Thursday, December 18, 2014

COMMENTARY: NASCAR Must Step Carefully On the Subject Of Domestic Violence

The allegations continue to fly surrounding the contentious breakup of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch and his former girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll.

In two days of testimony in Kent County (Del.) Family Court, Driscoll has accused the former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion of choking her and slamming her head repeatedly against the wall of his motorhome at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 16 of this year. Busch has denied those charges, calling Driscoll “a mercenary” who refuses to accept the end of their relationship and has vowed to destroy his racing career.

For Busch – and for NASCAR -- the timing of Driscoll’s allegations could not be worse. In recent weeks, a series of domestic violence cases involving National Football League players has pushed the issue front-and-center in the country’s collective consciousness. The debate over domestic abuse has never been more prominent, and never has more attention been paid to the way athletes – and their respective leagues – handle accusations of improper behavior.
 
Yesterday, the San Francisco 49ers announced that they have released defensive lineman Ray McDonald, after law enforcement officials revealed that he is being investigated for an alleged sexual assault. San Jose Police were contacted by a local hospital Tuesday night after a woman sought treatment there for a possible sexual assault a day earlier. After a preliminary investigation, detectives searched McDonald’s home, and while no arrest has been made or charges filed, McDonald was effectively fired from his multi-million dollar per year job with the 49ers for what the team’s general manager called “a pattern of poor behavior."

Kurt Busch accused.

Last month, the Santa Clara County district attorney declined to charges McDonald following his arrest on domestic violence charges on Aug. 31. The D.A. blamed his decision on a lack of eyewitnesses and the alleged victim’s unwillingness to cooperate. McDonald had played in every game this season, despite heavy public pressure on the 49ers to suspend, or at least bench him.

McDonald’s release is the latest in a series of similar incidents involving NFL players in recent months. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested and subsequently indicted for third-degree aggravated assault in March of this year, after video cameras showed him punching his then-fiancĂ©e (now wife) in the face, knocking her unconscious. That incident, and the NFL’s questionable handling of it, led to a policy change concerning how the league handles domestic violence cases. Rice's contract was terminated by the Ravens in September and he was suspended indefinitely by the NFL, but be appealed that decision in Federal Court and is now eligible to play in the NFL once again.

In light of the Rice and McDonald cases, a similar case involving Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and the recent child abuse allegations against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the NFL has been forced to radically re-think its stance on domestic violence, formulating an ironclad policy to deal with accusations, criminal charges and convictions.

It has been a slippery slope at times, with commissioner Roger Goodell making a series of inconsistent decisions that caused many to question the league’s commitment to abolishing domestic violence in its ranks.

NASCAR's Brian France
NASCAR faces many of the same difficult decisions today. Hopefully, the sanctioning body will perform better.

When the allegations against Busch first became public, NASCAR Chairman Brian France said the sanctioning body would leave the situation in the hands of law enforcement.

"We are watching that case carefully," said France at the time. "It's under review by law enforcement and others. They haven't made a decision… (and) until they make judgments on that investigation, it wouldn't be right to intervene."

This is not the first time NASCAR has chosen to stay out of the domestic violence debate. In January of this year, driver Travis Kvapil accepted a plea agreement that will dismiss a domestic assault charge against him after the completion of two years’ probation and 72 hours of community service. That agreement stemmed from a 2013 incident in which Kvapil’s wife, Jennifer, accused him of pulling her by her hair and striking her in the head when she attempted to pull away.

NASCAR did not sanction Kvapil, and he continued to compete for the BK Racing Sprint Cup Series team. He was not retained for the 2014 season. France’s hands-off stance – then and now – has been roundly criticized in some corners, with California congresswoman Jackie Speier calling on NASCAR to suspend Busch until the matter can be resolved.

"NASCAR would rather let Mr. Busch drive for the remainder of the racing season than take a stance on violence against women," wrote Speier in a written statement. "While (Busch) rounds the track, the legal processes for his domestic violence charges race forward as well. Until his legal proceedings end, NASCAR should put Mr. Busch's car in park. The charges are horrifying, and NASCAR's inaction sends a clear signal to drivers that owners do not take these violent actions seriously."

Speier called for NASCAR to "adopt a policy… in all domestic violence cases to suspend drivers until criminal proceedings end, or there is a clear lack of evidence."

As of now, NASCAR has declined to do so, though France intimated last month that a black-and-white domestic violence policy may be in the offing.

"You can expect our policies to reflect the understandable awareness that (domestic violence is) not going to be tolerated," said France. "How any league handled some of this is one thing. It's pretty clear when you see what's happening around the country that our policy will reflect the significance and importance that it should."

Until NASCAR takes action on that promise, however, it will remain – rightly or wrongly – on a very small island in a teeming ocean of public opinion. While other professional sports league yield to the public outcry and enact new, more stringent policies to punish the mere allegation of domestic violence, NASCAR remains quietly on the sidelines, allowing law enforcement officials and the judicial system to do their jobs.

The NFL’s new domestic violence policy imposes a six-game, unpaid suspension for first-time offenders and up to a lifetime ban for repeat violators. When players are accused or charged with domestic violence, they are immediately suspended by the NFL, which then conducts its own investigation, independent of law enforcement.

49ers general manager Trent Baalke said yesterday that if the allegations against McDonald had been his first, the team would have reacted differently.

"If this was one incident, we would be standing up here talking about due process, like we have multiple times in other situations," he said. "But this is just a pattern of decision-making that Ray has demonstrated over a period of time that… is no longer going to be tolerated.

"We expect a lot from our players (and) hold them accountable for their actions."

NASCAR should do the same, making a clear statement in opposition to domestic violence, while simultaneously continuing to embrace the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”





Bubba Wallace Signs With Roush Fenway Racing

Roush Fenway Racing has announced that Bubba Wallace will drive the No. 6 Ford Mustang for the team in the NASCAR XFINITY Series next season. 

The signing pairs NASCAR’s winningest NXS team with a young driver widely regarded as one of the most talented up-and-coming competitors in NASCAR. The 21-year-old Wallace has posted five wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, including four trips to victory lane in 2014.

“I’ve had a remarkable journey over the last few years thanks to people who have put me in a position to win the races that I have,” said Wallace. “When I first joined the sport, many said I would never compete with the real drivers. Now, as I join the winningest team in NASCAR history, I take that as a responsibility to add more wins to the team’s legacy and help tear down the barriers for the next generation of NASCAR drivers.” 

“We are very excited to bring Bubba Wallace into the Roush Fenway fold,” said team president Steve Newmark. “He is viewed in industry circles as one of the brightest young drivers and I feel that we are very fortunate to be able to bring him on board.  He has a charismatic personality and at the same time has exhibited the ability to win on the race track.  We are looking forward to getting him in our race cars next season.” 

In 2013 with his victory at Martinsville Speedway, Wallace became the first African American driver to win in one of NASCAR’s three national series since 1963. He has competed in six career NXS races, earning four top-10 finishes and a pole at Dover International Speedway. 

“We are certainly pleased to have Bubba Wallace come on board,” said team co-owner Jack Roush.  “He is certainly a great young talent and I feel it will be mutually beneficial for us to be able to put him into a team environment with a veteran driver like Elliott (Sadler) and the young guys Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed. We have had a great deal of history in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and we are happy to have Bubba as the latest piece of that rich legacy.” 

“We’re thrilled to have Bubba Wallace be part of our Ford Mustang racing efforts,” said Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing.  “His winning performances since becoming part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program have certainly made him one of the drivers in the sport to watch in the future, and we think he can bring a lot to Roush Fenway and Ford, both on and off the track.” 

Wallace’s racing career started in 2004 when he began competing in Jr. Sportsman Champ Karts. He finished his first season second overall in points at the Carolina Asphalt Racing Winter Series. He moved to Bandoleros in 2005 and won an amazing 35 of the 48 races and posted 40 top-five finishes. He became the first driver to win five races in a single week. In addition, he competed against much older competition in the Outlaw Division and won all but one race in 2005. 

Wallace moved up to Legends in 2006 and completed a phenomenal rookie season with 11 wins, 27 top-five and 34 top-10 finishes in 38 total starts. He started racing Late Models in 2007, competing in the final five races of the UARA Touring series. 

Born in Mobile, Ala., Wallace and his family moved to North Carolina for his father’s work when he was just two years old. He also played basketball, before fully concentrating his efforts on his racing career. 

Busch Denies Assault In Delaware Court

Kurt Busch took the witness stand Wednesday in Day Two of a hearing in Kent County (Del.) Family Court, testifying that former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll fabricated an alleged assault in September of this year at Dover International Speedway.

Driscoll testified yesterday that the former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion grabbed her by the throat and repeatedly banged her head into the wall of his motorhome; an accusation Busch denies.

The Wilmington (Del.) News Journal says Busch testified that Driscoll came to his motorhome uninvited on the night of Sept. 26, demanding that he tell her then nine-year old son that their relationship was over. Busch said he asked Driscoll to leave a total of five times, then “took my hands… cupped her cheeks and I looked at her eye to eye and I said, 'You need to leave.'

“I was defusing the situation,” he said.

Despite a lengthy cross-examination by Driscoll's attorney, Carolyn McNeice, Busch was not specifically asked whether he smashed Driscoll's head against the wall. He said Driscoll's description of the incident included “fabrications,” and acknowledged sending Driscoll a text asking to speak with her, nearly a month after ending their relationship. 

Also called to testify Wednesday was Busch’s motorhome driver and personal assistant, Michael Doncheff, who said he believed Driscoll when she told him of the alleged Sept. 26 assault, despite having made several unbelievable statements in the past. Last fall at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Doncheff said Driscoll complained of muscle stiffness after being “slammed to the ground” while helping to detain illegal immigrants at the US/Mexico border, a story Doncheff called "far-fetched."

He also recalled an earlier dispute over sponsorship that prompted Driscoll to remark, “NASCAR is nothing. I take down foreign governments. I own Washington."
Doncheff testified that Driscoll once claimed to be “a trained assassin" for the U.S. government.
He said he was treated well by Busch, despite a sometimes volatile temper. Doncheff described Driscoll as "high maintenance," adding that Busch deferred most decisions to her.
No ruling was made on whether to grant Driscoll’s request for a no-contact order, the hearing was recessed until early January.

Menard's Back With RCR XFINITY Program

Menards will continue its partnership with Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, positioning the third-largest home improvement store in the United States as a primary sponsor for select races on RCR's No. 33 Chevrolet entry with drivers Paul Menard and Brandon Jones in 2015.
Menards has played a pivotal role in RCR's NXS campaign since 2012.  
"Sponsoring the No. 33 RCR team in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with drivers Paul Menard and Brandon Jones behind the wheel in 2015 is something we look forward to," said Jeff Abbott, Menards Promotions Manager. "This partnership is special to us and we are ready for another successful XFINITY Series campaign."  
Menard will drive the No. 33 Menards Chevrolet Camaro for select events in 2015, while maintaining a full-time schedule in the No. 27 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entry for RCR. The Eau Claire, Wisconsin native is a two-time XFINITY Series race winner with five pole awards, 31 top-five and 81 top-10 finishes.  
As previously announced, Jones, a 17-year-old driver hailing from Atlanta, Ga., joins the RCR stable for a number of NXS events.  
"Menards has become a key supporter of our XFINITY Series program through the past few years and I look forward to an even better future with them," said Richard Childress, CEO and Chairman of Richard Childress Racing. "John Menard has vast experience in motorsports and business and I have leaned on him for advice during our partnership. I can't thank him enough for being there. 
"John, Paul Menard, all of the Menards team members and their vendor-partners have been very supportive of the RCR program. Menards strong customer service values, combined with their family culture, fit well with our culture here at RCR. I look forward to Brandon joining Paul as drivers for the Menards' program in 2015." 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Whelen Mods, K&N East and ACT Tours Will Return To New Hampshire In 2015

An important and popular part of the racing menu during NASCAR Sprint Cup weekends at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and American-Canadian Tour will return in 2015 to help celebrate the Magic Mile's 25th anniversary season with a total of five races.
With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series serving as anchor events on July 19 and Sept. 27, and with the other two major national touring series - the July 18 XFINITY Series (formerly Nationwide), and Sept. 26 Camping World Truck Series dates - already locked in place, NASCAR released the schedules for the immensely-popular Whelen Modified Tour and K&N Pro Series East. The "mighty mods" will first race at the Magic Mile on July 16 with the second annual running of the Whelen Modified All-Star Shootout, joining the K&N Pro Series East as part of that Friday's doubleheader. It will also race on Saturday, July 16 and then again on Saturday, Sept. 26 with 100-lap national championship points races. The K&N Pro Series East race will be 70 laps as the grand finale of pole day in July.
Fixtures at the speedway since its opening in 1990, the Whelen Modified Tour and K&N Pro Series East have produced some of the most entertaining races in NASCAR history at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The two regional tours have combined for 48 different winners spanning 168 races, logging more than 16,000 miles (15,000-plus laps).
"These two series are the foundation of exciting, wheel-to-wheel NASCAR racing and have had a historical impact on the national touring series, providing great entertainment and serving as a feeder system for the stars of tomorrow," said Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of the speedway. "We are immeasurably grateful to be able to host these series during our 25th anniversary season, as we realize how popular they are to our historically knowledgeable race fans."
The American-Canadian Tour will also return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the seventh annual Bond Auto Parts ACT Invitational on Sept. 26. The ACT features some of the most competitive racing on the NHMS calendar, pitting drivers from across the Northeast and southeastern Canada in a short track 50-lap shootout.
Tickets to both NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekends are on sale now by calling the NHMS ticket hotline at (603) 783-4931 or by visiting www.nhms.com. 

Darlington To Celebrate Return To Labor Day

With Darlington Raceway entering its 66th consecutive year hosting NASCAR’s top-tier touring series, the track will commemorate its return to Labor Day weekend in 2015 by honoring its storied past, while celebrating the future. 

With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 returning to its celebrated Labor Day weekend date, the Lady in Black will recognize past champions of the 1970’s as part of its 2015 campaign. 

A number of exciting announcements are planned over the next several months in regards to the campaign, which will focus on the years 1970-74.

NASCAR Hall of Famers Leonard Wood, Cale Yarborough and Wendell Scott, among others, will be celebrated during the event weekend. All of these drivers played an integral role in building the foundation, which has made Darlington Raceway special to both drivers and fans alike for over six decades. 

“With our exciting return to Labor Day weekend in 2015, celebrating our past champions is only fitting,” Darlington Raceway President Chip Wile said. “These racing icons helped shape Darlington Raceway into what it is today – NASCAR’s most storied racing facility.” 

The honoring of champions from the early 1970’s is just one part of the track’s overall strategy to celebrate its rich history. Each year, Darlington Raceway will focus on specific eras, plus the historic moments and drivers that made impacts at the track Too Tough to Tame.  

Additionally, the track will link the generations by celebrating current and future stars of NASCAR, including Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and Darrell Wallace Jr.  

History was made last season as both Harvick and Elliott celebrated wins at the Lady in Black (Harvick won the Bojangles’ Southern 500, Elliott claimed the VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200) and went on to win their respective series championships. 

The only other time in track history both Darlington race winners went on to win their series championships in the same year was 1997. Then, Jeff Gordon won the Southern 500 and Randy LaJoie won the Busch Series race, with both going on to be crowned series champions. 

“We want to recognize our past, but also continue to celebrate our current and future stars,” Wile said. “These drivers are the future of our sport, so it’s important we recognize their achievements at Darlington Raceway. As an avid fan of the sport, our future looks extremely bright with the crop of talent we have in the pipeline.” 

The 2015 season will see the return of Darlington, S.C. native Kaitlyn Bailey as the track’s “Lady in Black.” Bailey will enter her second year in the position and will don a new 70’s retro-style firesuit. In her role, Bailey serves as the face of Darlington Raceway. She has made a positive impact in the track’s efforts to focus on the fans and serve as an ambassador in the community. Her friendly and engaging personality has made her a fan favorite. 

“It’s a tremendous honor to serve as Darlington Raceway’s ‘Lady in Black’ for a second consecutive year,” Bailey said. “Being a native of Darlington, I appreciate and understand how important the track is to the community. It is going to be an amazing year with the tradition returning to Labor Day weekend in 2015.” 

The Tradition Returns to Labor Day weekend as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 is set for Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. The NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 will race on Saturday, Sept. 5. Tickets are on sale now by calling 866-459-7223 or visiting www.DarlingtonRaceway.com

Ben Kennedy Signs With Red Horse Racing

Red Horse Racing announced today that 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Ben Kennedy will join the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team to drive its No. 11 Toyota Tundra.

"I am very excited to return to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2015 and to be driving for Red Horse Racing," Kennedy said. "The team has a solid foundation in the Camping World Truck Series, celebrating their 10th year in 2015. It will be an honor to drive the No. 11 Toyota Tundra, the winningest number in NASCAR history."

Red Horse Racing team owner Tom DeLoach said, "We are thrilled to have Ben join us at Red Horse Racing. Ben is a very talented young driver, and I think he is going to fit right into our Red Horse family. We consider ourselves one team with multiple trucks, and I expect to see a lot of success from this organization in 2015."

Kennedy began his racing career in quarter-midgets, later graduating to full-sized stock trucks on the short tracks of central Florida. The Daytona Beach native won Pro-Truck championship titles in 2009, and followed with a Super Late Model championship and Rookie of the Year honors in 2010. Kennedy entered the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2011. In 2012, he made history winning the first NASCAR-sanctioned Euro Racecar Series oval track event at Tours Speedway in France. In 2013, Kennedy finished fourth in the K&N Pro Series East championship point standings with two wins, one pole award, three top-five and nine top-10 finishes, and was crowned the series' Most Popular Driver. He entered full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competition in 2014, starting on the pole for the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, one top-five and seven top-10 finishes, and claiming Rookie of the Year honors. 


Founded in 2005, Red Horse Racing will kick off its 10th year of Camping World Truck Series competition in the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015.

Emotions High In Day One Of Busch Domestic Hearing

Busch and Driscoll in happier times.
Nearly seven hours of court testimony Tuesday painted a dramatic picture of the tempestuous relationship between NASCAR driver Kurt Busch and his former girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll.

The pair appeared in Kent County (Del.) Family Court Tuesday, with Driscoll describing the former Sprint Cup Series champion as an unstable, violent alcoholic who was in danger of "drinking himself to death." Busch did not testify Tuesday, but his attorney painted an unflattering portrait of Driscoll, calling her untrustworthy, unwilling to accept the end of their four-year relationship and bent on destroying Busch’s racing career.

Driscoll is seeking a no-contact order against Busch, requesting that he be ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation and domestic violence counseling. In testimony Tuesday, she alleged that Busch choked her and smashed her head against the wall of his motorhome at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 26, after she and her nine-year old son drove there from their Maryland home to check on his well-being.

Photo: Jason Minto/
Wilmington News Journal
Driscoll said Busch told her via text message that he was crying on the floor of his motorhome and felt “the world was crashing down" on him. "I was really worried," said Driscoll. "...Kurt's not the kind of person to be laying on the floor crying."

After driving to the speedway, Driscoll said she joined Busch in his motorhome, where he began disparaging his Stewart Haas Racing team, calling team personnel “idiots” and complaining that teammate Kevin Harvick was "getting everything" from the team, while Busch received nothing.

"He seemed out of his mind… saying crazy things,” added Driscoll, saying Busch told her that if he had a gun, he would kill himself.

Driscoll testified that Busch “just kept going off about the team," before suddenly leaping to his feet, grabbing her by the neck and face and smashing her head against the wall of the motorhome.

"It scared me,” she said, “because he just snapped."

She said she and her son immediately sought refuge in an adjoining motorhome owned by Motor Racing Outreach, before returning home and documenting her injuries with a series of photographs. Driscoll said she declined to file a police report at the time, fearing the incident would jeopardize an ongoing child custody battle with her ex-husband.

The most emotional moment of the hearing came when Busch’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, suggested that Driscoll could have avoided the alleged incident by leaving the motorhome. A tearful Driscoll responded, "I am not to blame for him putting his hands on me," prompting Family Court judge David Jones to order a brief recess.
Driscoll also alleged that Busch became violent the previous week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, wrapping a seat belt around her neck and causing damage to a rental car.

Under cross-examination, Hardin repeatedly portrayed Driscoll as unable to accept the end of her relationship with Busch, saying she had failed to present any evidence of physical assault. He called Driscoll “a mercenary” who suggested strategies to discredit Sprint Car driver Kevin Ward, Jr., after he was struck and killed by a car driven by Tony Stewart on a New York dirt track earlier this season. He said Busch owes Driscoll money, and that she has repeatedly vowed to "take Kurt down" and destroy his racing career.

Busch declined to comment after Tuesday's hearing. It is not known whether he will testify today.  


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

BREAKING: Sprint To Withdraw From NASCAR After 2016 Season

Citing a need to focus more directly on its core business priorities, Sprint announced it has informed NASCAR it will not extend the title sponsorship of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after the current agreement expires at the end of the 2016 season.
“We are proud of our association with NASCAR’s top series but have made the decision not to extend our sponsorship beyond the next two years,” said Steve Gaffney, vice president-Marketing, Sprint. “As we look to the future, Sprint is focused on investing in maintaining a competitive edge and providing consumers with the best value in wireless.
“Sprint has long benefitted from the unprecedented level of brand integration available in NASCAR, and the passionate fan base that is the most loyal in sports. Without question, the NASCAR sponsorship property has been a valuable investment for us and will be for our successor.”
Since the partnership began in 2004, Sprint has worked closely with NASCAR to bring many fan-friendly innovations to life, including the introduction of the FanView next generation scanner (2005), the creation of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile wireless application (2008) and the debut of Miss Sprint Cup (2007), an ambassador program that now has more than 1.5 million social media followers. The constant evolution of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race pre-race show and the improvements to the Sprint Vision trackside programming also highlight Sprint’s portfolio of fan enhancements.
“We genuinely appreciate the fans, teams, drivers, tracks and media who have been so supportive and welcoming to us during these many race seasons,” said Gaffney. “We look forward to our remaining time as sponsor of the Sprint Cup Series and eventually assisting with the transition to NASCAR’s next title partner.”
The sponsorship extends back to 2004 when Nextel signed a 10-year partnership with NASCAR for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. The name changed to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2008 as a result of the Nextel/Sprint corporate merger. At the conclusion of the first 10 years, Sprint extended the partnership an additional three years, taking the contract through the end of the 2016 season.
NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewskes commented on today’s announcement, saying, “NASCAR and Sprint have enjoyed a long and productive partnership that has returned significant value to both parties. We understand significant changes within Sprint and the highly competitive business environment it is in has led to a decision not to extend its Cup Series entitlement position following the 2016 season.
“The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a very unique, premium sports marketing platform with strong momentum, so we are very confident of moving forward in 2017 with an outstanding new partner. In the meantime, we look forward to Sprint’s partnership on the best racing series in the world for the next two seasons.”

COMMENTARY: NASCAR Is Not The NFL

With a few weeks off from the NASCAR grind, many of us have turned our long-overdue attention to the National Football League, catching up with our favorite team just in time for the playoff drive to begin.

The NFL has long been the 600-pound gorilla of American sports, and over the years, the league has cultivated a massive media juggernaut that examines, reports and critiques the most miniscule of gridiron maneuvers. Compared to NASCAR, the NFL media corps is downright bloodthirsty, often campaigning openly for individual players to be benched and coaches to be fired.

The New York Post, a longstanding bastion of blistering criticism for professional sports teams in the Big Apple, actually expressed unhappiness with Sunday’s 16-11 road win by the hometown Jets over the Tennessee Titans, lamenting that the team “severely hurt their chances of landing the No. 1 pick in April’s draft” with the victory.

While not encouraging the 3-11 Jets to tank their remaining games in a backhanded attempt to secure the top pick, Post writer Brian Costello said embattled coach Rex Ryan and his staff, “know they are on their way out,” pronouncing Ryan “a near lock to be fired in two weeks” and general manager John Idzik “more than likely to be thrown out with him.”

Costello also questioned “why (Ryan and Idzik would) leave a parting gift for their successors like the top pick?”

Lest they be accused of blasting only the local talent, the Post’s Bart Hubbuch declared Johnny Manziel’s inaugural start with the Cleveland Browns – a 30-0 shellacking by the Cincinnati Bengals -- “an utter disaster,” adding that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan “certainly didn’t do (the) rookie quarterback any favors… (putting) Manziel in a straightjacket instead of playing to his creative strengths.”

"Look at me, I'm hurt..."
New York Giants radio analyst Carl Banks emptied both barrels on Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III Monday, after Griffin laid face down on the turf for several seconds after a seventh sack in his team’s 24-14 loss to Big Blue.

“He takes sacks, he makes bad decisions and then when he gets hit, he lays there like he’s shot,” said Banks on WFAN Radio. “I called him a drama king on the air yesterday, because you’d think he’s never getting up again. Then he bounces right back up. It’s almost like, ‘Everybody look at me, I’m hurt.’ 

“It’s like he’s a martyr or something.”

Try to recall reading anything like that written about a NASCAR crew chief, general manager or competition director.

It simply doesn’t happen.

While the media clearly enjoys getting its licks in, NFL fans can be even more scathing in their criticism of the home team.

Go Raiders!
Oakland Raider fans are showing up for games lately with paper bags over their heads, in protest of the team’s league-worst 2-12 record. It’s not a new phenomenon, New Orleans fans routinely donned grocery cart garb in the 1980s. But when’s the last time you saw someone in the Talladega grandstand wearing a Dale, Jr. t-shirt and a bag over his head?

Never, that’s when.

Sure, Sprint Cup Series crew chiefs are sometimes the target of Monday morning quarterbacking by fans. Alan Gustafson’s decision to pit driver Jeff Gordon out of the lead in the late laps at Homestead Miami Speedway last month was thoroughly questioned by the railbirds. But in the grand tradition of Tammy Wynette, NASCAR fans generally stand by their man (or woman) through thick and thin, tempering this week's unhappiness with hope for a better effort next Sunday.

The NASCAR media rarely (if ever) lambastes questionable pit strategy with adjectives like “utter disaster.” Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s not.

One thing’s for sure, however. It sure is different from the NFL.

Monday, December 15, 2014

NASCAR Announces Expanded Sprint Unlimited Field

NASCAR announced today that all 16 Chase drivers will be eligible to compete in the 2015 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. The 75-lap, non-points race will once again kick off the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing season Saturday, Feb. 14 and will feature an expanded field of drivers based on new eligibility requirements.

A minimum of 25 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will be eligible to participate in the Sprint Unlimited in 2015. In addition to the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup participants, the field also will include 2014 Coors Light Pole Award winners, former Sprint Unlimited race winners and Daytona 500 pole winners who competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full-time in 2014. Any remaining spots will be filled by drivers highest in 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship points who are not already eligible.

"The 2015 Sprint Unlimited has potential to be one of the most competitive ever," said NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell. "With more drivers eligible, the intensity level increases for our fans and competitors, making for a compelling start to the 2015 season."

