Blogs > Nascar: Beyond the Track

Find out what's really going on in NASCAR. Look here to find out why your driver really lost his ride, or the real reason those two drivers can't stand each other. Learn about the hidden motives and reasons for the things that happen in NASCAR, from the drivers to the team owners.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Meet Hendrick Motorsports, the opposite of the Detroit Lions

Let’s take a quick roll call after two races of the Chase.
-- The points leader is Mark Martin, Hendrick Motorsports driver.
-- 2nd in points, just 10 out, is 3-time defending champ, also with Hendrick.
-- In 5th and 7th, with Hendrick support, are the two Stewart-Haas cars of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman.
-- Jeff Gordon jumps two spots to 8th after Dover, and is only 122 points out, still a legitimate title contender.

If you do the math, 5 of the top 8 championship contenders in points are either Hendrick drivers or have Hendrick connections.

With those odds, I think we can all see where this is going. I don’t work in Vegas, but I’m guessing the odds on Johnson taking a fourth straight title are something like 1:1. And if he doesn’t, the money has to be on another of the Hendrick-connected cars.

Kurt Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya and Denny Hamlin will do their best to spoil the Hendrick party, but the odds are stacked against them. Their teams are just not as strong as Hendrick, even if they’ve all been solid this year.

The Hendrick team has dominated the sport for the past 15 years, winning more than half the titles. They are the Evil Empire in NASCAR. Just like almost everyone hates the Yankees, almost everyone roots for Hendrick to lose. Sometimes, another team, like Roush or Gibbs, will break through and take a title.

But in the end, the Evil Empire usually roars back. The team with the most resources, the best cooperation between teams, the best talent, etc. is the logical favorite, no matter how much they are despised. If you don’t believe me, just look what has happened the past three seasons.

As much as NASCAR wanted the Chase to create more parity, it simply hasn’t happened. But I don’t fault the Chase for this Hendrick domination. I don’t think there is a format that could contain Jimmie Johnson or Mark Martin in Hendrick equipment.

To use a Detroit analogy, waiting for Hendrick to lose a title is a lot like the wait that just ended for the Lions to win a football game. It had to happen eventually, but there was no guarantee it was going to happen anytime soon.

Logano goes on wild ride
One of the few moments in Sunday’s sedate race at Dover that woke me up from my slumber was when Joey Logano went on a wild ride, tumbling end over end about seven times in what was easily the toughest wreck of his young career. He said he was OK, but shaken, after the incident.

Get used to it, Joey. It won’t be the last. Lucky for you that you came into the sport after all the safety changes were made.

Even the scariest wrecks rarely see a driver get hurt nowadays. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it, and even violent wrecks like the one Michael McDowell had at Texas last year don’t have much effect on a driver’s health.

Forget talent … do you have a sponsor?

If we didn’t already know money was the determining factor in who gets a ride, look at the case of Paul Menard. Based on track results, Menard would be lucky to have a Cup ride. He is, at best, the definition of mediocre … and some wouldn’t be that kind. Put simply, he hasn’t done much to impress on the track since entering Cup. In almost three seasons, he has 1 top-5 and 2 top-10s. His average finish is around 26th.

But he has something that other, more talented drivers, do not have … a sponsor. That is courtesy of his family’s business, who will be with him no matter how average he is. Now, as the Richard Petty and Yates Racing teams plan to merge, it all hinges on one thing … Menard coming along with his sponsor.

That’s what it’s come to in NASCAR. Regardless of whether he will produce good results for the merged team, the RPM-Yates deal won’t go down unless Menard is part of it.

This pay-to-play situation has existed in Formula for a while (Back in 2001, the Malaysian government basically bought a seat for a clearly unqualified Alex Yoong, for example). Over the past few years in NASCAR, it’s become more and more obvious that in this down economy (and probably even when it recovers), talent isn’t what gets you a ride … it’s money.

I have accept that, because there’s no other option. But as a fan of good racing, it annoys me to no end. In a just world, Menard would be racing in Nationwide, a series where he can actually be competitive, and a more talented driver would have the seat he occupies in Cup. But having a personal sponsor trumps all that.

For example, a champion like Bobby Labonte has much more talent, but he can’t get a full-time sponsor because he’s too old and doesn’t have marketing potential. So he has to hunt for rides and maybe even start-and-park some weeks just to stay on track.

I have nothing against Menard personally, and I’m sure he tries his best every week. But deep down in his mind, even he has to recognize that without his family’s sponsorship money, he probably wouldn’t be in the Cup series.

And there’s something just wrong about that.

Hamlin vs. Keselowski - a rivalry begins

The highlight in a boring Nationwide race at Dover was the on-track and off-track incidents involving Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. Depending on who you ask, Brad either dumped Hamlin, or Hamlin blocked him and caused his own wreck.

Keselowski claims he had the position and Hamlin didn’t respect him enough and that led to the wreck. “He had a choice. He could have gave me a lane and finished 4th or 5th. … He just tried to take advantage of me, and I’m not going to be pushed around,” Keselowski said after the race.

Hamlin saw it another way, disagreeing with Brad’s account of the incident.
“We were listening to that idiot talk. He has no idea how to race. He‘ll get a ride and he‘ll hang around for a
couple years and people will realize that he’s not really that good,” Hamlin said. “He needs some guidance on what it takes to make it. Once he starts to get out there on Sunday, he’ll realize that in his younger years he didn’t do it the right way.”

After the race, Hamlin came over to have a few words with Brad, but the crews kept them separated.

Regardless of who was at fault in this incident, one thing is clear; Hamlin should never be a NASCAR talent scout. Keselowski is a very talented driver who will do good things in Cup. It will be interesting to see how these two guys interact for the rest of this year in Nationwide, and next year in Cup.

Congrats to Johnny Sauter, Thorsport
It was a good night for the Thorsport team in Trucks Saturday night in Las Vegas, as they finished 1-2 with Johnny Sauter winning and teammate MattCrafton finishing second. It was good to see a break from the usual in trucks (I.e. another Hornaday, Skinner or Bodine win).

It was especially good for Sauter, who has never won in the Truck series. He has never found a comfortable place in NASCAR, struggling in various series, including Cup. If he’s smart, he’ll stick with this Truck team, as he has found a place he can win.

Morgan Shepherd somehow surviving
I was surprised and pleased to see Morgan Shepherd is somehow still coming to the track, despite having laid off his entire team due to financial concerns. He has a new crew chief, who I assume is working basically for free, and he somehow managed to qualify in the 20th position at Dover and finish 21st.

