Wednesday, March 25, 2015

NASCAR Issues Behavioral Penalties

NASCAR has issued Behavioral Penalties to five crew members for their actions during pre-race March 21 at Auto Club Speedway. The crew members were working for the No. 8 NASCAR XFINITY Series team when the violations occurred. 
The crew members violated the following Sections in the 2015 NASCAR rule book: 
12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing: Involved in a pre-race incident; failure to comply with a directive from Track Security
12.8a: Behavioral Penalty 
Crew member Mark Armstrong has been fined $1,500, suspended from NASCAR until April 21 and placed on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31. Crew members Tyler Bullard, Nathaniel House, Jeremy Howard and Ryan Mulder have all been placed on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31.

Labbe, Falk Penalized For Auto Club Truck Arm Violation

Slugger Labbe
The No. 33 team that competes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been penalized for a rules infraction discovered during opening day inspection March 20 at Auto Club Speedway. 
This infraction is a P4 level penalty and violates the following Sections in the 2015 NASCAR rule book: 
12.1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing;
20.14.2: Rear Suspension: Truck Trailing Arm
E. The left and right side truck trailing arms must be mounted to the truck trailing arm mounting brackets using a one-piece, minimum ¾ inch diameter magnetic steel bolt.
F. The horizontal centerline of the highest truck trailing arm mounting bolt must not be higher than the top surface of the truck trailing arm crossmember, at the respective truck trailing arm mounting bracket, when the vehicle is at inspection orientation.
INFRACTION: The ¾ inch diameter magnetic steel truck trailing arm mounting bolt was not installed horizontally.
            J. Truck trailing arm must conform to the following drawing as specified in the NASCAR rule book: Rear Suspension-Truck Trailing Arm: A-008-00183-14 Rev.C
INFRACTION: Truck trailing arm monoball sleeve does not meet the drawing specifications. Sleeve is required to be minimum .125 inch minimum thick x two inches wide sleeve machined for press fit of .750 I.D. or .875 I.D. monoball assembly.
20.3.3.2.1: Truck Trailing Arm Crossmember Assembly:Truck Trailing Arm Mounting Brackets
            B. Truck trailing arm mounting brackets must be constructed of magnetic steel flat plate with a minimum thickness of 0.169 inch.
INFRACTION: Truck trailing arm mounting bracket adapter was machined from Aluminum solid.
20.20: Assembled Vehicle Overall Rules
            A. Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR rules, installation of additional components and/or modifications of existing components to affect the aerodynamic properties of the vehicle will not be permitted, including but not limited to, safety systems, chassis and roll cage, suspension, steering systems, brake systems, heat shields, body fillers, body sealers, filler panels, drivetrain components and exhaust components.
As a result of this violation, crew chief Slugger Labbe has been fined $50,000 and suspended for the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship races, plus any non-championship races or special events which might occur during that time period. Labbe has also been placed on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31. In addition, car owner Joe Falk has been docked 25 championship car owner points.

Daytona's Sprint Tower Coming Down

Daytona International Speedway kicked off another important milestone today as part of its $400 million DAYTONA Rising project.

The first large individual section of the Sprint Tower was removed by a 490-foot Manitowoc 2250 Crawler Crane. All remaining sections will be removed and disassembled during the next 30 days.

DAYTONA Rising is a $400 million reimagining of Daytona International Speedway. Five expanded and redesigned entrances, or “injectors,” will lead fans to a series of escalators and elevators, transporting them to three different concourse levels. Each level features spacious social areas, or “neighborhoods,” along the nearly mile-long frontstretch.

At the conclusion of the redevelopment, Daytona International Speedway will have approximately 101,000 permanent, wider and more comfortable seats, twice as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands. In addition, the Speedway will feature over 60 luxury suites with track side views and a completely revamped hospitality experience for corporate guests.

The project is expected to create 6,300 jobs, $300 million in labor income and over $80 million in tax revenue, will be completed in time for the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona and DAYTONA 500. 

JD Gibbs Diagnosed With Brain Function Issues

Joe Gibbs Racing has announced that team president J.D. Gibbs is beginning treatment this week for an undisclosed condition impacting his speech and mental processing.

The 46-year old son of team owner Joe Gibbs underwent tests recently after experiencing symptoms his doctors say are likely linked to a previous head injury. Gibbs enjoyed a brief career as a NASCAR driver, making 16 starts in what is now the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, along with eight Camping World Truck and five XFINITY Series events in machinery owned by Joe Gibbs Racing. He also played High School and college football – playing defensive back and quarterback at Virginia’s College of William & Mary from 1987 to 1990 -- as well as participating in mountain biking and snowboarding.

