Thursday, Feb. 14, at 2 p.m. ET
NASCAR -- Daytona 500
Thursday, February 14, 2008; 1:00 PM
Washington Post staff writer Liz Clarke was online Thursday, Feb. 14, 1 p.m. ET from Daytona, Fla., to answer questions and comments about NASCAR and the big race this weekend.
The transcript follows.
Clarke covers NASCAR for The Washington Post, and is the author of
Liz Clarke: Greetings from the Daytona infield! It's a beautiful but chilly day here, blue skies and a slight wind. This is my favorite day of Speedweek -- the day of the two 150-mile qualifying races that decide who gets to race in Sunday's Daytona 500 and the starting order for the race. They used to be called the "Twins." Now they're the "Duels." Either way, it's great racing, as well as a telling preview of the 500.
Am happy to take your questions,
Arlington, Va.: Has Joe Gibbs been seen down there at all? Have you had a chance to talk to him?
Liz Clarke: Ah, coach Gibbs! Indeed. I actually just came from an interview with Gibbs in his No. 18 hauler. He looks great -- rested and happy. And I know he's excited about the upcoming races, as is everyone here. A short version of what we talked about: he's sure he made the right decision to return to N.C. after four seasons with the 'Skins; he went with his grandson to a doctor's visit yesterday, which is something he couldn't do while in D.C. of course; he's confident that moving to Toyota was the right call; and he had a private sit-down with his three drivers afterward. That will stay private, but I suspect it was to review some basics about behavior, decorum and teamwork in today's races and Sunday's. As you know, he has three super talented drivers, and all three have a very short fuse.
Fairfax, Va.: What do you think about the Stewart Busch six-race probation? Do you think NASCAR risks losing fans that enjoy watching drivers horsing around? Do you think the strictness will continue?
Liz Clarke: Great question. I think NASCAR realizes it went too far last year in policing driver behavior -- to the point of muzzling personalities and draining the color from the sport. Fans LOVE to cheer for drivers who are passionate about racing, and sometimes that passion is expressed through rage at a guy who wrecked you.
So, I think NASCAR was totally correct in what they did to Stewart and Busch after their fracas Friday. NASCAR did nothing, essentially. They put both on probation for six races. That's not even as strict as sending a toddler to his room for a time out! Probation means, at most, we're keeping a close eye on you. Busch just got OFF probation in December for tangling with Stewart last year. So to land on probation again before the first race is run? Clearly probation has no teeth.
NASCAR "reprimanded" them, I think, with a wink and a nod. NASCAR officials came off as if the had drawn a line, when they really hadn't. And NASCAR knows that fans DO love to see drivers erupt from time to time.
Washington, D.C.: Didn't NASCAR season just end two months ago? Why does the season last so long? It's hard to get fired up for something that does not have an ending.
Liz Clarke: It is a very long season -- from mid-February to mid-November. I think it's too long, and I think the individual races are too long, too.
But it's the price of success, I guess. NASCAR tracks are built by public companies these days, for the most part. And the only way to increase the value of the stock is by hosting more races. So track owners across the country are clamoring for race dates. Those with one want two. Those with none want one. Tracks are desperate to host NASCAR races because they draw 150,000 or more. Every time NASCAR awards a race date, it's more money for the sanctioning body.
Washington, D.C.: Liz -- Toyota made a rather inauspicious debut in the series last year, albeit with some lower-profile teams. Now they've got Gibbs and apparently will spare no expense to make their mark in the series.
Will the Gibbs stable make Toyota better, or are those drivers risking points early in the season while they work out the kinks with their new equipment?
Liz Clarke: This is a timely question. Everyone thought Toyota would blow away the competition in its debut last season, given its reputation for spending endless bucks to win whenever it enters a racing series. But Toyota allied with the wrong teams -- teams that weren't solid enough to produce results.
Gibbs Racing is now that team, giving Toyota a polished, well run, well funded organization with 420 employees and 3 drivers and a history of success (3 championships). So Gibbs will definitely make Toyota better. I'm not sure the move would have been the drivers' first choice, given anxiety about all the kinks when you switch to a new manufacturer. But with Chevy, Gibbs racing was about 3rd on the totem pole. With Toyota, Gibbs is the top dog, getting the lion's share to expertise and attention.
Frederick, Md.: Liz, do you think there's any chance that you'll be able to drag Mr. Tony to a race one of these days?
Liz Clarke: Ha! I haven't laughed so hard since getting to Daytona on Tuesday. NO chance. Mr. Tony is awesome to even speak about NASCAR on the radio from time to time, and I love him for it. But we know his feelings about air travel. And the prospect of Mr. Tony sitting in a 4 hour traffic jam to see a race at Richmond or Dover or anywhere nearby--impossible!
