Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jeff Gordon To FOX TV Booth In 2016

Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon will step out of the driver’s seat and into the TV broadcast booth next season, joining FOX NASCAR as a fulltime race analyst alongside three-time champion Darrell Waltrip and anchorman Mike Joy.

Currently competing in his 23rd and final fulltime Sprint Cup Series season, Gordon served as race analyst for FOX Sports' coverage of three NASCAR XFINITY SERIES races this season, before agreeing to a multi-year contract that begins with Daytona Speedweeks in February of 2016. He will also provide in-car commentary in selected races this season.

"NASCAR has provided me so many incredible memories, experiences and opportunities throughout my 23 years as a driver, and I can't wait to start a new chapter in racing with this new relationship with FOX and to be in the booth with Mike and Darrell," said Gordon. "I feel so lucky to be a part of a sport that I'm very passionate about, and now I get the opportunity to share that passion to millions of race fans from a whole new perspective."

Larry McReynolds will move to the Hollywood Hotel anchor booth, joining host Chris Myers and analiyst Michael Waltrip.

"Jeff is not only a champion but an icon of a racing generation," said Eric Shanks, FOX Sports President, COO & Executive Producer. "We are thrilled he has chosen to become a part of the FOX Sports family and pair his experience with Darrell. Each is credited with helping elevate NASCAR to the popularity it attained in his respective era, and alongside Mike Joy, this duo will treat fans to unmatched insights each and every week."

One of the most versatile drivers of his era, Gordon has driven for Hendrick Motorsports since November 1992, winning four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships (1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001), 92 races and 80 pole positions. With his first Cup Series championship in 1995, Gordon became the youngest champion (24) in NASCAR's modern era in only his third full season. He sits third behind only NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105) in all-time victories, is a three-time Daytona 500 champion and record five-time Brickyard 400 winner. He holds the record for most consecutive seasons with a pole (23), among numerous other accolades. Furthermore, Gordon is NASCAR's winningest road-course driver with nine wins, and is the all-time leader with 12 restrictor-plate track victories.

Off the track, Gordon, named one of "NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers" in 1998, established the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation, which supports pediatric cancer research, treatment and patient support programs. He traveled to Rwanda with the Foundation in 2011, and also visited the Democratic Republic of Congo in conjunction with the Clinton Global Initiative. Gordon was honored with the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Myers Brothers Award in 2012, recognizing those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport of stock-car racing. That same year, he received the Heisman Humanitarian Award, established to recognize those in sports who give significantly to communities and improve the lives of others.

FOX Sports, which began its FOX NASCAR coverage in 2001, currently is in the first of a 10-year media rights agreement with NASCAR. In 2013, FOX Sports extended its agreement with NASCAR, ensuring the FOX family of networks' broadcast of the first 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races each season beginning in 2015, as well as the first 14 NASCAR XFINITY Series races of the season and all NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events, through 2024.

Report: Driscoll Used Armed Forces Foundation Funds Illegally

An ESPN Outside the Lines report alleges today that Patricia Driscoll, President of the Armed Forces Foundation and estranged former girlfriend of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, used foundation funds to pay personal bills, in violation of several laws.

ESPN Senior Writer Mike Fish reports that a former AFF employee contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently and provided written documentation of several alleged financial discrepancies involving Driscoll during her tenure as AFF president. 

In a separate ESPN Inside the Lines investigation, Fish reports that the AFF repeatedly lent money to Driscoll to pay personal expenses, including personal state and federal income taxes. In another instance, AFF lent more than $22,000 to Driscoll for the purchase of Moroccan rugs.

In addition to Driscoll's $171,027 annual salary, an attorney for the AFF whistleblower accused the foundation of paying more than $15,000 in legal fees associated with Driscoll's recent child custody battle, along with $6,315.22 for an infra-red security camera shipped to her Maryland residence. In addition, the foundation allegedly paid for Driscoll’s personal vacations to Paris and Morocco.

Patricia Driscoll
ESPN’s Fish reports that AFF paid the credit card bill for Driscoll's private security business -- Frontline Defense Systems – 17 times in 19 months from 2012 to 2013; paying for massages, personal medical expenses, toy store purchases and grocery bills. While many (and perhaps all) of those expenses were subsequently reimbursed by Busch or his company, Kurt Busch, Inc., it is illegal for a nonprofit corporation to lend money to its officers or directors.

Driscoll subsequently accused Busch of assaulting her in his motorhome at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014. She obtained an Order of No Contact against him in Delaware Family Court, but the Delaware Department of Justice declined to file charges, due to a lack of evidence. 

