Wednesday, May 31, 2006

It Sure Doesn't Take You Guys Long To Get Creative...

COT Gets High Marks In Lowe's Test

NASCAR officials say they took a major step toward finalizing the new "Car of Tomorrow" during a successful test yesterday at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Eight drivers spent the morning in single-lap runs, before running a pair of 20-lap, side-by-side tests. The cars passed with ease and handled better in traffic than they had in an earlier test at Atlanta Motor Speedway. As a result, NASCAR Competition Director Robin Pemberton said the "Car Of Tomorrow" is now very close to what will race next season, adding, “This is pretty much it. There might be some details (changed), but if all the manufacturers get their noses submitted, we'll be close.”

Drivers Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman and Casey Mears all spoke highly of the “Car Of Tomorrow,” saying it felt similar to what they drove at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last weekend in the Coca-Cola 600. "I think there's definitely something to work with here," said Newman. "Our car was a little tight, but it was easier to pass than in the regular Cup cars. The aero push was pretty good. I think we took some pretty big steps out there today. It's aesthetically not pleasing to me, but that's not the point. It's all about the racing.“

Burton also downplayed cosmetic differences between the COT and today's racers, saying, “Nobody (stayed away from) Talladega when we had wickers on the roof and Gurney lips on the spoilers. They came to see a race, and they'll do the same thing with this car. People come to watch races, not to see a car ride around a racetrack. They want to see good, competitive races.

“This car drives like a racecar – it doesn’t feel like anything unusual,” said Burton. “My first thought is that this is going to be fine. It’s not like I stepped out of something Sunday night, then came over here and got into a foreign ship. It just feels like a car.”
Mears agreed, saying, "It's a good car. I don't feel like it's much off of what we ran this weekend. The rear of the car feels lot more stable than what I had this weekend."

Four Dodges and four Chevrolets took part in yesterday’s test, with another session scheduled for today at 9 a.m. Ford teams elected not to participate, saying they will wait for NASCAR to finalize the design of the car before they resume construction. Toyota also did not take part, with officials saying they are behind in their plans to build a “Car Of Tomorrow.”

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"Poor Jack" And The Car Of Tomorrow

Car owner Jack Roush says his teams will not take part in this week's latest test of NASCAR's "Car of Tomorrow" at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Roush did not attend last week’s meeting to discuss possible modifications to the car, but said changes that will shorten rear bodywork by as much as six inches make it too costly for him to take part at this time.

“The car that we’ve got doesn’t have the front end exactly right, and it doesn’t have the back end exactly right," said Roush. "For us to try to do front splitter development and rear wing development would be a waste of time. It’s morphing into something that I hope will do what we need it to do, but it’s definitely a work in progress.’’

Roush has been a frequent critic of the "Car Of Tomorrow," often citing the high cost of building and testing the new machines. He was one of the last major team owners to get involved with the project -- Ford colleague Robert Yates still hasn't built one -- and says that every time his team builds a "Car Of Tomorrow," NASCAR changes it. Roush said months ago that he had already spent more than $300,000 on the COT, before it ever hit the racetrack. And now, they're talking about changing it again, chopping as much as six inches off the rear bodywork in an effort to reduce downforce.

Three hundred grand is a lot of money in anyone's league. But then again, when it comes to money, Jack Roush plays in a league all his own. Forbes magazine reported recently that Roush Racing is the most valuable organization in NASCAR, with an estimated net worth of $218 million. The article -- to run in the June 5th edition -- said Roush's five Nextel Cup and six Busch Series teams enjoy 2006 corporate sponsorship estimated at $108 million, and have earned another $8.3 million in purse and prize money. Forbes did not factor-in Roush’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teams, nor revenue received from NASCAR’s Nextel Cup and Busch Series television packages. By way of comparison, Hendrick Motorsports – with four Cup and two Busch entries -- ranks a distant second, with an estimated value of $146 million, and 2006 sponsorships worth $77 million.

If my math is correct (a 50/50 chance in most instances), Roush's $300,000 investment in the "Car Of Tomorrow" represents 1.3% of the net worth of his operation; a small fraction of what he almost certainly spends on engine development, aerodynamic testing and research on today's racers. Based on Forbes' numbers, it's tough to feel sorry for Poor Jack Roush and the high cost of testing the "Car Of Tomorrow."

Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Inc., Richard Childress Racing, Evernham Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Penske Racing South, MB2 Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing will all be at Lowe's Motor Speedway this week, doing their part to help NASCAR chart a safe and competitive course for the future. While not in attendance this week, Petty Enterprises has also played a leading role on the development of NASCAR's new racer.

While all those teams (and others) pitch-in and pull their weight, "Poor Jack" sits on the sidelines, carping about all the money he's spent, and second-guessing the work being done by others.

Kyle Petty said it best a few weeks ago, when he criticized Roush and the other COT naysayers. "Everybody jumps to conclusions, saying, ‘Oh my God, the Car of Tomorrow is going to change racing,’" said Petty. "How do they know until we come up with the end product? They need to get off their butts, and get out here and help us."

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Fan's Take On "Craftsman For A Cure"

Our unofficial roving reporter, Lance In PA, checks in with the second and final installment of his "Road Diary" from Coca-Cola 600 weekend in Charlotte. Last night, he got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to race against the NASCAR stars at the "Craftsman For A Cure" event, organized by former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Bobby Hamilton. Lance writes:

"The generosity of the drivers and fans was quite remarkable. It was a shame that Bobby was not able to attend the event he organized, but at the same time, I'm glad he is listening to his doctors, so he can recover as quickly as possible. The idea that fans could race go-karts against the drivers was the coolest thing. Ryan Newman was like a little kid, having fun being spun-out and also using his `chrome horn' on others. He received a large boo when he took out an eight-year-old… pick on someone your own size, Ryan! Mikey was Mikey, yukking it up with the fans and even stealing a pair of large ladies sunglasses and racing with them on. Imagine him with that wild hair and those shades….scary!

My first on-track session was with DW and David Reutimann. DW spent a lot of time recovering from multi-car spins. I passed him many times, and he was always facing the wrong direction! Reutimann also had no problem using a little side-slam to get by. When the race was over, DW and David were very friendly, and happy to share a laugh and shake your hand. Talk about a cool experience.

My second session was with Bobby Labonte, and it provided more racing opportunities than the first race. I played my cards right, and let Bobby get up on my bumper to see how I could race him. I did a good job holding him off for two laps, with him lightly beating on my bumper. I was actually looking forward to Bobby taking me out, but just as he was getting ready to knock me out of the way, some crazy fan wrecked him!

I cannot say enough about the character of the drivers, and how they made themselves so accessible to the fans to support a great cause and a good person. One of the most striking things was the generosity of the fans in the Silent Auction. There was a ton of stuff donated by drivers, and the amount of money bid on these items was pretty high. The highest bid I saw was $3,500 for a Tony Stewart firesuit, and there were many other items over $1,000. It's a testament to the sport that fans and drivers will join together in support of such a worthy cause. Fight the good fight Bobby, we're all pulling for you!"

I couldn't have said it better myself, Lance.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

UPDATE: The 270-Pound Lump Strikes Back!

Angelle Sampey called last night, following up on her day in court Thursday. She was successful in obtaining a permanent restraining order against ex-husband/dirtbag (in my opinion) Nicky Savoie, but only AFTER agreeing to stop saying unflattering things about him in public.

"He printed the page from my website where I called him a `270-pound lump of turd,' and started crying to the judge about it," reported Angelle. "The judge called both of our lawyers into his chambers, and while he admitted I had a constitutional right to say whatever I want (sound familiar? -- DM), he asked that in the interest of everyone just getting along, that I stop calling my ex-husband names on the radio and the internet."

Being the kind of person she is, Angelle agreed, and will no longer be calling Nicky Savoie names on our program. Among the terms she will NOT being using any longer to describe Mr. Savoie are:
  • '270-pound lump of turd'
  • 'My Dirtbag Ex'
  • 'Loser'
  • 'Scumbag'
  • `Washed-Up XFL Never-Was'
  • 'Useless Waste of Other People's Oxygen'

We, however, will happily continue using those terms whenever possible. Again, Angelle, it's on the house.

