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Banquet closer to being ‘right’



Hey, first let me say that I’m not one to kick back in the ol’ easy chair and watch any kind of awards show, let alone one in which I know who won what. The season-ending NASCAR banquet has offered very few surprises over the years with the exception of some off-the-wall entertainers and entertainment that looked as out of place with the NASCAR crowd as Matt Kenseth would be if he was on ‘Dancing with the Stars.”

The format has always been basically the same, but this year the highlight had to be the tribute paid to the late Bill France Jr. by Tom Brokaw. The former news anchor reflected on the life of France and, not only his influence on the sport, but also how he loved and treated people.

While Brokaw’s tribute to France was the highlight, it was the 10 drivers that took turns on the stage that was the centerpiece of the night. Each took his turn at the podium thanking his team and more importantly his sponsors and each sounded so familiar that at times you could have sworn you just heard the same speech with the only difference being a different sponsor or name inserted.

But that is the nature of the banquet, it is one last time for the sport to buddy up to the corporate world and thank it for its involvement. Sponsors need to be thanked and showed just how much they are appreciated but wouldn’t it be great to hear each driver do it in his own words instead of a tightly scripted speech?

As long as DuPont, Home Depot and the rest of the multimillion dollar sponsorships are in the sport, there will and should be a season-ending banquet and I for one agree that it needs to be in New York City. There will always be talk of moving it to other places (Bruton wants it in Las Vegas) but let’s face it, New York is definitely the city to put your best foot forward when you want to show off a little bit and NASCAR deserves that opportunity.

Good Guy Award: Jeff Burton made his second consecutive appearance in the Chase after his career seemed to be on the brink of being over. After going winless from 2002 to 2005, Burton in his third full year with Richard Childress Racing has put together back-to-back years in which he has won a race and finished in the top 10. He put together a string of four years from 1997 to 2000 while driving for Jack Roush when he didn’t finish any lower than fifth in the final point standing, which made him one of the favorites to capture a Cup crown. It seemed everything was in place for his title run but suddenly in 2001 the team could no longer show the consistency it had previously. Those once common top- 10 finishes became rare and then the team lost its sponsorship, which left Burton with very little chance of ever finding victory lane or the title that seemed to be so close. To Roush’s credit, he kept the team racing without a sponsor but couldn’t improve its performance. Burton finally moved over to Childress and began his slow climb back up the competitive ladder, but more importantly the move continued to give him the opportunity to be one of the most respected voices in the garage area. Burton is never afraid to speak his mind on any subject and for that he has the respect of his fellow drivers.

Happy retirement: Penske Racing South was formed in 1990 by Roger Penske, Don Miller and Rusty Wallace and since that time Miller has been the organization’s only president. All of that has now changed as Miller has announced his retirement after guiding the highly successful outfit for 17 years. During his guidance, Penske has won 75 races, 95 poles and more than $90 million in winnings. He will forever be remembered as the guiding force behind the success Rusty Wallace enjoyed at the Cup level, but it could be his most lasting contribution will be his involvement with the Stocks for Tots program in Mooresville. He along with Wallace started the program to collect toys for children at Christmas and at the same time give fans the opportunity to get some autographs from NASCAR drivers. For his effort, Miller was awarded the first NASCAR Home Depot Humanitarian Award last week in New York City.

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