Driscoll declined to comment for the ESPN.com article. An AFF spokesperson called the allegations, “absolutely false.”

Fish's article, entitled, Documents: Kurt Busch's ex-girlfriend used veterans' charity as bank can be read in its entirety at espn.go.com, 

Johnson Speaks On NASCAR Warning, 2016 Rules

Jimmie Johnson commented today on the written warning his team received from NASCAR for modifications to the rear fender flares on his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet in last weekend’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
“We were very shocked to hear that there was an issue with the side skirts,” said Johnson. “Leaving the racetrack, NASCAR was upset and thought there was a lot more intent and something going wrong with the side skirt being pulled out. Then, as video became available and they looked through it and saw what was done, it calmed down. We were shocked to hear that there was an issue and (that) we had crash damage on the right-side of the car.  It certainly turned out that way.”
Johnson said he looks forward to this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, saying, “It’s always great to come to a track that you have a great past (and) great history at. Unfortunately, the showing we had in the All-Star race was less than stellar. The confidence we would normally walk in (to Charlotte) with has been diluted with the lack of speed we had. 
“We brought back a different car and are certainly trying to do things differently with the set-up. The 600-mile race has always been good for us. Chad and I seem to fix our racecar as the night goes on, be aggressive with adjustments, chase the racetrack well and I do a nice job searching for a line. The distance of the race doesn’t bother me.  I think we will have a strong night, but based on what we learned and what we saw during the All-Star Race, we have a few things to sort out today and even into Saturday’s practice sessions.”
Johnson also commented on the aerodynamic issues that continue to provide a competitive advantage to the leader of a race, saying, “Passing an equal car is really tough, especially from second to first.  We keep working on a variety of rule packages to try to make it better, (but) I don’t think we have made it better at some tracks.  It is so hard to get around the brutal truth; the car leading has the best aero situation and the rest don’t. 
“It’s very difficult to get around that,” he said. “I feel like there was a (rules) direction that had a lot of the drivers encouraged about creating more off throttle time. But this rules package has not done that.”
The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion said he is still hopeful that additional changes will be made to the 2016 rules, despite recent reports that NASCAR may leave the rulebook alone for a year.
“For 2016 there was a lot of hope that we were going that direction,” Johnson said. “(But) it looks like that stuff has been tabled for now.”

Cook, Isaac, Labonte, Smith, Turner Headed To NASCAR Hall

NASCAR’s Hall of Fame Class of 2016 was announced yesterday. The five-person group – the seventh in NASCAR Hall of Fame history – consists of Jerry Cook, Bobby Isaac, Terry Labonte, O. Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner. In addition, Harold Brasington won the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel met in a closed session in Charlotte to debate and vote upon the 20 nominees for the induction class of 2016 and the five nominees for the Landmark Award.  NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton announced the class and Landmark Award winner in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s “Great Hall.”

The Class of 2016 was determined by votes cast by the Voting Panel, including representatives from NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, track owners from major facilities and historic short tracks, media members, manufacturer representatives, retired competitors (drivers, owners, crew chiefs), recognized industry leaders, a nationwide fan vote conducted through NASCAR.com and, for the second year, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion (Kevin Harvick). In all, 57 votes were cast, with two additional Voting Panel members recused from voting as potential nominees for induction (Jerry Cook and Robert Yates). The accounting firm of Ernst & Young presided over the tabulation of the votes.

Voting was as follows: O. Bruton Smith (68%), Terry Labonte (61%), Curtis Turner (60%), Jerry Cook (47%) and Bobby Isaac (44%).

The next top vote-getters were Red Byron, Benny Parsons and Rick Hendrick.

The five inductees came from a group of 20 nominees that included Buddy Baker, Red Byron, Richard Childress, Ray Evernham, Ray Fox, Rick Hendrick, Harry Hyde, Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin, Hershel McGriff, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons, Larry Phillips, Mike Stefanik and Robert Yates.

Nominees for the Landmark Award included Brasington, H.Clay Earles, Raymond Parks, Ralph Seagraves and Ken Squier.  

Class of 2016 Inductees:
Jerry Cook -- made his name in modifieds, winning six NASCAR Modified championships, including four consecutively from 1974-77. All the while, he was vying with another driver from his hometown of Rome, New York, nine-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans, for supremacy in NASCAR’s open-wheel realm. After retiring from racing in 1982, Cook stayed with the sport and helped shape the series known today as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Cook served as the series’ director when it began in 1985 and remains with NASCAR as competition administrator.

