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.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Allmendinger’s DUI charge will be a wake-up call for driver

We’ve all been there.

Out to dinner with family or friends, and you have a few drinks. Then, you have to decide whether that few drinks was too much, or if you’re OK to drive.

Allmendinger was right at the .08 limit when he was pulled over, and now he is facing a court date, plus probation until the end of the year from NASCAR.

Allmendinger says he was OK to drive, and I believe him. But the law says what’s legal, and he just barely crossed that line.

Long against using alcohol himself, Richard Petty was of course not very happy with the news, saying "I am deeply disappointed this has happened. AJ has accepted full responsibility for his actions and will work to make this right. On behalf of everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports we sincerely apologize to our fans and partners." (Of course, he lives with Bud sponsoring driver Kasey Kahne, but that’s not really his call anymore.)

In the grand scheme of things, is this a big deal? No. Allmendinger didn’t get bombed and plow into a bunch of people on the road or anything crazy like that. But it goes to show that when you are a driver for a living, you have to be careful about how you drive in real life, and what you drink before you drive. (Insert your Michael Waltrip joke here).

Whether fair on not, drivers’ actions off the track will influence how the people in the sport and the fans view you when you come to the track. One time is no big deal. Keep it up, and you’ve got a problem. For example, anyone seen Jeremy Mayfield lately?

And if fans want to look at this Allmendinger through their own prism, just look at your life. Almost all of us have an experience at some point of drinking a little bit too much, then debating whether to drive. Best bet? Be safe and don’t push your luck. Pick up your car the next day if you need to … it’s often safer than driving.

It’s possible you’ll make it home alive and not get pulled over either. But it’s also possible that you could have some seriously bad stuff happen on the way home.

Is it worth it? Probably not.

Regular folks have enough to lose from this type of bad decision, and an up-and-coming driver like Allmendinger has all that plus a potential bright career he doesn’t want to throw away.

Let’s just say I have a feeling he might let a buddy drive next time. This isn’t the end of the world for A.J., but it will likely be a strong wake-up call.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Key to success for Kyle Busch is all in his head

The big topic this week is whether Joe Gibbs made the right move in removing Kyle Busch’s crew chief, Steve Addington, and replacing him with Dave Rogers from the #20 Nationwide team.

That’s debatable, as both are very talented, but I’m not here to argue that point.

I contend that if Kyle Busch wants to know why he missed the Chase this year and doesn’t contend for titles like Jimmie Johnson, despite winning almost as often over the past two years, is very simple – it’s all in his head.

In all the champions I’ve seen in all sports, there is one trait that stands out among the best of them: Calm in the face of chaos.

Jimmie Johnson is the epitome of this. No matter how close or far the points lead or deficit, he goes about his business with precision and usually comes out on top.

Busch is highly talented, but many of his poor finishes over the past few years can be attributed to his emotions, and how he handled adversity. Last year, after a parts failure put him down early in the Chase, his mind just wasn’t in it anymore and he sulked his way to a terrible Chase finish.

In every sport, a certain amount of the advantage winners have is mental, to varying degrees. Extreme mood swings of the kind Busch has shown this year in various series don’t exactly lead to a serene mental picture, and can have negative implications on how a driver finishes in races and the points.

Also, Kyle didn’t do himself any favors by running the entire Nationwide season and half the truck races in 2009. Next year, wisely, he is scaling back, as that is something he must do if he wants to compete with Johnson and others for a title.

Talent will get you far in NASCAR, but once you’re at that level you need focus, concentration and a cool head to become the best of the best. No one doubts Kyle has the talent to be champ, but does he have the mental fortitude to get through a Chase and finish on top?

I would love to see it, as a Kyle Busch championship would be a great story, if only for how many people were upset that he won. Things have gotten boring with the #48 team’s domination, and we need the bad guy to win a little now.

Whether that happens next year will have a lot to do with Kyle and how much he can mature mentally.

Scary holiday, scary track
It’s Halloween, and fittingly we’re going to scary Talladega, where the slightest tap can wreck the entire field (except Jimmie Johnson of course, he’s indestructible.). Call me boring if you will, but here’s hoping we get through the races this weekend without a massive, dangerous crash that tears up half the cars in the field.

While plate racing may be fun to watch, I’d rather see hard side-by-side racing instead of the huge packs. There has to be a way the engineers can come up with to achieve that at acceptable speeds, and it’s a shame we’ll likely never see it happen.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Losing your job is a great motivation to finish well

For the most part, there was little of note that occurred Sunday in Martinsville. Jimmie Johnson continued to show he simply doesn’t have bad days, and the title is his unless there he wrecks and finishes 40th at Talladega (even then, he’d probably still be champ, to be honest).

But looking at the race Sunday, I noticed an interesting trend. Guys who are going to lose their current rides after this year had some pretty good days.

Jamie McMurray, who is leaving Roush Racing due to NASCAR’s new four-team rule, finished in 6th place. It was his first top-10 finish since the spring Richmond race.

Also, while he ended up 18th, Casey Mears raced in the top-10 for much of the day, and is on a streak that includes several solid finishes.

Both of these drives have had horrible seasons no matter how you look at it, and are in the process of figuring out their future plans. McMurray is allegedly in the process of working out a deal to drive the #1 car that is being vacated by Martin Truex Jr. at the end of the year. As these negotations continue, a few solid finishes can only help his bargaining position.

Mears is the victim of Jack Daniels pulling their sponsorship of the #07 car. Since hearing the sponsorship won’t be back, meaning the #07 car might not run in 2010, Mears has been on a tear. Coming into Sunday’s race, he had finished in the top 15 in 7 of the past 10 races. That run came on the heels of 5 top-15 runs in the first 21 races of the season.

If sponsorship can be found (highly unlikely), Mears is on the market and there is nowhere good for him to go. He will be high and dry, waiting for a good ride to open up.