No specific injury has been cited as the cause of his condition.

Gibbs has been instrumental in the operation of JGR since the team was founded in 1992. 
He will undergo additional testing and treatment in the coming weeks, while continuing to work at JGR's Huntersville, North Carolina, facility. He is expected to reduce his at-track involvement with the team.

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France commented on today's announcement, saying, “All members of the NASCAR and France family extend our thoughts and prayers to J.D. Gibbs and his loved ones. We've all watched J.D. grow up within our community, and he always has represented himself, his family, the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization and NASCAR with the utmost professionalism, enthusiasm and energy. We wish him the best during this time and eagerly anticipate his recovery."


Darlington Tunnels To Honor Past Champions

In advance of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend, Darlington Raceway will honor its champions and rich history with unique branding projects in its Turn 3 vehicle and Turn 1 pedestrian tunnels.

The Turn 3 vehicle tunnel will feature a collage of timeless moments that define Darlington Raceway as a treasured sports icon. Both sides of the vehicle tunnel will feature iconic moments from each decade of the track’s history. The graphics will stand at 9 feet tall and be 225 feet wide, starting with the 1950’s thru 1980’s on one side and the 1990’s looking into the future on the other.

The Turn 1 pedestrian tunnel will honor each of the 111 individual NASCAR premier series race winners since 1950 at the track Too Tough to Tame. Kevin Harvick, the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 champion, will unveil his spot on the “Walk of Champions” as the previous year’s Darlington race winner, which will occur annually on race weekend.

Installation is already underway with the artwork scheduled to be completed by the beginning of April, weather permitting.

“The tunnels will capture the history and celebrate the champions of Darlington Raceway,” track President Chip Wile said. “So many memorable moments in NASCAR history were made here. This is a great way to share with our fans the significant times that occurred at the track Too Tough To Tame.”

Both tunnels will be open for year-round public viewing as part of the track’s museum and tour schedule. Viewing of the tunnels will be a new part of the experience.

“These tunnels aren’t something that will only be open on race weekend,” Wile said. “We want our fans to spend time enjoying these areas all year long. They were created with them in mind.”

Making the tunnel projects come to life was a collaborative effort by the track, its parent company International Speedway Corporation, B2B Media Inc. of Greenville, S.C. and Motorsports Designs.

“We appreciate the efforts by our ISC Creative department, led by George Burgess and Arla Fiorenzi, and the folks at B2B Media and Motorsports Designs for the countless hours they have put in to make these tunnel projects possible,” Wile said.

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

The Century Poll – March 2015

Each month during the racing season, The Century Poll asks members of the NASCAR community a question based on NASCAR racing, then compiles the results in an effort to determine what racing insiders think about that month’s topic, issue or compelling question.

The voting panel for The Century Poll is made up of 100 voters -- 50 from the NASCAR media corps and 50 from the NASCAR garage, consisting of team owners, drivers, crew chiefs, crew members, sponsor/public relations/manufacturing representatives and track officials.

March’s question was: After running three distinct track lengths so far this season – one-mile (Phoenix), one-and-a-half mile (Atlanta and Las Vegas) and two-mile (Fontana) -- what early-season grade would you give the 2015 Sprint Cup rules package?

The voters gave solid marks across the board, with the garage panel giving a slightly higher grade than the media; with an average difference of just 0.16.

While both constituencies gave three As and one D each, the major difference came in the middle of the curve. While garage members gave six more B-plus grades than media members, the latter group awarded three more Bs and seven more B-minuses. 

Of those that added a comment, three statements rang through.

(1)   NASCAR should be applauded for making moves to improve racing.
(2)   While there has not been a big difference in the racing so far, the more teams work with this package the better the racing will get.
(3)   The in-car track bar adjuster has been a positive addition.

Voting Breakdown
                        G          M         T
   A+  (98)         1         0         1
   A  (95)           0         1         1
   A-  (92)          2         2         4
   B+  (88)         15         9         24
   B  (85)           14         17         31
   B-  (82)          4         11         15
   C+  (78)         6         5         11
   C  (75)           6         2         8
   C-  (72)          1         2         3
   D  (65)           1         1         2
   F  (60)            0         0         0
   Average    83.50   83.34   83.42

   Key:  G = Garage vote, M = Media vote, T = Total

Monday, March 23, 2015

Almirola, RPM Off To Encouraging Start

Richard Petty Motorsports completed NASCAR’s three-race West Coast swing Sunday at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.  After an 11th-place finish, Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Smithfield Ford team are now ranked 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points after five races.
  
