Would Day Change Put Pop Back Into Firecracker?
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
On Saturday night, the Sprint Cup Series will hold the 2013 version of the race that at one time, had the perfect name – the Firecracker 400. Held on the Fourth of July, way down South, sand clinging sweat-stickied skin, loud un-muffled V-8s. Perfect.
Just not profitable enough – the name or holding it on the Fourth when that holiday fell on a weekday. So, after three decades, it was moved and renamed for sponsorship purposes.
However, talk of at least moving the mid-summer 400-miler at Daytona International Speedway back to the holiday proper has surfaced from time to time over the years. Could give the sport a nice kick in the pants, some say.
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon was asked this week if he would favor moving the race back onto the holiday – regardless of which day of the week that happened to be.
Gordon’s answer showed just how archaic the old Firecracker has become.
“Was it always July 4th?” he asked back. “That is interesting and that is a good question. I guess I didn’t know that. I think I have raced this race on July 4th but think it was on a Saturday. So to run it on the Saturday or the weekend makes sense. But I don’t know. I think getting into the heads of the fans and the people who would attend this race, and would watch it at home…..that is the research that NASCAR, the tracks, and the media do a much better job of than I do. That is all that would matter to me is whether the fans would enjoy it being on July 4th.”
Gordon was pressed a bit on the subject. He was asked his opinion about holding a mid-week race.
“I would love to see that,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “I think when Monday Night Football ends, we should start Monday night racing. But that is just me. I have always felt like needed weekday races, but of course I came from Thursday Night Thunder, and Thursday Night Thunder was ridiculously successful back in the day. I am not saying we need to do it every week, but if we could find the right week in the schedule and mix it up, make it special, and make it make sense for the fans at home as well as the ones that could attend then I think it would be awesome. I think July 4th might make sense because everybody is off on that day and looking for something to do. Of course, we are not off, but I think that is why it could work.
“It seems like every time I talk to NASCAR about doing a weekly race or one mid-week, they say ‘oh well if you do it on this day you won’t get as many people coming to the track, so the track suffers, and if you do it on this day then maybe the track does well but then the people at home won’t watch it because of this’, so it always seems to be some kind of obstacle. But the Fourth makes the most sense.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has some wonderful memories of the summer race at Daytona. Some as a driver, some as an observer.
Asked his favorite, Earnhardt picked a couple out.
“I think one of the memories that sticks out to me was I think it was 1995 or maybe 1994,” he said, “but I was watching from the pits and Greg Sacks was three-wide down through the front straight-away in the tri-oval and was bouncing off two cars.
“I think one of them was a Petty car and I can’t remember who was on the outside, maybe Derrick Cope. And it’s just like a 22-car pile-up right there in front of the pits. And I’d never seen an accident, that large of an accident, that close. We were literally 30 yards away from that happening, so it was just really crazy to see that. And, I think Dad ended up winning that race.
“I had been here several times before in ’87; I think it was the year that Kenny Schrader flipped on the front straightaway. Dad had some kind of a tire problem or something and got a lap down, but he was still running rather well. But we were in the scoring stand down in Turn 1 where all the wives and the kids went, and we’d watch the race there. And we were leaving like 10 laps before the end because Dad’s real fast about getting out of the race track.
“And so Teresa (his stepmother, Teresa Earnhardt) had me and Kelley and we were hustling out of there to get in the car or something, and come over to the garage to be ready when Dad was, because he was obviously not in the running for the win. He was a lap down. And just as we walked out the door, I turned to watch the cars go through the corner and Dad blew a motor going into Turn 1 and hit the wall and he was just sliding across the wall. I don’t know why that memory sticks out to me. But I was trying to get Teresa’s attention to tell her that Dad was in the fence and she was like c’mon, c’mon, c’mon (laughs); I couldn’t get her attention to tell her what was going on. But I was the only one that saw it and for some reason that memory stands out to me.”
The word is that the sacred No. 3 will return to the door panels of a Cup car next season. That car will belong to Austin Dillon, the grandson of Richard Childress, the man who owned Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 car for six of his
seven championship seasons.
The number has been put in storage since Earnhardt Sr. died during a last-lap wreck in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked Thursday if he has any problems with somebody reviving the No. 3.
“I think it will be great.” Junior said. “It was an iconic number for my father and it means a lot to a lot of his fans. This sport doesn’t really retire numbers and all the numbers have history tied to them for several different reasons. The No. 3 is no different. I think that for Austin (Dillon) a kid like Austin in this regard any kid that wants to come up through the ranks and he drove the No. 3 in dirt racing and he drove the No. 3 in his Truck series and Nationwide series.
“He has earned the right to run that number as long as he wants. It could have been anybody, but it’s Austin. It could have been any kid coming up through the ranks that had ran that number and that’s his number. Maybe he’s not even an Earnhardt fan maybe that is just his number. He wants to run it I think it’s not really fair to deny somebody that opportunity. I’m okay with it. I know that might not be the way a lot of people feel or some people feel, but I’m sure it’s the minority that feels that way. I think that a lot of people will be telling Austin positive things about it.”
One of the big “Qs” begging an “A” as the season began was Joey Logano. Specifically, how would he perform after moving from his original Cup team of Joe Gibbs Racing to his new seat in a Penske Ford.
Partial “A”: Dang good so far. Logano comes into this weekend’s Coke Zero 400 having posted six straight finishes of 11th or better and has moved from 19th to 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. That’s right, he’s on pace to make his first Chase.
“We’re two points from being 12th,” Logano said this week, “so it is nice to say we’re in it right now, but getting through Daytona is a big obstacle. There is a lot of stuff we can’t control here, but if something does happen, we have to be strong and figure out how to get the best finish we can like we’ve been doing. That’s the biggest thing we’ve been doing is just making sure we have the best finish no matter what’s going on.”
Logano was asked if he now views himself as the leader of his No. 22 Penske Racing team.
“I feel like it’s my team,” he said. “These are my guys and we’ve got each other’s back. I’m for whatever they need, but that leadership and that skill you have to learn, I don’t know how else I was supposed to learn it. I’m 18 years old when I started and even when you’re 21 years old it’s very difficult, especially when you didn’t have the results that you wanted and you’re working with guys that have been doing this for a long time is very hard. Todd and I we’re at the same level. We both want it a lot. We’re both willing to sacrifice the time to do what we’ve got to do to go out there and win these things and be successful, and this whole team has that same feeling.”
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment