Column: Niles native Mark Young begins providing regular NASCAR column
Published 8:50 am Saturday, April 29, 2006
Hello race fans, it is an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity to write about my favorite past time and share the news of all things NASCAR. But before the green flag waves and I start my first ride with you, yellow rookie stripe and all, I have been asked to tell you a little about myself.
My name is Mark Young, and I have been a resident of Niles since birth. I am a 1988 graduate of Niles High School, obtained an Associates Degree from Southwestern Michigan College and just this past week obtained a Bachelor's degree from Bethel College. I am a design engineer by trade and volunteer a good deal of my free time as a Director for the Berrien County Youth Fair. I am happily married and my wife and I are the very proud parents of three children. Some of my other hobbies include bowling, fishing, golf and music.
I have been around racing for about 20 years now beginning with drag racing. I remember many trips to the US-131 drag strip with my uncle and getting hooked on the sounds and smells of speed. Later, I became a part of my cousin's mud racing team and had the privilege of traveling across the country helping out with the car along the way. Somewhere in between those eras, I remember watching a NASCAR race on TV with my Dad from North Wilkesboro where Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd both wrecked fighting for the win and from that day on my favorite past time has been NASCAR.
To say that I am passionate about NASCAR is an understatement, just ask my wife and she will tell you that it often borders on insanity.
Bumpin' and Bangin'
This weekend the traveling circus known as NASCAR's NEXTEL Cup Series will set up camp in Talladega, Ala. and race at the biggest track on the circuit. The Aaron's 499 will be the first restrictor plate race since the Daytona 500 and there are a few changes that the teams had to make on the cars before sending them to the track.
Gone this weekend are the massive steel tube bumpers that the cars have had to reinforce the cars and enabling the drivers to bump draft the car in front of them. At Daytona, bump drafting got out of hand and there were many accidents caused by drivers' carelessness. Is this going to help? I am of the opinion it will, but only slightly. Softening up the bumpers will force the drivers to use a little finesse so as to not puncture the radiator on the car and put an end to their day.
I predict we will still see bump drafting, just not as much as we have in the recent past. There is always at least one big wreck at every restrictor plate track and this week will not be any different. Someone will make a bad move or blow a tire likely sucking many cars into the fray. There is a lot of tension between drivers in the garage area and at a track, where having a dance partner to draft with is key and now is not a good time to have many enemies.
Kyle Busch has gotten a lot of attention lately and it isn't all for his good performance. He has had run-ins with many drivers and I wouldn't be surprised to see him hung out to dry in the draft on Sunday. At Daytona Tony Stewart complained about reckless drivers and then during the 500 proceeded to pull off the worst move of the race sending Kenseth into the grass and nearly wrecking most of the field.
Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth keep swapping spots atop the points standings with Kasey Kahne and the venerable Mark Martin close behind. The remainder of the top ten has Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Casey Mears. Interesting that there is only one Roush racing driver in the top ten considering last year all five of the teams owned by Jack Roush made the chase.
The lack of consistency in the Roush camp led to some changes there sending long time crew chief Jimmy Fennig to a management position within the organization and putting new crew chiefs in place for Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray for last week's race in Phoenix.
Dale Earnhardt Junior will be driving with a special paint job on his Budweiser Chevrolet on Sunday as a tribute to his late father, and to commemorate Dale Sr.'s induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. This paint scheme is to be a black and is sure to start the rumors flying about Junior leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. to drive the #3 for Richard Childress. Regardless of whether you liked The Intimidator or not the sight of an Earnhardt driving a black car this weekend is sure to bring back memories.
Each week I will give you an update on drivers of local interest, Ryan Newman (South Bend), David Stremme (South Bend), and Tony Raines (Laporte). Newman is sitting 22nd in points and has been struggling since speed weeks in Daytona. One of the most surprising statistics about Ryan this year is that he doesn't have a single pole position start. Stremme, a rookie in the NEXTEL Cup Series, is having a very typical rookie season. He is making races but struggling to be competitive and sits 36th in points meaning he doesn't get a free pass into the race Sunday and must qualify on speed. Last week at Phoenix was the first race for him with a new crew chief and unfortunately he still had issues. Tony Raines, after only his third start of the year, is 42nd in points but has had a couple of good runs thus far. With being the wheel man for a new upstart team I don't look for great things from him but his car owners Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman are committed and are not afraid to spend the money to become competitive.
Enjoy the race on Sunday, I will talk to you next week about what happened at Talladega and give you a preview of the upcoming race in Richmond, Va.