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, January 29, 2012

NASCAR should avoid tinkering with 'boys have at it' policy; Welcome back Ward Burton

Well that didn’t last long.

Just two years after the ‘boys have at it’ era began, it may be coming to an end.

NASCAR officials said this week that the policy will be examined before the season starts and the sport may not be as lenient this year.

"We reflect on that at the end of the year and the season hasn't started yet, but there are some things that a group of us will sit down and talk about, and that is one of them," NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said Thursday. "There were times that it got out of hand, and we're going to discuss what out of hand really is moving forward."

On one hand I understand, as some drivers (cough, Kyle Busch, cough) acted a fool in 2011 on the track.

But at the same time, I hope the policy doesn’t get ratcheted back too far. The ‘boys have at it’ era has produced some great moments for the fans, and I don’t want to see a nanny state imposed and take that away.

For the most part I do believe that the drivers have done a good job policing themselves; and hitting back when there were hit unfairly. True, there may have been some collateral damage collected along the way, but I don’t think it’s gotten too out of hand other than a couple occasions.

Let it be I say; The sport is on a good run here and there is no need to slow down the excitement level because a couple drivers went a little too far.

If they want to be more definitive about what is allowed, that is fine with me. But let’s not get too crazy about the regulations.

Welcome back Ward

One of my all time favorite drivers – Ward Burton, aka the man with the most hard to understand yet awesome accent in all of NASCAR is back after five years, this time with his son by his side. The former Daytona 500 winner will compete this season in the Truck series, along with his son Jeb, who is 19 and last ran in the Whelen All-American Series. Ward will run at Daytona in the truck, as Jeb is not yet qualified for the track.

Welcome back Ward, I hope you can get back to your winning ways.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

With news she'll skip 2012 Indy 500, Danica Patrick is clearly done with Indycar; focusing on her NASCAR future

The writing was on the wall all along.

For all of 2011, everyone knew Danica was leaving Indycar for NASCAR in 2012. She kept saying it was still up in the air, but it has come out now that she told her Indycar team a year ago she wouldn't be back.

So here we are, and Danicamania can now take full effect. She will be running the full Nationwide series this season, and many thought she would still take part in the Indy 500, since she is only a part-time Cup driver in 2012.

No dice, Danica has announced. She'll be in Charlotte for the Coke 600, so there is no Indy 500 for her this year, she announced, though she may attempt it in the future.

She said skipping Indy was a “business decision.”
“I hope to do it in the future, the Indy 500 that is, and maybe it will be a double,” she said. “But at this point in time, after a lot of conversations, it’s just going to be the Coke 600 and I think it’s going to be a big challenge. It’s just is something that didn’t work out, as far as the business side of things. ... For this year, it just didn’t happen.”

Translation; she's probably never going to race an Indycar again. The double isn't going to happen, not by her or anyone else.

By skipping the Indy 500 this year, when she clearly could have done it due to her part-time Cup schedule, Danica is sending a clear message.

I'm moving on, she is saying.
It was nice knowing you Indycar, but I'm off to the bigger bucks of NASCAR, she is saying.
Even your biggest stage isn't big enough for me anymore, she is saying.

She once dreamed of winning the Indy 500.
Now she dreams of winning the Daytona 500, and the Coke 600 and the Brickyard 400.

History shows there really is no going back once this bridge is crossed, so the Indycar powers-that-be will have to find a new driver to market come Indy 500 time. Their biggest superstar is gone and will likely never show her face in that series again.

It's a move that was not surprising to anyone who has followed Danica's career. Indycar is a minor-league motorsport compared to NASCAR and was not going to contain her.

She was easily the biggest star on that stage, and even though she's new to NASCAR it's pretty clear that she's already a top 3 or 4 star in terms of overall popularity among the general public (behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. and maybe Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon.)

If she can manage to win a Nationwide race this year, or do something crazy like win a Cup race (not likely, but just throwing it out there), she'll easily become the biggest motorsports star in the country -- right up there with good old Jr.

And even if that doesn't happen (which is likely the case), her decision to skip Indy makes a bold statement: She's all NASCAR all the time, so don't expect her to go open-wheeling ever again (and considering how the Indycar season ended tragically last year, I can't say I blame her).

She might claim otherwise, but considering how honest she was last year about the move, don't believe any of the hype she might spit out. Her Indycar days are done.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ford excitedly unveils its 2013 Ford Fusion Cup ride

Forget 2012 for a minute; Ford is pumped up about 2013 already.