My Personal Opinion

If you missed yesterday's show, you missed our latest "Angelle Sampey Personal Life Update." In addition to being a three-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion -- and the current point leader -- Angelle ranks as one of our all-time favorite guests, partly because she shares so much with us. From bikini shots (no, you can't see them), to updates on her hometown of New Orleans' recovery from Hurricane Katrina, to the long-running double-entendre joke about her pet monkey, Andy, Ms. Sampey tells us more things we have no business knowing than anyone else in the business.

Unfortunately, her updates frequently feature news of her ex-husband, Nicky Savoie. In the past, we've gotten the gory details on Savoie's arrest on firearms, battery and harassment charges, after allegedly he broke into his then-estanged wife's home and threatened her at gunpoint. Sherriff's deputies said Savoie fired a round into the floor of her Mathews, La., home. When she attempted to escape, deputies said he forced her back inside to discuss their pending divorce. Savoie subsequently surrendered to authorities, and was released on $100,000 bond; charged with phone harassment, false imprisonment, illegal discharge of a firearm, simple battery and domestic aggravated burglary.

The 6-5, 265-pound Savoie played football at Louisiana State University in 1995-96. He was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the sixth round (#166 overall) of the 1997 NFL Draft, and cut after one season. He played one more year with the Birmingham Bolts of the ill-fated XFL, before fading quietly into football obscurity. In an effort to learn more about Savoie's career, I Google-searched his name recently. The most positive thing I could find written about him was a 1997 entry that listed the top three Tight End prospects for coach Mike Ditka's Saints, then added, "Nicky Savoie returns to provide depth."

That's football-ese for "this guy ain't EVER getting off the bench."

Since then, Savoie has owned and operated a charter boat company in Louisiana, though the website for that business is now offline. Google reveals that he is also a member of the "48 Ounce Club" at Don Shula's Steakhouse, after eating an entire, 48-ounce steak in one sitting.

In an effort to keep the attorneys at bay, allow me to state that everything written from here on is my own, constitutionally protected, personal opinion.

And in my opinion, Nicky Savoie is a big, fat pantload.

Roving Reporter Lance Checks In

Sirius Speedway's unofficial roving reporter, Lance in PA, checks-in today with an update on his experiences during Coca-Cola 600 weekend in Charlotte. We welcome your "racing road stories," as well, from the highways, bi-ways and speedways across the country. Lance writes:

"Dave, Marty, and Suzy Q...

Tonight, I am attending the `Craftsman for a Cure' event, and am looking forward to racing against DW, Reutimann, and Bobby Labonte in go-karts. I will report back on that later in the week. Last night, I attended the Harris Teeter Race Fest at the Charlotte Knights Stadium, which drew a sizable crowd. I have the following observations to make, and have included a couple of digital photos.

1. People will stand in line forever to receive free handouts, whether the stuff is worthwhile or it is junk.

2. The autograph session had seven drivers, including Erin Crocker, Ted Musgrave, Danny O'Quinn, Joel Kaufmann and David Green. By far, Erin was the most popular one, attracting the most fans. The diversity of her fan base was pretty amazing, in that it was evenly split between men and women of all ages, from little kids to old folks, and rednecks to not-so-rednecks. Erin has a great personality, is extremely fan-friendly, and was more than happy to talk to anyone who stopped by. Ray Evenham and the folks from Betty Crocker were very smart in bringing her on board. When she has more success on the track and makes it to the Nextel Cup Series, she is going to be an absolute PR knock-out.

3. I am staying at a hotel here in uptown Charlotte during race week. Why don't they carry Speed Channel on my TV?????


Lance in PA"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Thoughts In Advance Of The Indianapolis 500

...Remind me never to have any of the people in charge of estimating the crowd count at Indianapolis Motor Speedway balance my checkbook. "Unofficial estimates" by various Indy-area media outlets pegged Saturday's qualifying crowd at anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 fans. More reliable eyewitness accounts put the count at 10,000 -- max. That's still the best Qualifying Day turnout (by far) since IRL and CART went their separate ways back in 1996, but c'mon guys, who's fooling who?

