By Mike Mulhern
Okay, Jack Roush has had his fun. Michael Waltrip has given a mea culpa on that errant sway-bar from last September’s Dover race. NASCAR executives Robin Pemberton and John Darby have rolled their eyes enough now at Roush’s latest charges.
And Roush is probably still chewing out his inventory control managers…because, while reviewing this six-month-old lost sway-bar situation, Roush apparently completely missed the fact that Toyota engineers wound up with one of those high-tech valve-springs from Carl Edwards’ winning car at California four weeks ago.
Valve-springs, of course, are a critical engine component, and NASCAR teams scour the world looking for a metallurgical edge there.
But Toyota had one of Roush’s for a month and only returned it a few days ago, after Roush raised a ruckus about that Dover sway-bar. And apparently Doug Yates, the man in charge of Ford’s NASCAR engine program, hasn’t yet told Roush about that missing piece…..
What a soap opera, this NASCAR world.
Let’s get back to some racing, with this afternoon’s Goody’s 500, expected to be a Jeff Gordon versus Jimmie Johnson duel, with new teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. hoping to make a game of it too.
Oh, but first….what about all those open-wheel Indy-car and Formula One stars that decided to give up that side of the sport and come play NASCAR? Remember that craze?
It looks like they can only run so far on adrenalin.
—Juan Pablo Montoya has settled into mediocrity, and sometimes it even looks like he’s just riding around out there. Where’s the fire and spunk he showed those first few months on the tour? The F1 star hasn’t done much at all impressively in some time now. And this isn’t the place he’s likely to shake out of that funk. The finishes: 32nd, 20th, 19th, 16th and 15th.
—Dario Franchitti at least is having fun, or looking like it. But the finishes: 33rd, 32nd, 33rd, 33rd and 36th.
—Sam Hornish Jr. isn’t picking up things very quickly either: After that 15th at Daytona, he’s logged a 43rd, 41st, 25th and 29th.
—Patrick Carpentier? He’s the only one of these guys who is still genuinely excited about this deal….though he’s still got a long way to go. After all he’s only run Atlanta and Las Vegas so far.
—And Jacques Villeneuve never even made it out of the gate at Daytona; the Bill Davis operation that Villeneuve was to run for this season has now disbanded, and crew chief Slugger Labbe is out on pit road looking for a new deal.
Hey, what about Ryan Newman? Remember him, the guy who won the Daytona 500. His curve has gone downhill since: 10th, 14th, 14th and 33rd. Maybe Dodge is just a one-trick pony – Newman’s win was the marque’s first since Kurt Busch’s victory last August at Michigan.
Carpentier, who typically wears one of the biggest smiles in the garage, is in for a long afternoon here. He hopes. “It feels like I’m coming back to school. I’ve been out for three weeks, and that’s a long time in this world.
“So I’m really happy. I want to run.
“I had doubts I was going to qualify this weekend. I mean—a flat track like this.
“They all tell me it’s like a road course, but they’re lying. It’s nothing like a road course.
“But the car was good; it turned, and I just hit the laps, and we made the show, so I’m pretty happy. I need the laps, I really do.”
At least he has a better shot at finishing Sunday than ailing teammate Elliott Sadler: “There’s a lot of pain in my lower back. When you hit the brake, it pushes your back up against the back of the seat.
“It’s 50-50 if we’ll try to run the whole deal.
“I’ve been racing 25 years and this is the first time I’ve watch my car leave the garage and me not in it.”
Dennis Setzer will be standing by for relief work.
While Roush fumes about missing parts, it looks like rival owner Richard Childress has discovered a few new tricks of his own. Childress men went 1-2-3 at Bristol, and Scott Wimmer won the Nationwide race at Nashville.
So looking for an upset here? Clint Bowyer may be riding Sunday’s darkhorse, Gil Martin’s Chevy. While Childress veterans Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick may be the headliners, Bowyer looks like Childress’ secret weapon.
Here, though, Bowyer will have to measure his enthusiasm, and keep his brakes: “I’d hate to not have them. They’re very important, and that’s something we’ve tested over the off-season. We felt we were a little bit behind in that area, and we’ve put a lot of emphasis on improving at tracks like Martinsville.
“We really got off to a rocky start this season. The Daytona 500 was going good, we were leading with 18 to go and just got wrecked (he’s still upset with Montoya).
“Then California (19th) and Vegas (28th) were definitely not what we expected. Things just didn’t work out. But we learned a lot. Sometimes it takes a bad race to learn.”
The proof of that could come at Texas in a few days.
THE NASCAR NOTEBOOK
Over in the Toyota camp, things are going just fine at Joe Gibbs’, and Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch could win Sunday’s Martinsville 500 and next weekend’s Texas 500
But elsewhere in the Toyota world things still aren’t going that well…though eight teams are in the top-35, certainly a big improvement over last year at this point.
The hot story this week, of course, centers on Michael Waltrip’s Toyota team, where that errant Jack Roush sway-bar, at Dover last fall, wound up.
Waltrip concedes his team did end up with the piece that has raised Roush’s dander. But he didn’t want to spend much time on it.
“I hope we don’t dignify this with a whole lot of time,” Waltrip says.
“We wound up with a sway-bar somehow. I promise you no one went to their tool box and swiped it. This is not intellectual espionage.
“My spokesperson on this subject is Jeff Gordon. I don’t think I could have said it near as well as he did.
“Accidents happen, mistakes happen. There are over 70 racing vehicles here, and stuff gets slung everywhere.
“If anyone purposely went and got that, I could see why he would be upset.
“He feels he was wronged, and he’s mad about it. That’s his prerogative.
“I respect that man: He’s got five teams; he’s the one that came up with that idea and proved it to be the most effective way to race.
“I’ve always admired Jack, and I will never judge him.
“I don’t know what makes him tick, but I do know no one went to his tool box and swiped his sway-bar.”
But Roush insists that someone from that team called the specific sway-bar producer and asked for parts to be made identical to Roush’s.
“I don’t have knowledge of any of that,” Waltrip insists. “When we figured out it wasn’t ours, it was set off to the side and eventually returned.
“We didn’t know anything about having it until January when they (Roush) called and said ‘You have our sway-bar.’ We said ‘We do?’
“We told them we would find it and give it back, and that’s what we did.
“Rob Kaufmann, my business partner, were talking and I told him I’ve always had two rules in business: one is not to do something that would get me shot or beat up, and another is not to do anything that would get me thrown in jail.
“I said I had a third one—not to do anything that would get me sued…but he told me to forget that, because people come up with their own agendas. Whether you’re guilty or innocent, sometimes you have to deal with it.”
On the lighter side of NASCAR – or perhaps the more poignant side – Kyle Petty has set the route for his annual motorcycle ride this summer. It’s the 14th annual, July 13-20, to raise funds for his Victory Junction Gang Camp and other charities.
This ride will kick off Traverse City, Mich., near the Canadian border, and run through Elkhart Lake, Wis.; Lombard, Ill.; Lexington, Ky.; White Sulfur Springs, W.Va.; Charlotte, N.C.; Peachtree City, Ga., and ending in Savannah, Ga. The ride will stop by the Camp July 17th.
Kyle and Patty Petty opened their Randleman camp in 2004, and they are opening a second camp in Kansas City. The camps are run solely by donations, and last summer’s ride raised enough money for 80 children to attend the five-day sessions free.