Monday, July 31, 2006

Rebuild Underway At RYR

There’s change in the wind at Robert Yates Racing.

The struggling Nextel Cup team released veteran crewchiefs Tommy Baldwin and Raymond “Slugger” Labbe Monday, completing a management purge that saw Team Manager Eddie D'Hondt handed his walking papers on May 23rd. Butch Hylton will take over the #88 team for the time being, while Cully Barraclough oversees the #38 team. Don’t expect to see either gentleman named to the full-time crewchief’s role, however, after co-owner Doug Yates made it clear last week that a bit of modernization is in order.

Yates said he and his father have been guilty of clinging to their old-fashioned ways, resisting the influx of engineering to the sport in favor of the more familiar mechanic-based way of doing things. Most top Nextel Cup teams have 15-20 engineers on staff, while Robert Yates Racing reportedly has just six. Yates credited much of the success of the Roush-Yates engine partnership to his decision to hire the best engineers available, lock them in a room and wait for results. The same, he said, needs to be done with the racecars.

Yates called Baldwin and Labbe “good racing guys,” but not necessarily the best men to solve the team’s problems. As a result, the two crewchiefs are gone; Baldwin heading back to Bill Davis Racing, where he was crewchief from 1998 to 2002. Labbe is reportedly examining his options for future employment, and will almost certainly resurface with another top NASCAR team in the near future.

While change is underway in the engine and fabrication shops, there are still plenty of questions about RYR’s 2007 driver lineup. Robert Yates announced that David Gilliland will drive his #90 Busch Series Ford this weekend at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis; substituting for Stephen Leicht, who will attempt to qualify for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. In recent weeks, Gilliland and Leicht have been widely rumored to be in line for Yates' two Nextel Cup Fords next season, replacing Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler. Doug Yates said of Gilliland, "He's a hot item. How can you not look at him? Whoever gets him will be a lucky organization."

My sources say that both Citifinancial and M&M's have expressed a preference for fresh faces in 2007, paving the way for Leicht and Gilliland. While Gilliland has reportedly received offers from Yates, Jack Roush and Richard Childress, the 30-year old driver is keen to jump straight to Nextel Cup in 2007, believing his age does not allow him the luxury of a 1-2 year internship in the Busch Series.

There has been no official announcement yet, but after offering Gilliland to the media early last week, RYR officials abruptly cancelled those interviews, and now have him firmly sequestered. They say Gilliland will grant no further interviews until this weekend in Indy, when published reports say an official announcement may be made.

Gilliland’s former Busch Series team -- Clay Andrews Racing – added another level of certainty to the story Monday, announcing that it is closing its doors, effective immediately. Team-owner Clay Andrews said, “We put our heart, soul and resources into David Gilliland. Personally and financially, we do not feel it is best to move forward at this time."

A Leight-Gilliland lineup certainly seems to be in the cards at Robert Yates Racing next season, and Yates said there is a chance for the team to expand to three cars, if Ward Burton comes up with a sponsor. In his words, “If Ward walked in with a sponsor today we'd say, 'Ward, you've got the ride.’”

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Driving Force" Is Don't-Miss TV

I watched the second and third episodes of "Driving Force" last night, after finally catching the premiere episode the day before. And in the words of Siskel and Ebert, "two big thumbs up."

"Driving Force" airs Monday nights at 9 pm ET on the A&E Network, and chronicles the lives of 13-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force and his family; wife Laurie and racing daughters Ashley, Brittany and Courtney. The show will give rabid race fans just enough action to keep them interested. But "Driving Force" is really not about racing. It's about an obsessive, workaholic father who has toiled long and hard to overcome his humble beginnings, achieve his lifelong dream and provide for his family; only to discover that somewhere along the way, the very obsessiveness that made him a champion has driven that family away.

Force's personality is overpowering. Calling him a "bull in a china shop" does a disservice to bulls, and within minutes of the opening credits, viewers begin to feel sympathy for anyone who lives in his world. It's all about winning for Force -- both on and off the racetrack -- and anyone who doesn't share his insatiable hunger soon finds themself in the crosshairs.

It's always loud, and it's never pretty.

Wife Laurie banished Force to their nearby beach house seven years ago, for indiscretions Force summarizes as, "looking at a few too many girls." The two remain legally married, but the relationship seems more financial than emotional. "My wife loves me, but she doesn't like me," says Force, and while the line is intended to produce a laugh, the pain behind it is plain to see.

Force also struggles to connect with his teenaged daughters. While Ashley, Brittany and Courtney Force clearly love their father -- and also the many perks that come with being his daughters -- they struggle to live-up to his impossibly high standards; both in and out of drag racing. "I can't be normal," admitted an emotional Force in one of last night's episodes. "I try, but I just can't do it."

The man tries, though. He really does.

The 13-time Funny Car king has apparently realized that all the trophies in the world (and the fancy houses to keep them in) don't mean a thing if there's nobody home to share them with. That's a realization that many of us come to, in time. He has made a collossal effort to re-connect with his wife and daughters -- an effort they often seem ambivalent about -- at the possible expense of the career he worked so hard to build. Last season, John Force Racing lost the NHRA Funny Car championship for the first time in more than a dacade, a fact many pitsiders blamed on Force's own lack of focus.

He's at it again this season; running in the thick of the 2006 championship chase, while dealing with the demands of a multi-million dollar business, the ever-present A&E cameras, and a family that often seems moments away from coming apart at the seams. Will he be a winner on the racetrack? Will he be a winner in life? The answers to both questions are most certainly in doubt.

I have always considered John Force to be one of the most colorful characters in all of motorsports. Now, after 90 minutes of truly compelling reality TV, I see that Force is not a character, after all. He's a man -- flawed like the rest of us -- struggling to hold it all together, attone for his mistakes and make amends with the women he loves, beforte it's too late.

I was a John Force fan before watching his new TV show.

I'm a much bigger one now.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sirius Speedway Goes "On The Road" in Michigan

Sirius Satellite Radio's Sirius Speedway will hit the road next month, with a live broadcast from the Jackson Speedway in Jackson, Michigan on Thursday, August 17th.

Host Dave Moody will broadcast live from the track on Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, while Marty and Suzy Q. hold down the fort in the Daytona USA Studios. Race fans and listeners are invited to turn out and join the fun, sign-up to win free "Sirius Speedway Swag," and take in a special, 200-lap Go Kart Enduro, featuring a number of NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Series stars and numerous other celebrities, doing battle on Jackson Speedway's half-mile concrete road course.

"I raced in the event two years ago as part of a team entered by Gordon Food Service, sponsors of the `GFS Marketplace 400' at Michigan International Speedway," said Moody. "We had an absolute blast, and when the opportunity arose to field our own MRN Radio/Sirius Speedway team this year, we jumped at the chance."

