Thursday, March 05, 2015

Driscoll's Attorney Says Ruling "Changes Nothing"

Patricia Driscoll
Patricia Driscoll and her attorney have weighed-in on today’s decision by the Delaware Department of Justice not to file criminal domestic violence charges against Kurt Busch, saying it is no indication of Busch’s innocence.

While I respect the process, I am disappointed that full justice was not served here,” said Driscoll in a written statement. “My family and I take a measure of solace in the Order of Protection From Abuse granted by commissioner Jones, who ruled my account of the facts was the most credible. 
“At great risk to my personal and professional reputation, I have spoken candidly, at length and on the record, to a variety of outlets in an effort to correct the distortions and sensationalism that have unfortunately marked the coverage of this painful time in my family’s life. I would urge anyone covering this case to stick to the well-established facts. Giving further air to baseless and discredited accusations about me does a disservice to the public and reduces a serious matter for law enforcement into tabloid gossip.   

“In all future developments in this case, I will continue to stand up for my integrity and for justice. But for now, I am focused on my family, my friends, and my important and gratifying work with the Armed Forces Foundation.  

Mark Dycio
Driscoll’s attorney, Mark Dycio, criticized today’s announcement, saying “the decision from the Delaware Attorney General does not deny that the assault occurred, and indicates only that the state’s attorneys lack confidence in their ability to get a criminal conviction. It changes nothing about the established facts of the case. 

“Mr. Busch testified in open court that he squeezed Patricia’s face, and admitted to police that he slammed her head against the wall in the process,” said Dycio. “Given that these admissions establish an assault took place, and that police recommended Mr. Busch be prosecuted, it seems impossible that the attorney general’s office made this decision on burden of proof grounds.   

“It would be unfortunate, and a terrible precedent for victims of abuse, if the prospect of inviting a media circus fueled by Mr. Busch’s wealth, notoriety, and hostile PR team in any way swayed this decision.  

“We are comforted at least in the knowledge that the judge who did hear the evidence found clear reason to believe Busch committed the assault, and granted the protective order to Patricia and her family.” 

Busch Says "The Truth Got Out"

Kurt Busch has commented on the decision by the Delaware Department of Justice not to file criminal domestic violence charges against him, as a result of allegation leveled by former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.

“I am grateful that the prosecutors in Delaware listened, carefully considered the evidence, and after a thorough investigation decided to not file criminal charges against me,” said Busch in a written statement. “I wish to thank my family, friends, fans and race team who stood by me throughout this nightmare with their unwavering support.  Thanks also goes to my legal team for making sure that the truth got out and was fully provided to the prosecutors.

“As I have said from the beginning, I did not commit domestic abuse. I look forward to being back in racing as soon as possible and moving on with my life.”

COMMENTARY: No Winners In Busch/Driscoll Case

The Delaware Department of Justice announced today that no domestic assault charges will be filed against former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, saying insufficient evidence exists to prove Busch assaulted former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll at Dover International Speedway last September.

“The admissible evidence and available witnesses would likely be insufficient to meet the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Busch committed a crime during the September 26th incident,” said a written statement from the department today. That “reasonable doubt” threshold is markedly different from the “more likely than not” standard used by a Kent County (Del.) Family Court commissioner in issuing a no-contact order against Busch late last month.

With one legal decision now handed down in favor of each side, both Busch and Driscoll are now free to claim victory, announce their personal vindication and move on with their respective lives. The rest of us are free to put this tawdry chapter of NASCAR history behind us once and for all, turning our attention to happier stories from the race track and garage.

Busch must still remain at least 100 yards from Driscoll for the next 12 months, something he is almost certainly willing – and even happy – to do. With a new female companion on his arm of late, the Stewart Haas Racing driver appears ready, willing and able to move on, both personally and professionally. He and Driscoll will legally be allowed to share the same social circle at NASCAR races and other events, if necessary. Busch will still be required to undergo evaluation for mental health problems related to anger and impulse control, and cannot buy or possess firearms or ammunition for the next year.

Long ago and far away...
Today’s decision clears the way for Busch to continue his road back to full-time NASCAR competition, free from the looming threat of criminal prosecution. It does not, however, answer lingering questions about NASCAR’s handling of the Busch/Driscoll case, or the sport’s official stance regarding domestic violence.

NASCAR must still explain why it chose to suspend Busch indefinitely, after taking no action in a similar case involving former Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil in October of 2013. It must clearly outline how it will handle cases of domestic abuse in the future, and publish clear guidelines regarding what does (and does not) constitute actionable personal behavior in the future. While those decisions can now be made without the tumult and public scrutiny generated by the Busch/Driscoll case, they are no less important today that they were a month ago, and deserve to be addressed.

While both sides will likely claim victory, there are no winners in today's decision. Both Busch and Driscoll have had their personal reputations besmirched and their professional standing damaged. The court of public opinion is bound by neither law nor common sense, and the internet trolls will not easily be dissuaded from their harsh and hurtful opinions.

NASCAR has also taken a public relations hit, finding itself front-and-center in a dispute that generated more accusation than fact, more vitriol than substance.

Thank God it's over.

Busch Will Face No Charges In Alleged Assault

No criminal charges will be filed against NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, in the aftermath of an alleged assault involving former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll at Dover International Speedway last September.

The Dover Police Department investigated a complaint filed by Driscoll on Nov. 5, and forwarded its findings to the Delaware Department of Justice for review. In a statement today, the DOJ said, “After a thorough consideration of all of the available information about the case, it is determined that the admissible evidence and available witnesses would likely be insufficient to meet the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Busch committed a crime during the September 26th incident. Likelihood of meeting that high burden of proof is the standard for prosecutors in bringing a case. For this reason, the Department of Justice will not pursue criminal charges in this case."

The decision comes just two weeks after Kent County (Del) Court Commissioner David Jones granted Driscoll a no-contact order, requiring that Busch remain 100 yards from Driscoll for the next 12 months, except "at NASCAR races and related events where closer proximity is required." The order also required Busch to undergo evaluation for "mental health problems related to anger control and impulse control.” He also cannot buy or possess firearms or ammunition for the next year.

The ruling stems from a disagreement Busch and Driscoll had that took place on Sept. 26, 2014, two nights before the fall NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway.

Driscoll alleged that after an argument, Busch smashed her face three times into a bedroom wall inside Busch's motorcoach. Busch has emphatically denied the charges, saying he cupped her face and told her she had to leave, and that in the process the back of her head "tapped" the wall of his bedroom.

Busch was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR on Feb. 20, but has agreed to terms and conditions established by NASCAR for reinstatement. There is no timetable for his return, Regan Smith will replace him in this weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Phoenix Will Add New SAFER Barriers

Phoenix International Raceway President Bryan Sperber issued a statement today on the track’s plans to improve its SAFER barrier program.

“Following a review of the existing safety barriers at Phoenix International Raceway with ISC and NASCAR officials, PIR will supplement its existing barrier system,” he said. “A new tire pack barrier will be installed along the interior wall of Turn 4 in advance of the 500 race weekend.

“The additional protective barrier represents PIR’s ongoing commitment to providing a safe racing environment for its drivers, teams and fans. PIR will continue to work in tandem with NASCAR to expedite the adoption of additional impact-absorbing technologies, as deemed necessary, at our facility.”

Moffitt Lands Front Row Motorsports Ride For Next Three Races

Less than a week after an eighth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway, 22-year old Brett Moffitt will pilot the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Fusion in the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.

Moffitt will drive the No. 34 Shaw's Southern Belle Seafood Ford this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and will also be behind the wheel at Phoenix International Raceway on March 15 and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on March 22. 

The Grimes, Iowa, native fills the seat temporarily vacated by Front Row Motorsports veteran David Ragan, who is subbing for the injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18 car. Moffitt turned heads in Sunday's 500-mile race in Atlanta, earning a Top-10 finish in just his eighth career Sprint Cup Series start. 

The young driver is a nine-time winner in K&N Pro Series East competition and currently serves as a test driver for Toyota Racing Development and Michael Waltrip Racing. He made starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2012 and Camping World Truck Series in 2013, before making his Sprint Cup Series debut last June at Dover International Speedway.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to run some races for Front Row," Moffitt said. "After last weekend, I'm obviously eager to get back into a car and keep racing. I'm grateful to Bob Jenkins and his team for giving me the chance to do that. I'll do my best to get some good finishes for them. I'm also thankful that Michael Waltrip Racing is allowing me to pursue this opportunity. I think it's going to benefit everyone in the end." 

Team owner Bob Jenkins believes Moffitt brings valuable experience -- plus an eagerness to continue learning -- to the No. 34 team. 

"We know Brett doesn't have a ton of Sprint Cup experience, but he's got a lot of hours behind the wheel in testing time, and he was certainly impressive Sunday in Atlanta," Jenkins said. "For only his eighth start, he showed a lot of poise, patience and maturity that you don't often see in drivers that age." 

Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman is supportive of the arrangement. 

"As we anticipated, there has been heightened interest for Brett Moffitt's services after his solid performance last weekend in Atlanta," Kauffman said. "While he is committed to MWR, we are happy for him to gain further valuable experience and help Bob Jenkins, Jerry Freeze and the team at Front Row Motorsports over the next few races. Bob and Front Row were very gracious with our Toyota teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing after Kyle Busch's unfortunate injuries by allowing David Ragan to vacate the No. 34 to drive the No. 18. We will continue to work on future opportunities for Brett." 

Shaw's Southern Belle Seafood joins Moffitt as a first-time partner with Front Row Motorsports for the Las Vegas event. The Jacksonville, Fla.-based, "Made in the USA" premium seafood company makes crab cakes and stuffed crabs, sold in fine supermarkets across the country. The Shaw family has owned and operated the business, using recipes from original Southern Belle "Mama Shaw," since 1934.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Hamlin, Jones, Said Tabbed For Monster Energy Toyota

Erik Jones
Joe Gibbs Racing announced today that Denny Hamlin will fill in for Kyle Busch behind the wheel of the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry in this weekend’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and in four subsequent events.  
Busch continues to rest comfortably in his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, rehabilitating from a compound fracture of the right lower leg and left mid-foot fracture suffered from an accident during the February 21 XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway.  
No specific timetable has been announced for Busch’s return. However, Hamlin will compete in this Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, on March 21 at Auto Club Speedway, April 10 at Texas Motor Speedway, April 18 at Bristol Motor Speedway and May 23 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hamlin was previously scheduled to run six XFINITY Series events for the team this season. His schedule now increases to a total of 11 events.
Erik Jones will drive the No. 54 Monster Energy XFINITY Series Toyota at Phoenix International Raceway on March 14 and April 24 at Richmond International Raceway. He drove the Monster Energy car at Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend, finishing 13th after qualifying 12th. Jones continues to run a full season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports and a partial schedule for JGR in the No. 20 NASCAR XFINITY Series Camry.  
Also joining the Monster Energy/Joe Gibbs Racing stable is Carlsbad, California native Boris Said. The 52-year old NASCAR veteran will drive in seven XFINITY Series events with the No. 54 team, including Talladega Superspeedway on May 2, the non-companion XFINITY Series events at Iowa Speedway in Newton on May 17 and August 1, Chicagoland Speedway on June 20, Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course on August 15, Road America on August 29 and Kentucky Speedway on September 26.  
“We hate this for Kyle (Busch) obviously and I think everyone is focused on getting him back healthy,” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “We can’t thank Monster Energy and all of our partners enough for working with us while Kyle is recovering and certainly it is nice to have Denny and Erik ready to fill in. We’re also excited that Boris will have the opportunity to drive the car for seven races in 2015.”

Kansas Speedway To Host SpongeBob SquarePants 400

Nickelodeon today announced that it will serve as entitlement sponsor of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Saturday, May 9 at Kansas Speedway dubbed the SpongeBob SquarePants 400.  
“The SpongeBob SquarePants 400 gives Nickelodeon the opportunity to expand  its relationship with NASCAR, while working with a best-in-class track to give fans a unique, engaging and high-quality race experience that the whole family can enjoy,” said Pam Kaufman, Chief Marketing Officer and President of Consumer Products, Nickelodeon Group. “Nickelodeon has embarked on some great initiatives with NASCAR over the last 10 years, sponsoring and participating in marquee racing events that have resonated with motorsports fans across the country.”
“I’m excited to partner with Nickelodeon for the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 on May 9,” said Patrick Warren, Kansas Speedway President. “This is a great opportunity for us to engage SpongeBob fans of all ages to racing with a great partner.” 
Also at the speedway, attendees will be able to enjoy some pre-Mother’s Day fun in the Nickelodeon Kids Zone, which will be located in the Kansas Speedway Fan Zone.  The area will feature appearances from the SpongeBob SquarePants costumed characters, a SpongeBob SquarePants photo station and more. 
Nickelodeon has a long-standing relationship with NASCAR, teaming up with the motorsports giant on several programming and racing events. On the track, the network has sponsored the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, NC in 2004; participated in the Bank of America 500 week in 2012; and brought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in 2014. NASCAR has also contributed talent and content to Nickelodeon programming such as the Kids’ Choice Awards (Danica Patrick, 2012 and 2013), Kids’ Choice Sports Awards (Danica Patrick, 2014), Team Umizoomi (Jeff Gordon, 2012), Hammer Down (2014) and an upcoming Bubble Guppies episode (Jimmie Johnson, premiering in 2015). 
Since its launch in July 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants has become the most-watched animated program with kids age 2 – 11 for more than 13 consecutive years. Over the past several years, it has averaged more than 100,000,000 total viewers each quarter, across all Nickelodeon networks.  As the most widely distributed property in Viacom history, SpongeBob is seen in over 185 countries and translated in more than 50 languages. The character-driven cartoon chronicles the nautical and sometimes nonsensical adventures of SpongeBob, an incurably optimist and earnest sea sponge, and his undersea friends.

Report: Busch Begins Road To Reinstatement

Kurt Busch has taken the first step on his road to reinstatement to NASCAR.

Busch was suspended indefinitely by the sanctioning body on Feb. 20, after a Kent County (Del.) Family Court Commissioner ruled that he “more likely than not” committed an act of domestic violence against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll at Dover International Speedway in September.

Sources say Busch agreed to a number of conditions for reinstatement late last week, with NASCAR vice president of Integrated Marketing Communications David Higdon telling reports today that Busch’s road back was developed by “outside experts: with experience in domestic assault cases.

“One of the things they had advised us from the beginning was… that it was very, very important for us to provide a road back,’’ said Higdon to’s Dustin Long. “We’re pleased that he has indicated he will begin the program that we have laid out for him.’’

Higdon did not comment on what Busch will be required to do before applying for reinstatement. There is no timetable for him to complete those requirements, but he will remain suspended, pending completion.

Regan Smith will replace Busch in the No. 41 Chevrolet again this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Smith Back With Stewart Haas Racing In Las Vegas

Regan Smith will continue as interim driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Sunday’s race will be Smith’s sixth Sprint Cup start at Las Vegas. His most recent outing at 1.5-mile oval came on March 11, 2012, when he finished 15th. It will also be Smith’s third race in the No. 41 car. He drove the Haas Automation Chevrolet to a 16th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 and a 17th-place finish Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Smith already had history with Stewart-Haas Racing prior to Daytona. He subbed for Tony Stewart in the team’s No. 14 car last August at Watkins Glen International.

The 31-year old Cato, New York, native was the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year and won the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He is a fulltime driver in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and finished second in the 2014 championship standings.

A driver for the No. 41 team at next weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway and subsequent races has not been determined. 

COMMENTARY: Plenty Of Blame To Go Around In AMS Qualifying Fiasco

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying took another public relations hit at Atlanta Motor Speedway Friday, when technical inspection backlogs prevented 13 drivers – including some of the top names in the sport -- from recording a single lap time.

Former series champions Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were among those unable to take part in the opening round of group qualifying, after several teams experienced issues in the tech area and were forced to undergo a second inspection. Michael Annett, Mike Wallace, Matt DiBenedetto and Reed Sorenson missed Sunday’s race entirely, after failing to appear on the qualifying grid before the checkered flag flew.

NASCAR delayed the start of qualifying for 15 minutes Friday, before bowing to television and radio time constraints and throwing the green flag. Sadly, the delay was not nearly enough for every team to clear the inspection bay and make its way to the race track.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director Richard Buck insisted that teams had sufficient time to pass inspection Friday, pointing out that that the laser inspection bay was open for business throughout Thursday’s Sprint Cup Series test, as well. He said many teams attempted to push the envelope on rear camber last week, in an effort to increase mechanical grip.

Buck revealed that with 17 minutes remaining before the scheduled start of qualifying, every team had been through inspection at least once.  A total of 20 teams failed their initial inspection, however, and were required to rework their cars and try again.

"Their job is to push it to the very limit," said Buck. "Our job is to treat everybody fairly and give everybody an opportunity to come through that inspection room. I think what you saw today, was everybody pushing the limits.

"We treat everyone the same," he said. "There were cars that came through two, and even… three times, so everybody got a fair shot at going through there in a timely manner."

Kenseth, however, placed at least part of the blame on NASCAR, saying the sanctioning body was “obviously (not) organized enough to get everybody through tech. We've got all the people up there to watch qualifying and they don't get to watch everybody qualify.

“It's kind of confusing and disappointing, for sure."

In the aftermath of Friday’s fiasco, NASCAR and its teams must work together to diagnose what went wrong and take decisive action to ensure it never happens again. In the aftermath of a Daytona qualifying session that featured more lollygagging than actual qualifying, the sport cannot allow another debacle to occur this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

As is usually the case in situations like this, everyone shares in the blame.

“There is something wrong with the system,” said Gordon Friday. “Or with the amount of time they allot to get through. There is no way this many good cars (and) talented people can't figure out how to get these cars through inspection. Yes, we are pushing limits, but there is something wrong here.”

Gordon is correct when he says NASCAR must allow more time for teams to complete pre-qualifying inspection. NASCAR dramatically reduced the number of officials in the Sprint Cup garage last season, relying more on technology and less on living, breathing human beings. With fewer hands on deck, the sanctioning body’s ability to react when things go wrong is severely diminished.

New rules create new issues, especially in the first few races of a season. With a new slate of technical standards in place for 2015, NASCAR could have anticipated an increase in early-season compliance issues, along with an increase in the number of “repeat visits” to the tech line.

NASCAR is not solely to blame, however.

Race teams continue to push the limits in pre-qualifying inspection, particularly in the area of rear camber.  The 2014 season featured numerous tech-line clashes between NASCAR and crew chiefs who insist on living their lives in the gray area, skirting the boundaries of legality and leaving themselves no “wiggle room” in the critical hour before qualifying begins. In some cases, teams have even attempted to exploit the schedule, counting on officials to be overstressed, under the gun and less attentive to detail when time is short.

That is unfair, and it needs to stop.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams have all the equipment, personnel and knowledge necessary to build legal race cars that pass inspection, the first time around. In this era of high technology, there is no excuse for 20 teams – nearly half the field – to roll through tech with what amounts to an illegal race car. NASCAR also learned long ago that teams will push the technical envelope, then wait for the last possible moment to attempt pre-qualifying inspection.

Friday’s tech line crunch should not have come as a surprise to anyone.

Both NASCAR and its teams can do better. Rather than continuing to approach technical inspection as adversaries – playing “us against them” to the detriment of all involved – both sides need to compromise, soften their stance and learn to work together.

Gordon called Friday’s snafu “absolutely embarrassing” for the sport, adding that “the fans deserve an apology. They deserve better than this.”

On that point, there can be no argument. Changes must be made, if fans are expected to continue spending their hard-earned dollars on qualifying day. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

COMMENTARY: Tough Love For Atlanta Race Fans

It’s time for a little tough love.

In recent days, a familiar chorus of negativity has begun to emulate from the area surrounding Atlanta Motor Speedway. Social media is rife with commentary from area race fans, complaining that this weekend’s Folds Of Honor/Quik Trip 500 falls too early in the season for their taste. The radio talk shows are abuzz with disgruntled Atlantans, complaining bitterly about being “screwed over” by NASCAR and a March 1st slot on the Sprint Cup Series calendar.  

Bruton Smith’s 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor speedway is a motorsports showplace; fan friendly and conducive to fast, competitive, exciting racing. Track President Ed Clark and his staff do a bang-up job taking care of their fans and delivering an exemplary race day experience, and since the gates first opened in 1960, the Henry County speedway has done just that.

Sadly, however, Atlanta has historically struggled to fill its seats, and Sprint Cup Series events regularly roll off with the track’s towering grandstands only 75% full. That’s a dangerous state of affairs, and here’s why.

When Bruton Smith purchased what is now New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2008, his plan was to move one of the track’s two annual Sprint Cup Series weekends to another Speedway Motorsports, Inc. track, most likely Las Vegas. Once Smith got a first-hand look at those sellout Loudon crowds, however, all talk of moving a race came to an end. New Hampshire retains its twice-annual slots on the Sprint Cup schedule, and New England race fans have no reason to fear for the long-term future of their favorite race track.

Atlanta Motor Speedway fans do not have that luxury.

Empty seats and fan apathy have already sent one of AMS’s Sprint Cup dates elsewhere. If things don’t improve, the track could follow North Wilkesboro and Rockingham to the elephants’ graveyard.

The warning signs are plain to see. As far back as January of 2003, former NASCAR Chairman Bill France, Jr. warned that flagging attendance would put race tracks – any race track – in danger of having their dates “realigned” to other, more successful facilities.

It has happened to Rockingham Speedway. It has happened to North Wilkesboro. It has happened to Darlington, which now hosts just one Sprint Cup race per season. And it can happen to Atlanta, too.

Obviously, there are other tracks on the NASCAR circuit with attendance issues. A plummeting economy has cut this sport -- and every other business dependent on discretionary income -- to the bone, with tracks now eliminating seats in favor of higher-revenue options like luxury RV parking and Fan Hospitality zones.

