Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Southern 500 name doesn’t mean the same without the Labor Day date at Darlington Raceway, but still what a race.

The two headlines of the Southern 500: Joey Logano (a rookie) not only leading the Southern 500, but finished 9th and Mark Martin on not only picking up his second Cup Series victory of 2009, but signing with Hendrick Motorsports to drive the #5 full-time in 2010 as well. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images)

As I sit here one week later, the Southern 500 at the historical Darlington Raceway is still fresh in my mind, but I would like to talk about the name "the Southern 500" itself. To me, the name, the Southern 500 had always ranked in the top 5 best races of the NASCAR season alongside the famous Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Brickyard 400 and the Firecracker 400 (Pepsi 400 – Coke Zero 400, whichever you prefer), of course now that list has changed over the years and should include the Sharpie 500 at Bristol.

However a few years ago when NASCAR took the Labor Day Weekend date away from Darlington Raceway and gave it to one of the worse racetracks on the schedule, California Speedway (of course in 2009, Atlanta will be on Labor Day Weekend) and removed the name the Southern 500, that move changed alot in NASCAR.

No longer was the Southern 500, nor Darlington Raceway on the top 5 ranking races of the season, now number 5 on that list is the Sharpie 500 at Bristol and rightfully so, however now in 2009, NASCAR and Darlington has brought back the name the Southern 500 to the raceway, the old font of Darlington Raceway on the wall, the red and white paint on the walls and of course you already have the character of the Darlington strip, so?

In this NASCAR fans eyes, the name the Southern 500 doesn’t mean the same without the Labor Day Weekend date, but its kind of cool to watch and its a piece of history, but like I said, it’s still not the same. It’s too bad that NASCAR wouldn’t put Darlington on Saturday Night Labor Day Weekend, that would be one historical race to watch judging by not only last year’s Darlington race, but this weekend’s as well which I will get into in a minute.

Should Darlington Raceway or Las Vegas Motor Speedway for that matter get a second Cup Series date? NO, let me explain. One, the only date Darlington needs is the Southern 500 on Saturday night on Labor Day Weekend or at least on Saturday night. Darlington with one date works great, the fans come out and yes even in this economy the fans do come out and fill the grandstands for a good race, why change it.

Two, a few months ago I though Las Motor Speedway should get a second date only if NASCAR removed it from California Speedway, however while the October date should be removed from California Speedway (it’s a boring race, we don’t need two dates there), Las Vegas doesn’t need two dates neither, but the current date should be moved, try at the end of the season either in the old California October date or at the end of the year, bumping Homestead-Miami to the 9th chase race of the season, personally the October date works better, that way it would still be a west coast race.

That move would be better for attendance at Las Vegas, because there is already too many dates so close together now in the first part of the season.

What about the Southern 500 race itself? Wow, what a race it was. Racing at just about any racetrack under the lights on either a Saturday or Sunday night is always fun and entertaining to watch both at the racetrack and on television or how ever NASCAR fans watch their NASCAR.

Last year before this race, Carl Edwards and David Pearson drove around the raceway together, however I found it interesting that the rookie Joey Logano and Cale Yarbrough drove around Darlington together this time, there has to be some good tips on just how to navigate Darlington there, the Lady in back hasn’t changed all that much in recent years, besides that was cool.

What a Southern 500, in watching NASCAR so far in 2009, I have even noticed that not only in other series, but especially in the Cup Series, the racing has gotten more aggressive, drivers are taking more chances, beating harder on each other and really just going after each position just a little bit more, however if you hadn’t noticed it before, you most likely did this past Saturday night when the aggressive driving was taken to a whole new level.

Darlington Raceway is a 1.3 mile, egg shaped oval that with high speeds and tight corners is very hard to navigate, let along race side-by-side, but damn, at one point I just said “how did he make that pass or on the flipside, what a stupid move. Case in point, Casey Mears, sorry Casey, but he was only 34 laps into the race, went down onto the apron and tried to make a pass on Brian Vickers and instead slides up into Vickers, spinning him out and setting off a chain reaction, I mean what was that…

There were moves like that all night long, but at the same time, there was a lot of passing, if you had the car to get to the front, you could make that climb, there was just a little bit of room to squeeze in there. It seens that over the past couple of years, survival has been one of the keys to victory or just a good top 10 finish at any track and this was not different.

There were two crashes where my heart just sunk. First had to be on Lap 75 when Michael Waltrip had an oil fire, sending Michael into turn 3 in a ball of fire, thank god Mikey climbed out, what sight to see and the second hard crash of night had to be on lap 222, Clint Bowyer, what a hard hit he took, going from inside wall to outside wall, back to the inside wall again, but glad to see Clint climbed out too.

In watching the late stages of the Southern 500, you had to know that it was going to be a Hendrick Motorsports or Hendrick Motorsports affiliated day, but whom? Once that #48 team got that #48 car fixed, Jimmie Johnson just looked like he was shot out of a cannon, but you know in racing, it isn’t about your age, 18 or over 50, if you got you got and right now for Mark Martin he is on his game, what a run he had all night long, but who would have known that with 46 laps to go, Mark Martin would take the lead and never look back to pickup his second victory of 2009, that’s cool right there, what a team. Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top 5, but one call here, what a run for Joey Logano.

A rookie leading at Darlington is big and he finished 9th, that’s a good hard fought day, congratulations to Joey Logaono for finishing 9th and to Mark Martin on not only picking up his second Cup Series victory of 2009, but signing with Hendrick Motorsports to drive the #5 full-time in 2010 as well.

What about #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.? I tweeted a few times on this in the last few weeks saying that first, Hendrick Motorsports should swap the #24-Jeff Gordon and #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. crews with crew chief like Roush Racing is so famous and RCR just did with the Harvick and Mears, however I would say that this point, clean house now, you don’t need fire these guys, but put a whole new team together and start fresh right away, I believe that is the only solution and yes even though I don’t think Tony Eury Jr. is the problem, nor the spotter, they go too, so just Dale Jr. stays.

Hendick needs somebody like Tony Eury Sr. to crew chief for Dale Jr., a crew chief that will not talk Junior’s stuff on the radio, basically like Zippy does on the #20, you drive racecar and I will work the pits period.