Shepherd is dedicated to continue racing, and it appears he has found a way for the moment. I don’t know if he’ll find the funding to be back next year, but it would be a nice story if he can finish out the year and potentially end his career on his own terms.

Montoya still hot
After an awesome weekend at New Hampshire, Juan Pablo Montoya qualified 2nd and is running near the top of the charts in practice. It appears that as the weeks go on, this team is becoming more of a legitimate championship contender, which is amazing when you consider the tumultuous couple of years that the Earnhardt Ganassi team has gone through, and how small they are compared to Rick Hendrick’s organization.

It would truly be a David vs. Goliath kind of win if Montoya took the title, and a lot of people are rooting for him.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NASCAR made the right call by waiting to throw yellow

When it comes to throwing caution flags, NASCAR has a tight rope to walk.

On one hand, many fans are critical of mysterious debris cautions, and claim conspiracy when a caution comes out and they can’t visibly see the reason. So they must be careful not to throw a yellow flag unless it’s absolutely necessary.

On the other hand, their No. 1 job is to protect the drivers’ safety, and if there is any dangerous situation on the track, whether it is caused by debris or a spin/accident, they need to throw the flag.

A situation arose at the end of this weekend’s race at New Hampshire that drew some criticism … when A.J. Allmendinger spun on the last lap, but NASCAR decided to let the leaders race until they were very close to Allmendinger and a wreck could have occurred. Many have said it was a dangerous call, and alluded to the scary incident involving Dale Jarrett at New Hamphire years ago which led to the end of letting drivers race to the line when a caution came out.

While I understand the concerns that have been raised, I say NASCAR made the right call. When Allmendinger spun, he was all by himself and no other cars were near and in danger of hitting him. It appeared he would get back up to speed quickly and not be in the way of the leaders when they came around.

Also, it was the first race of the Chase, and it is in the best interest of the sport to have the leaders racing to the checkered flag, rather than having a yellow flag determine the winner.

As soon as the leaders cam closer and the situation became dangerous, the flag was thrown, when the drivers were just a few hundred feet from the finish line. If they hadn’t thrown the flag at all, I would agree with the criticism, as that would have put Allmendinger at risk for a bad wreck if a leader smashed into him.

No one likes to see a race end under yellow or early … just ask all the fans at those Daytona races that were shortened where fans were throwing things onto the track afterward in protest.

But Sunday’s incident at New Hampshire shows to me that NASCAR has the right idea when it comes to balancing the drivers’ safety against the excitement of the race. If the situation was critical, as it was when the drivers were ending that lap, the yellow should be thrown.

But if the other drivers are half a lap away, let them race.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Like it or not, team orders are part of racing

Team orders are a tricky thing.

Whether we admit it or not, they exist in all forms of motorsports.

Sometimes, they are blatant, like when Rubens Barichello pulled over and let his teammate Michael Schumacher get the win at Indy a few years ago in F1.

Most of the time, though, it’s more subtle. Perhaps a driver just acts like he’s slow, so a teammate that’s higher in points can inch closer to the championship.

Things like that happen im many races, and we rarely notice.

This week, though, team orders were front and center in several different racing series.

In one instance, legendary NHRA owner/driver John Force is being accused of throwing a race against his employee/teammate Robert Hight so Hight could qualify for the drag racing series’ equivalent of the Chase.

In another, NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick was angry that Ron Hornaday, driving a car owned by Harvick, wouldn’t get out of his way and let Harvick go after leader Kyle Busch. He apparently though Hornaday would just get out of the way, but he thought wrong. Hornaday battled hard and maintained second place, while Harvick finished third.

The third, and most blatant, case of team orders comes again from Formula 1. Team Renault is in deep doo-doo after Nelson Piquet Jr. was told by the team to crash, so the safety car would come out and the team’s other car, driven by Fernando Alonso, would win the race.

This is going to be met with harsh punishment from the FIA. The sport is a global phenomenon, and any activity that it is fixed must be dealt with harshly.

There is no easily solution to the question of team orders. For starters, we don’t usually know when it is happening. If Piquet hadn’t opened his mouth, the Piquet incident would never have come to light. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s happened before in Formula 1 or other series.

As a race fan, I want to see everyone race full on, but I can also understand the concept of team orders. Why wouldn’t Force want to help his team car get into the title fight? He has won plenty of races and losing is not big deal to him.

Situations like Harvick getting mad are just silly, as he was more concerned about winning one race than about letting his driver, who is battling for a title, maintain the biggest points advantage possible. His desire to win that race made him forget what was best for the team.

As far as Renault, that is a terrible thing and the team should face severe consequences. Imagine if Jamie McMurray purposely crashed on a green-white-checkered so Carl Edwards could win a race. That’s basically what happened.

The bottom line is team orders are a part of racing no one talks about, and don’t be surprise if you see the team orders concept sneak into the Chase in ways a little more subtle than the Renault incident.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tryson announcement puts Kurt Busch in tough position

Timing is everything in life, and Pat Tryson had some pretty bad timing with his announcement last week that he will be heading to Michael Waltrip Racing to be crew chief for Martin Truex Jr. next season.

The problem is that Tryson is crew chief of Kurt Busch at Penske Racing … that same Kurt Busch who is running for a championship right now. But due to the move, which should have been announced after the season under all rational logic, Tryson is now barred from the shop for everything other than a weekly briefing about how the race car will be set up for the next race.

Busch ran great at New Hampshire, so it hasn’t had any effect yet, but in the long run it can’t be a good sign for Busch’s title hopes. The team is right to keep Tryson at arm’s length, so he doesn’t see what the team is doing for 2010 and take that knowledge to a competitor, but it will no doubt create situations where Tryson is not as well-informed as he needs to be about the setups.

Beyond all that, egos are big in this sport, and there are going to be some bad vibes going around the garage due to the bad timing of the announcement. Team members may have animosity toward Tryson for not waiting until the season ended to make his announcement, and those kind of bad vibes are never good for a team.

Part of me says it’s best just to get an interim crew chief to ride out the Chase, one who can be exposed to all the work being done for this year and next year, but that would be risky. Busch got to the Chase with Tryson, and plucking in a new crew chief would be even worse than the Tryson situation.

