Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Raceweeks have arrived

Hard to believe, but the month of May is nearly over. I know it's just the 17th, but with two weeks of NASCAR at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the time will zip by, so with that in mind, a primer on what's in store.

The All Star race coming up on Saturday night is the one many fans are watching. Even though Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are on probation for the next 3 weekends for their post-race issues at Darlington, there is always the chance something silly can happen in the non-points race. I am not counting on anything happening, but you just never know. Jenna Fryer from the Associated Press tweeted on Monday that track President Marcus Smith offered to pay fines for the drivers if they happen to get involved in something on Saturday. That's all well and good, but if NASCAR decided to strip points from their regular season totals as a result of violating that probation, well, money can't fix that.

A wonderful story in the All Star race is Regan Smith, winner at Darlington. A one-car team based in Colorado finding its way into the showcase event. Smith has been talented enough to run with the series big guns, and finally found a way to beat them all back to the stripe. Normally, Smith tries to find his way in via the Showdown (formerly the Winston Open), but this year, he's part of the big show. Good for him, as it's nice to see a guy like Smith (down to earth, humble, and honest), get rewarded.

Carl Edwards comes into Charlotte with the points lead, a lead that will not change this weekend, but could next weekend in the Coca Cola 600. Jimmie Johnson is stalking him, just 24 points back, and in 4th, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I maintain that other leagues like MLB, NHL, NBA are all better when "foundation" teams are successful. In MLB, it's teams like Boston, the Yankees, Cardinals, etc. In the NBA, the Knicks, Lakers, Sixers, Celtics, etc. For the NHL, the Original Six teams of Detroit, Chicago, NY Rangers, Boston, Montreal and Toronto. In NASCAR, if Dale Jr. is a factor, people pay attention. Now, we wouldn't know that based on a rough attendance number from Dover, yet, the series is getting noticed this year. Looks like the team swaps made in the off-season at Hendrick Motorsports are paying off nicely, with all four teams in the top 14 in points (Johnson-2nd, Dale Jr-4th, Mark Martin-11th, Jeff Gordon-14th). As it stands now, Martin and Gordon would make the Chase, Martin based on being first outside top-10 in points, Gordon for being first outside top-10 with a win this season.

Loads of NASCAR coverage coming this week, starting with David Reutimann paying an in-studio visit on Tuesday. Check it out on Sports Night at 10, and be sure to peek in on the Sports Night Twitter page (@Sports_Night) for a special Twitter-only treat!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tempers flare, NASCAR steps in

Tuesday, NASCAR handed down $25,000 fines and 4 weeks of probation to drivers Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick for their actions following the race at Darlington on Saturday night. After a couple of run-ins during the race, Harvick tried to get at Busch while on pit road, but was unsuccessful. Kyle drove away, and in the process, knocked Harvick's car out of the way, and into the inside retaining wall.

According to NASCAR, the punishments were for the pit road stuff, and not what happened on the track under race conditions.

My question is this. Why was nothing done to Busch for his actions during the race? Specifically, his action of hooking Harvick's car, and intentionally spinning him out. I understand the "have at it" policy remains in effect, but to me, that's more dangerous that one driver bumping a parked car out of the way to get away from a confrontation.

Busch's team claims that Kyle didn't have the reverse gear in his car, and he had no choice but to bump Harvick's already stopped ride out of the way, to avoid what would have been a fight of some kind. I spoke with Busch's teammate, Joey Logano Tuesday night, and he told me that Kyle did, in fact, not have the ability to reverse his car (explaining the the reverse gears are not very sturdy, and are easily broken by "dumping the clutch"). Again, no problem with that explanation at all. Nobody can convince me that Busch wasn't intentionally trying to dump Harvick under green, just prior to the yellow coming out for Clint Bowyer's late race spin. Bowyer, incidentally, was caught up in the aftermath of a Harvick-Busch bump, which, from what I could see, Harvick tried to avoid leaning on the Busch machine.