...Unintentionally, Tony George may have hit upon a qualifying system that works for the modern-day Indy 500. Rather than dragging the process out over two full weeks -- qualifying the first 11 positions on the first weekend, followed by the rest of the field the next -- I say let's do what Mother Nature forced us to do this year; run `em all on Saturday, then finalize the field with a Sunday "Bump Day." Maybe one of these years, there will be enough cars to justify a return to two full weeks of qualifying, but right now, it's tedious, unnecessary and downright dull.

...Marco Andretti may be the real deal. The 19-year old qualified ninth Saturday; four spots better than his old man, and ahead of such Indy notables as Buddy Rice, Bryan Herta and Dario Franchitti. Maybe it IS genetic, after all.

...How happy were IRL officials to see "Mad Man" Marty Roth spin out in his final qualifying attempt Sunday? They'll never admit it, but nobody wanted to see Roth -- a nice guy who seems incapable of navigating Indy's first turn -- bump Thiago Medieros from the field, especially after three spins in as many days leading up to Sunday's festivities. He somehow managed to avoid hitting anything during those off-road excursions, until Sunday's fourth 200-mph pirouette finally put him into the wall, and out of the Indianapolis 500. As a driver, the 47-year old Roth is one hell of a car-owner, something someone should convince him of as soon as possible.

...Of all the jobs I don't want, filling two hours of Bump Day airtime on ABC with no actual bumping to talk about ranks extremely high on the list. Jack Arute and company earned their paychecks Sunday, in a big way. I wonder, though, why ABC couldn't have shown us the qualifying laps that did get turned on Saturday.

...Please don't force me to humiliate you when you call the show this week, claiming that there are 20 drivers capable of winning the Indianapolis 500. There are nine; the front six starters, plus Scott Sharp, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta. Any other outcome will require a horrific, multi-car crash that decimates the field, or the worst case of mass mechanical failure in the history of motorsports. None of us should be hoping for that.

...Of the 33 cars that will take the checkered flag Sunday, how many do you figure got some kind of financial assistance from Tony George to make it there? I can't prove it, but I'd be willing to bet that at least a third of the grid cashed a check from T.G. at some point this month.

...Speaking of Tony George, if he and Champ Car's Kevin Kalhoven don't find their way to the podium to make some kind of major announcement this week, there are going to be a lot of disappointed folks out there in Open Wheel-land. Count me as one of them.

...And finally, is Danica Patrick racing at Indy this year? Just checking. Based on the month she and teammate Buddy Rice have had, it now seems safe to say that the Panoz chassis officially sucks.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Notes From "All-Star" Weekend

You may already have noticed the quotation marks around the words "All-Star" in the title of this entry. They are intentional.

No offense to any of the involved parties, but after Saturday night's NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge at Lowe's Motor Speedway, it occurrs to me that the event is less of an All-Star Race than any of the 36 points-counting events that take place each weekend, from February through November.

Was every driver in Saturday night's field an All-Star, in the strictest sense of the term? Absolutely not. Jamie McMurray, Michael Waltrip and Kyle Petty were included in the festivities (despite going a combined 0-for-recent memory) while Jeff Burton (11th in Nextel Cup points) was left out. Based on the criteria last Saturday night, EVERY race is an All-Star Race.

The main event was a bit of a dud, with Jimmie Johnson smoking the field for his 1,257th consecutive win at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Just kidding, it's only six or seven in a row. The Lowe's car wins so often at Lowe's Motor Speedway that I'm thinking about ordering a few more Black Helicopters to hold all the conspriacy theorists that are sure to come forth in coming days. The scary part? Johnson’s crewchief, Chad Knaus, said their best car was back at the shop Saturday night. Johnson, however, said Knaus will have a difficult time convincing him to bring anything different back to the track for the Coca-Cola 600.

Driver introductions for the All-Star Race were more subdued than in years past. Maybe it was the rain that kicked-up, just as the ceremonies began. More likely, though, the "hand-picked for TV" stageside crowd finally tired of being whipped into an on-camera frenzy over a bunch of anonymous catch-can operators from Mooresville, North Carolina. The least they could have done, though, was catch Ryan Newman crewman Trent Cherry, who inexplicably decided to "stage dive" into the crowd, only to have them part like the Red Sea, leaving Cherry to perform a painful belly-flop on the tarmac.