Bobby Isaac -- His uncanny skill at drawing speed from a race car puts him on a short list of NASCAR legends. His 49 career poles ranks 10th all time. Maybe more impressive: Isaac captured 19 poles in 1969, which still stands as the record for poles in a single season. Isaac began racing in NASCAR’s premier series in 1961. He finished runner-up in the series standings in 1968 behind NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson. In 1969, he finished sixth in the standings after posting 17 wins and those 19 poles. In 1970, Isaac won the championship posting 11 victories, 32 top fives and 38 top 10s in 47 starts. Isaac won 37 races in NASCAR's top series, ranking 19th on the all-time list.

Terry Labonte -- Early in his career he was known as the “Iceman” for his coolness under pressure. But his demeanor belied his determination.  Later in his career, he became known as the sport’s “Iron Man” thanks to 665 consecutive starts in NASCAR’s premier series, a record which stood until 2002. Winning two premier series championships, in 1984 and ’96, is impressive; the 12-year gap distinguishes Labonte further. No other driver has won his first two championships that far apart and Labonte is one of only six drivers with championships in two decades. Labonte’s stellar career is tucked between perfect bookends – his two Southern 500 wins, in 1980 and 2003. His 361 top-10 finishes ranks 10th all time.

O. Bruton Smith -- Executive chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., he promoted his first stock car race in Midland, North Carolina at the age of 18. Smith’s early endeavors included operating the National Stock Car Racing Association – seen as an early competitor to NASCAR – and building Charlotte Motor Speedway. CMS became the foundation of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which currently owns eight NASCAR tracks hosting 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events, the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and additional high-profile motorsports activities. Smith took SMI public in 1995, the first motorsports company to be traded at the New York Stock Exchange. He was inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame and National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame, both in 2006; and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007.

Curtis Turner -- Called the “Babe Ruth of stock car racing,” Turner was among the fastest and most colorful competitors in the early years of NASCAR premier series racing. Turner competed in NASCAR’s first “Strictly Stock” race in 1949 in Charlotte and was the only driver to win a NASCAR premier series race in a Nash. He posted his first of 17 career victories in only his fourth start on Sept. 11, 1949, at Langhorne (Pennsylvania) Speedway. Although many of Turner’s victories came on short tracks and dirt ovals – much of his career pre-dated NASCAR’s superspeedway era – he won the 1956 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway and the first American 500 at Rockingham Speedway in 1965. He remains the only series driver to win two consecutive races from the pole leading every lap. He also won 38 of 79 races in which he competed in the NASCAR Convertible Division.

Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR:
Harold Brasington -- A South Carolina businessman, Brasington believed in Bill France’s fledgling NASCAR business, created the sanctioning body’s first superspeedway – a one-of-a-kind egg-shaped oval, paved on an old cotton and peanut field. Expecting 10,000 fans to show up at Darlington Raceway’s first competition on Labor Day of 1950, 25,000 spectators showed up for the inaugural Southern 500 – NASCAR’s first 500-mile race.  Darlington's success inspired Brasington to extend his reach north -- to North Carolina. He employed his track building and promoting expertise, helping in the creation of Charlotte Motor Speedway and building North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, North Carolina.

Next year’s Induction Ceremony is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, broadcast on NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, live from Charlotte, N.C.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Truck, XFINITY Teams Fined For Weekend Violations

The No. 00 team that won Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race with driver Kasey Kahne has been penalized for a rules infraction discovered during post-race inspection on May 15 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The infraction is a P2 penalty and violates the following sections in the 2015 NASCAR rule book:

12.1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing

20.17.3.3.2: Top Splitter Shelf Heights. Vehicle did not meet the minimum post-race splitter height.

As a result of this violation, crew chief Joe Shear Jr. has been fined $6,000 and placed on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31. Additionally, owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been docked 10 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship owner points.

In addition, the No. 4 team that competes in the NASCAR XFINITY Series has been penalized for a rules infraction committed during a May 16 practice at Iowa Speedway.

The infraction is a P3 level penalty and violates the following Sections in the 2015 NASCAR rule book:
12.1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing, and

20.17.2.1: Overall vehicle weight

            B. Any and all ballast added to the vehicle must be bolted inside an added ballast container, inside the main frame rails, and/or inside the front sway bar mounting tube. Weight affixed improperly.

As a result of this violation, crew chief Gary Cogswell has been fined $15,000 and placed on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31. Additionally, car cheif Charles Kent has been placed on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31.

