Friday, December 01, 2006

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.

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