The Dimming of the Stars

Charlotte Motor Speedway. William Byron testing. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, May 19, 2017, 10:01 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’m not going to reminisce about past NASCAR all-star memories. Most of them are distant.

I was in the grandstands the first time it was run at night. I’ve told that story before. I’ve told all the stories before. I remember those heady days when The Winston – it’s had many names, no telling what it is now – rivaled the Coca-Cola 600 that followed it. The longest, most grueling test of NASCAR’s Finest followed a slam-bang, thrill-filled extravaganza.

Turns out it’s the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. It’s Saturday night.

Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, race fans took great pride in their all-star race. The stock car racers all did it for love, but love was even better after a $1 million payday. They didn’t go through the motions the way they did in the all-star matchups of baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

Now, 25 years after I watched Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty and Davey Allison wreck each other on the final lap – Allison won, though the concrete walls of the speedway knocked him cold, and the makeshift victory lane was a hospital bed – NASCAR All-Star has gone the way of all the other all-stars.

Chase Elliott (24) racing Kyle Larson in last year’s Sprint Showdown. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Money’s still unimportant. This is apparent because no one talks about it anymore.

The Winston Select Nextel Sprint Monster All-Star Race, combining all the titles from nicotine to caffeine and a heap of talking on the phone in between, has ranged from 70 to 113 laps and from one to five segments. Seven-time champions (Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt) have won it seven times (Johnson 4, Earnhardt 3).

On the other hand, Michael Waltrip won it in 1996 before he ever won a Cup race anywhere else.

The last three years the winners have been Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. I couldn’t have told you that without the Internet. The most recent I covered was in 2012. The most recent I remember was a year earlier, mainly because the driver who won that race, Carl Edwards, practically destroyed the winning car sliding through the grass when the nose scraped up a metal drain. Or something.

Joey Logano won last year. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

The Winston used to be as addictive as cigarettes, and it wasn’t that much of a coincidence. Tickets were cheap, a lot of free ones were floating around, and the idea was to get people there and send them home wanting more.

The ultimate significance of the All-Star Race is its effect on the sport as it now stands. The game-show format changed racing and was slowly, over three decades, integrated into the conduct of all the races. This is also the root of the race’s problems.

Some drivers are there already. Some race their way in. Some get voted in. It’s as complicated as a presidential election. So is everything else. A man who masters crosswords puzzles isn’t going to get excited about a mere game of checkers anymore.

The easiest way to resuscitate this Monster would be to ease off on the mad science everywhere else.

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This is unlikely to happen.

So where does it go from here? More, ahem, innovation?

One segment through the infield? A-racing we will go, a-racing we will go, high-ho, the derry-oh, a racing we will go.

Run the race backwards? Run the race in reverse? Parallel-park on pit road? A wall of flame at the finish line? One segment consisting entirely of pit stops?

The Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race has already stretched all bounds of credulity, civility and civilization, and had all the other races advance into the new territory, accompanied by bureaucrats carrying government regulations.

Where once the race sat at the foot of a mountain, now it is perched on the edge of a cliff.

Ever since I started writing fiction, fans have asked me to write a novel about stock car racing. I kept it a secret while I was working on it. Now it’s out. Lightning in a Bottle is the story of the next big thing, 18-year-old Barrie Jarman.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced. Lightning in a Bottle will be in stock shortly.

Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are also available at Emma Jane’s, 105 East Main Street on the Square, Clinton.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

(Joe Font cover design)

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

Football Is a Deep Fade

Darrell Bridges was PC's only reliable offensive threat. (Monte Dutton photos)
Darrell Bridges was PC’s only reliable offensive threat. (Monte Dutton photos)
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, November 26, 2016, 10:14 a.m.

My first thought this morning, upon awakening, was …

… Gee, whiz, I have to use the bathroom. Emphasis on “whiz.”

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

My second thought was, well, football’s over.

Hahahaha. Football is never over. As General Douglas MacArthur would have said had he been a couch potato instead of a military leader, Old football seasons never die. They just fade away.

Football is over locally and in my narrowly defined world. Last night Laurens fell to Spartanburg, 35-17, in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. A week earlier, Clinton fell to Chester, 24-16, in the first round of 3A. The Furman Paladins bowed out 3-8. The Presbyterian Blue Hose ground to a 2-9 halt.

dscf4250But over? Football? Was it over when the Owls bombed Paladin Stadium? It’s not over till we say it is!