I don’t think Tryson is doing anything wrong by leaving, as he has every right to do so, but there was no reason for him to jump the gun with this announcement and put Busch’s title run in jeopardy.

And judging from Kurt’s reactions in his interviews since the news broke, I’m pretty sure he shares the same view.

Jr. v. Reutimann
Dale Jr. can’t buy a break this year. He was running pretty strong at New Hampshire, and Reutimann sent him into the wall. Afterward, Jr. was very critical, saying that Reutimann didn’t know how to hold his line and “ran out of talent”. Naysayers might point to Reutimann’s higher position in the standings in that debate, but I won’t go there. It’s clear Jr. is frustrated, and days like this make him wish all the more that this season was over already and he could focus on a fresh start for 2010.

Montoya’s near-perfect weekend is a message to Chasers

For the past two months, he’s been points racing, trying to make the Chase.

Now that he’s in, watch out for Juan Pablo Montoya.

Having won titles and races in many open wheel formats, from Formula 1 to CART and beyond, it was no secret that he had talent when he came to NASCAR a few years ago.
The question was how quickly he could adapt to stock car racing.

All the evidence is in, and it appears that three years is the magic number.
In the first Chase race weekend, Montoya led the charts in every practice, won the pole, led the most laps and earned a top-5 finish at New Hampshire.

He now sits 4th in points, 55 points behind leader Mark Martin, who won Sunday in New Hampshire for his fifth win of the season.

The question now for Montoya is not if, but when he’ll earn his first oval victory in NASCAR … and how many more he’ll win after that. He dominated the New Hampshire race similarly to how he dominated at Indy earlier this year, and could have won both races.

While the eyes of the NASCAR world are focused on Jimmie Johnson’s quest for four straight titles, Gordon’s drive for 5 titles, Martin’s ageless quest for glory and other bigger stories, Montoya very well could slip under the radar and be a contender to steal this title from the usual suspects.
After his great weekend in Loudon, though, I don’t think the other competitors will be surprised by Montoya anymore.

Already some big points losers
At the start of Sunday’s race, all the Chase drivers were within 40 points of each other. A few hours later, some of them were already in a big hole. The biggest loser is Kasey Kahne, who is already 161 points behind Martin after just 1 race. That’s a lot of points to make up, even over 9 races, especially when you consider how well Martin is likely to run most weeks. I’m not saying he’s dead, but Kahne had a very rough road ahead if he hopes to contend.

Not as bad, but still in some early trouble, are Carl Edwards at 113 points back, and Jeff Gordon at 102 points back. All three of these drivers need to start making up ground as soon as possible if they hope to fight for the crown.

Sorenson battles on in tough situation

Every once in a while, you’ll hear someone say they like their job so much, they’d do it for free.

99.9 percent of the time that is not really the case.

But it appears it is true for Reed Sorenson. In a story that emerged this week, it was reported that Sorenson was approached this summer with two choices … leave the Richard Petty Motorsports team, or drive for free for the rest of the season.

Wanted to keep his name in the public eye as he looked for a 2010 ride, he chose Option B, and is making no salary to drive the #43 car, according to the report.

My first reaction to the news is that the offer itself is very strange. Can you imagine someone doing that in any other sport: For example, an NFL, NBA or MLB coach telling a player he can be cut, or stay on the team and play just for the experience, but no paycheck?

I doubt you’ll ever see it happen, not in this day of massive salaries in all the major sports.

Still, I can understand why Sorenson is doing what he’s doing. He’s hardly been spectacular in that car, but a few good runs might put him on the radar of a team that’s looking for a driver for 2010 and beyond.

His other option was likely to move down to Nationwide for the rest of the year, but that would have been viewed as a step backward and perhaps detrimental to his career.

Sorenson is now doing the equivalent of a nonpaid internship in the business world. For the rest of the year, he is working for free, but hoping to catch the eye of someone so he can stay in Cup next year.

I have to give Sorenson some credit for he’s handling all this. Though I have been critical of his on-track performance in the past, that kind of attitude and dedication to racing looks very good to potential employers. I bet many drivers in his situation would have had a bad attitude and just walked away from this unique and unattractive offer. But he’s hoping to ride it out and turn lemons into lemonade.

I wish him luck, but I don’t see many options for him and it’s very likely he’ll be back in Nationwide next season.

KHI confusion
Anyone watching the Truck race this weekend saw a situation unravel involving Kevin Harvick and Ron Hornaday that was quite interesting. Hornaday and his teammate/team owner Harvick were both faster than race leader Kyle Busch, but they were busy racing each other and let him drive off into the sunset and take the checkered flag.

Harvick had fresher tires, so he assumed Hornaday would not put up a fight, then let him go chase down Busch. He thought wrong, and was mighty angry at Hornaday after the race, running over to the #33 truck to give his driver a scolding.

I’m on Hornaday’s side in this one, though. He is in a title hunt, and Harvick needs to realize that. To him, the biggest thing was for KHI to get the race win that day. To Hornaday, the biggest thing is winning that title, which will be yet another achievement for KHI. Considering how often trucks end up in the wall in that series, those few points might come in handy later in the season.

Apparently there were some communications problems and Hornaday wasn’t aware of Harvick’s plan of attack, but even if he had been I doubt a competitor like Hornaday would pull over for anyone … even his team owner. And that’s the way it should be.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jimmie Johnson must be considered the favorite to win the Chase ... again

Everyone’s big on Denny Hamlin this week, coming off his big win at Richmond, saying he has the momentum going into the Chase.

Others say Brian Vickers will continue his great string of finishes and make a run at the title, or that “old man” Mark Martin will teach the kids a lesson and finally win his first title. Others say Jeff Gordon will finally finish his “drive for 5”.

Having said all that, one thing remain true: The title is Jimmie Johnson’s to lose.

He may not be on fire as much this year as he was in the past, but the incredible string of three straight titles has been no accident for the #48 team. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus always seem to get the car figured out, and that becomes even truer in the Chase. They are focused on doing whatever it takes to win, and have enough understanding of each other that it works out for them more often than not.

So while I wish the other 11 Chase drivers luck, they can not be considered the favorite in this run for a title. I don’t care who has scored the most points in the last X number of races, this is Johnson’s time to shine.

If anyone else is going to become Cup Series champion, they will have to finish ahead of Johnson, something that historically has not been very easy to do in the final 10 races of the season.

This could change, of course, if Johnson gets wrecked out of the first couple races in the Chase or something else crazy happens to put him in a hole. Then, we can start talking about who else will be the champ.