Woodbridge, Va.: Speaking of Gibbs Racing, could you tell me WHAT the deal is with Tony Stewart's hair? I'm a huge fan of his and don't care at all about what he looks like, but in such a sponsor-driven (ha ha) sport, how can he get away with looking like a wild man from Borneo? Is he going for a pony-tail a la Kyle Petty?
Liz Clarke: The whole Tony "look" in 2008 is puzzling indeed. He does look unkempt, and that is being kind. I think he has also put on a bit of weight, which may not be a detriment in the car but may well cost him his sponsorship with Subway. Maybe that has nothing to do with the wild-man, unshaven, unkempt look. But maybe this new guise is designed to draw attention from his girth.
Race City, Va.: I'm looking for a sleeper for my Fantasy NASCAR team, "Biffle Loves Company." Can you suggest anyone for the Daytona race?
Liz Clarke: Oooh! What a fabulous name for your fantasy team. I'd say a sleeper would be anyone in a Toyota. If you really want to go out there, how about Dave Blaney? He has been very fast in practice. he's also such a nice, low key guy that he escapes notice often. But he's a good, solid driver.
Washington, D.C.: Tony Stewart's new look is...... interesting. Did he clear this with his sponsors? Granted, he now looks more like somebody you'd encounter at a Home Depot, but I'm not sure that's the goal here.
Slim down and get a haircut, Smoke!
Liz Clarke: More commentary on Tony's look!
Ashburn, Va.: The end of the Shootout was great!! It was basically my man Tony racing the entire Hendricks Racing Team there at the end of the race.
Is this what we can expect pretty much all year?
Liz Clarke: Oh, I wish! That would be great for NASCAR and for NASCAR fans. I love the Shootout, and I'll admit I have been very skeptical of this new race car. But in that Shootout, there was great side by side racing, some slingshot passing and , best of all, an outcome that was determined by skill and not some fluke. I totally agree with you; it was great.
Newport News, Va.: I just saw an article that compared Clint Bowyer to The Intimidator. Don't you think its a little early for that kind of hype?
Liz Clarke: Mercy! I would never compare anyone to the Intimidator. Too early for that hype, and I don't expect to see such a comparison made with any legitimacy in my lifetime.
That said, I like Bowyer very much. He's a hard-working, tough guy who came up through the short track ranks. So his background in that sense parallels Dale Earnhardt's. But that's enough said.
Washington, D.C.: So does "Little E" have a chance this year? He's done really badly the last few years.
(It's also sad that his dad died there a few years back).
Liz Clarke: Yes, Little E has a great chance -- a chance that every driver in the garage would covet. The move to Hendrick Motorpsorts guarantees that he'll have great race cars -- or, at a minimum, that his crew chief Tony Eury will have every tool and resource that exists to build him great race cars.
That's what every driver wants: great equipment and the chance to show what he can do with it.
So now, we will see how good of a driver Dale Jr. is. He won two Busch Grand national championships (Triple A version of NASCAR); he has never won a Cup championships (major league). The Busch races are shorter (often 300 miles vs. 500), so I've long wondered with Jr. if it's a matter of maintaining focus for 500 miles. He's very talented, esp. at restrictor plate racing. But often he'll do something rash and regrettable with 50 or 100 laps to go, especially if his car isn't working well. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do in Hendrick cars.
Vancouver, Wash.: This is Biffle's year Liz. Believe it. No question just a statement.
Liz Clarke: Wow! Spoken just like a fan from Washington State, Biffle's home. Truly, I admire him greatly. He is blunt and candid, which I love. He's a tough racer. And he's an animal lover to boot! I'd love to see Biffle, or anyone in a Ford, genuinely be in the mix this season.
Austin, Tex.: Who was the winner of the first Daytona 500? What kind of car did he drive? How many cars/drivers participated and what was the finishing time? Thanks.
Liz Clarke: Wow! Lucky for you, I have my handy media guide next to me. (I really didn't need it for ALL of your questions--just some)
Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500 in 1959.
He drove an Oldsmobile. There were 59 cars in the race, fewer than half of which were still running at the end. The finishing time was 3 hours, 41 minutes and 22 seconds.
And though you didn't ask, it took NASCAR 3 days to determined the winner because 3 cars crossed the finish line (2 contenders and 1 lapped car) at virtually the same time. There was no instant reply, so NASCAR had to ask people to send in still photos of the finish to decide who won.
bc: Hi again, Liz.
The first practices for the Bud Shootout showed the Car of Today to be a bit of a handful in pack drafting at Daytona (it's rather bumpy compared to Talladega), and the drivers and teams who participated found some sort of adjustment (issued by NASCAR, perhaps?) or changed their driving to accommodate it.
Now the rest of the teams will be on track today in the twin 150s, with participation in the Daytona 500 on the line. Obviously the Shootout teams will have an advantage, but is there more than the usual talk in the garage about chaos erupting over the last 20 laps as drivers drive over their heads in order to try to make it in?
Liz Clarke: Great question. The new car is a handful -- very bumpy in sections and tough to turn, as well. It handles quite differently than the old car.
There was not more talk than usual about the frenzied nature of the last laps today. There IS talk about it; but there always is. Making the field for Sunday's race is SUCH a big deal, and the guys forced to "race their way in" today are really up against. The last laps will be desperate, and that often leads to mayhem.
There IS more talk, though, about how the new car will handle in the day, when the sun is out. Drivers say it will be really tough to hang on to early in the race. It's a 3:30 pm start (more or less; I may be off by a few minutes), so things should settle down by the midway point.
bc: Hi Liz.
I hope you've enjoyed some hot, fresh Krispy Kremes from the store on Speedway Blvd. there.
I have several questions, but the first one on my mind this morning are the problems with TRD/Toyota and Hendrick/Chevy engines, where a frictional drag-reducing coating used on camshafts is being worn away by the valve lifters, resulting in debris in the system and excessive wear on those parts.
TRD and Hendrick supply a lot of engines to the field (more than the 10 cars who have moved to the back of the twin 150 grids due to precautionary engine changes, IIRC); is there any worry from the customer teams that there may be a spate of engine failures this afternoon or on Sunday due to these problems?
Liz Clarke: You are totally on top of this engine issue. I was torn yesterday over whether I should try to explain the nature of the engine problems that so many teams had and get into just what a "lifter" was. I decided against, but you have done a very nice job right here!
Any concern over an engine's reliability is a HUGE issue, particularly on the eve of a 500 mile races and particularly when the race is the biggest one of the year. Anyone with the slightest concern has changed engines and went over the new engine as closely as possible. So yes, I think the anxiety will remain. Gibbs alluded to it earlier today -- the sick feeling of sitting through a race wondering if the engines could hold up. He can't do anything about it at that point, he said, but pray.
(Engine failure ends your day in NASCAR, of course. Under the rules, a team can change just about every busted part on a racecar during a race. But you can't change engines during a race. Once it fails, you're done)
Reston, Va.: Hi Liz,
Do you think NASCAR will lose popularity by allowing itself to become overexposed? It seems like every other TV commercial uses the same gimmick of turning a real-life activity into a "pit stop" or "shopping cart stock car race". And every package and box in every retail store seems to have the logo on it.
Liz Clarke: Mmmm. I don't think NASCAR is in danger of losing popularity because of overexposure, no. But I DO think the sport risks losing popularity for a host of reasons.
TV ratings have declined for 2 years in a row. They're still second only to the NFL, which is great. But it's not a trend NASCAR wants to continue.
I think many things are partially to blame (though NASCAR doesn't acknowledge as much). Among them: Too many commercials during races; changing the start time to midafternoon Sundays to lure West Coast fans (irritates longtime East Coast fans); potential of the Car of Tomorrow to not be "racy" enough; drivers turning too corporate and bland. Those are a few thoughts.
Ithaca, N.Y.: Liz, I've been a race fan for so long I saw the Bodines start out at the Chemung Speedrome and I couldn't disagree more about discipling these drivers for their temper tantrums. If they want to set up a ring and duke it out after a race, fine. They can't hurt anyone but themselves there but this stuff with the cars has got to stop. I grant you that "rubbin' is racin'" but sooner of later, some one is going to get seriously hurt, or worse, because of these jackasses. And it won't be one of them. It'll probably be a crewman, official or spectator. I saw JD MacDuffy get killed in person at Watkins and we all saw what happened to Dale at Daytona. As much as it will hurt, these guys need to sit one out after they pull these stunts before something tragic happens.
Liz Clarke: This is a really thoughtful reply. I'm glad you wrote. I surely didn't mean to be insensitive to the issue or safety on the track. You raise some great points.
Washington, D.C.: Whoops! Montoya just caused a another pile-up!
Liz Clarke: Awww, that's not fair.
I love the way Montoya drives! How about, Robby Gordon just caused another pile-up!
Reston, Va.: Is four cars too many for one team? I expect Hendrick and Roush to dominate because they have mega teams with mega bucks.
Liz Clarke: Well, the whole issue of multicar teams is thorny for NASCAR. NASCAR was smart to set some sort of limit, I think, for the reasons you mentioned. Roush had 5 teams at one time. I'm not sure 4 is the magic number. I'd prefer 3, to be honest. I hate to see single-car teams go away; they were the norm not long ago. But the sport has staggering expenses--in R&D, personnel, technology. Hendrick has more than 500 employees to support his 4 teams! And economies of scale make that investment pay off.
