Monday, February 20, 2017

COMMENTARY: Exploitation Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

The Monster Energy girls made their debut in NASCAR Victory Lane Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, and some folks aren’t exactly happy about it.

Winner Joey Logano had barely finished spraying his celebratory champagne after winning the season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona before the internet exploded with reviews – both positive and negative – of the Monster girls’ all-black, form-fitting attire.

“I can't believe the sanctioning body stooped that low,” said one indignant Facebook poster. “This is family friendly? Boobs and leather? I know a lot of people who would not take their families if sights like this become the norm.

NASCAR has (always) had beautiful women,” she continued. “But this is just downright SLUTTY!!!! As slutty as it gets.”

“Are we going for (the) porn star look?” asked another fan. “Leather bustier, Really?”

Daytona's Monster Energy girls
Yesterday’s Monster Energy girl outfits were admittedly more revealing than those of their “Miss Sprint Cup” predecessors, who wore stylized fire suits during Nextel/Sprint’s decade-plus run as NASCAR’s top entitlement sponsor. Monster Energy is a hipper, edgier brand, tailored to appeal to a younger audience. As such, it was expected that their Victory Lane representation might be a bit more… provocative.
The Monster Energy girls wore full-length black leggings Sunday at Daytona, with high-top boots and open-shoulder leather tops. No bare midriffs, no short-shorts, no thong bikinis.

As one Tweeter remarked, “I’ve seen more cleavage at Wal-Mart.”

Sunday’s Victory Lane attire was – in this writer’s personal opinion -- far from “slutty.” In fact, it was less provocative than many of the outfits parading outside my hotel balcony today on The World’s Most Famous Beach. But my opinion doesn’t matter all that much, since what is acceptable to one observer is “slutty” to another.

“The problem is that the ladies worked so hard to be reps for NASCAR and are being relegated to eye candy again,” said one fan via Twitter.

Linda Vaughn set a high bar.
That point of view is valid, but it is also somewhat lacking in historical perspective.

Since the earliest days of the sport, trophy queens have been part of the NASCAR experience. Since being named "Miss Queen of Speed” at Atlanta International Raceway" in 1961, Linda Vaughn has graced Victory Lanes at motorsports events around the globe. Now a youthful 73 years of age, the universally acknowledged “Queen of the Trophy Queens” remains a familiar sight in the NASCAR garage. From the outset, Vaughn was more than just a pretty face. She was (and still is) an intelligent, knowledgeable authority on motorsports who knows more about the machinery being raced than many of the men racing them.

Today’s Monster Energy Girls – like Linda Vaughn before them – are more than just pretty faces. And they do not deserve the “slutty” tag so flippantly bestowed upon them by some observers.

Lady Gaga: demeaning?
I recall no outrage two weeks ago when Lady Gaga showed up for work at halftime of the Super Bowl in an outfit far skimpier than those worn by the Minster Energy girls at Daytona Sunday. No one seemed offended by her choice of apparel, and many jumped to her defense (rightfully) when a small band of internet trolls criticized her for sporting six-pack abs that were not well enough defined for their taste.

Virtually every professional sport has cheerleaders on the sideline, complete with outfits skimpy enough to make the Monster Energy girls look downright overdressed.

Was Lady Gaga being “exploited” at Super Bowl L1? Was the presence of scantily clad cheerleaders demeaning to women and young girls? And if not, how can that possibly be the case for the Monster Energy girls?

There are a million different opinions on this topic; none of them any more (or less) valid than the others.

And that, my friends, is the problem.

From bikini to burka, there are lots of options out there. And with such a wide variance of opinion in terms of what people find acceptable, who gets to decide what is “too much” when it comes to Victory Lane attire?

In the end, Monster Energy does, along with the young ladies who don their chosen attire on Sunday afternoons. And that, unfortunately, leads to a certain degree of indignance among the fan base.

I am the proud father of two adult daughters. And as such, I have always encouraged them to be whatever they wanted to be in life. Doctor, lawyer, teacher, firefighter… or Monster Energy girl. The choice should be theirs, and theirs alone.

If we truly believe in the empowerment of women, we cannot have it any other way.

Make your own decisions, live and let live. It’s what we do in 2017.

Good News And Bad News For Hendrick Motorsports

Elliott (R) and Earnhardt swept the front row
Speedweeks 2017 is off to a flying start for Hendrick Motorsports.

Sophomore sensation Chase Elliott won the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500 for the second consecutive year Sunday, turning a fast lap of 192.308 mph. HMS teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will start second.

"Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has done a lot of work this off-season," said Elliott, the first driver to claim back-to-back Daytona 500 poles since Kenny Schrader turned the trick in three straight years; 1988-1990. "This team definitely has a knack for these plate tracks… but that stuff doesn't just happen by staying the same. Everyone is always trying to get better and make their cars better and faster; and the engine shop is always finding new things. I'm happy to be a part of it, and hopefully we can run good next Sunday."

Hendrick driver Kasey Kahne time-trailed eighth, with Jimmie Johnson 13th. Those single-car time trial results would seem to bode well for Hendrick’s chances in Sunday’s Great American Race. But for the second time in as many seasons, HMS cars have struggled when drafting

Twelve months after Earnhardt suffered multiple solo spins in Turn Four of the 2.5-mile tri-oval, Johnson lost control twice in Sunday’s 75-lap, non-point Advance Auto Parts Clash. The defending series champion survived the first incident, bouncing off the Ford of Kurt Busch and sending Busch into a spin that ended his day. Johnson’s second crash was more costly to the Lowe’s Chevrolet team, inflicting damage that ended their day with a 16th-place finish in the 17-car field.

But Johnson struggled in traffic. (USA Today photo)
“It’s bizarre, because it drove really good everywhere else,” said Johnson after his second solo crash. “The first time, I had a handling problem when it broke free and I got into the No. 41. Then after that, it was really loose (during) the last long stretch, before I crashed again. 

“I would have to assume that it’s relative to the height of the rear spoiler,” said Johnson, a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion who has uncharacteristically crashed out of six consecutive Clashes in the last six years. “When there is less air and the air is so turbulent back there, the spoiler is so small it’s real easy to get the pressure off of it.

“Then the back just rotates around.”

Johnson’s struggles were not lost on Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who viewed the procedings from the FS1 television booth while Alex Bowman drove his No. 88 Chevrolet to a third-place finish in the Clash. After spinning three times in virtually the identical spot during Speedweeks 2016, Earnhardt expressed concern with the Hendrick organization’s big-track handling package.

Within minutes after exiting his damaged racer, Johnson was already speculating that Sunday’s bright sunshine may have impacted the performance of his car.

“The sun certainly sits on that (Turn Four) edge of the track a little bit harder than anywhere else,” he said. “We will take some notes and learn from those mistakes and apply that to the 500 car.

“We can adjust rear shocks, rear ride height and try to get more pitch in the car in a sense to keep the spoiler up in the air longer.”

Hendrick’s on-track struggles may force the organization to abandon its recent policy of practicing minimally at Daytona, and drafting virtually not at all. Sources close to the team say both Johnson and Earnhardt will do a good deal of pack racing in this week’s practice sessions, in an attempt to diagnose and cure their continuing issues in the draft. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Petty Unhappy With Earnhardt's Return

"I was a little disappointed..."
NASCAR fans are anxiously awaiting the return of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to on-track competition this week at Daytona International Speedway.

Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, however, is not one of them.

Petty told FS1’s NASCAR Race Hub last week that he was “a little disappointed” in Earnhardt’s decision to return from a concussion suffered last season; an injury that sidelined him from the second half of the 2016 campaign.

“I was a little disappointed that he did,” said Petty, adding that Earnhardt has “lived half his life, and he don’t need to be messed up going to the next (half).

“I feel like he got through with it two or three times, and he had some pretty big knocks in the head,” said Petty. “I’ve had them, too. I think I still live in one of them, but hitting (my head) was never that bad. He’s got a lot of career, opportunities in front of him. He could make another career, and racing would be a minor thing for him.”

Petty compared Earnhardt -- who was medically cleared to return to competition this season after an exhaustive regimen of rehabilitation and therapy -- to Joe Gibbs Racing driver Carl Edwards, who cited a desire to maintain good health in his decision to retire earlier this year.

Junior returns at Daytona 
"Look, man, you are still a young man,” said Petty. “You still have your career in front of you. I don’t know if Carl had thought about that same of that kind of stuff.”
To some, Petty’s remarks smacked of “do as I say, not as I do.” After all, the avowed “King of NASCAR” raced with a laundry list of injuries during his Hall Of Fame career, even competing with a broken neck at Talladega Superspeedway in 1980 after a savage crash at Pocono Raceway a week earlier.
“When I broke my neck at Pocono, they took me to the hospital there in Pennsylvania and took x-rays,” recalled Petty in a 2016 interview. “The doctor came in and looked at the x-rays and said, `When did you break your neck before?’
“I didn’t even know I had broken my neck before. I probably broke it some time that I broke something else that hurt worse. They made me a special brace for my neck, and I qualified the car and started the race. I did get out of the car after a while and turned it over to another boy.”
Petty insisted that in his era, drivers were financially incapable of sitting out, unlike today’s stars with their seven-figure incomes.
Petty knows what it's like to race hurt
“No matter how bad you were hurt, your job was to get in that race car and do the best you could,” he said. “You had obligations to yourself, your family and the people that you worked with. You just went and done it.
“If you had a broken leg, you got in the car. If you had broken ribs, you got in the car. If you had a broken neck, you got in the car. If you had a broken shoulder, they taped the dang thing up, put you in the car and you went.”
The 42-year old Earnhardt said he believes he was initially injured in a crash at Michigan International Speedway in June of last season, though no symptoms presented themselves at the time. A second crash in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July prompted him to seek medical attention, and he stepped out of the cockpit under doctors’ orders four weeks later. 
The marked the second time NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver has been forced to the sidelines by a concussion, after missing two Chase races in October of 2012 with similar symptoms.
He told reporters late last month that he is not putting pressure on himself to return quickly to Victory Lane, saying, “I don’t know if I feel like I have something to prove. My fans want me to win… have a great year and win the championship. There is that expectation to compete and do well, but I’ve said 100 times (that) I’ve done more than what I set out to do.

“I’ve accomplished more than what I thought I would accomplish. I look at my trophies and I can’t believe they’re mine. I’m pretty happy with what I did. I’m blown away with how fortunate I’ve been.”

The third-generation driver will sit out next week’s non-point, Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona in favor of youngster Alex Bowman, before returning to competition in the season-opening Daytona 500; a race he won in 2004 and 2014.owman, before returning to competition in the season-opening Daytona 500; a race he won in 2004 and 2014.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Truex Set For Full Truck Season With Hattori Racing

Ryan Truex, the 2009 and 2010 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Champion, will run a full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule for Hattori Racing Enterprises in 2017, driving the No. 16 Toyota Tundra. Truex competed in 15 events with HRE in 2016, bringing home a career-best finish of second at Daytona International Speedway in February.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity to race my first full National Series season with HRE and Toyota Racing in 2017,” Truex said. "We started 2016 on a strong note and were able to contend for the playoffs, prior to stepping out of the truck after Charlotte. I know we can have similar -- if not better -- results in 2017 and I’m looking forward to contending for race wins and hopefully making the playoffs this season.”

Scott Zipadelli will take over the crew chief duties for Truex in 2017, his first season with HRE. In 2016, Zipadelli picked up his first-career NCWTS victory in August at Michigan International Speedway. The veteran crew chief also has three NASCAR Xfinity Series victories on his resume.

Truex made his HRE debut at Daytona last year and competed in select events throughout the 2016 season. In 15 starts the 24-year-old compiled one Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes. Truex has three career NCWTS starts at Daytona, with two Top-5 results.

“Ryan has the pedigree of a great driver and is even a better person,” said team owner Shige Hattori. “It was an honor to have him drive our trucks last season and I’m looking forward to competing for the championship with him and the team this season.  We recently moved into a new state-of-the-art shop facility and have recruited fantastic team personnel for this season. We feel like we’ve done everything to improve our organization which should result in competitive results.  I know the No. 16 Toyota Tundra will compete for race wins this season.”

There will be several sponsor announcements coming at a later date.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Lights Are On At Martinsville Speedway

Martinsville Speedway powered-up four of the track’s new LED light towers Wednesday night, for the first time. The lights, located along the backstretch of the half-mile track, gave engineers and track staff the first glimpse of what the “Light Up Martinsville” project will look like when complete.
“This is really exciting and such a historic day for Martinsville Speedway,” Track President Clay Campbell said. “I think we all had an idea of what it would look like, but know you can really visualize it. I can’t wait to see the whole track lit up. I think the fans are really in for a treat.”
Campbell said there is no more fitting way to celebrate the track’s 70th anniversary than by looking to the future.
“Last week, I was at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, as my grandfather (track founder H. Clay Earles) was honored, which celebrated our rich history and now we’re looking at what is part of, literally, a bright future,” Campbell said. “This shows Martinsville Speedway and our parent company International Speedway Corporation are committed to both our fans and our community not just now, but for long haul.”
The $5 million project will make the track the first major motorsports facility in the country with LED lights.
The ValleyStar Credit Union 300, NASCAR’s biggest, richest and most prestigious Late Model Stock Car race is the first race scheduled to be held under the lights, on September 23.

Racing returns to Martinsville Speedway March 31-April 2. The weekend starts on Friday with Virginia Lottery Pole Day and continues Saturday with the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be in action on Sunday with the running of the STP 500.

Motor Racing Network Honored By NMPA

Motor Racing Network -- “The Voice of NASCAR” – has been honored by the National Motorsports Press Association with 26 awards in 13 categories for broadcast excellence during the 2016 season, including first place in the Live Event Broadcast category for the fourth year in a row.
Motor Racing Network won that historic award for the Daytona 500 and followed that with a third place in the Live Event Broadcast category for the November race from Phoenix.  Mike Bagley, turn announcer on MRN’s race broadcasts and host of MRN’s Tuesday night “NASCAR Live,” as well as “The Morning Drive” on Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio, was named Broadcaster of the Year. Rich Culbreth, producer of “NASCAR Live,” was named Radio Producer of the Year.
MRN was recognized as the NMPA’s annual convention wrapped up in Concord, N.C. The network swept the top three spots in Topic Oriented Feature Radio and Event Oriented Feature Radio.  They also grabbed first and third place awards in Spot News. Winners included MRN’s Tyler Burnett, Ryan Horn, David Hyatt, Winston Kelley, Dave Moody, Brian Nelson and Darrell Smith.
“We’re humbly grateful for this recognition,” said MRN President and Executive Producer David Hyatt. “These awards reflect the hard work and dedication of our broadcast team, as they continue to support our mission of providing the Most Trusted and Authentic Motorsports Coverage.”
In addition to being named Radio Broadcaster of the Year, Bagley won first place in the Spot News category for his work on “NASCAR Live.” In Event-oriented Feature Radio, he and Culbreth teamed up again for top honors.
“I’m totally speechless, said Bagley.  “Receiving this award is quite overwhelming. From the day I started in this business, I have always tried to do my best at broadcasting a sport I grew up loving.  To be recognized by my peers is quite an honor.”
This year, MRN’s Digital content also took home NMPA glass. Three of the company’s digital video programs on won awards including first place to Producers Robbie Mays and Tyler Burnett (Wood Brothers Museum), second-place awards for both Steve Post/Craig Moore (Winged Nation) and Woody Cain (Motorsports Monday).  The daily website and mobile app also scored a victory for webmaster Jeff Wackerlin in the Portrait/Personality Photography category.
“I often tell people that if you are in the media business, you have to be in the multimedia business,” said Hyatt.  “We have embraced the role that Digital Content plays in our sport and these awards validate our commitment to the ever-changing new media marketplace.” 
Motor Racing Network will launch its 48th season of NASCAR coverage from Daytona Beach, Fla., with live flag to flag broadcast of the season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash special event on Feb. 18.  MRN will be the home to all of DAYTONA Speedweeks, culminating with the 59th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26.

Monday, January 23, 2017

COMMENTARY: Time To Add Some Spice To The Soup

NASCAR is set to shuffle its competitive cards in a big way later today, announcing a series of sweeping format changes for all three of its national series.

Beginning next month at Daytona International Speedway, Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup Series races are expected to be divided into three distinct segments, with planned stoppages in between. The opening two stages of each event will comprise 25-30% of the race total, with the final stage accounting for 40-50%. Each stage will pay championship points to the Top-10 finishers in descending order (10, 9, 8, etc.) with stage winners receiving a single bonus point for seeding at the start of the post-season playoffs.

Monday’s announcement will be controversial in some corners, with fans bemoaning the latest in a series of changes made to the sport in recent seasons. Ironically, the sanctioning says the changes were spurred by suggestions from that very fan base; an ever-changing group that seems to want more action, fewer lulls and a more compact product.

Today’s announcement will be a clear attempt by NASCAR to inject some excitement back into the first half of its events. For far too long, the sanctioning body has been dogged by complaints of “boring” races, with fans tuning in for the green flag, then wandering away – often for hours at a time -- to cut the grass, shop for groceries or tend the barbeque; confident that they won’t miss much.

More and more these days, they’re right.

In modern-day NASCAR, engine failures have become virtually non-existent. Cars don’t erupt in plumes of white smoke anymore, spilling fluid on the track while being chased down the backstretch by their own connecting rods. Mechanical failures of all kinds are down dramatically, with a vast majority of the 40-car starting field still on-track at the drop of the checkered flag. Tire technology has improved, leading to fewer blow-out related crashes. An increased dependence on aerodynamic downforce keeps cars glued to the race track like never before, resulting in fewer spins and crashes. Fewer caution flags means fewer pit stops, fewer restarts and less excitement; a trend that NASCAR cannot afford to ignore any longer.

Awarding 10 points to segment winners will incentivize drivers to go the front immediately and stay there, all day long. No more “riding in the pack,” no more “saving your car” for a points-paying finish that is still hours away. Modern-day NASCAR fans want action now instead of excitement deferred, and Monday’s announcement should deliver that, in spades.

Today’s announcement will be a difficult pill to swallow for many NASCAR fans. Personally, I am uneasy about a system that could – at least in theory – award the 2017 championship based on a driver’s ability to win the Daytona 200, 300 or 400. I’m a traditionalist, and appreciate the endurance aspect of our sport. I’m willing to sit through the occasional mid-race competitive lull, knowing that business usually picks up at closing time. But I’m in the minority, and I know it.

For every fan like me, there are a dozen who say they doze off during those mid-race lapses, lulled into a competitive coma by a sport that has contented itself for far too long with the idea of a dominant leader, cruising along with an eight-second lead, lap after lap after lap.

Is NASCAR’s new format manipulative? Perhaps. But there are worse things to be called than "manipulative."

Boring, for instance.

NASCAR cannot continue to be the sport you sleep through. With races routinely requiring more than three hours to complete, NASCAR has become a marathon event in a microwave society. That trend cannot be allowed to continue any longer.

There is too much on the line. 

We cannot expect a fan base increasingly raised on thrill-a-minute video games to sit and wait – often for hours at a time – for their final-lap payoff. It was time to add some spice to the soup, before we lose another generation of fans.

Adapt, or die.

Liberty University To Back Byron At JRM

JR Motorsports announced today that Liberty University will sponsor William Byron in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2017. Byron, who unveiled the No. 9 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro during a Facebook Live stream, will drive the car in 17 of 33 events this season, beginning with the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Byron, a native of Charlotte, N.C., is coming off a rookie season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series where he posted a rookie-record seven wins, 11 Top-5 and 16 Top-10 finishes.  The 19-year-old also claimed Rookie of the Year honors and qualified for the inaugural NCWTS Chase.

“Welcoming back William and reuniting with Liberty University, it feels like a homecoming for us,” said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, general manager of JR Motorsports.  “It’s remarkable to see how quickly William has advanced his talent since he drove for our Late Model team.  With the support from Liberty, we have a strong platform for him to have success at the Xfinity level.”

Founded in 1971, Liberty University is distinguished as the largest university in Virginia, and the largest Christian university in the world.  Liberty University was a previous partner with JRM during Byron’s Late Model career with the team in 2014 and 2015. 

“We here at Liberty have watched William grow, as a racer, as a student, and as a young champion for Christ,” said Jerry Falwell, Liberty University chancellor.  “We are proud of his achievements and are eager to see him continue to reach new heights.”

Along with the sponsorship news, it was also announced Dave Elenz will serve as crew chief for Byron and the No. 9 Liberty University team in 2017. Elenz, a 35-year-old native of Gaylord, Mich., transitions from a two-year stint as crew chief of JRM’s No. 88 entry.  He guided the team to four victories with drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick.

“It’s a privilege to have Liberty University on board with us in 2017,” said Byron, a Liberty University freshman taking online classes. “I’ve been honored to have had them as a partner the last few years, and I’m excited to take them into the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season. 
“I’m also looking forward to working with Dave [Elenz, crew chief].  He brings a lot to the table in terms of experience and leadership in this series.  That will go a long way in helping our No. 9 team on the track this year.”

A schedule of the 2017 races with Liberty University as primary sponsor will be announced at a later date, as will additional partners for Byron and the No. 9 team. Apart from its primary races, Liberty University will receive associate placement in the remaining 16 events.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ford, BKR Announce New Driver Development Program

Chase Briscoe to BKR
Ford Performance announced last week that it is formally initiating a multi-tiered NASCAR driver development program.

The first stage of that program will be a formal relationship with Brad Keselowski Racing and its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series effort, where Ford has signed Chase Briscoe as one of the drivers for BKR for the 2017 season.

"We're making a commitment to win long-term in NASCAR," said Dave Pericak, global director of Ford Performance. "We have been increasing our engineering support and our technological development at the team level, and now we're looking to work with our teams to find the best available drivers coming up in the sport."

The BKR effort, as well as other to-be-announced driver development efforts at different levels, will develop talent for all Ford teams in NASCAR. Current teams will be consulted as part of the selection process, but drivers in the program will have contractual obligations to Ford. In addition to their role within the NCWTS race program and related marketing efforts, drivers in the new Ford program will also assist the company as test drivers within the Ford product development program.

"Starting this program with BKR makes sense since it has made a significant investment in its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series operation and it is reflected in its success on the track," said Pericak. "As we at Ford look to develop new winning drivers for, ultimately, our Cup Series teams, the BKR model is a proven step in that ladder. We are enthusiastic about the role BKR will play in our efforts and we look forward to working very closely with the team in driver selection, engineering, and other mission critical areas."

"This is a big day in the history of BKR," said Keselowski. "To be recognized as a true partner to Ford and Ford Performance and what they are trying to do speaks directly to the hard work our team has put in over the last several years. It is an honor, frankly, and it is really what BKR is all about - providing young, talented drivers with championship-caliber equipment to continue to hone their craft and showcase their talents. We have been fortunate to have had a lot of success together with Ford across the three major NASCAR touring series and to now elevate that relationship in an official capacity is a testament to what we set out to do."  

Briscoe, 22, is an Indiana native who is coming off a 2016 championship in the ARCA stock car racing series, where he captured six wins. He has been racing since 2001 in a variety of series, including quarter midgets, sprint cars, Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge and K&N Pro Series West.

Sadler, Baldwin Team For Daytona 500 Run

Tommy Baldwin Racing will compete in the 59th running of the Daytona 500 with Elliott Sadler behind the wheel of the No.7 Golden Corral Chevrolet.

Sadler, a 16-year veteran of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, will do double-duty in NASCAR's opening weekend, competing in both the Cup and Xfinity Series. The Emporia, VA native and Baldwin have a relationship dating back to their days at Robert Yates Racing when Baldwin served as crew chief for Sadler.

"This is a great opportunity for me and everyone affiliated with Tommy Baldwin Racing," said Sadler. "I love the Daytona 500 and to have Tommy and Golden Corral offer me this opportunity is awesome. Tommy and I have known each other a long time. We actually won a qualifying race for the Daytona 500 together back in 2006. We're going to rekindle some of that magic and work our tails off to get our car in the race. I know Tommy is putting a lot of effort into this and we're going to go out and get the best result we possibly can for him and TBR's partners."

Golden Corral returns for their seventh season together and will bring back their popular 'Top 10 Kids Eat Free' promotion. If Elliott Sadler finishes in the top-10 at Daytona, kids 10 and under will eat free at Golden Corral restaurants nationwide on Monday, February 27th.

"We are excited to be working with Tommy Baldwin Racing for the seventh season," said Shelley Wolford, Vice President of National Marketing and Media at Golden Corral. "We will be cheering Elliott on to qualify at Daytona and then race for a Top 10 Kids Eat Free finish."

"We look forward to having Elliott join TBR and Golden Corral for the upcoming Daytona 500," said team owner Tommy Baldwin. "Elliott has always been a strong restrictor plate racer which makes this a great opportunity for everyone involved. We know our fans look forward to the 'Top10 Kids Eat Free' promotion every year so we want to capitalize on that and finish the Daytona 500 strong." 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

COMMENTARY: Edwards' Decision Makes Perfect Sense

Carl Edwards walked away today, calling a halt to his 13-year run as an elite competitor at the very highest level of the sport.

“I’m stepping away from full-time driving in the Cup Series,” he said. “I don’t have any intention of going back to full-time racing. I want to spend time outside the sport on things that are important for me.

“I believe it’s the right thing. It’s a personal thing.”

Edwards’ decision caught virtually everyone by surprise. Just weeks after a late-race crash ended his bid for the 2016 Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead Miami Speedway, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver appeared set for one of the most competitive seasons of his career. He had the talent, equipment, sponsorship and manufacturer support in place to finally grab NASCAR’s brass ring, but instead chose to not even make the attempt.

That decision is baffling to some, especially after admitting that he is walking away from the sport without so much as a backup plan.

“I don’t have a life raft I’m jumping onto,” he said. “I’m just jumping.”

For those who don’t know Edwards, that decision seems unfathomable. But for those who have shared space with him in the NASCAR garage, it makes perfect sense.

"I believe it's the right thing."
Edwards listed three major factors in his decision to step away; satisfaction with his career, the opportunity to spend more time with his family and a desire to step away from the sport while still healthy.

“This was such a surprise," said team owner Joe Gibbs. "I was all set for the holidays, to have a little R&R. When he sat down and shared (his plans), I was totally surprised. It was nothing about contracts… it was about something Carl felt was important.

“It was clear in our conversations with Carl that he had given this careful consideration and believes strongly that it is the direction he needs to go,” said Gibbs. “We support him in that. We loved having him be part of our team the past two years and we will miss him. But we hope he is happy in whatever is next for his life."

Gibbs added that he has offered Edwards an opportunity to remain involved with both the organization and the sport, but gave no indication of whether he will elect to do so. Edwards made it clear, however, that there is currently no “next step” on his competitive radar. There is no new race team, no manufacturer offering a lucrative position as either a driver or team owner, no looming television deal.

Just a realization that the time has come to apply the brakes, pull into the garage and go home.

"If I am going to get back in a race car, I'm calling Coach Gibbs first," said Edwards. "There is no better race team."

Edwards said he is satisfied with his NASCAR career, and he should be. His resume lacks nothing other than a Cup Series title, and he is a 28-time winner at the sport’s highest level, with 38 Xfinity Series victories and six more in the Camping World Trucks. Combined with a 2007 Xfinity Series championship, the only driver in the history of the sport to lose a Cup Series crown in a tiebreaker (to Tony Stewart in 2011) is a solid bet for NASCAR Hall Of Fame status one day.

Edwards admitted that a major factor in his decision to walk away was the ability to do so with his health intact. Through 750 starts in NASCAR’s three national series, he never missed a race due to injury. His fanatical devotion to physical fitness made him a cover model for men’s health magazines, but no workout regime guarantees continued good health in a sport that lives at 200 mph.

“The risks are something that I want to minimize," he said. "I need to take the time right now and devote it to people that are important to me.”

Edwards’ career wasn’t always smooth sailing. Stock car racing is an emotional sport, and the Columbia, Missouri, native raced – every day, every lap -- with his heart on his sleeve and a take-no-prisoners game plan; an approach that occasionally left him crossways with competitors and teammates alike.

Edwards and Logano crashed at Homestead
In March of 2010, a year-long feud with Brad Keselowski ended with Keselowski’s car hurtling upside-down into the catch fence at Atlanta Motor Speedway at nearly 190 mph; a horrifying crash exacerbated when television footage showed Edwards’ white-gloved hands turning sharply to the right, and into Keselowski’s rear quarter panel.

Edwards said he never meant to trigger such a horrific crash, and he and Keselowski eventually mended their fences.

It is perhaps fitting that our final memory of Edwards is from the moments immediately following last season’s Homestead Miami crash. After attempting to block a surging Joey Logano on a decisive restart with just 10 laps remaining, Edwards pounded the inside retaining wall, destroying both his Arris Toyota and his championship dream, in one fell swoop.

Most competitors would have reacted angrily, pointing an accusatory finger at Logano and bemoaning an unfair and unwarranted end to their season. Edwards, however, took the opposite approach, climbing from his battered machine and walking toward Logano’s pit as thousands of fans in attendance – and a national television audience numbering in the millions – braced for an epic confrontation.

With NASCAR officials in hot pursuit, Edwards climbed atop Logano’s pit box and shook hands with crew chief Todd Gordon, acknowledging one of the great, checkers-or-wreckers moments in the history of the sport with a smile and an unlikely wish of good luck.

It was one last act sportsmanship, a farewell salute from a driver that has bettered his sport; both on and off the race track.

That was the Carl Edwards we will miss. The Edwards who took time to interact – one on one – with little children, the elderly and the infirm. The Edwards who took his sunglasses off for television interviews, preferring to look straight into the camera when addressing his fans. The Edwards who media members knew as one of the most eloquent, insightful and honest interviews in the NASCAR garage.

Keselowski commented on Edwards’ withdrawal yesterday, saying via Twitter that he was, “blown away that this is happening.”

Penske Racing driver Joey Logano said, “Carl has always been one of the most fair and hard-racing drivers. I’ve learned as much from his character on the track as off.”

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France issued a statement saying that Edwards “has made an indelible mark on NASCAR. His hard-charging driving style has led to memorable moments that will live forever in the history of our sport. Carl's passion and personality will greatly be missed -- as will the signature backflips that NASCAR fans have come to expect following his victories. We wish Carl nothing but the best as he enters this next phase in life."
That level of esteem – even more than the wins and championships – defines Edwards’ career.
Edward’s decision makes perfect sense, and is based on the only thing that really matters. He is going home – healthy, happy and undamaged – to spend the rest of his life with his wife and children.

It’s not complicated, convoluted or complex. Today’s announcement is the result of  a simple man, refocusing on what is most important in his life.

“Life’s short,” he said. “You’ve got to do what your gut tells you. I don’t regret one bit of it. It’s been a blast.”

Yes it has, Carl.

Thank you.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Stewart Friesen To Race Camping World Trucks In 2017; Tommy Baldwin Will Manage New Team

Friesen To Trucks In 2017
Chris Larsen and Stewart Friesen have announced the formation of Halmar Friesen Racing, which will run the full 2017 season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, with Friesen as driver. Halmar International will serve as primary sponsor on the No. 52 Chevrolet Silverado.

Managing the day-to-day operations of HFR will be NASCAR veteran Tommy Baldwin Jr.

Friesen, a native of Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario, is a well decorated Modified and Sprint Car competitor. Making his NCWTS debut in 2016 at Eldora Speedway, Friesen ran a six-race schedule with a best finish of 13th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"I'm super excited to be part of the Halmar Friesen Racing team,"said Friesen. "We did a bit of racing last year to get our feet wet on asphalt, and we were pleased with our success. Everything we have going on with Tommy is exciting. It's great to have his experience guiding our team so we can hit the ground running in Daytona."

Friesen's crew chief will be Trip Bruce, who most recently worked with Baldwin in the K&N Pro Series East. Throughout his career, Bruce has ten wins in the Truck Series.

Larsen, owner of Halmar International, said of the new venture with Friesen, "We got our feet wet at Eldora last season mostly because we wanted to have some fun. After that, we ran several more races to get a sense of where we were. When an opportunity came to work with Tommy and it was a no brainer for us. Because of the relationship with Tommy we have committed to running the whole season. We know we will be prepared, we have good equipment and a great driver."

Friday, January 06, 2017

Texas Motor Speedway Set For Complete Resurfacing

Texas Motor Speedway will begin a major capital improvement project last week, consisting of a complete repave, construction of an extensive drainage system and a re-profiling of the 1.5-mile oval. 

The renovation will add a new layer of asphalt over the existing pavement, an expansive French drainage system on the frontstretch and backstretch, and reduce the banking in Turns 1 and 2 by four degrees. Barring extensive weather delays, the project is expected to be completed by early to mid-March in anticipation of the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 NASCAR doubleheader scheduled for April 7-9. 

The repaving and drainage system come as a result of issues the facility was incurring in attempting to dry the racing surface, in particular this past year when both NASCAR race weekends and the INDYCAR race were affected by weather-related delays. 

"The fans are why we are doing this," said Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage. "The old pavement no longer dried as quickly because through the years of use and weather, the asphalt became porous, kind of like a sponge. Even if we only had a brief shower it was taking us far too long to get the track dried in order to get on to the racing. We owe it to the fans to present the best possible race track so they will be assured of seeing NASCAR and INDYCAR races even if we face some brief inclement weather. This will accomplish that goal." 

Lane Construction Corp., of Justin, Texas, will handle the repaving project, after resurfacing several other speedways since 2003 including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Daytona International Speedway, Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway. 

The repave will feature an asphalt mix similar to the surfaces at SMI sister tracks, Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The mix used in conjunction with the construction method will aid in the track's properties of an "aged" track.