That standing for the No. 43 team is the best since Paul Menard led RPM to ninth place in points after five races in 2010.  Since that time, RPM has debuted a new ownership group and moved into a new building with the capability to work on its own bodies. 
  
"We are controlling a little bit of our own destiny and we have seen some positive results early in the season," said Sammy Johns, Director of Competition. "We have a lot more work to do, and we need to get the '9' team higher in points, but we're encouraged with the direction and momentum early in the year."

While Almirola is off to the best of his Sprint Cup Series career, he also knows there is room for improvement.
  
"We are not where we want to be, but we're making the most of our races and getting the best finishes possible," he said. "We all know we have room to improve, but I'm proud of the effort our team is putting in each Sunday to get good results so far."

Sam Hornish Jr. and the No. 9 Ford team haven't had the racing luck they have hoped for to start the season, but they know that it won't take a lot to turn their season around.
  
"We know that we can turn this around pretty quickly," said Hornish Jr. "Our team has great guys and we just need to keep our heads down.  If we do that, the results will come." 

RPM now heads to the Martinsville (Va.) Speedway where they have six Top-10 and two Top-5 finishes.


Backstretch Grandstands Coming Down At Daytona International Speedway

Daytona International Speedway began removing the backstretch grandstand today as part of the DAYTONA Rising redevelopment project. The full removal process will be completed later this year. 

By moving all seating to the frontstretch, fans will have the opportunity to enjoy a full race day experience including pre-race ceremonies, pit road action and the facility’s new amenities. Beginning in January of 2016, Daytona International Speedway will feature approximately 101,000 permanent, wider and more comfortable seats. 

DAYTONA Rising is a $400 million reimaging of Daytona International Speedway. Five expanded and redesigned entrances, or “injectors,” will lead fans to a series of escalators and elevators, transporting them to three different concourse levels. Each level features spacious social areas, or “neighborhoods,” along the nearly mile-long frontstretch.

At the conclusion of the redevelopment, Daytona International Speedway will also have twice as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands as its previous incarnation. In addition, the Speedway will feature over 60 luxury suites with track side views and a completely revamped hospitality experience for corporate guests.

The project is expected to create 6,300 jobs, $300 million in labor income and over $80 million in tax revenue, and will be completed in time for the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona and DAYTONA 500. 

Martinsville To Add Safety Barriers

After a full track evaluation by NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation, Martinsville Speedway will add to its existing barrier system in advance of the STP 500 weekend March 27-29. 
Tire pack barriers will be installed on the inside wall at the end of the backstretch, prior to the entrance of pit road.  
“We are committed to the continued safety of the drivers and our fans,” said Clay Campbell, Martinsville Speedway President. “We will continue to collaborate with ISC and NASCAR for additional safety enhancements deemed necessary.”

COMMENTARY: Consistency At All Costs

NASCAR elected not to throw the caution flag yesterday when Greg Biffle crashed on the final lap of the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California. Just a few weeks earlier, the sanctioning body threw a caution for Kyle Larson’s crash on the white-flag lap at Daytona International Speedway, allowing Joey Logano to win the Daytona 500 without being challenged down the stretch.

What’s the difference? Well, there are lots of differences. And that’s the whole point.

At Daytona, Larson spun out of the pack and slammed the inside retaining wall at an estimated speed of 130 mph. His car left the ground on impact and spun nearly 360 degrees in the air before landing in a smoking, twisted heap. Less than 24 hours after a similar crash left Kyle Busch with a compound fracture of his right leg, everyone in the house feared for Larson’s safety.

In comparison, Biffle’s crash at ACS Sunday was downright pedestrian. He impacted the outside wall at a much lower speed, doing only moderate damage to his Roush Fenway Racing Ford. After a short period spent sitting on the track apron – with his fellow competitors long gone and far away – the Washington native simply re-fired his engine and drove away.

With virtually no common ground between the two incidents, there was virtually no reason for NASCAR to react identically. In fact, Biffle’s crash bore more resemblance to a spin by David Ragan on Lap 24 of Sunday’s race, when NASCAR elected to throw the caution flag.

