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Off Weekend Means Too Much Time To Think

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 8 2012

Ryan Newman salutes the Martinsville crowd after his victory. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Notes for a weekend without racing:

It’s true: Ryan Newman got the victory in last Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Martinsville only because a wreck during the green/white/checkered restart took out the three drivers who most “deserved” to win.

But to define the Martinsville race – and Newman’s team – with such a statement would be a mistake. Newman had a fast car all day long, drove a very good race, got great pit work from crew chief Tony Gibson and his guys and was able to make his own luck by putting himself in the right place at the right time.

That, in 44 words and one clause, defines a fairly solid, traditional blueprint for success in auto racing.

No, the storyline from Martinsville should not be about who won and how, but on what it means for the 2012 season.

First, and very significantly, it means that Stewart-Haas Racing is verging on becoming a top-tier NASCAR operation.

Yes, last year, it took Tony Stewart an astounding, precedented late-season (Chase) flash to win the Cup championship.

Yes, the championship run kind of had a less than solid feel to it. After going winless through the non-

Tony Stewart is building something big in Cup. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Chase portion of the schedule, and after having a season which saw Newman finish 10th and win one race, Stewart and the No. 14 SHR team came to life.

Yes, you had to wonder if  the Chase run was a mere short-lived spark for SHR?

Now, it appears that the spark has started a major fire. Stewart has won two of the first six races of the season and is third in points this weekend. He’s just 12 points behind leader Greg Biffle of the powerful Roush Fenway Racing team and six behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. of the extremely powerful Hendrick Motorsports team.

Newman has the Martinsville victory and is eighth in points with top-10 finishes in half the races.

He said this week that it never really bothered him that Stewart was doing better on the track since the team launched for the 2009 season. In fact, he indicated, it motivated him.

“I can’t compare myself to the 14 or Tony Stewart or anybody else,” Newman said. “All I know is I can go out there and do the best job that I physically, emotionally, and mentally can. If that gets us to victory lane, then it does. If it doesn’t, we need to sit back and figure out how to be better.”

The sitting back and figuring appears to now be paying off.

Both Stewart and Newman, in all liklihood, are headed to the Chase this year; if not on points then on wildcard criteria of victories.

Newman talked about that and the confidence it gives him and his team to have a victory this early in the season.

“Well,” he said of winning race No. 6 of 2012, “it’s big for us from a points standpoint because we gain an advantage in the points, but primarily to give us something to fall back on if we need to to make it into the Chase. That is a sense of relief. But that relief doesn’t get you anywhere when it comes to performance. It just gives you something to fall back on.

“So our job is still to go out there and win each and make the effort to win each and every race and keep moving our way up into the points so we don’t have to rely on the win.

“It’s a relief and that’s what we shoot for. But realistically it doesn’t matter if it was right now or if it was three races before the Chase.”

Both he and Stewart are now freed up to think more about wins than points.

If both SHR drivers make the Chase for the second year in a row, and both make a bit of noise along the way, it would be tough not to put the team’s name on the list of best in the biz.

And once on that list, it should become easier to attract sponsorship dough to add a third full-time car. And, once with a three-car team…

On a related note: Nobody can accuse Rick Hendrick of selling his client operations anything other

Rick Hendrick is fair as a businessman. Too fair? (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

than top-rate equipment and fabulous support.

Stewart and Newman have won a full 50 percent of the last 16 races with Hendrick cars, engines and data.

That has to be good for business. And make no mistake, taking on clients is a business; Teams running Hendrick stuff are not getting it for free.

But while it may be good for business, you have to wonder what it does for worker morale among HMS’s own teams and sponsors.

Human nature being human nature, you have to think there is a chance that Jeff Gordon, Chad Knaus and Mountain Dew would like to see the stuff headed out the door of the Hendrick shops detuned just a teeny-tiny wee bit.

Don’t ya think?

Making the weekend without racing survivable – making it enjoyable, even – was the Barrett-Jackson auto auction and Speed television’s ongoing decision to cover the things several times each year.

This time around, from Palm Beach, Fla.

A couple of trends seem to be developing in the classic car-auction game.

The biggest: muscle cars seem to have lost steam. My theory is that that may be for one of the reasons NASCAR has lost steam; the folks who populated Golden Era of the American Car Culture of the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s, are getting old and losing their steam.

As a result, it appeared (admittedly from 1,500 miles away) that some good muscle car bargains crossed the block over the last several days in Palm Beach. Ditto for C2 Corvettes and Mustangs of the ’60s.

But, as always, good to see them live and in color under the shiny lights of television.

Today’s lists are B-J oriented.

The five best things about Barrett-Jackson auctions on television:

1. The cars

2. The cars

3. The cars

4. The cars

5. Mike Joy of Speed

The five worst things about B-J on television:

1 through 5. Granting the people who run the auction (Craig Jackson, the guy with the sunglass and the aging hipster guy) open microphones. The constant ego- and greed-oriented shilling is creepy and crass.

The lull in racing ends in a big way this week.

NASCAR Nationwide and Cup series head to always-interesting Texas Motor Speedway; IndyCar AND American Le Mans head to the second-best street event in the world (Long Beach); the NHRA lines ‘em up four wide at zMAX Dragway in North Carolina; NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads back to cool old Rockingham.

Good thing Barrett-Jackson is not going back to back.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 8 2012
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