Moody will share the driving duties on August 17th with MRN Radio event producer Ryan "The Hammer" Horn, and two additional drivers to be named later. Sources close to the team say a familiar name or two could appear on the raceday roster, as the MRN/Sirius Speedway team "fights fire with fire" against a GFS entry stacked with ringers like NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series star Johnny Benson, and wannabes like MRN Radio turn announcer (and GFS employee) Jeff Striegle.

"This is going to be a war," said Moody. "Striegle has been running his mouth for weeks about how unbeatable his team is. All I can say is, `Talk is cheap.' Cinch up those chinstraps, boys, `cause we're in it to win it."

Jackson Speedway is located at the corner of US 127 and Page Ave. in Jackson, Michigan, just a few minutes from MIS. Further information -- and directions to the track -- are available here, and we look forward to seeing you on Thursday, August 17th.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Robert Yates Racing announced today that Elliott Sadler has requested and been granted a release from his contract, to take effect at the conclusion of the 2006 season. Yates has begun searching for a driver to take over the No. 38 Ford Fusion in 2007.

Team owner Robert Yates said, "We would like to thank Elliott for his commitment to our organization over the past four seasons and for all the success we've enjoyed together. are excited about the opportunity to find a new driver who will continue the successful run of the #38 Ford as we maintain our focus on the future of our organization."

General Manager Doug Yates agreed, saying, "Our objective is to finish the season on a strong note. Our goal is to continue to build this team so we will be better positioned to contend for the championship next season."

Sadler has made no comment on the move, but will address the media tomorrow morning at Pocono Raceway.

Notes From All Over

Ya Gotta Love Woody: Busch Series driver (and Sirius Speedway fave) Jon Wood sat down with the boys from this week, offering his views on a variety of wide-ranging subjects. The entire conversation can be found here, but I was particularly touched by his response to the question, What is your least favorite household chore?

“I would say it would be doing laundry,” replied the Wood Man, “because there is no excitement, so to speak, in washing a bunch of clothes -- just watching clothes getting wet and then dry. We went on a week-long stretch when I hadn't been home, even for a night. So when I got home, rather than do my laundry at my house, I drove two hours so my mom could do it. It was worth the four-hour round trip for me not to have to wash five pairs of jeans and three shirts. Obviously, driving two hours out of the way was my last resort, but I had no choice.”

For the record, Woody is sponsored by Clorox.

Viva Las Vegas: The Las Vegas City Council gave its seal of approval to a proposed Champ Car World Series race in the city's old downtown yesterday, apparently clearing the way for the 2007 street race that has long been rumored to be in the works there.

The proposal approved by the Council yesterday calls for a three-day event on Easter weekend; April 6th through 8th, making the event the 2007 season opener for Champ Car. The proposed circuit is a 2.44-mile, 14-turn, counterclockwise layout, and an official announcement from the sanctioning body is expected sometime in the next few days.

Yesterday’s approval marks the apparent end of a long and interesting process. The rival Indy Racing League originally floated the idea for a street race in Vegas, and until recently, appeared to have the inside track on the event. The concept was eventually shanghaied by a group headed by former Champ Car President Chris Pook, however, with Pook convincing City officials that he and his consortium provided a better chance of success.

Blistering The Track: Tony Stewart took to the highbanks of Talladega Superspeedway Monday, and despite a not-so-sizzling speed of nine feet per minute, said he liked what he saw. The two-time Nextel Cup champion steered a paving machine through Talladega’s 33-degree banked turns, secured by chains and ropes to keep the hulking apparatus from toppling off the banking.

Stewart came away from the experience impressed with the track, saying, “We're going to be able to get a lot more grip here. It's going to make for a lot of three- and four-wide racing.” He also came away with a great deal of respect for the men and women doing the work, saying, “I feel a whole lot safer going around these turns in my racecar at 190 mph than I did creeping around on that thing.”

I’ve spent a little time standing in the mid-summer Talladega sun over the years, and I can tell you with great surety that laying 500-degree asphalt on a 100-degree day is not my idea of high living.

More Good Numbers For Force: Despite the fact that I inexplicably forgot to tune-in, Monday’s premiere of Driving Force on the A&E Network was a huge success. The show, which chronicles the lives of 13-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force and his somewhat disfunctional family, generated well in excess of one million impressions in each of its first two airings, giving the network its most watched series premiere since the 2004 premiere of Dog The Bounty Hunter.

The first episode of Driving Force brought in nearly 1.8 million total viewers, a number Force called, “just amazing. We’re grateful to all the people who helped get the show made, and we hope that drag racing fans and everyone else will keep watching us.”

I’ll be watching next week, John, I swear.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Off Weekend? No Thanks...

Kenny Schrader and Tony Stewart are well known for racing anything, anytime, anywhere. Kyle Busch seems ready to follow in their well-traveled footsteps.

One day after winning the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series “Lenox Industrial Tools 300” at New Hampshire International Speedway, Busch was an hour or so up the road in Oxford, Maine, Monday, testing a PASS Super Late Model in preparation for the “TD Banknorth 250” on Sunday night, July 30th. Busch tested with the SP2 Motorsports team Monday, and said he is looking forward to running the midsummer classic for the second year in a row.

"I know I'll be in a car that can win the race," said Busch. "The other thing is the fans. They make it a big event, and something I want to be a part of."

A year ago, Busch qualified for the “TD Banknorth 250” by finishing second in a consolation race. He then electrified the crowd with a thrilling run from 28th to the lead in just 77 laps. He didn’t win – finishing sixth behind SP Motorsports teammate and resident Maine racing legend Mike Rowe – but his effort was one of the highlights of the night. Rowe, SP2 co-owner Steve Perry and crewchief Seth Holbrook were all at OPS Monday, hoping to see Busch do even better this time around, with Perry promising, “He's going to be a contender again.”

“Why,” you might ask, “would a busy guy like Shrub give up an off-Sunday to compete in a short track race?”

Good question.

NASCAR’s Nextel Cup Series hasn’t had a weekend off since Easter, and after next weekend’s hiatus, it’s balls-to-the-wall until the end of the 2006 campaign at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. Add-in a busy schedule of Busch Series racing, and personal commitments like Big Brother Kurt’s upcoming wedding, and you’ve got a schedule that virtually screams for a little “down time.”

Instead, Kyle’s going to Oxford, along with fellow Nextel Cup contenders Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley, and Maine native (and former “TD Banknorth 250” winner) Ricky Craven. He’ll serve as Best Man at Kurt’s wedding on Thursday, fly to Gateway International Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, for Saturday’s Busch Series race, then “try to get some sleep and be (at Oxford) in time to practice Sunday morning at 8 o'clock.”

