Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays From All Of Us Here At Sirius Speedway

This is obviously a busy time of year for everyone, but I didn't want to go away on our brief, one-day Holiday Break without saying "Thank You" to everyone who has helped to make Sirius Speedway such a joy to do over the last three years.

To the Gang at MRN Radio; President David Hyatt, Director of Programming Mike Storms and all the production and programming staff, thanks for being so good at what you do. Special thanks to our beloved Board Op/Call Screeners, Todd Costello and Chris "Cheesecake" Desrochers. You guys are the greatest, and you make our jobs easy.

To The Guys At Sirius Headquarters In NYC: Steve "Boss Man" Cohen and the "New Kids On The Block;" Producers Daniel Norwood and Matt Deutsch, thanks for the constant (and much needed) words of encouragement, and for making Sirius NASCAR Radio 128 a reality.

To Marty and The Q: thanks for being there every single day, and for giving everything you have to keep the listeners informed, entertained and amused. I appreciate you more than you will ever know. And last, but not least...

To Our Listeners: Thanks so much for putting your trust in us every weekday, and tuning in to what we do. Your kind words, suggestions, arguments and wisecracks are a HUGE part of what makes Sirius Speedway such a great place to come to work, and we couldn't do it without you. Many of you have become like an extended radio family to us, and every one of you is valued and appreciated beyond words.

We'll be taking Christmas Day off -- leaving you to suffer through a lively, "Encore Presentation" of today's show -- but we'll be back on Tuesday, December 26th with less than a week remaining until the debut of Sirius NASCAR Radio 128.

Happy Holidays to one and all.

National Guard To Hendrick In 2007

Hendrick Motorsports confirmed today what Sirius Speedway first reported more than three weeks ago, that the Army National Guard will join GMAC as major sponsors of Hendrick's No. 25 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Chevrolet, driven by Casey Mears.

Mears will debut the new-look No. 25 National Guard/GMAC Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS next February in Daytona Beach, Florida, after its first public appearance at the January 7 GMAC Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. New enlistees of the Alabama National Guard will be sworn in on the field prior to the game between Ohio University and Southern Mississippi.

"This is a fantastic day for our organization," said team owner Rick Hendrick. "We take an enormous amount of pride in welcoming the men and women of the National Guard and continuing our time-honored relationship with GMAC. These are two incredible groups that share our vision for the No. 25 team and its bright future."

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Ball Is In Junior's Court

Teresa Earnhardt laid it on the line this week, saying of stepson Dale Earnhardt Jr., "…the ball's in his court to decide whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or…a public personality."

In most instances, that kind of talk attracts little attention outside the family. Stepmothers have been known to question the focus and commitment of their stepchildren from time to time, but when the stepchild is the namesake of an honest-to-goodness NASCAR legend, and the stepmother doubles as CEO of the family business, things get a bit more complicated.

Teresa Earnhardt is correct when she says the ball is in Junior’s court. With just 12 months remaining on his current contract with DEI, “Driver 8” could soon have the entire NASCAR world groveling at his feet. Should he opt for a change of venue in 2008, there’s not a team in the Nextel Cup garage that won’t put out the Welcome Mat for him. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver (the second-place man isn’t even close) would bring an army of apparel and diecast-buying fans to any new team he chooses, as well as a major sponsor -- Budweiser -- and more associate backers than you can shake a stick at. He hasn’t won a Nextel Cup championship of his own yet, but if Earnhardt elects to put his services up for bid at the end of next season, there are very few drivers whose job security won’t be adversely impacted.

DEI, meanwhile, would lose their main (some would say only) cash cow. Without Junior, Dale Earnhardt, Inc., would be no more noteworthy than Penske Racing South or Chip Ganassi Racing, and probably less marketable. As savvy as she is, CEO Earnhardt would be hard-pressed to find a replacement driver with even half of Junior’s “buzz,” and hard-pressed to find sponsors interested in spending anything close to the money Junior’s current backers do.

Teresa knows all that, but she also knows Junior has no intention of leaving the team his father built for him, unless he’s forced to do so. “Little E” has said repeatedly that he wants to win a championship at DEI, as a way of fulfilling his father’s legacy. Anything short of that will be considered a failure, and Junior doesn’t like to fail. The name over the door at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., may be his father’s, but it’s also his. And that name means more to him than all the music videos and satellite radio gigs in the world.

Clearly, DEI needs Junior much more than Junior needs DEI. Teresa Earnhardt has no real complaint with her stepson’s 2006 performance. The second-generation driver juggled the demands on his time masterfully, calling the shots at his own JR Motorsports Busch Series team and satisfying his many sponsors, while simultaneously making a legitimate championship run for DEI.

Still, Teresa is rightly concerned that there are too many distractions in Junior’s world these days; too many MTV appearances, movie cameos and side projects. Rather than worrying about JR Motorsports, she wants him fully focused on winning a Nextel Cup championship for DEI.

This week’s “NASCAR driver or…public personality" comment was the first step in what will be a long and complicated effort to convince him to do exactly that.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Brendan Gaughan: Ironman

There’s an old saying that claims, “looks can be deceiving,” and Brendan Gaughan is living proof.

Despite standing just 5'9" tall and being unable to elevate both feet off the ground at the same time, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver, Sirius Speedway favorite and hairy backed knuckle dragger extraordinaire Brendan Gaughan played college basketball for legendary coach John Thompson at Georgetown University. An admitted propensity for the free buffet at his family’s South Point Hotel and Casino has blessed him with the decidedly unathletic build of…oh…a radio talkshow host, making him one of the last people you would expect to actually run anywhere, unless he was being chased.

Don’t you believe it, though.

Our boy Gonzo recently competed in the 13.1-mile Las Vegas Marathon, after being “called out” by a friend who questioned his athletic prowess. Gaughan said, “He called me a chicken, and in the words of Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future III, 'Nobody calls me yellow.’”

Against all odds (and at least three laws of physics) Gaughan completed the race in two hours, 53 minutes and 10 seconds. That won’t quite qualify him for the Olympic trials, but for a guy who trained by watching someone else work out on a Stairmaster one day, it’s not bad. He did lose neighborhood bragging rights by finishing one agonizing second behind his friend, however, and said afterward that marathoning may not be his true calling, after all.

“Every joint in my body hurts,” he said. “I've got no cartilage in my right knee - it's just bone on bone. I felt that every step of the way, and my feet hurt because my arches have fallen. It even hurts to breathe. I certainly don't have a marathoner's body.”

He may not have the slender build and titanium calves of Bill Rodgers, but I’ve got to give him credit. Gonzo’s got a lot of heart.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

This Week's Sign That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us

The "Sit With Jimmy" ticket package for February's 49th annual Daytona 500 is selling like hotcakes.

The promotion got its start in September, when Kenny "Have I Mentioned I'm The 2006 Busch Series Most Popular Driver" Wallace accused broadcast partner Jimmy "Mr. Excitement" Spencer of being out of touch with race fans. In a matter of hours, Spencer unveiled his "Sit With Jimmy" promotion, allowing fan to buy tickets and sit with him on the Daytona Superstretch during the 500.

The original block of Lund Grandstand seats has already sold out, and officials at the Speedway have added more seats in the Allison Grandstand. Speedway President Robin Braig announced the move, saying, "Jimmy's setting himself and his fans up for a great Superstretch party."

A few weeks ago, I promised Spencer that if enough people showed up to sit in his section, I would wander down from my Turn Two broadcast position and smoke a cigar with them. It looks like I may have to follow through.

Two different "Sit With Jimmy" packages are still available; the $155 "Mr. Excitement" package, which includes superstretch "Sit With Jimmy" seats for both the Daytona 300 and Daytona 500, admission to DAYTONA USA (home of Sirius Speedway) and an exclusive "Sit With Jimmy" t-shirt.

The $99 "Jimmy Special" includes superstretch "Sit With Jimmy" seats for only the Daytona 500, DAYTONA USA admission and the t-shirt. You can join the fun by calling 1-800-PITSHOP, or by visiting www.sitwithjimmy.com.

Hey Spencer, I want a t-shirt for this!

Busch, Truck Banquets Produce Real Drama

For the record, I did not attend last weekend’s NASCAR Busch or Craftsman Truck Series banquets in Orlando, Florida. With all due respect to champions Kevin Harvick and Todd Bodine, after a long season of racing and four days in New York City covering the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series awards presentation, a weekend at home proved too enticing to pass up.

Unfortunately, it appears I may have skipped the wrong banquet. Everyone who attended the Busch and Truck affairs say they were everything I’m looking for in a NASCAR awards presentation:

· Quick.
· Spontaneous.
· Emotional.
· Fun

Friday night’s Busch bash was delightfully short on teleprompters, and long on spontaneity. NASCAR allowed its Top-10 Busch drivers to forego the nerve-jangling, formal acceptance speech in favor of a low-key, living-room couch conversation with NBC/TNT pit reporter (and new Sirius NASCAR Radio 128 host) Marty Snider. The drivers put their feet up and delivered a series of stories that kept the crowd laughing all evening long.

Kyle Busch revealed that his on-stage gaffe at the Waldorf-Astoria the previous week had not, in fact, cost him a girlfriend. Busch called his girlfriend Erica, “Eva” at the Nextel Cup banquet, which not-so-coincidentally is the name of his sister in law, Kurt’s wife. Snider asked Busch if he was still in the doghouse following the nationally televised flub, and Shrubby redeemed himself masterfully, saying, "I never was in it, and that shows what a sweet girl she is."

Touchdown, Kyle Busch!

Denny Hamlin told of the night Kevin Harvick preyed on his previously little-known fear of lobsters, telling the audience, "I came back to my motor coach at one race, went into the bathroom and found a live lobster in the toilet. I know Kevin did it."

Asked what happened next, He-Man Hamlin replied, "I called my mom to come get it out.”

Hamlin was not the only driver to find himself in Harvick’s crosshairs this season. The 2006 Busch Series champion gleefully told the crowd that he had sent the bill for his post-season, 160-person championship celebration to Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer.

“It's killing him," laughed Harvick. "There is no bigger mooch in NASCAR than Clint Bowyer."

The hit of the night Friday came when Carl Edwards grabbed a guitar and sat in with Robert Randolph and the Family Band, rocking the house with some decidedly tasty licks, and giving us normal humans yet another reason to resent him.

The highlight of the weekend, however, came at Sunday night’s Craftsman Truck Series banquet, when brothers Brett and Geoff joined champion Todd Bodine on stage to celebrate the family’s first major NASCAR championship, after more than three decades of trying. The pride they displayed in each other’s accomplishments was unmistakable, and the emotion of the moment far surpassed anything that occurred at the larger New York City festivities just a few days before.

Perhaps bigger is not necessarily better, after all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sirius Speedway Scoops The Enquirer; Gordon and Vandebosch Expecting!

Just weeks after their surprise wedding, Jeff Gordon and his new wife are wasting no time getting “in a family way.” Gordon announced today that his new wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, is pregnant. In a statement on his personal website, jeffgordon.com, the four-time NASCAR Nextel Cup champion said, “We’re obviously very excited. Christmas came early for us this year. This is a very special gift for us – one that we’re both looking forward to. The due date is early July, and Ingrid and I can’t wait to be parents.

“We’ve known for a little while, but we couldn’t wait any longer to share the good news with our friends and fans.”

The Demise Of The Dinosaur

When the last pterodactyl fell off its perch, there was nobody around to notice. The final Tyrannosaurus Rex sank into the tar pit with little or no notice, and the last brontosaurus keeled over without so much as a press release to herald the demise of its gene pool.

There’s another species teetering on the brink of extinction today; the single car NASCAR team. And while there are still a few left, it behooves us all to take notice.

Not one single-car team finished among the Top-20 in this season’s NASCAR Nextel Cup point standings. The top-ranked solo entry was Jeff Green’s Haas-CNC Racing Chevrolet, which finished a lowly 28th in the final rundown. Robby Gordon steered his self-owned Chevy to 30th, the only other single-car effort in the Top 30. Few were surprised at the lack of one-off racers at the front of the Nextel Cup pack. In fact, most observers express shock that even two single-car operations were able to crack the Top-30.

It wasn’t always that way.

In their day, single-car teams were the exception, rather than the rule. As little as 20 years ago, most drivers owned their own equipment, and very few fielded more than a single entry on a weekly basis. Richard Childress had one car back then; a #3 Chevrolet that he drove himself. Today, he fields a trio of Nextel Cup entries for Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer, and a couple of stout Busch Series machines, as well. Ole’ RC is far from alone in rolling out multiple entries on Sunday afternoon. Jack Roush has five (at last count), Rick Hendrick has four, while Joe Gibbs, Ray Evernham and Dale Earnhardt, Inc., field three cars each.

Even some of the single-car operations need the support of their multi-car brethren to survive. Both Green and Gordon used engines purchased from one of the superteams in 2006, Hall Of Fame Racing relied heavily on its partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing to field cars, and even the two-car Petty Enterprises team uses power from Evernham to drive its Dodges.

There are a few Morgan Shepherds, Morgan-McClures and Furniture Row Racings left in the Nextel Cup garage these days, but not many. And not very competitive.

Ward Burton, who signed to drive for the single-car Morgan McClure team next season, knows he’s in for an uphill fight, saying, "We've got a lot of work to do, but we're excited about it. Hopefully, we can get that ship righted and get the #4 car back to where it used to be."

It’s been more than a decade since Larry McClure won three Daytona 500s with Ernie Irvan (1991) and Sterling Marlin (94 and `95). Their last win came with Bobby Hamilton at the wheel in 1998, and in that time, the team has fallen dangerously behind. A single driver – even one as good as Ward Burton – and his lone crewchief will find it difficult to catch Jack Roush’s five-car juggernaut. They’ll probably find it downright impossible.

So at some point next February, amid the hubbub and pandemonium of Daytona Speedweek, take a moment to wander by the garage stall of Morgan-McClure Racing, Furniture Row, or Morgan Shepherd. Stand off to the side and watch as the brontosaurus attempts to extricate itself from the primordial ooze.

It’s a battle worth watching, at least as long as it lasts.

Welcome Back, Wahd!

Ward Burton has signed to drive the #4 Morgan McClure Motorsports Chevrolet next season, with sponsorship from State Water Heaters.

Burton and team owner Larry McClure made the announcement yesterday, returning Burton to the ranks of full-time Nextel Cup drivers for the first time since 2004. Burton said the deal came together just yesterday, but that he and McClure have been talking with the sponsor for a couple of weeks.

He drove the Morgan-McClure Chevy in three races at the end of last season, with a best finish of 25th at Texas Motor Speedway in November. Burton said of the deal, "We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re excited about it. Hopefully, we can help Larry and Tim Morgan get that ship righted and get the 4 car back to where it used to be."

Burton also said he has been talking to an unidentified team about running as many as 20 NASCAR Busch Series races next season. He will join us live on Sirius Speedway at 3:15 p.m. Eastern Time today (Wednesday) to talk about his new deal.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jimmie Falls Down, Goes Boom

Recently crowned NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson suffered a broken left wrist Friday in a golf cart accident during a charity golf tournament in Florida. The injury has forced Johnson to withdraw from the annual Race of Champions Nations Cup in Paris this weekend, but Johnson says he will attend the event anyway, to consult with Team USA.

In his words, "I was in a golf cart, and the driver took a sharp turn. I wasn't holding on tight enough, landed awkwardly on the ground and heard a little pop.”

At least one published report today says that Johnson was lying on the roof of the golf cart when the incident occurred, but neither Johnson nor Hendrick Motorsports has commented on the story. He is wearing a cast today, and doctors estimate his recovery at four to six weeks. Johnson’s replacement on the Team USA roster has not yet been announced, but sources say Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. has been contacted about the position.

This is the second consecutive year that NASCAR's reigning champion has been injured during the offseason. Tony Stewart inured his wrist and ribs last January in a qualifying crash at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.

Friday, December 08, 2006

It's Official; Borland Signs With Michael Waltip Racing

Michael Waltrip Racing announced today that Matt Borland is one of three new crewchiefs that will guide the organization during the 2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.

Borland, Larry Carter and David Hyder have been added to the MWR roster, with Borland designated crewchief for the No. 44 UPS Toyota and driver Dale Jarrett. Carter will work with the No. 00 Burger King/Dominos Toyota of David Reutimann, with Hyder wrenching Waltrips’ No. 55 NAPA Toyota.

Waltrip made the announcement today, saying, ”We concentrated on pairing personalities, to find the perfect qualified individuals for each position. Matt is a proven winner and we’re proud to have him steering the No. 44 UPS Toyota team. I’ve known David for a while and look forward to him leading the NAPA team. Larry was vitally important in building our teams, and I know he will be instrumental in building David Reutimann’s future.”