Layers of football start peeling off. In college, this is a weekend of “rivalry games.” Next is a weekend of conference championships. Then, for several weeks, bowls will be filled with cereal and milk almost every night of the week.

The Hardee’s Sausage, Egg and Cheese Burrito Bowl, matching Colgate and Palmolive.

The game seemed full of promise right up until when it started. (Monte Dutton photo)
The game seemed full of promise right up until when it started. (Monte Dutton photo)

The Whichever Cell Provider You Don’t Have Bowl, testing how far Tech and State can roam.

The Auld Lang Syne Bowl, matching old coaches their teams are tired of. The Apple-Cheeked Lads Bowl, matching young coaches who don’t know what they’re doing.

The Affordable Care Bowl, which is going out of business. The Trust Me It’ll be Uuge Bowl, which will replace it.

There are lots of them. They start getting relevant after Christmas.

Chad Knaus (right) keeps a close watch on Jimmie Johnson, whose eyes are generally on the prize. (John Clark photo)
Chad Knaus (right) keeps a close watch on Jimmie Johnson, whose eyes are generally on the prize. (John Clark photo)

The pros will take football almost all the way to the Daytona 500, which reminds me: The first thought tomorrow morning – after the call of nature, of course – will be, What time does the race start?

No race? Well, there is the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi, which sounds more fictitious than the bowls above. I think I watched The Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi on TCM Thursday. It’s a Marx Brothers flick. No, wait. That was A Day at the Races. Or The Crowd Roars. That was with Jimmy Cagney. Or was it Jimmie Cagney? No, that’s Jimmie Johnson. He won the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In a Chevrolet. For his record-tying seventh title. Chad Knaus (Kuh-NOWSS) told him to win it for the Gipper. No, that was Knute (Kuh-NOOT) Rockne. George Gipp was Ronald Reagan, not Jimmy Cagney. Or Jimmie Johnson.

To summarize, NASCAR is done till February, except for lame publicity stunts designed to keep the name in the news.

Presbyterian College head coach Harold Nichols stepped down.
Presbyterian College head coach Harold Nichols stepped down.

Football runs down the Energizer Bunny. It exhausts a rocket engine. It does not, however, leave Stephen A. Smith speechless. At this stage, it merely shifts from live to on satellite. I’m making the transition. I’ve attended two basketball games live, and PC won both of them.

Every aspect of life is affected by football. For every Les Miles in Baton Rouge, there is a Harold Nichols here. For every Ed Orgeron, there is a Tommy Spangler. The Coach is dead. Long live the coach. It makes me chuckle to hear that Orgeron is the “permanent” coach at LSU. Permanent doesn’t mean what it used to. It no longer has permanence. Andrew Webb of Clinton High School recently became “permanent.” For two years, he was “interim.”

Clinton High head coach Andrew Webb stepped up.
Clinton High head coach Andrew Webb stepped up.

In a short while, I expect to be permanently watching Michigan play Ohio State, but I’ll be switching to and from Kentucky-Louisville, Rutgers-Maryland, Purdue-Indiana, Virginia-Virginia Tech, Kansas-Kansas State, Central Florida-South Florida, Illinois-Northwestern, Georgia Tech-Georgia and Arkansas State-Louisiana (Lafayette).

Those are just the ones at noon.

Similar bevies of gridiron strife are available throughout the day and night, spilling over into Sunday on the East Coast when Colorado State takes on San Diego State, Wyoming invades New Mexico, and Utah State ventures to Brigham Young.

My nephew and his wife are, even now, closing in on Clemson, where their beloved Tigers are expected to deep-fry the Gamecocks tonight. Ray wanted to be there in time to watch Michigan-Ohio State on TV. He already seemed mildly preoccupied while I helped him dispose of Thanksgiving leftovers late yesterday afternoon.

Hmm. I could watch Charleston Southern-Wofford on my laptop.

Lou Lauer helped me repair my website. He could help you, too.
Lou Lauer helped me repair my website. He could help you, too.

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).cowboyshome_fullcvr343-page-001

A Loss of Character … and Characters

(Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
(Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, September 19, 2015, 12:55 a.m.

One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy covering NASCAR as much in the final few seasons I was traveling with the circus was that it became so formal. More and more, it was journalism by media conference, and it became harder and harder to have personal interactions with the drivers.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

My best memories were always personal moments: a talk with Jeff Gordon between the rows of haulers in Fontana, dozens of conversations with Tony Stewart, sharing a golf cart with Jimmie Johnson at an outing near Talladega, and many other scenes when the handlers weren’t hovering nearby.

