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, April 25, 2010

Talladega races bursting with excitement … but at what cost?

I think I held my breath for about six hours Sunday.

That’s what it felt like as I was watching 800+ miles of stunning Talladega racing, which produced two amazing finishes, and enough wrecked cars to keep the sheet metal industry in business for another year.

The last-lap pass by Kevin Harvick on Jamie McMurray was straight out of the textbook, and his predecessor in that car at RCR would have been proud. More than 3 years since his last Cup points race win, Harvick showed he still has the goods with his impressive performance Sunday. Regardless of whether he stays at RCR, he is determined to have this year be a successful one, and this probably won't be his only win in 2010.

After last fall’s snoozer at Talladega, when NASCAR was playing Big Brother and forbidding drivers to get too close to each other, this race was a sort of redemption. Groups of two cars rocketed past groups of 6 or more cars, only to be passed by the other group within a lap. A highly surgical chess game was taking place between 40+ cars on a track for many hours, and most laps it worked out – even when they decided to go 4 or 5 wide.

But it wasn’t pretty by any means. When things went bad, they were ugly and plenty of teams were cursing about another destroyed racecar.

We saw more excitement Sunday on the track in one day than I would say we’ve seen in a very long time. The lead in the Cup race changed 88 times among 29 drivers, setting new records.

But at what cost? Do we have to have all this carnage to see an exciting race?

Many drivers and fans don’t like the restrictor plate setup, and there are times I count myself in with that group. It’s the ultimate double-edged sword. A plate will keep them close like this and you’re bound to have big wrecks, but take the plate off and the speeds are unsafe. Also, most efforts to police the drivers in an effort to avoid huge wrecks (like last fall) will lead to more boring races … which will also prompt fan complaints. In short, there’s no simple solution.

I’d like to hope there is a happy medium that somehow, some way, we can achieve in the future. … I’d like to believe that there is a way to maintain the excitement of Talladega without creating a scenario that will likely wreck half the field.

But if we haven’t figured it out by now, it’s looking like the teams can just count on scrapping a car or two every restrictor plate weekend.

Newman cursed at plate tracks
Ryan Newman has the worst luck of anyone I’ve ever seen at plate tracks. Most of the time, he either ends up flying in the air, having other flying cars land on his hood, or otherwise getting involved in various ‘Big Ones’. This spring’s Talladega race was no exception.

He was once again very critical of restrictor plate racing, echoing the sentiments of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. that plate racing isn’t really racing. Many people may agree with him, but most fans absolutely love it so it’s not going away. I sympathize with the drivers, though, as it must be real annoying to know your day can be ruined because a guy 6 rows up from you taps the guy in front of him and you’re just in the chain reaction.

Bonehead moves of the race
Kyle Busch got into Johnny Sauter, leading to a 10-car accident that collected many drivers – including Michael Waltrip, who was running surprisingly well in a car from the usually start-and-park MSRP team. Waltrip and Sauter both called out Busch for this after the wreck, saying he should learn how to bump draft.

Jimmie Johnson gets an honorable mention for his triggering of an accident that led to his car and several others (including Jeff Gordon’s) being injured or destroyed.
Yes, you read that right. Jimmie Johnson made a big mistake on the track that led to him wrecking and finishing badly. Remember this, because you’re not likely to see me write it for a long time.

Just a couple days and they declared peace after last week’s battle, Jeff Gordon was once again with his young protégé turned 4-time champ.

"The 48 is testing my patience, I can tell you that," Gordon said after the race. "It takes a lot to make me mad. ... I don't know what it is with me and him right now."

I love it. Family feuds are always fun to watch in sports. I bet Rick Hendrick is planning another “milk and cookies” meeting like he did with Chad Knaus and Jimmie before they began their title run.

Too many G-W-Cs?
I’m curious what people think about the multiple Green-White-Checkered runs at the end of races. I know they are exciting, but at some point they go from being interesting to making us ask, “When will this race end?”

Is three too many? What do you think?

Talladega plus Brad Keselowski equals drama

What is it about Talladega that brings out the drama for Brad Keselowski?

A year ago, Brad drove into the spotlight after his shocking win in the #09 car and his involvement in a high-flying incident that sent Carl Edwards into the catch fence.

This year, he saw Victory Lane again, but this time on the Nationwide side, where he won his first race for Penske Racing. Ironically, the race ended on a caution that sent Dennis Setzer sideways and into the catch fence in a fiery crash that was similarly scary.

The crazy part? Brad almost didn’t get a chance to race Sunday night.

During the Cup race, Keselowski’s car was damaged and carbon monoxide was getting into the car. After the race, NASCAR said his levels of carbon monoxide were too high, and for a while wouldn’t allow him to get into the Nationwide car.
Finally, at the last minute, they got it all sorted out and he was cleared to compete in the Nationwide race. And the rest is history.

Watching that last lap in the Nationwide race, it didn’t look like Brad was going to have a shot. But contact initiated by Jamie McMurray, who was trying to squeeze between leader Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, led to the usual carnage that takes place at the end of Talladega races. As he has done so many times in his career, Keselowski was able to take advantage, running the high line up ahead of Harvick and taking the win on the last lap, just as he did a year ago in the Cup race.

The ability to run well at plate tracks doesn’t come to all drivers, but Brad most definitely has a knack for it. I’m guessing Dale Earnhardt Jr. taught him a few things during his time at Jr. Motorsports.

Say what you will about Brad, one thing is for sure: It’s never boring when he wins, and that’s a good thing.

Borneman’s best day
Johnny Borneman III may have been the happiest person at Talladega after Sunday’s action. In 16 previous Nationwide starts, he finished in the top-20 only twice.
On Sunday night, he survived all the carnage and ended up 5th, which he said was basically a win for him and his family’s underfunded, part-time team. His emotional reaction reminds us that once you get past all the million-dollar sponsors, this sport is really about the desire these drivers have to win and the emotion that comes with that. With up-and-coming drivers like Borneman, you see that emotion a lot more than you do with the star

Bonehead move of the race
For as talented as these Cup drivers are, it’s amazing how many of them make bad moves when they dip down to the Nationwide series. I respect that Jamie McMurray wanted to win the race, but squeezing your car into a space that’s not big enough for it just isn’t very smart. In the process, he took out about a dozen cars, including some from underfunded tams (Setzer drives for Brian Keselowski, who is running a family-owned team with little to no sponsorship).