Simply put, the boy’s a racer.

The way I see it, if Kyle Busch is willing to put forth that kind of effort, the least I can do is be there to see it. I missed very few “TD Banknorth 250s” in my youth, and manned the public address microphone for more than a few. I haven’t made it back to The Plains in a few years, but like Shrub, I’ll be there next weekend to watch childhood heroes like Mike Rowe and Dave Dion take part in one of the most prestigious short track events anywhere on the planet. I’ll even be there for Saturday night’s American-Canadian Tour Late Model race.

I’m not quite Kyle Busch, and I’m certainly no Schrader or Stewart. But a week off?

No thanks. I’m going racing.

A Sad Split For Herbert and DuPuy

Doug Herbert has a new crewchief today, after Wayne Dupuy unexpectedly stepped down from Herbert’s Snap-on Tools-sponsored NHRA Top Fuel team.

A press release issued by the team late yesterday says Dupuy informed Herbert that he was “overloaded, needed to take a leave of absence, and would not be able to continue as crewchief.”

The veteran tuner suffered severe head injuries in a single-car highway crash in late November, which saw him ejected from his Ford Mustang convertible on Highway 150 near his home in Lincolnton, N.C. Dupuy broke his spine, pelvis, and left eye socket in the crash, and also suffered multiple abrasions. He was transported to Lincolnton County Medical Center, then airlifted to Charlotte (NC) Medical Center and hospitalized in the Intensive Care Trauma Ward, in critical condition. Despite being on a respirator for 34 hours, DuPuy made a miraculous recovery, leaving the hospital in just over a month, and returning to active duty with the team soon after.

The team has struggled this season, however, with “Dougzilla” currently 12th in NHRA PowerAde points; 449 points behind leader Doug Kalitta.

“To say I was shocked would be a huge understatement,” said Herbert yesterday. “I spent time with Wayne after we lost in the first round in Denver, and we were both encouraged with the consistency of the car. We agreed that Seattle would be a great place to turn our season around. I had no clue Wayne was even contemplating a change.

“Since his accident last Thanksgiving, I have stuck by Wayne and done everything I could to help him and his family with the recovery. I wish him the best."

Earlier today, Herbert announced that former crewchief Jim Brissette will return to tune the car, beginning this weekend in Seattle. “I cannot explain how grateful I am right now to Jim Brissette,” said Herbert. “It made the most sense to try and get him back if he wanted to do it, and luckily for me he has accepted the position.”

Brissette served as crewchief for Herbert during all four of his IHRA Top Fuel championships, and also manned the wrenches when Herbert became the second driver in history to break the 300-mph barrier in 1993. He was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame earlier this year in Gainesville, Florida.

What happened to prompt DuPuy’s departure? The world may never know. Perhaps the decision was a byproduct of his accident, and injuries that were severe enough to sideline most men permanently. Perhaps DuPuy now lacks the stamina and physical strength to shoulder the demands of an extremely demanding job. Perhaps the near-fatal crash – and his subsequent rehabilitation – caused the veteran tuner to re-evaluate his priorities in life, finding that racing was no longer the end-all and be-all that it once was. Perhaps it was simply a competitive issue; with a driver and tuner agreeing to go their separate ways at the midpoint of a long and surprisingly frustrating season.

No matter what the cause, DuPuy’s resignation from the Herbert team adds a sad final chapter to what appeared to be a Cinderella story in the making.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bite Me, Mike

Just when I had decided I didn't need any more reasons to dislike seven-time World Driving Champion Michael Schumacher, he gave me another.

Schumacher said last weekend that he has no idea why Juan Pablo Montoya would possibly be interested in NASCAR, saying, "Personally I wouldn't do it. What do you do in NASCAR? What is exciting? I can't see it, running around on ovals. They are heavy, low developed cars compared to Formula One. There is no challenge for me."

For the record, this is the same Michael Schumacher who preened in front of the cameras after "winning" the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix, when virtually everyone else pulled off the track and refused to race. The same Michael Schumacher who built his career off the ridiculous financial advantage enjoyed by his Ferrari team, and who now is getting his arrogant keester kicked by Fernando Alonso in the Formula One championship standings.

For the record, Mike. here are a dozen reasons why a few million of us prefer NASCAR to Formula One:

1) NASCAR puts on races, not parades. I can go down to the AMTRAK station and see more passing than you've got in most Formula One races.

2) In NASCAR, more than two teams have a chance to win each week.

3) With the possible exception of Michael Waltrip and Kerry Earnhardt, you can't get a ride in NASCAR by being someone's brother. Your brother Ralf can't drive nails, but he's still got a job. `Splain that one to me, Lucy.

4) Nobody "challenged" you to drive in NASCAR. Nobody even "wants" you to drive in NASCAR, though I would enjoy seeing you run screaming from Bristol Motor Speedway after crashing 12 times in 25 laps. It'll never happpen, though. You haven't got the stones for it.

5) Mike Helton could kick Bernie Ecclestone's ass, easy.

6) NASCAR team owners have rugged, manly names like Rick, Jack and Richard. It is impossible to take anyone named Flavio seriously.

7) Speaking of Flavio Briatore, he no longer has the market cornered. Jeff Gordon is sleeping with a supermodel, too!

8) Coors Light beats Merlot every time.

9) Other than at California Speedway, you cannot get a pedicure in the NASCAR garage. Can Formula One say the same? I think not.

10) NASCAR has a King (Richard Petty). The best F1 can do is Prince Rainier.

11) Two words: Jacques Villeneuve.

12) In Formula One, one slight incident of contact means the end of the race. In NASCAR, one slight incident of contact means the race is about to begin.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Few Words About Tony Stewart

Bad-Ass Racers Don't Give And Take: A bump from Ryan Newman on lap 91 of Sunday’s “Lenox Industrial Tools 300” at New Hampshire sent Tony Stewart crashing into the turn-three wall, effectively ending his day. The two-time Nextel Cup champion soldiered on after an extended period behind the wall for repairs, eventually finishing 37th; the latest in a series of ill-timed setbacks for Stewart and his Home Depot team.

Predictably, both Stewart Newman blamed each other for the crash. Stewart said, “The 12 car took us out. I don't even think he tried to make the corner. There are guys who are really good at give and take, and there are guys that aren't. Ryan is really good at taking, but he's not very good at giving.”

Newman turned Stewart’s comments around 180 degrees, saying, “I guess he's not a giver, is he? The bottom line is, we were in a position to take, and rightfully so. We had fresh tires, and he was on old tires, and he didn't give."