The moral of the story: There’s nothing like getting fired to motivate a driver to do well, as they are forced to do everything they can to impress car owners who might offer them a ride.

And it raises another interesting point.
If a driver like Mears had done a good job like he’s doing now for the entire season, maybe he’d still have a sponsor and a ride.

Keselowski’s aggressive ways won’t be forgotten by competitors

Before I even get going, I have to say congratulations to Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski, who took home his fourth Nationwide series victory of 2009 on Saturday at Memphis Motorsports park. He continues to impress and make waves as he gets ready to go Cup racing full-time in 2009 (and even gave a shout-out to Troy-based Delphi in Victory Lane).

But a new issue is arising around Keselowski that should make the future weeks interesting, and that is the reaction to his admittedly aggressive style of driving. To be fair, everyone was driving aggressively Saturday, as evidenced by the many huge wrecks during the Memphis race.

But Brad was among the most aggressive all race, making contact with several other drivers, including Mike Bliss and Carl Edwards, on his charge to the front. In the end, he almost got knocked out of the way by Kyle Busch, but managed to hang on for the win (and a $75,000 bonus check.)

Short tracks breed this type of action, as everyone is going to be all bunched up, and Keselowski took the right approach to win, including a thrilling pass on a late restart that gave him the lead for good. But he has to recognize one thing: The more he drives that way, the more likely others will treat him the same way.

Prior to this week, Keselowski had already bumped heads with Denny Hamlin, who clearly doesn’t respect the young driver’s style. Now he had gone head-to-head with Edwards, who wasn’t overtly angry after the race, but still said the usual warning of “If he wants to race that way, we’ll race that way.”

Keselowski will be in Cup next year, racing against Hamlin, Edwards and probably some other drivers he has tangled with this season. And as the saying goes, drivers have very good memories.

Kudos to Keselowski for daring to make the moves necessary to win on Saturday, and this style has led to success by many drivers in the past, most notably Dale Earnhardt Sr.

But once he gets to Cup, if he continues this style of racing and continues to get on drivers’ bad side, he should expect to receive a nudge or two in return.

I’m sure Brad recognizes this, as he is no dummy, and it will be fun to watch Keselowski race and see how the other drivers treat him and his aggressive style in the next couple years.

And if you see Keselowski getting an unfriendly nudge sometime soon, don’t be surprised.

I doubt he will be, either.

Stephen Wallace wrecked again
For the third straight week, the car of Stephen Wallace was wrecked late in the race. The kid can’t catch a break, and is clearly frustrated, as evidenced by the confrontation on pit road after the race.

The biggest issue I have with this latest incident is that a Cup driver, Matt Kenseth, hit a full-time Nationwide driver and ruined his day, also hurting him in the points.
Maybe if it was for the win, maybe I could excuse Kenseth having contact Wallace, but this was just a battle for position, with two laps to go. Why ruin the kid’s day?

Kenseth is racing for nothing significant in Nationwide, while Wallace was still alive in the battle for fifth place in the points. The way things have been going, with good cars constantly being wrecked, I understand why Wallace is frustrated.

Bonehead comment by Griese
I’ll make this one quick: Football commentator Bob Griese decided to make a lame, stereotype comment about Juan Pablo Montoya during a NASCAR plug on a football broadcast, saying Montoya was “out having a taco”.

I doubt it was malicious, and he quickly apologized, but these types of stupid comments only reinforce the ideas of the ignorant in America and beyond. Someone needs to let Griese know that comments like that are completely out of line.

And for the record, tacos are of Mexican origin, and Montoya is Colombian, so it wasn’t even an accurate stereotype.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Is it wise for Childress to keep an unhappy Harvick around for 2010?

Despite Kevin Harvick’s pleas to be let out of his contract, Richard Childress has laid down the law: Harvick will be back driving the #29 Shell/Pennzoil car next season, whether he likes it or not.

While I understand Childress’ position, that contracts must be honored by both drivers and sponsors, in the case of Harvick he might be wise to make an exception.

To use an analogy, forcing Harvick to stick around when he’s clearly frustrated at RCR is like forcing your child to eat all of his vegetables at the table. It’s a good idea, but the entire time he’s going to be looking at you with the evil eye. I foresee a situation where Harvick, whether he intends to or not, won't do as good a job as a driver who’s committed to the team for the longer term.

Camaraderie breeds success, just ask the #48 team, and that won't be there if the whole team knows Harvick is bolting at the end of 2010. I’m not suggesting Harvick won’t want to finish well each week, but it’s kind of like an expanded version of what Pat Tryson is dealing with at Penske Racing right now.

It’s like short-timer syndrome at work, when an employee slacks off after putting in their two weeks notice, but expanded to a whole year.

There are drivers out there who could fill the seat adequately, even if it was only for a year until a bigger name came available. Besides, it’s not like Harvick is burning up the track every weekend. He’s sitting 21st in points, just behind rookie Joey Logano.

There are already going to be some big changes in store at RCR, with the team's fourth car shutting down after one year due to sponsorship woes, and Casey Mears likely out of a job. Also, look for swapping in the areas of crew chiefs, crew members, etc., as the team tries to recapture its past glories in 2010.

Since we’re already taking about change, I say let Harvick go, too. Mentally, he’s already got one foot out of the door, and is thinking about a possible future ride at Stewart-Haas Racing for 2011. If let go, I’m sure he could find a place to run for one year while that deal was put together.

My first thought is that Childress would go along with Harvick’s request, but the sponsor wants Harvick back. In that case, his hands are tied and there’s nothing he can do.

But if he has any choice, he would be wise to cut Harvick loose and give another driver who is more committed to the team a shot in the #29 car.

There’s an outside shot Harvick will resurge in 2010, but more likely it will be just another year of mediocrity if he is not allowed out of the contract.

So what's the point in hanging on to him?