But until that day comes, the smart money has to be on Johnson. His record speaks for itself, and a desire to make history by winning four straight titles could make him unbeatable.

As a fan of the sport who likes to see change, this would be somewhat disappointing to me. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

NASCAR inconsistent in how it punishes ‘rough driving’

There was plenty of buzz this weekend over the Truck race at in St. Louis and what happened to Matt Crafton, who was penalized for rough driving (send to the back of the pack) after getting involved in two wrecks – one with Todd Bodine and one with Ron Hornaday – and putting a couple big names in the wall.

To hear about it, you would think he was a menace on the track, tracking down targets and dumping them. But when I finally got around to watching the race, I saw something different. I saw a couple of racing incidents that in my view did not indicate “rough driving” by Crafton.

The penalty made me realize that NASCAR is extremely inconsistent with how it enforces this rarely used rule against rough driving. Let’s look within this same race first. The entire race was a ridiculous wreckfest. The Truck series is known for its wrecks, but you couldn’t blink Saturday without seeing a handful of cars all wadded up and smacking the wall. I’m sure there were a few yahoos driving around like idiots throughout the race and causing wrecks, but none of them got called to the pits for a penalty.

Or let’s look back in history. How many times did Dale Earnhardt Sr. purposely knock other drivers into the wall in Cup races? It’s fair to say that was a pretty common occurrence. But I can only recall him being penalized for rough driving a couple of times.

Call me crazy, but maybe that has something to do with the fact he was the biggest superstar in the sport. And maybe Crafton’s penalty has something to do with the guys he hit being Truck series stars of the level of Bodine and Hornaday. Bodine got off to a slow start then came down in front of Crafton and blocked, so that wreck was his fault, and the Hornaday wreck was just two guys fighting hard for a spot. Even put together, they don’t merit a penalty.

Hornaday himself has been known to knock a few people around, and I can’t remember the last time he was penalized.

However you slice it, and regardless of whether this is a conspiracy or not, there seems to be some inconsistency of how this penalty is enforced.

And Crafton got a raw deal this weekend.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kyle Busch lived by the sword, died by the sword

After the fourth race of the season at Atlanta, Kyle Busch stood seventh in points, while Mark Martin stood 34th.

After his amazing 2008, Busch seemed a lock for the Chase, but Martin would have an intense struggle if he was going to make it after such a terrible start to the season.

My, how times have changed.

With his four wins, Martin now sits on top of the charts, leading the points as the Chase begins. Busch, meanwhile, also with four wins, somehow managed to miss the Chase, mainly due to a terrible summer when it seemed his car was never just right.

So what happened? Why did Kyle fall and why did Mark rise?

It’s pretty simple, actually. Mark, as a seasoned veteran, knew the ultimate goal and took less risks on his quest to make the Chase. Meanwhile, Kyle, a young and fiery driver, lived in the moment and tried to grab every position he could every single week, regardless how risky the move was.

As the saying goes: You live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Kyle’s slashing through traffic with reckless abandon might make great TV, and I love watching it, but it leads to situations where you end up finishing in the 30s. Meanwhile, Mark Martin was Mr. Consistent, simply driving a strong car to top-10 and top-5 finishes most weeks, without much fanfare. This method, while more boring, has him in the Chase with a legitimate shot at winning a title at age 50.

Though his racing instincts will fight it to the end, it’s very possible that Kyle will come back in 2010 a little less aggressive than he has been. This must happen if he is ever going to be a title contender. Just because Dale Earnhardt Sr. could drive aggressive and win titles doesn’t mean everyone else can.

Forget that for this year though, as he’s out of the Chase and will be going for the win every week, with no regard to the points. I expect him to take a few wins in the Chase for this reason, as the Chase contenders will have to take fewer risks than him.

I also stand by my prediction that NASCAR will tweak the Chase next to year to allow drivers like Kyle, who won four races, to make the Chase. It just isn’t right that he’s not allowed to compete for the title after winning more races than all but one of the top-12 drivers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dodge’s days in the Cup series may be numbered

The big winner in the merger of Yate Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports is Ford. The only American car company to avoid bankruptcy this year, Ford is leading the industry’s return to profitability, and now they have a few extra cars with which to sell their product to the American people.

Not only that, but they instantly added a couple major names in racing -- Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 car, and co-owner Richard Petty. Both are having a reunion with Ford, as Kahne started 20 Busch Series races for Robert Yates early in his career before a bad breakup … and Petty won 10 races in a Ford during the 1969 season.

But there’s always a loser, and in this case it’s Dodge. With the loss of RPM, only Penske Racing remains in the Dodge camp, and that’s not good for its prospects. When you’re going up against Ford, Toyota and Chevy … which all have multiple teams from which to pool data and improve … it’s a recipe for disaster.

Roger Penske, and his drivers Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr., should be concerned right now, because this move could seriously impact the way they perform next year.

I would not be shocked in the least if Penske made an announcement before the year is over that he is also switching to another team, perhaps returning the Ford nameplate that Rusty Wallace drove to so many wins.

It may be too late, and a switch is more likely to come in 2011, but the handwriting is on the wall for Dodge. They made their grand re-entrance into the Cup series about a decade ago, but it hasn’t worked out as they planned.

And depending what happens with Penske, they might be gone from the Cup series altogether.

More job losses
Another unfortunate consequence when these mergers happen is the workers on some of the teams will end up unemployed. While the #9, #19, #43 and #98 will be the likely survivors of the merger, it’s clear the fourth RPM team will be history, and so will the dozens of mechanics and other workers on that team. Also in jeopardy are the jobs at the #96 Hall of Fame Racing team, which had a collaboration with Yates in 2009 but are looking for a new partner for 2010. It’s not yet clear what the status of that team is for next year.

The bottom line is that in the name of survival, teams get the axe and the workers suffer, just like it would be at another real-world job. NASCAR better watch out though. If these teams keep merging and falling aside, they may struggle to get full fields next year.

Sorenson, McMurray big losers in Petty-Yates merger

In this time of economic freefall, survival is the word for NASCAR teams struggling to make it.

One year after Gillett Evernham Racing and Petty Enterprises became one unit called Richard Petty Motorsports, economic uncertainty has led to another union … this time RPM joining forces with Yates Racing, maintaining the RPM name and absorbing the #98 team and driver Paul Menard.