Why? Because the old saying is true.

Timing is everything.

A caution on Lap 24 doesn’t usually impact the outcome of a race. Yesterday’s Lap 24 stoppage didn’t change anything. Unfurling the caution on the final lap, however, would have robbed race fans of the exciting finish they paid to see. It’s like ordering Linda Vaughn through the mail and having Phyllis Diller delivered.

Disappointing, to say the least.

Believe it or not, NASCAR officials are people, too. Like the rest of us, they prefer to see a green-flag finish, whenever safety reasonably allows one to occur. Sunday, with Biffle fired up and rolling more than a mile ahead of the leaders, NASCAR had no real reason to throw the caution flag. Biffle was clearly uninjured, and the officials in the flagstand – almost directly above the scene of the crash – were able to confirm a clear, debris-free race track.

NASCAR allowed the racers to do what they do best Sunday, and the results were eminently satisfying. Especially if you’re a Brad Keselowski fan.

Why does NASCAR insist on making late-race rulings on a case-by-case basis?

Simply because every case in different.

NASCAR fans – some of them, at least – seem to crave consistency above all else. They want the sanctioning body to make the exact same call, every single time, despite the fact that no two incidents are ever completely alike. If NASCAR is forced to cast aside common sense and make every ruling the same way, fans will be forced to accept yellow-flag finishes on a much more frequent basis.

Based on the level of unhappiness that followed this year’s Daytona 500, most fans will not welcome that change.

Legendary Promoter Earl Baltes Dead At Age 93

Earl Baltes, the founder and longtime promoter of Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, passed away this morning at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio at the age of 93. 
Baltes is survived by his wife of 67 years, Berneice; daughter Starr and her husband, Joe Schmitmeyer; son Terry and his wife, Dee; one sister, Susie Barga, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. 
Born in Versailles, Ohio, Baltes served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Before getting his start in racing, he was heavily involved in the music business. Prior to WWII, he formed and led the Melody Makers, a 16-piece band that rose to regional prominence. In the late 1940s, he built and operated the Crystal Ballroom near Versailles, while still continuing to perform.
He eventually purchased the Ma Shoe’s Dance Hall, and one day attended an auto race at the nearby New Bremen Speedway. Despite having no prior knowledge of the sport, Baltes decided to build a track of his own in the natural amphitheatre that separated his dance hall from the Wabash River. The Dance Hall -- now known as the Eldora Ballroom -- is still there, while the racetrack has grown into a national treasure.
Earle and Berneice Baltes
Baltes built Eldora in 1954 as a quarter-mile dirt oval, before reshaping the track into its current high-banked, half-mile oval configuration in 1958. Since then, it has become the premier dirt track in the United States. Under Baltes, the facility hosted the highly successful World 100 for dirt Late Models, now the largest dirt race in the world. He also created the Dirt Late Model Dream, the richest dirt Late Model race in the world. A fan of Sprint Car racing, Baltes took great pride in his fabled Kings Royal Weekend for World of Outlaws Sprint Cars and many United States Auto Club (USAC) events, including the Four Crown Nationals.  
Races at Eldora were shown on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” with Keith Jackson and Al Michaels as broadcasters. ESPN, CBS and TNN also televised events that helped put Eldora on the map. Despite the track’s growing popularity, Baltes kept ticket prices affordable and concessions costs low, which continued to attract fans from around the world.  
Baltes built the track, nestled in rural west-central Ohio off Route 118, into a showplace for dirt motorsports, increasing the seating capacity to more than 20,000. He was beloved by many fans and seemed to know everyone by name. He also was a great storyteller, who always had a joke to tell.
Baltes with a young Steve Kinser
Fond of saying, “If we could sell just one more hot dog, we’d break even,” Baltes also promoted other speedways in Ohio, including Dayton, New Bremen, Limaland, Millstream, Mansfield, Pleasant Hill and Powell, while also promoting one in Salem, Indiana. He promoted World of Outlaws events in Florida and founded Ohio Sprint Speedweek for the All Star Circuit of Champions.
A steady stream of innovative (and often wild) ideas kept observers wondering, “What will Earl do next?” He hosted a trio of 500-lap Sprint Car races in the 1960s that featured 33 cars in each event. He also presented a season-long series of skits featuring a family of apes, who eventually were married in a ceremony presided over by legendary driver Duane “Pancho” Carter. 
In 2001, Baltes posted a remarkable $1 million payout to the winner of the “Eldora Million” Dirt Late Model race. He followed that with the “Mopar Million” in 2003, which had a purse of $1 million and paid $200,000 to the winner of a non-winged Sprint Car race. 
The legendary promoter developed a relationship with the late Bill France Sr., assisting the founder of NASCAR with recruiting cars for the inaugural event at Talladega Superspeedway. Baltes and Eldora also maintained close ties with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indy Car legends, whose barnstorming schedules at fearsome tracks like Eldora earned them their shot at the Brickyard, and Tony George, former Speedway president and CEO, were frequent visitors during Baltes’ tenure.  
He was inducted into many Halls of Fame, including National Sprint Car, National Dirt Late Model, USAC, Dayton Auto Racing Fans and Hoosier Auto Racing Fans, and was named USAC Race Organizer of the Year in 1984 and 1997. He was named Auto Racing Promoter of the Year in 1993, and fellow iconic promoter H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler recognized him with the Charlotte Motor Speedway Promoter of the Year Award in 2001. The state of Ohio named Route 118 “Earl Baltes Highway” from Ansonia to the south to St. Henry to the north.  
Stewart has maintained Eldora's luster
In 2004, Baltes sold his legendary Eldora oval to three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion -- and former Eldora driver -- Tony Stewart. He continued attending Eldora events with Berneice, often receiving the loudest ovation of the evening when introduced to the crowd. Thanks to Stewart, there is a life-size statue of the two founders at the entrance of the facility.  
“Earl was the yardstick other track promoters measured themselves by. He constantly raised the bar, and he did it by creating events everyone else was afraid to promote. He did them himself, too. Not as a fair board, or a public company, or with major sponsors or millions of dollars in TV money. He put it all on the line with the support of his family. He and his wife, Berneice, created a happening at Eldora. They turned Eldora into more than just a racetrack. They made it a place to be. They were integral to the evolution of dirt-track racing and the sport as a whole. Earl will be missed, but he won’t ever be forgotten because of his devotion to auto racing.”
Baltes and author Dave Argabright published his autobiography, “Earl!” in 2004. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Buescher Will Replace Moffitt At Front Row Motorsports