Borland, who led Ryan Newman to 12 wins, 37 poles, 54 top-fives, 83 top-10s in 186 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series starts, said, “I’m looking forward to making a new home at Michael Waltrip Racing and working with Dale Jarrett. Dale is a champion and he has a ton of respect in the garage. He’s obviously proven himself as a driver. Also, Toyota will be great to work with. I think Toyota is one of the most technologically advanced manufacturers.”

Carter is a former crewchief at Penske Racing South, while Hyder served as crewchief for Ken Schrader at BAM Racing in 2005, and Wood Brothers Racing this season.

There's Nothing Cooler Than An Old Race Car

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Schrader/Hamilton Team For 2007 Truck Bid; Starr Out At Red Horse Racing

Ken Schrader will drive the No. 18 Fastenal-sponsored NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Dodge for Bobby Hamilton Racing next season. Schrader will steer the BHR entry in the majority of NCTS events, with a to-be-determined driver filling in for Schrader when his Nextel Cup schedule conflicts. Schrader said he is looking forward to the partnership with Hamilton, adding, “Bobby Hamilton and I have been friends for a long time, so to get the chance to work with him is just an ideal situation for me.”

Hamilton also spoke optimistically about the deal, saying, “We are really happy to be able to get a driver the caliber of Ken Schrader for the Fastenal Dodge. We looked at a number of different drivers, but Kenny was just a perfect fit. He is a proven winner -- both on the track and off -- and he will help us win races and compete for championships in the future.”

Schrader has four NASCAR Nextel Cup wins, two NASCAR Busch Series wins and one NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory to his credit. All told, he has logged 283,398 miles in NASCAR’s top three divisions; the equivalent of racing around the world 12 times, or all the way to the moon and a quarter of the way back.

In other Truck Series news, fourth-place 2006 points finisher David Starr has been released by Red Horse Racing, due to a lack of sponsorship. He's expected to be replaced by Aaron Fike, who is bringing a sponsor to the team for 2007. Team owner Jeff Hammond said late last season that he hoped to expand to two trucks next season; with Starr driving one of them. Sponsorship reportedly could not be found however, leaving Starr without a ride.

Starr said of the move, “We had a pretty good year, and I was really looking forward to 2007. I thought we had a shot at the championship. When I got the news that it was a possibility that we wouldn't run because of the sponsor situation, it was really disappointing. But when it comes down to it… how many years can you take a loss? From a business standpoint. I understand.”

Starr said today that he hopes to have another ride lined up in a top NASCAR division within a week. He was orginally rumored to be in the running for the #88 Nextel Cup Ford ride at Robert Yates Racing, but denied those rumors a few weeks ago.

And finally, team owner Billy Ballew confirmed what we told you Monday, that he is close to finalizing a deal to run Bill Lester in his No. 15 Chevrolet next season.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

SIrius Speedway Exclusive: Richert Speaks Out On Move To Team Red Bull

Doug Richert is out at Roush Racing, leaving the team to take a new position with Team Red Bull. Richert will serve as crewchief for driver Brian Vickers and the #83 Red Bull-sponsored Toyota Camry, after finding himself the odd man out in a post-season personel shuffle at Roush. He sat atop the pitbox for Greg Biffle since 2003, and the pair fell just 35 points short of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series championship in 2004. They struggled this season, however, ending the year 13th in points, with a pair of wins and 15 Top-10 finishes.

In an exclusive Sirius Speedway interview, Richert spoke Wednesday about his departure from Roush Racing, and the task that faces him at Team Red Bull:

Dave Moody: Before we talk about the future, we need to talk about the past. What can you tell us what led to your departure from Roush Racing?

Doug Richert: Well, let’s just say that at a certain point, it became obvious that I was not going to be with Greg Biffle anymore. I still had a position with Roush Racing, but it was leaning toward the kind of role that Jimmy Fennig played over in the Busch and Truck shops this year. I really wanted to stay in the Nextel Cup Series if at all possible, and that’s the thought process that led me to where I am now.

DM: There has been speculation that you were offered a crewchief position with the #26 car and Jamie McMurray, but turned it down. True?

DR: There might have been somewhat of an offer there. Not taking anything away from Jamie or anyone on that team – because we all had equal stuff – but it was probably more of a mental thing for me. I thought we had one of the best deals going, and to have it taken away because we only won two races and were 13th points, that hurt. We’re still the same people we were in 2004 when we came 35 points from winning the championship. So maybe I was a little sour (about it). I know that going into a situation like that, your head has to be in the game. I didn’t feel like my head was in the game to do myself, Jamie McMurray or that team any good.

DM: Do you feel like you were made the scapegoat for the problems the #16 team had this year?

DR: Well, if you were going to look at it from the outside, I guess you could say I was the guy that took the heat for not being in the Top-10. But this stuff doesn’t get handed to you on a silver platter. You have to go out and work for it. If there were problems with communication, a situation between myself and Greg, or something that Greg wasn’t liking, it needed to be worked on. It’s not going to fix itself, and I don’t feel like we had the opportunity to fix it and make it better. That was frustrating.

DM: Greg Biffle told us a week ago that he couldn’t believe Jack Roush would let you get away. He certainly wasn’t laying any blame at your feet.

DR: It’s hard to say what triggered the whole thing. I’m sure there was some discontent in some area somewhere that led to the process of making the change. Something started it somewhere, and maybe we’ll never know what. I have my suspicions, but it’s time to move on. Toyota and Team Red Bull look to be very exciting options for me, and they will be an exciting team to watch in the future.

DM: How did this new deal come about?

DR: There was a point in time where I spoke to Jack Roush and said, `Give me an opportunity to go out and talk around. Let me see what’s out there.’ And through talking to people, word got out around the garage. I’ve always known of this Toyota program, and new programs obviously need new people. Getting in on the ground floor of something like this excites me. I’ve been (involved) in a lot of start-up teams, and this opportunity kind of rose to the top. When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and this is what came out in the end.

DM: What was the main attraction of this deal for you? Was it the challenge, the money, the opportunity to prove to Jack Roush that you can still do this?

DR: I think it’s a combination of all three. If you’re going to make a move in your career, you want to make more money for your family. Second, there is the challenge that’s going to be out there with Toyota. And three, it’s somewhat personal when someone thinks you’re not good enough. You want to show them that you are good enough. Things have to click. You have to work hard at a relationship. A driver and crewchief have to communicate. It’s like a marriage; if you don’t talk to your wife, it’s not going to last. You’ve got to want to make it work, and I hope that’s what we have here at Team Red Bull.

DM: How daunting is it to look around and see everything that you have to do in the next few weeks? Where does the team stand right now?

DR: Are we ahead? No. There are Car Of Tomorrow projects, Car Of Today projects, cars that they tried to field this past season, lots of stuff to deal with. But there are also a lot of people already in place. Management has done a really good job of hiring a bunch of people, and they have been working on this job for several months now. So it’s not like I just walked in the door of a new shop. This is something that’s already well underway. I still have to select a road crew – they waited on the crewchief to do that, so we can have the right chemistry to go out on the road – but it seems like it’s going to be an enjoyable, fun place to work.

DM: Does the fact that Team Red Bull failed to qualify for both of the races they attempted late this season cause concern on your part, or was that more a case of them running equipment (Dodges) that will not be on the track in 2007?

DR: That hasn’t even entered my mind. When you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle, it’s tough. Our puzzle is the Toyota program, and they ran a Dodge last year. Was it the best car? Did it have the aero balance that their particular driver needed? There are things you have to build around your driver, and when you plug different people in at different times, you can’t build the `feel’ that your driver needs. So that doesn’t concern me at all. It’s my job right now to find out what Brian Vickers needs to feel good entering a corner at 200-plus mph.

DM: What kind of relationship do you have with Brian?

DR: Well, I introduced myself to him the other day. (Laughs) Do I know him on a personal level? No. But I’ve heard nothing other than he’s a good guy. He had a good relationship with his crew. When the crew doesn’t talk bad about him; that’s number one. And two, he seems to be a good qualifier. That’s going to be very important for us in the first five races. Those two things stood out the most. If you can make these (drivers) feel good, and give them a car that feels the way they want it to feel, they can go out and win.

Here's A Shocking Revelation

Jimmie Johnson may have won the Nextel Cup, but you’ll never guess whose sponsor got the most TV exposure this season.

No, it’s not Jon Wood. It’s Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who put Budweiser on top of the list of most-exposed NASCAR sponsors, according to the Joyce Julius research firm. The King of Beers topped the charts with $183.1 million in exposure, with 68.8 percent of that total due directly to the efforts of the team, despite a fifth place finish in 2006 points.