In my opinion, both drivers share at least a small degree of the blame for Sunday’s fireworks. Newman was a lap down, and there is NEVER a good reason for wrecking the leader while trying to regain a lap. It doesn’t matter how fast you are, you give the leader his space, and his due.

On the other side of the coin, Stewart was guilty of ignoring the big picture Sunday, getting so caught up in his mano-a-mano duel with Newman that he put a truly dominant racecar in jeopardy. By simply letting Newman go, Stewart could have kept his car intact, maintained the lead, perhaps won the race, and solidified his spot in the Chase For The Championship.

Instead, he’s outside the Top-10 with seven races to go, looking in.

The bottom line – as I see it – is this. “Letting people go” is not what made Tony Stewart a two-time Nextel Cup champion. “Taking it easy” on a guy with a slower car isn’t what earned Newman the nickname “Rocket Man.” Both Newman and Stewart got where they are today by being hard-core, bad-ass, take-no-quarter racers.

Neither one is about to change now.

On a Lighter Note: Watching Stewart climb aboard a NASCAR Whelen Modified Saturday produced a way-too-easy opportunity for "fat guy in a little car" jokes. But, by golly, once he got himself wedged into the cockpit of Curt Chase's backup Cavalier, ole Smoke was absolutely, positively worth the price of admission.

It's not easy to stand out when the entire field is filled with guys running on the ragged edge of control, bump-drafting each other so hard on the straightaways that their molars are in danger of flying out. But even in that heady atmosphere, Stewart had the crowd on its feet from start to finish.

He qualified 21st, and raced his way to ninth place in the first 14 laps, slashing past cars with incredible, three-wide bottom shots that nobody else in the field seemed capable of matching. He got as high as sixth on two different occasions in the 100-lap event, before pitting for tires, fuel and/or chassis tweaks and starting over from the rear. With five laps to go, Stewart was hopelessly mired in sixth place. Sixteen turns later, he dove inside veteran Jerry Marquis for the lead, seemingly poised to steal the win.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Contact between the two sent Stewart's Chevrolet rocketing through the infield at the entrance to turn three, and down an infield access road at approximately 165 mph. Under those circumstances, most drivers would have jumped on the binders, whoa'ed her down as quickly as possible, and thanked their lucky stars to be alive.

Tony Stewart is not "most drivers."

Never lifting off the throttle, Stewart yanked his car to the right, hurtled back across the infield, got airborne after crossing another service road, then dirt-tracked his way back onto the racing surface in turn three, losing only seven spots in the process.

It was high-testosterone racing at its absolute best; enough to have the thoroughly jaded MRN Radio broadcast team jumping up and down with excitement. There aren't 10 men on the planet who could have climbed into an unfamiliar car for the first time, then methodically taken 41 of the finest, full-time modified drivers in the land to school. Second-generation driver John Blewett, III carried home the winner's trophy, but make no mistake about it.

Tony Stewart was the show.

And Finally, What Really Matters: After meeting last year's stated goal of making a $1 million donation to Victory Junction Gang Camp, Stewart pledged another million dollars to the camp Friday, once again affirming his committment to children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. Stewart made the announcement at New Hampshire International Speedway, alongside Kyle and Pattie Petty, founders of VJGC.

Reporters are usually a fairly callous bunch, but Stewart had much of the room in tears as he and the Pettys spoke of their devotion to the camp and their memories of Adam Petty, who lost his life at NHIS in May of 2000. writer (and Sirius Speedway regular) Dave Rodman tells the story much better than we ever could. We will simply direct you to the link, and remind you that the rough, tough, sometimes abrasive SOB you see on television is not the REAL Tony Stewart.

Mayfield, Sadler In Silly Season Mix

Batten down the hatches, NASCAR Silly Season is getting set to rev-up again.

Michael Waltrip confirmed late Friday what we told you earlier that day; that he has offered Jeremy Mayfield a seat in his third Nextel Cup Toyota next season. Mayfield has made no secret of his unhappiness with the performance of his Evernham Motorsports team this season, and Waltrip said he has a car for Mayfield, if he wants to make a change.

In his words, "The ball's in his court. Hopefully it will all come together, and as soon as it does we'll let the world know."

Mayfield did not comment directly on the move this weekend, but said enough to leave little doubt that there is a change coming. Asked to autograph a pair of driving gloves in the NHIS garage area Saturday, Mayfield signed, “Jeremy Mayfield -- #19” on one, and “Jeremy Mayfield -- #00” on the other.

“That ought to get them talking,” he laughed.

Mayfield’s departure will open the seat in Evernham's #19 UAW/Dodge Dealers Dodge. Based on conversations Sunday in the Nextel Cup garage, I believe that seat will soon be filled by Elliott Sadler, who is set to exercise a performance clause in his contract to leave Robert Yates Racing. Sadler continues to deny having any conversations with Evernham – since those conversations would technically qualify as a violation of his contract with RYR -- but admitted having “a long talk” with Robert Yates this week in Indianapolis.

Yates has not yet commented on the situation, but crewchief Slugger Labbe admitted Sunday, "Where there's smoke, there's fire."

Sources say that M&Ms may accompany Sadler to the Evernham camp, if the United Auto Workers and the Dodge Dealers Association are willing to relinquish primary sponsorship of the car. That move would leave Yates needing to replace both drivers and both sponsors during the off-season, though plans are reportedly in place to promote developmental driver Stephen Leicht to the #88 Nextel Cup Ford next season, with possible sponsorship from Citi Financial.

In addition to shuffling the lineup at both Evernham and Robert Yates Racing, Sadler’s move may serve to put veteran Bill Elliott back in the game. “Awesome Bill” admitted last weekend that he might be interested in returning to full-time competition next season, if the right opportunity were to come his way. Red Bull Racing General Manager Marty Gaunt is reportedly determined to make Elliott that kind of offer, in an effort to sign him as a teammate to Brian Vickers.

And finally, from the "Totally Unconfirmed Rumor" department, an interesting tidbit floating through the Nextel Cup garage Sunday had Waltrip attempting to accelerate the start-up of his three-car Cup operation by buying out another team; lock, stock and barrel. MB2 Motorsports has been mentioned as a possible buyout target, though a source close to MB2 dismissed the story as ludicrous.

"There are some things coming up at MB2 that nobody knows about yet," said my contact, on condition of anonymity. "The team is set to get a whole lot better, which makes me doubt any of the rumors going around about partnerships with DEI, or selling out to Michael Waltrip."

There is a clear consensus of opinion in the garage, however, that Waltrip has bitten off all he can possibly chew, and will be hard-pressed to honor the commitments he has made to four different sponsors by having three competitive Nextel Cup Camrys (and at least one Busch Series entry) on track in time for SpeedWeek in Daytona Beach next February.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Danica To The World: Show Me The Money!

Danica Patrick's father clarified his position today, tempering the comments he made last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway about moving his Indy Car-driving daughter to NASCAR, as soon as next season.

"I'd be a fool not to want her (in NASCAR),” said T.J. Patrick, who also serves as his daughter’s manager. “If you were her father, you would, too. But it's not my decision, and I don't believe she wants to do it. She wants to stay (in the IRL), she wants to run Indy, she wants to win the Indy 500. That's her goal."

T.J. Patrick spoke to his daughter as she returned from a vacation in Mexico, warning her of the media tempest he had ignited. "She laughed and said, 'What did you do?'" he said. "It's gotten blown out of proportion. No one said a thing when I went with her to the NASCAR race in Phoenix. She talked with Jack Roush, and stuck her head inside Kurt Busch's car. No one said a thing."

Speaking to USA TODAY in Los Angeles, where she will serve as a presenter at tonight’s ESPY Awards, Danica said, "It's important for me to know what's out there, who is interested in me, and who will give me the best chance to win. NASCAR is so big, how can you ignore it? If the right opportunity comes up, you have to look at it.

"As long as we're in this series, we're compensated well for what we do, we're enjoying ourselves and it's safe, then this is where I want to be. As long as that happens, I can see myself racing in IndyCar forever, unless a bigger, better deal comes up and my heart changes."

“I think I'm capable to taking on the challenge (of NASCAR), but it would have to be with the right team, and the right deal. Then, I would consider it. Until then, I'm investigating what the interest level is."

Patrick called her 2006 IRL season at "frustrating and confusing," citing Rahal-Letterman Racing's total of just two top-five finishes among its three drivers. "My priorities haven't changed," she said. "I still want to be a winning IndyCar driver. If I'm given an opportunity to drive for an IndyCar team and win races, I'm going to do it."

If Patrick is serious about switching disciplines, there will never be a better time to do it than now. NASCAR’s driver development pipeline has temporarily run dry, and she could sign a top-notch Busch Series deal almost immediately, with a fast-track plan to advance to the Nextel Cup ranks in 2008. She becomes a free agent on September 10th – after the final race of the IRL season – leaving her time to run the final seven Busch Series races.

Patrick and her father are fully aware of her value to the Indy Racing League. She is the most recognized, most quoted, most valuable driver in the series, and she rightfully expects to be compensated as such. Her estimated IRL salary of $350,000 -- plus a reported 40% of purse and point fund winnings -- is dwarfed by the amount she could make in NASCAR. Even a mid-level Busch Series driver easily eclipses her current Indy Car earnings, and if Rahal-Letterman Racing is unwilling to up the ante, she is left with no choice but to look elsewhere. Tony Stewart faced the same quandary a decade ago, ultimately choosing to leave the Indy Racing League and take his considerable skills to Joe Gibbs Racing and NASCAR.

He is a very rich man -- and a two-time Nextel Cup champion – as a result.

"I hope to be compensated for what I'm doing to help grow everything," said Patrick in May. "I want to help grow the sport. But you can't drive for 30 years, and if I can't get compensated here, I'll look at options."

Patrick’s current stance is one of two things; either a genuine bid to find a place in the world of stock cars, or an ingenious attempt to force some IRL team owner’s hand into paying her what she is worth. My guess is that it’s the latter, but either way, it’s going to be entertaining to watch.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Coupla' Points...

Reverend Scelzi? God Help Us: The Mopar Big Block Party kicks off Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. (Mountain Time) in Golden, Colorado, kicking off the annual NHRA Mopar Mile-High Nationals. Among the scheduled proceedings will be what is being billed as a “MoPowered Wedding,” in which an obviously deluded pair of Mopar fans will be united in Holy Matrimony by none other than newly ordained “minister” Gary Scelzi.

The four-time NHRA World Champion told Sirius Speedway, “They told me they had a couple of raving Mopar fans who wanted to get married, and have some fun with it. Apparently, there’s some website that will make you an ordained minister, so we’re good to go. It may not be legal outside Colorado – or even outside downtown Golden – but we’ll have some fun with it.”

Assisting “Minister Meatballs” will be Best Man Ron Capps and Maid of Honor Angelle Sampey; a woman who knows more than most about getting married. “If I forget the words to the vows, Angelle can bail me out,” said Scelzi. “She must have `em memorized by now.”

The only thing this ceremony appears to be missing is a Flower Monkey, and I’m guessing Angelle might be able to help us out there, too.

I HATE That Guy: As if we needed any more reasons to envy NHRA Top Fuel driver (and Sirius Speedway favorite) Brandon Bernstein, here's just one more. His girlfriend, Tracy, was captured recently, checking out her man in action at a recent PowerAde Series National event.

How a scrawny little dude like B-Squared can attract the interest of a lovely, intelligent, personable young lady like Tracy is one of the great mysteries of our time. It must be his fetching personality. Or the two-tone hairdo. Either way, attaboy Bernstein!!!

The Numbers Don't Lie: There were 23 Nextel Cup regulars in last weekend's Chicagoland Busch Series race. Twenty-frickken-three! That staggering number prompted Dale Earnhardt Jr., to say that NASCAR should limit the number of races that the so-called "Buschwhackers" can compete in from now on.

“I would like to see some limitations put on the Cup drivers as far as their ability to compete, unless they choose to run for the championship," said Junior. "For the sake of the series -- the longevity and success of the series itself -- I think what's happening right now is slightly detrimental."

For the record, Junior was part of the problem Saturday. He finished fifteenth, two spots ahead of the top-finishing Busch Series regular, Johnny Sauter.

And Finally: In an attempt to set a new Motorsports Soapbox Track Record for "Most Smoking Hot Babes Featured In A Single Entry," we offer this photo of Empire Super Sprint driver Jessica Zemken.

Ms. Zemken is more than just a pretty face (stop it!). She currently stands sixth in ESS points in her rookie season, with a win and six Top-10 finishes to her credit.

I know, I'm a total and complete pig.

Montoya's Move Brings Varied Reactions

As expected, Juan Pablo Montoya’s shocking jump from Formula One to the NASCAR Nextel Cup racing has drawn more than its share of reaction from around the globe.

The most immediate response came from Montoya’s McLaren-Mercedes team, which announced today that the Columbian will be replaced by test driver Pedro de la Rosa, effective immediately. McLaren CEO Ron Dennis put a friendly spin on the decision, saying the team and Montoya had “mutually agreed for him to step down in the forthcoming races of this year's Formula 1 World Championship. We have agreed that with so many things happening in Juan Pablo's life right now, he should take some time out of the car to prepare professionally and personally for the future."

Montoya also embraced the move, while taking a halfhearted parting shot at the F1 community. “I have enjoyed most of my time in Formula One,” he said, “and I'm grateful for this opportunity to settle my personal life and concentrate on my future career." He also elaborated on his reasons for making the switch, saying, “It's not how many millions you're making. It's a matter of three years down the line, are you going to be excited about what you're doing? Three years from now, when I look at my career, I'm going to be happier here."

The decision to leave Formula One immediately will free Montoya to prepare for next season by running a number of ARCA, Busch, or even Nextel Cup races for new boss Chip Ganassi. Between now and the end of the season in November, he should have ample time to get his feet wet in stock cars, and also gain NASCAR’s approval to drive in the 2007 season-opening Daytona 500.

Reaction to Montoya’s jump has been mixed. On this side of the Atlantic, his signing is seen as a major coup for NASCAR, while on the far side of the pond, Montoya is suddenly being portrayed as a washed-up second stringer, looking to extend his fading career by resorting to a lowly “taxicab” series.

Britain's BBC reacted with its usual arrogance, writing, "As a winner of the prestigious Indy 500 and the Champ Car title, Montoya is already highly regarded in America. NASCAR is hugely popular in the US, and it contains some great drivers. But its staged close finishes and overwhelmingly showbiz approach seem somewhat beneath a driver of Montoya's ability. Doubtless he is being handsomely rewarded for his switch, but it would be surprising if, deep down, Montoya did not share that view. He will leave F1 with a whiff of unrealized potential, his reputation diminished by the way his career there has ended.”

RACER Magazine’s Adam Cooper was typical of the North American media, writing on, “NASCAR is the real winner. Interest from new markets will be immense, at least in the early days. There will also be a lot of folk keen to see JPM cut down to size. What better way of demonstrating the strength of the Nextel Cup and its drivers than having a contemporary Grand Prix star struggling to make an impact?”’s James Mulholland took a tougher stance, writing, “Montoya will be more welcomed into NASCAR than he will be missed in Formula One. It is interesting that he should leave motorsport's most glamorous discipline -- where technology is paramount -- for the chassis-smashing NASCAR, where the bumper is more valuable than aerodynamics. The Formula One garage will not exactly miss Montoya.”

RACER Magazine’s Cassio Cortes concurred, writing on, “Montoya has chosen the easy way out. Paddock talk says he could have driven for Williams next season. But the massive task of rebuilding an unsuccessful team almost certainly turned JPM off. Compare that to becoming NASCAR’s hottest driver while being close to his Florida home, and the choice became easy for a man whose dedication was never the match of his talent.”

Even the respected Reuters News Service could not resist taking one final swing at Montoya, writing, “His decision to trade the glamour of Grand Prix for the good ol' boys of U.S. stock car racing made more than a ripple on both sides of the Atlantic. Formula One, with an emphasis on cutting-edge technology but little overtaking, is to the rough and tough, wheel-banging world of NASCAR what steak and champagne are to hotdogs and beer. Montoya's exit will have little impact on the Formula One driver market, where he was already struggling to find a race seat for 2007 in the face of general disinterest.”

If the first 48 hours are a true indication, there is no doubt that Juan Pablo Montoya’s signing represents a major public relations windfall for NASCAR, and for American stock car racing in general.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Thoughts From Bobby

Bobby Hamilton spoke out today on his ongoing battle with head and neck cancer; the first public communication by the former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion in a number of weeks. His Public Relations Director, Lori Shuler, was kind enough to forward his thoughts to us, and we are happy to be able to share them with you. They are, in my opinion, very powerful stuff.

"It’s amazing how much one word can change your life. When you hear it, feel it, bear it, and breathe it that one word changes your entire view on the way you see every single aspect of your life. I will never be the same person I was before I found out I had cancer. I am now a better person for what I have endured just as all the millions of people in our country who feel the same way after battling cancer.

It has literally changed my life. I went from being a guy who was a rough neck, red neck person that raised myself in the most unbelievable conditions and at times thought of myself as indestructible -- to getting my legs knocked out from under me in the blink of an eye, and having it done time and time again battling this terrible disease. My whole life has been a bit of turmoil. I’ve been pretty proud to do what I’ve done because I’m a survivor. I was out on the street at 13-14 years old. Ended up doing what I did and got a chance to race with the best race car drivers in the best racing in the world. Now I’m an owner and employ right around 60 people. It’s like Garth Brooks’ song “The Dance:” “I could have missed the pain, but I would have missed the dance. I just thought that part was hard – until I was faced with cancer. Ask anyone who’s been there.

It all started for me last year when I had a wisdom tooth on the right-lower part of my jaw that abscessed. Since the area they needed to operate on was so close to the nerves in my cheek, they decided to wait until the end of racing season to pull the tooth. Right after Thanksgiving, I had the tooth pulled. Everything was much better in my mouth after that, but my neck was swollen. I went to another doctor, who told me that it was an infected lymph node and it should go down. Well it didn’t. So I went back after a couple of weeks and told him that we needed to leave for Daytona in one week, and I needed the lymph node removed now.

The very next morning, Dr. Warren at UMC Medical Center worked me in for surgery. He slit my throat open to remove what we all thought was a lymph node, only to find tumors there. He removed a large tumor and a couple of little ones that had spread around in my neck. He sewed me back up, and waited to break the news. When I woke up, he walked into the room and looked down at the floor. Right then I knew something was up. He waited until Lori came in the room before he explained what he had found. My mind went to how to be strong for Bobby Jr., Lori and the guys at the shop. How was everyone going to handle this and what was the game plan? We had a lot to mull over.

First things first, we called my son and his wife. They came straight to the hospital for us to explain what we had just been told. I had cancer. No one believed what they heard at this point and all of us were completely caught off guard. What’s next – testing, testing and more testing. In the meantime, I had the season opener and one of the biggest races of the season to prepare for.

My neck healed in a few days, and I left for Daytona and never said a word. We agreed amongst us four that it was not time to say anything until we had all our ducks in a row. So off to Daytona we went, with our mind on the game. Immediately after that race, it was one test after another. My kidneys were clean; my lungs were washed for testing and came up clean. Then I had a biopsy done on my tonsils, tongue and random parts of my throat and mouth. And the next day I left for race number two.

Now I had a couple of weeks to figure out a plan. We did some research, and found out that Dr. Murphy at Vanderbilt Medical Center was highly recommended in this type of cancer. So we made an appointment for March 6th to meet her. Instantly, I knew she was the right doctor for me. Her calm disposition helped me with what I was facing, and encouraged me.

We made my next appointment with her on March 20th for the first round of chemotherapy. I needed one more race, and to get my message across about cancer, my new battle in life. I spoke with Dodge and they were still with me. Then I spoke with Fastenal, and they were very open to letting Bobby Jr. be their new driver. Everything was in place, now I just needed the guts to say what I had to say.

It came to me, I don’t know how but it was there. I blew the entire industry away; no one expected what I said. In NASCAR, we pride ourselves on our close knit family, and how we all stick together. But if we told one person before that time, it would have been a moot point. So I pulled my team together five minutes before the press conference and told them as a whole. They handled it pretty well, but none of us knew what to expect. Then I did the walk into the media center.

I sat down in front of everyone and looked them straight in the face with what I had to say. I told them of the driver change, that this is my last race, and that I would be back. I had made a decision to fight this battle and get on with it. It was my only choice. At that moment, I vowed for no one to write my name as a cancer victim, that I was not one. I applauded the media for all their help over the years, and asked for their kindness in this manner. I care about my racing career more than most things in this world, and I will be back to start a truck again. It’s what I do. If it don’t have headers, a four-speed and slicks, I don’t do good with it.

That night, I started that race and got emotional at what my future would hold. Who wouldn’t? Every cancer patient and their family is faced with mortality. You can’t ever describe that feeling until you live it. But once that race began, I knew nothing except the speed. My mind was focused, and for that two hours cancer didn’t faze me.

We got an unbelievable amount of e-mails and cards that week. Race fans, non-racing fans, cancer patients, family members of patients, church members, and all different kinds took time to send us notes. Some were saying good luck, some were saying `do this' or `don’t do that' and some were emotional while others were pumping me up. We even had some people from race teams who took time to talk with me and explain what they had gone through in their personal or their family’s battle with cancer. It was overwhelming the amount of support we got and are still getting from people out there.

Then on Monday morning, March 20th, cancer fazed me. What do you expect, what happens each week, where do we go, how am I going to feel, so many questions ran through my mind in flashes. You see everything at that center from young to old, weak to strong, women to men and every race is there. Some people knew me, and others didn’t. Some were scared and some were just getting through it. I was just there.

My doctor didn’t know who I was, and frankly, I liked it that way. I love the fact that she treats me as she would any patient that walks into her door. She is there to try to save all our lives, and she does a fine job at that. I met with her, and then went off to chemo. As I sat on the table getting that first needle put into my hand, my emotions ran wild. Am I really going through this? Cancer, me? Yes I was.

I left that first day, and went straight to the race shop. I was fine; cancer hadn’t got me down yet. Yet that is. I went for the second, third, fourth and fifth chemo treatments, only to realize on the fifth time that my body was not responding as we hoped to the treatments. One more time I was blown away. Quickly, Dr. Murphy changed my regimen. I needed the stronger treatment. Why didn’t that surprise me? I would also start radiation on Monday, the 24th of April, a month earlier than planned.

Radiation is intimidating. I am very claustrophobic. The thought of putting a fitted mask on my face and locking it down on the table made me sick. I didn’t know how I would get through this part, but was kind of glad to be getting it over with. I had 33 treatments to go, every day Monday through Friday and the countdown began.

That weekend, we attended the race in St. Louis. I had five radiation treatments behind me, and six chemo treatments down. I didn’t feel taken aback at the time by any of my treatments, so I still tried to do as I wanted to. My mouth and throat were getting sore from the radiation, and my white blood count was down from the chemo treatments. I shook hands with fans, signed autographs and sat on the pit box in the cold weather. That was the wrong move.

By the next weekend, I had a fever and was very ill. I was admitted to the hospital for an excruciating six days of regulating medicines. While I was there, I had a feeding tube put in so I could continue to get nourishment. Even though I was in the hospital, the radiation still happened daily. My tumor was too aggressive, so a break was not an option.

I missed things like the race in Charlotte, the Craftsman for a Cure Charity event done in my honor, holidays and Victory Junction Gang’s Second Birthday Celebration. By now, I couldn’t be around a lot of people, or I could end up worse than the first time. I was pretty much secluded. I went to the race shop for meetings with people, and they sat all the way across the room from me. I walked around and kept everyone at an arm’s distance, because the last thing I needed was another infection.

My throat got worse; it was impossible to swallow. My neck blistered up like bacon. With what cancer does to you, it's phenomenal that people survive. That just shows how strong we are, that we do. Finally, my last treatment day came: Wednesday, June 7th. The next day, it was like someone had lifted weights off my shoulders. But the truth is, the healing is still happening. It doesn’t just stop in one night and go away. Wouldn’t that be nice.

The truth is, once you have been diagnosed with cancer, you always battle it in some form or fashion. Yes, your body heals, and life as you know it goes on. But cancer is always there. All I expect out of this is, if anybody has anything to say about what I’m going through, let’s just attribute it to everybody who’s going through it. I want to take my battle and use what little bit of celebrity status I have left and try to promote the awareness for this disease.

Cancer changes us all, and I have just learned that when you get a second chance, life becomes a different picture the next time around."

Tweaking The Chase

NASCAR Chairman Brian France said last Thursday that some changes may be in store for the 2007 Chase For The Nextel Cup. France sat down with members of the media last Thursday in Daytona Beach, Flroida, and said, “The ideal time for us to make adjustments -- not major changes, but adjustments -- will be in the off-season this year. So you will see that." While offering no concrete thoughts on what might be changed, he did discuss possible revisions to the number of drivers who qualify for the Chase each season, adjustments to the 400-point window that allows drivers to make the Chase without finishing in the Top-10, altering how points are awarded during the final 10 races, and the possibility of changing which tracks host the final 10 Nextel Cup events.

On the off chance that Mr. France might be cruising the internet looking for advice on this topic, I offer a few thoughts for sprucing-up the Chase For The Championship.

1) Award more points to race winners. I would favor this change on a season-long basis, not just in the Chase. Unfortunately, for championship contenders, going to Victory Lane in the final 10 races has become far less of a goal than simply staying out of trouble. Add a cool 20 or 30 points to the winner’s take next season, and we will see those title contenders going for the win, rather than merely cruising along in the top-10. Drivers should not climb out of their cars during the Chase talking about "good points days." They should be talking about letting it all hang out in a last-ditch bid for the checkered flag.

2) Keep the baseline at 10 cars. Personally, I would have no problem expanding the Chase to 12 drivers. Then again, I have no problem with system we’ve worked with the last two seasons. I understand that sponsors want their drivers to be relevant in the final 10 races of the season, but I fear that adding too many teams to the postseason mix will dilute things to the point where The Chase For The Championship becomes a motorized version of the NHL playoffs; where all but the lowliest teams get in.

Bumping the Chase to 14 or 16 cars would add more meat to the playoff stew, but if that many teams make the Chase, what incentive is there for any of us to watch the first 26 races?

3) Bump the 400-Point Barrier. Under the current system, any driver within 400 points of the leader after 26 races (regardless of where he ranks in the standings) makes the Chase. Using that system, nobody outside the Top-10 has ever qualified. Loosening things up a bit – perhaps by giving an invitation to anyone with 500 points of the leader -- would add more players. Again, though, NASCAR doesn’t want to make it too easy to get in.

Given my druthers between a flat, 14-team Chase (no matter how badly the 11th through 14th place teams might suck – and a 500-point cutoff, I think I’ll go for Option Two. At least that way, there will be a minimum standard of performance than all teams must achieve in order to make the dance.

4) Consider changing a couple of tracks in the Chase. The current “Chase For The Championship” host speedways -- New Hampshire, Dover, Kansas, Talladega, Lowe’s, Martinsville, Atlanta, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami – all do a fine job. Homestead, in particular, has morphed itself from one of the worst tracks on the series to one of the best. They race the heck out of `em at Homestead now, and the south Florida oval deserves to keep it’s spot in the Chase.

If we put it up for a public vote, fans would probably point to New Hampshire and Dover as the weakest links in the Chase. Like Homestead, NHIS has gotten much better competitively in recent years, and there’s nothing wrong with Dover that 100 fewer miles won’t fix. Ditching one (or both) of those races would rob thousands of loyal fans in the northeast of their only chance to see a Chase race, and in my opinion, some consideration must be given to spreading these races around the country so everyone gets to see them.

Does Daytona belong? Maybe, though tiptoeing though two restrictor-plate minefields in the final 10 races might cause a few additional ulcers in the garage area. Should there be a road course on the list? Road racing makes up 5.5% of the total schedule (2 of 36 races), and there are those who would argue that giving the right-turn lovers 10% of the Chase makes perfect sense.

Anyone who knows me knows that I disagree. Violently. But I digress.

Bottom line? I hope that whatever changes Mr. France makes to the Chase will be minor tweaks, not major overhauls. Basically, it ain’t broke, so I see no reason to fix it. A little fine tuning wouldn’t be bad, as long as it’s properly applied.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

More Yapping From The "French Poodle"

Former World Driving Champion Jacques Villeneuve says NASCAR may be a viable option if his Formula One career stalls. The former World Driving Champion said this weekend, “Going to NASCAR might not be such a bad career move, because it's the most exciting race series in the U.S., and it's a very different discipline to F1. I would not consider it a step down.”

Apparently, Sirius Speedway’s beloved “French Poodle” has his heart firmly set on a second career in stock cars, since he used the venue of last week’s U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis to lift his leg on both the Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series, calling both series’ “tired,” and adding, “you only do that if you have no other choice.”

A couple of points, if I may…

1) I disagree with the premise that Villeneuve’s F1 career is in danger of stalling. As anyone in the Formula One paddock knows, Villeneuve’s career shifted into neutral years ago. The temperamental Frenchman has been resting on his overstuffed laurels ever since.

2) It is my firm belief that Villeneuve would blow his collective brains out after three weeks on the NASCAR Tour. His resume’ features not a single oval-track race -- unless you count snowmobile racing in his native Quebec – and it would take a minimum of two years for the poodle to get up to speed in a stock car. His colossal ego couldn’t possibly hold up that long.

3) Nobody in NASCAR wants him within a thousand miles of their team. In recent seasons, Villeneuve has made a cottage industry out of badmouthing teammates and criticizing his teams. Jacques never makes mistakes, you see, and is a master of deflecting the blame for poor performance away from himself, and onto anyone within splattering range. His contract with BMW-Sauber expires at the end of this year, and they’ll be only too happy to see him go.

4) And finally, I’m tired of hearing washed-up drivers from other series talk about jumping to the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit, as if NASCAR were some sort of Retirement Home for former racers. Take a look at the track records of former CART, IRL and Champ Car drivers in NASCAR competition. You’ll have to go back to the days of Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt to find a single winner. As Tony Stewart proved last weekend in IROC competition on the infield road course at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR’s finest have nothing to learn from those puffed-up sporty car types.

As usual, it appears that the “French Poodle” is barking up the wrong tree.

Good News/Bad News At Robert Yates Racing

My sources in the NASCAR Nextel Cup garage tell me that after examining a number of other options, UPS has decided to move to Michael Waltrip Racing next season, continuing their relationship with driver Dale Jarrett. That decision will leave Robert Yates Racing in search of both a driver and a sponsor for the 2007 season.

The atmosphere at RYR is reportedly bad, and getting worse. Communication between Jarrett and the team is strained – as might be expected in a “lame duck” situation such as theirs – and a source close to the operation told me this weekend that fingers are beginning to be pointed on both sides of the driver/owner aisle.

In addition, crewchief Slugger Labbe reportedly had words with a member of the #88 team's over-the-wall crew Saturday night, after a botched pitstop cost Jarrett a number of positions on the racetrack. NASCAR officials reportedly were forced to step between Labbe and the unidentified crewmember, in an effort to head-off possible fisticuffs between the two.

There is some good news in the Yates camp, however.

A solid, sixth-place finish by Elliott Sadler in Saturday’s “Pepsi 400” provided a much-needed dose of self-confidence for the entire operation. In addition, veteran Ward Burton continues to rank as the most likely replacement for Jarrett, especially if he is able to bring a sponsor to the negotiating table. Burton told Sirius Speedway Friday that he is in negotiation with at least one potential backer, and is hopeful that a deal can be reached within the next few days.

Finally, I am told that the Yates team will enter into a sort of “merger” with Roush Racing; possibly before the end of this season. If completed, the deal will result in a third Yates Nextel Cup entry in 2007, with Roush dropping to four cars in an effort to comply with NASCAR’s much-discussed ownership cap. The deal will reportedly include a dramatic increase in shared resources and technology between the two Ford teams. Currently, they build engines together through the Roush/Yates engine alliance, but do not share information on chassis or aerodynamic technology.

Robert Yates Racing is not the only Nextel Cup team contemplating expansion in 2007. Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Vice President of Competition Richie Gilmore said Friday that his team is may field four Nextel Cup cars in 2007. DEI presently enters Nextel Cup Chevrolets for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Martin Truex, Jr., and will roll-out a third car next season for Raybestos Rookie contender Paul Menard. Gilmore said a fourth car is now possible, perhaps with the assistance of MB2 Motorsports.

“We want to make some determinations by the end of July about how many teams we will have next year,” said Gilmore. “Moving to four teams is a possibility, and we’re looking at all our options. Space is an issue right now, and that’s why we’re looking at MB2. That’s one of the biggest reasons we’re looking at MB2. We could help with resources, and they could help with space.”