Byrnes Honored With NMPA Spirit Award

The late Steve Byrnes, a highly respected television broadcaster who covered motorsports for over 30 years, has been awarded the NMPA Spirit Award for the first quarter of 2015 by the members of the National Motorsports Press Association.

The award is designed to recognize character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports.

Byrnes’ began his broadcasting career in 1982 and joined Fox Sports in 2001.  He served as a pit road reporter for Fox’s coverage of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing from 2001-2014 and most recently anchored coverage of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races and co-hosted the NASCAR Race Hub program on Fox Sports 1.  Byrnes’ 32-year career as a member of the motorsports media included stints with CBS, TNN, WTBS and Fox networks.

March’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway was named the “Food City 500 In Support Of Steve Byrnes & Stand Up To Cancer,” honoring Steve’s battle against head and neck cancer.  Byrnes passed away two days after the race and is survived by his wife, Karen and son, Bryson.

Byrnes received votes on more than 92% of the ballots cast by the NMPA membership.   

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Jamie Dick Returns In Iowa

This weekend's 3M 250 at Iowa Speedway will mark the return of driver Jamie Dick to NASCAR Xfinity Series competition.  Dick has been sidelined since being diagnosed with diabetes following the Xfinity Series race in Phoenix on March 14th.  After being cleared by his doctors and the NASCAR medial staff, Jamie is excited to be back behind for the first time in over two months. 
While Dick had not planned to run the full season schedule, he was forced to sit out several races in which he was scheduled to drive.  Viva Motorsports drivers, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Brandon Gdovic were called upon to drive the No. 55 machine during Dick's absence.  Both drivers and will continue to be behind the wheel as the schedule permits. 
"I couldn't be happier to get back in the car this weekend.  I have been looking forward to this weekend since the day after Phoenix," said Dick.  "There were a lot of unanswered questions when I was first diagnosed, but my focus quickly shifted to getting cleared to race.  With any new diagnosis, there is a lot to learn, but my doctors are doing a great job and the NASCAR staff has been great with showing me the path to getting healthy and back to driving.  Both Jeffrey and Brandon did a great job in running the races I had originally planned and our Viva Motorsports team is on a roll.  Now it’s my turn to keep that going." 
Dick has quite a history at Iowa Speedway, having accumulated eight starts at the track in NASCAR competition.  He hopes that this start will be the most memorable yet.  Viva Auto Group will once again be featured on the No. 55 Camaro along with associate support from Bestway Autos and Viva Powersports.

DraftKings Named NASCAR Fantasy Sports Partner

NASCAR is entering the rapidly growing daily fantasy sports space by selecting industry leader, DraftKings, as its “Official Daily Fantasy Sports Partner.” Through the three-year agreement, DraftKings will have an exclusive license to develop NASCAR-branded games across the daily fantasy sports category.  

Daily fantasy sports games on DraftKings will give players a one-of-a-kind event experience. DraftKings will have access to a direct data feed from NASCAR Digital Media that contains real-time statistics. The unique content offering of up-to-the-minute information on races and drivers for daily fantasy sports games will bring players closer to the sport in an unprecedented way.  What’s more, daily fantasy sports games and statistics will be offered on DraftKings’ mobile applications, giving NASCAR fans the only on-the-go daily fantasy and content platform.    
   
“Pursuing ways to connect with our fans on a daily basis while enhancing their viewing experience has been paramount to NASCAR, and fantasy sports is a core tenet of that strategy,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “We are committed to growing our fan base, increasing engagement and diversifying our audience and partnering with DraftKings will strongly support all of these efforts.” 

In each game, participants are assigned a fixed salary cap they can use to draft their entire roster, comprised of five NASCAR Sprint Cup SeriesTM drivers. Scoring categories in DraftKings NASCAR daily fantasy sports games will include finishing position, fastest laps, laps led, position differential and passing differential. NASCAR games on DraftKings will provide fans the opportunity to win one-of-a-kind NASCAR prizes and VIP experiences. 

“We’re thrilled to partner with NASCAR to bring auto racing enthusiasts across the country an unmatched fan experience,” said Jason Robins, CEO and co-founder of DraftKings. “We’re always exploring new avenues for innovation and stats from NASCAR Digital Media’s direct data feed that we will provide to our players is another example of DraftKings’ commitment to incorporating new technologies for the benefit of the fan.” 

DraftKings will offer two different types of NASCAR-themed games – a free game for casual players and paid games for avid followers of the sport. In addition to daily fantasy auto racing, DraftKings also offers daily fantasy sports games in major professional and college sports. More information on DraftKings NASCAR daily fantasy sports games is available at www.draftkings.com. 