The 2015 eligible participants include:

• Kyle Busch (2014 pole winner)
• Austin Dillon (2014 pole winner)
• Jeff Gordon (2014 pole winner)
• David Gilliland (2014 pole winner)
• Denny Hamlin (2014 pole winner)
• Kevin Harvick (2014 pole winner)
• Jimmie Johnson (2014 pole winner)
• Matt Kenseth (2014 pole winner)
• Brad Keselowski (2014 pole winner)
• Kyle Larson (2014 pole winner)
• Joey Logano (2014 pole winner)
• Jamie McMurray (2014 pole winner)
• Brian Scott (2014 pole winner)
• Tony Stewart (2014 pole winner)
• Brian Vickers* (2014 pole winner)
• Kurt Busch (former Unlimited winner)
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. (former Unlimited winner)
• Carl Edwards (former D500 pole winner)
• Danica Patrick (former D500 pole winner)
• Greg Biffle (former D500 pole winner)
• Martin Truex Jr. (former D500 pole winner)
• Ryan Newman (2014 Chase driver)
• AJ Allmendinger (2014 Chase driver)
• Kasey Kahne (2014 Chase driver)
• Aric Almirola (2014 Chase driver)

Vickers will almost certainly not compete, after undergoing surgery to repair an atrial heart patch earlier this week.


BREAKING NEWS: Vickers Will Miss Early Races After Heart Surgery

Michael Waltrip Racing driver Brian Vickers will not be available to race during the early part of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season due to health issues.
Vickers explained, saying in written statement, “My previous experiences have given me a very keen understanding of my body. Late last week I knew something wasn’t right, so I went to the hospital to be checked out. Following several tests, it was discovered that my body was rejecting an artificial patch that was inserted in 2010 to fix a hole in my heart. Saturday, I had to have corrective surgery to repair the hole and now I am beginning the recovery process. I will need plenty of time, rest and rehab but this temporary setback will not stop me from pursuing my dream of becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.”
Vickers has previously been sidelined by a recurrence of blood clots in his legs and hands, and said of his most recent setback, “I want to thank everyone for their sincere support. I have faced obstacles before and it has made victory that much sweeter and I know that will be the case again.
In 58 races driving MWR’s No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota, Vickers scored eight top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. He won the July race at New Hampshire in 2013 and captured the pole at Talladega in October 2014. The 2003 Nationwide champion owns three victories and 12 poles in 316 career Sprint Cup starts.

“Brian has been a part of the MWR family since 2012 and our thoughts today are with Brian, his wife Sarah and the Vickers family,” said MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman. “As a race team, MWR has plenty to consider and we will confer with our partners, including Aaron’s and Toyota. As this is fresh news, we will adjust our future plans as more information becomes available.”

Allen Named Auto Club Speedway President

International Speedway Corporation has named Dave Allen President of Auto Club Speedway, effective immediately.  Allen accepts the role from his most recent position as Vice President of Sales and Marketing for ACS.   
Allen replaces Gillian Zucker who was recently named President of Business Operations for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers. 
Allen, 41, a 17-year veteran in the sports marketing industry, will report to ISC President, John R. Saunders and will be responsible for all operations of Auto Club Speedway and Auto Club Dragway.  
“Dave is a proven leader with a strong background and knowledge of the motorsports industry, the Inland Empire/L.A. markets and Auto Club Speedway,” said Saunders.  “He brings experience and strong leadership skills needed to help continue to position Auto Club Speedway and motorsports for growth in Southern California.” 
“I’m so excited to lead this incredible group of professionals here at Auto Club Speedway,” said Allen.  “Southern California is known for its strong car culture and racing history and I look forward to building on those traditions with the help of our staff and amazing fans.” 
Allen joined Penske Motorsports at previously-named California Speedway in April of 1999 after spending one year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.  From 2002-2006, he served as Senior Director of Sales and Marketing before being named Vice President of Sales and Marketing in 2006 with oversight of all sponsorship, hospitality, suite and consumer sales. In 2008 Allen, along with former track president Gillian Zucker, completed the Speedway’s groundbreaking naming rights partnership with Auto Club of Southern California. 

Allen, his wife and three children reside in Upland, CA.

GMS Racing Purchases New Facility

GMS Racing, which currently fields multiple teams in the NASCAR Camping World Truck and Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) Racing Series, will soon have a new place to call home. 
GMS Racing announced today that it will transfer its racing operations from their current location in Charlotte to Statesville, N.C. at the end of the year. GMS Racing’s new address will be 310 Aviation Drive in Statesville, the former home of Richard Petty Motorsports. 
The new facility is considerably larger than the current location, allowing for growth in race operations as well as further opportunities to increase performance development potential. The new shop will allow for GMS Racing to be an all-in-one facility for the growing team, and allowing the team to have additional space for engineering and simulation. 
“We needed a new location that allowed for more space to increase our performance,” said Nic Moncher, team manager of GMS Racing. “We continue to invest into race operations to improve our potential and performance both on and off the track. It all starts in the race shop, and having the best resources and assets, in addition to our team of employees.” 
The team acquired three industrial buildings located adjacent to the Statesville Regional Airport in October. The three buildings that once housed Richard Petty Motorsports and Evernham Motorsports total 157,743 square feet. 
The new site will be the home of GMS Racing’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams as well as their ARCA Racing Series team. 

By January 2015, all of GMS Racing's race teams will be able to call the campus home.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Watkins Glen Awarded $2.25M Grant

Watkins Glen International has been awarded $2.25 million by the State of New York and Governor Andrew Cuomo to assist in modernization efforts and repaving of the historic facility.

WGI received the award after being named a Priority Project by the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council in 2014. The grant comes on the heels of $33.5 million in private capital investments at the track over the past 10 years, with an additional $12 million committed for 2015. 

“We’re extremely grateful to have the support of Governor Cuomo, Senator Tom O’Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Co-chairs of STREDC Tom Tranter and Harvey Stenger,” said Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup. “Watkins Glen International has been a worldwide tourist destination in upstate New York for more than 50 years. With the support of our elected officials, regional council and dedicated race fans around the world, we’re poised to continue shining an international spotlight on the Finger Lakes region for another 50 years.”

Watkins Glen International announced in November its intentions to repave the historic road course following the 2015 Cheez-It 355 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekend. The $12 million in private and $2.25 million in public funds will be applied towards infrastructure modernization and marketing during the repaving project.  

Scott, Marks Team For K&N East Campaign

NASCAR team owner Harry Scott, Jr. announced today the formation of HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks, a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East team that will compete full-time in 2015. The announcement comes on the heels of Scott's partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks will field four teams with returning driver Scott Heckert and Rookie of the Year contenders William Byron, J.J. Haley and Dalton Sargeant.

"The future of NASCAR is being developed in the NASCAR K&N Series," said Scott.  "My partnership with Justin Marks to field four teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is an opportunity for us to help young drivers get to the next level.  We are fortunate to return to the series with remarkable talent that already includes two championships, 15 victories and 14 poles."

Marks, 33, has competed in multiple levels of road course racing, winning the 2009 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in the GT division, as well as in all three of NASCAR's national series. An accomplished entrepreneur, Marks is the owner of DryLake Entertainment, GoPro Motorplex and KartSport North America. In 2014, Marks partnered with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie of the year, Kyle Larson, to form the Larson Marks Racing World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series team.

"It's a thrill for me to be able to partner with someone like Harry on this enterprise," said Marks.  "This organization has proven to be a significant strength in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and I am looking forward to continuing that success.  We have a stable of talented drivers for 2015, backed by a group of hard working and dedicated team members."

Heckert, 21, of Ridgefield, Conn., returns to compete for Harry Scott in 2015. Last season, Heckert posted K&N Pro Series East wins at Watkins Glen International and Virginia International Raceway. He also earned three poles and finished eighth in the series point standings. A student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Heckert will graduate in 2016 with a mechanical engineering degree. While not on track, Heckert will work as an intern for HScott Motorsports' NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team.

Byron, a Charlotte native and K&N Rookie of the Year contender, competed in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for JR Motorsports in 2014, winning the North Carolina Rookie of the Year title. In 2014, he earned 11 victories and 24 poles in 54 combined Late Model and Legends starts. A junior at Charlotte Country Day school, Byron, 17, also attends and takes college courses through his primary sponsor Liberty University's Online Academy.  Liberty University is the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation.  

Haley, 15, will enter his rookie year of K&N Series competition in 2015. He most recently competed in ARCA Racing Series and K&N competition. Last season, the Winamac, Ind., native earned one ARCA pole and a career-best seventh-place finish in his third K&N start at Dover International Speedway in September. Haley, the nephew of former NASCAR team owner Todd Braun, has an extensive racing background in quarter midgets, micro sprints and late model stock cars.

Sargeant, a former competitor in the International Kart Federation and World Karting Association, also will compete for K&N Rookie of the Year honors in 2015. The 16-year-old native of Boca Raton, Fla., began his stock car career in 2014 competing in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and earned his first career stock car victory last August at Virginia International Raceway and followed it with a second win at Orange County Speedway in October. Along with his two wins, Sargeant posted 26 top-10 finishes in his rookie season, including a runner-up finish in the prestigious Snowball Derby earlier this month.

HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks will be led by Mike Greci, who oversaw Turner Scott Motorsports' K&N Series program since its inception in 2013. Under Greci's leadership, TSM earned back-to-back K&N Pro Series East championships, 15 victories and 14 pole positions. He helped launch the careers of NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers Dylan Kwasniewski and Ben Rhodes, the 2012 and 2013 K&N Series champions, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers Cameron Hayley and Brandon Jones.


The 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season will commence at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 7.