I didn’t see the end of this morning’s Camping World Truck Series race at Chicagoland. I had just finished visiting my mother and heard John Hunter Nemechek’s victory-lane interview. It made me recall the time I bumped into him and his father at a casino buffet in Las Vegas. I don’t know what year it was, but John Hunter was just a kid, no more than 10 years old or so. Joe was then in his prime as a Cup — it was probably still Winston at the time — driver, and there was some tension between us whose origin I don’t recall. Either he and I had had some minor disagreement in some interview, or maybe it was something I had written, but we sort of eyed each other warily.

Anyway, we had some little conversation that broke the ice. That was always the best way to smooth relations, and Joe introduced me to his son and we wound up eating together, and we parted, not as friends but as friendly.

The reason it’s always John Hunter, not John, Nemechek, is that the driver who won Saturday morning’s race is named after his late uncle, who was killed in a Truck race at what was then Homestead Motorsports Complex. John Nemechek’s death is the chief reason the track was reconfigured. Homestead opened as a scaled-down version of Indianapolis, flat with four distinct turns. The trouble was that a 1.5-mile version of 2.5-mile Indy resulted in transitions that proved dangerous, and those turns were rounded, and banking was increased, to correct the problems that contributed to John Nemechek’s death.

Just hearing the kid’s voice made me recall that long-ago meal at the casino buffet.

Jeff Gordon(HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon(HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Johnson was still a Busch Series (pre-Nationwide and Xfinity) driver when we played golf together. We were getting ready to hit shots when this fellow who was about my size and considerably drunker appeared in the fairway looking for his ball.

“What y’all boys doing tomorrow evening?” the fellow asked.

“Qualifying,” said Johnson.

Jimmie Johnson  (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Jimmie Johnson (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

This did not dissuade the fellow, who was wobbling a bit as he pondered his shot back across a row of trees into the appropriate fairway.

“Wull, when ye get th’ough, come on over to them Lincoln Grandstands,” the man said. “Me and the boy’s’ll be getting druuuuunk.”

“Count on it,” I said, intending to do no such thing but not wanting to make the fellow mad.

Johnson and I were having a few beers, too, but we weren’t in this fellow’s league.

In the early years — I started writing about NASCAR full-time in 1993 — golf tournaments involving media, drivers and friends of drivers were common. The courses started getting nicer. The players started getting richer, and the media started getting excluded, and the same process started applying to interactions between media and drivers. We went from being friends of the sport to being necessary nemeses.

My stories started losing character because they had less characters in them. The same became true of the media itself. When I got asked out to dinner with a driver, my goal was impressions. I wanted to make an impression on them and gain an impression of them. It used to tick me off when my colleagues turned these social functions into “media availabilities” and then when the handlers started setting them up that way.

I’m sure some of them started saying, “look at that Dutton. He’s not even taking notes” and “let’s not invite him next year.”

Tony Stewart (John Clark photo)
Tony Stewart (John Clark photo)

The reason Stewart and I almost always got along was that the first time I met him was over spaghetti at an Italian restaurant in Dover, Delaware. Let’s just say we both appreciated the other’s sense of humor.

The conversation with Gordon was over the fact that I was writing a book about him that his “people” hadn’t approved, and I wanted him to know that and not through the filter of his “people.” Hendrick Motorsports has lots of “people.” As a general rule, they are buttoned down people.

I told him I didn’t write “official” books.

Not as many smiles these days. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevy Racing)
Not as many smiles these days. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevy Racing)

“I’ve got no desire to depict you as anyone other than the extraordinary talent and person I consider you to be,” I said, “but I guarantee if you or those around you have the right to approve every word, there will be a few of them who say this or that has to come out, and this or that will be the most interesting and entertaining part of the whole book, and the book won’t be any good, and it won’t sell, and I won’t be proud of having written it.”

Gordon said he understood, and the two of us left knowing how each other stood.

Nowadays, I just watch them on TV and read transcripts, but it doesn’t matter all that much because it would be mainly the same way if I was there and didn’t have a camera crew trailing me.

That took lots of the fun out of it from my perspective, and it’s all I can come up with when I think about the unexpected surprise that I don’t much miss being there anymore. The Chase opener will be the 99th consecutive race I haven’t attended.

It’s the kind of streak that doesn’t make it into record books.

