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Speed Reading: Youth is served and dishes it out
Some random, rapid fire thoughts from a semi-frosty Lowe's Motor Speedway garage between the 24 Hours of the Dollar General 300 and the Bank of America 500...
Jack Says Back Off Vickers
Then I have a conversation like the one I had with a kid named Jack. Jack was sitting next to me this afternoon at a Bojangles in Harrisburg, N.C., less than 10 minutes from the Lowe's Motor Speedway. (It's a regional fried chicken chain here in the Carolinas... if you've never had it, that's a shame. LeBron James never comes to Charlotte without ordering a truckload of it. Anyway, I digress... )
Jack was eight, stocky, cocky, and apparently the biggest Brian Vickers fan in the world. He wore his blue GMAC t-shirt and hat with pride and was stoked about a No. 25 Brian Vickers pennant he was going to buy in souvenir alley before the Busch Series race later in the evening. He saw it here back in May and has been saving for it ever since.
We chatted over some dirty rice and sweet tea about my job and his baseball team. Then he hit me with the question.
"That's awesome. What do you do when you get there?"
"I interview racecar drivers... I try to make other people feel like they are getting to go to the track with me."
"Have you ever interviewed Jimmie Johnson?"
"Sure. Several times."
"Will you interview him today?"
"If you do, I would like you to tell him something."
"Tell him to stop being mad at Brian Vickers. He didn't mean to spin Jimmie Johnson out last week. He said he didn't, and he's not a liar. Besides, since Brian won, all my friends on my baseball team quit picking on me for being a Vickers fan. So tell Jimmie that, and maybe he'll quit being mad."
If I ever needed a reminder of just how fortunate I am to do what I do, Jack has sealed the deal for now and always. As for delivering the message to Johnson, I didn't have to. J.J. greeted the Lowe's Motor Speedway media with a smile and a line from John Lennon "Give peace a chance!"
A Long Walk Spoiled...make that "Spoiler"
"I really am not thinking about points yet. Our goal is to come to the track, work on the car, make it fast, get the best finish we can and move on. When we get to Homestead, we'll start breaking down points scenarios."
The man really does look strangely calm considering his situation and this intrepid reporter has uncovered at least one reason why. Burton's business manager Russell Branham, an avid golfer, has been dragging his boss onto the golf course every week to clear his mind of all things racing. My spies tell me that Burton won't be challenging Dale Jarrett for "best NASCAR golfer" anytime soon, but the relaxation technique seems to be in, ahem, full swing.
Off With His Header Pipe!
When asked if there had been any interest, one man who looked suspiciously like William Shakespeare said, "Don't you know? The plate's the thing!"
Get it? As in restrictor plate?
No? Neither did the guy in the Morgan Shepherd t-shirt.
Bullish on Red Bull
Red Bull Racing's new digs are coming together nicely in Mooresville, N.C. Of all the Toyota teams, RBR has had the longest way to go, from building a shop to hiring drivers to buying office supplies. The last task left is to get Brian Vickers' teammate, the final Toyota driver, signed for next season. All but maybe three people in the garage expect that driver to be Bill Elliott. If Awesome Bill does come back, maybe he shouldn't have ripped NASCAR's safety efforts like he did in his new book, released earlier this month. Then again, that might explain why he's worked so hard to downplay those comments during qualifying on Thursday night.
The Safety Dance
The NHRA's crash team is legendary, renowned for its lightning-quick reactions to what are generally the fastest and most violent accidents in American motorsports. Meanwhile, Champ Car and IRL travel their medical teams all over the world. The crew that saved Alex Zanardi's life in Germany back in September 2001 was the exact same team that would have come to his aid at Michigan or Mid-Ohio.
"They know everything about you," Zanardi told me back in 2004. "You see them every week, and they treat you for everything from crash injuries to a sore throat. There's a comfort level there that makes you feel a little safer on the track."
Roush Racing has always done just fine developing young talent Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, and Carl Edwards were all homegrown but now other Ford teams are looking for some help from Motown to identify youngsters before they get gone.
"It is hard," admits Robert Yates. "Not so long ago, you did all your scouting by looking at the Busch Series, and maybe you heard about a guy at a local short track. Now, by the time you hear about a kid who is great at some short track somewhere, you find out he's already signed a lifetime deal with another team... and he's like 15 years old."
Yates and his management team are to be commended for recovering from what looked to be a team-killing tailspin, scooping up David Gilliland mere moments after his upset win at Kentucky, and getting Stephen Leicht signed nearly as quick. I guess they learned their lesson after allowing Kahne to slip away back in 2003.
Any team owner worth his salt might want to hightail it up to Bojangles in Harrisburg with a ready-to-sign contract. I'd like my chances for a great future with ol' Jack behind the wheel.
Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images.