KERCHNER: The Heat Race
Daytona 500 weekend is upon us and with the usual flurry of racing activity in the Sunshine State during mid-February there has been a lot to talk about on and off the track.
Thus, we thought we would share some of the things we’ve been thinking about:
• Does anyone who works for NASCAR or International Speedway Corp. really care about the success of short-track racing?
It sure doesn’t seem like it. After New Smyrna Speedway elected to have a night off during its 47th annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing because of the UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona Int’l Speedway this year, DIS President Joie Chitwood III, whose grandfather was one of this country’s original short-track racers, has moved the Gatorade Duel to a night-time slot next year.
What does this mean for New Smyrna’s World Series, the DIRTcar Winternationals at Volusia Speedway Park and the Bubba’s Army Winternationals at Bubba Raceway Park? These events have been held — and thrived — with evening races during Florida Speedweeks. Will televised races from Daytona hurt these events? That remains to be seen, but certainly many fans that would catch the qualifying races in the afternoon and go to a short track at night, now have a choice to make.
For decades NASCAR’s stars have come from short-track racing, and the future stars will, too. In fact, not only do the stars of the future compete in short-track events around Florida during Speedweek, so do NASCAR’s current crop of drivers. Among those racing at one short track or another this month have been Tony Stewart, Kenny Wallace, Ken Schrader, Justin Allgaier, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Joey Coulter, David Stremme, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann and Dave Blaney.
It’s a shame, NASCAR and its tracks deem themselves more important than the overall health of the sport.
• What will it take for Danica Patrick to be just another racer?
• Is Daryn Pittman the man to beat for the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series title? It sure looked like it during the first weekend of racing.
• The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event during the Battle at the Beach was not a true reflection of how entertaining racing on the Modified Tour really is?
• Should anyone be surprised that all three races during the Battle at the Beach ended in the leader being punted out of the way? Give drivers, who race for a few thousand to win on a normal weekend, a crack at $20,000 and it leads to some aggressive behavior.
• On the night following the Gatorade Duels I was hearing Mike Joy in my sleep, repeating the words “transfer position” over and over. Only two cars went home from the Daytona 500 without racing, and fittingly they were the two slowest cars. Try as it might, FOX failed to manufacture any drama.
• The thought of Darrell Lanigan and Josh Richards going head to head all season long on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series tour is intoxicating.
• Kyle Benjamin may be asphalt late model racing’s “next best thing.”
• I miss the IROC races at Daytona.
• Austin Dillon is ready for the Sprint Cup Series now!
• Even on a four-tenths-mile flat track, I’m not sure having 15-year-old drivers at Daytona is a good thing.
• I’d like to have the money spent on bodywork building cars and repairing them after Speedweeks at Daytona…ARCA, Battle at the Beach, Trucks, Nationwide and Sprint Cup. That’s a lot of twisted metal and fiberglass.
• I’m sure glad drivers like Scott Bloomquist, Mike Stefanik, Brett Hearn, Dave Darland, Sammy Swindell and Ken Schrader are still getting the job done.
• Darrell Waltrip has become the Dick Vitale of auto racing. He’s great at hyping the sport, but has lost touch with what is happening on the track.
• When is the champion’s provisional going to go away?
• It appears Travis Pastrana has replaced Danica Patrick in ESPN’s promotional ads for the Nationwide Series.
• How many races does Bryan Clauson, who topped Thursday’s USAC sprint car opener, have to win to get a quality NASCAR or Indy car ride?
• Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series racers Jimmy Owens and Don O’Neal don’t receive the recognition they deserve.