I generally try to avoid laughing at people like Cherry until I know they have survived the fall. But in this instance, I laughed like a wino at a Richard Pryor concert, only later thinking to inquire about possible life-threatening injuries.

And how about those Red Hot Chili Peppers? From my vantage point -- in Turn Two -- it seemed Bruton Smith could have spent his money on something else. The Nextel Vision screens and track P.A. system carried just one of the Peppers' three songs, pre-empting the other two for Chris Myers' FOX-TV anouncement of how many cars would be inverted for the final segment. I'm guessing that Anthony, Flea and the Gang didn't come cheap. But despite the investment, only a small percentage of the crowd got to see and hear the concert.

Most of the folks in my area weren't that all that upset about it either.

The best line of the night belonged (unintentionally) to my buddy Jeff Hammond, who alluded to the million dollar All-Star payday by saying, "We know what tonight's about -- the Presidents! Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson. It's about the money."

Um... Hammond? Ben Franklin was never President of the United States. But nice try, we got your point.

And finally, was it just me, or did anyone else enjoy Kyle Busch's Hulk Hogan-esque salute to the crowd during driver intros? Kyle -- admittedly not the most popular wheelman in the garage these days -- reacted to a torrent of boos from the LMS grandstands by striking a WWE caliber muscle pose (without the muscles) and cupping his hand to his ear.

It was a tremendous "F-U" -- even better than the one Tony Stewart dropped on Robbie Reiser later in the evening -- and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Racing needs more bad guys, and Shrub seems happy to play the role.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The ever-creative "Cheater Chad Fan Club" has struck again, thanks to Jason in California...

"Did John Andretti really drive a Top Fuel dragster? Yes he did, and listener Arnold Hunt provides the proof! His car owner was former San Francisco Giants slugger Jack Clark. Thanks Arnold!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Welcome To The Family, Tony!

Two-time and defending NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion Tony Stewart announced today in Charlotte, North Carolina that he will join the Sirius Satellite Radio family in 2007, hosting a weekly show on Sirius.

The announcement represents the first in what is expected to be a series of programming initiatives, leading up to the arrival of NASCAR Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck Series racing on Sirius Satellite Radio in February of next year. Every Cup, Busch and Truck race will be heard live next season on Sirius, the new Official Satellite Radio provider of NASCAR.

Stewart announced the new deal in a 4 p.m. ET press conference at the speedway, then stopped by for an exclusive conversation with us on Sirius Speedway. "I'm really pumped up about this," he said. "If your listeners are half as excited as I am, we're going to have a good time. What I like about this is that I will be abe to talk to the fans on my terms. I can speak my mind better than if I was standing iin the media center in front of a bunch of microphones. It's a unique opportunity, and we plan to make the most of it."

Debuting in January (with sporadic "preview shows" between now and then), Tony Stewart Live will air Tuesdays from 8-10 p.m., exclusively on Sirius' new 24/7 NASCAR channel. The show will feature Stewart taking calls from listeners, talking with guests and covering the full spectrum of motorsports - from NASCAR to open-wheel racing and beyond. Fox and NBC puit reporter Matt Yocum will serve as co-host.

Coming off a 12th- place finish last weekend at Darlington Raceway, Stewart stands second in Nextel Cup championship points, 93 behind Jimmie Johnson. He will take part in Saturday night's NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, as a prelude to next weekend's Coca-Cola 600.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rain, Rain Go Away!

There's nothing more depressing than rain at the racetrack, and when it rains on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it's doubly bad.

For the first time since 1983, Opening Weekend at the Brickyard passed without a polesitter being determined for "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing." Three days of virtually non-stop rain forced Indy Racing League officials to postpone qualifying until this Saturday; a full week behind schedule. Under the revised format, all 33 positions in the `500' field will be determined Saturday, allowing the remainder of the month to run according to original plans.

"You can't control it," moaned IRL President Brian Barnhart Sunday. "You take the situation as it's dealt to you, and make decisions based on what's in the best interest for everybody." Barnhardt and Track President Joie Chitwood initially considered bumping qualifying to Monday, but problems with staffing (apparently, you can run a massive racetrack like IMS without employees) and TV commitments -- not to mention forecasts for another three days of rain -- made the idea unworkable.

Thus, the entire Indy 500 field will be filled Saturday, in a chaotic day that will potentially feature at least 99 qualifying attempts; three each for a minimum of 33 teams. The track is closed today, with practice scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday and Friday. "Bump Day" is set for Sunday, with the field for the May 28th race locked-in at that point.

While the rain threw a proverbial monkey wrench into most teams' plans, last weekend's postponement may actually work in favor of a few low-buck operations. A handful of teams had already delayed their Indy debuts until this week, taking advantage of a cut-rate Honda engine lease program that allows them to compete only in Week Two, for about half the price of a full "Month of May" deal.

A number of teams are now poised to take advantage of that opportunity. John Andretti is rumored to have a deal afloat to run the `500' with a yet-unnamed team (tune into today's show for more on this), while Team Leader Motorsports owners Greg Beck and Kent Baker will field a team car to Stephan Gregoire's entry, with P.J. Jones at the wheel. Old friend Davey Hamilton is also rumored to be in line for a second Eddie Cheever Racing seat; his first IndyCar start since that horrifying crash at Texas in June of 2001.

Those late arrivals can -- theoretically at least -- make a run for the Indianapolis 500 pole, if they can overcome a severe lack of testing and practice time. Most likely, however, the pole will be decided between Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon, and Marlboro Team Penske teammates Sam Hornish, Jr., and Helio Castroneves. Hornish has been the fastest man on the property all month, but Wheldon stole his spot at the top of the speed charts in a brief, rain-free period Sunday, ripping off a lap of 228.663 mph -- nearly two mph faster than Hornish's previous best. Hornish also improved to 228.220 in the session, and expressed little concern with Wheldon's sudden burst of speed, saying, "He was (drafting) us. That's OK. We know what we're capable of doing by ourselves."

The ever-confident Wheldon disagreed, saying, "The way we've gone about qualifying differs from Penske. I think it'll be a race for the pole."

It's shaping up to be an interesting few days in Indianapolis, especially if you put any stock in rumors of a reunification announcement by Indy Racing League CEO Tony George and Champ Car World Series co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven. The railbirds say the announcement -- if it comes -- is scheduled for the week before the `500' itself.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Jarrett To Toyota in 2007

It's official. To the surprise of virtually no one, Michael Waltrip announced Saturday that former NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Dale Jarrett will join Michael Waltrip Racing next season, driving a Toyota Camry.

Waltrip made the announcement, saying, "We've signed Dale Jarrett to drive our Toyotas in '07 and '08, and we're real proud to have Dale on board. He's a wonderful ambassador to the sport, and he fits perfectly with what we're building, and what we're doing. We believe he can win us some races, and give us a lot of direction and guidance with a new startup team and a new manufacturer. (It) will be a real asset to have his knowledge, experience and ability on our team, directing our path for us."

Jarrett said he is looking forward to the new challenge, as well. "When Michael called, I thought about it for quite a while," Jarrett said. "I saw a new challenge there, and we're always looking for that. I think that's going to be a lot of fun and a great challenge. I'm looking forward to it."

Jarrett said money was not the main factor in his decision to make the move, adding, "The biggest thing is the opportunity to help Michael and Toyota start something new. I saw that as a unique challenge that I wasn't going to have that opportunity to do again. I said, `That's something that I want to be a part of.' It's nothing against Robert and Doug Yates and everybody there. They've been wonderful to me. It's just a new challenge that I needed."

Waltrip made no announcement concerning sponsorship for the new team, and sources say there is still a possibility that UPS may elect to move with Jarrett. The sponsor has reportedly given RYR a list of acceptable replacements for Jarrett, and will agree to stay on if Yates can hire one of them.

Responding to allegations of disloyalty to Yates and Ford, Jarrett said, "I've already gotten (comments) about, `Don't you have any loyalty to Robert Yates and the Ford Motor Company?' Certainly, I do. They're the reason that I'm here. But there comes a time when you have to make that decision for yourself, and this is the decision that we've made."

