Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another Race, Another Lug Nut

Dial "L" for Lug Nut
the continuing saga of the Maltese Lug Nut
It was a dark and stormy night. At New Hampshire International Speedway, two unidentified persons were lurking around the garage area.

“They know about the fake.” one of the unknown subjects said.

“Relax. All they know is that it’s fake,” counseled the other shadowy figure. “They have no idea where it came from or that we’re behind it.” The two people talked for a few minutes longer then went their separate ways.


Meanwhile, in the Todd Bodine Meeting Room at the track, NASCAR’s start and park drivers were awaiting the arrival of Mike Helton so they could begin their weekly meeting. Helton was using the start and parkers as his eyes and ears in the garage as a means of having them earn their prize money each week. As Helton strolled into the room, the drivers took their seats.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” Helton said addressing the group. “What can you tell me?”

“Not much,” replied driver Dave Blaney. “The Valus Gang was all over the race track at Sonoma, and we couldn’t keep up with them. Plus, Kristen was nowhere to be found after Friday.”

“Yes, we know about Kristen’s disappearance. There was an unfortunate incident in the press room,” Helton told the assembled drivers. “What else you got?”

“There’s a rumor going around that Jack has hired his own investigator to find the Lug Nut,” Joe Nemechek offered.

“I’ll have a chat with Jack. We don’t need a bunch of outsiders poking around the garages,” Helton responded. “Anything else?”

“Oh yeah,” Todd Bodine chimed in. “There’s this guy named Hanner going around asking questions about Dale Jr. and Vicky. Seems she’s not real happy that Junior hasn’t been to see her in awhile.”

“We’re well aware of Mr. Hanner,” Helton bristled, “and I’ve had a little ‘chat’ with Vicky. Don’t worry about them; just find that Lug Nut!!” Helton turned and exited the room.


Meanwhile, a cell phone rang in California.

“Hello,” a female voice answered.

“Good evening, Melissa.” It was Jack Roush. “I see you received the envelope.”

:”Yes, sir.” she replied.

“I apologize for not contacting you sooner, but it’s taken longer than I expected to get through all your film from Sonoma,” Roush began. “What did you find out?”

“Not much, sir.” she responded. “It was rather difficult with Kristen lying low all weekend.”

“Ah, yes. The unfortunate press room incident,’ the team owner commented. “Funny thing about that. I’ve seen Smoke go ballistic at other reporters for asking a question like that. I wonder why he didn’t blow up at her. I also noticed that Ryan and Kurt have been spending a lot of time together at the track. Perhaps you should spend more time around the #14 team at your next race.”

“But sir,” the girl protested, “Ryan and Kurt were teammates. I’m sure there’s nothing going on there. Besides that, Kristen would NEVER give the Lug Nut to Tony. She’d give it to a start and park team first.”

“Maybe,” Roush said, “but nevertheless, I want you to check it out at your next race. Kristen’s dislike for Stewart could be an act. As Shakespeare once said, ‘Methinks the lady doth protest too much,’ and remember, it’s for the good of the team.”

“Yes, sir.” the girl answered.

“Very good, I’ll contact you again soon. You know what to do with the cell phone?” Roush asked.

“Yes, sir.” The two parties disconnected the call.


One week later at Daytona, Helton approached the hauler of Roush/Fenway driver. Carl Edwards. Jack Roush was standing outside talking with the driver.

“Carl, Jack,” Helton said acknowledging the two men. “Carl, if you don’t mind. I’d like to speak to Jack privately.” Edwards looked at the owner and walked to the garage. Once Helton was sure the driver was out of ear shot, he turned his attention back to Roush. “Brian would like you to come watch the race from the suite tonight.”

“I’ll be in Carl’s pit,” Roush responded. Helton looked at the team owner sternly.

“I think you misunderstood me, Jack,” Helton said authoritatively. “This isn’t a request. Brian expects you to be there before the green flag drops.” Roush glared as Helton walked away.


Fifteen minutes after the green flag dropped, Roush walked into Brian France’s suite.

“You’re late,” France said. The tone of his voice clearly showed his displeasure with the team owner.

“So? What are you going to do about it?” Roush asked as he took a seat. Helton feared an escalation of the scene and stepped in.

“Look, Jack,” Helton said, trying to keep the meeting civil, “we need to talk about the Maltese Lug Nut.”

“It’s mine, and I want it back,” Roush asserted.

“We’re doing all we can to find it,” Helton tried to reassure the owner. “Word around the garage is that you’ve hired your own investigator.”

“Who told you that?” Roush queried. “Your start and park spies?”

“I have my sources,” Helton said. “The point is we don’t need outsiders poking around NASCAR business.” Roush got up from his chair and headed for the door.

“Look, you leave the Lug Nut to me,” Roush said as he opened the door to the suite. “Besides, you’ve got bigger things to worry about. It won't be long before that Hanner guy blows the lid clean off the Junior and Vicky deal."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Which Champion Is Better. . . ????

I know, I know. It's an apples and oranges type question, but that's not where I'm going

As the cutoff for the Chase grows nearer and nearer, the NASCAR pundits are starting to weigh in with their opinions on who will win the Sprint Cup Championship. Most seem to agree that it's a two man race between Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, and hence the title question- sort of. Which champion is better for NASCAR and the state of the sport?

Jimmie Johnson has won a history tying three straight championships and is gunning for a fourth. There is no doubt that he and Chad Knaus save their best stuff for the Chase (well, except for Homestead in 2005 when Chad wouldn't listen to Jimmie; otherwise, Jimmie would be going for five straight this year). A fourth straight championship would almost certainly guarantee Jimmie and Chad entry into the Hall of Fame when the time comes, but do the fans really want to see the #48 team on the championship stage yet again?

Tony Stewart has made the owner/driver combo look like child's play this year. Tony came out of the gates at Daytona in February ready to run. In a season where most pundits predicted that he would struggle to even win a race, let alone contend for the Chase, Tony has won three points races plus the All-Star race and currently sits atop the points chart. Simply starting the Michigan race on Sunday guarantees his berth in the Chase. Should Tony win the Championship come November, he would be the first owner/driver to do so since Alan Kulwicki. Yes, there are a myriad of differences between what Tony has accomplished this year and what Kulwicki accomplished, and Tony will be the first to point that out. However, you can bet that you will not hear mention of that from the sportswriters come November if Tony wins. The headlines will simply read "Stewart Becomes First Owner/Driver To Win Championship Since Kulwicki."

So which champion would be better for the sport of NASCAR, Jimmie or Tony? One thing is for certain. It looks like we might finally get the exciting Chase that was promised when the 10 race playoff was put into place in 2004.