAR Canada people should start applying some pressure to some of these "occasional " racers.
Or, when they all show up at Montreal for the glamour–puss event at the end of August, which they surely will, they be told they’re welcome to race but that they’ll have to start behind the 20 or so cars that have run every event to date.
Seems fair to me.
Meantime, D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas won his first race of the season at the oval at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Saturday night, with first-time-out-in-2012-driver Mark Dilley of Barrie in second place and J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge in third.
Pole-sitter Peter Shepherd III, also making his first start of the season, broke an axle and finished 16th.
Fitzpatrick leads the standings, followed closely by Kennington with Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., in third place. The next race will be held this coming Saturday night at Delaware Speedway outside London, Ont.
Full NASCAR Canadian Tire Series results here