So your 2010 RPM/Yates lineup will likely be: Kasey Kahne in the #9, Elliott Sadler in the #19, A.J. Allmendinger in the #43 (this number must stay for obvious reasons), and Menard in the #98. There is also talk the historic #28 may be resurrected and given to Sadler instead of the #19.

The biggest losers in all of this are a couple of drivers.

First there is Reed Sorenson, but it’s not exactly news because he already knew he was out of a ride. Look for him in Nationwide next year, as I don’t see him landing anywhere in Cup. He has yet to prove he can succeed at the top level, and needs some more polishing. In Nationwide, he can shine. In Cup, he is the definition of average.

Then there is Jamie McMurray, who is finishing out the year at Roush, but doesn’t yet have a 2010 ride. One option was to farm him out to Yates for the year if sponsorship could be arranged, but that option is gone so his choices are very limited. His best option now would be to get the #1 car, but that’s not a guarantee because Earnhardt Ganassi Racing could decide to stay with someone they know and put Aric Almirola in that car. Beyond the #1 car, there are just no rides left worth driving, unless he wants to start-and-park.

While Yates hasn’t been competitive in recent years, RPM does gain from this union the long-touted horsepower that comes from Yates engines. RPM struggled mightily this year with the Dodge engines, and should have more reliability in that department now.

For those who know the history of this sport, this union marks the end of an era – the demise of the once-great Robert Yates Racing. The team won a title with Dale Jarrett, and could have won titles with Davey Allison had he not died so tragically in 1993. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the team helped provide some of the great moments in NASCAR history, and has endured more tragedy and triumph (Allison’s death, Ernie Irvan’s near death and subsequent comeback) than many teams in the sport. While not unexpected, it’s kind of sad to see it lose its own identity.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Strange but true … A hermaphrodite raced in NASCAR, and wants to race again

Just when I was thinking I couldn’t find anything interesting on which to comment, I came upon this: Back in 1990, a young driver named J.T. Hayes started a race at Rockingham in the Cup series, driving for Junie Donleavy. He started 38th and finished 38th, and that was Hayes’ only career Cup start.

Four years later, Hayes – a hermaphrodite born with the reproductive organs of both a man and woman – had surgery and became a woman, with the new name of Terri O’Connell. This is news now, two decades later, because O’Connell has released a book of her life, and wants to get back into racing … and hopes to come back as a female driver this fall when the ARCA series goes to Rockingham. Also in the plans is an attempt to make the Daytona ARCA race.

The thing that first came to my mind is how a person of this background would be received in the testosterone-filled garage of a top NASCAR series. I’ve occasionally wondered how an openly gay racecar driver would be received by colleagues and fans in NASCAR – the likely answer being not that well. Now switch out gay for hermaphrodite-turned-woman, and we are in a whole new ballpark.

In the family-friendly world of NASCAR, that kind of stuff just doesn’t fly. When you consider that Hayes was racing back in the old days with tough guys like Dale Earnhardt, it’s not too hard too imagine what they would have thought if they knew Hayes’ secret. In a way it’s even humorous to imagine they were on the same track together.

It will be interesting to see if this second career attempt for O’Connell, who was a force to be reckoned while racing as a man, works out. Between Sprint cars, midgets, late models, karting and modifieds, J.T. Hayes racked up more than 500 victories, including some that were achieved while racing against 4-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon when he was just a youngster in Sprint cars.

Now, in her 40s, the female version of Hayes wants to try to recapture some of that glory. Independent of her unique situation, that will be difficult strictly from a racing perspective. It’s hard to make a comeback in racing at that age when you haven’t driven in many years.

Between the age issue and the likely bigotry she would face, it’s going to be pretty hard to make any serious comeback, but you can bet a few extra cameras might show up at the ARCA race if she can get a ride together.

One odd aspect to the whole story: Former Cup driver Lake Speed was the person who urged Hayes to make a decision about what sex he wanted to be.

If you’re interested in reading the whole strange-but-true story , here’s a link:

I’ll file this one under my “Just when you thought you’d heard it all” category.

Check out indoor racing action
Racing fans in Michigan can get extra dose of horsepower this fall and winter out in Grand Rapids at the Deltaplex Arena, which will host indoor stock car racing via the Arena Racing Pennzoil Cup Series.
“Last season was a great success and we can’t wait to present a new season of 15 indoor auto races” says Peter Jackson, general manager of Arena Racing. “We’re already expecting virtually all the drivers to return who raced last season plus more”

The racing features cars that are 9 feet long, half the size of a Sprint Cup car, and 36 inches high and 725 pounds including the driver. Racing starts October 17 and ends March 27, with most races on Saturday nights. Started in 1970, Arena Racing USA is managed by a consortium that includes Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing and head coach of the Washington Redskins.

Call 616-559-7979 or visit for more information.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If Vickers makes Chase, he can thank his pit crew

We’re so used to seeing these guys on pit road in NASCAR top series do amazing things like 12 second pit stops that it’s pretty rare they do something that just puts us in awe.

On Sunday night in Atlanta, Brian Vickers’ crew did something that caught everyone’s attention … changing a right-rear axle on pit road under caution quick enough that he could get out in front of the leaders and go on to finish in the top-10. If he hadn’t stayed on that lead lap, his Chase hopes would have been essentially finished.

So if Vickers can continue his hot streak and race into the Chase at Richmond, he will owe a great debt of gratitude to his pit road squad. Most amazing of all is that this team has actually practiced this very scenario, making it possible for them to do it so quickly. This shows how completely dedicated the team is to being ready for any scenario that comes their way on raceday, even the rare ones.

Replacing an axle like they did, so quickly that Vickers was able to stay on the lead lap, is an impressive feat that shows just how dedicated the Red Bull team is to making the Chase and competing for a title. By comparison, Jimmie Johnson has axle trouble and had to go into the garage to fix it, losing laps in the process. I understand the teams are in different positions points-wise, but it gives you some perspective on the situation.

People often forget how much of a team sport NASCAR is, and actions like we saw from the Vickers crew remind us of that. Put simply, without them he wouldn’t have a shot at making the Chase, and with them he most certainly does.

Considering that his newly minted enemy Kyle Busch is also fighting to get into the Chase, I look forward to the show these two are going to put on Saturday at Richmond. They will likely both run up front, and hope Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle or another driver in the Chase fumbles enough to give them a Chase spot.