My view is that of a TV viewer, and I am positive it looks and feels different from behind the wheel, but at some point, intentionally dumping a driver as a "payback" needs to be viewed a little tougher than the "have at it" policy might suggest. Busch isn't alone in retaliation, as others have done it too, but there is going to come a time that a driver gets paid back, and ends up paying a far heavier price.

NASCAR seems to enjoy its shades of gray, but in case like this, black and white would serve a far better purpose.

Mike Solarte

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Swashbuckling Spaniard

Golf writers far more gifted that I are eulogizing Severiano (Seve) Ballesteros today. Seve passed away at the age of 54 on Saturday morning, the victim of a vicious battle with brain cancer. Far too young for a man that breathed such exuberance, and passion to the game of golf. Golfers were not known for fist-pumps, and wild shows of emotion. Seve changed that. Every time a clutch putt left the face of his putter, the chances of it dropping into the cup were as good as you and I talking another breath.

Ballesteros' best golf was behind him when I began my broadcast career in 1993. He won the final three events of his life on the European Tour in 1994 (2) and 1995 (1). His tournament scorecard looks like this. 50 wins in Europe, 9 wins on the PGA Tour, his first coming in Greensboro at the GGO in 1978. He is a World Golf Hall of Fame member, and a winner of five majors. Three British Open titles, and two Masters. Numerically, Seve was a beast.

However, there was more to Seve than just great golf. He was the inspiration to so many European golfers, specifically in his native Spain. Players like Jose Maria Olazabal, and Sergio Garcia openly credit Seve as the man that led them to grab a golf club for the first time. While Garcia has yet to win a major, Olazabal has collected a pair of green jackets from Augusta.

And there was the way in which Seve thrilled galleries with his trips around the course. His hair, usually as long as Rickie Fowler's, but not as unruly nor hidden underneath a hat, waved and recoiled with every lash of the club. Seve would spray the ball off the tee, and then find it amongst the trees. Then, the nearly impossible became the routine: the opening just 12 inches wide is the low percentage shot, but it would get him on the green. He'd go that route, rather than punch out safely. The low percentage shot provided the better shot at birdie, so why not go that way? He would, he'd get home, and the fans would be amazed.

I began playing golf in 1982, during Seve's run of dominance, in which he would claim the world's top ranking. If you were a golfer back then, you knew who he was. Knew his name, his smile, his game.

Today, you are feeling a loss, much like I am.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Welcome to....May?

Amazing that we have already hit one of the busiest months on our sports calendar. This week, the Wells Fargo Championship, and then 2 weeks of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the Sprint All Star Race, and then Coca Cola 600.

We'll dive into NASCAR later on, for now, let's look ahead to the golf.

No Tiger.

No problem. Still a tremendous field at Quail Hollow this week. Martin Kaymer the highest ranked player in the field (he's world #2). Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Tommy "Two-gloves" Gainey, Padraig Harrington, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, should I go on?

Rory McIlroy is the defending champion, and he;s back in Charlotte. His first appearance in the US since the Masters. He met the media on Tuesday, and was so humble and honest, you can't help but root for the guy. His 62 on Sunday last year was a masterpiece, but his second nine at Augusta last month, was a disaster.

He knows it. He owned it then, and then again on Monday. Saying he wasn't ready. He has lots to learn, and then this gem: "a bad day on the golf course is better than a good day in the office."

Did I mention he is just 21? Try to not root for him.

Don't want to predict a winner, but I would love either a repeat by McIlroy, or Gainey to break through for his first PGA Tour win. He's been smoking of late, with back to back 3rd place finishes. Another humble guy that knows his road to the Tour wasn't easy, and appreciates all he has earned from golf.

We'll have loads of coverage of the Wells Fargo Championship all week long on News 14 Carolina, and if you head out the course, bring your sunblock!

Mike Solarte