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Edwards outduels Johnson in California

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

FONTANA, Calif.—Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford, won the rain-delayed Auto Club 500 on Monday.

Edwards took the lead from defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on lap 237 of the 250-lap race.

Johnson was the leader after the final round of pit stops with 26 laps left. Edwards came out third, but he clearly had the fastest car as he went on to capture the eighth victory of his career.

The race ended under caution when Dale Jarrett spun on the final lap, but it didn’t matter because Edwards had a lead of more than four seconds on Johnson.

Jeff Gordon, who dominated Sunday’s race, was third. He was followed by Kyle Busch and Edwards’ teammate, Matt Kenseth, winner of the two previous February races in California.

Martin Truex, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman round out the top 10 finishers.

According to published reports, only about 25,000 fans were in the stands for the start of Monday’s race. There were a lot of fans that thought Sunday’s race should never have been allowed to start.

The Auto Club 500 was red-flagged after 87 laps Sunday because of inclement weather. Efforts to dry the track were halted at 2 a.m. Monday. The race resumed Monday afternoon.

Despite two early spin-outs resulting from wet track conditions and involving five cars, 41 of the 43 starters were running when the race was halted.

In search of a newsworthy story, most of the sportswriters attempted to lay the entire blame on NASCAR.

I disagree. Rain and water seeping through the racing surface was the problem. This is one time NASCAR’s phone line to the Almighty failed. They tried. They tried hard to get the race in. That’s all a person or organization can do.

“It quit raining, and we owe it to the fans who are here to try to do our best to get the show in,” said NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton.

“Many times it’s only an hour, an hour and a half to try to dry the race track, and we worked at it 4 1/2 hours and still couldn’t get it dry. Tonight, it just didn’t work out.

“We could have stayed after it and maybe have gotten it in another couple of hours and (the East Coast) could have watched us while they ate breakfast. But that wasn’t going to be fair, either. You try, thinking you’re making a dent in it, and it just went south on us.

“You can be upset at us for trying if you want to be, and that’s fair, but we’re always going to put our best foot forward. With the lights here and everything, we thought we could get it pulled off and it didn’t work.”

Top 12 Cup drivers after 2 of 36 races: 1. Kyle Busch-335, 2. Newman-329, 3. Stewart-316, 4. Kurt Busch-299, 5. Edwards-296, 6. Kahne-294, 7. Harvick-268, 8. Johnson-267, 9. Biffle-262, 10. J. Burton-261, 11. Vickers-257, 12. Truex-253.

Top 10 Craftsman Truck Series drivers after 2 of 24 races: 1. Kyle Busch-365, 2. Bodine-345, 3. Benson-340, 4. Starr-284, 5. Crawford-281, 6. McGilton-261, 7. McCumbee-254, 8. Setzer-254, 9. Hornaday-253, 10. Compton-250.

NASCAR FANS AND

OPEN-WHEEL DRIVERS

A lot of loyal fans have left NASCAR because of its attempts to “grow the sport.” One of the things that some fans seem up in the air about is the number of foreign drivers, most of who came from the open-wheel ranks.

NASCAR has boasted that the 18-to-35 age group has become its strongest demographic. It’s the older age groups that are on the decline, both at the tracks and in television viewership.

The older age groups are being turned off by some of these brash kids with their attitude toward the longtime NASCAR fan base.

There is currently a Formula 1 driver (Juan Montoya) from Columbia, a Scotsman (Dario Franchitti) who is married to a Hollywood actress (Ashley Judd) and a Canadian (Patrick Carpentier).

What could these three drivers possibly have in common with the older, diehard NASCAR fan?

They might turn on the younger fans that are more influenced by new trends, but will this younger age group stay with NASCAR?

While some of the younger “Generation X” fans might consider them cool, the new drivers are strangers to fans that have followed NASCAR racing for years and years.

“What I would really like to know is what do they think they bring to NASCAR?” said Don S., a long-time NASCAR fan from Eaton, Ohio.

“I know what they hope to get out of making the switch—more prize money, better/richer sponsorships, more lucrative endorsement revenues and the like. And they get to jump from a currently dying or severely wounded racing venue to the show that is presently on top.

“But, were not these the latest ‘stars’ of open-wheel, thus were they not part of the problem and not part of the solution for the Indy or Cart circuits? And when they began their careers or shortly before, was not the Indy circuit the big dog in the hunt?

“Since there are surely a number of Denny Hamlin’s and Kasey Kahne’s in the junior circuits waiting to be discovered or have already been discovered, just have not reached the big show, I reiterate my question to the invaders. What do they bring to the good ol’ boys circuit? And I don’t want any bull about diversity. They had diversity in Indy and CART and look where it got them.”

While fans aren’t standing in long lines to embrace most of them, neither is corporate America.

It might be the current economic downtown that has found many of them without lucrative full-time sponsorships. Just last week, Jacque Villenueve, the former Indy 500 winner, was dropped from the Bill Davis roster because his sponsorship deals fell through.

Franchitti, driver of the No. 40 Chip Ganassi Dodge, will need several sponsors as he attempts to run the full 36-race schedule.

NASCAR says it’s trying to return to basics, but what perplexes me is why they would turn their back on their old-time racing allies.

Money for NASCAR’s pockets is the only assumption that I can make at this time.

Will these new drivers be able to bring additional fans into the sport? Will the number of new fans offset those that have been turned off?

How well NASCAR continues is going to be determined by how many people attend the races and how many watch it on television. More and more of the older fans are drifting away from the sport. They are waiting for NASCAR’s next move before returning.

Weekend Racing

The Sprint Cup and Nationwide series are at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Craftsman Trucks have the week off.

Saturday, March 1: Nationwide Series Sam’s Town 300 on ESPN2. Starting time: 4 p.m.

Sunday, March 2: Sprint Cup UAW-Dodge 400; Race 3 of 36; Starting time: 3:30 p.m.; TV: Fox; Distance: 267 laps; Defending champion: Jimmie Johnson.

Racing Trivia

Question: Name the two former champions that are driving for Kevin Harvick in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Last Week’s Question: Mark Martin’s Cup career is winding down. What state is he from?

Answer: Martin is from Batesville, Ark.

Gerald Hodges is a syndicated NASCAR columnist.