Victory Lane not easy to come by for some of NASCAR's best
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s winless streak reached 100 races last week at Texas Motor Speedway. While his rut is NASCAR's most notable, considering his popularity and the venue this week -- he has won five of his 18 Cup races at Talladega -- it is not the series' longest among regulars. Bobby Labonte (259) and Martin Truex Jr. (138) are well ahead ... or would that be behind?
Jeff Burton, hovering at 84 starts winless, said drivers always wonder, no matter their previous success level, which win will be their last.
"I learned this from Mark Martin: Whenever you win a race, you don't know if you're ever going to win another one," he said. "He always said it publicly and everyone always criticized him for saying it like he was a pessimist and all that, but he was speculating from reality. The fact of the matter is, when you win a race, you don't know if you're ever going to win another one. I don't care if it's your first year or 30th year; it's just that way. It's very hard to win these races."
Sprint Cup regulars with at least 50 starts since their last win:
NASCAR will take a step into the 20th century in 2012 by implementing the use of fuel injectors in its race cars. Twenty-first century technology will likely not be far behind.
"This is just the start of it," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. "It's just important for us to make sure we maintain a level playing field and make sure nobody is getting away with anything."
That has always been a challenge in NASCAR, where unscrupulous behavior has often been lauded as innovation, but an ever-more-detailed rule book and the implementation of a new race car and common template testing in 2007 has reduced opportunities for teams to explore. Electronics and the opportunity they provide for impropriety have long been a concern, but Pemberton said the new engine control systems to be provided by McLaren and Freescale Semiconductor will prevent any tampering. A few additions to the existing rule book should suffice, Pemberton said.
"There'll be a few lines I'm sure," he said. "But for the most part, with the partners we have here, the matters will probably be taken care of well in advance where (teams) won't be able to get into the system and create something they don't need to be."
With password-protected hardware ostensibly secure, electronics will provide vastly expanded capabilities for a series that still doesn't utilize speedometers.
"You have to look at when these systems have such memory capabilities. You're looking at entire engine systems and places for inputs into the system that could be anything from GPS and speeds and calculated miles per hour, all of those things," Pemberton said. "We're going to start with engine management but really, it's endless the capabilities."
Drivers aren't necessarily in favor of a vast expansion of technological aids, however, not even those who could have recently benefited from them. When asked if he favored the future use of speed-limiting electronics on pit road, Jimmie Johnson said he preferred to keep the difficult task in drivers' control.
"NASCAR has always been of the approach that less technology is better and it leaves it in the hands of the competitors and I buy into that," he said, a week after a pit road speeding penalty at Martinsville dropped him from second to 12th with 29 laps left. "I think if we had a sustained pit road speed all the way down, it would eliminate passing on pit road so I like the system we have. It would just be nice to know what those numbers are as the race is going on."
Perhaps in a sign of greater corporate confidence in economic improvement, both Dover International Raceway and Kansas Speedway announced Sprint Cup race sponsorships for later this season. The May 14 race at Dover will be branded by 5-Hour Energy, creating a litany of punch line opportunities but also a frightful prospect for the post-race traffic jam, as free samples will be provided to the masses.
Kansas brings back a more iconic racing sponsor in STP, which will sponsor the June 5 Cup race as part of a "multi-year deal." The company will also sponsor the June 4 Nationwide race at Chicagoland and has agreed to track sponsorships at five additional International Speedway Corp. properties.
It's unclear whether Auburn's 2010 BCS championship season will ultimately clear NCAA's version of the tech line, but Michael Waltrip is helping the Alabama institution celebrate in the meantime this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
The team-owner will make his 50th Cup start at Talladega in an Auburn-themed No. 15 Toyota. Waltrip has a win and seven top-5s at the 2.66-mile restrictor plate track.
"Wait until you hear me introduced at driver introductions," said Waltrip, who will also compete in the Nationwide series race. "I bet I get as many boos at Kyle Busch and as many cheers as Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. I don't care if they boo or cheer. ... I mean think about it, a Kentucky guy driving an Auburn car in front of a lot of Alabama fans in a NASCAR race at Talladega."
Charlie Brock, the car chief of Kyle Busch's No. 18 Nationwide entry, is the grandson of Alabama Gang founder and legend 'Red' Farmer. Farmer and fellow Gang members Bobby and Donnie Allison raced the NASCAR circuit together in the 1960s and 1970s. Farmer, 78, still races dirt Late Models and is a regular at the short track just across the road from Talladega Superspeedway.