Keselowski puts in his final ride for Hendrick … for now

Saturday night was the end of an era for Brad Keselowski, as he drove his final Cup race for Hendrick Motorsports this year. He has a race left in the #09 car driving for James Finch at Talladega, where he will defend his race win, but then it’s off to Penske Racing for 2010 and beyond.

As has been the case almost every time he got behind the wheel of a Hendrick Cup car, Keselowski's last ride in a Hendrick car was strong and he finished 12th.

The fact that Keselowski did so well in that car despite it being an R&D car that isn’t expected to do much underlies a point that I’m sure isn’t lost on the Hendrick team: They should be kicking themselves for letting Keselowski go, and will be sorry they lost him as they watch him possibly develop into a star at Penske.

In the back of his mind, though, I’m pretty sure Hendrick has a plan to get Keselowki back in the future. Brad will be forever indebted to Hendrick for all the help he’s given him in getting his career started, so if an offer comes several years down the road, don’t be surprised if he considers jumping back to his old team when his contract runs out.

No one knows how Keselowski’s time at the Penske team will pan out, and it’s possible he’ll spend the rest of his career at Penske, so all of what I’m about to write is pure speculation. But there are some scenarios that could lure back Keselowski in the future.

For example, let’s say Jeff Gordon announces he’s retiring in three years, just as Keselowski’s Penske contract is running out, and Hendrick offers Brad the #24 car. Pretty tempting offer, wouldn’t you say?

Or let’s say Mark Martin retires in a few years (I mean it has to happen eventually, right?). That #5 car is pretty good, too. And if Mark can win with it, so can Brad.

Then, of course, there’s the possibility Dale Jr. will just get so frustrated with racing that he’ll walk away from driving, and Keselowski can replace the guy who discovered him. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

That last one’s unlikely, but what’s serious is the possibility that Hendrick will try to lure back Keselowski as soon as that becomes a possibility.
He knows how much talent the Michigan native has, and is no doubt angry at himself that he couldn’t figure out a way to keep the young star in the Hendrick fold.

Logano comes of age
While I was watching the exciting conclusion to the Charlotte race Saturday night (the highlight of a mostly uneventful race), I had a bit of a flashback when I saw young Joey Logano battling in the top-5 against veteran Jeff Gordon for position.

I thought back to when Gordon was in Logano’s position in the mid-1990s and was starting to get up to speed and battle a legend like Dale Earnhardt on the track on a regular basis.

It was, in essence, a changing of the guard. Gordon picked up where Big E left off, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Logano goes on to a Gordon-esque career.

He’s only 19 years old, and can race with the best. I can only imagine what he’ll be able to do in a few years.
As is usually the case, the veteran (Gordon) won out in Saturday’s late-race battle, taking fourth while Logano settled for fifth. But it was definitely fun to watch them race, and think about what the future may hold.

Bad luck aplenty
Last week, Denny Hamlin took himself out of the race, and the Chase, with a “rookie mistake”. This week, his car broke, and he’s so far back in the Chase he might as well not be in it.
He wasn’t alone Saturday night in his misfortune. After four Chase top-5 finishes, Juan Pablo Montoya finished 35th and will need a miracle to contend for the title. And the seemingly cursed Dale Earnhardt Jr. had another bad day with more mechanical woes, finishing 38th.

In theory, the Chase is thrilling … in reality, I can hardly stay awake

It’s funny how one’s vision of how something will play out doesn’t always end up working out.

For example, I remember reading in college about the ideas of communism as expressed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their Communist Manifesto, and on paper the theory made sense. Everyone would be equally well off, help each other out when help was needed, and there would be no class structure or oppression.

The problem came when applying these concepts to real life, and humans got involved. True, everyone was equal, but they were all equally poor, and there was still a powerful government oppressing this mass of poor people in every country where communism was adopted.

I’m not comparing NASCAR to communism (actually, it’s more like a monarchy, with King Brian France), but the analogy of concept vs. reality can be applied to the current state of the Chase for the Cup in NASCAR.

In theory, on paper, the Chase is a great idea. Everyone gets bunched up with 10 races to go, and that makes it very likely that come Homestead, several drivers will still be in the hunt for the title and it will be an exciting finale.

In reality, when human beings (specifically Jimmie Johnson) get involved, the #48 team is making a mockery out of the Chase and completely undermining its purpose, which was to create tighter points battles for the championship.

Let’s put things in perspective: Jimmie Johnson won his 17th Chase race Saturday night, out of 55 that have been held.

I’m not sure if he’s just sandbagging all year or if he just tries extra hard in the Chase, but Johnson doesn't have bad days in these races that decide the title.

Everyone else does (see Juan Pablo Montoya , Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin on Saturday night alone, for example). But Johnson doesn’t. The few times in the history of the Chase that he’s had missteps, they’ve come early in the Chase and he was able to overcome them and still win his titles.

This weekend was just ridiculous, as the #48 team led all three practices, won the pole and won the race. It was the perfect weekend, a goal long-sought by crew chief Chad Knaus. The fact that Knaus even had that goal to begin with shows you how good this team has become … as he actually believed he could do it, for good reason.

The first year of the Chase was pretty close to the vision, with Kurt Busch winning a thriller of a battle despite getting into trouble at Homestead. He had a tire go down, but just happened to be right at pit lane entry when it happened. Had he been anywhere else on the track, the title would not have been his.

But since Johnson took over the Chase and claimed it as his own, the rest of the field has been playing catchup. Now that he is 90 points ahead of Mark Martin and 135 points or more ahead of everyone else, we might as well hand him the trophy right now. The other thing that might mix things up is if Johnson gets wrecked out at Talladega, but even that might not do the trick.

I can already write the script for Martinsville next week. Johnson will qualify top-5, run up front all day, lead a bunch of laps, and probably win the race, taking home yet another grandfather clock. I’m not much of a sports gambler, but if I was in Vegas that’s probably the safest bet in town.

I don’t have the magic cure to make the Chase interesting again. I can’t fault Johnson for winning so often, and deep down I should probably thank him because he’s definitely increased the amount of beauty sleep I’m getting on racedays.

But I do know one thing: Whatever Brian France and his cronies envisioned when they started the Chase, this isn’t it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tony Eury Sr. may be only crew chief who can cure Dale Jr.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and times are desperate for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After a terrible qualifying effort at Charlotte, Jr. gave an interview to ESPN in which he sounded defeated and uncertain about whether his new crew chief was working out, and what was necessary to get him back on track once 2010 rolls around.

"I'm about to the end of my rope … I fell like I don’t have any control," he said when talking about the struggles of 2009, which have come despite his three teammates at Hendrick Motorsports all winning races and competing for the title.

When Lance McGrew came over to the #88 team and replaced Tony Eury, Jr., Earnhardt was hopeful things would turn around, and there have been some weeks where he has run well.

But it’s starting to look like maybe the combination just isn’t working out. Jr. was fast in practice, then stunk it up in qualifying and will start from near the rear of the field.

Regarding his crew chief of the future, Earnhardt did not embrace McGrew, and hinted that whoever ends up being in charge needs to have the style of a dictator, like Tony Eury Sr. once had.

Well, if that’s the case, I think Eury Sr. needs to be convinced to make the move, even if it’s just through 2010. All but two of Jr.’s wins have come with Pops as his crew chief, and that magic needs to be found again.

In the interview, Earnhardt stressed that Eury Sr. doesn’t want to leave his gig in Nationwide and move up to Cup, where the atmosphere is much more intense and competive and, “not a very fun place. It's really frustrating and really hard."

Despite that statement, if I was Rick Hendrick I’d be on the phone to Pops as soon as possible, trying to convince him to make the move. Without him, Jr. has lost his mojo, and appears in danger of never getting it back until some sort of team chemistry is created.

Just look at Jimmie Johnson, for example. I would guess that about half his wins have come become of good team chemistry and his relationship with Chad Knaus, as Jimmie can relax and focus on driving because he knows Chad will do what is necessary on pit road to win the race.

It’s been a while since Jr. was that comfortable with a crew chief, and if Pops made a return it might help bring back that sort of confidence. Perhaps most amusing in the interview was Jr.’s recognition that it’s no fun being his crew chief. “Hell, I wouldn’t want it. It’s a tough job,” Jr. said.

Whatever happens within the organization of his team, Jr. wishes it would happen soon.

"I'm just waiting for somebody to make the call. Just put the damn team together and say this is what you've got and this is what you're going to do next year," he said.
Words like that come from pure frustration, and it calls for some true leadership on that team … preferably leadership from a man who’s proven in the past he can lead Dale Jr. to the promised land of victory lane.

Was that really Blaney running up front?
Your eyes were not deceiving you Friday night … That was Dave Blaney racing for the win at Charlotte in the Nationwide race.

Having spent most of the year behind the wheel of a start-and-park in the Cup series, Blaney put it best after the race when he said Friday night was especially fun because, “I haven’t been able to race much this year.” He ended up in third place, behind Mike Bliss and (yaaaaawn) Kyle Busch. Actually, the racing was decent through the pack all night, so it wasn’t a bad night, if you dismiss the Busch runaway up front.

Back to Blaney, though, I would hope this run might open his eyes to the fact he might be better off settling for a full-time Nationwide ride next year instead of another year of start-and-parking in Cup. I don’t see how that’s at all fulfilling, and he clearly still has the goods to contend on the lower levels. That has to be better off than pulling in after five laps on Sunday, and the money can’t be too much different.

Who’s #1?
So who will be replacing Martin Truex Jr. in 2010?
Soon we will know, but apparently it won’t be Jamie McMurray, which was the name everyone was associating with the ride up until now. Sources tell ESPN that 2 others are being considered for the ride … possibly Bobby Labonte, Reed Sorenson, David Stremme, David Gilliland and Casey Mears.

If those are the choices and they don’t take Bobby Labonte, there is something seriously wrong with the team. The other four offer plenty of potential upside, but no real past results to cite. Labonte is a champ, and can still race well when he has a decent car (something that hasn’t been true very often for the past several years). The veteran could also offer some advice to would-be teammate Juan Montoya about competing for titles.

Roush: Danica 'will not be successful' with part-time schedule

Danica Patrick wants to have her cake and eat it too, and some NASCAR team owners are not big fans of that strategy.

It has been reported that Danica has already signed a three-year deal to stay at her current Indycar team, and the rumor is Danica will drive for either JR Motorsports or Michael Waltrip Racing car in some Nationwide events in 2010. Basically, she would be moonlighting in NASCAR, not setting down a new set of roots. It would be a tryout, to see whether she wants to continue down that road.

Some NASCAR team owners -- particularly Jack Roush, who is among the team owners who have had discussions with Patrick about next year -- are not so sure the divided IRL/NASCAR effort will be a successful route to NASCAR success.

In fact, he said he would not want her to drive for him in Nationwide if she remains full-time in Indycar.

"She'd like to drive her IRL car and on off weekends come drive a Nationwide or Sprint (Cup) car, and that's not going to work," Roush said this week. "If she wants to do this, she'd need to come in with all her heart and soul and commitment and make that determination of what was possible. I'm not sure it's possible. It's potentially possible, but I'm stopped short of saying it's likely that she can do this, based on what she's done.”

He went on to describe that basic discussions were started between Patrick and Roush Racing, but she never brought them to a conclusion.

“She's talked to us a couple of different times, and there was no timetable on getting back to us,” Roush said. “I told her if she wanted to do this, she should do a Nationwide or truck program first with great enthusiasm and then she should reconsider and take stock of things and decide what the timetable should be for a full Cup program.

If the moonlighting going to be Danica’s approach, Roush says she is doomed to fail: “As long as she's got an interest in running the IRL with priority in her schedule, she doesn't have the time for a concerted effort. And without that, she will not be successful."

Roush may be right, as most drivers need total immersion in NASCAR to see success. Even a driver as good as 2-time Cup champ couldn’t achieve much success in the minor leagues when he was just visiting NASCAR part-time and doing IRL full-time in the late 1990s.

But this isn’t about what’s been proven to work in the past, it’s about what’s right for Danica. She knows she is good in the IRL, and can run competitively there. She doesn’t know whether she can succeed in NASCAR.

So while it may be frustrating for potential team owners in NASCAR, she is going to concentrate on the IRL in the short term, and just dabble in NASCAR until she’s sure the switch to full-time will be successful. She doesn’t want to have to come running back, like Dario Franchitti and other open-wheelers have done in recent years.

Also, despite just having 1 win, she’s such a big star that the IRL will do everything in its power to hold onto her for as long as they can.
Whether Roush or others like it or not, driving in NASCAR “on off weekends” is the best they’re going to get from Danica for a couple years.

P.S. ... While I'm on the Danica topic, I have to say the question posed to Rick Hendrick at a press conference this week, "How important is Danica Patrick to the future of NASCAR?", is one of the most ridiculous questions ever asked by a reporter ... considering she has never even raced one time in NASCAR, how important could she really be?. The look on Hendrick's face was priceless when he heard the question, kind of like "Are you serious?"

Roush leaving Truck series is a bad sign
In another blow to the already struggling Truck series, Jack Roush will move Colin Braun up to Nationwide next year to drive the #16 Ford Mustang full-time, leaving the team without a Truck series driver. Roush will not compete in the Truck series next year at all, at least under his current plans.

He has been a mainstay in the series for most of its existence, and has fielded strong trucks in the past for future Cup talents Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards, among many others. If Jack Roush no longer feels the Truck series is worth the cost because of lack of manufacturer support, that is a bad sign for the series as a whole.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pearson is the best, whether Hall voters realize it or not

Wednesday’s Hall of Fame announcement went pretty much as planned. As I predicted would happen, Bill France Jr. was in, while 105-time race winner David Pearson was out.

Soon after the event, Pearson packed up and left with fellow legend Cotton Owens and headed back to South Carolina. As soon as he heard Bill France Jr.’s name, he knew he was sunk.

Before going any further, let me say this: Don’t get too upset on Pearson’s behalf. He is guaranteed to make the Hall of Fame field next year, as he (along with Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison) were the top 3 contenders to miss the top-5.

While it’s clearly a travesty that two members of the France family made it, while the driver who is considered by many to be the best ever didn’t make it, it’s really no sweat off Pearson’s back.

He knows he deserved to go in, and even Petty was wondering what the voters were thinking by excluding Pearson, but in the end the honor is merely symbolic.

Whether or not Pearson’s picture hangs in a building somewhere for the next year does not change that fact that when you look at 1-2 finishes involving Petty and Pearson, Pearson come out on top more often. He won just over half as many races, but he had about half as many starts. If they had both run every race, the numbers would have been a lot closer, and it's very possible the title "King" could have gone to Pearson.

David Pearson knows the great impact he's made in NASCAR, and knows that he could’ve been more successful than Petty if he had run more full seasons. If the Hall of Fame doesn’t recognize that and prefers to honor a bureaucrat (who I recognize as important to the sport’s growth … but is by no means a first-ballot inductee), then they are missing the point of the Hall of Fame.

It’s not about bureaucrats. Other than Bill France Sr., who deserves entry for starting NASCAR, there shouldn’t be much space wasted on the management (I’m envisioning a nightmare scenario where Brian France is inducted 25 years from now). The Hall is about drivers, car owners and crew chiefs, the people who have made this sport so successful for so many years.

Pearson is an interesting character who doesn’t take these things too seriously (I remember cracking up at his “You big dummy” Fred Sanford T-shirt when he was on TV during a race broadcast earlier this year.)

He knows he deserved to go in the Hall this year, and so do fans who understand the history of the sport, but he's not likely to let it ruin his day.

It’s just too bad the Hall voters decided to shut out the best driver in the sport’s history.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Are "Phantom cautions" a reality, and are they a bad thing?

Every so often, the isue of "phantom cautions" comes to the forefront in NASCAR.
This week, it was Kasey Kahne who threw out the charge after getting caught up in a big wreck after a caution.

Video did show that the caution in question this week was needed due to debris, but there have been many times in the past where a yellow comes out and debris is never shown, leaving the public to wonder whether it was just thrown to bunch up the cars and spice up a boring race.

Whether this actually happens will probably never be proven either way, but the discussion raises a philosophical question about racing: Is the concept of a phantom caution a bad thing?
Racing purists will say they are a disgrace, and everything should be up to the drivers.

But some fans, especially those who have attended caution-free races with all the excitement of watching paint dry, might be OK with the idea of these phantom caution.

People go to a race to enjoy it, not be lulled to sleep, they would argue.
Take for example the past weekend's Indycar season finale, the first-ever caution-free Indycar race. There was some passing up front, but the cars were never bunched up at all during the race once the green flag flew.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if a race at Homestead was progressing in a similar way in NASCAR, and it appeared the final race of the Cup season would be caution-free and the cars were all spread out, NASCAR might throw a caution.
How would I feel about this? To be completely honest, it would probably depend on whether my driver got screwed over in the process.

But I can understand that a fan at the racetrack hoping to see an exciting race for the title, going right down the last lap with the top contenders battling for every position, would probably prefer to see the caution.

As a rule, I don't want NASCAR to intervene in races, as that discredits the results of the race in the minds of the fans and the whole "professional wrestling" comparisons begin. But deep down, I can relate to a fan's desire to see a competitive race. As long as the yellow isn't thrown to favor a specific driver, and is simply to improve the racing, an argument can be made that it makes the racing better.

I have no doubt that phantom cautions have been thrown in the past, and most likely will fly in the future. And in a world that's never black and white, it's very debatable whether they are a completely bad thing.

Hall of Fame week
On Wednesday, the first five inductees to NASCAR's Hall of Fame will be named. In my view, the inductees should be Big Bill France, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Richard Petty, David Pearson, and Junior Johnson.

Unfortunately, all signs point to Bill France Jr. making it in on the first ballot, leaving Pearson out until next year. That's a little too much of the France family for me in one induction class, but it's probably going to happen.

Also the fifth spot is up for grabs, and Johnson might not make the cut either. You can bet your life, though that Earnhardt, Petty and Big Bill will make it.

Congrats to Franchitti
After a very disappointing detour in NASCAR, Dario Franchitti returned to Indycar in 2009, and has now clinched his second title in three years (technically, two straight for him if you discount the year he was out). I think it's clear where he belongs, so don't look for Franchitti to make any moves away from that series any time soon.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Montoya continues to impress with fourth Chase top-5

As Jimmie Johnson took yet another win and continued his march to another title, I took notice of another, more amazing statistic: Juan Pablo Montoya took home his fourth top-5 finish in four Chase races.

Because of this amazing record in the past month, he is the only driver staying close to the awesome Hendrick duo of Mark Martin and Johnson.

Unless Johnson and Martin gets caught up in a wreck at Talladega or elsewhere, there is a good chance that Montoya will have to keep up this amazing pace if he wants to have a shot at the title.

Amazingly, he looks like he might be able to stay running this hot, all while driving for a team, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, that was a big question mark at the beginning of this season.

If he can somehow pull off the unthinkable, run in the top-5 all Chase long and take the title from Jimmie Johnson, it will be one of the most amazing stories in NASCAR history.

In order to make that happen, he will most likely have to win at least one race of the remaining six.

History isn't on Montoya's side, as the big teams usually win out, but I'll be rooting him on ... and so will millions of other fans who are finally starting to realize that he really does have the goods to win it all at the Cup level.

Hamlin ruins his season with 'rookie mistake'
It looked like Denny Hamlin might be able to hang in the title hunt, but he can blame himself for knocking himself out of contention. Leading the race after a pit stop at California, he drove directly into the front of Montoya's car and ended up ruining his car and his title hopes.

He admitted to the 'rookie mistake' afterward, but I find the whole thing ironic considering how he's been harping on Brad Keselowski about being too aggressive so much lately.

6 still have title hopes
After California , it looks like there are six drivers who still have realistic shot at the title: Kurt Busch at 122 back, Jeff Gordon at 105 back, Tony Stewart at 84 back, Montoya at 58 back, Martin at 12 back; and of course leader Jimmie Johnson. Stewart got incredibly lucky Sunday, because the caution came out just as he finished pitting and he avoided losing a ton more spots and a lot of points.

Terrible day for Richard Petty Motorsports
Talk about a bad day: All four of the Richard Petty Motorsports cars were involved in that massive wreck at the end of the California race. The RPM drivers went on to finish one after the other, 31st through 34th. The worst part: It was all started when one of the RPM drivers, Elliott Sadler, pushed Dale Jr. a little too hard.

I'm guessing the guys in the RPM shop are going to have a few hours of overtime this week.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hamlin vs. Keselowski rivalry getting good

In a sport with so few true rivalries, it's exciting to see one develop.

And it appears we have a full-fledged one between Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

They have had run-ins in the past, and a couple weeks ago Hamlin was highly critical of Keselowski after the two got together at Dover. He questioned whether Keselowski was talented enough to succeed at the Cup level. After that race, Keselowski called the Dover incident just a racing deal, and didn't admit fault. This ticked off Hamlin off to the point that he was still griping about it in the week leading up to this weekend's racing in California.

During Saturday's intense race, the two were back at it, going head to head on several restarts. Though they never made direct contact, it was exciting at every turn, as everybody watching knew these guys didn't really like each other and had recent altercations.

In the end, Hamlin ended up in the wall, but not directly by Keselowski's doing. While racing Brad, Greg Biffle made a move up high and Hamlin didn't realize he was there, setting off a wreck that ruined the day for both Hamlin and Biffle. Meanwhile, Keselowski sailed off to race to the end.

It was a great race Saturday, ultimately won by Joey Logano in a thrilling finish (There was also a spirited war of words between Biffle and Logano, who got together early in the race; Biffle's team said Logano was "acting like a little girl," and Logano's team called Biffle a "coward").

Part of the reason it was a great race was the Hamlin-Keselowski rivalry. Those two guys racing next to each other are far more entertaining than any two other guys battling at this point in time.

I don't want these guys beating the hell out of each other and wrecking each week, but I do want to see them racing each other hard and making things exciting.
Rivalries are very rare in today's racing, so I hope this one keeps on going and they don't make up any time soon.

Whether it's Nationwide this year or Cup next year, I'm looking forward to many spirited battles between the two of them in the future.

Bad day for Busch
If this weekend wasn't bad enough for Kyle Busch already, having the flu and being forced to leave the car and turn it over to Hamlin on the first pit stop of he race, Hamlin's wreck in the #18 car let Carl Edwards creep closer to Busch's once seemingly insurmountable points lead. It may end up close after all.

Johnson once again is the man to beat
I wish I could say otherwise, but it looks like Jimmie Johnson has another strong car at California and will likely win there again on his march to a very possible fourth straight title.

Johnson and Mark Martin should battle for the win, but my dark horse to win is Juan Pablo Montoya. He is due for an oval win with how great he's been running lately.

COT will bring more safety to Nationwide, but at what cost?

FIrst off, I'll give credit where credit is due. The COT has probably saved lives, or at least prevented serious driver injuries, since being introduced in the Cup series.

It does make sense to extend it to the Nationwide series. That is what will happen starting next year, when the Nationwide COT will be raced at Daytona in July, Michigan in August, Richmond in September and Charlotte in October. A full season with the COT is planned for 2011.

The trick, though, will be how much cost in involved.

The Nationwide series is already hurting. Only about 30 teams are attempting all the races this year, and the rest are mostly operating on shoestring budgets and picking and choosing their races.

It will be a challenge for many of the Nationwide teams to afford the extra cars needed to run the COT races in addition to their regular cars.

NASCAR should do everything it can to make sure the cost of the new cars is as affordable as possible, or they may have some very short fields in those four races.

Drug policy applies to France family, too
I was glad to see NASCAR kept to their drug use policy when a family member broke it. According to a Daytona Beach police report, J.C. France, a driver in NASCAR's Grand-Am Series, was arrested on charges of possession of narcotics and driving under the influence. A bag with a "white cakelike substance" was found during a traffic stop. France is the son of NASCAR board member Jim France.
Rather than sweeping this under the rug, which they probably could have done without much problem, they are treating him like "any other competitor" and he is indefinitely suspended.

Uniform times
I have to mention that I applaud the uniform start times for 2010. Finally, the fans' voices have been heard by NASCAR. It's a very simple concept, and should have been in place for a while.

Reutimann car illegal
Friday started out well for David Reutimann, but ended badly. He qualfied second, but his car was found to be illegal and he will start in the back. Look for a hefty penalty to come early next week. He said he crew made some really big changes, but it appears they went too far.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Kyle Petty and friends will hit the road for charity this weekend

Charity and Kyle Petty are two things that have gone hand in hand for a long time. While he is a very humble man and shies from taking credit for helping so many people, he clearly has done that more than perhaps any other driver in recent memory.

For the past 15 years, he has been organizing motorcycle rides across America to help various charities. And this weekend, he will hold his latest event with the 7th annual Ride to Victory, which will benefit the Victory Junction camps for children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses.

This one-day motorcycle ride, scheduled for this Saturday in North Carolina, gives fans the opportunity to ride across North Carolina with Petty and others, and includes a stop at the not-yet-completed NASCAR Hall of Fame site.

“This is a different ride from the big cross-country ride," Petty said when I spoke to him Thursday. "We started it because the Charlotte race is Saturday night. On Sundays we would get up and ride around and see race shops then end up at the camp. This year, we’re going to the NASCAR Hall of Fame site, taking a hard hat tour. Then we’re gonna ride over to camp. In total, it's about 150-200 miles."

Petty has no specific goal for the ride this year as far as how much money he hopes to raise, and said he is grateful for every dollar.

“I’ll say this. The first couple years, we set target goals," Petty said. "But we’ll take however much money people give us.”

The death of Adam Petty, Kyle's son, in 2000 helped spur the Victory Junction camps into existence, as Adam had envisioned such a camp while he was still alive. Carrying on the vision of his late son is part of Kyle's motivation as he continues his charity efforts.

“It adds another layer," he said. "We started the charity ride 15 years ago, and were already going to children’s hospitals. After Adam was killed, what we were doing and his dream was just a natural extension of that."

The event is also in honor of Click Baldwin, a longtime friend of Petty who died in a motorcycle accident last year. Baldwin was a longtime supporter of the camp and a close friend of Petty's for more than two decades.

As far as the future of the Victory Junction camp, Kyle says the sky is the limit.
“We have one camp in North Carolina and broke ground in Kansas City in May on our second.

We hope to have that one up in 2012. This is a process you’re working on your whole life. It’s the fifth year of camp. First year we had 600 kids, this year 3,800.”

Petty said that in addition to helping the camp, the rides offer a lot of new experiences for the fans who take part.

“For us, the core group of about 35, the bond is the motorcycle. Then it became about Adam, and the camp," he said. "For the other people who come and ride, you take them inside Hendrick and Gibbs shops, places they don’t normally go. Through the ride, they get to go places they normaly don’t go. You’re taking them to the Hall of Fame before it’s open. We were on site at some tracks before they even opened.”

Despite being recognized and respected as one of the most charitable in the world of NASCAR, Petty remained humble when I brought this up.

“I really don’t think about it. I was very blessed to drive a race car. That’s something I love to do and still want to do. And at the same time, I’ve been blessed to use that platform to help other people," he said. "It’s not that Kyle Petty has helped anybody. It’s that Kyle Petty has used that platform to ask people, how can you help? My wife runs camp, so she works harder that I do at it. Basically, I became a race car driver because I’m lazy. I’m just the platform, the conduit, to connect the person to the charity.”

Anyone who is still interested in donating or participating in Saturday's ride, Petty said they are welcome to do so.

“If you come to any of the dealerships Saturday, you can still take part, he said.

Riders can join in at various rally points -- including Tilley Harley-Davidson in Statesville, N.C.; Iron Horse Motorcycles in Monroe, N.C.; Harley-Davidson of Charlotte and Carolina Harley-Davidson in Gastonia, N.C. The full group will depart from Carolina Harley-Davidson at 10:30 a.m., making a stop at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The group will continue on to the Victory Junction camp. Those who participate will receive a commemorative pin, T-shirt and more.

For more information or to pre-register, please visit or call 704-714-4545.

Registration will be available at all rally points the day of the event; however, rider spots are limited and pre-registration is recommended
For more information about the Victory Junction camps, visit

Thursday, October 8, 2009

NASCAR should be ashamed over warning Keselowski for racing Chasers

The goal of a race is to win.

To win, you must run fast.

So tell me then, where does NASCAR find the nerve to warn Brad Keselowski early in the race at Kansas that he shouldn't race so hard against the Chasers because he is not involved in the title fight?

There's one word to describe that kind of ruling: Ridiculous. (Actually, there are others, but I won't repeat them here)

Despite the fact that 12 guys are battling for a title, it remains true that 31 other drivers are on the track. It is common sense that the non-Chasers will come in contact with the Chasers on a regular basis. Sometimes, the battles will be heated.

That's part of racing. You can't expect the other drivers to just pull over because they're not in the Chase. If that's what NASCAR wants, they might as well have two separate races.

Even more serious is that these kind of actions by NASCAR reinforce the conspiracy theories that they are trying to fix the races. I don't think that's true, but when they speak to a competititive driver like Keselowski in the manner they did when he was running in the top-5, I can fully understand why some people don't trust NASCAR.

Point blank: NASCAR needs to realize that they can't dictate how a driver races depending on whether the driver is in the Chase.

Unless a driver is being dangerous on the track, NASCAR needs to let them race. If they continue to try to dictate how the race is run like this, the comparisons people often make between NASCAR and wrestling may actually start to be accurate.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Even when Dale Jr. is good, his day is bad

As the famous lyric goes, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

That’s the theme music for Dale Earnhardt’s 2009 season, which was captured in a nutshell with his performance Sunday in Kansas City.

At the beginning, it looked like he would finally break out of his funk, and possibly contend for a win, after leading about 40 laps early. He drew big applause Friday when he qualified second, and backed that up early Sunday with a solid start.

Enter the pit crew. During a stop, a lug nut issue led to the 88 car going down a lap. This isn’t the first time crew issues have bitten this team, and it’s very strange to see it happen so much at a Hendrick Motorsports team known for solid pit crew performance.

The day got worse when Jr., who had yet to get his lap back, got caught in the pits when a caution came out, dropping him 2 laps down. As if that wasn’t enough, Jr. (who was driving what he called a “top-10 car”) finally had to call it a day with about 30 laps to go when his engine expired.

The day was his season in a nutshell … lots of promise, no delivery. Rick Hendrick must be wondering what’s going on with that team. Everyone else who drives for him is doing great, winning races and contending for the title. Meanwhile, the 88 car has 0 wins, 2 top-5s and 5 top-10s in almost 30 races.

I don’t think even his biggest detractors predicted he would be sitting 22nd in points at this point in the season. To put it in perspective, he’s behind Kevin Harvick, who hasn’t done much of anything this year.

And as Sunday proved, even when there is a good car to work with and Jr. is running well, it usually unravels somehow.

I don’t think anyone has a magic cure for the 88 team, though I envision many behind-the-scenes changes in the off-season, but I do know one thing: Jr. is counting the days until this miserable season is over.

Tony in form
Who was that man in Victory Lane? A very rare sight: A clean-shaven Tony Stewart. I almost didn’t recognize him without his 8 o’clock shadow.

Seriously, though, Tony re-emerged as a contender this week with his win, and may end up battling his pseudo-teammates Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin for the title, right down to the wire.

And if anyone caught the exchange between Tony and a reporter that aired after the race on NASCAR NOW, it was classic Tony in a great mood and making fun of the media. When he’s in a good mood like that, the rest of the garage better watch out.

Hard to gain ground
When the top 2 points leaders don’t have bad days, it’s hard to gain any ground. Just ask Juan Pablo Montoya. He has finished 3rd, 4th and 4th in the three Chase races so far. But his still sits third in points, 51 points out of the lead.

Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson haven’t had any bad races this Chase. Montoya and the other Chasers need to assume that is going to continue. If anyone else is going to beat the hot Hendrick drivers, they will have to win some races, and finish in the top 5 or top-10 the rest of the time. If they don’t, they can forget about a title.

The top 8 still have a shot. Beyond that it’s a pipe dream. Ryan Newman (164 points out), Carl Edwards (165 points out), Kasey Kahne (190 points out) and Brian Vickers (250 points out!!) have little to no chance of being the champ this year. Not only are they back in points, but of this group only Kahne has shown any indication he is fast enough to compete for a title. Unfortunately for him, his engine woes at Loudon have killed his chances.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hendrick's nearly illegal cars shouldn't be a surprise

The big news that came out this week was that the cars of Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson, after being inspected after the Dover weekend, were found to be very close to illegal.

After being inspected at the NASCAR Research and Development Center, series officials found the measurements on Jimmie Johnson’s race-winning car to be closer to the tolerances than normal, in several different areas.

In short, they weren’t illegal, but they were almost there. NASCAR sent the message that the cars should be left back at the shop, as they don’t like it when you are that close to breaking their rules.

Some fans may be shocked to hear this news, wondering why Hendrick would risk such a disaster as a points penalty inside the Chase, but I had a different reaction.

I was not shocked in the slightest, because I know one thing from watching NASCAR for so long: Hendrick Motorsports is not afraid to cheat.

From Ray Evernham to Chad Knaus, there is a track record at Hendrick of cheating, and being punished for it, that goes beyond what other teams have been punished for doing.

Knowing that, there is no surprise to me that it almost happened again.

The Hendrick team has defended itself this week, saying they were not trying to cheat. And in this case, they are correct in saying they didn’t cross the line.

But over the years, the team has been known to exploit what are often called “gray areas” on the car. With the COT, this is much harder to do, though it appears Hendrick is continuing to do his best to try.

For those who might perceive this as a bash, let me say I recognize that Hendrick is not unique in NASCAR history. For example, Smokey Yunick is one of the greatest mechanics and team owners in the history of NASCAR, and I am proud to have met the man before he passed. But he is on record as saying he always did his best to be creative with the car and slip something by NASCAR’s rules, which weren’t as air-tight as they are now back in his day.

This is nothing new to the sport, and I’m sure other teams besides Hendrick may be into some funny business when it comes to “gray areas”.

The main thing that distinguishes Hendrick in this conversation is that it is the top team in NASCAR. When you win championships as often as they do, it’s very important to maintain a sense of legitimacy, so it doesn’t appear the title wasn’t deserved.

Amazingly, despite their owner’s history of cheating, Hendrick is viewed as an on-the-level, trustworthy team by many fans.

The fact is, though, is that it’s not always true, and the latest near-miss with Martin and Johnson’s cars shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.