Chris Buescher will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, driving the No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford Fusion for Front Row Motorsports.  Buescher replaces Brett Moffitt, who has returned to Michael Waltrip Racing in place of the ailing Brian Vickers. 

Buescher called the last few hours, “very hectic.  I was actually getting breakfast over by the hotel and (Roush Fenway Racing General Manager) Robbie Reiser called me.  It’s similar to the way my first XFINITY race went down.  I was getting ready for an ARCA race, got the call and was rushed to Richmond, so it’s been wild.   

“I’m happy to help out Front Row and help out another Ford team.  We’re trying to all work the best we can to make this happen as smoothly as possible.  I’m excited to get the opportunity (and) so I appreciate that very much, but we’re going to have to be on our toes this weekend.”

Buescher said his most immediate concern is getting a seat fitted to the No. 34 Ford.

“I run an aluminum seat on the XFINITY side and we have a carbon fiber seat to work with here (at FRM).  We’re just trying to adapt this insert to me, so we’ve got to work on it a little bit and move everything around; the steering and pedals and all that.  But these guys have already jumped right in and are working hard at it.  It’s not only hectic for me, but for everybody involved in this process right now.”

He admitted that pulling double duty in both the XFINITY and Sprint Cup ranks at Auto Club Speedway will be complicated.

“We’ve got qualifying on the Cup side this evening, so everything is going to happen very quickly this weekend.  We still have to put our focus on the XFINITY side.  We’re in contention to win a championship and we need to make sure that our effort is on that area. But at the same time, we’re more than happy to help out on the Cup side and try to help these guys have a good, solid run and stay up there in points.”

Vickers Sidelined After Latest Bout With Blood Clots

Brian Vickers will not compete in the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing Sunday, after informing the team today that he has experienced a reoccurrence of blood clots that will require him to once again begin taking blood-thinning medication.
The 31-year old Vickers missed the first two races of the season while recovering from heart surgery in December, and has previously been sidelined twice by blood clots in his hands, leg and lungs.  
“First and foremost, our thoughts are with Brian and his family,” said MWR co-owner Michael Waltrip today. “He isn’t just our race car driver, he is our friend and we know the NASCAR community will continue to rally around Brian.”
Waltrip tabbed youngster Brett Moffitt to replace Vickers this weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, saying, “We are fortunate to have Brett Moffitt in our system. (We) marveled at his great drive in Atlanta three weeks ago, so we know he can get the job done in the No. 55 this weekend.
“This news is very fresh and the situation is very fluid, so we can only plan for this weekend at this point.”
Vickers also commented on his latest medical setback, saying, “Thankfully, because I recognized the signs and symptoms, the doctors caught this early and I’m going to be OK. I had finished treatment for the clot I had in my leg back in 2013 and I haven’t needed to be on a blood thinner for a clot in my leg or lung since.
“Now, I won’t be able to race because I’ll need to be back on a blood thinner. I’m going to follow doctor’s orders and do everything I need to do to get well.
“It’s Blood Clot Awareness Month,” said Vickers, “and I was supposed to be at the track this weekend doing work with my partners at Janssen, focused on getting the word out. I’m disappointed I can’t be there, but if there is a silver lining in all of this, hopefully what’s happened to me will help to raise awareness on this important health issue.”
Waltrip said there is presently no timeline for Vickers’ return, adding, “He is more susceptible to clots than you and I are, and we knew that could be an issue. Are we surprised? Yes.
“Did we think it would happen? No.”

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Talladega Announces Safety Initiatives

Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch spoke today on planned safety initiatives at the Alabama speed plant.

“Following an extensive track review with International Speedway Corporation, NASCAR and ARCA, Talladega Superspeedway will add SAFER Barrier to its existing barrier system in advance of the May 1-3 NASCAR weekend,” said Lynch in a written statement. “The new SAFER barrier will be placed in three locations along the inside wall at entrances to pit road, Turn One and Turn Three. Talladega Superspeedway will continue to review its safety initiatives and provide updates as circumstances warrant.

“We are committed to making Talladega Superspeedway a safe environment for drivers as well as our fans. Safety is our top priority and we will continue to collaborate with ISC, NASCAR and ARCA on any future safety enhancements.”


NASCAR return to Talladega May 1-3 for the GEICO 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and Winn-Dixie 300 NASCAR XFINITY event. 

COMMENTARY: Patricia, Please Stop

Patricia Driscoll published an opinion piece in USA Today Thursday, in which she repeated her now-familiar assertion that she was a victim of domestic assault at the hands of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch last September at Dover International Speedway.

Today’s column broke no new ground, instead rehashing allegations and details that long ago became familiar to NASCAR fans and followers of the case. Instead, she chastised “uninformed observers” for disparaging her honesty, integrity and motivations. She criticized the tabloid media for “playing up the most sensationalist aspects” of the case, conveniently ignoring the fact that the sensationalist information –every bit of it -- has come from Driscoll, Busch or their respective attorneys.

In Driscoll’s latest media missive, she poses a number of questions that readers of USA Today are ill-equipped to answer.

“Will Busch and his legal team drag me through court so that I can leave the relationship with what I brought into it?” she asks. “Will Busch honor the commitments he made while we were together? Will he try to take my house, or fight me on something as basic as reclaiming my belongings?”

Those questions are best addressed to Driscoll’s attorneys, using a forum other than USA Today. In fact, an insistence on continuing to dismantle her personal relationship in public seems disingenuous from a person who insists she is “fully resolved to put this chapter of my life behind me.”

Driscoll continues to air her dirty laundry in public, all while pointedly referring to both Busch and NASCAR by name as often as possible. If she indeed has no interest in destroying Busch’s driving career -- and she steadfastly insists that she does not – the best way to demonstrate that fact would be to move on, settle their differences behind closed doors and put an immediate stop to the public posturing.

Whether you like Patricia Driscoll or not – and there are plenty of folks on either side of that question – her intelligence is beyond debate. She serves as CEO of a multi-million dollar, Washington DC-based surveillance systems corporation that supplies the United States military, and also heads the considerable fundraising efforts of the Armed Forces Foundation.

Ms. Driscoll is justifiably proud of her accomplishments as a businesswoman, philanthropist and advocate for our men and women in uniform. She also takes great pride in raising a son who is – by all indications – an intelligent, compassionate young man.

A woman of her intelligence must surely understand that while continuing to bang the drum against Busch tarnishes his already battered image, it also does the same to hers. She has every right to state her case – over and over again – for as long as she chooses to do so, regurgitating the same allegations and making the same points.

The legal system, however, has said its piece, and no amount of editorializing is going to change its decision.