Lowe’s was second at $143.6 million, followed by Cingular Wireless at $116.6 million. Home Depot and DuPont rounded out the top five.

Surprisingly, exposure did not necessarily equate to running up front. Kurt Busch struggled on the track this season, but Miller Lite was sixth in exposure, followed by NAPA Auto Parts (sponsor of omnipresent plugmeister Michael Waltrip), and Tony Raines' sponsor, DLP.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Presenting The FIrst Annual "Sirius Speedway Post Season Road Dog Awards"

The 2006 season is finally behind us, leaving time for only one final bit of business before the holidays; the presentation of the coveted, first annual "Sirius Speedway Post Season Road Dog Awards." These awards are voted on by a quasi-impartial panel of three (two if Suzy has a hair appointment), and all decisions are final. Winners will be declared honorary "Sirius Speedway Road Dogs" for the balance of the 2007 season.

And now, without further ado, this year's winners...

Best Alternative Use Of Closed-Cell Foam In An Athletic Event: Robby Gordon. His late-race use of a roll-bar padding projectile was second in audacity only to his, “nothing came out of my car…that I know of” innocent plea on national television. If Poker Face Gordon had represented OJ Simpson, The Juice would have fried by now.

Most Improved: Kurt Busch. Not his driving, his ears. He does make a lovely snow angel, though.

Most Admirable Insistence On Sticking To His Guns: SPEED’s Bob Dillner. Gullible? Perhaps. But steadfast in his devotion to protecting his sources. It could be worse.

Best Rebounder: Chad Knauss. He began the 2006 season by getting tossed out of Daytona International Speedway for cheating, and ended it with the Nextel Cup. There’s no quit in this guy.

Most Inspirational: Brian Vickers. After all, not just anyone can get 10,000 Talladega fans to throw down a perfectly good can of beer. The boy is a born motivator, that’s for sure.

The “Don’t Let The Door Hit You In The Butt On Your Way Out” Award: NBC. After failing in their attempt to incite a racial incident by sending a group of imitation Muslims to Martinsville this spring, the Peacock Network took a more passive approach the rest of the season; simply ignoring the sport they had paid handsomely to broadcast. NBC took the term “lame duck” to new depths in 2006, and they will not be missed.

The “I Don’t Deserve This, But Thanks” Award: California Speedway. NASCAR inexplicably rewards the nation’s largest market with a second Nextel Cup date, giving Los Angelans a chance to ignore stock car racing twice a year, instead of just once.

Most Insecure: Jamie McMurray. Other than a win in Sterling Marlin’s dominant Dodge 148 races ago, there hasn’t been much to write home about for J-Mac. A 25th place points showing for Roush Racing produced plenty of murmuring about his long-term job security, and it’s safe to say that 2007 will be a pivotal season for him.

The Lasik Award: NASCAR Officials. For their incredible ability to spot a chewing gum wrapper on the apron at 200 yards, just when Junior’s about to go a lap down.

The “Gee, I Really Thought It Was Ray’s Fault” Award: Jeremy Mayfield. He got the boot from Ray Evernham’s #19 Dodge after recording just four top-20 finishes (and no Top-10s) in 21 starts, then blamed it all on a “close personal relationship” between the boss and Erin Crocker. The fact that Elliott Sadler ran Top-10 in his first two replacement runs did little to bolster Mayfield’s case.

Bravest Driver: Jeff Gordon. The wreck he suffered at Pocono would make any normal human being contemplate retirement. But Gordo’s braver than most, as evidenced by his late-season decision to marry for the second time. Talk about big oysters.

The “I Should Have Quit While I Was Ahead” Award: Michael Waltrip. It took him decades – and an assist from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. -- to earn the respect of NASCAR fans and prove that he could drive. Now, he’s right back where he started, after failing to qualify twice in 2006, and running in the back of the pack when he did.

The “Time Warp” Award: NASCAR Fans who continue to insist that Rockingham and North Wilkesboro should return to the NASCAR Nextel Series schedule immediately, despite the fact that they never went to either track when they were ON the schedule!

Best Example Of Playing Both Ends Against The Middle: Mark Martin. He’ll run a Nextel Cup Chevrolet for Bobby Ginn next season, and a Craftsman Truck Series Ford for Wood Brothers/JTG Racing. If he can firm-up parttime Busch Series deals with Dodge and Toyota, he’ll have all his bases (and manufacturers) covered. There’s still time.

Most Improved: Scott Riggs. Is there any remaining doubt that his move from MB2 to Evernham Motorsports was a good one? Two poles and eight Top-10 finishes this season put him atop our “Best Driver Who Hasn’t Won Yet” list. He’ll change that in a hurry in 2007.

Worst Move: Brewco Motorsports. Brewco axed former Series champion David Green after 27 races, when he stood 16th in Busch Series points. Replacement Casey Atwood managed a best finish of 17th in his eight starts, proving that Green was not the problem. Now, veteran Jason Keller is in the running to replace Atwood in 2007, as the revolving door begins to pick up speed.

Best Freudian Slip: Kyle Busch. Calling his girlfriend by his sister-in-law’s name on national television may have given us an unintended look inside Shrubby’s mind last Saturday night, but it almost certainly doomed him to sleep on the couch for a few days.

Least Lovable: Robert Yates. Dale Jarrett bolted for a start-up team run by Michael Waltrip. Elliott Sadler threw him under the bus for a Ray Evernham ride that was 96th in points at the time. And now, Johnny Sauter says he’d rather stay with Haas CNC Racing than drive Yate’s #88 Ford. What’s the guy got, leprosy?

Best Target For A Sophomore Jinx: Denny Hamlin. After the season Joe Gibbs’ new wonderboy had in 2006, is there anywhere to go BUT down? Well, yes, but he’ll have a tough time equalling his phenominal rookie campaign in 2007. The good news is, Carl Edwards is off the hotseat at last.

Best Timing: Travis Kvapil. When Cal Wells’ PPI Motorsports began taking on water like the Titantic at tea time, Kvapil wasted little time heading for the life boats. A new ride in Jack Roush’s #6 NCTS Ford makes Kvapil the first man ever to be promoted from Cup to Trucks, and leaves him just a heartbeat away from a Nextel Cup return, should David Ragan or Jamie McMurray not make the grade in 2007.

Monday, December 04, 2006

NASCAR Banquet Not Half Bad

Somebody congratulate me. I made it through the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Awards Banquet without losing consciousness.

That’s a new track record for this writer, who annually succumbs to the enticements of the Sandman within the first 90 minutes of NASCAR’s annual, post-season awards marathon. Somehow, the idea of tremendously rich athletes collecting a series of obscenely large paychecks has never been appealing enough to keep my chin off my chest for very long; despite the fact that I know and genuinely like most of the tremendously rich athletes in question.

Apparently, I have not been alone in that opinion.

This year, in an attempt to keep the Monday morning “NASCAR Banquet Sucks” columns to a minimum, NASCAR made a series of moves designed to trim the ceremony to a more-workable, three hour timetable. They shuffled many of the more obscure awards to Thursday’s NMPA/Myers Brothers Luncheon, lightening Saturday night’s load to only the Top-10 drivers, and Tony Stewart. The goal was to kiss the national TV audience goodnight by 10:15 p.m., and that’s almost exactly when the confetti cannon went off at the end of the evening.

That, to me, was enough to make up for the banquet’s shortcomings, of which there were a few.

For instance, Melissa Rivers. The talentless daughter of comedienne, talkshow host and Botox overdose candidate Joan Rivers was simply awful in the pre-banquet show. Her performance on the “Yellow Carpet” -- in deference to series sponsor Sprint/Nextel -- was cliché, obnoxious and dull. Adding Michael Waltrip to the mix served only to double the number of uncomfortable, out-of-their element people standing in front of the camera. Note to Hollywood: have Melissa taken out and euthanized.

Returning emcee Jay Mohr was better this year. Some of the jabs he directed at NASCAR’s elite went over like lead balloons, but some were genuinely funny. His predictable “Jeff Gordon is a robot” and “Jimmie Johnson plucks his eyebrows” gags were met with little more than nervous twitters from the crowd, but his spoof of Kasey Kahne’s award-wining Allstate Insurance commercials was a big hit, and rightly so.

As always, most of the drivers’ acceptance speeches were as spontaneous as an Ashlee Simpson lip-synch. But for every soul-less, professionally written, “I couldn’t have done it without my crew” snoozer, there was at least one Kyle Busch, who stepped to the microphone to thank his girlfriend, “Eva.”

Kyle’s girlfriend is not named Eva.

Eva is his sister-in-law.

Kurt’s wife.

Hmmmmm…

In hindsight, I have decided that the standards by which I have judged past banquets may have been a bit too high. After all, name one other awards ceremony that’s fun to watch. From the Oscars to the Emmys to the CMAs, they’re all hokey, self-important and long-winded; no different than NASCAR’s annual affair.

So that’s it. Count me out of the Monday morning, “NASCAR Banquet Sucks” crowd.

This year’s affair wasn’t that bad.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

SIRIUS Offers New In Car Channels

SIRIUS Satellite Radio has announced that it will present unprecedented live radio coverage of NASCAR races starting in 2007, making listeners feel like they are on top of their favorite team's pit box on race day.

In addition to the live race broadcast, SIRIUS will take fans into the cars and pits by devoting up to 10 additional "Team Talk" channels that will carry the driver-to-crew communications of up to 10 different race teams during Nextel Cup Series races. SIRIUS will combine the race broadcast with the driver-to-crew chatter on these channels, allowing fans to follow the overall race call and the in-car audio of a driver on a single channel throughout the race. The channels will feature top drivers based on the Nextel Cup Series standings. The lineup of drivers and their channel assignments will be available at www.sirius.com/nascar prior to each race.

Listeners will hear drivers and crew chiefs schedule pit stops and discuss strategy over audio of the overall race broadcast. When the team members are not on the radio the audio of the live race broadcast will come up allowing listeners to follow the entire race uninterrupted.

As the Official Satellite Radio Partner of NASCAR starting in 2007, SIRIUS will broadcast every Nextel Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, carrying the live broadcasts of Motor Racing Network (MRN), Performance Racing Network (PRN) and the IMS Radio Network's broadcast from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In addition to live race coverage, SIRIUS will launch SIRIUS NASCAR Radio 128 in January. The channel will air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and will include live races, plus daily and weekly talk programs, including Tony Stewart Live, a two-hour show hosted by the two-time Nextel Cup Series champion and veteran pit road reporter Matt Yocum. A detailed schedule of programs and hosts on SIRIUS NASCAR Radio will be announced prior to launch. Click on www.sirius.com to listen to SIRIUS live, or to purchase a SIRIUS radio and subscription.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Who? The What?

More than one million dollars in award money was doled out at the National Motorsports Press Association's Myers Brothers luncheon Thursday in New York City. And of that million dollars, I recognized about 50-grand.

I certainly understood what Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s “Chex Most Popular Driver Award” stood for. I grasped the concept behind Denny Hamlin’s $50,000 “Raybestos Rookie of the Year” honor, and I knew what the Hendrick Motorsports engine department had done to win the $107,000 “Clevite Engine Builder of the Year” Award.

On a couple of fronts, however, I willingly declare my complete and total ignorance.

Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 team received a $105,000 check for the “Checker's/Rally's Double-Drive Thru Pit Award” Thursday, and I haven’t a clue why. What, exactly, is the “Checker's/Rally's Double-Drive Thru Pit Award?” I haven’t the foggiest idea. And what about the $75,000 Sunoco Diamond Performance Award, also won by Johnson? Not a clue there, either.

Tony Stewart pocketed $100,000 for winning the “USG Improving the Finish Award.” Kasey Kahne bagged $101,000 for my favorite award of all; the “Commit Lozenges Commit to Win Award.”

Commit to Win? Don’t they all do that?

And why $101,000? Is an extra grand now necessary to get people’s attention?

Apparently, Matt Kenseth ran the fastest lap of all in 2006, as evidenced by his acceptance of the $75,000 “Goodyear Gatorback Fastest Lap Award.” And Kevin Harvick won the $100,000 “Mobil 1 Command Performance Award;” presumably by performing a dead-on rendition of the Village People's classic, “YMCA” at a local karaoke bar.

At least that’s my guess.

Villeneuve's "Deal" Still $16 Million Short

Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve has reached an agreement with Roush Racing to help him begin his NASCAR career next season, though there are still abut 16 million hurdles left to clear.

Roush Racing President Geoff Smith said yesterday that Villeneuve could race in the Craftsman Truck Series next season, before eventually graduating to the Busch Series. He said there is 50/50 chance that Villeneuve could take part in the inaugural Busch Series race at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve next August, but that Villeneuve needs to come up with 16-to-18 million dollars in sponsorship to make the deal happen.

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND---The Racing Version

ARTICLE 1: A total of 36 point-counting races will be held each season, with each team’s best three finishes used to determine championship status.

ARTICLE 2: Any team choosing not to compete in three races will be credited with three wins.

ARTICLE 3: drivers finishing in positions 30-43 will be credited with a 30th place finish, since bad luck is not their fault. Drivers finishing in positions 20-43 will be credited with a 20th place finish. Drivers finishing in positions 10-43 will be credited with a 10th place finish. All drivers finishing in the Top 10 will be credited with a win.

ARTICLE 4: All teams will be expected to compete at the same level, regardless of sponsorship, manufacturer support, personnel, and/or driver talent. NO exceptions will be made.

ARTICLE 5: In the event that a team finds itself with a shortage of sponsorship, substandard parts, incompetent crewmembers, or drivers who can’t race their way through a tub of Cool Whip, all teams will be required to lower performance to a level that allows the aforementioned team to keep up.

ARTICLE 6: All teams will qualify for the Chase For The Nextel Cup, and make every effort to finish in a tie for the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be placed on NASCAR probation and awarded an additional 50 driver and owner points PER WEEK – regardless of performance -- until they win the championship.

ARTICLE 7: Overly successful teams may be required to race without any support whatsoever, since all manufacturers and sponsors will be directed by NASCAR to assist teams that are unable and/or unwilling to keep up.

Notes From The Big Apple

Subtle Tweaks To 2007 Chase: NASCAR will not make major changes to its points system during the off-season, and the Chase for the Championship will likely undergo only minor modifications, as well. That is the word from Nextel Cup Series Director John Darby, who tells Sirius Speedway that he sees no need for sweeping reform in NASCAR’s top division.

Darby, NASCAR President Mike Helton and Vice President for Competition Robin Pemberton all said yesterday in New York City that any changes made during the off-season will be minor in nature, with Helton adding, “there is no need to fix what isn't broken.”

Darby, meanwhile, told Sirius Speedway that he anticipates a modest increase in the number of points awarded to race winners in 2007. An official announcement is not expected to come until January, but Darby said boosting the winner’s points will increase competition at the front of the pack, and make drivers less likely to settle for a “good points day,” rather than a win.

Darby also said he believes there is a strong consensus within NASCAR’s upper management to keep the Chase field at 10 drivers. “I was one of the people invited to sit in the room and come up with the original guidelines for the Chase,” he said. “One of the things that we all agreed on was that 10 is an optimal number of drivers to include. I felt at the time that including more than 10 would dilute the process, and I have seen nothing since then that makes me change my mind.”

Darby also confirmed that NASCAR will limit the number of Past Champion's Provisionals a single driver can use in 2007. While declining to name a specific number, the Nextel Cup Director quipped, “I’ve seen the number `six’ floating around the internet quite a bit.”

PPI Not Gone Yet: The doors are still open at PPI Motorsports, but team owner Cal Wells laid off six more employees Wednesday, and now has just nine workers left at his Hickory, North Carolina, shop. That number will reportedly be reduced to just four by January, unless a sponsor can be found to put the #32 Nextel Cup Chevrolet back on track in 2007.

Wells revealed yesterday that he had a signed sponsorship contract with a Silicon Valley company in hand back in June, following a negotiation that took nearly two years. Amazingly, Wells said management of the company abruptly changed their business shortly after the deal was finalized, deciding not to invest in motorsports, after all.

As a result, Wells has been forced to release most of his employees to find work elsewhere in the sport; many of them landing at Michael Waltrip Racing. He said he is now talking with people interested in buying-out PPI’s equipment, inventory and shop space. “I'm keeping PPI as a business,” he said. “I'm going to enter my number for next year, and I'm working on some other things. I've still got some other deals out there cooking.”

Dangerous Spousal Precedent: Jimmie Johnson may be the 2006 Nextel Cup champion, but the big winner at yesterday’s National Motorsports Press Association Myers Brothers Awards luncheon may have been his wife, Chandra.

General Motors presented Chandra Johnson with the keys to a 2007 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, prompting her husband to ask if he will be able to drive the car. She answered, “Yes, you can be my chauffeur.” One can only imagine the precedent the award sets for future champion’s wives, all of whom can now come to the Big Apple hoping to receive a shiny new set of high-horsepower wheels.

Johnson did get a car of his own yesterday, when Goodyear presented him with the 1/12 scale replica of his No. 48 Chevrolet, in 24-karat gold.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Despite Setbacks, Specht Says Ford Motor Company Staying Put In NASCAR

Ford Racing Technology’s Greg Specht said this week that the automaker is not panicking in the face of defections by Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler to rival manufacturers, and has absolutely no plans to leave NASCAR.

Fans of the Blue Oval have had little to cheer about lately, with FoMoCo placing only four drivers in the final Nextel Cup Top 20. Just four years ago, nine Ford drivers ended the season in the Top 20 in points. Meanwhile, rival Chevrolet extended its recent string of manufacturer's championships in 2007, and celebrated the 400th Nextel Cup victory for its legendary Monte Carlo nameplate. Since the beginning of NASCAR’s modern era in 1972, Chevrolet has earned 26 of 35 NASCAR manufacturers’ championships.

Ford’s Specht called the automaker’s 2006 struggles part of a natural ebb and flow of competitive fortune, and said NASCAR racing remains an important part of its heritage.

”It's critical, and it's an integral part of our marketing platform,” he said. “We want to maintain our image and the loyalty that we've developed through our participation in racing. We want to maintain our competitive edge.”

Specht said he has been assured by corporate management that Ford will remain a viable part of NASCAR, and that adequate funding will be allocated to keep the automaker competitive with Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota. Ford CEO Edsel Ford made similar comments on MRN Radio two weeks ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Listener John Johnson has his own sign, and some free time on his hands...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who Would You Rather Be?

The soldier with Antron Brown sitting on your lap?









Or the soldier stapped to Angelle Sampey's back? YOU MAKE THE CALL!






(Photos courtesy of NHRA.com)

A (Not So) Fond Farewell

NBC bid a fond farewell to the NASCAR community Sunday, with its broadcast of the “Ford 400” from Homestead-Miami Speedway. In truth, however, the network kissed NASCAR goodbye a long, long time ago.

Before I go further, a qualification. I have no complaint with the on-air product NBC delivered this season. Bill Weber, Benny Parsons and Wally Dallenbach, along with the pit road tandem of Allen Bestwick, Matt Yocum, Marty Snider and Steve Burns guided viewers through the complicated world of NASCAR Nextel Cup racing in expert fashion this season, and to them, I say, “Thank you.”

To their network, however, I say, “Thanks for nothing.”

After six years as one of NASCAR’s broadcast partners, NBC opted out of the bidding process for the next multi-year television contract a year ago, saying the price was too high. That’s their call to make, since they know better than anyone whether NASCAR racing has been a moneymaker for them, or not. Unfortunately, instead of exiting the sport with their heads held high, the powers-that-be at the Peacock Network elected to leave NASCAR on their hands and knees.

Rather than giving NASCAR Nextel Cup racing the vigorous promotion it deserves, NBC gave the sport the back of its collective hand this season. In stark contrast to years past, there were no “NASCAR on NBC” promotional announcements during prime time programming; no reminders that America’s fastest growing sport could be seen “right here on Sunday afternoon.” NASCAR was the best-kept secret in NBC’s lineup, to the point where in the last few months, viewers were far more likely to see Nextel Cup promotional announcements on ABC/ESPN (next year’s broadcast partners) than they were on NBC.

They also bailed out on Victory Lane ceremonies in two of the final three races, shuffling the winner's interview and post-race analysis to CNBC, where many viewers were unable to follow.

That’s a sad state of affairs, and one of which NBC should be ashamed.

Lack of promotional effort by NBC is not solely to blame for NASCAR’s diminished 2006 TV ratings. The season is too long, a number of races are far too long, and with the exception of Tony Stewart, the Busch Brothers and Jeff Burton, NASCAR’s stars are in danger of becoming little more than “talking heads;” spouting rubber-stamp answers and sponsor plugs into every available microphone. NASCAR continues to ignore these factors at it own risk, but those shortcomings do not in any way negate NBC’s lack of effort on NASCAR’s behalf.

NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer called Sunday’s Miami swan song, “a bittersweet occasion," saying, “we had a remarkable six years with NASCAR, (and) we're proud of our association with it.” He said the network leaves NASCAR "with enormous pride in having been a part of lifting NASCAR from the place it was when we took over six years ago, to the place at which we leave it today.

"It's really difficult to go through a lame-duck year,” he said. “I think…the crew brought enormous professionalism and passion to our final year, and all of us are really proud of the job they've done."

Sadly, network management did not acquit itself nearly as well as the on-air talent. “Lame-duck” or not, NBC could have (and should have) promoted the sport to the best of its ability, to the benefit of all parties. Its failure to do so serves as fair warning to any other professional sports franchise that might be tempted to partner with them in the future.

NBC proved itself to be a fair-weather friend this season, and NASCAR is diminished as a result.

Wells, PPI Ready To Close Up Shop

Sunday’s “Ford 400” at Homestead-Miami Speedway was likely the final ride for Cal Wells and his PPI Racing Team. Longtime sponsor Tide announced a few weeks ago that it will leave the team (and the sport) at the end of the season, and Wells has been unsuccessful in securing a new backer for his struggling Nextel Cup team. Sources close to the situation say Wells informed his employees that he will close the doors later this week, after a hoped-for sponsorship deal fell through.

Wells came to NASCAR from the CART Open Wheel series in 2000, amid considerable fanfare. He secured sponsorship from both McDonald's and Tide, who had previously backed popular veterans Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd, and raised the financial bar in NASCAR racing almost immediately. He offered lucrative contracts to drivers, crewchiefs and crewmembers alike, raiding other teams for personnel and earning the ire of rival team owners.

Unfortunately, Wells learned that money alone does not guarantee success in NASCAR Nextel Cup racing. In his seven years of NASCAR competition, Wells went to Victory Lane only twice; both with driver Ricky Craven at the wheel. One of those wins was a truly memorable one, with Craven emerging victorious from a last-lap, fender-banging duel with Kurt Busch at venerable Darlington Raceway in March of 2002. But as a whole, Wells’ tenure as a NASCAR owner was unremarkable. His last Top-10 finish (an eighth) came courtesy of road-racing specialist Ron Fellows at Infineon Raceway in 2005, and this season, PPI Motorsports ended the year ranked a woeful 36th in points, with a season-best finish of 19th.

Kvapil announced last week that he will join Jack Roush's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team next season, arguably becoming the first driver ever to be promoted from Nextel Cup to Trucks. Kvapil pulled no punches in justifying the move, saying, “I can’t go through another season like the one we’ve had.”

Cal Wells is a likeable guy who accepts much of the blame for the shortcomings of his team. Speaking to Sirius Speedway during preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway earlier this year, Wells said, “I have made a lot of mistakes. I made some bad personnel calls in the early years of this team, and I’m still paying for them today. This business is so competitive that once you get behind, it’s tough to catch up. Everyone is working at 110% capacity, and that doesn’t leave much room for anyone to gain ground.”

Sadly, Cal Wells and PPI proved incapable of catching up.

Next February, Wells and his bright orange #32 “Tide Ride” may scarcely be missed among all the multi-car teams and shiny new Toyotas clogging the garage area. But his absence is worth noting, if only for what it represents. Now, only Robby Gordon, BAM Racing and a rogue’s gallery of part-time backmarkers are left to carry the banner of NASCAR’s once-proud single-car teams.

A New Series For Jack Roush

Last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR mega-team owner Jack Roush renewed his long-running harangue against NASCAR’s new Car Of Tomorrow, saying he would like to see more leeway in the rules, and more opportunity for teams to be creative in the way they construct their cars.

“I would have a rule book that said you come to the race track at the assigned time, you have four tires and you burn gasoline,” said Roush. “That would be about all I would require.”

“I would pretty much `Run What You Brung,’ but (NASCAR is) determined to have this thing where it’s convenient for them to regulate it and officiate it even-handedly and fairly. To that end, they make every effort to take the racing out of all but just a few things.”

Roush decried the relatively low-tech state of NASCAR racing, saying, “There is very little innovation in the car today,” complaining that standardized body templates prevent him from custom-building cars to fit the idiosyncrasies of his drivers.

“If you look at a handful of drivers like the Roush organization has, one guy is really nervous when (the car is) loose…(while) other guys say, ‘I don’t care if it’s loose, just get me all the downforce that you can,’” said Roush. “The Car of Tomorrow is going to have an aero variance that’s much, much less than it is today, and there’s going to be a lot of people that won’t be able to drive those cars. Today, they can compensate or adjust the aero-match on the car to suit the preference of the driver.”

Instead of lowering the cost of racing, Roush said the COT will actually increase the cost of competition, since money-is-no-object owners like himself will spend whatever is necessary to get an advantage. “It’s forcing us to spend money on technology that we would rather not have to spend, in order to find an edge and suit the needs of the driver,” he said.

Clearly, Jack Roush is in the wrong league.

NASCAR -- with its stringent guidelines and devotion to easily policed, old-school technology – is not the place for a wide-open, "Run What You Brung" kind of guy like Jack. Maybe he should consider selling his multi-car operation (I hear DEI is shopping around) and going somewhere else, where the rules allow the kind of unfettered creativity he craves.

Formula One, perhaps.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Special Holiday Offer For Sirius Subscribers

Here’s a great opportunity for you to give Sirius Satellite Radio to everyone on your gift list this Holiday season. Give the gift of Sirius, and we’ll give you a free month of service for yourself! Just buy the Sirius radio you want -- wherever you want to buy it -- and give it as a gift. Then go to sirius.com to register for your free month of programming! You must register by December 31st, and your friend must activate their subscription by January 31st. That’s all there is to it! Get more details at sirius.com/gift.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Gaughan At A Crossroads

Just three years removed from a disappointing championship loss here at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series star Brendan Gaughan finds himself at a crossroads.

It has been 36 months since Gaughan came to South Florida in the thick of the Truck Series championship battle, only to have a late crash in the season-ending Ford 200 snatch the title from his grasp. Since then, the Las Vegas native’s career has seen more ups than downs. A promotion to the Nextel Cup Series proved short-lived, after he was released by Penske-Jasper Racing following his rookie season. A return to the Truck Series with his family owned Orleans Racing Team has not produced the results he had hoped for, either. He comes to Homestead ranked 15th in points with just three top-five and four top-10 finishes, and says the decisions he makes in the next few weeks will go a long way in determining the course of his racing future.

“It’s no secret, this has been a tough season,” said Gaughan Friday, just before a gratifying second-place finish in the season-ending Ford 200. “We have struggled to get the trucks the way we want them, and Lady Luck has not been on our side at all. We’ve busted our butts to improve, but the results have not been what we had hoped for.”

A reduction in factory support from Daimler-Chrysler has hindered the efforts of their team’s this season, and Gaughan says he has spoken to other manufacturers about making a change in 2007.

“I’m the most loyal guy in the world, and Dodge has been very good to me and my team over the years. I am grateful for everything they have done, but I also have a responsibility to our sponsors, employees and fans to do whatever I can to make this team competitive. And if that means moving to another manufacturer, that’s what we’ll have to do.”

Gaughan has spoken to Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge about a 2007 partnership, and said all three manufacturers have their advantages and disadvantages. He also believes Dodge’s fortunes may improve next season, as well.

“Our main problem right now is aero,” he said. “The way NASCAR measures the noses on these trucks, we’re at a huge disadvantage. Each make of truck has a different front splitter setup, and other manufacturers – Toyota in particular – have built their noses to take advantage of the templates. Dodge hasn’t updated its nose in quite some time, and as a result, we’re taking a knife to a gunfight most weeks.

“NASCAR’s going to change the way they tech these trucks next year; using a template that runs nose-to-tail, and makes everyone run essentially the same nose profile. That’ll help, but whether it will be enough to make Dodge competitive again, I just don’t know.”

Gaughan said it has saddened him to see Dodge’s fortunes plummet in the last few seasons.

“Not long ago, Orleans Racing and Bobby Hamilton Racing were championship contenders,” he said. “There were also a bunch of other strong Dodge teams running up front from week to week.”
Today, there are just three Dodge teams left; Orleans, BHR and Evernham, and there is a distinct possibility that there could be just one Dodge Ram in the Truck Series field at Daytona in February. Evernham’s Betty Crocker sponsorship ends this weekend, and there is widespread speculation that he will not return to the Truck Series next year. If Gaughan decides to go in a different direction, that would leave only Bobby Hamilton’s #18 truck in the Dodge camp in 2007.

Gaughan said he will do whatever it takes to get his team back to the front of the Truck Series pack.

“I race because I love to race, and it’s definitely a lot more fun when you’re running well. Little problems that get ignored when you’re winning races turn into huge issues when you’re not. When you’re struggling on the racetrack, it affects every aspect of the team. I’m the same driver I was three years ago, and this team still has what it takes to win.

“All we need is the tools.”

All-Time Busch Series Top 25? Well, Maybe...

NASCAR announced the results of its “25 Greatest NASCAR Busch Series Drivers” poll last week, with Mark Martin earning the number-one ranking. Voting was conducted over the last few weeks on both NASCAR.COM and NASCARMedia.com, and Martin -- the all-time leader in Busch Series wins – with 47 -- received the most votes in both polls.

In the media voting, two-time series champion Sam Ard finished second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jack Ingram, and Dale Earnhardt. The NASCAR.com fan poll ranked Earnhardt Jr. second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Martin Truex, Jr. Over 152,000 fans voted in the NASCAR.com poll, while more than 160 media members voted in the NASCARMedia.com poll.

Polls of this type are prime targets for criticism and second-guessing, and I’m not about to miss my chance to jump on the bandwagon by pointing out a few glaring inequities. For instance, while it’s difficult to argue that the Earnhardts – both Senior and Junior – deserve a place in the all-time Busch Series top five, was it really necessary to vote a third member of the Earnhardt stable – Martin Truex, Jr. – into the top five? His numbers are solid, with two series championships to his credit, but his #5 fan ranking puts him far ahead of fellow two-time titlists Jack Ingram and Larry Pearson, both of whom recorded more wins than the 13 Truex has collected in his six-year, full- and part-time Busch Series career. In my opinion, the media was closer to the mark when they placed Truex in the #17 position, all-time.

The media got it right with Sam Ard, as well, voting him second only to Martin on the all-time list. The fans, meanwhile, rated him only 17th best; proving once again that their collective memory extends only as far as yesterday’s lunch. For the record, Ard was a two-time Busch Series champion (1983 and 1984), won 22 times in just 92 starts, and is the all-time leader in races won in a season, with 10.

Jack Ingram also took a hosing from the fans. Two series championships and 31 wins left the legendary “Ironman” 21st on the fans’ list, two spots behind Michael Waltrip, whose 11 career wins and no championships pale by any logical comparison. Ingram got a free-ride from the fans compared to fellow two-time champion Larry Pearson, however. NASCAR fans left Pearson off their top-25 list entirely, ignoring his 1986 and 1987 Busch Series titles, and 15 career wins. Both of those statistics are equal to or better than those of Truex, who the fans ranked at #5.

Other drivers on the “No Love List” include 1990 champion Chuck Bown (unranked by the fans despite 11 wins in only four full seasons) and Kevin Harvick, who my colleagues in the media voted only seventh-best all-time, despite two championships, 26 wins in eight seasons, and a 2006 campaign that puts all others to shame.

In the “overrated” department, our pal Kenny Wallace unfortunately leads the way. Fans voted “Herm The Worm” 12th overall; ahead of Ard, Ingram and the legendary Tommy Houston. I love ya Herm, but nine wins in 381 starts over 17 years is not enough to make you one of the Busch Series’ all-time greats.

Darrell Waltrip made the Top-25 with both the fans and the media, despite never running more than 13 races in a season. He did win 13 times in 95 starts, but in my opinion, his Nextel Cup exploits earned him more credit than his Busch Series record deserves. Same for Dale Jarrett – ranked 15th by the fans and 25th by the media – despite just 11 wins in 398 starts over 19 years.

NASCAR’s overall goal with the Top-25 Ranking was two-fold; to honor some of the series’ greats, and to inspire some spirited conversation. Looks like they succeeded on both counts.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Biggest Wreck In The History Of NASCAR

No, it wasn't "The Big One" at Talladega. In fact, it happened decades ago at Daytona International Speedway, when nearly half of a gargantuan field was wiped out in one devastating pileup. The fact that no one suffered anything more than minor injuries is truly amazing.

Watch it all unfold HERE.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

UPDATE: Kvapil Confirmed At Roush, Gilmore Says `No Deal' With RYR

Confirming what Sirius Speedway reported earlier today, Roush Racing has announced the signing of former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil to pilot the team’s #6 Ford F-150 in 2007.

Jack Roush announced the signing, saying, “We are pleased beyond measure that we were able to get a driver the caliber of Travis Kvapil. At only 30 years old with a truck championship and two years of Nextel Cup experience under his belt, Travis brings great long and short term potential for Roush Racing.”

The truck remains unsponsored at this moment, but Roush Racing president Geoff Smith says a sponsor announcement will likely follow. “Our sponsor prospects have been waiting for us to settle on the driver,” said Smith. “Now that Travis is on board, we expect to close on a sponsorship shortly.”

Updating this week’s other top story, Dale Earnhardt Inc. Vice President Richie Gilmore says rumors of DEI purchasing at least part of Robert Yates Racing have gotten out of hand. "Stories definitely grow in this sport, and maybe it's a slow time of the year with the Chase not being quite as tight as it should be,” he said. “I told Teresa Earnhardt that if (she) went to get a cup of coffee at 8 o'clock in the morning, by noontime she's going to buy a Starbucks.

"Right now, we're focused on getting Paul (Menard) ready for next year, and building our three organizations here at DEI.” Asked if there was any substance at all to reports of negotiations between DEI and Yates, Gilmore said simply, “"no."

Kvapil To Roush Racing #6 Truck, Crafton Favored For Busch Series Shot

Travis Kvapil will announce later this week that he will return to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series next season, driving the No. 6 Ford for Roush Racing.

Kvapil has two races remaining on his one-year contract with PPI Motorsports, but team owner Cal Wells has been unable to land a sponsor to replace longtime backer Tide, prompting Kvapil to explore his options elsewhere. Appearing at a charity event last night in his native Winsconsin, Kvapil said, "Something should be happening within a couple days. All I can say right now is that this is the opportunity I've been hoping for my whole career. It's a chance to drive for a team that has a solid foundation."

Sirius Speedway has learned that Kvapil will replace Mark Martin in the #6 Ford F150, a truck that has won five times in just a dozen starts this season.

The 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, Kvapil has five career Truck wins, but has struggled in two seasons of racing on the Nextel Cup circuit. He finished 33rd in points for Penske/Jasper Racing in 2005, before the No. 77 Kodak Dodge team shut down at season’s end. He then moved to PPI Motorsports this season, and currently ranks 36th in points with a best finish of 19th (three times). Of the PPI operation, Kvapil said, "We have a decently funded team, (but) I just don't want to go through the same thing I've been through this year."

In addition to steering the #6 Ford Truck, Kvapil may also drive a limited schedule of events in Nextel Cup and/or Busch Series action next season.

In other Truck Series news, Sirius Speedway has learned that Matt Crafton is the leading candidate to replace Kenny Wallace in the ppc Racing #22 Busch Series entry next season. Crafton, a native of Tulare, California, is currently 13th in NCTS points driving for ThorSport Racing, with four Top-Five and 10 Top-10 finishes. Wallace recently signed a contract with the Furniture Row Racing Nextel Cup team that will allow him to race on the Busch Series only with their permission.

Notes From All Over

Stepping Up: The final pass of the 2006 NHRA Powerade Drag Racing season will undoubtably be remembered as the single greatest pass in the history of the sport.

Not only did Tony Schumacher need to beat red-hot Melanie Troxel in Sunday’s Top Fuel final, but he had to do so while setting a new World Record with the quickest quarter-mile in drag racing history. Nothing less would allow him to steal the 2006 Top Fuel championship from Doug Kalitta.

Amazingly, Schumacher and crewchief Alan Johnson did exactly that; recording a 4.428- second run at 327.98 mph to beat Troxell and win the championship by a paltry 14 points, erasing a championship deficit that once stood at 336 points. Their gutsy final-round performance completed the greatest comeback in NHRA history, and gave the U.S. Army team its fourth NHRA World Top Fuel title, and third in a row.

Most teams would have wilted under the pressure of Sunday’s final round, overpowering the rear wheels and watching their flickering championship hopes go up in smoke. But Schumacher and Johnson aren’t “most teams.” Say what you want about the resources made available by Schumacher’s father, mega-team owner Don Schumacher. Say what you want about a semi-trained monkey being able to win races in Alan Johnson-prepared machinery. The bottom line is still the same. Schumacher and Johnson took on the best the NHRA had to offer – including a number of other teams with the best equipment and racing minds money can buy – and came away victorious.

Again.

Speaking Of The Army: Can there be any plausible explanation for MB2 Motorsports bumping the U.S. Army to associate sponsor status last weekend at Phoenix, in favor of Principal Financial Group? It was, after all, Veteran’s Day weekend; one of our few chances to say thank you to the men and women who have defended this country (and the collective freedom that we all take for granted) for so long.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but it seems to me that if there was one weekend where the black and gold U.S. Army logo deserved to be on the side of Joe Nemechek’s #01 Chevrolet, last weekend was it.

Decision Time At RYR: Robert Yates spent most of last weekend dancing around reports that he may sell the #88 half of his two-car operation to Dale Earnhardt, Inc., later this week. Finally, just before the green flag flew over Sunday’s Checker Auto Parts 500 in Phoenix, Yates revealed that while cutting-back to a one-car team is an option, his preference is to expand.

“We’re going to run a really good 38 team (next year),” said Yates. “We also have an opportunity to run a very good 88 team, and we’re looking at opportunities of growing it into four teams. I have looked at (selling), but I don’t think that’s going to be the deal. It’s going to be expanding, instead of getting rid of anything.

“Everybody will know as soon as we can get it all figured out, but it looks pretty good right now. Everybody needs to know where they’re headed when they come home from Homestead. That’s our agenda, and I think we can meet that timeline.”

No Surprise: To the surprise of absolutely no one, J.R. Todd was presented with the 2006 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award at the annual POWERade Series awards ceremony, recognizing him as NHRA drag racing’s Rookie of the Year.

Todd won three times and made four final-round appearances in the 2006 Top Fuel campaign, eventually finishing eighth in championship points despite running only a part-time schedule. He easily outdistanced fellow freshman Hillary Will, Alan Bradshaw and Max Naylor for the honor. Past winners of the Road to the Future Award include Brandon Bernstein, Ron Capps, Gary Scelzi, Doug Kalitta and the late Darrell Russell, and Todd will do nothing to lower the standards of that elite group.

Homestead Driver News: Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his 255th career Nextel Cup Series start Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway; all of the with the sponsorship of Budweiser. The day before, he will make his first career start with Budweiser colors in the NASCAR Busch Series, running the familiar red Budweiser paint scheme for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Darrell Waltrip Motorsports will field a second NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series entry this weekend for Michael Waltrip, who will run a #12 Jani-King sponsored Toyota Tundra at Homestead as a teammate to David Reutimann.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Villeneuve Out Of The Picture At Roush Racing; Changes Coming at Yates?

Jacques Villeneuve will almost certainly not be a part of the Roush Racing lineup next season.

Villeneuve had been negotiating with the team about a possible 2007 Busch Series schedule, but Roush Racing General Manager Geoff Smith said Saturday that there is only a remote chance of the former Formula One champion joining the team. "We're nowhere in that regard," he said. "There are general discussions that are going on, but I don't see us being able to make an arrangement to pull together a program. It's possible, but it's an outside shot given the timing of the year."

Sources tell Sirius Speedway that Villeneuve’s representatives have also been burning up the telephone lines to Robert Yates Racing, which has yet to name a driver for its #88 Ford next season. However, speculation in the Nextel Cup garage says Yates may actually be negotiating to sell the #88 half of his operation to Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

Yates refused to comment on the stories this weekend, but DEI's Steve Hmiel confirmed that talks have taken place to have DEI purchase the #88 from Yates, along with the 2006 owner points earned by Dale Jarrett. Team Red Bull has also reportedly made an offer to purchase the #88 from Yates, but Hmiel said DEI’s offer is for the entire operation; not just the number.

"We've heard Team Red Bull has made an offer to buy the number,” said Hmiel, “but we're not looking to buy just the number. If we can have more capacity, the number would be a bonus.”

A number of obstacles remain to be negotiated – including conflicting manufacturer commitments to Ford (RYR) and Chevrolet (DEI), but if a deal can be struck, Yates would be left with only David Gilliland’s #38 next season. RYR has fielded two teams on a full-time basis since 1996. Yates refused all comment on the matter Saturday, saying only that he has four different options to choose from. He admitted that fielding a single car is on his list of options, and sources say a decision on whether to sell the #88 to DEI must be made by Tuesday.