The Canadian International Auto Show has taken up a lot of my time and energy this past week, so this column will be a bit of a catch-up.
The big news at the weekend, though, was rookie Austin Dillon winning the pole for the Daytona 500 in the No. 3 car made famous by Dale Earnhardt. Martin Truex Jr., who was kicked out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup last fall because of the shenanigans that went on at Michael Waltrip Racing, will start beside him driving for the one-car Furniture Row team.
I mean, what a Cinderella story. The No. 3 car hasn't been seen in Sprint Cup competition since Earnhardt died in it at Daytona in 2001 and Dillon, grandson of Earnhardt owner, mentor and friend, Richard Childress, takes it out for the first time in his Sprint Cup career and promptly plants it on the pole for the biggest NASCAR race of the year! I mean, it doesn't get any better than that, does it?
Now, I know the conspiracy theorists will be all over this one, just as they were a year ago when Danica Patrick won the pole (she turned 25th fastest time Sunday). According to those folks, NASCAR gives certain drivers a little extra horsepower to ensure they will win the pole (or the race, whatever) and ensure that NASCAR gets the maximum amount of publicity, as a result.
The only difficulty with that scenario is the 47 other drivers who were out there Sunday, giving it their all. Does anybody, for a moment, think that Jimmie Johnson or Kurt and Kyle Busch or any of the others would stand for manipulation like that? Of course not. Yes, they're all in business together but not one of those forementioned drivers (think Brad Keselowski for a moment) would sit back and zip their lips if they really thought for a moment that pole runs or race finishes were fixed.
So Dillon and Truex will share the front row for next Sunday's 500; the rest of the field will be set Thursday night after the qualifying races are held.
I watched for awhile (although I kept switching channels to the Canada-Finland game at the Olympics) and there is no doubt that single-car qualifying continues to be about as exciting as watching paint dry. Which explains why - again - the Daytona International Speedway grandstands were as empty at they are when the Rolex 24 is on.
For the rest of the races this year, NASCAR will go to knockout-type qualifying, in which there will be multiple numbers of cars on track at the same time and over the course of the session some will be eliminated while others will continue on to the next round.
Formula One has been doing this for a number of years, as has IndyCar. It is much more entertaining than single-car qualifying and it keeps the fans awake.
Now, if this works, I wonder how long it will be before NASCAR (or the announcers that promote the series) takes/take credit for inventing knockout qualifying. Don't laugh; the tendency for revisionism in the World of NASCAR can sometimes be frightening.
We all know NASCAR invented SAFER barriers, don't we? Never mind Tony George, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the University of Nebraska. Yes, NASCAR might have become involved after research and development was well down the road but by no means was it the instigator. And yet, NASCAR has been credited more than once on NASCAR broadcasts with coming up with the idea.
The latest theft - and that's what it is, by the way: theft - occurred on NASCAR Raceday Sunday. Kenny Wallace was talking about how drivers feel about going for the pole at Daytona and he said this:
"At times like this, I'm reminded of something the great Richie Evans once said: 'Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.' "
Richie Evans said that? I always thought Vince Lombardi said that. But according to Kenny Wallace, one of the best-known quotes in the history of American sport wasn't uttered by the coach of the Green Bay Packers but by a NASCAR Modified Series racer from Rome, N.Y.
Okay, on to other, more important, things like the romance between Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. I see trouble brewing.
As most people in relationships know, honesty is crucial. If you screw up, you have to 'fess up. You can't fib and expect trust.
So Saturday night, during the Busch Clash (I don't care what they call it now, it will always be the Busch Clash to me), there was a pileup and Patrick went low to miss it. Expecting to go throught the grass, the car somehow got tangled in it and sent her into a spin. She kept the car off the wall and was just about straightened out when she was hammered by none other than her boyfriend, Stenhouse, putting both of them out of the race.
In a post-infirmary-visit interview, she made mention that, of all people, she had been wrecked by her boyfriend and then added, "He said he couldn't see (because the hood was up)." Stenhouse, in a separate interview, made the same excuse.
He'd better hope she doesn't see the replay that those of us watching on television at home saw. It shows him being involved in the pileup, then appearing to floor it before sideswiping her, at which point the hood on his car flips up.
The in-car camera appeared to illustrate that he could see very well where he was going on the speedway before he ran into her. Otherwise, why was he accelerating? Take a look by clicking here. Essentially, he was being careless and should have said so, before apologizing.
By the way, stand-up guy Richard Petty refused to back down from his statements made to me, Erik Tomas and Stephanie Wallcraft at the Canadian Motorsports Expo a week ago, that the only way Patrick could win a Sprint Cup race was if everybody else stayed home, but insisted he wasn't being sexist. For her part, Patrick brushed it all away by saying everybody is entitled to their opinion and she's heard it all before and will undoubtedly hear it all again.
Last, Tony Stewart seems to be a changed man. Very calm and laid back. You can tell he's absolutely delighted to be back in a racing car after that serious sprint car accident he had last summer - which, I understand, was way more serious than anybody has let on. He had a tough time healing and his career could have beeen in jeopardy. Which explains his happiness at being back doing what he loves the most. And not even a multi-car wreck could upset him.
Sebastian Saavedra is back in IndyCar, this time with KV Racing. He will race beside Sebastien Bourdais. . . . Toto Wolff isn't the only pay manager in big-league auto racing. Davey Hamilton is back as a co-owner of the Indy car being fielded for Simon Pagenaud by Schmidt-Peterson Racing. Hamilton's contribution to that team in recent years was the sponsorship he brought from Hewlett-Packard but after they withdrew at the end of last season, Hamilton was out as a co-owner. Now he's back. I don't know what he brought to the table, but it's something significant, you can bet. . . . The news that Simona de Silvestro will work with Sauber in F1 this season is a bit of a puzzler. She had a pretty good minor league career in the Atlantic series but her time in IndyCar was largely uneventful (as my old pal, the late Art Wright, used to say about my racing career). She had one podium finish in four years of full-time employment and never finished in the top ten in the season standings. She was 19th, 20th, 24th and 13th. She reminds me of Katherine Legge, who got an awful lot of publicity for very little success. Sauber is a bring-as-much-money-as-you-can team, so she has her work cut out for her. At the end of the day, she has to be able to cut the mustard and while she can race in IndyCar, I just don't think she has the talent to race in F1. . . . When Alex Tagliani announced his return to the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series at the Motorsports Expo, I asked if D.J. Kennington would be preparing his car. "It's (the deal) not done yet," Tag replied. There was a reason for that statement. Late last week, it was announced that Tag's race car will be prepared by three-time NASCAR Canada Champion Scott Steckly's 22 Racing team out of Milverton. They'll do well together.
- NORRIS McDONALD