Robert Yates Racing General Manager Doug Yates also commented on the signing, saying the team did all it could to retain Jarrett. Yates said RYR offered to match Waltrip's offer, only to have Jarrett come back some later to say the offer had changed. Ford Motor Company officials are reportedly incensed over Jarrett's decision to join rival Toyota, since the 1999 series champion has won all but two of his 32 career Nextel Cup wins in Fords. Jarrett also owns one of the largest Ford dealerships in the country; Dale Jarrett Ford in Monroe, NC. Ford executives are reportedly now scrambling to lock-up Jarrett's teammate, Elliott Sadler, to prevent a similar exodus to the Toyota camp, reportedly with the new Red Bull Racing team.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

An Investment Opportunity Too Good To Pass Up

Talladega Superspeedway is being repaved this month, and I guess it was only a matter of time before some smart cookie figured out a way to make a quick buck off the process.

On sale now at the eBay internet auction site is a genuine chuck of asphalt recently excavated from the speedway. A description of the item breathlessly describes it as one of the first pieces torn from the middle lane in Turn Three, adding, "You too can own a piece of history! Imagine the drivers that have raced over this very piece. Wow!" The chunk measures 12 by 6 inches, and had brought a high bid of 10 dollars, as of midday yesterday.

The fact that someone is willing to pay actual money for a piece of ripped-up asphalt gave me a great idea. My neighbor tore up his driveway earlier this week, and the old asphalt is piled near the street right now, waiting to be hauled away. Last night, under cover of darkness, I crept stealthily across my backyard and "borrowed" 15-20 good-sized clumps of asphalt. Later today, I will put them up for bid on eBay as "genuine Talladega asphalt."

I too am going to be rich! Imagine the money I'll make! Wow!

Next week, I'll be selling lumps of sod from the infield at North Wilkesboro. Or my backyard. Whatever. The week after that, I'll be auctioning off my prized possession; a muffler clamp from the car Lee Petty drove to victory in the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. For all you know.

Check back soon for more information on these incredible offers, and don't forget to bid early and often!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

How's Ole Robert Gonna Spin This One??

Sometimes a man's own words can come back to haunt him. Case in point? NASCAR team owner Robert Yates, who announced today that he will appeal the penalties handed down by NASCAR for violations discovered prior to Saturday night's race at Richmond International Raceway. Crewchief Slugger Labbe was suspended through June 7th and fined $25,000 for using an unapproved rear sway bar mount. Driver Dale Jarrett was penalized 25 driver points, and Yates himself lost 25 owner points.

Yates commented on the sanctions in a statement released by the team, saying, “Obviously, we interpreted the rules differently from NASCAR. But because of the lack of a clear-cut understanding on our part, we believe we have grounds for appeal.”

This is the same Robert Yates who was so outspoken in the aftermath of crewchief Chad Knaus’ suspension in February, suggesting that cheaters like Knaus should be banned from NASCAR. "He ought to have to go race the Talladega short track the rest of his life," said Yates. "If there is language in the rulebook covers that area, he should be gone forever. That's just stealing." Yates also said that any RYR employee caught intentionally cheating without his knowledge would be terminated immediately.

RYR General Manager Eddie D'Hondt said today that Labbe will remain with the team until his appeal can be heard by the National Stock Car Racing Commission next week. It is highly unlikely that the penalty will be overturned, since the part in question was clearly modified, with the intent to deceive. NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Director John Darby said so in an exclusive Sirius Speedway interview on Tuesday.

Thus, Robert Yates will almost certainly find himself in a tricky public relations position. His options, as I see them, are threefold. Option One is to can stick to his word and fire Labbe for intentionally cheating. Don't hold your breath for this to happen. Option Two is to admit that while Labbe did cheat, he did so with Yate's full knowledge and permission. There's not a chance in hell of THAT ever happening! Option Three is to claim (with some difficulty) that NASCAR's rules are sufficiently vague that Labbe did not intentionally cheat.

Personally, my money is on Option Three.

No matter what happens in the coming days, two things are certain. Slugger Labbe will keep cashing a paycheck, and the Robert Yates Racing PR Department will keep earning theirs.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

All-Star Pandering Leaves A Bad Taste

I’ll probably be tarred and feathered for saying this, but here goes.