Atlanta is not alone, but it is absolutely at a higher degree of risk. SMI’s Smith continues to bang the drum for a second Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and NASCAR has shown no willingness to add a 37th event, allowing him to do so. If Vegas gets a second event, it will almost certainly be at the expense of another Speedway Motorsports property. And by virtually all indications, Atlanta stands at the top of the Hit List.

Yes, the weather in North Georgia can be cold on occasion. It can also be hot, just like every other venue in NASCAR, or on the planet. No matter what the ambient temperature, however, Atlanta fans have historically proven to be lukewarm when it comes to professional sports.

The NFL’s Falcons were competitive last season, finishing third in the NFC South and remaining in playoff contention until a loss to Carolina in the final week of the regular season. They ranked 10th in attendance for the 32-team league -- well above their usual average – but still felt the need to pipe-in crowd noise over their stadium’s public address system, in a misguided (and illegal) attempt to disguise lackadaisical fan support.

The Atlanta Braves won 12 consecutive divisional titles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but led the National League in attendance only once. In Game Four in the 2010 National League Division Series, the Braves played in front of 6,000 empty seats, and their fans historically buy playoff tickets at the gate on Game Day, knowing there will be plenty to choose from.

Philips Arena – home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and WNBA Atlanta Dream – seats just 18,047 for basketball, but still struggles to fill the seats. Most years, you can stretch out and have a row to yourself. The Hawks are playing great ball this season with a league-best 45-12 record that places them 12 ½ games ahead of the Washington Wizards for first place in the Eastern Conference. They rank 20th (of 30 teams) in attendance, though, selling only 90% of their available tickets.

The National Hockey League tried and failed twice in Atlanta, with both the Flames (1972-1980) and Thrashers (1999-2011) attracting little attention from local fans. In their nine-year run, the Flames never ranked better than 21st of 30 teams in attendance, and the franchise now resides in the bustling metropolis of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Is it any wonder Atlanta is known as a lousy sports town?

In fairness, the University of Georgia Bulldogs have no trouble filling 92,000-seat Sanford Stadium for each of their home football games, while Georgia Tech and Clemson (in nearby South Carolina) also pack them in with regularity. NASCAR has often butted heads with the NCAA in recent years, battling for the attention of Atlanta-area fans. In almost every instance, NASCAR comes away holding the short end of the stick.

NASCAR has moved Atlanta’s race date a handful of times in recent seasons. Local fans see that sort of schedule shuffling as a lack of commitment to their speedway. In truth, however, it constitutes a frantic effort on the part of the sanctioning body to find a date – any date – that suits the fancy of the fickle Atlanta fan.

Unfortunately, it always seems to be “too something” at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It’s too hot, too cold, too close to football season, or too close to hunting season. It’s too close to Labor Day, too close to Mother’s Day, too close to Arbor Day or National Kielbasa Appreciation Day for local race fans to come out of hiding and fill the seats.

That’s sad, because as fans of Rockingham Speedway can attest, long-term apathy has serious consequences.

The forecast for Sunday in Atlanta calls for a high temperature of 45 degrees, with a 50% chance of rain. That’s not ideal, admittedly. But for football fans in Green Bay, New England or Chicago, that’s shorts-and-a-Tshirt” weather. Put on a jacket, grab a pair of gloves, fill a Thermos with coffee and support your local race track, while you still can.

And if not, don’t say you weren’t warned.

NASCAR Requires Members To Report Violations Of Law

Less than a week after handing down an indefinite suspension to former Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, NASCAR will now require members to report any violation of the law to the sanctioning body within 72 hours.

Busch was suspended last week after a Kent County (Del.) Family Court Commissioner ruled that the Stewart Haas Racing driver "more likely than not committed an act of abuse" against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll at Dover International Speedway last September.

Wednesday, NASCAR issued a number of technical bulletins to it teams, including a new Section 2.11 of the national and weekly racing series rulebooks requiring "any NASCAR Member charged with any violation of the law (misdemeanor and/or felony) (to) notify NASCAR ... prior to the next scheduled event or within 72 hours of being so charged, whichever is earlier."

NASCAR director of racing operations and communications Tom Bryant told that the sanctioning body “expect(s) our NASCAR members to maintain a certain standard of professional behavior,” calling the new rule “another mechanism to ensure we're doing that.”

While saying last week’s court ruling was not "the sole reason" for the change, Bryant said Busch’s situation revealed a need for NASCAR to be better informed when competitors come in contact with law enforcement.
"We didn't have a mechanism to get a better situational awareness when our membership makes poor judgment and gets in trouble," said Bryant to "...There was a knowledge gap there that we needed to address and put a mechanism in place to hopefully improve our awareness… and ensure that we are helping our membership maintain those standards of conduct that are expected of everyone."

Busch remains suspended by sanctioning body this week, pending the outcome of a criminal investigation conducted by the Dover (Del.) Police Department. Results of that investigation have been forward to the State’s Attorney for possible action. No timetable has been announced for the decision.

NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell said last week that the sanctioning body "has made it very clear to our entire membership and the broader industry that any actions of abuse will not be tolerated in the industry. Any inference that there is a culture or a tolerance for this type of behavior is patently false."

Busch has not commented publicly on his suspension.

Team Xtreme Hauler, Race Car Stolen From GA Hotel

Team Xtreme Racing has withdrawn its No. 44 entry from the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, after a 26-foot trailer and pickup truck hauling the team’s Chevrolet race car was stolen from a hotel in Morrow, Georgia early this morning Thursday.

The team’s hauler was dispatched to Atlanta Motor Speedway Wednesday, ahead of the bad weather that hit the Charlotte area on Wednesday night. It was safely parked at Atlanta Motor Speedway. With minor work remaining on the No. 44 Chevrolet, the car was loaded in the 26-foot trailer and arrived at the team hotel on Thursday night at 11pm.  
Hotel surveillance video shows the theft occurred at 5:32 am. Local police say a silver or grey Jeep Cherokee was also spotted leaving the hotel at the time of the theft. 

"While this is obviously a setback for this weekend, our plans remain to compete in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season," said team Xtreme owner John Cohen. "We are working closely with the Morrow police in hopes that our truck, trailer and race car are safely returned.” 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Larson Says New Car "Not Much Different" Than Last Year

Kyle Larson was fast in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series testing at Atlanta Motor Speedway today, trailing only Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates teammate Jamie McMurray on the speed charts, at over 191 mph in Round One of a two-part test.
Surprisingly, Larson said off-season rule changes mandated by NASCAR have not made a significant impact on the feel of his No. 41 Target Chevrolet
“The car really didn’t drive much different here than it did with the old rules package,” he said. “The characteristics between the way the cars handled were about the same. The track had a lot of grip at first, so that is why Jamie and I were both up there. It was fast. 
“I hope we can carry this speed on throughout the rest of the weekend and the rest of the year.”
Larson also said he felt little difference in speed today, despite changes under the hood that have dramatically reduced horsepower.
“I really didn’t notice anything,” he said. “I thought it still came up to speed pretty well.  Maybe it doesn’t carry to the end of the straightaway as hard as it did before, but we have less downforce too. It still feels fast.  Maybe once we get to Michigan or a track where we will probably run even more wide open… we will notice more. 

“I really didn’t notice much difference between this year versus last year.” 

Hornish, Almirola Add XFINITY Series Dates

Richard Petty Motorsports and Biagi-DenBenste Racing announced today they will extend their partnership to enter drivers Aric Almirola and Sam Hornish Jr. in three NASCAR XFINITY Series races this season. Almirola raced with the team in the season-opening XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway, finishing seventh. 
Hornish will take the reins of the No. 98 Biagi-DenBenste Racing Ford Mustang at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend and again at the Auto Club Speedway on March 21. Almirola will return to the XFINITY Series at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 7. 
Hornish is a three-time winner in the XFINITY Series, and Almirola has one career victory. Both drivers have finished in the Top-Five in the series championship standings. Biagi-DenBenste Racing has recorded one win and numerous Top-10 finishes over the years, with various drivers.  
"The Biagi-DenBenste Racing team have been great to work with," said Sammy Johns, Director of Competition . "They prepare good cars with good people. I really believe having Aric and Sam on the track throughout the weekend gives us an advantage on Sunday. Also, I believe they can win races for this team. It's a beneficial partnership for everyone involved." 

"We have seen that Aric can race at the front of the field and compete for wins with us," added Fred Biagi co-owner of Biagi-DenBeste Racing. "Adding Sam to our race schedule only allows us more opportunities to be successful. We're proud to have experienced drivers who can bring immediate success to our team. It provides great value to our sponsors who partner with us each weekend." 

Successful Second Surgery For Busch

Joe Gibbs Racing confirmed today that Kyle Busch, driver of the team’s No. 18 M&M’s Toyota, underwent successful surgery this afternoon on his fractured left foot, which was injured in an accident during last Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway.  Surgery was performed by Dr. Robert Anderson of OrthoCarolina.

Busch is resting comfortably and will remain hospitalized for observation.

Bush also suffered a compound fracture of his right tibia and fibula in the crash, and underwent a separate surgery to repair those breaks in Florida last week. 

No timetable has been announced for his return, but injuries like he sustained generally require at least 4-5 months for recuperation. David Ragan has been named to drive the No. 18 Toyota in his absence.

Matt DiBenedetto To Drive For BK Racing

Matt DiBenedetto joins BK Racing as the driver of the No. 83 Burger King Toyota, beginning at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. 

DiBenedetto started his NASCAR career as a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2009-2010. Competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and Xfinity Series, DiBenedetto made a name for himself in the racing community. After much success, his opportunity got cut short due to a tough economy and lack of sponsorship. 

Starting in 2011, DiBenedetto has done extensive Sprint Cup testing for various teams and last year competed in the Xfinity Series for The Motorsports Group, recording some of the best finishes in the team’s nine-year history. He will share the No. 83 ride with last week’s driver, Johnny Sauter, for several races throughout the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. 

"I am so excited to get an opportunity to drive in the Sprint Cup Series for BK Racing," said DiBenedetto. "I truly cannot put into words how thankful I am for Ron Devine, Anthony Marlowe, and the whole organization giving me a chance to be a part of their team. I look forward to proving my ability behind the wheel and I hope to grow with the team for years to come." 

"BK Racing's third full-time entry is a great platform to allow young talents like Matt DiBenedetto to gain experience," said team owner Ron Devine, "I'm happy to know that we'll be working with someone who has a strong appreciation for the ride, is self-made, and has the confidence of his peers." 

Joining Dibenedetto this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway is Jeb Burton in the No. 26 Maxim Fantasy Sports App Toyota and JJ Yeley in the No. 23 Dr Pepper Toyota. Burton looks to make his debut in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in Sunday's Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nemechek In For Ragan At Front Row Motorsports

It’ll be “Front Row Joe Motorsports” this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, after the From Row Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team named veteran Joe Nemechek to replace David Ragan at the wheel of their No. 34 CSX Ford Fusion.

Ragan has been tabbed to replace the injured Kyle Busch in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 M&Ms Toyota Camry. Busch suffered a compound fracture of his lower right leg in the final laps of Saturday’s Alert Today Florida 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

This weekend’s race will be the first of the season for Nemechek, who did not attempt to qualify for the season-opening Daytona 500. He will have to qualify on speed at AMS, after Ragan’s 2014 owner points were transferred during the off-season to new FRM teammate Cole Whitt.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ragan Replaces Busch At Joe Gibbs Racing

Joe Gibbs Racing has announced today that David Ragan will fill in for Kyle Busch behind the wheel of the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series beginning with this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  
Kyle Busch was released this morning from Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, FL and transferred to a hospital near his home in Charlotte, North Carolina for further treatment.  Busch sustained a compound fracture of the right lower leg in an accident during Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Additionally, Busch suffered a mid-foot fracture of his left foot in the accident. 
No specific timetable has been announced for Busch’s return to the race track. It is expected that Ragan will pilot the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota for at least the next several weeks.  Ragan’s current race team Front Row Motorsports and sponsor CSX accommodated the move by Ragan and Ragan is expected to return to the team later this season.  
Additional updates on Busch’s condition will be provided as necessary. 
In addition, JGR announces that Erik Jones will pilot the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this weekend in Atlanta. An announcement on who will drive the Monster Energy Camry following Atlanta will be made at a later date. 
Ragan has run eight full seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 291 career starts.  The 29-year-old Georgia native has two career wins, including most recently at Talladega Superspeedway in May of 2013.  
Jones is currently running a full season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports and a partial schedule for JGR in the No. 20 NASCAR XFINITY Series Camry. 
“We appreciate being able to work with Front Row Motorsports and CSX for David’s (Ragan) availability,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. “We are fortunate to be able to have someone of David’s caliber behind the wheel while Kyle recovers. Erik is a big part of our future at JGR and we will be increasing his schedule in the XFINITY Series beginning this weekend in Atlanta and seeking the earliest opportunity to provide him Cup experience. We appreciate all the support we have received from the NASCAR community including our fans and we look forward to getting Kyle back in the car as soon as possible.” 
“Everyone at Mars is thankful that Kyle is doing well and we continue to wish him a speedy recovery,” said William Clements, vice president of sponsorship and sports marketing for Mars Incorporated. “While we can’t wait until Kyle returns behind the wheel of the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota, we are excited to work with David and we’re pleased JGR was able to work it out for him to step in during Kyle’s absence.”