Top Row Seat - MichiganDateline: 06/15/98
This week the Winston Cup stars headed north to the Irish Hills of Michigan where Mark Martin chased Jeff Gordon all day long. Frequently these two guys play it in reverse where Mark leads most of the day and Jeff turns it up at the end and steals the win but this time Mark had the right combination when it counted and drove away with the victory.
Rarely in motorsports is there such a clear turning point to a race as there was this week. But on lap 119 of the scheduled 200 lap distance NASCAR threw a caution for debris on the backstretch (more on this in a minute.) At the time Jeff Gordon was enjoying nearly a ten second lead and had lead virtually every lap of the race to that point. But after the caution Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett were right there to race with Gordon. The early race domination was over and Mark Martin began to take command of the race.
Now as for the debris on the track that caused the caution, there is some strong speculation that Jimmy Spencer actually threw the piece of foam out the window of his car intentionally so as to avoid going a lap down. Now if this is true it's one of the most blatant attempts to manipulate the flow of a race since the Red Flag at Richmond (oh wait... that was just last week.)
Now I'd love to believe that no driver would stoop to such means in order to prevent going a lap down. However, NASCAR racing is a highly competitive sport where drivers take every advantage they think they can get away with. Remember Ricky Rudd's hydraulic trunk lid at Daytona a couple of years ago? Foolish? Maybe. Unscrupulous? Certainly. But unfortunately it is also part of the sport that gives NASCAR it's rich character and heritage. NASCAR's official stand on the topic was that the video tape was "inconclusive." You got away with that one Jimmy.
Old Timers Day
The first 30 laps of this weeks race looked like a video clip from the early 1990's. Dale Earnhardt, who was forced to start dead last after an incident during happy hour, was tearing through the pack passing a handful of cars every lap. It looked like Earnhardt had the spark back that has been missing since his hard wreck at Talladega a couple of years ago. But after a few laps the handle went away on Dale's car and other drivers discovered the low line that he was using. Then it wasn't too long before Dale was fighting a losing battle to stay on the lead lap.
I've never been a big Earnhardt fan but the races are missing something when that black number three is just another lapped car that the leaders have to deal with. I hope the recent changes at Richard Childress Racing gets Dale back up front where he belongs.