(Melanie Ryon cover design)
(Melanie Ryon cover design)

I’m happy. I’d be happier if you’d help me make ends meet by buying these novels I write nowadays. There’s only a smattering of racing in them, but there are some good characters. Take a look. http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

The Beautiful People

Kasey Kahne answers the question, "What would happen if Junior was a fireman?" (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Kasey Kahne answers the question, “What would happen if Junior was a fireman?” (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, June 4, 2015, 10:52 a.m.

This morning was normal. I got up, took some medication, and got some coffee brewing. I checked email and social media. I fetched the coffee and sipped it thoughtfully. After a half hour of rumination, I prepared breakfast and consumed it. I shaved and showered, which was a bit unusual because I don’t often do that until I need to go out, and most days I write all morning and run errands in the afternoons. This morning I had an errand to run. Now I’m back.

"Kids, start your engines!" (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
“Kids, start your engines!” (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Kasey Kahne did an impression of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are going to have cameos in Sharknado 3.

Jeff Gordon was on whatever show it is that used to have Regis Philbin. Wait. Live with Kelly and Michael.

While driving around town, I heard Pete Pistone and Mike Bagley talking about how Montreal needs a Sprint Cup race because the fans are loyal and don’t mind sitting in the rain.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Jimmie Johnson is on Nick Jr.’s (it’s an animated show, not Nick Jonas’s son, if he has a son, and if not, some other Nick it’s not) The Wonder Pets! Oh, wait. It’s on regular Nick (I seem to remember it stands for Nickelodeon, not Jonas), and the show is Bubble Guppies.

Now I’m watching Bubble Guppies. The lengths I’ll go to write a blog.

The plot is quite convoluted. I see no reason to go through a chase scene with a friendly wolf just so Bubblepuppy can have a new house built because his old one got wrecked by a runaway shopping cart. Besides, that never happens except at Family Dollar. I just want to see if there’s Lowe’s “branding.”

There’s Jimmie! No out-and-out Lowe’s logos, but he’s got a house on his outfit, and it’s blue and white. That’s the Lowe’s logo in the United States of Bubble Guppies, apparently. I have determined that everyone will live happily ever after.

With the exception of Montreal – I’ve been there once – I have no interest in any of this.

Several images come to mind. One is Loretta Lynn singing “One’s on the Way”: They say to have her hair done / Liz flies all the way to France / And Jackie’s seen in a discotheque / Doing a brand new dance / And the White House social season is all glittering and gay / But here in Topeka the screen door’s a-banging / One needs a huggin’ and one needs a spankin’ and / One’s on the way.

The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977.  (Thomas Pope photo)
The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977. (Thomas Pope photo)

Another is a commercial from my youth of David Pearson recommending that I use Pure Firebird gasoline in my car (which I didn’t have yet).

I’m told NASCAR helps “place” its drivers in such dramatic simulations.

It’s understandable why the drivers want to be celebrities. They meet the stars of stage, screen and Hollywood, most often because these stars show up at NASCAR races to promote their upcoming albums, movies, and TV shows.

Celeb: “Hey, Champ, it’s so cool hanging with you.”

Driver: “My pleasure. We should get together sometime.”

Celeb: “You know what. Come to the set. We’ll put you in a movie. You can get eaten by a flying shark.”

Driver: “Cool.”

My next novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, will be out soon. Maybe, once it tops the New York Times best-seller list and is spun off into a movie, I can become a celebrity, too. If only Letterman was still on.

In Bubble Guppies, Jimmie Johnson didn’t even drive a race car, but his appearance was designed to make kids interested in NASCAR again. I imagine a cute little kid going to his first race.

Ned Jarrett, 1965 (Ford Motor Company)
Ned Jarrett, 1965 (Ford Motor Company)

Mom: “Look, Cody, see that guy climbing into the No. 48? That’s Jimmie Johnson. He was on Bubble Guppies!”

Cody: “Ooh, really? When’s he gonna build Bubblepuppy a cool new house?”

Another image is of Dale Earnhardt in Bubble Guppies. Or Sterling Marlin. Or Harry Gant. Or Kenny Schrader.

“Build your own damn house! Ain’t got time for that [stuff].”

Fortunately, I’ll get plenty of knowledge of the real NASCAR this weekend, when the Flying Waltrips take over again.

While you wait in breathless anticipation for Crazy of Natural Causes, perhaps you might examine other books of mine, conveniently “branded” and available for sale here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

If Ever a Wonderful Wiz There Was …

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Bedlam in the pits following Jimmie Johnson's 10th Dover victory!  (Tim Parks/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Bedlam in the pits following Jimmie Johnson’s 10th Dover victory! (Tim Parks/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 8:21 a.m.