On Tuesday, they were positively thrilled to unveil the new 2013 Fusion that will compete starting one year from now. Apparently, there had been discussions about bringing the Mustang up to Cup from Nationwide, but that all changed.

Ford Racing Director Jamie Allison said: “All along, we had planned to bring Mustang into Cup because that’s our iconic car, until we saw this at the studio (pointing to the 2013 production Fusion). You now see what we saw, a streamlined, sleek, sport roof line that is unique in the midsize segment. A lightness of design, something that’s about aerodynamics and efficient and belongs on the track; a dynamic car that looks fun to drive."

Allison said the Mustang will remain in Nationwide racing, after a successful debut in 2011.
“Mustang in Nationwide, Fusion in Cup – two great brands, two great series, reaching different fans,” he said.

There may be excitement now, but I say hold off until the thing hits the track. Let's see if it's a winner before anyone cheers too much.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fans can interact with drivers at this week's NASCAR Acceleration Weekend in Charlotte

NASCAR Acceleration Weekend will be a festival-like experience for NASCAR fans of all ages, featuring drivers and legends, unique interactive experiences and more.

The weekend’s activities commence with the 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Friday, followed by NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint on Saturday, where fans can interact with the sport’s legends and current stars, get autographs, participate in Q&A sessions and games, and get a sneak peek at the upcoming season.

NASCAR Acceleration Weekend culminates Sunday as the inductee spires and exhibits are enshrined for the first time in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Fans can visit to purchase a combo ticket package that includes entry into both the NASCAR Hall of Fame and NASCAR Preview 2012 for $20. Admission for children under five-years-old is FREE.

Top NASCAR drivers and legends, 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductees and current NASCAR Hall of Famers

Friday, January 20 - Sunday, January 22, 2012

NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Convention Center

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS (times subject to change):

— 4 p.m. – Storytelling event with 2010 and 2011 Inductees (NASCAR Hall of Fame Great Hall)
— 4:30-5:30 p.m. – Red Carpet Photo Opportunity (NASCAR Hall of Fame Great Hall)
— 7:30-10 p.m. – Induction Ceremony (Crown Ballroom) (**Credentialed media only**)
— 10-11 p.m. (approx.) – Post-Induction Inductee Media Interviews (Rooms 211 & 212)

— 7-9 a.m. – Junior Johnson breakfast with fans (NASCAR Hall of Fame Great Hall)
— 9 a.m-5 p.m. – NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint (Charlotte Convention Center)
— Driver autograph and Q & A sessions (see schedule below). Wristbands for autograph sessions will be distributed starting at 7 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.
— NASCAR legends leading fan tours throughout the day (departs from Main Stage)
— Junior Johnson (10 a.m.), Ned Jarrett (11 a.m.), Richard Petty (Noon), Bud Moore (2 p.m.), Bobby Allison (3 p.m.) and Darrell Waltrip (4 p.m.)
— 9:45 a.m. – NASCAR Foundation – Presentation of 2012 plans
— 10:30 a.m. – Unveiling of 2012 Miss Sprint Cup lineup
— 1-2 p.m. – DuPont press conference with Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty (NASCAR Hall of Fame Great Hall)
— 1:15 p.m. – American Ethanol announcement with Kenny Wallace
— 2:30-2:45 p.m. – Unveiling of NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion exhibit with Tony Stewart (NASCAR Hall of Fame)
— 5-7 p.m. – “Evening of Living History”: Inductees and legends sharing stories from their exhibits (NASCAR Hall of Fame)
— Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison (1979 Daytona 500 Exhibit)
— Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond (Mountain Dew Car in the Great Hall)
— Ned Jarrett and Bondy Long (Hall of Honor)
— Junior Johnson and Tom Higgins (Moonshine Still)
— Glen and Leonard Wood (No. 21 Car)
— Dale Inman and Bud Moore (Inspection exhibit)
· Sunday
— 9:30-10:30am – First Look of 2012 Inductee exhibits and Granite Marker Photo Opportunity (NASCAR Hall of Fame Garden), Presentation of Lifetime Membership (Belk High Octane Theater Lobby)


Convention Center Ballroom:
9:15 -11:15 a.m. – Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth
10:15 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. – Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson
11:45 a.m. - 1:45 p.m. – Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski
12:15 - 2:15 p.m. – Greg Biffle
12:30 - 2:30 p.m. – Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman
2:45 - 4:45 p.m. – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya
3:15 - 5:15 p.m. – Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart

Exhibit Hall:
— 9 - 11 a.m. – AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, David Ragan, Justin Allgaier, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Timmy Hill, Blake Koch, Travis Pastrana, Timothy Peters
— 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. – Aric Almirola, Marcos Ambrose, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Trevor Bayne, Brian Scott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Sweet, Cale Gale, Justin Lofton, Todd Peck
— 12:30 - 2:30 p.m. – Michael Annett, Elliott Sadler, Mike Wallace, Dakoda Armstrong, Johnny Sauter, Parker Kligerman, Brian Keselowski, Michael Waltrip, Jason Leffler, Todd Bodine
— 2:30 - 4:30 p.m. – Danica Patrick, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Morgan Shepherd, Kenny Wallace, Joey Coulter, Ty Dillon, Brendan Gaughan, Tim George Jr., Max Gresham

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jimmie Johnson is no longer NASCAR's defending Cup champion. … but does that help him or hurt him in 2012?

Jimmie Johnson is in a unique position heading into the 2012 season, one he hasn’t been in since 2006.

He is not champion.

If that seems like forever ago, it’s because it is.

No one has a reign like that in modern-day sports, which is what makes it so stunning.
But today is a new day … or rather, a new year.

Johnson is now just another competitor, not the defending champion. And the way I see it, that could work two ways for him.

One, it could be a positive motivating factor, as he and his team will do everything in their power to get back to the top of the heap. This is the most likely effect of Jimmie not being champ.

But it could work against him too. In his effort to get back up top, he could reach too far, take too many chances, and end up with some cars that just don’t match up to the field. Not likely, of course, as the 48 team does its homework every week, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility; as it has happened before even with great teams.

In a time when you would think he would work overtime getting cars ready, crew chief Chad Knaus didn’t show up to testing and was enjoying personal time.
Johnson said that it wouldn’t affect the team’s progress.

“He's been texting and emailing, so there still is that communication taking place. But we've got a very confident race team, and everybody is following the test plan, and we're going through the motions. Truthfully a lot of the work for this test was done at the shop getting prepared, and now we're just following a test plan. It's worked out well for Chad to take some time for himself, and I'm really happy that he has decided to do this. As we all know, he doesn't give himself much personal time.”

Oddly enough, 2006 was also the year that Jimmie won the Daytona 500. And he’d love to do it again this season.

It's such a special race, and I feel very fortunate to have won that race. At that point I didn't have a championship, and it's one of two races that you get a title when you win this race, this one and the Brickyard. It can make a career, and it was a huge, huge thing for myself when I won it in 2006.”

With his new situation, Jimmie said he is trying to look at the way he operates from new angles.

I've spent a lot of time through the offseason thinking about the way I'm involved with the race team, the responsibilities I have,” he said. “It's been a very good off season for me to internalize some things and to really evaluate what goes on from my standpoint and my involvement with the team and how good of a teammate and team member I can be for the 48 car, and I'm making changes. I feel like even though I tried to over the five year run not stall out and tried to continue to evolve and challenge myself and recreate myself. It's hard to do it. You have a roadmap that's working and it's hard to get too far from it. This winter has been really good for me to really dive down and understand the areas where I feel like I can do a better job and be a better member of the 48 team. So I know I'm stronger and better today than I was leaving Homestead, so I'm looking forward to 2012.”

That sounds like a confident Jimmie, something the competitors probably don’t want to see, but it’s all about what happens on that track. As with every year, some drivers will take a step up (as, for example, Brad Keselowski did in 2011), and some drivers will take a step down (like Jimmie did in 2011.)

Which way will Jimmie’s elevator go in 2012? Stay tuned starting next month and we’ll see.
Honestly, you can’t pick against him doing well and making the Chase. That’s pretty much a given, and he will win races here and there – he is Jimmie Johnson after all.

The key question becomes: Once in the Chase, can he reclaim that killer ability he had for so many years to come up big when it counted, or will he struggle again and let others (like Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart did in 2011) be the ones to catch fire?

The answer to that will be determined throughout the season – If Chad and Jimmie are clicking and he is showing that he can run with the best of him – watch out, as he might be aiming at title no. 6 with a realistic shot to win.
But if they struggle this season – who knows? Maybe the Jimmie Johnson era will be put even further into the past.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Petty says sponsors avoided Kurt Busch; Earnhardt Jr. wins facial hair bet; Kahne ready to race for Hendrick

NASCAR is back, sort of, with testing underway at Daytona, and the full media frenzy and interviews under way:

The preseason media frenzy began Thursday, and here are some of the highlights.

-- Richard Petty said a deal couldn't be worked out for Kurt Busch to drive the 43 car due to 'personality' issues; or in other words, no sponsors wanted to be associated with him.

No shock there. His personality was on full display at the end of the year, and anyone with common sense would want to steer clear, at least for now: Except, of course, a team like where he signed, the #51 car -- an underdog who was eager to get their hands on a championship driver and begin a climb to respectability. Only they would put up with someone as toxic as Busch at this point. I wish them luck.

— Danica Patrick on interim Cup crew chief Greg Zipadelli:
"His accent is not as thick as Tony, Jr. I understand every word he says.

-- Not that it matters much at this point, but Jeff Gordon led the morning practice session. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano were fastest in the afternoon session.

-- A wager involving facial hair between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth left Jr. $2,500 richer, when Kenseth failed to keep the muttonchop beard he had grown. ... Oh, those crazy drivers and their offseason hi-jinks.

-- Carl Edwards opened up about his heartbeaking end to the 2011 season, and his crew chief's decision not to go to Vegas:
“Well he didn’t go to Las Vegas because he was upset. He was working. After the race I could tell he was upset, just as I was and everybody was. That is it. If we weren’t upset about it and it wasn’t something that frustrated you then you probably aren’t in the right sport. I like to believe that we are wise enough to not let that get the best of us and just go perform and do the best we can. That is competition. That is life. You have to keep going and do the best you can. Honestly I really wish we could talk about this year. Let me put it this way, after the whole off season we parked the airplane at the airport and I was excited for the season to start and I feel more true confidence than I have had in a long time and feel we are doing well for the right season and have everything lined up. I don’t think that would be any different if we would have won. The season is going to be what it is and I feel like we are going to be good.”

I don't see a slump for Edwards; but it will be very hard to match his awesome 2011 run.

-- Kasey Kahne talked about finally getting to drive for Rick Hendrick after a yearlong stopover at Red Bull Racing:
"It's really just exciting to get started, to start working with the 5 guys and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. It's really an incredible place. I was able to spend some time there over the off season and just try to be as prepared as possible when we get here for testing and then when we get started during Speed Weeks.
It's neat, though. It's awesome to be able to talk with Jimmie and Dale and Jeff about racing and driving and things like that, and then just all the people that they have there. I don't know, it's just been kind of a different feeling more than anything than what I've had before at other race teams. It's a great opportunity, and I want to take full advantage of it."

One thing's for sure: Kahne makes the Hendrick team better, and I fully expect all four teams to do very well in 2012; even good-old underachieving Dale Jr.

That's all for the moment, lots more fun to come in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Welcome back, NASCAR. May 2012 be another good one.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Joe Gibbs Racing teams need a big-time improvement over dismal 2011 effort to contend for 2012 Cup crown

Joe Gibbs Racing has lots of potential.

They have Kyle Busch -- arguably the most talented pure racer on the track each week. Whatever you put him in, he's capable of winning in it. He's going to go down in history as one of the winningest drivers in NASCAR history -- yet he does not have a Cup title yet.

They have Denny Hamlin, who came oh-so-close to stopping Jimmie Johnson's fifth title in 2010, then went on a tailspin in 2011 and became the latest driver to have a slump after nearly claiming the title.

They have Joey Logano, aka "sliced bread", who was supposed to be NASCAR's next superstar when he came into the sport at age 18 a few years back -- um, that hasn't exactly worked out.

So what gives? In addition to three talented drivers, they have an owner in Joe Gibbs who is capable of winning championships in both football (he has 3 rings) and NASCAR (he has won 3 Cups, one with Bobby Labonte, two with Tony Stewart.)

Coach Gibbs no doubt has thought about this longer than I have, and yet somehow the results are not there on a level as consistent as you see with some of the other teams that compete regularly for the title. 2011 was a horrorshow for the team, which finished 9th, 12th and 24th in the final 2011 points standings.

It's all about coming through in the clutch, aka the Chase, and that's just not JGR's forte. Kyle Busch always self-destructs, especially this year -- when he went and got himself suspended from a Chase race due to some silly retribution in a Truck race, and wasn't doing much in the Chase before that. Will Kyle calm down in 2012 and finally contend for a title? I'll believe it when I see it. Something about the Chase format doesn't agree with him, and despite his boatload of talent there's no guarantee he'll ever win a title or even come close to it.

Hamlin had his one moment in the sun, and he blew it. He got too cocky when he had a lead on Johnson, then couldn't handle the pressure the final two races and psyched himself out of a Cup title. This year he tanked it, and who knows if he'll be fully back to his potential in 2012. He's got talent, obviously, he just needs to get his head straight and put that talent to proper use.

Now Logano is a whole different animal. He has the unfortunate background of being being viewed as the next big thing. So when he doesn't immediately live up to that, he is dissed as a failure. I say hold up, the kid is in his early 20s, has a huge potential, and if it hadn't been so much hype around him he might be viewed quite differently. 2012 opens a whole new year of challenges for him, as his crew chief Greg Zipadelli is gone and he'll have to work with someone new (Jason Ratcliff, who led the #18 JGR Nationwide team to a ton of wins, mostly with Kyle Busch driving). If he and Ratcliff can find a good bond, the key to any team's success, there's hope he can rebound from his terrible 2011 and get closer to being a Chase-worthy team. I said from the start of his career that Logano will be a great driver, and I stick by that. Given time, he will be elite.

There is no magic bullet here. All the Gibbs drivers have their own situations they need to overcome. Obviously, the team providing good quality equipment will help them on their quest to get back to Cup contention. But each driver will have to find that special something that Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards found in 2011 if they want to be a title contender in 2012.

Kyle might back off his Nationwide and Truck series schedules and focus more on Cup, a wise move, as lately this extracurricular work has just gotten him into trouble. Denny's work with a sports psychologist hopefully will pay off more in 2012 than it did in 2011, and he'll have champion crew chief Darian Grubb leading his effort this year -- not a bad addition. And Joey just needs to make the leap we've been waiting for.

It may or may not happen, but one thing is for sure; 2012 will most definitely be an improvement for JGR, which had a hell of an off year in 2011.

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

No down year here; Rick Hendrick continues to dominate NASCAR, despite end of Jimmie Johnson reign

It’s 2012, and Jimmie Johnson is not the defending champion for the first time in many years.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards battled for the championship, and if it weren’t for Tony Stewart’s amazing run in the Chase, Edwards would have claimed the title for the Ford camp. Many were excited by this news, claiming that Hendrick’s grip on the sport was loosening and his teams no longer were dominant.

But I must point out to this crowd that, in the end, Rick Hendrick still came out on top. No, none of his four teams won the title. But Tony Stewart did, using mostly Hendrick equipment due to SHR’s strong affiliation with Hendrick. When Tony started Stewart-Haas Racing, he was not starting a new team, he was taking over an existing team that was already affiliated with Hendrick Motorsports.

As a satellite team of Hendrick, he had their equipment, making SHR essentially another Hendrick operation. You can argue the semantics and say it’s different, but deep down we all know it’s true.

So what does that mean? Well, even though Jimmie Johnson didn’t win the championship, and Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t win the championship, Rick Hendrick essentially remained the championship team for the sixth year in a row.

So while it’s easy for the anti-Jimmie / anti-Hendrick crowd to get excited about the “change” that happened in 2011, a quick reality check will show that nothing really changed.

Jimmie was still strong, and will likely return to form in 2011. Stewart might make another run. Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr. and now Kasey Kahne have good chances of winning it all in 2012. So a seventh consecutive Hendrick title is a very real possibility.

Unless someone from the Roush camp, or the Penske camp, or the RCR camp or the Gibbs camp, can actually take the title away from the Hendrick umbrella, NASCAR will continue to be the domain of Rick Hendrick.

Other teams may win races and be in contention for the crown, but in the end a Hendrick-connected organization is still coming out on top.

Sad news from Dakar
The new year has started with sad news in the motorsports world.
On Jan. 1 at 11:19 a.m., Argentinean motorcycle rider Jorge Boero crashed and suffered a cardiac arrest. Medical staff reached him by helicopter, but were unable to resuscitate him and he died on the way to the hospital. Boero, 38, was taking part in his second Dakar rally.
NASCAR’s Robby Gordon is also competing in the event.

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