It should be a great night at Richmond this weekend, and it’s because of the #83 pit crew that Vickers is even in the Chase discussion still. Next time the team goes out, the drinks are on him.

Labor Day show brings crowd back to Alanta
Looks like the date change did wonders for attendance at Atlanta this year. Back in the spring, only about 60,000 fans showed up at the track. By contrast, the Labor Day event drew more than 100,000 fans, and some of the drivers were amazed by how many fans showed up at the track.

Look for that spring date to go away by 2011, when Kentucky will likely get a race at the expense of another Bruton Smith track -- that being Atlanta. And look for the Labor Day race to stay at Atlanta for a long time after those big numbers in the first year.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Chase without Kyle Busch would be a shame

Whether you like Kyle Busch or not, I think most of us can agree on one thing: Kyle Busch belongs in the Chase.

He has four wins, tied with Mark Martin for most so far this year in a season that has seen 13 different drivers take the checkered flag. Unfortunately for Busch, he had a horrendous summer stretch and tumbled out of the Chase a few weeks ago. Since then, he’s been playing catchup, and has just one more week to make his final move.

Busch is 37 points out of the Chase, and he needs to have a Richmond weekend similar to what Jeremy Mayfield did early several years ago: Win the race and claim the final spot in the Chase.

I’ve been pretty critical of Kyle many times, but I still recognize his tremendous talent and the excellent quality of his team. The #18 car is without a doubt one of the top-12 cars on the circuit and deserves to be in the Chase.

I think Kyle can knock either Greg Biffle or Matt Kenseth out of the top-12, and take their spot, but he’s also got to get past 13th-place Brian Vickers. Without a doubt, this Saturday will require perfection from Busch if he plans on racing for a title.

Both NASCAR and its fans should be rooting for Busch to make the Chase, as every title fight needs a villain. If I have to sit through another friendly Carl Edwards/Jimmie Johnson fight, or something even more boring, I’ll be very disappointed. I want to see big bad Kyle take on good guy Johnson. Or maybe big bad Kyle can take on his former teammate and former bad boy Tony Stewart. Kyle vs. anyone would probably be a decent story.

Bottom line is that without him, the Chase could be pretty bland. With him, it could be electric if he does well.

And mark my words: If it turns out that either Martin or Busch miss the Chase despite winning more races than all the other drivers, NASCAR will institute some kind of rule that allows the driver with the most wins to get an automatic bid to the Chase. It just doesn’t seem right that one or both of these guys might not make it.

Congratulations to Ashley Force Hood
It’s been decades since a female drag racer (Shirley Muldowney) made a significant impact on the sport, but Ashley Force Hood is changing that with her big win in the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. This is one of the biggest prizes in drag racing, and her win is one for the history books as she is only the second woman to win at the event, and the first to do so in Funny Car.

I don’t really follow drag racing, but I watched SPEED’s “Wind Tunnel” show this weekend and saw a great interview with Funny Car legend John Force, Ashley’s father, that is well worth watching if you can track it down. It’s both powerful and informative.

In the lengthy piece, Force talks about how he dealt with the death of one of his drivers a couple years ago, as well as his own terrifying accident … and then goes on to explain how he used that information to improve the chassis and other parts of the car to make it safer for his other drivers, sparing no expense to keep his drivers safe.

He also said he’d love to see his daughter win the event this weekend … and it looks like he got his wish. Congratulations to the Force family. They’ve been through a lot in the past few years and a win like this is no doubt some great medicine.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Harvick finally has something to be ‘Happy’ about after nearly sweeping weekend

This season has been horrendous for Kevin Harvick in the Cup series.

He has earned several victories as an owner and driver in Nationwide and Trucks, but his Cup effort has been a different story. Heading into the Atlanta race, he was 24th in points and had led a total of 9 laps the entire season. He had only accumulated three top-10s all year.

All season there have been grumblings that Harvick wants to leave RCR, but Childress has said many times that Harvick will be back in 2010.

I’m guessing Harvick finally realized there was nothing he could do to change his situation, and finally put all the stress aside and just went out and raced. Atlanta has been a solid track for Harvick, who got his first career Cup win there in 2001 in an amazing finish, and he was long overdue for a good run.

For a while, it looked like he was gong to win the Cup race Sunday night, something I never would have predicted a month ago. Not only has this been a rough year, but he hasn’t won a race since the 2007 Daytona 500 thriller over Martin (which many people still say was won by Martin).

Though he ended up losing to Kasey Kahne in what was a thoroughly entertaining race, solid runs like this are what Harvick and RCR need to tune up for a better 2010.

The reality isn’t pretty: No RCR cars in the Chase in a year that the team expanded to four cars and looked to improve on last year’s solid performance. But that just means the narrative is different for the RCR teams.

Harvick and his cohorts shouldn’t be hanging their heads and hoping the season ends quickly. Instead, they can look to what Harvick did at Atlanta and do whatever is necessary to repeat that kind of performance as the year comes to an end. Unlike the other teams that are in the Chase, they have nothing to lose. More risks can be taken, both in the car setup and on raceday.

I was glad to see Harvick back to the form that made Childress decide to put him in the cars once driven by Dale Earnhardt. It was nice to see ‘Happy’ Harvick actually happy this weekend for the first time in a while.

Good runs for Labonte, Gilliland
Two drivers who had interesting weeks managed to pull out solid finishes. Bobby Labonte, booted from the #96 car for seven races due to sponsor demands, managed a top-20 in the #71 TRG car, which had a sponsor this week. Also accomplishing that top-20 mark was David Gilliland, who was booted from the TRG car to make room for Labonte. He drove the #21 car due to an injury of Bill Elliott, and will drive races for Joe Gibbs, Robby Gordon (and perhaps others) before the year is over. In this time of silly season (and injury season, apparently), Gilliland appears to be in high demand.

Points situation very tight
Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers are still on the outside looking in as far as the Chase goes, but they are at the gate with one race to go next week at Richmond. The numbers are amazing: 5th place Carl Edwards is only 122 points ahead of 14th place Kyle Busch. That’s 10 drivers, all within 122 points of each other, fighting for 8 spots.

My prediction: Busch will race his way into the Chase, while Matt Kenseth or Greg Biffle will give up their position next week. Kenseth is lucky to still be in the Chase. After early trouble, he fought back to a solid finish and saved what could have been a disastrous day.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Danica Patrick circus, led by Tony Stewart, is about to begin in NASCAR

So it turns out all the Danica Patrick-to-NASCAR hype wasn’t solely a bargaining chip in her contract negotiations within the IRL.

According to an ESPN report, a source close to the negotiations says a deal is imminent that will allow Danica to test out the Nationwide, Truck and ARCA series and get her stock car legs wet while still running full-time next year in the IRL.

I was long convinced that she had no real interest in NASCAR, but it appears that the money in the sport is so plentiful, especially for a star like her, that she’s willing to give it a shot. Her mentor/guide in all of this will be Tony Stewart, who made a similar transition more than a decade ago.

First of all, I have to credit Patrick with doing this in the proper manner. My contention was that she’d never come to NASCAR because she would not want to do the training in the lower series. Apparently, she is proving me wrong. I’m guessing Stewart was instrumental in this, as he also had to do some work in the lower series in the late 1990s before moving up to Cup, and probably stressed to her how important that was to his future success.

"She doesn't have some misguided idea that it's going to be easy," Stewart said. "She wants to do it the right way. She has the intention of doing everything right."

By going this route, dipping into NASCAR without fully diving in, Patrick has an out. If she is terrible in stock cars, which is entirely possible considering the failure of champions like Dario Franchitti, she can always go back to the IRL and race another decade or more. She is the face of that struggling series and they will no doubt be rooting for her to fail in NASCAR so they can keep her.

But if she’s good, she has definitely picked the right NASCAR star with whom to work. Allegedly, the plan would be Stewart guiding her on this mission and the cars could come from the teams owned by Kevin Harvick or Dale Earnhardt Jr. Those speculating into the future envision a Cup lineup at Stewart-Haas racing that features Stewart, Ryan Newman, Harvick and Danica.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s see what the lady can do. Scanning our wonderful Internet, I am already seeing such diverse opinions as “good luck” and “dumb *****” … yes, the woman is very polarizing.

One thing is for certain, regardless of how well she does: It will be a damn circus everywhere she goes. Even in a NASCAR garage with stars as big as Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the arrival of Danica – something that was talked about for so many years – will create a buzz unlike anything to hit the sport since Jr’s move to Hendrick.

It will be “Danica this … “ and “Danica that …” every time she hits the track. If she does great, we in the media will praise her for her ability. If she is bad, we’ll tear her to shreds. Her every word and action will be scrutinized. Every other driver will be asked what they think of Danica, no doubt getting annoyed that we’re ignoring them in the process.

I’m not saying it’s right, and media members will likely recognize that it’s going to far. But that doesn’t mean we’ll stop. Danica is a name, and names sell.

The bottom line is this: If you think you have experienced Danica overload during her IRL days, think again: When she begins her transition to NASCAR, it will reach an all-time high.

Harvick almost laps the field
I didn’t think I would ever see this in modern day NASCAR, but I watched tonight as Kevin Harvick almost lapped the entire field in the Nationwide race at Atlanta. With races like this one, which literally made me fall asleep, it’s no wonder this series is on life support. Maybe Danica will spice it up a little, but it’s so bad now that even that’s not going to be enough to keep most people interested.

And for those keeping track, John Wes Townley crashed AGAIN in qualifying. If I owned a car, I’d be scared to let him near it, let alone drive it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Will Labonte start-and-park?; the danger of Frisbee playing

A few thoughts ...

Will Labonte run all race?
I'm glad Bobby Labonte won't be sitting out for the seven races he's been replaced at the #96 car, but I really hope he doesn't have to start-and-park in the #71 car. That team does run the full race sometimes, and other times pulls in very quickly. To see a former champ have to do that would be a shame ... Hell, it's hard to watch even Dave Blaney do it.

Here's hoping that TRG, which does run well when it has some sponsorship and goes the whole distance, will let Bobby race all day.

No back flips for Carl
While I don't wish the man harm, I find it humorous that Carl Edwards hurt himself in a Frisbee-playing incident. It's kind of like when that Tampa Bay kicker hurt his foot while jumping up and down after a kick, or when Jimmie Johnson injured himself while clowning around on top of a golf cart. Silly stuff.

Seriously though, that little accident might end up causing just enough discomfort in his foot that he won't be able to get that elusive win and compete for the Chase title. Carl is a tough guy and time will tell what the effect is, but he has to feel pretty bad for his team about this particular injury.

It goes to show you can never be too careful. The guy survives a 200mph flight into the Talladega catch fence without a scratch, and a Frisbee game puts his foot in a boot ... amazing.

DW gets sue happy
And the dumbest lawsuit of the year award goes to: Darrell Waltrip.
The man whose mouth never stops apparently believes he owns the rights to the word "boogity", and has forced a Canadian memorabilia store to stop using the name Boogity Boogity Racing. That's pathetic. The word was in existence long before DW used it to do his silly race intro, and the fact that he's using his money to force this man to change the name of his business is about as weak as it gets.

It's a word, DW. Everyone who uses the word "boogity" doesn't owe you money.
Behavior like this only adds to the reasons why so many people prefer the second half of the season as far as NASCAR broadcasting goes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sadly, Shepherd’s long journey in NASCAR may be coming to an end

Atlanta holds a special place in Morgan Shepherd’s heart, as it’s the site of an emotional Cup win he claimed in 1986.

This weekend, sadly, reports indicate that Atlanta could also be the site of his last race in NASCAR’s top levels.

Shepherd is 67 years old, so retirement is a word that others have thrown at him for many years, as they wondered when the seemingly ageless driver … who somehow continued to come up with strong finishes in inferior equipment … might hang up his steering wheel.

But the way his season has played out is a very tough situation, and I hope he can summon a miracle of some kind and at least keep racing until the end of the season.
Shepherd has missed three straight races, and had a serious mechanical failure in one of his cars last week at Montreal and failed to qualify. To put it point blank, he’s out of money and likely can’t go on after Atlanta. Even qualifying for that race will be hard, as he has laid off almost everyone who worked for him, including his crew chief. Only one shop mechanic and a track crew member remain.

"We will go to Atlanta and I will just have to do it pretty much by myself," Shepherd said. "We just can't pay people when we don't have anything coming in."
He says the future does not look promising unless some money starts to come in. Shepherd has gotten some help with tires, engines and other costs from Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, but he has still failed to qualify for 8 of the 25 races run so far this year.

Anyone who has spoken to Morgan knows he is a genuinely good man whose love of racing is second only to his strong religious faith. I have no doubt that Morgan is praying for a miracle to keep his decades-long career going, and unfortunately that might be what it takes to keep him on the track.