The regular season is halfway done. In the summer, young men’s hearts turn to thoughts of … The Chase. As these next 13 races unfold, desperation will rise. The winless will steel their determination for a breakthrough.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

That’s the plan. The effect of the season’s first 26 races will be to winnow down the Sprint Cup championship-eligible elite to … 16. Should 16 drivers have a shot at the title? Will there be that many who are worthy?

As Rocky Balboa once said to Adrian Pennino, “You think this smells like a man? I say absolutely not.”

It is the format Brian the Groovy has given us, and there will be excitement because there isn’t any other way.

"So what's gonna stop us? An iceberg?" (David Tullis/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
“So what’s gonna stop us? An iceberg?” (David Tullis/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Jimmie Johnson just won his fourth race of the season, his 10th in Dover, Delaware, and the 74th of his illustrious, and, in some ways, unprecedented career. He seems to be steaming toward a seventh championship.

Unfortunately, he is at the helm of the Titanic.

The season to date has been a common NASCAR battle between Johnson, the irresistible force, and Kevin Harvick, the immovable object. Johnson has won four to Harvick’s two, but Harvick has finished second seven times.

Jeff Gordon is struggling. Tony Stewart is struggling as few drivers of his stature ever have. Matt Kenseth is hanging in there, as he is wont to do. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have lost their pocket knives. Kurt Busch is in one kind of recovery and Kyle another. Greg Biffle is struggling a little less. Carl Edwards, incredibly, has his win in the bank.

Martin Truex, Jr., Goodyear shod and ready for battle.(Alan Marler/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr.: It is to persevere. (Alan Marler/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Surely, Martin Truex Jr. is bound to win a race because he is running out of possible ways not to. Denny Hamlin could win it all if he gets his golf game straightened out. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has taken the second spot in the Hendrick Motorsports pecking order, and there shall he stay. Only in NASCAR could a competitor wind up first in the sport and second on his team.

Two road courses are ahead. God knows who’ll win them.

Variety is in the immediate future. It’s a weekly entertainment trade magazine owned by Penske Media Corporation.

Next is Pocono, one of the world’s great anomalies: the triangular oval. It’s difficult. It’s a bit Indianapolitan, pass the English peas, and bless this food that the race is only 400 miles. Then it’s California in Michigan, whereas, earlier was there Michigan in California. Don’t believe me? Keselowski won.

"When you wish upon a Chase, makes no difference, just win a race!" (Tim Parks/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
“When you wish upon a Chase, makes no difference, just win a race!” (Tim Parks/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

“Up this hill and down, and up this hill again.” That’s Sonoma, and, as Faron Young sang, “I’d like to thank the men who raise the grapes way out in California, and I’m hoping this will be their biggest year.”

Daytona. “In the summertime, when the weather is hot, you can stretch right up and touch the sky.” Carry on, Mungo Jerry. “Have a drink, have a drive, go out and see what you can find.”

Notice how I can get more out of quoting lyrics than the races these days.

Ryan Newman should be smiling. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Newman should be smiling. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Perhaps it’s just the futile knowledge that, no matter how much Johnson, or anyone else between now and November, dominates, it’s still going to come down to four drivers, dead even, one race. Last year Ryan Newman finished second in the points. Newman is doing just about the same this year so far, making the best of mediocrity. He’s got four top fives. He’s got eight top 10s. He’s 13th in the points.

He’s averaging slightly over one lap led a week.

Nothing against Newman. In his way, by getting the most out of his equipment, he deserves praise.

A championship? Not so much.

It’s just like all the other sports. Really? I’m looking forward to the college football championship game, you know, the one matching Alabama and Wyoming. Or the Final Four of Kentucky, Wichita State, Santa Clara, and Radford. If Radford gets hot at the right time, the Highlanders could win it all. Stranger things have happened.

In NASCAR. That’s where.

My third novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, will be published soon. I have a new short story up at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. My previous books are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

The Usual Suspects Number Two

The No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson has a target on it, but it's too far away to hit. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
The No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson has a target on it, but it’s too far away to hit. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 13, 2015, 7:15 p.m.

I had a bit of a “Eureka moment” this morning.

The racing at NASCAR’s intermediate tracks has fallen into disfavor, and I was wondering why. By intermediate track, I’m referring to those that are intermediate in several ways. They are 1.5 to 2.0 miles in length, ovals by approximate configuration, 14 to 24 degrees in banking, and unrestricted in power.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

They comprise about 44 percent of the tracks and 39 percent of the races, the difference reflecting the fact that not every track has two annual points events.