COMMENTARY: Chase Rules Not Designed To Punish

There has been considerable debate in recent days concerning the righteousness of NASCAR’s decision to allow Kyle Busch to attempt to qualify for the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Under NASCAR rules, drivers must take part in all 26 regular-season races, finish in the Top-30 in points, then either win a race or finish high enough in the standings to qualify for the 10-race postseason. This week’s decision essentially waives part of those Chase qualification standards; the part requiring Busch to take part in all 26 regular-season races.

As it now stands, if Busch can race his way into the Top-30, win a race or earn a Chase bid on points, he will be eligible to contend for the title. In short, NASCAR has given the Joe Gibbs Racing driver an opportunity to do in 15 races what his competition has 26 races to achieve. That’s a tall order – even for a driver of Busch’s considerable talent – and in the end, it may not be achievable. But Busch deserves a chance to try.

Here’s why.

NASCAR’s Chase guidelines were not designed to penalize drivers who suffer injury, illness or personal hardship during the course of a season. They were designed to prevent full-time drivers from winning a race, then taking a month off in an effort to enter the Chase rested and focused.

They were designed to prevent part-time carpetbaggers from coming into the sport, winning a restrictor-plate or road-course event, then fading back into the woodwork until Chase time, with a championship berth securely in hand.

Part-time drivers and teams add little or no value to the Sprint Cup Series. They make no commitment to the sport, and deserve no consideration in return. But a driver like Kyle Busch – who competes in dozens of races each year in addition to his Sprint Cup Series commitment – contributes greatly to the sport. He sells tickets, builds television viewership, radio listenership and gives fans someone to root for (or against) from February through November.

NASCAR understands this, which is why they built a little wiggle room into their Chase qualification requirements, allowing them to waive one (or all) of those guidelines for full-time drivers who suffer injury, illness or other unforeseen circumstances.

NASCAR has no interest in heaping additional worry on the shoulders of Brian Vickers, a young man who is already dealing with serious concerns about his health and livelihood.

A year ago, they were not interested in further traumatizing Tony Stewart, while he dealt with the significant emotional turmoil surrounding Kevin Ward, Jr.’s on-track death.

Earlier this season, they were not interested in punishing Kurt Busch for a “he said, she said” legal entanglement that resulted – after an agonizing period of legal grandstanding – in no charges, whatsoever. 

And they most certainly are not interested in penalizing Kyle Busch, whose only crime is loving the sport so much that he races wherever and whenever he can.

Most of us receive between 14 and 21 paid “sick days” each year from our employers; employers who understand the value of secure, stable workers who don't have to worry about their job in times of trouble.

Kyle Busch deserves no less. The Las Vegas native needed just 11 “sick days” to rebound from a potentially career-ending injury. For that, he should be commended, not punished.

Vickers, Stewart and Kyle Busch are victims of circumstance, and have done nothing wrong. According to those tasked with investigating and charging incidents of domestic violence in the state of Delaware, the same can now be said for Kurt Busch. All four men have dealt admirably with their respective personal tragedies, and now ask nothing more than to be allowed to resume their lives and careers, without being senselessly penalized for wrongs they did not commit. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Moffitt Will Remain In No. 34 Ford

Front Row Motorsports will keep 22-year old Brett Moffitt behind the wheel of its No. 34 Ford Fusion. The team has named the Grimes, Iowa, native as the primary driver of its No. 34 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entry, including multiple races with primary sponsorship from CSX and its "Play It Safe" initiative.

The arrangement will provide consistency behind the wheel of the No. 34, whose seat was filled by multiple drivers this season. Moffitt has already driven the No. 34 for three races, including a 32nd-place finish Saturday night at Kansas Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports had initially filled the seat vacated by David Ragan on a week-to-week basis while the Sprint Cup veteran filled in for an injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18 car. Now that Ragan has moved to the No. 55 of Michael Waltrip Racing for the remainder of the 2015 season, Front Row is grateful to have the full-time availability of the up-and-comer Moffitt.

"I am excited for the opportunity to be in a Sprint Cup car on a weekly basis," Moffitt said. "The most important thing for me at this point of my career is seat time, going to some of these tracks that are new to me, and racing around 42 other drivers in race conditions. And the more time I spend in the 34 car and with this team, the more competitive we'll get. And I think that consistency will lead to some good finishes."