Washington, D.C.: Another season, another high profile open-wheel name making the transition to stock cars.
Is NASCAR just this giant black hole that is steadily swallowing up all other solar systems in the racing galaxy? The lure of the circuit (and the money it offers) is obviously hard for these open-wheelers to ignore, despite open-wheel racing apparently being the "purer" measure of driving skill.
Liz Clarke: Yes, we have seen NASCAR draw more open-wheel guys this season: Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish, Jacques Villeneueve, Patrick Carpentier, to name a few. The reasons are partly what NASCAR offers and partly what ails open-wheel racing just now.
NASCAR, after a painfully long learning curve, is building what look to be the safest race cars going. The season is long, which racers love (36 races a year). And the money is huge, particularly in merchandising. And NASCAR does a decent job keeping the cars equal, so a driver with ability can actually win even if he doesn't compete for the best-funded team.
Open-wheel racing carries for more risk of injury; has fewer races; and, especially in Formula One, even the best racer can't win in middle-of-the-pack equipment.
Reston, Va.: Liz:
Liz Clarke: Oooh. how fun. I wish I had more time to ponder:
Nicest: Kyle Petty
Funniest: Ken Schrader
Grumpiest: Tony Stewart
Weirdest: I WISH there were someone weird! They are all so politically correct and perfect these days.
Washington, D.C.: Can't let you go without asking...
Who ya got?! Both for Sunday and the season.
Can anybody stop Jimmie Johnson? I like the guy but he needs to be stopped.
Liz Clarke: I'm not going out on a limb with this, but I pick:
Tony Stewart to win Sunday's Daytona 500.
Jeff Gordon to win the championship, his fifth.
Yes, I think Jimmie Johnson must be stopped. It may only happen when and if he parts with crew chief Chad Knaus, whose role in Johnson's success has been huge.
Washington, D.C.: After reading the excerpt from "Helluva", I am looking forward to reading the book. Question about drivers: What do you think is the automotive mechanical knowledge of the drivers. Would any of them be qualified enough to actually work as mechanics on their own cars? Do most of them contribute to the mechanical workings of their cars in addition to driving them.
Liz Clarke: Thanks so much for your nice words about the book. I put lots of excerpts on the Web site, www.onehelluvaridebook.com,so people could decide if they might like the book before buying it. Am glad you liked it!
As for mechanical knowledge of drivers, it covers the waterfront. In the old days, all drivers knew about the car -- both their own and racers. Today, it's rare, especially for drivers who were put in little race cars as kids and had the sole goal of racing, rather than working on cars. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. knows how to work on cars, though. He was the fastest oil-change man at his father's Chevy dealership as a teenager, before he started racing in earnest. He restores old cars. And though he's 33, he came up old school.
Washington, D.C.: Who is your dark horse pick for the upcoming season? Kyle Busch doesn't count, neither do Mears or Truex Jr. Go out on a limb and give us a surprise!
Liz Clarke: If he werent' in a Dodge, I'd say Juan Pablo Montoya. I think he learned a ton his rookie year, but the Dodges still don't seem to be competitive. Maybe that's just at Daytona, though.
What about Clint Bowyer. I like him a lot.
Washington, D.C.: I have searched Google endlessly, but can find no listings for a decent store to buy racing gear. I don't like buying of the Web, since I have been burned a few times with really crummy shirts. Do you know of any good stores to buy NASCAR gear in the D.C. area?
Liz Clarke: I've had this question before and didn't do a good job with it then. Maybe someone who knows of a place can email me or write in now and tell us of a store in D.C. area.
When I've bought gifts in the past, I've gone on NASCAR.com, which has a link to NASCAR store. But I hear you about reservations re; buying on the Web.
Maybe someone will tell us!
Reston, Va.: In an interview during the first episode of ESPN's "NASCAR Now," Carl Edwards responded to a question by saying that the three people he'd most like to meet, living or dead, were Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama. The last part of the answer surprised me -- is NASCAR not quite as across-the-board Republican as I might imagine it to be, or was Carl's response the exception that proves the rule?
Liz Clarke: Very interesting. I've not polled the drivers on this, but I do know that occasional stories have been written about who in NASCAR has contributed to various political campaigns. The bulk, as I recall, did give to Republican candidates. It's probably safe to say that the majority identify more with Reps than Dems, but certainly not all.
Liz Clarke: Sorry for major lull in chat. We just had the Star Spangled Banner, so I had to pause.
Now, it's time to start the first race of the day so I must say goodbye.
Questions were awesome! many thanks, Liz
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