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Ingram: Legacy Teams Find Blue Sky

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 8 2010
Bill Elliott is one of the old-schoolers who is off to a good start at Speedweeks. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Bill Elliott is one of the old-schoolers who is off to a good start at Speedweeks. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief:

Daytona Beach, Fla. – A big, round slice of blue sky at the top of the ramp was a welcome sight to those who came into the infield at Daytona through the Turn 4 tunnel on the first day of stock car competition last weekend – especially after a lot of rain.

The open sky framed by the mouth of the tunnel’s exit is always a symbolic sight at this time of year. Like baseball’s spring training, early NASCAR Speedweeks is all about the upside and wide-open possibilities.

As it turned out, some of NASCAR’s longest-running competitors had quite a time on Saturday. That somehow seemed appropriate given NASCAR’s current effort to restore some luster to the sport’s traditional appeal.

The legacy-team owners – those who have come up to ownership through the sport without relying on outside businesses – took win, place and show in the Budweiser Shootout. Richard Childress was the winning car owner, one of the Fords of Richard Petty Motorsports was second and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s Chevy finished third.

Granted, things are a bit more complicated these days when it comes to the legacy teams: They all have investors, one way or another. We have also now learned the team to which Richard Petty provides his name and expertise switched to Fords with the help of Yates Racing, but there’s not necessarily been a merger. Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s team continues, but after a joint venture between Teresa Earnhardt and Chip Ganassi.

As for drivers, Mark Martin and Bill Elliott – each practically a legacy unto himself – had outstanding days in qualifying for the Daytona 500. Martin won his first Daytona 500 pole. The 54-year-old Elliott, who won his first pole at Daytona at age 29, was fourth fastest in the Wood Brothers Ford, guaranteeing a starting spot to the team now deep into a second generation. (A team that has gone back to its roots of great success by running a limited schedule.) Rolling along like old man river, Ken Schrader found a place to race, this time in the Shootout.

It’s early days yet in the new season. It’s likely to be dominated once again by the teams owned by the racers who are sustained in the sport by business success elsewhere. Yet the possibility of seeing Childress return to the head table at the Sprint Cup banquet for a seventh time with one of his drivers does not seem so far-fetched. Perhaps even Petty could add another title as a team owner along with an ever-brilliant Kasey Kahne. The team of Earnhardt Sr. came close to its first title in 2004, but may be even closer these days through the addition of Juan Pablo Montoya.

Martin says he’s ready to win the Sprint Cup for the first time after finishing second yet again last year. He’s more optimistic about his career than ever before and doesn’t even seem to mind answering the eternal questions about his age. As for Elliott, he’ll do his best to save the car in Thursday’s qualifying races in order to have a good run in the 500 just as he always looked after his family’s equipment on the way up. But if some of his recent past efforts are any indication, a good run it may well be in store for Awesome Bill come Sunday.

Whatever happens in this year’s Daytona 500, the anticipation is going to be high because of the fact that what’s new is old. The old way of racing that was favored by Earnhardt Sr. – whatever I do to you and your car is fair for you to do in return – will not be restricted by NASCAR officials. The larger restrictor plates allow for acceleration if one gets behind, meaning drivers can take more risks to get ahead. Best of all, the overtaking and mixing it up in the draft will be more visible from the grandstands, because of the bursts of speed now available with the current cars and bump drafting.

If the weather is good, they’ll be driving to daylight and racing in it as well thanks to starting times that favor the fans at home and at the track. Blue sky, indeed.

Quotes of the week: The following are excerpts from the “Women in the Winner’s Circle” exhibit, which is currently on display at Daytona USA. (More information is available at lynstjames.com/foundation.)

“Change is the only constant. Hanging on is the only sin.” – Denise McCluggage, journalist and sports car driver during the 1950s and 1960s

“I don’t feel like there’s anything I need to do for anybody else. I want to win bad enough for myself.” – Danica Patrick

Short stops: Maybe it’s just me that notices this, but as soon as Danica Patrick demonstrates she can handle a race car, the boo birds fall back on another excuse. Something along the lines that she didn’t deserve the chance in the first place or only got it because she’s an attractive woman. Why don’t people just say they don’t like the idea of an attractive woman who gets the job done behind the wheel?  (Answer: because they can never admit she gets the job done.) …The biggest snag regarding the decision on whether Patrick would run in Sunday’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona was likely found in the offices of NASCAR. The sanctioning body typically bars drivers from the 300-mile Nationwide Series race, which includes a lot of NASCAR veterans, until they have run races at Daytona in ARCA or at Talladega. (Back in the day, an IROC race could also be used as a means to demonstrate one’s stock car racing ability at Daytona.) This procedure is one reason why Indy 500 champions Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti started their stock car careers in ARCA races at Talladega. If nothing else, the procedure makes sure the competitors know who’s in charge. …Nelson Piquet Jr., who did a nice job in the ARCA race at Daytona only to be slowed by a problem getting his Toyota refired after the red flag, will return for the Camping World Truck Series race with Red Horse Racing. After that, there are no NASCAR plans in place for the son of three-time world champion Nelson Piquet Sr.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 8 2010
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