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Memo: Plenty Of Elbow Room In Wallace Pits

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 4 2009
Denny Hamlin gets a bear hug from his team president, J.D. Gibbs, following emotional victory at Pocono. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Denny Hamlin gets a bear hug from his team president, J.D. Gibbs, following emotional victory at Pocono. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

In today’s Tuesday Morning Memo we find:

• A couple minutes into Monday’s rain-delayed Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway, I got an email from person who really, really wants to become a NASCAR fan.

She wanted to know how in the world Mike Wallace had any chance to win at Pocono if he had no pit crew.

The answer probably did not ease this person’s transition into NASCAR fandom.

Start-and-park racing is nothing new to NASCAR. It is also something that has never sat particularly well in the stomachs of some – kind of like the hot dog ordered late in race, covered with ketchup and mustard that had sat on the funkified condiment table since dawn.

In a sport and culture which prizes the values of hard work, honest day’s pay for honest day’s toil and down with government handouts, the Wallace situation was a queaze-inducer.

Where is an anti-Cash for Clunker politician when you need one, eh?

Teams and drivers know almost exactly how many cars will show up for races each weekend. They just simply check the entry list.

If that list includes only 45, 46 names, it can be worth it to them to load a has-no-chance Cup car into the old hauler and head up to the track in hopes that luck will smile upon them in the form of either a surprisingly successful qualifying lap for their car, or misfortune during qualifying for the car of a a go-or-go-home team.

And there is at least some kind of sporting element to that.

Then there was Pocono. Only 42 legitimate cars entered for the 43-car field. Oh, and Wallace and his Larry Gunselman Motorsports team.

I use the word team lightly in this sense as that term normally implies a crew chief and seven over-the-wall guys. For Gunselman at Pocono, the term “pit crew” was in for a major bastardization.

I explained to the nascent fan that, you see, well, perhaps the team had a crew but it was comprised of people who had to be back at real jobs on Monday.

But, I also added, the team really had no intention of winning at Pocono anyway. The plan was to start the race, take a nice quiet drive through the Pennsylvania countryside, maybe stop at the World’s Largest Ball of String attraction or pick up a pie at roadside stand and head back to the garages.

And then, head over to the pay window.

How big was the check for 13 low-speed laps? The official box score is not yet out for Pocono, but in the earlier race this year at that track, the payout for finishing last was $64,000 and change.

Sans $5 for pie, that’s $63,995 for 15 minutes work.

Memo to self: Check out Hertz rental car rates for Long Pond, Pennsylvania for next August.

• Denny Hamlin has not been the easiest Sprint Cup driver to pull for during his so-far short career. Not that he’s a bad guy. On the contrary. It’s just that he has been kind of suffering from blandness-induced invisibility the last four years. Nobody without the word FedEx stitched onto their shirt knows the guy.

He’s won a few races here and there and has run really well for a large part of his 135-race career in the series.

A couple times a year, he gets interviewed when the series races in his home state of Virginia, and the story of his parents having to go into hock to keep him on the track in earlier days is quite nice.

If only he would have a humanizing moment.

Unfortunately, the moment came at Pocono. He won, he ended a 50-week slide, he virtually assured himself of a berth in this year’s Chase.

The unfortunate part concerned the circumstances – it all came days after death visited him and his team. Hamlin’s grandmother had just died and a crew member (tire specialist Patrick Mullen) also had his mother pass away.

The sight of Hamlin sitting in his car collecting himself amid all of that after the victory was quite stirring. The story of how his grandmother would press her face against the television set on race day and wear No. 11 socks every day, was lump-in-throat stuff.

Go Denny.

Memo to self: Never again pull against anybody to lose a race.

• For what it’s worth, Kansas Speedway released its 2010 schedule the other day. Interestingly, there has been a flop of events for the speedway’s spring racing weekend.

Next year, the Camping World Truck Series will race on Sunday and the IndyCar race will be held on Saturday.

In racing culture, as in show business, the headline act usually takes to the stage/track last.

Kelly Hale, spokesperson for the track, says make no assumptions on the flop. All parties agreed on the move as it allows the IndyCars to run early on a day when Cup is racing in Richmond at night. It is also the first day of May and provides nice kickoff to the 500. And, it benefits trucks as it allows them to run on a day when no other racing is scheduled.

Memo to self: Wine and cheese on Saturday, hot dogs on Sunday next May Day.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 4 2009
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