"We're glad to be able to move forward knowing who is going to be in the car on a consistent basis," said team owner Bob Jenkins. "Brett's already got some great experience under his belt, and I think having the same driver-crew chief team working together regularly will bring some stability to our No. 34 team and help Brett with his development as well."

The arrangement provides CSX another young driver to help deliver its railroad safety message to the targeted audience of 18- to 34-year-old males. Moffitt and the No. 34 team will promote the familiar "Play It Safe" message at multiple Sprint Cup races, including the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway on May 24.

"We're excited to have such a promising new driver who, at 22, fits squarely in the demographic of drivers and pedestrians we're trying to reach with our important safety message," said John Claybrooks, CSX Director of Brand, Digital Media & Marketing Communications. "Brett brings renewed dynamism and competitive energy to the program."

Moffitt, a 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, has 16 Sprint Cup career starts with a top finish of eighth earlier this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Kyle Cleared To Race For The Chase

NASCAR announced today that Kyle Busch will be eligible to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. The sanctioning body has waived Rule 17.6.2.1.a, which requires a driver to start all championship events of the current season. 
NASCAR made the decision after the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota received the appropriate medical clearance to return to NASCAR racing this weekend in the Sprint All Star Race. To qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Busch will need to be within the top 30 of the Championship point standings after race 26 at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 12, and meet all other stated requirements within the NASCAR Rule Book. 
“On behalf of everyone at NASCAR, it’s great to have Kyle Busch back racing,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “Our decision to grant Kyle a waiver that allows him to continue running for a championship is one we discussed extensively. The spirit of the rule never was designed to punish drivers who are unable to compete due to extenuating circumstances such as recovering from a racing accident. 
“We wish Kyle the best of luck in the balance of the season, and look forward to his return to the car this week for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Busch Surprised By Speed Of Return

Kyle Busch said today that his impending return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series caught even him by surprise.

Speaking in a media teleconference this afternoon, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver admitted that his return to active competition Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway is something that “not a lot of folks would have thought (possible) that night in February, in the hospital.”

Busch will return to the driver’s seat of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota for the first time since suffering a compound fracture of his right leg and a broken left foot in a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona on Feb. 21.

“There have been good days and there have been bad days,’’ admitted Busch today. “I would have said a few weeks ago that I’m probably ready for a return at Talladega or Kansas. But then there’s been a day or two within (the last) two weeks where I was like, “Oh man, I’m glad I didn’t decide to come back. I’m glad we waited a little bit longer.’ Some days you might feel a little bit worse after too much therapy… brings on some pain symptoms.”

Busch said his comeback was “faster than anyone would have anticipated, even the doctors,” saying he is proud of a rehabilitation regimen that saw him complete five hours of therapy, 3-5 days per week.

“Physically, this is obviously the biggest challenge (of my career),” he said. “Even mentally, in the beginning, it was a tough challenge to get myself back into raceable condition. Obviously, you want to be back as soon as you can, but things will only happen so fast.

“I feel like this is a great accomplishment… to come back as quickly as I’ve been able to.’’

Busch said he took part in two lengthy tests in a Kyle Busch Motorsports Late Model in recent weeks, testing his mending right leg and left foot against the rigors of the race car.

“It was shaking the rust off for me, but also proving that I can handle brake and clutch with the foot and making sure the (right) leg wouldn’t tense up or spasm in the race car. It worked good to simulate as much of the racing conditions as we could.

“I was the only car on the track, so you couldn’t simulate racing side-by-side, but we did have random cautions in there, practiced coming in and out of the pits, applying sudden brake pressures (and) things of that nature to simulate -- as best as we could -- race conditions to (see) how I would be able to respond, how well my body would respond.’’

Asked about the possibility of receiving a waiver to compete in the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Busch said he has had “good dialogue” with NASCAR on the topic, but is unsure what their final decision will be. He also said he will focus on his Sprint Cup Series effort for the time being, and will not resume racing in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series.

“The game plan right now is to focus on the Cup Series for the time being,’’ he said. “I think that will be enough on my plate for the next several weeks. I plan to work my way back to multiple series, but it’s a process of its own, and we’ll be smart about that. 

“We’ll just see how that comes.’’



