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.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Anguish for Ambrose, joy for Said, and tons of fun for the fans at Montreal

Jason Smith/Getty Images
Boris Said celebrates his first NASCAR Nationwide Series win in 22 races in Victory Lane at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

There are NASCAR fans who say they don’t like road course racing, which is really unfortunate because it’s some of the best racing you’ll ever see.

And if any of those fans were watching Sunday’s Nationwide race at Montreal, they probably have changed their mind.

Any time the Nationwide series goes up to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, it is bound to be a great race. The beautiful, island road course is challenging, hard on the drivers and cars, and always features tight racing and exciting finishes. This year was no different, with a green-white-checkered that was as close as any we’ve seen in NASCAR all year, and a collective scream of joy from all the Saidheads as Boris finally got another NASCAR win after trying for so long (He won in the Truck series in 1998, but that’s ancient history).

The action was nonstop, especially on restarts, and there was no shortage of drama throughout the race as tempers flared and the action got heated.

On top of all that, there were a lot of emotions going around among the top contending drivers, who all had a compelling storyline heading into the race.

First, there’s the pure jubilation of our victor – the very likable afro-wearing giant named Boris Said. Boris has long tried to break through as a full-time NASCAR driver, but his struggles on ovals have hindered him. Every time the Cup or Nationwide drivers head to a road course, though, he is considered a threat to win … but didn’t do it until Sunday.

Boris is unusually helpful to his competition … the regulars in Cup and Nationwide who want to improve their driving skills on the road courses. Sometimes, they get so good they beat him … but he keeps on teaching them anyway. Finally, he got a chance to celebrate, and was probably happier than any other race winner this year. He’s not likely to win again this year, with the road courses done for all series, but this win will definitely be one of the most popular around the garage due to all the help Boris had given other drivers.

My favorite quote from Boris after the race: “I’m going to have a nice steak and I’m going to drink like hell and maybe French kiss a French girl.”

Then we have the proud resurgence of second-place Max Papis, an open-wheel convert who has tried so hard to make it in the Cup series, but has struggled mightily. He is one of the nicest guys in the garage to talk to, and is genuinely happy just to even qualify for Cup races, even if he sometimes has to start-and-park. Recently his Cup effort was ended, and it was announced he will drive in the Truck series full-time in 2011.

Papis, aka Mad Max, wants to make it in NASCAR, and to do that he needs the proper equipment. That’s what he got this weekend, driving the #33 car for Kevin Harvick, and he almost took the checkered flag, losing by inches. Papis is another guy the others in the garage are probably rooting for to succeed, and I like the approach he is taking. If he can start a good run in the Truck series, maybe he’ll be able to get the proper funding that is needed to run a Cup program in the future.

Finally, there is anguish; which was felt by a couple drivers.

First, Robby Gordon, who still claims he was the winner of the 2007 Montreal race even though NASCAR didn’t name him as such. The ever-antagonistic Gordon this weekend had the lead late and was contending for the win. Unfortunately for him, he ran out of gas during the g-w-c finish.

And last but not least, we have Marcos Ambrose, who once again dominated the race at Montreal – for the fourth year in a row – and STILL didn’t win. This time, mechanical issues took him out of contention. Last year, he messed up the last turn and got passed; the year before it was a pit road violation; and the year before it was on-track contact that robbed him of the win. Basically, he’s cursed here and has lost in almost every possible way despite having a car that could have won each year.

Amazingly, Marcos remains upbeat. This guy is always positive, despite the continuing disappointments coming his way at this track and elsewhere. That kind of positive attitude will get him a long way, and I see great things for his future. Whenever the Cup or Nationwide series go to a road course, he is probably the guy to beat. Eventually, he has to win here, and he knows that – which is probably why he takes it so well.

Add it all up, and this weekend’s race was one of the best I’ve seen all year, in any of the three series. I’d love to see a Cup race at Montreal, but recognize that is highly unlikely unless Watkins Glen or Sears Point drop their date … something I don’t see happening. Regardless, I look forward to the Nationwide race here, and wouldn’t mind seeing the Truck series show up, as Canada and the Montreal track certainly know how to put on a proper race.

Beats the average cookie-cutter track by a mile, if you ask me.

Villeneuve close again
Native son Jacques Villeneuve (literally … the track is named after his late father) has been trying to win this race for a few years, and he came close again Sunday. The guy knows one speed on this track – blazing fast – which is why he ended up basically driving a car with no brakes by the end of the race, and still put in fast laps and came in 3rd. This kind of perseverance and talent is why he was an Indy 500 and Formula 1 champ, and why he’s so fun to watch every time he pops up in a NASCAR race.

Brian Keselowski car has solid run
Brian Keselowski’s #26 car was on loan to Penske Racing’s Parker Kligerman for the weekend, and the team got a good owners points boost thanks to Kligerman’s great run of 8th place. This is another young kid in the Penske organization that has shown promise, and along with Brad Keselowski and Justin Allgaier he could be a big part of the organization’s future.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Logano needs to focus more on racing, less on complaining

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Joey Logano, pictured at Daytona, is trying to earn the respect of his veteran competitors, but complaining won't accomplish that goal. Beating them will.

I’ve been a Joey Logano supporter since it was first announced he would make his Nationwide debut upon turning 18. I wrote, before he even ran a single lap at the top NASCAR levels, that he was going to be a big star and a champion in the future, potentially one of the all-time greats.

And I still believe that … he is a star already, and has shown at times that he has the ability to run up front with the best. At his age, there’s nothing but upside, and he should one day shatter records like Kyle Busch is doing right now.

But right now, he is just a kid, as Ryan Newman pointed out during their somewhat animated discussion at Michigan International Speedway last week.

While he has the right to defend himself on the track, as he did vs. Newman at MIS, it is not his place to try to speak for all drivers and go off about how difficult Newman can be to race against on the track.

Here is an example of Joey’s complaining, which sounds quite whiny.
"He races me way too hard,'' Logano said of Newman. "He races everybody too hard. I'm not the only one that complains about it every week. And he just went in there and door-jammed me. i was down there trying to save it and trying to save it. When someone is right on your side, it takes your air off. I saved it like three times before I'm like, "I can't save this one, he should have given me room by now.''
The hard truth is that when you’re new in the sport and young, the veterans aren’t going to cut you any slack. You just deal with it, and the way to get past that is to get good enough to beat them despite how hard they race you.

The biggest foul in the whole argument was when Logano invoked the name of Tony Stewart, Newman’s teammate and boss, saying that Stewart and other drivers have commented how Newman races the competition too hard at times when he shouldn’t.

Even if Stewart did say something like that, it’s not something for Logano to air publicly. I’m sure Steawart has plenty of opportunity to say it directly to Newman’s face, should he choose to do so.

I understand Logano’s in a difficult spot. He is young and wants to show the big boys he deserves their respect. But the way to do that is not by complaining like he did at MIS. If he continues to whine that veteran drivers aren’t giving him proper room, they’re just going to see him as a crybaby.

The recipe for Logano earning respect is not complaining. He needs to keep his mouth shut (though the “firesuit” comment was an instant classic), work hard with his race team to get better, then go out and beat his veteran competition on the track.

If he does this, and takes away wins and positions on the track from them without complaining to the media about how they raced, he will truly earn their respect and they won’t refer to him as a little kid. Let the driving, not your mouth, do your talking.

Joey needs to focus on getting to the front of the pack, something that’s only a matter of time with all the talent he has, and the respect will take care of itself.

Lajoie reinstated
Randy Lajoie, a long-respected member of the NASCAR community, showed that just because you get busted by NASCAR for failing a drug test, you don’t have to turn your life into a drama show (Jeremy Mayfield, take notes)
LaJoie, who was planning to work with the Joe Gibbs Nationwide program as a spotter, successfully completed a counseling program and is now free to work in the sport. And I have a feeling we won’t be hearing about any more screwups from him in the future after this embarrassing episode.

Villeneuve heads home
Formula 1 champion and occasional NASCAR driver Jacques Villeneuve will return to the track that is named after his late father this weekend when the Nationwide series returns to Montreal.

He said the trip back is something he looks forward to each year, and he hopes to be victorious this time around while driving the No. 32 car for Braun Racing.

"It's great. The track bears my father's name and it's in my courtyard basically. I live there -- it's my home crowd -- and I've been racing there over the years since 1993 actually. I've been on that track a lot of times and to be able to go back with NASCAR last year with the Dollar General car is great. Last year we had quite a good race were competitive and we're going back this year and taking the car from Elkhart Lake which was very good. We've saved it for that race because the car was good in the tight corners, which should be a good positive for Montreal."

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Meet Kyle Busch: The supertalented driver almost everyone loves to hate

John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kyle Busch swept the competition this weekend, to the dismay of many fans.

When you’re among the best at any particular skill, there’s no guarantee you’re going to be a nice guy.

This is nothing new, as I’ve heard reports that even Ben Franklin – legendary American statesman and inventor, among other things – was a highly unlikable person and a philanderer.

Getting back to NASCAR, the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr., in addition to his massive following, also had a huge group of people who despised him and his roughian ways on the track. You were either with him or against him, no middle ground. But it was probably a 50-50 split.

Now there’s Kyle Busch. The kid is 25 years old, which is hard to fathom when you recognize that he has 78 wins over the three top NASCAR series. His charge since coming over to the Joe Gibbs team is unbelievable. He had some success driving Chevys for Rick Hendrick, but things didn’t work out over there … and I don’t doubt Kyle’s cantankerous personality contributed to the dissolving of that relationship.
Even after their relationship ended, Hendrick continued to speak of how talented Busch can be on the racetrack.

"Kyle is one of the most awesome talents," Hendrick said in 2007. "I compare Kyle to Tim Richmond, and that's saying a whole lot about car control. He's got that desire to win. He doesn't like to run second; he doesn't want to wait.”

Well, those praises have certainly come to be a reality. Since his move to Gibbs, chances are at some point during a weekend you’ve seen Kyle Busch in Victory Lane – whether it be in Cup, Nationwide or Trucks. This weekend at Bristol, he did the unthinkable and won all three races in the same weekend – at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit.

History was made, so everyone is happy, right?

Wrong, as you could guess by the loud boos heard every week at driver introductions and whenever he gets into Victory Lane. The simple fact is that most fans really don’t consider themselves KB fans. Some might suggest that for some fans, it goes back to when he wrecked Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take the lead at Richmond, but that’s probably a tiny minority.

It’s actually pretty simple, in my mind: The fans just don’t like his attitude and massive ego, which is on display every time he talks. In a way, this kind of attitude is needed to be a dominant driver. You have to have the air of confidence, letting everyone in your way know that if you don’t take the checkered flag you’re going to be upset.

Some would call this striving for perfection. Others, namely the fans, would call it being a brat and, often, a crybaby – which is a common criticism after Kyle’s many temper tantrums where he storms away like an angry 5-year-old who didn’t get his ice cream.

The important thing is to make a distinction here. As a racecar driver, not one fan can say he isn’t one of the best – possibly THE best – in the Cup series right now. If he gets the proper car under him, he can win every week, and even his biggest haters know that.

But what gets people riled up is Kyle the person … the guy who talks in Victory Lane like he’s the greatest of all time, with an ego so big it fills the entire racetrack. The guy who taunts the crowd for more boos, soaking them up as he loves to be the guy that hate—something he views as a compliment.
Unlike the Intimidator, who beneath his gruff exterior had some likable qualities that drew fans to him, Busch is all ego and attitude – leaving most fans turned off and cursing his name.

I’m not sure what would be necessary for the fans to embrace Busch, though I suppose it is possible … his brother Kurt was once hated, but is no more.
But I don’t think he even wants that. Busch seems to be loving his current position in the sport … the guy who wins a lot and pisses people off.

And the fans love to hate him, too. So I guess everybody’s happy.

Exhibit A
Fresh off their battle Saturday night, which ended with Brad Keselowski in the fence, Busch and Keselowski took part in the amped-up driver intros during the pre-race ceremonies Saturday night at Bristol.

Kyle Busch was greeted with boos, as expected, and he retorted with the usual Busch wit: "Aw, you're so loving."

Then, Keselowski came out, saying "I'm Brad Keselowski, driver of the #12 Penske Dodge. Kyle Busch is an ass." ... Quite a few cheers after that, as you might have guessed.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Keselowski-Busch battle was proper use of ‘have at it, boys’

You live by the sword, you die by the sword.

And the nonstop drama that unfolded as the race came to a close at Bristol Friday night was a case of ‘Have at it boys’ as it was meant to be.

Brad Keselowski is already an accomplished racer, but he learned one very important thing tonight -- If you bump someone out of the way, you better set sail or you’re going for a spin in retaliation. It doesn’t matter what you meant to do, the guy you hit is not going to take it positively.

But here’s the best news of all: Nobody flew into the stands, and no multi-car wrecks occurred as a result of the exchange. It all went pretty much as it should have, just like it does on short tracks all over the country every weekend.

Even those who love to hate Kyle Busch have to realize he did nothing wrong Friday night, and I think even Brad would agree. You could see in his eyes after the race how much he had wanted to continue the exchange, but he was smart enough to realize that wouldn’t be the wisest move since he’s on probation.

This is an interesting time for Keselowski. The young drive is loved by some, hated by others and has been involved in high-profile beefs with big names like Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. Under probation, he has to be aggressive somehow while avoiding the long arm of the NASCAR law … not an easy task when you’re racing at Bristol in very tight quarters.

I think this whole dispute works out great for NASCAR, though, as the sport does need rivalries. It’s a pretty widespread practice for fans to dislike Busch due to his naturally cocky nature. And despite being criticized by many, Keselowski has emerged as the victim in many of his previous tangles, and has gained many fans since his memorable win at Talladega.

In the minds of many, these feuds are a classic good vs. evil battle, even though the drivers might not agree with the designations of which is which.

And as long as nobody goes flying toward the spectators or gets hurt – and we get to watch some hard racing up front between two strong competitors like Brad and Kyle -- it’s really fun to watch. Brad and Kyle are both very good drives and will be around a long, long time … and I hope this is just one of a long string of battles.

Unlike some the previous battles, which ended with extreme reactions by his adversaries, this was just good, old-fashioned short-track racing at Bristol, and I think most people will recognize that.

Jr. happy with Cup car
Dale Jr., in an upbeat mood after a strong 4th-place run in the Nationwide race, said his car was pretty good on the Cup side and should do well on Saturday night.

Is that a typo? No, and a clean-shaven Jr. (the beard wasn’t giving him too much luck, apparently) seemed genuinely confident when he said it, after a solid finish in the Nationwide race. If he can run up front, it will be a huge confidence booster for the #88 team, which has been seriously in the dumps lately.

Conway to Robby Gordon team
So the sweepstakes to win Kevin Conway and the Extenze sponsorship that comes with him goes to Robby Gordon Motorsports, which put Kevin in the #7 car this week, while Robby is driving the #07.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Harvick lays claim to the golden horseshoe

The Oakland Press/MATT MYFTIU
Kevin Harvick is interviewed in Victory Lane after his win Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Kevin Harvick better go see the doctor, because that golden horseshoe he mentioned early this season, in reference to Jimmie Johnson, officially has a new place of residence.

Continuing an amazing run in 2010, Harvick clinched a Chase berth with his win at Michigan International Speedway, which was his third victory of the season. As I stood in Victory Lane and watched his crew’s jubilation as they celebrated, it was clear they were very happy to be there. And for good reason.

We all remember 2009, when Richard Childress Racing was in the dumps. The team's cars were not up to par with the competition , and the numbers were ugly.

Take Harvick for example. In ALL of 2009, he had zero wins, five top fives and 9 top tens. In contrast, this season after just 23 races, he has three wins, 11 top fives and 16 top tens.

Quite a turnaround, and the team, by being the most consistent in NASCAR, is positioning itself as the championship favorite heading into the Chase, which begins in just a few weeks.

Harvick’s crew chief Gil Martin said the win at Michigan, after the team’s recent struggles in the Irish Hills, is the latest in a string of good news this season.,

“The season has gone so well from last year,“ Martin said. “To come to Michigan and run like we did today after we’re run like he have for the last 3 years shows how far the organization has come. I can’t say enough about the whole organization.”

While he may be the driver, Harvick says his success in 2010 goes all the way to the guys in the shop getting the job done.
“The quality control that we have at the shop, the guys are making sure they do a good job of making sure the right stuff is leaving the shop and that’s really what’s it all about,” he said.

Childress, who last won at MIS with Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 1990, said that despite the team’s success, it’s important not to let it go to their heads.
“Someone’s got to beat Jimmie this year, and it might as well be RCR. But you never say you’re the team to beat. I don’t every want to be cocky, and then you have to put your head between your tail when you leave homestead. We’re not going to do that.”

Martin said a lot of the success can be attributed to the man in charge, who has spearheaded the resurgence with his leadership.

“The commitment Richard has give us all as far as moral support, financial support … Without his commitment, we wouldn’t be where we are,” Martin said.

Harvick, who in the past was known as kind of a brat with a tendency to cause trouble, also said maturity may have something to do with his success this season.

“As you get older, you get to experience more things and understand how the world turns. You learn how to deal with things better and learn by your mistakes as you go forward,” he said.

Harvick went on to say that the RCR team worked so hard to get better was because of the terrible 2009.
"The reason is we were so damn bad last year. It’s just a matter of everyone was embarrassed last year, and we’ve been running pretty well since the last 6-8 weeks of last year. We all wanted to achieve the same goals."

Childress said the team realized last year what was wrong and was determined to get things better, and they got more on the right track toward the end of 2009.

“We went down a road going into 2009, and we took the wrong path. When NASCAR pulled the testing, our simulation wouldn’t work anymore,” Childress said. “The areas we knew we had to work on, it was a team effort to turn that ship and we all turned it together.”

So getting back to the golden horseshoe, it’s officially Kevin Harvick’s. Now he just has to make sure he holds on to it throughout the Chase.

Fireworks after the race
After an on-track incident that sent Newman spinning, let’s just say there was a difference of opinion about what happened. The two drivers had a semi-animated discussion, and there some (very light) pushing involved.

Afterward, Logano explained that he does not like how Newman races the competition.
“He races me way too hard, he races everybody too hard. I’m not the only one that complains about it every week. He just went in and door-jammed me. I was down there trying to save it and trying to save it,“ Logano said. “When someone is right on your side it takes your air off. I’m down there just hanging on and hanging on. I saved it three times before I’m like, ‘He should have given me room by now.’ I will have to call and talk to him about it because I know I’m not the only one that complains about it, but I don’t know why he races everyone so hard. I hear it from too many people.”

Newman saw it another way, saying: “I’m just trying to teach the little kid how to drive.”
Short and to the point, I like it.

Also, I’m glad it didn’t come to blows. Ryan looks like a burly wrestler and Joey has as much meat on him as a stick figure. It wouldn’t have been pretty.

Points implications
We know Harvick qualified for the Chase, but what else happened today?
On the down side, Kurt Busch blew his engine early and dropped like a rock from 4th to 10th in the points. He’s got a healthy cushion on 12th, but that still has to sting.

On the upside, Tony Stewart’s solid sixth-place finish moved him up to fourth in points, a gain of four positions.

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The coveted 12th spot went back to Clint Bowyer, as Mark Martin fell to 13th after a terrible day and a 28th place finish.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hometown hero Keselowski outduels nemesis Edwards in front of appreciative crowd

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- You couldn’t have scripted it any better.

Hometown hero vs. his evil nemesis.

Local kid from Rochester Hills, who has gotten pushed around, pulls off a brilliant pass to get by his arcrival on a late restart.

However you want to word it, it was a pretty awesome setup to the Nationwide race at Michigan International Speedway.
Throughout the afternoon, fans were treated to an awesome battle between two guys who are on probation for knocking each other around on the track too much.

Ever since the probation begans, fans have been anxious whenever these two are near each other, but they’re smart enough to know that returning to the actions that got them on probation isn’t very smart.

Both of them want to win, but both also have been around long enough that they know how to do it without wrecking people in the process. The battles they had Saturday with each other, as well as Paul Menard were an awesome show for the fans and put a capper on a great day out at MIS.

Winning his second straight race at MIS wasn’t easy, though, as he had to deal with clutch issues in addition to his nemesis on the racetrack.
“Everything came together, from qualifying to the race. Carl put up a dogfight to pass. No one gave us anything today,” Brad told the media after cleaning up from a Victory Lane shower. “I didn’t know if we were going to pass him, it was going to be close. Then we had that restart, and I got the perfect side draft on him.”

Edwards said after the race that he enjoyed the battle with Keselowski.
“The good thing is that we are both on probation. Both of us are probably thinking the same thing, don’t be the guy that messes this thing up. He raced me very cleanly and I thought we raced well together. That is the kind of racing that I am sure we both want to be doing and I had a really good time. That was fun to be able to race that close. When he and I and Paul were all running one, two, three, that is as good as it gets.”

Winning in front of his home crowd was once again special for Keselowski.
“Driving for Roger Penske, this is one I’m going to cherish. I had the CEO of Dodge here. To get the first win for the Challenger here is special,” he said. “The win last year was special because we won the race without having the fastest car. This year we did. So it’s more of a team victory this year.”

Keselowski said the hype over his battles with Edwards never entered his mind as he raced Saturday.
“I think the contacts we’ve had in the past have been accidental. It’s easy to say so and so roughed someone up. But I didn’t drive my car any different today. It’s easy to report it as intentional. It makes a better story line. Sometimes cars just run into each other. There was the recipe for the same cake today, it just didn’t get baked. I honestly haven’t thought about racing the 60. I race him the same as I did before Atlanta or Gateway.

And in the shadow of his home state, Keselowski made sure to thank the people who have helped him get where he is today.
“It’s been a great ride coming from the local speedways, Flint, Owosso, Kalamazoo, etc., and apply it. It’s been a great ride from there,” he said. “I’ve been through some peaks and valleys. I’m on top right now. I’m a product of people who have worked hard for me, and some hard work of my own.”

And as he continues to rack up wins and rise up the NASCAR ranks, plenty of people in Michigan are thanking him right back, as was evidenced by the crowd’s roar as he took the lead that final time.

Notable runs
Among the notable runs among the field today in the Nationwide was the 17th place finish by John Wes Townley, the young driver who is most famous for spinning at almost every track he visits, usually without any help from his competitors. Instead of a wrecked racecar, he actually finished on the lead lap, something he has only done 5 times in his 35 career races.

Other young competitors doing a good job were Roush drivers Colin Braun, who finished 9th, and Ricky Stenhouse, who finished 13th.

Driver sent to hospital

Nationwide driver Robert Richardson Jr. was transferred to a local hospital after Saturday’s race, but no further information was available on the reason.

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Stewart defends NASCAR fines; Gibbs team swaps drivers

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- In the past, Tony Stewart has been among the drivers most likely to criticize NASCAR publicly when he didn’t agree with them. But in regard to NASCAR’s recent decision to fine a couple drivers after their comments about the sport, he is not in the critical camp.

Toting the company line, Stewart said: “I’m not sure that NASCAR as a sanctioning body deserves some of the things that we say as drivers and some of the things that the media says. The sport and the racing right now is more competitive than it’s ever been. From NASCAR’s side, they’ve got to do what they have to do to protect the sport.”

He went on to say that most of the media does a good job in his view, but: “There are a few bad eggs in the media center who go out of their way to find negative things,” and hurt the sport in the process.

I just have one question. Where is the old Tony Stewart and can we have him back? I miss him.

Stewart to auction race-worn firesuit, helmet

In other Tony Stewart news, he will be holding an online charity auction, at

Through August 23, fans can bid on a race-worn firesuit and helmet that Stewart wore at the Chicagoland race in July. Proceeds go to charity.

Very cool item if you’re a Stewart fan and want to put in a hefty bid, but you might want to wash it first, unless you want the smell of Tony Stewart‘s sweat in your collectibles room ... which I suppose is possible.

Swap and learn
The Gibbs drivers haven’t exactly been lighting things up in the Cup series in the past few weeks, so they tried an interesting strategy Saturday at MIS in their efforts to figure out their woes: A driver swap.

In the morning practice, Kyle Busch drove the #11 car and Denny Hamlin drove the #18 car, to see if they could help each other out in getting some more speed.

Dave Rogers, crew chief for Kyle Busch, said it was a helpful experiment.
“It was a great exercise. One of the benefits at JGR is how tightly the three teams work. We just talked about it and said it would be really neat to switch drivers and just see what they feel. I think it was very productive. I think we learned a lot.”

Mike Ford, Hamlin’s crew chief, said you can get different perspectives from this type of swap.
“Basically seeing what you can learn from two guys that can be competitive in different thing with similar stuff. It gives you a benchmark of how far you need to work.”

Hometown pole for Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski has claimed the pole for this afternoon’s Nationwide race. The Rochester Hills native has now earned 8 poles in 127 career starts, and his fifth pole of the season.

“The Dodge Challenger is a beautiful car and it will look even better running up front. It wasn’t an easy lap, that’s for sure. I had my hands full, but Paul Wolfe gave me a great race car. This car is fast. It means a lot to get a pole here at my home track."

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Jack Roush loses sight in left eye, vows to keep flying

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Jack Roush, as we expected, hurried right back to the racetrack as soon as he could, just a couple days after being released from the hospital and less than 3 weeks after a plane crash left him hospitalized.

What we did not expect is the news that broke Friday about how the crash has affected Roush. He has lost sight in his left eye as a result of his accident.

Still, in true Jack Roush fashion, he said he doesn’t intend to let the injury prevent him from flying, which is one of his biggest passions.
“I have to go through my recover he said,” he said. “Wiley Post was a one-eyed pilot and there’s no restriction. Maybe if you’re an airline pilot you can’t have one eye, but there’s not a reason I can’t fly with one eye.”

Taking a more spiritual look at his situation, Roush said he feels lucky to survive his latest brush with death, which was second plane wreck in recent years.

“I survived two car wrecks too, both of them in racing. I’ve been extraordinarily luck to have been able to survive and I feel in some ways unworthy,” he said. “I’m not sure I’ve done enough yet for the chances that I’ve had. Maybe that’s recognized and they’re just giving me more time.”

Roush broke down his injury list, and it’s not short. You can visually see the difference in his face.

“I had a damaged left cheek. I had a broken jaw and I had a compression fracture in my back and I’ve got a back brace for the compression fracture. I have hardware in my cheek. I still have packing in my nose because they say it’s biodegradable and it will come out on its own. I’m still uncomfortable with the fact that I can’t breath clearly through my nose. Everything will come back and I was blessed to have great vision in two eyes and now I’ve got great vision in one.”

He said the damage to his eye is permanent: “I’ll recover everything but the sight in my left eye.”

To come back to the track with all that going on shows just how much Roush cares about the race team. Greg Biffle said he has only missed one meeting during his time in the hospital, attending the rest by phone. He also said that 97 percent of the conversation he has had with Roush since the wreck have been about the race team, as that has remained Roush‘s focus throughout his personal struggles.

Other drivers said it was great to Jack back at the track.
“It was pretty cool to go down there and shake his hand and say, ‘Welcome back.’ ” Clint Bowyer said after qualifying

On the topic of racing, Roush was excited about the team’s performance in recent weeks.

“I think that we’re in a position to be better for the end of the year than we have been all year. If we don’t have a mechanical error and miss a wreck, we have a good chance to put three cars in the Chase,” he said.

The fact that this is his concern shows how important racing is to Jack Roush, and I was glad to see him back.

Whether being a one-eyed pilot is a good idea is a whole different topic, but I’m sure the entire racing community is happy to see Jack back, as he has done a lot for the sport and is well-respected.

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Kevin Conway, Extenze part ways with Front Row team

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Things are changing at Front Row Motorsports, where driver Kevin Conway and the sponsor, Extenze, will no longer be on or in the car. Friday morning, before practice, the decals were pulled off the car, and it was announced that Conway would not be driving the car.

Extenze put out a release saying they are “100% committed to Kevin Conway and the sport of NASCAR, so obviously something went wrong at Front Row to drive them away.

There are no doubt more details to come on this story, as Conway, a rookie, has done a decent job getting experience in the Cup series this year and staying out of the way when the top drivers are approaching. He hasn’t exactly racked up top finishes, but Front Row isn’t exactly a top-level organization. It appears something happened between the sponsor and the team, and Conway is out of a ride as a result, since he is connected to the sponsor. Now, the only hope he has to finish out the year is for another team to pick up both sponsor and driver.

This year, that might be tricky, but next year speculation already has begun that a team lacking sponsors, such as Richard Petty Motorsports will attempt to pick up the Conway-Extenze package. I hope this happens, as Conway deserves a chance to develop as a driver.

Baby #2 for Gordon
Jeff Gordon and his wife Ingrid welcomed their second child into the world this week, a boy named Leo Benjamin.

On Friday, he was still beaming.
“Oh it’s so amazing. It was a great, great, great week. I can’t say enough. I’m thankful that everything went as planned and everybody is healthy and doing well. Just every day you just smile bigger and bigger because it’s an amazing experience.”

Kahne claims pole
Capping off a week in which he announced his new ride at Red Bull Racing in 2011, Kasey Kahne set a speed of 187.183 to take the pole for Sunday’s race at MIS.

“I carried a lot of speed down the backstretch. It wasn’t turning enough, so I just floored it and used a lot of the racetrack, but we were able to hang on.”

Starting second was Jimmie Johnson, who said after qualifying that he was almost there.
“To lose it by 2 hundredths of a second, I just left a little bit on the track.”

Starting third is Clint Bowyer, who is just 10 points out of the Chase and needs to have a good finish.

“These are important times for us, racing for the Chase. This goes a long way toward a good run on Sunday,” Bowyer said. “Our cars are running well, we just keep having crazy things happening. I think we can be a part of this Chase.”

He also got in a good zinger on Kyle Busch, who earlier in the day had said he only has one really fast car among the stable of #18 rides at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Sounds like he needs to buy a Chevy,” Bowyer quipped.

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Childress team: 4-car team won’t bring team down in 2011

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The fourth car won’t ruin our team’s success.

That was the message from Richard Childress and his drivers on Friday at Michigan.

Childress addressed the media along with his newest driver, Paul Menard -- who will come to RCR, along with his family’s Menard’s sponsorship, in 2011, making RCR a four-car team again. Menard’s RCR deal is for three years, running through 2013.

Last season, having four teams didn’t work out so well for RCR, which had a terrible season with Casey Mears driving its fourth car. The team has rebounded tremendously in 2010 as a 3-car operation, especially the #29 car of Kevin Harvick, but it’s not just about the numbers, according to the folks at RCR.

Harvick explained it pretty bluntly: “It wasn’t a four-car team issue last year. It was a slow car issue. As long as the cars run fast, it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Sounds simple, but how do you make that happen?
Jeff Burton said the key is not to cannibalize the other teams, stealing away key people, and instead build a brand new team with a whole new group of talented people.

“You have to put a program together that can be successful with 4 teams. You need proper people, funding, organization. Without those things, a fourth team will be a detriment. For me, I’ve been a proponent to expand to four teams,” Burton said. “We can’t take from the 3 teams. You have to build a company that’s stronger, so the fourth team is a benefit.
If you don’t expand engineering, aerodynamics, all the things required to be fast in the sport, you do yourself a disservice. You take what you have and divide by four. You have to expand.”

Burton also said that RCR can learn from the mistakes it made in 2009.
“We learned by having four teams not to do it. We didn’t do four teams right, we did it wrong. I would not support a fourth team if it doesn’t make our company stronger.”

Childress, a lifer in the NASCAR business, is more than aware of the questions people will raise about him going back to 4 teams, considering how bad it went last time. But he said it’s not going to be a repeat of 2009.

“We’re going to do this team completely different. I think the key is Paul, his driving abilities fits right in with our guys. He’s done such a great job on the race track, just improving. He took off early this year and was in the points a pretty good ways up there. We feel that we can take and keep him right up there running for the Chase next year. The end of 2009, we came on real strong and all four teams were running good. That’s kind of where we’re at.”

Menard shares Childress’ enthusiasm, and expects to compete in 2011 and beyond while driving for RCR. In response to the recurring criticism that he only has a ride because of his family’s sponsorship money, Menard brushed off the attacks.

“It’s all talk. It’s all what you make of it and I’ve looked past that and grew past that. People will always be talking about it and there is nothing that you can do about that,” Menard said. “Bottom line is we’re a racing family, we have a racing heritage and that’s what we enjoy doing. It’s kind of our hobby, it’s part of our business, and it’s worked in the past and will work in the future.

Childress said his grandson Austin Dillon, who drives a truck owned by Childress, gets similar criticism, but Dillon and Menard are not just riding their family name to a career … they are backing it up on the track.
“If you watch them on the race tracks, Paul does the job on the race track. It’s something he loves to do and a passion; it’s not just because he’s got the sponsor. The difference is both of these guys really want to go out and win.”

I don’t doubt Childress’ claim that Menard wants to do well on the track. His assertion that Menard gets it done can be questioned, though.

I’m going to be watching this situation with a lot of interest as it unfolds, as I’m curious whether Menard will be able to succeed now that he’s made it to a top-level team. If things are done right, and they don’t destroy the other 3 teams in the process of adding a 4th, this will be Menard’s chance to shine … and in the process prove all the “daddy’s money” haters wrong.

Can he do it? We’ll have to wait and see, but if he fails at RCR he will only fuel his critics’ doubts. The early success in 2010 give me some hope that he can succeed, but I can’t say I’m quite as optimistic as Childress.

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Fords, Roush team on a roll after rough start, hope to compete for title

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The last time the NASCAR show rolled in into Michigan International Speedway, just two months ago, things were looking dire for the Ford teams, which were not up to par with their competitors.

An issue had been discovering regarding unreliability of its simulation program, and it was very possible that things weren’t going to end very well in 2010 for the Roush and Richard Petty teams.

Thankfully for those teams, that’s starting to change. The FR9 engine, which was just being phased in at that point, is now being used on all Fords and is performing admirably. Greg Biffle won a race at Pocono, and Carl Edwards has been knocking on the door of a win for the past month.

Biffle said Friday at MIS a lot of factors have contributed to the team’s rise this summer.
“We feel like we’ve got a front suspension geometry or model that’s running much better now, thanks to some help from the RPM guys and help from some of our Roush Fenway guys. They’re working really well together. That’s helped us,” he said. “The FR9 is in full swing. We’ve had a few issues, but they’re gone to the drawing board and really worked things out. The engine is running good. We know a litle bit about it and our cars have gotten better and our simulation is getting better as far as how the cars are racing and driving, so I think you’re gonna see us run well here.”

Carl Edwards, who has five straight top-7 finishes is the hottest Ford driver right now, and he said Friday that he is confident about the rest of the year.
“If we can run well the next several races, we can make the Chase. And if we can get any better, we can win the championship. Two or three months ago, I didn’t think that was the case.”

Even if he starts the Chase toward the bottom of the top-12, Edwards said a title is still possible due to the resetting of the points.
“You can definitely win the championship if you start in 9th, 10th or 11th. It’s so competitive, things happen so quickly. Definitely someone could win the title who’s not up there right now.”

The talk of a Ford resurgence is not just words, either. It’s not just words either, just a couple hours after saying he’d run well at MIS, Biffle went out and ran fastest in the first practice, with Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard and Matt Kenseth also running top-10. Roush has traditionally dominated at MIS, and it appears he may do so again this weekend.

If so, that would be a great present for an ailing Jack Roush, who was just released from the hospital after his recent plane crash and immediately came out MIS and was walking around the garage area Friday. The big news on the Roush front was that Jack has confirmed he has lost sight in his left eye as a result of the accident.

The bottom line is that Ford fans can breathe easier now, as it appears the shaky start to 2010 is a thing of the past, and the rest of the year will be a much happier time.

Whether they can topple Rick Hendrick is another question, but at least now it’s in the realm of possibility.

Busch says fast cars in short supply at Gibbs
Kyle Busch said Friday that the Joe Gibbs Racing team has only a handful of truly fast cars, and the rest are lacking.

“We’re trying to find some more cars that we know will be fast. We’re missing a little bit. There’s something that we just don’t have yet,” he said.

He said it’s frustrating because the cars built identically and test similarly in the wind tunnel, but once they hit the track only one car is his fleet is truly fast, and the rest can‘t run up front. He said it’s similar for both of his teammates.

On the opposite end of that, this year’s Mr. Consistent, Kevin Harvick, said all his cars are running strong.

“I don’t even know what car I’m in each week. I got out of that mode a long time ago. I haven’t driven a bad car all year.”

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

WITH VIDEOS: Driving In the 160 mph lane with Juan Montoya

Oakland Press photo/MATT MYFTIU
Juan Montoya stands by a Corvette ZR1 at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford after test driving the car

Normally, if someone told me they’d be driving me around a road course at 160 mph, I’d probably attempt to exit the vehicle as soon as possible.

But when the pilot of that vehicle is Juan Pablo Montoya, the formula Formula 1 ace turned NASCAR driver who was victorious last weekend at the road course in Watkins Glen, I was a bit more at ease.

In town for this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Montoya took some time out of his day Thursday to visit the GM Proving Grounds in Milford and check out some of the latest Chevy products, and give some media members a taste of life in the fast line in the process.

This was all possible due to the car we were driving, a 638-horsepower Corvette ZR1, which is the top-of-the-line model that diehard collectors demanded, and runs almost $120,000, and provides an experience on par with many of the big foreign sportscars you’ll find driving the Audobon at breakneck speeds. If you want to be able to drive this fast, you have to spend some serious dough.

There really is no describing the feeling of traveling at such speeds. I did it for less than five minutes, gripping my door handle tightly the whole way, and even though I knew the person driving was more than capable of keeping it on the track, the human mind can’t help but fear the worst. As Montoya tried to get more and more speed out of the car, enjoying every minute of it, there were a couple moments where a bobble or two had me nervous.

Not so for Montoya. He, like most racecar drivers, is at home in a racecar. A mismanaged move that might scare a normal person driving that fast is just a challenge for him and his fellow drivers. This is why they’re the ones on the racetrack and we’re at home watching the race from our couch. Where we might cringe, he lets out a laugh of enjoyment, as he did several times during our brief ride.

And trust me, I’m fine with that. The thought of driving at up to 200 mph for four hours each week is not my idea of an easy paycheck.

Still, it was a very cool experience, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a better pilot. If Montoya shows the same skills at MIS Sunday that he showed at the Proving Grounds driving on a course he had never used before, he might just find his way to Victory Lane.

Reflecting on the season
Earlier in the afternoon, I got a chance to take a more leisurely ride in a Chevrolet Cruze around another track on the Proving Grounds.

Montoya said the win last week at Watkins Glen was a big confidence booster for the team.
“It was good for team motivation. We had a lot of success leading laps and qualifying, but weren’t closing the deal.”

Despite the fact that Montoya is not in the Chase and likely won’t make it like he did last season, he said he’s happier this season because he is contending in more races.

“We’re just have had really terrible luck,” he said. “We have like 7 DNFs this year, it’s kind of insane. Would I rather be in the Chase or be like this? I’ll take this, because you can build on it.”

Montoya also touched on another big issue this: driver rivalries. Despite so many big stars talking trash about each other, Montoya said most of that is just heat-of-the-moment talk and doesn’t carry over to future races.

“At least for myself it’s the heat of the moment. You’re out there to get the job done, and you’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. Are you going to piss people off sometimes? Yes,” he said. “In this business you have a thick skin. And if you have the balls to get out of line, you have to have the balls to apologize.”

After one incident, Montoya lashed out at his own teammate, Jamie McMurray, but he said things like that are just part of the business and are quickly forgotten, even if no discussion is had to officially settle the issue.

“We’re both race drivers, we both know what we’re doing and why things happen. You go and solve the issues and you talk about it. You don’t even really need to talk about it. Some people like talking about it, but I’m good either way.”

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Who will be out at Red Bull, now that Kahne is coming?

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kasey Kahne will get wings for one year when he drives a Red Bull Racing Toyota in 2011.

The shock announcement of the week came when it was announced that Rick Hendrick had brokered a deal to let Kasey Kahne be on load to the Red Bull team to drive a Toyota in 2011, before coming to Hendrick to take over the #5 Chevy in 2012.

It took most of us by surprise, as we were all wondering which Chevy team Hendrick would place Kahne at for the year … turns out Chevy wasn’t in the cards, though I don’t think brand loyalty is really Kahne’s lawsuit (There’s that whole issue of bolting from Ford to Dodge early in his career … plus he drove Dodges in 2009, Fords in 2010, will drive Toyota in 2011 and will drive Chevys in 2012. Might as well throw a Buick or Oldsmobile in there for kicks.)

This whole deal shows just what kind of weight Hendrick has in the sport. He could probably broker a deal like this for any driver, in any car make, if given enough time. (Kahne’s deal wasn’t exactly an overnight setup.)

I still think it will be a kind of throwaway year for Kahne, as he won’t have the full Hendrick support he will get in 2012, but at least he’ll be racing for an established team.

So now that Kahne’s future is known, another couple drivers are on the hot seat. That would be Brian Vickers, currently recovering from serious health issues and awaiting a doctor’s OK to return next season, and Scott Speed, who has fizzled out after a decent start to the year. Both guys have traditionally had big support from the Red Bull team, but I’ll be curious to see who gets to play second fiddle to Kahne in 2011. My money’s on Vickers, who is determined to make a comeback and will do whatever is necessary to do it. He has shown he can win, and the team should hold on to him if he’s healthy.

Speed, though, might be in trouble. He’s been with Red Bull for many years, going back to his Formula 1 days, but he hasn’t exactly been impressing on the track this season. If he doesn’t start to pick up his efforts as the year comes to a close, the team’s hospitality may run out. It’s possible they could go to a three-car effort, but with so many struggles now that they are at 2 cars, it might be a pretty tough undertaking to make a 3-car team work.

Martin to Red Bull in 2012?
Remember those rumors a little while ago about Mark Martin going to the Red Bull team? Well, the way I see it, it might happen after all, just a year down the road.
Looking into the future, I can almost see it now. As 2011 is winding down and Kahne prepares for the end of his short time in the Red Bull machine, and Mark prepares to exit the #5 car at year’s end, a deal will be announced.

When Kahne comes to Hendrick, Martin could easily replace him in the Red Bull machine. I’m sure the Red Bull team would be more than welcoming of a veteran like Mark who can still race, and I fully expect this scenario to unfold in the coming year.

It’s so far off at this point that anything can happen, but I think this just makes sense. In fact, it may have been agreed upon already, behind the scenes, as the negotiations for Kahne’s deal were being made. Mark my words, as this is looking good in my crystal ball.

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Friday, August 6, 2010

RCR should be careful about 4th team after 2009 debacle

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR
Will Paul Menard, pictured above on track, be an RCR driver in 2011?

Richard Childress has never been one to give up, and apparently one idea he is holding onto is the idea of having four teams.

The last time, to be kind, didn’t work out so well. With Casey Mears in the fourth car last year, 2009 was an abysmal year for RCR. None of the team’s cars made the Chase – finishing between 15th and 21st in the standings. This was a huge dip from their performance in 2008, and it appears that 4 teams presented a bigger challenge than the team was ready to handle.

The team slimmed down to three teams in 2010 with the departure of Mears, and has rebounded wonderfully. Kevin Harvick is leading the standings and is remarkably consistent this year. Jeff Burton is solidly in the Chase and Clint Bowyer is battling hard to make it, too. It would seem 3 is the magic number for success.

Not so fast. There’s a kid named Menard running around with a boatload of his dad’s money (John Menard is worth several billion dollars) and is looking for a good ride. According to reports, he may have already made plans to settle at RCR, putting that fourth team back in operation for 2011.

It’s a tough situation for Childress. On one hand, things are going well as they are and you don’t want to upset the apple cart. But when a guy comes knocking with money in hand, you can’t exactly turn him away.

Fourth teams are tricky, and history shows that it’s almost impossible for every one of the four teams to do well. For this experiment to be a success, Childress better hope that if this plan goes through, at the very least 2 or 3 of his 4 cars run up front each week in 2011. Otherwise, he’ll be back in a very familiar position next year, right back where he was in 2009.

The best-case scenario is that RCR has learned from what it did wrong in 2009 and doesn’t let the addition of a fourth team limit its ability to succeed in 2011. The roll they are on this year has put them as close to stopping the Hendrick dominance of Cup as they have ever been, and it would be a shame to see them return to struggles of the past.

A slimmer Richard Petty Motorsports
There is good news and bad news for Richard Petty Motorsports.

The good news: A.J. Allmendinger has signed a multi-year extension, and they hope he can be the anchor of the franchise into the future.
The bad news: He pretty much is all the franchise has at this point.

Kasey Kahne is leaving, as we all learned long ago, and Elliott Sadler can’t wait to get out the door. Menard is on his way out, too, along with that important sponsorship, so that just leaves A.J.

Rumors are that Marcos Ambrose wants to sign with the team, but the proper sponsorship has yet to be found. At this point, the best-case scenario is that things work out with Ambrose and the team drops from four cars to two cars as they head into 2011. That’s a pretty big makeover from year to year, and a sign of just how difficult it is to keep a Cup team operating and running well.

Kahne and Martin saga
At this point in time, even with all the other news going on, it’s still a huge story that we haven’t yet heard what Kasey Kahne will be driving in 2011. I was surprised by just how early we heard the announcement of his move to the #5 car, as announcing in mid 2010 what someone will do in 2012 is just plain strange to me.

So with the season more than half done, we still don’t know where Kahne will be in 2011. Kahne is a talented driver, who many think will compete for titles in his career, but it’s very realistic that his 2011 will be a kind of throwaway year, which is amazing to me. All the holes are closing up (no Stewart-Haas third team planned, Finch planning to close up shop on the #09 car), so there is no good ride for Kahne to take over in 2011 as he waits for Martin’s contract to finish up.

So if Mark won’t budge, that leaves just one possibility in my mind, that some random team will be created by someone, with help from Hendrick, for Kahne to drive for in 2011. This would be very difficult and not a recipe for much success.

Of course, there is still a possibility of Martin moving out of the #5 car early to leave room for Kahne, but if you have heard Mark in the past few weeks that’s not very likely. He insists he’s going to fulfill his contract, and Hendrick said he’ll respect Mark’s wishes.
Some people have gone so far as to suggest the “right thing” for Martin to do is step aside. Of course, this is just silly … the “right thing” for Mark to do is whatever’s best for him, not Kasey.

In my mind, I see Kahne having the whole rest of his career to prosper at Hendrick, so he can wait a year to get in that ride. I just find it stunning that 2011 may end up being a throwaway year for one of the biggest drivers in the sport.

Attendance woes
This latest Brickyard 400 saw 140,000 fans attend at Indy, when over 300K attended when Brickyard 400 first started. Things are getting ugly on the ticket sales side of the sport. Even the night Bristol race was not sold out, last I checked. I never would have imagined that could happen. It just goes to show that nothing is really safe when the economy hits the toilet.

15 years of the Trucks
I saw a great feature on TV last week marking the 15th anniversary of what started as the “Supertruck” series.
If you look back at what these things used to look like (big old boxy pickup trucks), and see what they’ve become, it’s quite an evolution. Without all the advancements over the years, they would have never been able to run at tracks like Pocono.

One thing that doesn’t change is some of the lifers in the series … in the first Supertruck race, the polesitter was Ron Hornaday and the winner was Mike Skinner, so those guys have been there, with minor breaks from the very start. I still maintain to this day that if you want to see some close, fun racing, this is the series that most consistently provides it among the top 3.

Happy 15th birthday Trucks.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

If NASCAR is going to muzzle drivers, they should do it publicly

NASCAR’s hypocrisy was exposed this week when it decided that it’s fine with drivers “having at it” on the track, but not with their mouths.

It’s been reported that Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin received fines, secretly, after being openly critical of the sport. Hamlin believes his fine revolved around Twitter comments he made after a recent race concerning the possibility of fake cautions being thrown to bunch up the field.

Surprisingly, most drivers defended NASCAR’s secretive fining policy, including one of the most vocal drivers of all, Kevin Harvick.

"Well, I think if you got up here and said ESPN sucked, you'd get fired,” he replied to a reporter’s question on the topic. “In the end, it's everyone's responsibility to make sure that the sport is going in the right direction. 'Have at it Boys' on the race track is different than off the race track and having open reign on whatever you want to say about the sport because the last I checked most of us wouldn't be near as lucky having the jobs that we have if we didn't have this sport. So, it partially the responsibility of all of us to make sure that it goes in the right direction. So if you've got something to say, it's very easy to pick up the phone or walk over to the trailer and go express your feelings to somebody. And it's just not the right place to do it through this room (media center)."

Harvick went on to say he didn’t really consider the fines secret.
"Well, I think when you're hiding something you keep it to yourself. But there are a lot of people that are involved in decisions like that and lots of people know. Honestly, I don't think it's anybody's business. I don't think it's your business or anybody in this room's business. I think it's better to keep it between the teams because it's simpler."

Others, like Kyle Busch, just played ignorant.
“I don’t know. Is it the right thing? Whatever NASCAR feels is the right thing, they’re going to do. For us and for myself, it’s not in my budget so I’m not going to be worried about it.”

This all sounds a bit brainwashy to me, but it was echoed by other drivers, too. Apparently, secret fines are cool with them.
I’m not surprised, though. They are making millions of dollars by racing in NASCAR. If Mike Helton tells them to do something I guess they’re going to do it.
That doesn’t make it right, though.

Helton’s defense of this policy is just crazy. He said that the sanctioning body is focused on making sure a positive message about NASCAR is driven home to the public.
"What we discourage throughout the industry is sending the message that the sport isn't worthy of following." Helton said Thursday.

When I hear this statement, and the ones from drivers accepting this, I get an image of “Manchurian Candidate”-style thought implantation.
I don’t want my drivers to be robots running around saying that “NASCAR is good … you must watch” over and over. If NASCAR did something stupid that they don’t like, they should tell everyone without fear.

The good news is that these guys make enough money that a $50K fine isn’t going to shut them up if they’re extra mad and need to let their feelings be known. But you can bet that on most occasions, they will be quiet, especially since it hasn’t really been announced what comments are acceptable and what crosses the line.

The secrecy is what bothers me … I know that in the NBA players are fined for criticizing referees, and the same goes for other sport. But it has to be in the open. Secretly fining drivers without informing the public and other drivers is just inherently wrong.

What do they have to hide?

Strange seeing Almirola in 24 car

It was very interesting to see another driver, Aric Almirola, drive the #24 car in practice at Pocono while Jeff Gordon himself was looking on from high above.

Fresh off getting ready to fill in for Jimmie Johnson in the case of an untimely baby birth (didn’t happen), he’s preparing to take on the same role for Gordon should it become necessary this weekend.

It got me thinking that if there weren’t so many drivers in his stable already, Hendrick might just sign Almirola. He seems to like him a lot. Too bad he doesn’t even have a spot for Kasey Kahne, yet. But at least Almirola’s keeping his name fresh in Hendrick’s mind.

Elliott Sadler needed a win badly, and he got it

I can honestly say I can’t remember the last time I saw Elliott Sadler in Victory Lane … It’s been a while, to be kind. (actually 2004, if you really want to know)

So after all his struggles in recent years, it was truly a feel-good story to see him get back to winning at Pocono on Saturday, and he even said in Victory Lane that he could barely sleep the night before because he knew he had a truck that could win. A win by a guy like Sadler means so much more to him than, say, Kyle Busch – who gets a trophy nearly every week and nonchalantly accepts it (or smashes it to pieces.)

Right now, Sadler needs good news. He is leaving Richard Petty Motorsports, and has no set destination. Looking around the garage, there’s not a ton of premium rides open, and even if there were it’s doubtful Sadler will be at the top of the list of potential hires.

To be honest, as Tom Petty once sang, the future is wide open for Sadler.

This win is huge for several reasons. For Sadler, he gets a confidence boost, as he approaches his shaky future because he has shown he still can win races if given the proper equipment (in this case, a KHI truck). To the potential employers, they see a guy who still has the fire to win and is capable of doing so, even if the recent past might indicate otherwise.

While he is a veteran of NASCAR, Sadler no doubt wants to stick around for a while longer and be competitive, and solid performances like he had holding off Kasey Kahne and others to win this truck race at Pocono (which was pretty cool, but way too short) will help that happen.

Watch out for Trevor Bayne

Michael Waltrip has picked a winner in Trevor Bayne.

Just a teenager, this young man is on a roll, and Bayne is on a quick path to be a star in this sport. He has 3 straight poles, 4 top-5s in the last 6 races, and Saturday at Iowa he ran toe-to-toe with Kyle Busch for most of the race – something that’s not easy to do, as Busch usually checks out on the field if he gets up front. Bayne said he observed Busch and learned a lot.

"I learned so much from following Kyle (Busch). He deserves every bit of the credit he gets. He's in great equipment, great crew
chief (Jason Ratcliff) and he's an unbelievable driver. That first 50 laps he was sideways the whole time and I followed him up and
learned that top groove. How to get the car straight to run off of the corner and get good drive. Our car was really free at the
beginning, but as the night came on we got tighter and we kept getting tighter and tighter and that's what really got us at the end. If
that thing would've ended in daylight we probably could've got our first win here. But, we're so happy about these top-fives every
weekend. We're just as excited as we can be."

Look for Bayne to continue his rise this year, and compete for the Nationwide crown next season. He’s got a very bright future, and Waltrip should do everything he can to hang on to the young man. It would be great to see him get a win this year, and it’s also very possible when you look at his recent results.

"If we stay in the top-five I think it's eventually going to come, so we've just got to make sure we stay there every weekend and be in position," Bayne said.

Tim Richmond is topic of ESPN show

Tim Richmond is like a four-letter word to NASCAR. They don’t talk about him, even though he is one of the best drivers ever in the sport and had some great battles with legends including Dale Earnhardt during his time in the sport.

See, Richmond has AIDS, and that was a no-no for clean-cut NASCAR back in the 1980s. So there’s the whole story about a failed drug test that wasn’t really a failed drug test. (The way NASCAR treated Richmond is why people initially believed NASCAR was lying about Jeremy Mayfield)

Haven’t heard the whole story of Richmond? I suggest you watch ESPN at 8 p.m. October 19, when “Tim Richmond: To the Limit” will air. I hope this documentary will tell the whole story, and am eagerly anticipating it. For a guy who had so much talent, he’s too often buried under the carpet when NASCAR history is discussed. He wasn’t perfect, and made a lot of mistakes, but Richmond was a champion-caliber driver and deserves recognition for that, whether NASCAR admits it or not.

Here’s the official description of the show:
“Natural. Rock star. Outsider. In the 1980s, race car driver Tim Richmond lived his life the way he raced cars – wide open. Born into a wealthy family, Richmond was the antithesis of the Southern, blue-collar racers who dominated NASCAR. He also was a flamboyant showman who basked in the attention of the media and fans – especially the attention of female admirers. Nevertheless, it wasRichmond’s on-track performances that ended up drawing comparisons to racing legends. And in 1986, when he won seven NASCAR races and finished third in the Winston Cup series points race, some believed he was on the verge of stardom. But soon his freewheeling lifestyle caught up to him. He unexpectedly withdrew from the NASCAR racing circuit, reportedly suffering from double pneumonia. In reality, the diagnosis was much more dire: He had AIDS. Richmond returned to the track in 1987, but he was gone from the sport by the next year as his health deteriorated. He spent his final days as a recluse, dying on August 13, 1989, at the age of 34. Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Rory Karpf will examine the life and tragic death of one of NASCAR’s shooting stars.”

Contest offers fans chance to “Win Your Chevy”
Race fans can choose their own Grand Prize package – including a new Chevrolet and a chance to meet one of four Team Chevy drivers – when they enter at now through Sept. 13, 2010.
One Grand Prize Winner can select one of four 2011 Chevrolet vehicles – Camaro, Malibu, Silverado or Traverse – and the opportunity to meet Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart or Clint Bowyer, plus win a trip for two to Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekend in November.
“This is a unique opportunity for race fans to put together their very own prize package,” said Terry Dolan, Manager, Chevy Racing. “To be able to choose which Chevrolet vehicle they’d like to win and which Chevy driver they’d like to meet makes this a race fan’s dream. Team Chevy is proud to turn one fan’s dream into reality.”
No purchase is necessary. See official rules for details at

The numbers game for KB
So, apparently Kyle Busch is still obsessed with numbers … which helps explain why he wants to run every series every week.
Saturday’s win at Iowa was his 54th win in a Toyota, and 75th overall NASCAR win of his career (18 Cup, 39 Nationwide, 18 Truck).

Oh yeah, he’s only 25 years old … it’s really unbelievable.

But don’t expect Busch to celebrate just yet. He has a much higher number in mind for his career.

"It's pretty big. But it's not quite where I want to be. The big number is 200 so hopefully I can get there,” Busch said after the win. “We're 25 away from cracking halfway there and I might be able to get it here in the next two years so that would be pretty cool."

Wallace wants to win
For a guy starting to run strong every week, Steve Wallace wasn’t very happy after a 6th place run at Iowa, the place his daddy helped design. In fact, he was downright miserable.

"Most disappointed I've ever been in my life, man. I had an awesome car those last two runs. We kept pulling air out of the left sides,
dropping the track bar, and the thing kept getting better and better and better and better. There ain't no reason to even talk about it,
because we finished sixth. But if we would've got out front, I think I would've had a shot to win it, I really do. The guys had awesome
pit stops, I mean incredible pit stops all day -- and on the money stop, we screwed it up. It's another top-10, man, but sixth to 10th is
all we can do. We've got to get in the top five. We've got these cars handling now, but if it ain't one thing, it's another. Every time
I've ever had a shot to win a race, something always gets screwed up."

Chin up, Steve. You used to crash every week, now you’re getting top-10s. The future is bright, dude.

Ambrose departure leads to stability for Bobby Labonte

Bobby Labonte can breathe a little easier this week, as he’s found a permanent home … for 2011 and beyond.

Sure, he’ll bounce around for the rest of the year, but it’s clear he hopes to continue racing for a while, and the announcement that Marcos Ambrose will leave the #47 JTG Daugherty team (and likely head to Richard Petty Motorsports to take over the #9 ride from Kasey Kahne.)

This is the best news Labonte has heard in a long time. He’s been a hard-luck case for the past few years, since he left the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing car several years back. The former champ has become a backmarker, and he wants that to end.
Labonte seemed eager to get involved with the team, which he says can be competitive, and is eager for next season to begin.

"JTG Daugherty Racing is a solid race team that has come close to winning races with Marcos Ambrose and I'm looking forward to developing our new partnership in 2011," Labonte said. "The team is thriving and their technical alliance with MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) is intact. It's great to have next year already set in stone so when this season ends we can begin focusing on next year right away. Everything is in place and we have all the right ingredients to win races together."

The best case scenario for Labonte is that he and his new team rediscover some of the magic that the team found in 2009, when Marcos made some strides and became more competitive on a regular basis.

I don’t see Labonte becoming a contender to win races anytime soon in this new ride, but at least he probably won’t be in the position where he’s start-and-parking … the all-time low he reached earlier this year.

Labonte is a talented driver, though obviously past his prime, so I’m glad he has landed somewhere that’s halfway decent, as it gives him back some of the credibility that he had lost with his recent bouncing from team to team and start-and-parking. Newer fans are amazed when I tell them Labonte used to run up front and compete for championships.

This is probably his last best chance to get back some glory, so he better hope it turns out decent or he may end up back in the disappointing situation where he has been in for most of 2010.

I wish him luck, as it’s never an easy road trying to move back toward the top.

Petty honored at Chrysler event

Last weekend, a king was honored in Auburn Hills, as Richard Petty was among the honorees at the inaugural Walter P. Chrysler Legacy Gala Honors (others honored were Lee Iacocca, Jay Leno and Virgil Exner). The sold-out event drew more than 570 guests, and more than a million bucks were raised for the nonprofit Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, which aims to preserve the history of the Chrysler brand.

Petty won quite a few races in a Chrysler vehicle and no doubt boosted the brand’s popularity in the process, so the honor was very deserving. Also, one of the items auctioned off to a lucky fan at the event was “A Day With Richard Petty”.
For additional information about the Museum, please visit

MIS gives fans chance to drive on the track
If you’re a race fan in Michigan and want to give Michigan International Speedway a try, the track is giving members of the public a chance to drive on the two-mile track. The track -- in Brooklyn, Mich. -- is charging $25 for three laps around the track. Drivers will have to keep their cars under 70 miles per hour, but will be allowed to drive up the high banks. Public access to the track is offered now through Aug. 2-4, Aug. 6 and Aug. 23-25.
For more details, visit

Fiesta to pace MIS race
The new Fiesta is getting a lot of hype this year, and now it will get a showcase in front of more than 100,000 fans at MIS in a couple weeks.
The new Fiesta pace car for this August’s MIS race was unveiled this week at the Henry Ford Museum by Ford NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Matt Kenseth..
“When we got a chance to drive the Fiesta in June before the first Michigan race, I was really impressed with it,” said Kenseth. “It’s a fun car to drive, with great handling, and you can’t beat the fuel economy or technology. I can’t wait to see how it looks on the track. I hope I get a real close view of it at the race, because that will mean we’re running at the front.”

Edwards: Gateway leaving schedule is ‘heartbreaking’
Fresh off a controversial finish at Gateway, news came that the track won’t request to run a race next year, in part due to lack of ticket sales. Carl Edwards, who is from Missouri, considers Gateway his home track and says he can’t understand why it’s a not more popular destination.

“That’s sad, to me. I know it’s very frustrating for all of us that, for some reason, we haven’t had the success there fan-wise and attendance-wise that we want,” Edwards said. “I remember one of truck races I was in where trucks were sliding down the back straightaway sideways and we had six green-white-checkered restarts – one of the most dramatic finishes ever – and we’ve had some really dramatic Nationwide races, but I’m not smart enough to understand why that track wouldn’t succeed. It is a little heartbreaking. I like racing there a lot.”