Older NASCAR speedways offer bumps, seams to challenge drivers

It was late Wednesday morning at “NASCAR Goes West” in the Hollywood Hills, and a gentle breeze was wafting into the Petersen Automotive Museum parking deck just off Wilshire Boulevard from the San Gabriel Mountains in California.

Chris Powell, Bryan Sperber and Dave Allen, the track presidents at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, respectively, were telling the West Coast auto racing media that good tickets remained for the Sprint Cup races at their tracks.

Seated in the front row were Sprint Cup drivers Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. They were trying to look interested.

Keselowski yawned.

Watches were peeked at.

The minutes hand would not budge.

One could almost hear the drivers thinking: If the track presidents will just stop yammering, maybe I can catch the last tour at Universal Studios before getting back on the airplane. Then Dave Allen said something about good racetracks on which to run that made Hamlin perk up and nod in agreement.

“These guys will be able to talk about it a little bit better than I can,” Allen said, nodding toward the Sprint Cup drivers, “but it seems with most racetracks, when they get older, they get a little bit racier. That’s been the case at our place. We’ve had some tremendous races over the past few years.

“People talk about seams and bumps and things like that, but now that’s what everybody is calling character.”

Character is good. Character puts the driver back into the equation. The problem is that soon after a mature track starts producing side-by-side racing, it gets old and has to be resurfaced. The process starts all over again. And then the drivers wait for the seams and the bumps to reappear, so they can re-enter the equation.

That’s when Hamlin nodded his head.

“We’re in a sweet spot right now, Allen said of Auto Club Speedway, and of its seams and bumps. “But how long that goes will be up to the on-track product.”

Keselowski, thesaurus trade paint

If one thought Las Vegan Kyle Busch came out of left field to win last year’s Sprint Cup championship, you should have seen the reaction on the collective media’s face when Roger Penske driver Brad Keselowski dropped the word “paradigm” on the “NASCAR Goes West” crowd.

The 2012 Sprint Cup champion was speaking about the new caution clock in Truck Series races, and how NASCAR constantly is evolving on these and other matters. And how that has been the model — the paradigm — for change.

Eyebrows were raised, and somebody suggested a competition yellow flag be thrown. Whenever a NASCAR driver other than Brian Vickers — Vickers studies philosophy and has deep viewpoints on matters not related to auto racing — uses a word such a paradigm, the reflex is to slow down and proceed with caution.

Somebody said had you mentioned paradigm around Jimmy Spencer when he was driving, he might have said all he had was a quarter; and had you mentioned thesaurus, he might have said he didn’t care much for foreign drivers.


• Many of the luminaries on the dais at “NASCAR Goes West” paid tribute to legendary stock car radio broadcaster Barney Hall, who died at age 83 Tuesday after a 50-year career. Hall called the first three Sprint Cup races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Motor Racing Network. “I don’t think any gathering of NASCAR fans or enthusiasts or drivers or media should come off today without a mention of a great man that we lost in Barney Hall,” Powell said. “He was a fan favorite, a driver favorite, and everybody in the sport loved Barney. He painted great pictures with his words, and I think we’ll all miss him.” …

• DENSO Sparkplugs is the new title sponsor of the spring NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series stop at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The event, set for April 1 to 3, formerly was known as the Summitracing.com NHRA Nationals. The formal title is now the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, with no mention of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, which is good, because John Force probably couldn’t remember to say all of that anyway. …

• Anybody who has wondered what it would be like to drive their personal car on a high-banked superspeedway should head out to Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Laps for Charity event starting at 8 a.m. Sunday. The first three laps cost $35; each three-lap segment after that is $25. One will be allowed to drive as fast as 75 mph, but one should not pass the pace car, or one will be sent to the NASCAR hauler for a good talking to.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. His motor sports notebook runs on Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

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