As seems the case with every great burning issue in NASCAR and a goodly percentage of those elsewhere, it’s much easier to list the problems than it is to assign importance.

Among the reasons frequently mentioned are, in no particular order: (1.) the simple, intuitive “the racing stinks”; (2.) whoever is in front invariably pulls away; (3.) not enough passing; and, (4.) too many tricks designed to make it look better than it is.

We now live in a world where some approve of debris cautions even if they are bogus. If they bunch up the field for a few laps and inject some strategy, more and more fans are basically saying to NASCAR, “More power to you.”

I’m not willing to call for institutionalized corruption myself. If they’re waving a caution flag for competition reasons, be honest about it. Early in races, they have “competition cautions” many weeks. I often refer to them as “lack of competition cautions,” but at least they’re honest.

Kevin Harvick has won three of the past six races on intermediate tracks. Johnson won the other three. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick has won three of the past six races on intermediate tracks. Johnson won the other three. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Forget about all that, though. What occurred to me, lying in bed, half asleep, pondering whether or not I ought to sleep a little longer, was that what is most wrong at the intermediate tracks is their predictability. I think Denny Hamlin’s post-race remarks at Texas may have spurred my thought processes.

Perhaps Hamlin was a bad influence, but here’s what he said:

“Stats don’t lie, and the stats say that those guys (Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson) … [are] going to be capable of winning right now. To be realistic, we need stuff to go our way. We need cautions and track position. We just can’t drive through the field like that — what those guys are capable of — and we’re a work in progress.

“From ideas to design to on the race track is six months, and sometimes it’s a year, and I’m confident, though, that by the time we get to the Chase, we’re going to have something that’s capable of running with those guys. We don’t right now.”

Why is Kurt Busch smiling? He seems fast enough but hasn't managed to pull off a win yet. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Why is Kurt Busch smiling? He seems fast enough but hasn’t managed to pull off a win yet. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I’d add Kurt Busch to the “cut above” category. The Penske Fords, driven by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, are close. The remaining Hendrick Chevys – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Kasey Kahne – are within range. So is the sport’s most notable underdog of the moment, Martin Truex Jr., and the Gibbs Toyotas of Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, and, at present, David Ragan. The Ganassi Chevys of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson have their moments.

Still, when a race starts on an intermediate track, right now, it appears as if either Harvick or Johnson is going to win. This has some basis in fact, particularly if one narrows the track definition to the 1.5-mile tracks, where either Harvick or Johnson has won the past six. Each has won three.

It will get better. It could scarcely get worse.

Here’s my theory. The biggest reason for the dreary expectation is that there aren’t enough drivers and cars, at present, that can win.

The tracks aren’t made from one “cookie cutter,” as is often claimed, but three: (1.) the Bruton Smith model (truncated tri-ovals with sharp angles), (2.) the D-shaped model (rounded trioval, less banking), and (3.) the Michigan model (similar to No. 2 but slightly longer). Homestead-Miami isn’t a tri-oval but belongs in the class as the only unique one.

At Atlanta, Charlotte, Vegas, Texas, Kansas, Chicagoland, Auto Club, Michigan, Kentucky, and Homestead, the favorites are Harvick and Johnson. Someone else might win. Strategy affects the outcome, but if the end of the race is near, and Harvick or Johnson is out front, the heavy odds are that Harvick or Johnson will win.

The field of contenders is much broader at the plate tracks, the flat tracks, the short tracks, the road courses, and Darlington, which, of course, is a marvel unto itself.

Martin Truex Jr. leads Ryan Newman at Kansas Speedway last fall. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex Jr. leads Ryan Newman at Kansas Speedway last fall. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Someone like, oh, Clint Bowyer might win. Or Truex. Or Ryan Newman.

He might even do it by outrunning Harvick and Johnson.

At the tracks that most affect who will win the Sprint Cup championship, most teams are trying to pull rabbits out of hats.

Read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and when, invariably, you love what you read there, undoubtedly you’ll want to buy some of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

What Mystery Awaits in Sin City?

Why are these men laughing? (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Why are these men laughing? (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 7, 2015, 8:45 p.m.

Furman, which is where I went to college, just pulled off its second straight upset in the Southern Conference men’s basketball tournament. A part of me wants to take off for Asheville tomorrow to watch the Paladins play the winner of VMI-Mercer (yet to be played when I wrote this).

