Friday, October 3, 2008

The Chaser #4: Amp Energy 500

Each week Ridebuyer delves deep into the misunderstood, oft terrifying, world of American saloon-car racing known as NASCAR.

This week: Amp Energy 500 (Chase round #4)
TV: ABC 1:00pm EST (Sunday)
Location: Talladega Superspeedway (Talladega, AL)
Distance: 188 laps/500 miles
Past winners: J. Gordon (4/07); J. Gordon (10/07); Ky. Busch (4/08).

*How to blame the economy; take the sponsor and run*

The overwhelming theme of the past month has been the underwhelming performance of the economy. "The economy" seems like an abstract concept, something less than tangible, that shifts from good to poor in about the time it takes to read this sentence. One day the economy is structurally sound, the next it's shakier than a Jenga mountain on top of Heilo Castroneves' W-2s. This most recent sort-of recession (or is that depression?) seems to have more longevity than other contemporary economic woes. Banks are running out money for christsakes. That's a tell tale sign of we-all-may-be-fucked-dom. We strolled down to our neighborhood PNC to cash our weekly masonry check and stumbled upon this as we opened the doors:

Not. Good.

Motor racing is not immune to feeling the pressures of tight times. Just the opposite, in fact. It takes money to go fast, and Sprint Cup cars are pretty damn quick.

Look at the peculiar case of one Paul Menard. Never heard of him? That's understandable, as the veteran of about 70-Cup starts only has one top-10 finish. Throughout his inauspicious Cup career Menard has raced (with full sponsorship) at Dale Earnhardt Inc. That sponsor his been incredibly supportive of their driver even as returns on their investments (at least as far as solid finishes are concerned) have been small.

Thanks, Dad.

The signage adorning Menard's Chevy is that of, well, Menards, the regional chain of home improvement centers owned by John Menard, aka Paul's Pops. According to a well-scribed article on, John Menard ranks 127th on the 2008 Forbes' Billionaires List with a net worth of $7.3 billion. To gratuitously quote The Big Lebowski, he's not exactly a lightweight. People who follow motor racing know the elder-Menard quite well. He fielded Indycar entries for some time and is old buddies with Indy-Czar Tony George.

Anyway, if John Menard's kid wants to race in NASCAR, then NASCAR he shall race. Just not with DEI anymore.

Little-Menard is swapping teams and taking his regional chain of home improvement center-decals with him. Yates Racing will be Menard's new home next season, leaving DEI in an economics-of-racing quandary of epic proportions. There are exactly seven races left this season. DEI currently has four Cup entries (one each for Regan Smith, Martin Truex Jr., and Menard. Mark Martin and Aric Almirola share the #8 car). As it stands today, DEI will only have one full time sponsor heading into next season. That leaves three cars looking rather plain. DEI has some sales work to do if the team hopes to field four cars next season. The economy couldn't be shittier, and big corporations are not lining up to throw millions at a top-flight (which DEI is) NASCAR team like they were five years ago. So, good luck with that. Our advice to the sponsorship-finders at DEI? Add Alec Baldwin to your team and only hire closers.

That's enough movie clips for one post.

About this race:

*What to know:

'Big one' possible, still cliche: The simplest way to entice viewers and spectators to a NASCAR event is possibility of mass carnage. If this possibility was not present, exactly 16 spectators would show up to a restrictor plate race in Alabama during football season. Of those 16, 12 would be drivers' wives, and four would be related to Darrell Waltrip. As it stands, about 200,000 people will show up. Yes, NASCAR fans love the 'big one' and Talladega provides an excellent opportunity to play bumper cars at speed. The television talking heads will make mention to the 'big one' at every possible moment during the broadcast to keep the masses primed for destruction. Sometimes it comes, other times the race is void of 20+ car pileups. In short, the 'big one' may or may not happen. But it will get talked about, and rooted for in the broadcast booth, stands, and couches of America. Be ready.

Acquired taste: Restrictor plate racing is pack racing, or clump racing. Nobody has enough horsepower to get away from anybody, thus people have to run over each other to pass, and, well, see the point above. This type of racing is truly an acquired taste because things like track position are not important. At all. There are two schools of thought that can be used in running this race. You either want to be out front the entire time (hoping the 'big one' happens behind you), or you ride around in the back all day until about 25 to go when you make your move. It's debatable whether this makes for entertaining racing or a tedious afternoon. We've seen batter racing involving shopping carts and pissed-off Super Fresh patrons. Just our thought though.

Disregard qualifying: If you were to watch online live timing and scoring for Talladega qualifying (because you're not a loser and have sex with girls all the time), you'd notice some funny things. Like weird people you've never heard of are qualifying near the front. Travis Kvapil, really? That's because qualifying is completely meaningless. A good car can go from dead last to first in about 10-laps. We're not even going to post the qualifying results. That's how meaningless they are. It's certainly is not because qualifying is still in progress. Nope, that has nothing to do with. Meaningless!

Who to watch:

Jimmie Johnson: Constancy could win this guy his third straight title. Was he the best at the beginning of the season? Hell and no. Is he the best right now? Debatable. Is he the points leader? Hell and yes. Johnson has 17 top-10 finishes this season and an average finishing spot of 11th. He won this event in 2006 and has been pretty adept at running plate races (two career superspeedway wins, 10 top-fives.) In this iteration of The Chase Johnson has not finished lower than fifth.

Jeff Gordon: Last season, Johnson's teammate swept that Cup events at Talladega. That makes his total career victories at 'Bama track, six. Sure, the guy has not won an event this season, but he was able to gain two Chase spots last week with a p6. It seems like Gordon's momentum is building. 7/1 to win. We'd take that.

"Hot" Carl Edwards: This guy has been historically not "hot" on superspeedways. Zero wins and an average finish of 22nd. So, will he be good at 'Dega on Sunday. Maybe. He has been the hottest driver of late (Biffle disagrees) and if he can escape Alabama with any finish that's not a disaster, he'll be in good shape for the title.

*For those heading to the track:

Pertinent tailgating information is here. Although, there's no reason to post this. If you were even remotely considering tailgating at 'Dega, you've already been in the infield for a month. Tailgating Telladega is like pilgrimage to Mecca, only with more beer and slightly fewer stampedes.

The Ridebuyer cocktail of the race is, of course, the Alabama Slamma. Take it away kinda attractive bartender lady:

Okay, that was the last video.


1 Jimmie Johnson
2 Carl Edwards
3 Greg Biffle
4 Jeff Burton
5 Kevin Harvick
6 Jeff Gordon
7 Clint Bowyer
8 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
9 Matt Kenseth
10 Denny Hamlin
11 Tony Stewart
12 Kyle Busch

Next race: Bank of America 500 (Lowe's Motor Speedway). Had the financial bailout not happened, this race would have been Generic 500. True story.

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