When I last spoke to Morgan, he gave no hint of when he might want to stop racing, saying that would be decided by someone much greater than him.

Unfortunately, it appears that end may be very near, if not already here. While Morgan has plenty to offer the world besides his racing ability (such as his commitment to charity), and will likely take the end of his racing career better than most drivers would, it would still be a big loss for the fans of the little guys in this sport to see Morgan – one of the best at running with the big guys in less-than-stellar equipment – out of the sport.

I know the odds are long, but I am still holding out hope that I will be watching Shepherd race beyond this weekend.
He’s more than just a relic; he’s a reminder of the blood, sweat and tears that lesser-funded drivers have always put into their cars in an effort to stay alive while the sport got bigger and bigger.

He doesn’t need to race till he’s 100 years old, and I will support him if he decides at any point to say he’s chosen not to drive anymore. I just don’t like the idea of him being forced out mid-season due to lack of money.

It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Penske’s No. 1 goal now: Hold on to Keselowski

Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski is the equivalent of pure gold in today’s NASCAR – he is a young driver, only 25, who is extremely talented and has the potential to attract big sponsorship money and compete for championships.

And now it’s official: He’ll run full-time schedules in both Nationwide and Cup in 2010 for Roger Penske, not Rick Hendrick. While Hendrick Motorsports was the first choice, having brought Brad up through the ranks and into stardom, there were too many guests at the inn and he became the odd man out.

That’s bad news for Hendrick, and great news for Penske Racing.

Now the trick for Penske is to do something that might be hard: Keep Keselowski for a long time. It appears this is a short-term deal with Penske, and you know Rick Hendrick will be keeping on eye on Brad from a distance, hoping to summon him back as soon as someone in his stable (Martin? Gordon?) decides to retire.

So what does Penske have to do to keep Keselowski? That’s easy – build him cars that can win races. While David Stremme isn’t exactly lighting up the track with his performances, that #12 car has struggled quite a bit this year and it can’t all be his fault. The team’s star is Kurt Busch, who has been in the top-5 in points all year and contended regularly to win races. If Penske wants to keep Brad as a long-term Penske employee, he needs to give Brad cars that are equally good.

If Brad can rack up a good number of top-5 and top-10 finishes in 2010 and maybe even win a race or two, it will be hard for him to want to go back to Hendrick. In essence, the only way Penske can stop Keselowski from eventually going back to the team that is widely considered the best in NASCAR is to build him cars that can compete with the Hendrick cars.

Brad wants to win, and he has the talent to do so – something he has proven for the past few years in the Nationwide Series. Given the right equipment, he might be able to grow comfortable in his new surroundings and not hope to return to the team that first spawned his success.

For the 18th time, Harvick isn’t going anywhere
Just in case you haven’t heard him, though I don’t think that’s possible, Richard Childress once again says Kevin Harvick will be back in the #29 car next season. If he’s this insistent, perhaps it’s true (there’s nowhere left to go anyway). But I can tell you right now it’s going to be a not-so-“Happy” Harvick in that car next year if the results continue on the downward slope the team took this year. There have been times this year where Harvick just looked defeated, as if he wanted to give up. That, my friends, is not a recipe for winning.

Look for major shakeups among RCR personnel, including the likely death of one of its four teams, prior to the beginning of the 2010 season as they try to get the ship righted and back to their winning, Chase-making ways of the past.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

After latest blow, Bobby Labonte may be near the end of his career

Deep down, Bobby Labonte understands.

He knows that it takes money to race, and that hadn’t signed up to sponsor the whole year. He knows that Northern Tools has agreed to fill in the sponsorship gap at Hall of Fame Racing, and that they prefer to have Erik Darnell in the car, so that’s what will happen in those seven races.

But it doesn’t mean he’s not extremely pissed off.

I would be pissed off if I were a former Winston Cup champion who had started every race for the past 16+ years. Getting kicked out of your ride for more than half the remaining 2009 races, to be replaced by a young driver who has never even started a Cup race, is going to be very demoralizing and shock your world.

Labonte’s statement, obviously written by the team’s PR people (nobody talks like this), was very cordial and understanding:
"This is a move that will be beneficial to Yates Racing surviving this difficult economic time," Labonte said in a statement released by the team. "Of course, I'm disappointed that the sponsorship environment is so challenging right now, but I intend to make the most out of the remaining races that I'm behind the wheel for, DLP and Hall of Fame Racing."

The real statement, after he realized he wouldn’t even race at Atlanta (his best track), breaking his streak of nearly 600 straight races, was probably more like a string of four-letter worlds.

But as I always say, the numbers don’t lie. Looking back at Labonte’s numbers for the season so far, it’s no surprise the new sponsor wants some fresh blood in the car for the races it is covering.

With the exception of a fifth-place finish in the Las Vegas race this spring, Labonte and the Hall of Fame team overall have been simply terrible. It’s not all his fault, as there are clearly some equipment issues. The team is not producing good enough cars, but an average finish of 25th is indicative of problems bigger than the car quality. It means the team isn’t connecting.

I’m not saying Labonte isn’t talented … runs like the one he had at Las Vegas are proof he still has it in him. But it’s just not working out for him at the Hall of Fame team. Prior to all this, there were already rumors he would be gone from the team in 2010, and based on his finishes I don’t see him being too upset about this.

But that opens up another big problem: Where can he go?
He’s not bringing a sponsor with him, so no team will be likely to want to hire him. For an aging driver like Labonte, the choices are few. His glory days are behind him, and the best he can hope for is to land at a mid-pack team and have a good day once in a while … something he has already struggled to achieve at Hall of Fame.

The worst-case scenario is to end up like his older brother and many others, who are so bent on continuing to race they end up behind the wheel of start-and-park teams. To be frank, it’s embarrassing to watch sometimes.

Bobby Labonte has had a great career, and I watched him put on some great shows during his championship run and through his years at Joe Gibbs Racing. But if the situation continues to deteriorate for him at Hall of Fame, and no decent team calls on him to race their cars, his legacy might be better served if he just stopped racing.

I don’t think he’s out of talent, but he may be out of decent options of where he can race. He has a past champion’s provisional, so any struggling team would love to have him as a guaranteed way to make the field. But if that’s the only situation that would let him keep racing, I don’t see how he would want to be out there running in junk cars.