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Fortunately, a part of me also realizes there is a Sprint Cup race in Las Vegas tomorrow, and a two-hour drive will require another Furman upset.

I watched Austin Dillon dominate all but the final few laps of the Xfinity Series race, and win it, anyway. Once again, NASCAR provided us with five spine-tingling laps to compensate for a race that was otherwise moribund.

It is my understanding that the pole winner of Sunday’s Kobalt 400 will start in the rear because of a practice crash begun by Danica Patrick. Jeff Gordon’s Chevy, as it turns out, is attracted by more than just concrete walls.

It occurs to me that another link to my Bleacher Report column on Patrick is in order, particularly as it benefits struggling writers to have their stories clicked as often as possible: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2362005-no-end-in-sight-for-danica-patricks-search-for-sprint-cup-success

Danica Patrick seeks the counsel of Tony Stewart. (John Clark photo)
Danica Patrick seeks the counsel of Tony Stewart. (John Clark photo)

The Xfinity Series race had no particular mystery attached to it because that series hasn’t revamped its technical specifications as Sprint Cup has. It was a similar race to last year and last week and probably the next time it visits an intermediate track.

I was just thinking today (which, as we all know, is dangerous). In all the material I read about the Cup changes – less horsepower and less downforce, in the interest of more racing – I never heard anyone suggest that the cars would go faster, yet that is exactly what has happened. Speeds were up at Atlanta and are at a record rate in Las Vegas.

In other words, I don’t recall anyone saying, “The first thing we want to do is speed the cars up.” I’m pretty sure I did hear, “The first thing we need to do is slow the cars down.”

Not even a veteran NASCAR skeptic expected the speeds to be higher. Not even he expected NASCAR to screw that up.

Kyle Larson is fast. If only he can last. (HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Larson is fast. If only he can last. (HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I think I heard someone say, “What this is going to do is make the driver more important.” That, I think, may have happened. One effect could be that the best drivers will win even more often than they already did.

Since so many observant fans have been certain for approximately a decade that Jimmie Johnson is nothing special as a driver, and practically anyone could win six championships in that car, with that crew chief, they must have been shocked, appalled and crestfallen by Johnson’s victory last week.

Oh, I forgot. That Chad Knaus must be cheating again.

Joey Logano works on a little advanced algebra and trigonometry. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Joey Logano works on a little advanced algebra and trigonometry. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

The new rules are literally new, as Larry McReynolds might say, just as once he might have said they would change the whole complexity of Sunday’s race. If Johnson and Knaus, the NASCAR equivalents of Stanley and Livingstone, discovered the source of the Nile first, then it still must be conceded that other explorers will get there soon.

In other words, I think it entirely possible that someone other than Johnson or Joey Logano will plant a flag in Sin City. Perhaps someone other than Kevin Harvick will finish second.

What remains to be seen is if this year’s racing actually gets better. I’d hate for NASCAR officials to mandate that the teams save even more money by starting over from scratch again next winter.

It’s early yet. Real early. That is a good thing.

If you’re interested in my various books, most of which are about racing but fiction reared its ugly head in the past two, here most of them are in exchange for some form of money, though not much: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

I Can But Sigh

Always the cool customer, Matt Kenseth (Monte Dutton sketch)
Always the cool customer, Matt Kenseth (Monte Dutton sketch)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 16, 2015, 10:20 a.m.

NASCAR snuck up on me. I was busy enough that I sort of watched the weekend’s activities fresh. I went out to watch Presbyterian College’s opening baseball game – the Blue Hose beat Delaware State, 13-6, and, subsequently, three more times while I was otherwise occupied – on Friday, and covered a minor league hockey game in Greenville on Saturday afternoon. The Road Warriors won, too, 6-3 over the Evansville IceMen.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

The Road Warriors won at home, a harbinger of things to come.

I missed the ARCA race – I’ve been sort of looking for a replay somewhere, and the next opportunity is Tuesday at 9 p.m. on FoxSports2 – and got home with just enough time to prepare two pastrami sandwiches for a race that was allegedly Unlimited. In retrospect, it seems to make more sense for it to be titled the Unlimited Sprint, for that is possible, unlike the Sprint Unlimited, which implied an unlimited field that was, in fact, tightly limited, though not as much as the year before.

What occurred was, like its title, anarchic.

Matt Kenseth won it, and it wasn’t the first race he captured by keeping his wits while, all about him, others were losing theirs.