Other solid finishes
Despite the fiery wreck, Dennis Setzer was still credited with a 17th place, lead lap finish. Not too bad for a destroyed car. ARCA racer Patrick Sheltra came in 18th.
Chrissy Wallace finished 24th, and on the lead lap … much better than her last-place run at Daytona.
Steve Arpin finished 26th driving in the #7 JR Motorsports ride, in his first-ever Nationwide race.

Tough times for Colin Braun
For the next two weeks, Rookie of the Year candidate Colin Braun won’t be in the #16 car in the Nationwide races, replaced by Matt Kenseth. Braun has shown promise in the past, including a win in the Truck series, but this year he has struggled mightily in the Nationwide series. He sits 25th in points, at the very back of the pack among drivers who have run all the races. Jack Roush is trying to fill out sponsorship for that car for the year, and he believes Kenseth gives them a better chance to get sponsors. The way Braun has been running, Roush is correct in this belief.

All is not lost, as Braun will be back in the car in a few weeks, and run most of the year in the car, but it’s clearly not been the kind of season he’s hoped to have. This move by Roush is evidence of just how quickly young drivers are expected to produce. The sponsors and owners want to see results yesterday, and Braun is learning what happens when that doesn’t come to pass. I think he’ll right the ship sometime later this year, but this is an important lesson he’s learning early in his career.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Independent team owners becoming extinct in NASCAR

In 1992, Alan Kulwicki won the Winston Cup championship in a one-car team which he also owned. With the rise of the megateams like Hendrick, Roush and Gibbs, we all know that an owner-driver will never another title (no, Tony Stewart wouldn’t count … he’s basically driving for Rick Hendrick).

But even securing sponsors and contending as a mid-pack team is becoming nearly impossible for smaller teams in NASCAR now. The latest evidence of that is the news that James Finch, who improbably won the Talladega race one year ago with driver Brad Keselowski in that famous high-flying finish, has announced he wants to sell his Phoenix Racing team. In his remarks, reported by Fox Sports, he was very honest about his situation in Cup.
“I’ve probably had 100 drivers in my time and I’ve had a lot of fun, but if you can’t be competitive you might as well quit,” Finch said. “If you can’t win a race, you can’t attract any sponsors.”

He went on to make a bold prediction, which I believe is probably true.
“I will probably be the last independent to ever win a Cup race. Joe America can’t afford to race any more. I’m going to race Talladega out of my own pocket but if I can graciously get out, I will go on down the road. I’m in the business to have fun and I’m going to go where I can find fun.”
“I’ve had a real good time,” Finch said. “But it’s time to do something else.”

Up for sale are Finch’s 70,000 square-foot building – including 35 race cars, all the machinery and two houses on nine acres in Spartanburg, S.C.

Guys like Finch used to be what NASCAR was all about. Going way back to the start of the sport and for much of its first 40+ years, an average guy could build up a team from nothing over a period of years and eventually compete for wins. Finch never saw huge success in NASCAR, but he does have that win at Talladega and ran some competitive cars in the Nationwide series on a regular basis. He won 12 NNS races with six drivers on nine tracks. Even in Cup, whenever the tour showed at Daytona you could count on his #09 car running in the top-10 most of the time. That’s pretty impressive, considering the disadvantage he faces each week.

Nowadays, if you don’t have two or three cars on your team, you’re not likely to do much of anything on the track. So if your name isn’t Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs or Childress, you’re not likely to do much of anything on the track.

That’s the reality, and it’s helped push Finch out of the sport. The loss of the longtime Miccosukee sponsorship didn’t help either, and it came just as the season was about to start in February.

I salute anyone who still tries to be an independent team owner in this sport, like my favorite driver of all time Dave Marcis did for decades. It’s damn near impossible.

Finch is a class act, as evidence by his actions after Keselowski took the win at Talledega year.
He took his entire share of the $312,075 purse and gave it to Keselowski for his parents, part of a racing family that has been in involved in ARCA and NASCAR for decades in their own family-run operations.

"I did some cool things for my parents with that," Keselowski said. "That was something I was proud to be able to do. It's cool to be able to be there for them."

Keselowski expressed gratitude for the help he got from Finch in his career.
“Without him, I couldn’t be here. I’ve had a lot of cool car owners and without James I wouldn’t be where I am today and I appreciate that.”

Finch said he can’t justify the cost of running a race team any longer.
“I just don’t want to go broke trying to outrun the manufacturers — whether that’s Jack Roush (with Ford), Rick Hendrick (Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs (Toyota) or Roger Penske (Dodge). I don’t have a sponsor and to rent a motor is $100,000 a race (from the top engine builders). I feel like I’ve been run out of business. You have to do business with them to run up front and that’s too expensive. We use to run 175 miles per hour for a 20th of a price. And now we’re running 190 miles per hour and it’s $225,000 to run all your stuff.”

That’s too bad, but it’s the reality of the racing world today.
At this point, the little guy barely exists. And what fun is a sport without some underdogs to root for?

Pocono gets a sponsor
Another sign of the economic times: The owner of Pocono Raceway, who has previously shunned sponsorship for the track's two races … dubbed the Pocono 500 and Pennsylvania 500 for the longest time … will have a corporate sponsor for the June 6 race.

The race will be called the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 Presented by Target.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Motor oil and money: Sponsor move to Penske had nothing to do with the drivers

Another week has brought another big news announcement in the NASCAR world.

This time, it all revolves around Penske Racing, which has a boatload of change in store of 2011. And as usual with NASCAR, it revolves around money … sponsor money that is.

Shell/Pennzoil sparked it all with its decision to bolt from Richard Childress Racing and head over to Penske Racing. That alone is big news, as it makes the situation at RCR a little more tricky.

This deal fell apart with Shell/Pennzoil after a full year of negotiations, which has to be disheartening. Now, they have to find another sponsor for Harvick at a time when they are trying to sign him to a contract extension – an extension that some reports are calling highly unlikely.