MWR Hosts Fan Fest Next Wednesday

Michael Waltrip Racing will hold its annual Fan Fest at its Cornelius, N.C. race shop on Wed. May 20 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fans may tour the shop, get autographs from MWR drivers, shop in the team store, watch live pit practice, enjoy sponsor displays and check out muscle cars provided by RK Motors.
MWR will provide food and music for all the race fans. Admission is free and kids are welcome.
“We have had Fan Fest every year since this shop opened and the race fans love it,” said Waltrip. “I enjoy meeting all of our race fans and talking racing. We’ll give you access to a NASCAR Sprint Cup race shop that few folks ever get to enjoy.”
Fans will be allowed access to the shop floor Wednesday for an up-close view of the team’s Toyotas as it prepares for the racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Legendary gas man Danny “Chocolate” Myers and veteran broadcaster Jim Noble will bring their Sirius-XM Radio show, “Tradin Paint” to the open house, broadcasting from MWR.
MWR is at 20310 Chartwell Center Drive off exit 28 on I-77 in Cornelius, N.C. about 15 miles north of Charlotte, N.C. The race shop is open to the public throughout the year.
Driver Autograph Times:
Michael Waltrip – 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
David Ragan – 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Clint Bowyer – 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. 

Kyle Returns In Saturday Night's Sprint All-Star Race

Kyle Busch has always been fast behind the wheel of a race car. Apparently, he’s no slouch when it comes to healing, either.

Sidelined since suffering a compound fracture of his right tibia and fibula and a broken left foot in a season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series crash at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, Busch confirmed today that he will return to competition in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m back,” said Busch via Twitter this morning, accompanied by the hashtag #RowdyReturns. Sources say the Joe Gibbs Racing driver successfully tested a Late Model car at South Carolina’s Greenville Pickens Speedway last weekend -- his second test in the last three weeks – and has been cleared by his doctors to return to action.

Contested in five segments of a maximum 20 laps each, Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race provides an ideal venue for Busch’s return. If he is able to race competitively and without significant pain, he is almost certain to compete the following weekend in NASCAR’s longest event, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

Once back behind the wheel, Busch’s main concern will be qualifying for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said recently that he would like to find a way to make Busch eligible for the Chase by waiving a requirement that he compete in each of the 26 regular-season races. Even if a waiver is granted, however, Busch will presumably still be required to finish in the Top-30 in championship points and win a race.

Former series champion Tony Stewart currently ranks 30th in Sprint Cup standings and is on a path to accumulate approximately 420 championship points by the end of the regular season. Busch will have 15 races to overtake Stewart, an average 28 points per start; a finish of 16th or better.

Busch and his wife, Samantha, are also awaiting the birth of their first child – a son – later this month.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Drivers Making Wishes Known On 2016 Rules Package

Stewart is not a fan.
The debate continues over proposed 2016 rule changes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

This year’s package features less horsepower – via judicious use of a tapered spacer – than in recent seasons, along with aerodynamic changes that many observers believed would decrease overall speed and improve competition. It hasn’t necessarily worked out that way.

Decreasing the available horsepower has allowed drivers to run “wide open” into the turns at many tracks, boosting corner speeds and sending lap times plummeting. A number of prominent Sprint Cup Series drivers – Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart among them – have struggled to adapt to the new regulations, while complaining bitterly about them.

Like many of his colleagues, Edwards touts a future reduction in downforce, saying, “Center-of-the-corner speeds are way too high. Our sport is based on guys manhandling the cars and being able to run close (and) we've gone farther and farther away from that because of all the knowledge, engineering and dependence on aero.”

Bowyer: Rules "a little disappointing."
Bowyer called the new 2015 specs, “a little bit disappointing” and “exactly opposite of what all the drivers were asking for and hoping for.” Like Edwards, Bowyer said he believes more “off-throttle time” would improve racing. 

“If you’re wide-open and not lifting, I don’t know how you’re going to get around that car in front of you,” he said. “They’re doing the same.”

Stewart has been even less complimentary, unleashing a profanity filled tirade over his in-car radio following a 33rd-place finish – five laps down – in the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Stewart called the sanctioning body “f—ing rocket scientists” that day, despite watching teammate Kevin Harvick celebrate in Victory Lane.

Even three-time 2015 winner Jimmie Johnson criticized the package last weekend at Kansas Speedway, saying high cornering speeds are putting drivers’ lives in danger.

Johnson also has suggestions
"If something fails at the wrong point in time right now, you're going to hurt somebody,” he said. “Hopefully, we don't have that situation. Hopefully, the soft walls and all of our (safety) stuff does its job.

“Every driver wants more off-throttle time,” said Johnson, “(but) how you go about that can be debated for years. The easiest fix would be to take the tapered spacer off and go back to where we were (before the latest change). But the engines shops are cringing at that, due to the expense.”

