Sunday, September 12, 2010

2010 Boone Supernationals

First, let me start by telling you I love the Boone Supernationals.  It is an experience unlike any other.  If you love racing, you really need to add this event to your "Must-See" list.

The Supernationals are a weeklong dirt track racing festival.  This year over 805 cars participated in over 340 races, with 2,000+ green flag laps, all culminating in six Champions.  A Typical race day starts at 3 p.m. and ends somewhere between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. (No, I'm not kidding).

Sponsored by IMCA, the Supernationals draw racers and fans from all over the U.S. and Canada.  This year, the crowd was more diversified than ever.  The fans that pack the stands and the campgrounds are friendly, excited, and willing to talk racing at any level (Nascar, local track, F1, sprint cars).  There are plenty of activities during the week - meeting the drivers, pancake breakfasts, parades, and whatever else happens in racing campgrounds.

The racing is truly at the grassroots level.  Most of the drivers hold another job and use the Supernationals as their vacation for the year.  They have raced weekly at their local track; some are track champions, while others are just guys looking for a good time and a race.  While there are sponsorships, they are local sponsorships - the town plumber, hotel, restaurant, towing service and parts supplier. You won't find DuPont, Home Depot or  M&M's here.  Cars are more likely to be sponsored by Mom & Dad, Toby K's Hideaway, Harris Auto, Smith Farms or Victory Chassis.

Fans have favorites, demonstrated by their T-shirts and cheers, but they are also willing to boo a driver for bad driving. (Last night a fistfight broke out on track between drivers during a last chance race, which sparked some excitement.)   At the same time, drivers are welcomed into the stands after their events and chat with the fans.

Last night, four Champions were crowned in the Hobby Stock, Stock Car, SportModified and Modified classes.  Jason Wilkinson of Neligh, Nebraska won the Hobby Stock A Main; Jeremy Christians of Horicon, Wisconsin won the Stock Car A Main; Brett Meyer of Lytton, Iowa won the SportMod Championship; Jimmy Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa was crowned the Modified Champion.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the races, talking to racing friends, meeting a few new ones, and getting lots of dirt blown on me.

Let's say taking three showers to get clean afterwards did not dampen my enthusiasm for the night...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Hub-Bub Over Busch-Keselowski

Kyle Busch dumped Brad Keselowski on his way to a Nationwide series win last night.

And Busch even admitted it in post-race interviews.  Now, some are claiming Busch was too aggressive and should be penalized.  And maybe he should.  I'd guess Nascar flipped a coin in the trailer and it came up roses for Busch.  On the other hand, Keselowski drives like he owns the place at nearly every track - maybe the powers that be decided he deserved what he got.

So much for consistency in policing the on-track retaliation.  That, of course, is Nascar.

What I am most impressed with is that Busch felt comfortable enough to admit he dumped Keselowski.  And that Keselowski felt comfortable enough to say he was planning retaliation.  The truth is, anyone watching the tape can see it was retaliation and anyone with half a brain knows there will be payback by Keselowski on Busch.

The bigger issue is whether Nascar really wants to go this way.  Is it OK if the retaliation happens at Bristol as it is a short track with lower speeds than a speedway?  What happens if, a couple weeks from the Chase cut off, the two get into someone trying to make the Chase?  Or if someone in the Chase already is injured to the degree he can't drive?

Smacking down their talk won't really prevent these things from happening, just the drivers from talking about them.  Perhaps having it out in the open is enough to alert everyone involved to watch out for these two on the track.

I'd like to propose another option.  Why couldn't the fans decide who is at fault?  Put it to a vote using email addresses, so 1 vote per person - vote for the person who is at fault.  Driver at fault (the Loser) pays $100,000 to a charity of the Winner's choice.  Heck, let the fan vote account for 40% of the vote, give another 40% to the other drivers and owners and 20% to Nascar.  This way, the score is settled and everyone can move on without feeling that the other guy got away with something.  And, a few charities would be made a lot richer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Things I learned the 50th Knoxville Nationals

Last night was the 50th running of the Knoxville Nationals.  A crowd of over 23,000 watched the 50 lap feature.  I spent most of the day volunteering at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame (one of my favorite places).  Here is what I learned while in Knoxville all day.

1.  Aussies love sprint car racing.  Each year, more and more Aussies show up at Knoxville.  One man I spoke with last night estimated that a couple thousand Aussies were at the Nationals.  Amazingly, the local and national media haven't picked up on this story - that Aussies come to America to visit IOWA to watch racing.

2.  Race Fans Can't Recognize Drivers.  Fans wearing Tony Stewart gear won't recognize Smoke, even if he holds the door for them and waits with them for an elevator.  Fans are no better at seeing Kasey Kahne when he is walking around either.  Apparently, remove the firesuit, become invisible.

3.  Aussies are flirts.  Do I really need to explain this?

4.  It ain't over until it's over.  With 5 to go, it appeared that the race would either go to Donny Schatz or Sammy Swindell.  The pair started swapping the lead each turn until with 3 to go, Swindell's left rear tire blew.  Then everyone presumed Schatz would win (some fans left the stands at this point).  Then on the restart, Schatz's engine started to go and Tim Shaffer motored to the win.

5.  Good guys can finish first. I met Tim several years ago when he made a special trip into the museum to sign some items for a benefit. This was despite the fact he was unable to race at the time because of an injury.  But he still made the trip and followed through with the things he had committed to do.  That speaks volumes for his character.

Friday, August 13, 2010

50th Knoxville Nationals

Tomorrow night is the 50th Knoxville Nationals.  It won't be broadcast live on SPEED this year, but it will be on SPEED later this month.

All this week, sprint car drivers have been battling for a spot in the A Main.  Tonight, a scramble will be held to actually line up the top point-getting cars.  The top 20 drivers, who are locked into the show, are:

1. 21 Brian Brown 484
2. 1s Sammy Swindell 482
3. 22 Greg Hodnett 477
4. 15 Donny Schatz 477
5. 11 Steve Kinser 474
6. 13x Daryn Pittman 473
7. 83 Tim Shaffer 470
8. 57 Shane Stewart 470
9. 41 Jason Johnson 468
10. 2B Dale Blaney 468
11. 3 Kerry Madsen 464
12. 2 Skip Jackson 463
13. 12 Lynton Jeffrey 461
14. 7s Jason Sides 461
15. 91 Dusty Zomer 455
16. 56 Davey Heskin 452
17. 63 Chad Kemenah 452
18. 9 Joey Saldana 447
19. 98 Erin Crocker 445
20. 7TW Brandon Wimmer 442

So, on Saturday, the drivers not in the A Main will try to charge through the field and start at the back of the A Main, hoping they can make it to the front of the pack.  Everyone will be gunning for Donny Schatz, who is attempting to win his fifth Knoxville Nationals in a row.

Attempting to win this year are a father-son duo from Australia, Max and Mitch Dumesny, neither is currently in the A Main.  Another father-son duo, who have both won the Nationals, are Steve & Kraig Kinser - Kraig is in the D Main and Steve is in the A Main.  Other family connections are Brian Brown (the top point-getter) is the nephew of Danny Lasoski, who is in the C Main.

Tomorrow night, they all will have one last shot at immortality.  Not only does a Knoxville Nationals trophy put you on the sprint car map, it pays well, with a total purse of over $1 million.  

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Nascar's New Silence Policy

Nascar announced last week it had fined two undisclosed drivers for remarks they made disparaging the sport.  Nascar wants to develop this policy to keep up with the NBA, NFL, and other major sports.

The "small" problem is that Nascar is not like other major sports.  The NBA, NFL and MLB are all unionized sports that provide a variety of helps to their players.  All three major sports have contracting helps for players coming into the league, minimum salary requirements, health insurance and retirement benefits.

Nascar does not allow a players' union, does not provide health insurance and does not require or provide retirement benefits.  Using the argument that each driver/crew chief/ crew member is an independent contractor, Nascar has strenuously rebuffed unionization.

Curtis Turner, a man who should be in the Nascar Hall of Fame for his driving skills, if not for his part in developing Charlotte Motor Speedway with Bruton Smith, tried to unionize Nascar back in the 1960's.  Big Bill France responded by banning him for life from the sport (this was eventually lifted several years later).

More recently, the issue of standardized retirement contributions reared its head when Sam Ard, a Busch series champion, had no retirement, and fell on hard times as he aged.  Despite the rallying of drivers and the media, Nascar basically said, "Sorry, we aren't responsible for drivers retirement and we won't provide a retirement plan for drivers as they are independent contractors."

Now Nascar wants to have its cake and eat it too.  It wants to punish "independent contractors" for saying things against the sport while at the same time not providing the benefits the other major sports do.

If Nascar wants to have drivers tow the line, then it needs to pony up some of the benefits of the other major sports' unionization - particularly retirement benefits, open disclosure of contracts (like the others), provide health care insurance, and help young drivers moving into the sport.

Shame on them for taking and without giving.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Flag It: A Look at the Language of Racing Flags

I had originally posted this information on Foxsports a couple years ago.  However, as I was at the track a couple weeks ago, I realized again how often people do not know what the flags mean.  So, here is a refresher for you.  Remember that local tracks and sanctioning bodies may have different rules for each flag (or may not even use some of these flags).

One of my favorite things to do during a race is watch the flagman.  Regardless if it is a six lap heat race or a 400 mile race, the flagman is conversing with all the drivers during the whole event.

Knowing what the flags mean helps the spectator understand what is going on during the race.  Most race fans know the basics, but are unable to explain what the black flag with white cross means.  Be forewarned, however, that different series have different rules pertaining to the flags they display.

Green Flag:  Shown to start the race.  Will typically be shown when no other flag is appropriate.  Some sanctioning bodies (USAC, WoO, IMCA) will only count laps run under green flag conditions, others (Nascar, IRL, F1) will count laps run under other flags.  An Interesting note, Formula One now uses a green light system to start the race, but before that used the National Flag of the country to start the race.

Yellow Flag:  Slow and maintain position as there is a hazard on the track.  Universal.  In Formula One, the location and movement of the flag or flags indicate where the hazard is on the track or off the track.  This flag is also used by Nascar to indicate during a practice session that cars should pit immediately.

Yellow & Red Stripped Flag:  Varies slightly by sancationing body:  In Nascar,  used on road courses only to indicate debris or slippery condition. 
 In F1, it means a "deterioration of adhesion" due to oil or water on the track ahead.   In IRL, means oil or slippery condition.

Red Flag:  Stop immediately.  Usually indicates the track is unsafe or blocked.  In F1, it indicates the cars should immediately go to pit road.

Red with Yellow Cross:  Pits are closed.  Used primarily in the IRL.  Not used in F1.  Nascar may have used in the past, but does not use currently. 

Black Flag:  Shown to individual car.  Means penalty of some sort, and consultation in the pits is required.  Some sanctioning bodies use to indicate mechanical problems as well as driving problems.  If shown for consecutive laps (usually between 2-4) , with driver ignoring the flag, will eventually mean the car is no longer scored.  Formula One uses two other black flags, one which is be half white with diagnoal stripe, which means car has committed unsportsmanlike conduct.  And the other is black with an orange disk, indicating mechanical problems, pull into pits immediately.

Black Flag with White Cross:  Car no longer scored.  Shown after car ignored Black Flag.  Also indicates whatever you did wrong is now more serious as you just disregarded race officials request for a consultation.

Blue with Yellow Stripe:  Faster car approaching.  In Nascar, does not mean you must give way.  In F1, this flag is solid blue.

White Flag:  One lap left in race.

Checkered Flag:  Race is complete.  Car who finishes laps first, wins.

White with Red Stripe or Cross:  In IRL, with Red Cross means ambulance on course.  


Information from,,,, and wikipedia.  Flag artwork from,, and

Monday, April 26, 2010

Instant Messages from Hendrick Motorsports

Monday, April 19, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.

JG#24: Rick, I'm a bit frustrated with Jimmie.
RH: Jeff, I watched the race. I don't think he did anything wrong.
JG#24: Maybe not technically, but I think he is racing too hard. It's gonna lead to a crash sometime. Can't he at least be less aggressive when it doesn't matter about position?
RH: I'll talk with him. But the two of you need to work this out.
RH: And when exactly is position not important?
JG#24: I'll call him tomorrow. I think he's pressing too hard since he may miss a race for the baby's birth. Of all people, I know how important that is, but luck is going to run out. He cost me this race.
RH: I thought Stewart and Edwards caused the crash?!?
JG#24: I still think Jimmie was in the wrong. He's in on this. Maybe through Knaus.
RH: You think Jimmie paid Tony & Carl to crash you out???
JG#24: It is possible.
RH: Did you hit your head in that crash or something?
JG#24: Knaus is always up to something. And he seems to have all this information. Stewart has a few bad things in his closet. I'm sure Knaus knows how to use them.
RH: Knaus and Jimmie had nothing to do with your crash. Crashes happen in racing.
RH: As far as I'm concerned, this issue is closed. You boys can work it out.
JG#24: Fine. But if it continues, I'll be back to talk about it again. And I'll deal with it on track too.
RH: Give Ingrid my best. And give Ella a kiss for me.
JG#24: I will.
CK#48: Rick, we need to talk about the 24 team.
RH: Chad, what could you possibly be worrying about the 24 team for?
CK#48: Tomorrow I'll come and talk with you.
RH: I guess.

Sunday, April 25, 2010 at 7:10 p.m.

JG#24: DID YOU SEE WHAT JJ DID TO ME??!??!?!?!?!?!!!!!!
RH: Jeff, I'm sure that Jimmie has a reason.
JG#24: Rick, he's trying to take me out. He's trying to be the next driver to 5 Championships.
RH: And what's
JG#24: He plans to do it by crashing me every week so I can't get any points.
RH: I don't think that h
JG#24: You need to do something.
RH: Like
JG#24: As 48.48% owner, I think we should fire him.
RH: You're kidding right?
JG#24: No. He's pushed me too far this time.
RH: He's the reigning champion
JG#24: No one is above firing.
RH: Even you.
JG#24: I have a lifetime contract. So I am above that.
RH: We gave Jimmie one too.
DE#88: Mr. Hendrick, I was hoping we'd pull off the win, but maybe next week.
RH: Dale, I thought you looked great out there. I'm sure Lance will have some ideas for next time. A win is definitely on your horizon. Soon.
DE#88: Thanks. I think Lance and I are working well. But I'd still like to work with Chad, if that is ever a possibility.
RH: Keep working at it. I doubt Chad will be working with anyone else anytime soon.
JG#24: Well
RH: I don't think that Jimmie
JG#24: We need a spot for Kasey next year, let's give him the 48.
RH: So you want to fire Jimmie at the end of the Year????
JG#24: No, I want him fired right now.
RH: I'm not firing him now. Or later. We'll work out something for Kasey.
JG#24: Then let's fine him.
RH: Since when have we fined anyone for anything???
JG#24: We should have fined Knaus for all that cheating.
JG#24: See you let them get by with EVERYTHING.
RH: We didn't fine Ray when he was tinkering with things.
RH: To your benefit, I might add
JG#24: Ray never did half the stuff Chad has gotten by with, let alone what he's been caught doing.
RH: I don't think Chad cheats.
JG#24: And I KNOW Knaus has bugged our garage or something. He knows EVERYTHING
RH: Jeff, we share information across the teams.
JG#24: But he knows stuff we've never shared.
RH: You're keeping stuff from the team?!?
JG#24: I mean that Steve and I have secrets that no one else could know. Chad knows them. How could he do that?
RH: Chad does not have time to try to find out your secrets. Are you getting paranoid on me? Knaus is too busy innovating.
JG#24: I think he does more blackmailing and that hides the lack of innovation - and he steals from other teams.
RH: What are you talking about?
JG#24: The only way he didn't get a longer suspension last time was that he has something on either France or Helton. Maybe both.
RH: You think Chad is blackmailing Nascar????
JG#24: I'm not so sure that he isn't blackmailing you!
RH: Jeff, why don't you get some sleep an we'll talk about this in the morning?
JG#24: So you haven't ruled out firing Jimmie?
RH: I have ruled it out. You are going to have to suck it up and deal. Man up a little.
JG#24: I'm having the garage swept for bugs tomorrow. And I don't mean cockroaches.
RH: I'm sure you won't find anything.
RH: I'll talk to Jimmie again.
RH: I'm sure this will all smooth over soon.
JG#24: Whatever.
CK#48: Has Gordo come whining yet?
RH: What do you want Chad.
CK#48: We're still on the same page, right? Nothing happens to Jimmie & I. Or else.
RH: Chad, first off, you and Jimmie are great together. Why would I change things?
CK#48: But we are still on the same page.
RH: Yes, Chad, we are.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

It's Dirt Track Season!

With Easter in the rear view mirror, the dirt tracks in Iowa are in full swing. This week marks the first points race of the season at many Iowa tracks, with the exception of Knoxville, which opens May 1.

So before spring blends into summer, start planning your trip to the dirt track. Need ideas? Here are a few events I wouldn't miss:
Memorial Day Weekend - pick any track, there is usually a special event that weekend
June 5 - National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Induction Weekend at Knoxville Raceway
July 4th - again, most tracks have a special (with fireworks on and off the track)
August 14th - 50th Knoxville Nationals
September 6-11 - IMCA Supernationals - Boone Speedway

Monday, March 8, 2010

Carl vs. Brad: As the Wheel Turns

By now, the majority of the American public has heard about the dust-up between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski. In fact, I heard about it again this morning on a radio station that has Never played a Nascar report. The host's clear unfamiliarity was apparent to anyone who had ever watched a race.

But, the fact that this station was discussing Nascar was significant. If Nascar's no-holds barred approach was designed to get finishes and races that the general public would talk about, it worked. Brilliantly.

Does anyone doubt that next week a few more eyeballs will be on the TV as the series heads to Bristol? Hopefully, Keselowski and Edwards will be pitted near each other and will have to ride in the same truck for introductions. That would be Nascar's dream scenario.

So, what should Nascar do to Edwards for deliberately dumping Keselowski?

First, I think there are two villains in this situation. Both Edwards and Keselowski were wrong. Keselowski has been a repeat aggressive driver in both the Cup series and the Nationwide series, including prior to the Atlanta race. He reaped what he sowed.

Edwards is also a repeat offender. His passive aggressive possibly-roid rage has involved several Cup drivers. It's time to crack down on his behavior.

So, what to do. First, Keselowski should be put on probation. Let him know if there are any further aggressive driving incidents, he will be "parked." Second, give him to Mark Martin as a student. Make him spend time learning how to be a gentleman driver from the best.

Edwards should be "parked" for six races. However, I would modify the traditional method to this: After missing completely the first race, Edwards would start the next five races and at the first pit stop, would be pulled out of the car. That way, Edwards gets the points, but doesn't actually race. The other driver would also qualify the car, so Edwards would start at the back of the pack for each race.

Otherwise, I would suggest Nascar let these two settle it the old fashioned way - jello pool on the front stretch of Charlotte. Tickets would cost extra, and imagine the TV rights...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Vegas Odds & Ends

Weird Happenings: Daytona had potholes; Vegas now has phantom caution lights. First, the lights did not go out when the race was ready to restart, then the lights came on without a caution being thrown by Nascar. What's up next week? Floods? Deer jumping the fence? The Pace Car stalling out on the track? More potholes?

Pit Row Shenanigans: Did Jeff Gordon's crew start gassing before the car was in the box? Was Nascar correct in ruling he did? Let the conspiracy theories begin...

Inter-company feuds: Jamie McMurray crashed into his new teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. Apparently McMurray didn't get the memo that JPM will carry a grudge. Montoya voiced his displeasure about the incident to the media immediately after it happened. Love to by a fly on the wall tomorrow at Earnhardt-Ganassi.

Don't drink the water: Do you think Dale Jr is worried about Danica in the garage? As a married woman, she shouldn't drink the water as a rash of pregnancies is going around. At this point in her career, a nine-month hiatus would likely be detrimental.

Jimmie Johnson: Jimmie is back to his winning ways. He usually does well at the beginning and the end of the year. Who is going to step up and challenge him?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Daytona 500 Predictions

I'm not big on predictions, because, well, generally, I'm not great at it. However, with a new season, I thought I'd give a shot at picking Daytona 500 winner and up the odds by choosing a new contenders.

1. Kurt Busch - Kurt runs well at both Talladega and Daytona. He regularly runs in the top 10 and has an average finish at Daytona of 17. The question is whether the Penske camp has made changes that will help Busch run more consistently. More importantly: How is Dodge helping (if at all) . If he can avoid a wreck, he may be able to pull it off. On the flip side, Busch's temper and impatience could get the best of him. And if things don't go well this year, I predict there could be a new driver in the Penske #2.

2. Tony Stewart - Stewart is a master at the plate tracks. This does not always translate to a win. If he doesn't win at Daytona soon, that monkey will have jumped off Dale Earnhardt's back onto Stewart's. Don't despair, Tony will comfort himself with his two Brickyard trophies. (It makes him crabby to mention the loses at THE 500 - Indianapolis, so don't. No _really_, don't).

3. Greg Biffle - Biffle's teammate Matt Kenseth won last year, and the Fords have really made strides at the plate tracks. Biffle has won at Daytona during the July race, so he knows how to run and win at Daytona. Biffle needs to pull off a win to keep his boss happy.

4. Pick a first time Daytona 500 winner. Face it; anything goes at a plate track. Sometimes being a strong contender at plate tracks works against you, as drivers look to help some (sucker) they think they can ultimately get around. This means someone like Juan Pablo Montoya, AJ Allmendinger, Reagan Smith, or Brad Keselowski.

5. Worse case scenario, pick a Chevy. They have won five of the last seven Daytona 500. For an even better shot, pick one owned or helped by Rick Hendrick. I.e. 5, 88, 24, 48, 14, 39.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Welcome Change

New signage has been put up at Bruton Smith's track in Charlotte. Lowe's will no longer pay to have its name on the track, thus the track has reverted to "Charlotte Motor Speedway."

When Lowe's purchased the name several years ago, I hated the idea. It isn't that I dislike Lowe's, I dislike all corporate names on sporting stadiums or tracks.

Why? Well, there are several reasons.

One reason is that Nascar tends to rename every event from the inception of the sport with the corporate name. All Champions are now Sprint Cup Champions, even if they never raced under the Sprint sponsorship. Granted there is difficulty in referring to a name that no longer exists or that has evolved over the years, but the way to fix this is to keep the same name for the long term.

After the sponsorship is over, the public has to learn a new name for the event or venue. Why not just name it permanently and leave it alone. If venues are named after local heros or after people who contribute to have it built, great. But the name should not change with every market crash or upswing.

In any event, I am delighted to welcome back Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is exactly what I've tried to call it during its brief turn as "Lowe's." Curtis Turner must be smiling.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Things to Watch in the New Season

We're almost one month from the Daytona 500, so it is time to look at what the 2010 season could bring.

Sponsorship - With the down turn in the economy, funds for advertising and sponsorship has dried up. The true test will be this year. Will Nascar have trouble finding race sponsors? Will mid-pack teams have sponsorship? What about back of the packers? Without adequate sponsorship, Nascar may be facing smaller fields by the end of the year - which already struck the Truck series and the Nationwide series. Teams can't scrape by without sponsorship for long. Look for Cup teams to have similar problems. Maybe we're entering the era where drivers have multiple sponsors and no primary sponsor.

Race Attendance - Face it, attending a race is expensive. The only time hotels charge the amount listed on the back of the room door is during a Nascar weekend. Couple it with the now typically high gas prices during the spring and summer, unemployment, and the trend of staycations, race attendance could fall. Again. The end of the 2009 season featured empty stands in nearly every TV shot. Look for it to continue unless prices go down for tickets, hotels, airfare etc.

TV Viewership - As race attendance fell, TV viewership fell too. If Nascar TV viewing continues to trend downward, Nascar will lose the ability to draw advertisers and potentially lose out when the next TV contract comes up for bid. The new car may be safer, but people don't like watching it.

Schedule Re-alignment - Nascar needs to fix the schedule. Do we need two Poconos? Two Californias? Should the Chase races be the same every year? I recommend a hard look at the races, when they are held (seasonally), and attendance. Why not rotate the schedule - odd years Pocono has 2 races while Cali has 1, even years Cali has 2 while Pocono has 1? My other recommendation is to add a road course to the Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Will Junior win or even contend for a win in 2010? Like him or not, Junior is the most popular driver, and as his season goes, so goes Nascar's popularity (to some degree). If Junior can make a comeback, it will fuel both the lovers and the haters. Nascar needs him to do well.

Jimmie Johnson -Johnson's 2010 could be interesting as he will become a father sometime in 2010. Jeff Gordon's perspective changed with the birth of his daughter, and I expect Johnson's view will change too - Baby will need a ring too! Johnson needs a serious rival - and Nascar needs the rivalry. Without anyone to challenge him, non-fans yawn and turn the channel.

Jeff Gordon - Each year, I wonder how many more years Gordon is going to race. His much publicized back problems and his apparently serene home life are taking a toll on his fierce competitive spirit. If he'd win the 5th championship, I think we'd be seeing the last of Jeff Gordon.

Tony Stewart - Can he repeat with another good season? Or will he hit a sophomore slump in ownership?

Juan Pablo Montoya - Montoya has made a few more friends in the Nascar garage than in the Formula One garage (due to the different cultures more than anything else). But, he is still an aggressive driver who ticks people off. Will this lead to on-track problems this year? Or will he continue to get a pass? Will Earnhardt Ganassi be able to support him? Or will Montoya be looking to leave? Will Ganassi try to leave?

Kasey Kahne - Will Kahne stay with Richard Petty or will he bolt at the end of his contract? Kahne made a lot of stinging comments last year about the team. He's always admitted to admiring Tony Stewart. And remember that contract battle with Ford when he left to go to Dodge? I doubt Kahne has forgotten it.

Kevin Harvick - Harvick and Richard Childress have admitted that things haven't gone well with Harvick's team. The question is whether Childress can appease Harvick enough to keep him in the fold.

Doubtless, there will be other issues that pop up during the year (the rear spoiler, no double line at Daytona/Talladega etc), but these should be enough to keep in mind for the first half of the year.