Sports Illustrated claims Harvick has “burned bridges” at RCR, whatever that means. Rumors of Harvick to Stewart-Haas Racing are being thrown out too (So now SHR is going from 2 to 4 cars, if you believe the Kasey Kahne rumors … I don’t see that happening.)

More on that whole drama some other time, but let’s get back to the heart of the matter: Penske Racing.

Why did Shell/Pennzoil switch teams from RCR to Penske? Easy … it’s got nothing to do with who’s driving the cars at each place.

It’s all about the Captain himself, whose amazing success in business from racing to dealerships to moving trucks to a million other things allow Shell/Pennzoil a whole lot more opportunities to make money.

With the deal, their products can now be used at all Penske-owned car dealerships, as well as on the Indycar side of Penske’s racing ventures. That’s a business deal that goes far beyond putting their logos on top of a car every Sunday.

What can RCR do to compete with that? They just are a race team, not some billionaire with a much bigger opportunity for the sponsor. Really, it wasn’t a fair fight, and even Childress admitted in his statement he understood the reasons Shell/Pennzoil left, even if he didn’t like the decision.

The company couldn’t have cared less about Kevin Harvick or Kurt Busch when deciding what to do … they just knew they would make more money dealing with Roger Penske.

As a bonus, they bump Mobil 1 out of the sponsorship at Penske, helping them even more. In the end, they come up smelling like roses.

Who’s on the losing end?
No. 1 loser has to be the Childress team. This move makes the Harvick signing much more difficult, regardless of whether bridges were burned. It’s hard to find a sponsor now, more than ever, and unless someone big like Budweiser comes over they might have a hard time finding one company to fund the whole year.

Also, Sam Hornish Jr. gets the short end of the stick here. In the driver shuffle at Penske with this new deal, Kurt Busch has extended his contract and the drive the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge.

Brad Keselowski, who can’t seem to stay out of the news lately, will now be the driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge starting in 2011. (That’s cool by me … Not only is Brad a local guy getting an even more high-profile ride, but Miller Lite is my beer of choice and I always loved Rusty Wallace in that car. And Brad’s aggressive style reminds me a lot of Rusty.)

But Hornish has nothing set up for 2011 as far as sponsorship, with the Mobil 1 decals leaving. The team has hopes to get him funding of course, and Penske’s pull can be strong – as this deal shows. But Sam Hornish Jr. is no Kurt Busch, so it will be more difficult.

I’m sure something will work out for him by year’s end, but for now he’s probably a bit concerned.

The overall lesson to learn from this deal: Sponsorship often has little or nothing to do with who’s driving the car.

Penske Racing can thank the Captain for this deal, as it wouldn’t have happened without all of his prior success in business making the race team attractive to Shell/Pennzoil.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hamlin's awesome run proving all doubters wrong

In the business I’m in, some of your predictions are in the ballpark, some are out of the ballpark, and some are so off they aren’t even in the same sport.

I wrote just a few weeks ago about how I thought Denny Hamlin would struggle mightily in the short term due to his ACL injury and the surgery that was required. I wrote how his efforts to win the title were likely over due to this setback, and that he would have to rely on Casey Mears to run well enough to keep him high enough in points to eventually try to break into the Chase.

If you’re been watching lately, you know it hasn’t exactly worked out as I (and many NASCAR fans) had predicted. Hamlin hasn’t struggled post-surgery, he has thrived.

In the past 3 races, Denny Hamlin has gone to Victory Lane twice … with one good leg.
In fact, his wins have vaulted him into the top-12 and Chase territory.

This level of achievement by a guy who just had surgery is quite remarkable, and I have to give credit where credit is due.

One online commenter wrote after Hamlin’s Texas victory that: “I have to admit that Denny is growing on me lol! I couldn't stand the guy for all the whining he's done in the past, but this boy can drive the wheels off a car!”

That’s going to be a popular sentiment if Hamlin’s run continues. Hamlin is showing a lot of heart and ability by doing what he’s doing despite not being 100 percent physically.

If he can keep this up and end up contending for the title, it will be an amazing run that will be remembered for a very long time.

Teammates battle hard
The highlight of Monday’s Cup race, in my eyes, was the great battle between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. These guys are the closest of teammates and friends, yet they almost wrecked each other out of the race due to their hard battling for several laps. (I’m sure many fans would have applauded if that happened.) You can tell Gordon is sick of losing to his teammate.

This made for some great racing, and I’m glad to see that the old saying “there’s no teammates on Sunday” is still true in NASCAR.

And the crowd goes wild
Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Jimmie Johnson for the lead early in Monday’s race, and I think a few fans were excited about that. Jr. is up to 7th in points and is starting to rack up top-10s and lead races. Has he turned the corner finally? A win at Talladega next week would be the official proof that he has done just that.

Busch ruins another Nationwide race
5 in a row at Texas? Are you kidding me?
This shouldn’t be celebrated. It’s a travesty. The Nationwide regulars don’t have a chance against cars like these Gibbs rockets with their Cup-level drivers.

A stunning number: The announcers noted that only 1 of the top 10 drivers in the Nationwide race hadn’t run the Cup race.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mark Martin may never retire, but that’s OK by me

By my count, Mark Martin will actually retire at least 10 years after he planned to do it originally. Here’s the math for those new to the sport.

2005 was going to be Mark Martin’s last year competing full-time in NASCAR. Then Jack Roush convinced him to stay one more year, and he held his “Salute to You” tour in 2006 (I’m pretty sure I still have a shirt somewhere to prove this actually happened.) During this “tour”, he thanked his fans for all the support, as he allegedly wasn’t going to be seeing them on a full-time basis anymore.

Then his part-time ride in 2007 and 2008 at DEI renewed his interest in the sport, and he jumped head first into a great opportunity to come back in 2009 with Hendrick Motorsports, winning five times. He’s picking up right where he left off in 2010, and vows to fulfill his contract in 2011 and stay in the #5 car.

But that’s not all folks, he says he’s not retiring at that point, and he’ll have a ride somewhere in 2012. And by the way he’s talking, he’ll probably want to stick around a couple more years, putting his retirement date about 2015 or later, at least a decade later than originally scheduled.

While this kind of coming and going in sports usually annoys me, I have to say that Mark is the one guy who can pull it off without drawing much criticism.