NASCAR is clearly listening (if not entirely agreeing) and tested a potential 2016 rule package last season at both Charlotte and Michigan. That package included reduced downforce, and while there was discussion of rolling out those specs in this weekend’s Sprint All-Star Race, NASCAR eventually decided not to do so.

"We’re still having discussions with teams, tracks certainly, drivers and Goodyear," explained NASCAR Vice President Steve O'Donnell this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “No decisions have been made yet, but a lot of dialogue is going on. All of that is going on behind the scenes, where we continue to discuss (a rules change) and look toward 2016.”

Edwards, Bowyer, Stewart and Johnson understand that midseason rule changes are both unlikely and prohibitively expensive for race teams. They understand that the prudent course is to make small changes over time, rather than sweeping modifications that may need to be undone down the road. And like a kid at Christmas, they know it’s better to get their wish list in front of Mom and Dad (aka NASCAR), well in advance.

There’s a point to all the grousing, as drivers attempt to communicate their wishes – loud and clear – to the sanctioning body in time to be heard before the 2016 rules are finalized. There is a limit to NASCAR’s flexibility, however.  

O’Donnell said that while the sanctioning body would like to have its 2016 rules completed and in the hands of the teams by August 1, they will not make “change for the sake of change.”

COMMENTARY: Jones Slated For Sprint Cup Stardom

There’s a new hot property in NASCAR racing, and his name is Erik Jones. 

The 18-year old phenom from the small town of Byron, Michigan burst onto the motorsports scene in 2012 by winning the prestigious Snowball Derby at Florida’s Five Flags Speedway; a win secured by driving around the outside of Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch in the race’s final laps.

Suitably impressed, Busch gave Jones a test drive with his Kyle Busch Motorsports Super Late Model and Camping World Truck Series teams, and the wins came quickly and often. In the span of just 18 months, Jones earned a full-time Truck Series ride with KBM, where he currently stands third in championship points. He was poised for Victory Lane Friday night in Kansas before running out of fuel with less than five laps remaining, relegated him to a season-worst 11th-place finish. He has also made nine XFINITY Series starts for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, winning at Texas Motor Speedway and earning three consecutive poles.  

Erik Jones: On the fast track
Jones climbed the final rung on NASCAR’s developmental ladder recently, subbing for Denny Hamlin when Hamlin strained neck muscles and needed relief following a rain delay at Bristol Motor Speedway. Last week, he was named to replace the injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota at Kansas Speedway, and once again responded in spectacular fashion. He was ninth in the weekend’s first practice (first in 10-lap average) and set the pace in Happy Hour before qualifying 12th and racing among the Top-10 in the main event. At one point, he battled three-wide with former series champions Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, showing aggressiveness and poise despite his relative newcomer’s status. 

His evening ended 70 laps early, when a bout with the Turn Four wall sent him behind the wall for repairs. But a 40th-place finish Saturday night did nothing to dull the luster on a young talent who is universally heralded – along with Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson – as one of NASCAR’s new, can’t-miss young stars. 

“I learned a lot about racing up front and racing with these guys,” said Jones afterward. “It’s definitely nice to be as fast as we were. We had a great M&M’s Camry, but I just got loose off (turn) four and lost it. It’ss too bad, I had such a good night going. It's just a matter of trying to get a little better on my end and figuring out where the limit is. Unfortunately, we found it there." 

“We had a good night before that. I’m ready to do another one (and) I hope I get another shot.” 

Jones "found the limit" in Kansas
Unless Kyle Busch makes an unexpected return to competition this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jones will almost certainly get that shot. Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson told FOXSports.com at Kansas that the Michigan native is “not going anywhere,” adding, “We're going to keep Toyotas underneath him, somehow, some way. 

“Whether Erik belongs in a Cup car full-time or an XFINITY car full-time (is) secondary,” said Wilson. “He hasn't gone through a complete season and raced for a championship. There's a certain discipline and mentality that it takes (to do that). His day job right now is to win a Camping World Truck Series championship, and from there, the sky is the limit.”

Wilson said Jones’ 2016 season is already mapped out, with TRD “working on the year after that."

Sources say he will return for a full XFINITY campaign next season, with an ascension to the Sprint Cup ranks virtually guaranteed for 2017. Where Jones will fit into Toyota's Sprint Cup Series lineup is uncertain at present, but sources say he is likely to find a home a JGR, rather than being farmed out to Michael Waltrip Racing or another Toyota affiliate. 

That should make everyone in the current Gibbs lineup very, very nervous. 

Photo Credits: KansasCity.com, Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports