LIKE NEARLY every major sport in the U.S., racing fought a daily battle to control the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. During 2007, two leading trainers, Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher, served drug-related suspensions, following on the heels of Bob Baffert, Jeff Mullins and Doug O'Neill, all of who have been nailed in recent years. On the eve of this year's Breeders' Cup, trainer Patrick Biancone was suspended for a year for possessing cobra venom, which can deaden nerves. All have professed innocence, leaving the public suspicious and confused.
THERE IS little debate that Curlin was the best racehorse in America during 2007, with victories in the Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic. His selection as Horse of the Year in January is a foregone conclusion. Yet the marvelous thoroughbred seemed tainted by his ownership, which included Kentucky lawyers Shirley Cunningham and William Gallion, who have been incarcerated since Aug. 10 on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, accused of stealing $65 million from clients in a $200 million settlement involving the diet drug fenphen. Curlin's trainer is Asmussen, with his suspension baggage. All of which does not make for a stirring or cuddly story, no matter how swift the horse.
NO OWNER in NASCAR's modern history, which stretches back to 1972, has lorded over the sport for a season quite like Rick Hendrick did in 2007. Let us count the ways: In the final Cup standings his drivers at Hendrick Motorsports finished first (Jimmie Johnson), second (Jeff Gordon) and fifth (Kyle Busch). The Hendrick gang won fully half of the 36 races and 11 of the 16 events that featured the Car of Tomorrow, which means Hendrick's dominance shouldn't wane anytime soon. With 550 employees, Hendrick Motorsports is the biggest race team in NASCAR. Hendrick's arsenal of engineers and engine specialists—not to mention his crew chiefs and drivers—have put miles between themselves and the other elite NASCAR teams.
A Troubled New Car
AFTER SPENDING six years developing a boxier, heavier race car outfitted with a rear wing; the idea being to make racing safer, closer and less costly for teams, NASCAR unveiled its Car of Tomorrow at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on March 25. But while the quality of racing at Bristol was high—there was plenty of passing and side-by-side bangin'—the winner of the event, Kyle Busch, declared that the new vehicle "sucked," and each succeeding CoT race was, to put it gently, less than thrilling. The drivers complained that they couldn't steer the car through the corners without the vehicles' becoming "loose" or "tight," and as a consequence it was difficult to pass. The CoT will be used in every event next year, so NASCAR had better hope that its teams figure out how to improve the handling and performance in the off-season. Otherwise, with a less exciting product, the sport's sagging television ratings may continue to trend downward in '08.
A Rookie's Weird Year