The fact is that he just couldn’t stop racing … he loved it too much. Also, his son stopped his own racing career, which was a big part of the reason Martin wanted to retire – to help his son’s career grow. With free time on his hands, he went back to what he had always done.

When I see Mark Martin now, it’s night and day from when I first started watching racing.

Back in the mid-1990s, Martin was in a bit of a win slump, and every time he was interviewed he talked like the world was coming to an end because he hadn’t won. He just looked miserable and implied many times that winning was the only thing that mattered to him.

Now in his new ride at Hendrick, he’s the exact opposite. Even on really bad days, he has nothing but good attitudes and always praises his team’s effort and vows to come back stronger next time. It’s no longer “The sky is falling” when he doesn’t win. He’s out there having the time of his life, regardless of the outcome.

In addition to this great new attitude, Martin continues to do good things for the sport, including serve as a really good eye for talent. He was one of the first people to notice Joey Logano, many years ago when he was barely a teenager, and say that the kid would be something special. He courted the talented Aric Almirola over to DEI (though sponsorship woes ended Almirola’s run in that ride).

Team owners seek his opinion when considering what young drivers to hire. Now, he has actively recruited Kahne to replace him at Hendrick in the #5 car in 2012, so the team he helped bring up to championship capability will continue to thrive in his absence.

That kind of selflessness and team player mindset exemplifies the kind of man Mark Martin is, and he has the universal respect of his competitors.

This is why his farewell tour is long forgotten, and the fans and the media aren’t as annoyed with his wavering as they are with other athletes like Brett Favre.

He’s earned the right to leave the sport whenever he chooses to do so.

RPM not likely to find replacement of Kasey Kahne's caliber

On Friday, it was reported that Foster Gillett, the managing partner of Richard Petty Motorsports and son of team owner George Gillett Jr., said that the team is confident it can recover from Kasey Kahne's decision to leave after this year and sign with Hendrick Motorsports.

Kahne leaving is not the only thing worrying RPM, which recently defaulted on a loan worth many millions of dollars. Still, Gillett said things will turn around.

"Many people last year were saying the same thing," Gillett said. "You know what? We're still here. We survived and thrived and we'll do it again. When change like this happens, it opens up opportunities for others. We are focusing on the opportunities we have more than what we lose."

RPM is in a unique position among all teams. All of its remaining drivers – A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Menard and Elliott Sadler -- have contracts that end after 2010. Sadler is likely out (they tried to dump him already, but he forced his way back in), so even if Dinger and Menard re-up there will be two open seats, which may or may not be filled depending on sponsorship situations.

One thing’s for sure: No matter what the team says, they aren’t going to find another driver of Kahne’s caliber on the free market. They’ll most likely end up with a journeyman like Casey Mears, or they will pick up a guy out of the Nationwide series who will likely struggle as his Cup career begins.

I wish them luck, as they’re going to need it.

Gossage: start-and-parkers are ‘stealing money’
You can count Eddie Gossage in the anti-start-and-park crowd. Teams like Phil Parsons’ MSRP Motorsports, James Finch’s Phoenix Racing and others have been pulling their cars in to the garage after a short number of laps because they can’t afford to run the full distance each week. It’s pretty transparent, as some teams don't even purchase extra tires as they know they won’t use them. This controversial practice doesn’t sit well with Gossage.

"The start-and-parkers are simply stealing," Gossage said Saturday. "I don't blame them for finding the loophole, but they are going to steal a half a million dollars here tomorrow [in the Samsung Mobile 500] of our money They add nothing to the show, not one darn thing. They're stealing. I want real racers, but they're not racing. NASCAR has an obligation to the fans to not allow this. People are stealing in broad daylight in front of 150,000 fans in the grandstands and millions of people watching at home."

I like what Gossage had to say about how to stop the practice. First, he recommends lowering the field to 36 cars. This may be a bit much, but I could see knocking it down to 40 or so to limit the number of start-and-parks. Also, he suggests much smaller payouts to the last place teams. For example, right now 43rd place at Texas earns $85K. He suggests a $10K payout, and bigger purses up front. This kind of money reallocation could force teams to try to run longer so they don’t finish in the last few spots.

Monday doubleheader
If you hear your co-worker yelling today, don’t worry. He’s probably busy watching the 800 miles of NASCAR racing scheduled for Monday from Texas. Kyle Busch has a great shot at winning his fifth straight Nationwide race at Texas, and the Cup race is big question mark with a green racetrack due to all the rain. Should be a lot of fun, but don’t forget to get your work done, too.

Kyle Busch gave a shout-out this weekend during an interview to “the late Sam Ard” … unfortunately for Kyle, Ard is still alive, and Busch later apologized on Twitter. He mean to say “the great Sam Ard”. I’m sure all is forgiven, though. Busch donated 100K to the ailing Ard, a former Busch Series great, in 2008.
Still, it’s amazing what a couple letters can do.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why is Rick Hendrick talking like he’s already Kasey Kahne’s car owner?

NASCAR is all about its rules … except when it doesn’t want to enforce them.

The rule I am referring to specifically is the must hyped “four-car” rule, which forced team owners to only field four cars. There’s a little secret that’s not really secret at all: The rule really doesn’t stop people like Rick Hendrick from expanding his presence beyond four teams, as he can always rely on the old standby “affiliated” team, such as Stewart-Haas Racing, to help out.

This issue is coming up again now because Kasey Kahne has signed with Hendrick Motorsports to drive the #5 car driving in 2012. Next year, he’ll be somewhere else (not at Hendrick-proper), but Rick Hendrick is insisting he will be driving a Chevrolet in 2011.

That’s funny to see Hendrick speaking about Kahne’s future like that … considering he isn’t his car owner technically until 2012.
See my point yet?

No matter where Kahne ends up next year (Stewart-Haas or elsewhere), his car will essentially be owned by Rick Hendrick, who will supply all the necessary parts to make the car run good. Hendrick’s name might not be listed as Kahne’s car owner on the paperwork, but that’s what he will be to all of us who have a brain and can understand the basic workings of life.

The four-car rule is a joke because all an owner has to do is provide cars to a satellite team and say it’s not his. He’s just “helping” or something like that. For example, when Jack Roush had to trim down to four teams last year, he very easily could have moved Jamie McMurray over to the affiliated Yates Racing (had it survived) and said McMurray now drove for Yates, even though Roush would have provided all the equipment for Jamie to race.

If we’re going to let the superteams just expand like this, just let them go hog wild and don’t try to pretend like you’re controlling it. Under the current system the limit isn’t really four … it’s 8, 12, even 16 teams if you’re bold enough to “help” that many people in the garage.

The simple fact that Hendrick can talk the way he is talking about where Kahne will be in 2011, even though he isn’t driving for HMS in 2011, should show NASCAR that their rule is a bit of a joke.

If it’s not going to be enforced, I say just take it off the books.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

There's no guarantee Kasey Kahne will succeed at Hendrick Motorsports

Over the past 12 hours, if you had been watching and reading all the media coverage, you might think Kasey Kahne has just won his ticket to contending for championships by signing with Hendrick Motorsports to drive the #5 car starting in 2012.

But there’s no guarantee you’d be right.

Let’s break it down.

For starters, I recognize that:

1. Hendrick Motorsports is the best and most dominating team in NASCAR

2. It’s a huge leap up for Kahne from Richard Petty Motorsports

3. There is much reason to believe he will do much better than his current ride at RPM, and he has most certainly hit the lottery with this signing with Hendrick.

But to say it’s a guarantee that Kahne will thrive at Hendrick Motorsports is a stretch. Let’s look at some other points.

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. … he won a lot of races at DEI prior to coming to Hendrick. Since arriving, he has one once, and it was on fuel mileage. He’s driving Hendrick equipment just like Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, but not winning like them. (In fact, some weeks he isn't even close to the front.)

2. Many other drivers have been in Hendrick rides and not thrived, going all the way back to people like Ricky Craven. Again, just being at a good team doesn’t mean Kahne will win and battle for the Cup.

3. We don’t know what his crew chief situation will be yet. And that’s a huge part of whether you will succeed … just ask Dale Jr.

Overall, the general talk is accurate. Kahne made the best move possible (though 2011 is still up in the air, with Kahne possibly driving for Stewart-Haas or another Hendrick affiliated team). But I have to say the volume is a bit high on the expectations already.

Yes, Kasey is a talented driver, no one questions that. Is he a superstar-level talent? That remains to be seen. To me, he’s been hit-or-miss so far in his career and this move, starting in 2012, will be the true test of whether he measures up to the Jimmie Johnsons of the world.

I’d say the odds are high that Kahne will live up to expectations, but I wouldn’t bet your life savings on it. The struggles of the #88 team are enough reason to have pause before declaring a driver will run up front each week just because they have arrived at Hendrick Motorsports.

(Note: Stay tuned for more reaction to the Kahne/Hendrick situation)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Keselowski: “I’m putting my future in my own hands”

Associated Press photo
Brad Keselowski, above, is excited about his new ride at Penske Racing and says the team is on the right track.

One year ago, rising NASCAR star Brad Keselowski’s career was up in the air, figuratively.
The Rochester Hills native was racing part-time in the Sprint Cup series for the Hendrick Motorsports team, but Mark Martin’s decision to keep racing left him without a Cup ride at that powerhouse team. Everyone wondered if he would wait for his turn, or seek other opportunities.

In the past 12 months, Keselowski has won a Cup race in dramatic fashion, feuded on and off the track with Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin, and was literally up in the air last month after a controversial altercation with Carl Edwards at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Now driving for Penske Racing (he didn’t stick around and wait at Hendrick), Brad has emerged as a target of veteran drivers like Edwards and Denny Hamlin, who claim he is reckless and has no respect for veteran drivers.
Keselowski doesn’t see it that way, and said the attacks him are not based in reality, and won’t change how he races.
“Absolutely not. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. It doesn’t mean you can be a bull in the china shop. But you can’t lay over every time. It’s a balancing act. “

He said that there have been times he was overly aggressive, but that wasn’t the case in the instances to which Hamlin and Edwards responded.
“There’s been a few times I’ve been overly aggressive. But on average I don’t feel like I have,” he said. “The times where I’ve been overly aggressive, I haven’t gotten any kickback. When I haven’t, I have gotten a kickback. At Atlanta, I wasn’t overly aggressive. The times with Denny, I wasn’t overly aggressive. But there have been other times I didn’t do as good a job as I could have. It’s ironic.”

Keselowski is working his hardest to put aside all the drama and focus on what’s really important, running well in his new ride. It’s still a work in progress, as he sits 27th in points, but that number is skewed in part because of the Atlanta wreck, which happened when he was running in the top-10 and ended up in 36th place.
He said that his points position isn’t reflective of how well the team is running.

“If we had finished Atlanta we’d be 20th in points, and you look at Daytona we got a flat tire on Lap 2. That’s just rotten luck. If you get rid of those 2 weeks, we’re a legitimate top-20 team.”
Just seven Cup races into his time at Penske, Keselowski said he is pleased with the progress the team is making.
“I’d say we’re right where I expected and hoped to be. I have a lot of respect for the competition and to think I’d come in and dominate with Penske Racing would be a farce. We expected to be competitive, and we’re building momentum,” he said. “So far, we’re on task with that.”

In addition to the Cup series, Keselowski is running a full season in the Nationwide series, which he hopes will lead to a championship trophy. So far he’s on target, as he now leads the Nationwide standings after a solid run this weekend at Phoenix.
“When I came to Penske. I wanted to win Roger Penske his first NASCAR championship,”  Keselowski said.
This double-dipping in Nationwide is helpful now, Keselowski said, but isn’t something he will do forever.

“On the short term it’s good for me. On the long-term, there’s going to be some negatives. For the next year or two, trying to create a footing at Penske Racing, it’s very healthy for me. It’s good to establish a base, energize the team. It helps me become a better driver, and it’s paying off.” he said. “A couple years down the road, it’s not going to be as big of a deal and might harm the Cup side.”

He is also continuing his part-time efforts as a team owner and occasional driver in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck series, racing whenever the funding will allow it.
“I’ll run as much as it makes sense financially. We’re still trying to figure it out. It’s another way to become a better driver and remember what makes this sport fun.”

When Keselowski made the move to Penske from Hendrick, many doubted whether this was a good choice, considering how dominating Hendrick is in the Cup series right now.
Keselowski brushes off those attitudes, saying the move was necessary for his career and that it puts the weight on his shoulders to succeed.
“The best way I can answer that is I came to Penske because I feel like I control my own fate. The resources are here. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t feel like I could get there. At Hendrick, I didn’t control my own fate. I don’t know how things would have gone over there,” he said.

Keselowski traveled to Michigan several times to meet with Michigan business icon Roger Penske last year and seal the deal to drive the #12 car in the Cup series.
Despite being involved with so many businesses and forms of racing, Keselowski said Penske is still closely involved with his team and the Cup series effort.
“The best way to summarize it is at 7 p.m Easter Sunday, we were on a 15 minute phone call together. I talk to him once a week. He’s been at (several) races this year,” Keselowski said. “I would call that fairly committed. I feel good about it. I’ve seen him in the shop several times.”

Despite his name becoming more and more recognized among NASCAR fans due to the recent controversies, Keselowski said he isn’t feeling overwhelmed by everything and remains thankful of fan support.
“I don’t feel like that many people know me. I don’t have a real good base for that. If that’s the case, I don’t see it. I don’t let it get to me,” he said. “I’m happy to have the fans I have. I’m amazed by the things they do, the way they energize me week to week. Ever time I walk through the garage, they tell me to not change. I appreciate that.”

The controversies involving Keselowski’s driving style began last year with a back-and-forth with driver Denny Hamlin and continued this year with the Carl Edwards incident. Both Hamlin and Edwards have gotten “payback” against Keselowski by purposely wrecking him in retaliation for what they deemed to be unnecessarily rough driving by Keselowski.

Edwards’ payback sent Keselowski flying, and the video of the incident was so popular it even make some of the networks’ nightly newscasts, a rarity for any NASCAR clip. Keselowski said the ride was pretty intense.
“I remember it. But I couldn’t tell you that I could break it down step by step. It just happens so fast. It’s a really quick hit. It rivals any hit you’ll take in the NFL. It’s one hell of a ride.”

He said that while TV commentators may get excited when he’s around Hamlin or Edwards on the track, he won’t race them any different than the other drivers.
“That makes for good TV, but I don’t think of it that away. That would be a disservice to my team,” he said.

On the personal side, Brad is getting a little more family time in now that his brother Brian’s Nationwide team has moved down to North Carolina. As part of the move, their father Bob Keselowski has moved in with Brad.
“My dad moved in with me, when he’s here, so I am enjoying that,” Brad said. “It’s another person to have a base off and make decisions.”

So in this transition year, what are Keselowski’s goals for 2010?
“There’s not one specific goal on Cup side. The goal is more of a feeling, That we’re getting better every week. And we’ll be contenders to win. We’re not setting specific target dates, we just want to get better, get up there in the points,” he said. “This isn’t going to be easy. No one is going to hand us anything, we know that. On the Nationwide side, we want a title.”

As he works hard to get to the next level in Cup, Keselowski knows that he has to carry the burden of reaching that level of success, and has high aspirations for his future at Penske.
“There’s a saying: Put your life in your own hands and a terrible thing happens -- there’s no one to blame. I’m putting my future in my own hands. The tools are there. It’s a matter of getting a team to gel together. A large part is my responsibility. I want to make it what Hendrick has over there.”

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Busch’s great comeback highlights another awesome Phoenix race weekend

Now that was a hell of a NASCAR racing weekend.

First Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and the rest of the Nationwide drivers put on an amazing show Friday night at Phoenix. Kyle Busch’s restart woes and a penalty left him 10th heading into the final restart, but he had the lead within a few laps and ended up winning despite NASCAR’s penalty for jumping a previous restart.

I rarely make this comparison, but that determined drive to the front in the closing laps had echoes of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s drive to the lead at Talladega in 2000, the final win of his career that saw him pass almost 20 cars in less than 5 laps. Busch may express his displeasure with NASCAR at times, but they have to love him. He makes for great TV, whether he wins or loses.

Then we got another entertaining race Saturday night. Up front it wasn’t always a thriller, with Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya leading over 100 laps each, but there were great side-by-side battles through the field all night and the bonus of some key pit strategy at the end of the race to spice things up.

It’s times like this I wonder why there aren’t more races at tracks that are 1 mile or less in the Cup series. They’re always among the most entertaining, while some of the bigger tracks regularly produce snoozers (FYI: I’m aware geography and of course $$$ are the reasons, but one can always dream of more short-track Cup races … Iowa would be great, for example)

It’s all about the tires
The lesson of Phoenix: Not every situation requires the same decision. Just because taking four tires worked at Martinsville, that doesn’t mean it will work at Phoenix.

With so few laps to go, I’m amazed so many teams went for four tires. That’s not going to pay off every week, especially when you’re just getting tires for a green-white-checkered at a 1-mile track. Ryan Newman’s team deserves kudos for both the tire call and beating Jeff Gordon on the restart.

Montoya hungry for another win
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Juan Pablo Montoya will win on an oval soon. It’s just a matter of logic, considering how well he runs most weeks. Watching him race Saturday and make so many bold moves, you could tell he was just that much hungrier to win than everyone else. The car just didn’t cooperate.

Emergency declaration
I hereby declare that NASCAR media should be banned from using the expression or headline “Hello Newman!” whenever Ryan Newman does anything newsworthy. It’s been 12 years since “Seinfeld” ended, and it wasn’t even funny to begin with … figure something else out.

Breakout week for Dinger, Hornish
It was a great weekend for A.J. Allmendinger. He won his first pole, and ran great most of Saturday night, and should be disappointed by his 15th place finish. There was a time that would have been a great weekend for him, so it’s clear his standards are now set higher. It would be great to see the #43 back in Victory Lane, and I hope Dinger can do that for the King.
Sam Hornish Jr. had a similar weekend, starting in the top 5 and running toward the front. He was the top car from the Penske stable all night, and fell back late to finish a disappointing 18th.
These two open-wheelers are starting to break through in the stock car jungle, and should see more weekends like this in the future.

Anybody but Johnson
If you were rooting hard for Kyle Busch to hold on to his lead just so Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t win again, raise your hand. … I see a lot of hands.

Martin makes something out of nothing
So Mark Martin ran like junk all day, and finished top-5 due to a great 2-tire call on the last pit stop. Decisions like this are why he will continue to win races and contend for titles regardless of his age. He and crew chief Alan Gustafson are a great pairing, and I see his 2010 being equally as bright at his 2009. He never got flustered despite his rough day, a sign of a true veteran driver who knows that anything can happen and the fortunes can turn.

Tough day for Denny
After an impressive race soldiering through pain to win at Martinsville, reality came down on Denny Hamlin at Phoenix. After getting caught at the tail end of an early wreck, he limped along to finish in 30th position. Looks like the curse of being anointed as the man who would topple Johnson may be catching up with Hamlin, unless he can turn things around in the next few weeks while he recovers from his ACL surgery. He drove through the pain Saturday, and will likely want to continue doing so, but he should probably make sure his doctors are on board so he doesn’t cause any further injury.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pearls of wisdom from Kyle Petty on Danica, retaliation and more

Here are some gems from Kyle Petty, who I talked to this week about his upcoming charity ride for the Victory Junction camp.

Never one to shy away from voicing his opinion, I got Kyle’s views on some of the biggest topics in NASCAR today.

Here they are, straight from his mouth to your ears:

TOPIC: Brad Keselowski vs. the veterans; teaching young drivers a lesson; retaliation
“When I started -- if you go back to Earnhardt and Terry Labonte and Harry Gant in the late 70s -- if somebody did something wrong on the racetrack, the older guys like Petty and Pearson would just talk to them. There wasn’t as much media then. Even up to the time Jeff Gordon started, Dale Earnhardt would take them aside and talk to them if something happened on the racetrack.

“Now that’s not the case. Young drivers are kind of like puppies. They’re going to pee on everything and chew on everything. And they’ll do that until you can break them of that habit. There’s so much media now, it’s hard for them to find their place. They’re reading how good they are because they’re aggressive. There’s not the leadership to step in and put them in their place. In the past, NASCAR never had to step in. The drivers used to do it.

“The retaliation is so blatant now that it almost detracts from the sport. There’s a line. The Gordon vs. Kenseth battle was just racing for the win. Going to the garage for 150 laps and coming out and wrecking someone is just retaliation. There’s not room for retaliation in any sport. It was flagrant, blatant retaliation.”

TOPIC: Danica Patrick’s attempt to break into NASCAR
“Here’s what I said: I’ve seen her drive open-wheel and sports cars. She is a very capable driver. She’s coming to the NASCAR series, I look at Tony and Montoya and Hornish when they came over. I look at Franchitti and Villeneuve, who came over and really struggled with NASCAR.

“My point was: Their resume is twice what Danica’s resume is. You’ve got JPM who’s won Indy, Formula 1 races, who struggled and just now hit his stride. It’s going to be hard for her to come over and be competitive. The public expected her to compete immediately.

“She did a great job in the ARCA race in Daytona. Then she jumped into the deep end of the pool in the Nationwide race. That’s a big jump. She did a good job at Daytona. She struggled at California, and got better as the race went on. And she had some trouble at Vegas. But she’s got crap finishes to show for it. There’s a lot more hype than substance right now.

“Everyone sees the GoDaddy commercials and says she’s just using being a woman to get sponsors, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Race car drivers will use anything they have to get money to race. No one said anything when Carl Edwards took his shirt off for a magazine cover.

“Give her a chance, but there’s a lot more hype now than substance. A limited schedule is one of the hardest things to do. Give her time, but back off from the hype.”

TOPIC: Is NASCAR listening more to fans?
“It’s easy to be a dictatorship, and our sport is helped by having a dictatorship. We have so many owners and drivers and outside sources, it’s good to have a leader who will stand by their decisions.

“But when they start losing money, they’ll start asking, ‘What do you think?’ People are going to fewer races. What NASCAR is trying to do is step back and see what the fans have to say. They are the ones who are paying, they’re the ones buying the product. They’ve done a good job opening it up.

“This year is one of the strongest products on the racetrack, because of things like the new green-white-checkered rule.”

TOPIC: Jimmie Johnson’s domination
“Sometimes I think, ‘These guys are so much better than everyone else. … then I see them at Martinsville and think they can be beat. Right now, they are the cream of the crop. They are the best at Hendrick, which is the best of the rest of racing.

“Roush and Childress have stepped it up this year. When I really look at it, the Hendrick group is far and away the best group. To win four titles, he’s incredibly underrated. He’s not getting the credit while he’s doing it. He’ll go down in history as one of the greatest.

“I’d like to say someone else is going to beat them, but I don’t think anyone is close enough to beat them. They might have to beat themselves.”

TOPIC: Hamlin’s injury, and how it will affect his run for the title
“It’s very painful. Denny did an incredible drive at Martinsville to drive through that pain.

“In 91-92 I had a compound fracture in my left femur, and it was a year before I got where it was no pain. It’s been a distraction for Denny.

“They weren’t winning the title with two good legs, how’s he going to win with one bad one?”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kyle Petty bringing Charity Ride back to the road to benefit Victory Junction camp

Kyle Petty is known as many things: Son of King Richard, winner of many NASCAR races, a sometimes controversial broadcaster.

But perhaps the most important thing Kyle Petty does is help thousands of children each year at the Victory Junction Gang Camp, which allows children with chronic and terminal illnesses who can’t attend regular camps to enjoy some time where they can just be kids.

While we hear about an occasional big-time donation from a fellow driver, the nonprofit camp operates mostly thanks to donations from the public.

Next month, Petty and about 200 other people will get on their bikes and drive across the country as part of the biggest fundraiser for the camp, the 16th annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, which takes play May 1-9 and goes from Indian Wells, Calif. To Victory Junction in Randleman, N.C. Since its inception, the Charity Ride has donated more than $13 million to Victory Junction and other children’s charities, with 6,400 participants logging more than 9.1 million cumulative motorcycle miles.

Petty talked about the services provided at Victory Junction, and how important they are to the children who attend.
“We help 23 different disease groups. These are kids that cannot go to camp unless there’s medical supervision. We have doctors and nurses on the staff, it’s a working hospital within a camp environment,” he said.
“We empower the kids to just be kids. These children spend 25-30 percent of their time in medical treatment. These are chronic diseases they will fight their whole life. You’ll get a 7-year-old who’s never seen a another child with spina bifida. At camp, there are a hundred kids with her illness, and she says ‘I’m not the only one’. It changes the kids’ outlook. So many of them make friends. They can relate to each other.”

Petty said fans who aren’t riding in the event can still contribute, and even be part of the spectacle by forming what are being called Dream Teams. Dream Teams that attend one of the ride’s “pit stops” will be able to present their donation to Petty.

“If we come through your town, the Dream Teams come out and participate in everything we do. You don’t have to be a motorcyclist,” Petty said. “If you get together 10-15 people, and raise some money to donate, we send hats and T-shirts and you become part of the ride when we’re in your town. It’s a way of generating local excitement about the ride. You can follow us online, too (at”

Among the overnight stops the ride will be making are in North Las Vegas, Nev.; Richfield, Utah; Durango, Colo.; Amarillo, Texas; Texarkana, Texas; Choctaw, Miss.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Asheville, N.C.; before arriving at Victory Junction camp in Randleman, N.C., on May 9.

Petty said every penny donated is appreciated.
“We have never set a fundraising goal. The point is, every dime we get, we give away. If you give a nickel of 5 dollars, everybody is the same.”

The idea for the Victory Junction camps came from Kyle’s late son Adam, who died tragically (at 19 years old) in a racing accident while practicing for a Busch race in New Hampshire in 2000.
“We had stopped at a Hole in the Wall camp, and Adam brought it up as we rode away,” Petty said, noting that Adam was just a teenager at the time. “He said we should build a camp, not just give money to charity.”
Petty went on to say that Adam’s spirit lives on through the camp.
“Our ride is all about keeping Adam’s dream alive. His dream of having a camp and building that place, the ride keeps this alive.”

This year, Petty said the ride is more low-key than in the past.
“We’ve almost taken a step back this year. Last year we blew it out. It was our 15th year,” he said. “This year with the economy just now rebounding, we decided it would be a relaxing year. We’re low-key, we’re just going to ride. The first 3-4 days of the ride are some of the most scenic riding we’ve ever done. It’s more relaxing for the riders.”

The best part of the trip, he said, is meeting the amazing fans who come from far and wide to meet up with Petty and his fellow riders.

“It’s truly amazing. We ride through some desolate areas of Utah. There’s nobody within miles. Yet it’s amazing the number of people who come out to meet us at a gas station. We’ll get 300 people who drive 2 hours to get there,” Petty said. “We can drive through Detroit and no one will know we’re there. But we can take over a small town and have everyone come out. One time a couple drove 3.5 hours to meet us and get Terry Labonte’s autograph. How big a fan do you have to do that just to get a glimpse of your driver?”

As far as the future of the charity ride, he said it will survive even if he’s not involved.
“We never planned on doing in the second year. It took on a life of its own,” Petty said. “I’m gonna ride until I can’t breathe. I’ve been riding forever. I absolutely love it. And it’s the biggest fundraiser for our camp each year now. The riders aren’t going to let this thing die, even if I’m not involved.”

To help the Victory Junction camp, either by donation or through a Dream Team, check out the Web site for all the information you will need to help out. Fans are also encouraged to become a fan via Facebook (Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America and Kyle Petty) and follow on Twitter at (@kpcharityride and @kylepetty).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Kyle Busch striving to reach Harvick’s level of success in Truck series

While Kyle Busch is famous for his outbursts, it appears he also knows how to run a race team.

Just four races into his career as a Truck series team owner, he is a winner after claiming victory at the Nashville Speedway this weekend.

Who did he hold off to get that win? Kevin Harvick. This is significant because Harvick’s successful run as a team owner, especially in the Truck series, is something Busch hopes to emulate as he works to become a championship-level owner in that series.

Harvick dabbled in the Truck series from 2001-2004, but got serious in 2005 by fielding full-season rides in both Nationwide and Trucks. He and his wife Delana secured top talent when they got driver Ron Hornaday and top quality crew members like crew chief Rick Ren. Between their dedication to the KHI team and wisely chosen talent, the team has tasted a lot of victory in Truck and Nationwide and has a couple championship trophys courtesy of Hornaday.

It’s clear Busch loves the Truck series, and wants to achieve this kind of success with his new team, but it’s not going to be easy. He’s already felt the pain that can come when sponsors leave, which happened to his team before the season even started due to a vote from the Miccosukee tribe to pull sponsorship across the board in NASCAR.

Despite this setback, the team has persevered and taken its first win very early in its first year of operation. In order for the team to grow, they will have to get the proper funding and continue to have quality runs, even when Busch isn’t behind the wheel. They are in good hands, though, as Brian Ickler and Tayler Malsam have proven to be a solid driver (especially Ickler). It’s also notable that Busch immediately poached some top talent, getting Ren to leave KHI and join his operation as director of competition.

I once heard Kyle Busch tell a story about how people made fun of him as a teenager because he was in the garage on weekends working on cars, while they were out partying and chasing girls.
It’s going to take that kind of dedication from Kyle Busch and his Truck team to reach the level of success Harvick has seen. But I get the feeling that he’ll be able to do it … it’s just a matter of when.

Almirola finds a home
After getting some unfair shakes in the Cup series, mostly due to sponsorship issues, Aric Almirola is finally finding a place where he can thrive in the Cup series. He clearly has talent, and had some strong runs in Cup when the proper equipment was provided for him. He has used that talent to get the Billy Ballew-owned Truck he drives up to 2nd in the points, and hopes to contend for a title. After several years of bouncing around the various NASCAR garages, it’s good to see him settled and doing well.

One less crew member?
According to reports, if the new fuel can being used in the Truck series makes its way to Nationwide and Cup, there will not be a need for a catch can man on pit stops. So for all the guys who fill that role on the teams in the top two series, I would serious suggest applying for a job in the race shop or a new gig on the pit crew … yours might not exist next year.