“Above everything else,” wrote Driscoll today, “I'm a mom who simply will not let my son grow up thinking that it's ever OK to hit a woman.”

The importance of that lesson is clear to all of us. Unfortunately, that lesson is not best taught in the pages of USA Today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

COMMENTARY: Smoke Fans, Step Away From The Ledge

Tony Stewart fans, step away from the ledge. It’s too soon to jump.

The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion started his 2015 season on a decidedly low note, crashing out of the Daytona 500 en route to a 42-place finish. Things improved only marginally the following week, with a 30th-place showing at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He was 33rd at Las Vegas Motorsport Speedway two weeks ago and 39th Sunday (wrecked again) in Phoenix.

That’s a lousy start, no matter how you slice it. And for some Stewart fans, the time has apparently come to begin jumping off the bandwagon.

They point to Smoke’s age – 43 – as a sign that his best competitive days may be behind him. They point to the departure of crew chief Darian Grubb – and before him, Greg Zipadelli – as contributing factors in Stewart’s fall from grace. They say he’s got “too much on his plate,” running the Eldora Speedway dirt track and the recently acquired All-Star Sprint Series. They blame the compound-fractured leg he suffered in a Sprint Car spill two summers back, and of course, they point to the on-track tragedy that took the life of driver Kevin Ward, Jr. as proof that Stewart may never again be the driver he once was.

At the risk of quelling the panic, here are a few simple facts.

For the record, Stewart and his Sprint Cup brethren have had just three races to acclimate themselves to NASCAR’s new lower-horsepower, reduced-downforce rules package. Some drivers have adapted well to those changes, while others have not. The sanctioning body’s newly announced ban on independent testing has made it especially tough on those who have not.

With testing restricted, struggling teams like Stewart’s need more time to diagnose and cure their on-track ills. And despite all the tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth in recent days, three weeks does not qualify as “more time.”

Repeat after me. It is far too early to begin throwing dirt on Tony Stewart’s grave.

Two years ago, under NASCAR’s previous championship format, a start like Stewart’s would have been extremely difficult to overcome. Under the current Chase system, however, a driver can choke on his own vomit for 25 consecutive weeks, then salvage the season and earn a berth in the championship Chase with a single win in Race 26 at Richmond.

Is there cause for concern for Tony Stewart fans right now? You bet there is.

At both Daytona and Phoenix, the former Sprint Cup Series champion was eliminated in crashes of his own creation. In Atlanta and Las Vegas, he finished multiple laps in arrears, with no wrecks, mechanical failures or pit-road miscues to blame.

His cars were simply, painfully, horribly slow. And worse, he and his team seemed to have little idea how to fix them. That’s a problem, but it’s not insurmountable.

All it takes is time and patience, something fans seem to have little of these days.

In today’s instant gratification society, we are no longer willing to wait for success. We want what we want, and we want it now. We cook our meals in microwave ovens, tapping our toes in annoyance at a recipe that requires an investment of more than 45 seconds. We eat over the sink, with no time to set the table or wash the dishes. We watch television in 10-second increments, mashing the remote control and hurtling wildly thorough all 300 channels, unable to commit to anything, lest we miss something more exciting happening just a few clicks away.

Today’s sports fan has a t-shirt in his closet for every Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup and NBA champion from the last 15 years. His loyalty to those teams lasted less than a week, and required an investment no more emotional than a trip to WalMart. He roots for whichever team is hot at the moment, and as a result, he truly roots for no one at all.

That fan makes a lot of noise in the local watering hole on Super Bowl Sunday, but that variety of drive-by fandom has no meaningful payoff.

There are guys who marry their High School sweetheart and remain faithful – through thick and thin, good times and bad – for 50 years. There are also guys who attend their High School Reunion in a rented Corvette, with a hooker on each arm.

One of those guys is the real deal. The other is paper-thin.

As difficult as it may be these days, Stewart fans must keep the faith. Stewart and crew chief Chad Johnston have the full effort and resources of both Stewart Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports behind them. Some of the smartest people in the sport work inside those walls, and they’ll get things figured out, soon enough.

It is highly unlikely that Stewart has forgotten how to drive a race car in the last few months, and he insists that he no longer struggles with the baggage – both physical and emotional – acquired in a difficult last two seasons.

He says he’s going to be fine, and you should believe him.

Hang in there, Smoke fans. It may not be easy at present, but it’ll be worth it in the end.