Kevin Harvick, who once succeeded The Intimidator, should not be nicknamed “Happy.” He is The Instigator, like him for it or not. I rather do, but that’s skewed a bit by the love of any writer for things that help him write.

Daytona 500 pole qualifying? When I was sixteen years old, I played in a donkey softball game that made more sense.

NASCAR claims it wanted to make it more exciting for the fans. I suspect the truth was it wanted to make it more exciting for TV, there not being many fans, at least as classified as wandering about the grounds and sitting in the grandstands. Undoubtedly, some in NASCAR believe the two, fans and TV, are the same. Great transfers of cash contribute to this belief.

Steve O’Donnell, who is Executive Vice President & Chief Racing Development Officer (unless, like Mike Helton, he has been “elevated”), said later that the new format put it back in the drivers’ hands.

The Daytona 500 pole winner, Jeff Gordon. (Monte Dutton sketch)
The Daytona 500 pole winner, Jeff Gordon. (Monte Dutton sketch)

Qualifying. At Daytona. So that two drivers, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, can know exactly where they will line up, while dozens of others know they will line up somewhere, and a few others know they are in big trouble.

Just another jolly good TV show, old chaps. Watching it made me think of what Sir Winston Churchill famously said of the Royal Air Force: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” Pole qualifying was a related, imprecise antithesis: Never was so little accomplished by so many for so little reason.

It took skill, though. Skill to get a good parking spot while all the smart guys mapped strategy. Skill to drive at full speed while weaving between a forest of others independently slowing as if under a yellow flag. The rarest skill was being able to control one’s emotions and toe the NASCAR line in good humor.

Amazingly, the dual winners, and occupiers of the front row next Sunday, Gordon and Johnson, were able to assess the day’s events with good humor, Gordon with his trademark affability and Johnson with knee jerking involuntarily. Such moments do not endear him to his detractors.

Now for a few days to get the bad taste out of our mouths and prepare for the Gatorade Twins, check that, Budweiser Duel, which is actually two duels on Thursday, making them dual.

Yes, Lord, it is what it is.

Take a break from this truth stranger than fiction and read some actual fiction of mine at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and take a look at my books, which are priced reasonably here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

A Brand-New Wizard

Kevin Harvick's title hopes finally came to fruition. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick’s title hopes finally came to fruition. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, November 19, 2014, 11:04 a.m.

Another NASCAR year is over. The Sprint Cup Series, by the miracle of the Etch a Sketch, has produced a new champion, Kevin Harvick, and it was a bit overdue. Harvick, who turns thirty-nine on the eighth day of December, is of the same generation as Dale Earnhardt Jr., and several others who have had potential titles vacuumed away by the Great Hoover of Jimmie Johnson.

In short, Harvick is a deserving champion, fast all year, and positioned perfectly, in the end, to exploit the Etch a Sketch’s more advanced features. The season had a rousing start, Earnhardt’s victory in the Daytona 500, and a frenetic finish, with enough “Game Seven Moments” in between to thump the NASCAR tub.

How about Etch a Sketches for both the December 8 birthday boys? (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
How about Etch a Sketches for both the December 8 birthday boys? (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

Let’s take a break with a bit of useless trivia. Ryan Newman, who finished second in the intertwined race (Ford 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway) and Chase, was also born on December the eighth, though he will turn thirty-seven instead of thirty-nine.

The season had many worthy champions, if for no other reason than worth is defined by an Etch a Sketch that draws it rather broadly. When the Empire’s minions shook that box one last time, Harvick was best equipped to twist the knobs.

That, as they say in Daytona Beach, is the bottom line, and it is what it is at the end of the day. The Chase is fully integrated, multifaceted, debris-strewn, thoroughly waved around, and situated exactly where the rubber meets the road. It’s a rich language the business folks talk.

For Jeff Gordon, another championship year slipped away. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
For Jeff Gordon, another championship year slipped away. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

Somehow, out of all those red Solo cups on the back straight, those checkpoints where a roughhousing eleventh beat a futile second, those one wrong moves that dispatched other worthy candidates to the broadening purgatory … a fun-loving, mischievous champion emerged.

So give Harvick his credit. In an age where many of his peers play video games, Harvick plays mind games. He loves to stir things up.

As such, he fits the format perfectly. Just as Johnson knew how to seal the old deal, Harvick proved himself a wizard at etching the sketch.

Thanks for taking time off from your busy schedule to read this blog. Do me the favor of considering my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, along with my other books at: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1