Stewart is within striking distance

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 24, 2005

Special to the News-Herald

In this space last week, I wrote that the Nextel Cup championship was Tony Stewart’s to lose. I spoke too soon. I said that only a string of bad finishes would allow the other drivers to get back into championship hunt. Guess what? Stewart was bitten by the blown tire bug at Charlotte and finished 25th while the other chase drivers posted solid finishes, including Jimmie Johnson winning the race. It didn’t take a string of bad finishes; it only took one.

As a result, Stewart’s lead evaporated and the points variance among the top seven tightened considerably. Stewart is now tied with Johnson atop the standings with Greg Biffle 11 points back, Ryan Newman 17 points behind, and Mark Martin 51 points behind the leaders. Carl Edwards sits in sixth, 54 points back, and Rusty Wallace still has a shot in seventh, 92 points out. With five races remaining, any of these guys could walk away with the championship.

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I have never seen such a wild scene like we saw in Charlotte Saturday night. With so many blown tires, it became predictable when the next tire would go. Just the fact the NASCAR considered shortening the race because of the severe tire problems speaks volumes about how the drivers felt about the situation. These tire problems have occurred too often this year. Hopefully, Goodyear can determine the cause and correct the problems.

It was announced last week that NBC has chosen not to continue negotiating with NASCAR to broadcast the second half of the 2007 season. Word is that ABC/ESPN is willing to pay NASCAR’s price, a 40% increase over the current contract of $200 million per year, to broadcast the second half of the season, including the 10 race chase. FOX will continue to broadcast the first half of the season. I don’t know about you, but I won’t be shedding any tears about NBC not renewing the contract.

Business looks to be picking up in the Ganassi-Penske-Roush driver musical chairs. After insisting the Jamie McMurray would be in the no. 42 car next season, Chip Ganassi cracked some this week. He indicated that should a solution be presented to him, he would consider letting McMurray make the move to Roush. In turn, Kurt Busch would be released to drive the no. 2 Penske car. I still maintain that this situation will work itself out and everyone will be satisfied.

Richard Childress rewarded Busch Series driver Clint Bowyer with a promotion to the number seven Jack Daniels cup car in 2006, replacing Dave Blaney. Mike Bliss was notified that a new driver will be in the no. 0 Net Zero car next year and the new Hall of Fame Racing team still has to make a decision on a new driver. The driver situation is still crazy and will probably not entirely settle until February in Daytona.

The race this week is in Martinsville and the standing will jumble up even more on this unpredictable short track. This is also the one-year anniversary of the Hendrick airplane crash tragedy. Emotions will be running high for the four Hendrick drivers.

Jeff Gordon is the active leader with four wins and Jimmie Johnson won this race last season. This race might be Rusty Wallace’s best opportunity to win a race in his final season. It is doubly important to Rusty because he is still competing for a championship. I think Stewart bounces back from his tire woes last week to win this race. But in short track racing, nothing is for sure. I do know this will be an entertaining race. Enjoy and I will see you next week.

Jeff Findley is the publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Ahoskie, N.C. His racing column regularly appears in newspapers across the southeast. He can be reached by e-mail at jeff.