The "Vote Kyle, Reward Victory Junction" campaign was launched earlier this week in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is being called “a grassroots effort fueled by Coca-Cola and other Petty Enterprises sponsors to reward the man who has given so much of his time and effort to charity, with a spot in the Nextel All-Star Challenge.”

In simplest terms, Petty’s sponsors are encouraging fans to vote him into this month’s NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. In return, Coca-Cola and fellow Petty sponsors Wells Fargo, Schwan's and Tire Kingdom have pledged to donate a minimum of $250,000 to the Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with chronic medical conditions and serious illnesses. Petty will donate any purse money he wins in the race to Victory Junction, as well.

Michael Waltrip – along with Petty, a member of the “Coca-Cola Racing Family” -- was announced as Petty's "campaign manager" yesterday. “I want him in the All-Star Race,” Waltrip said. “He deserves it.”

Well, maybe. But not for the reasons you think.

I have issues with Coca-Cola’s "Vote Kyle, Reward Victory Junction" campaign. I feel it subverts the concept of the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, and clouds what should be a simple process for selecting the drivers that take part. Should NASCAR’s All-Star Race be an opportunity for sponsors “to reward the man who has given so much of his time and effort to charity?” Or should it be about fans honoring NASCAR’s finest for their on-track accomplishments?

Quite clearly, in my opinion, it should be the latter.

While Coca-Cola’s interest in helping Victory Junction Gang Camp is laudable, make no mistake about the fact that there is also something in it for them. Petty will carry a special “MyCokeRewards” paint scheme on All-Star Weekend, and if he is voted into the All-Star Challenge, they will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in free publicity and TV time. If Coke is really serious about doing something good for Victory Junction Gang Camp -- with no regard for their own corporate gain -- they can make a $250,000 donation right now, with no strings attached. Instead, they have chosen to twist the arms of NASCAR fans nationwide by saying, “Give us what we want, and we’ll help out the sick little children.”

That’s unfortunate.

I worry that we are missing the whole point of the All-Star Race. Will drivers and sponsors soon be forced to put together their own charity based, feel-good campaigns in an effort to pander their way to the top of the annual fan vote? Should NASCAR’s All-Star selection process be based upon how much money a driver donates to charity? Or should that selection hinge on how drivers perform on the race track?

The answer is pretty obvious.

In the immortal words of Richard Milhous Nixon, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I have nothing but admiration for Victory Junction Gang Camp, and the Petty family's superhuman efforts on its behalf. It is tremendous cause, and deserves your unqualified support. On a personal level, I like Kyle Petty very much. He is a gracious, selfless man who has done wonders for those less fortunate than himself. He's also a damned fine racer. Unfortunately, this whole "Vote Kyle, Reward Victory Junction" idea leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s half a step away from bribery, and it’s not what the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge is supposed to be about.

You can cast a vote for your favorite driver right now, at You can also make a contribution to Victory Junction Gang Camp by clicking on this link.

Just don’t confuse the two, okay?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Funny Car Fisticuffs!

The biggest surprise in an upset-filled weekend of drag racing had nothing to do with what happened on the track in Sunday's Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta. It had to do with the dustup between Schumacher Racing teammates Ron Capps and Whit Bazemore that left Bazemore with stitches in his lip, and Capps with some `splaining to do.

The confrontation began a week ago, after Bazemore lost to John Force in the semifinals at Bristol Dragway. As Force took the win light, Capps pumped his fist in delight; a gesture Bazemore interpreted as a sign that his teammate had been pulling for Force. For his part, Capps said he was reacting to his getting lane choice over Force in the final round.

No matter which story is true, the end result was the same. Bazemore confronted Capps Saturday in Atlanta, words were exchanged, and Capps landed a right-cross to Bazemore's kisser. Capps, the NHRA PowerAde Funny Car points leader, attempted to downplay the incident Sunday, taking the blame for the misunderstanding and expressing his remorse. Bazemore was less contrite, expressing regret only over not being able to defend himself due to an ongoing NHRA probation for a service-road speeding incident and a resulting verbal clash with officials a year ago.

Capps offered Bazemore his hand Sunday (in peace), and Bazemore reportedly accepted. But an on-camera interview with ESPN2's Gary Gerould left little doubt that Bazemore has yet to let bygones be bygones, raising questions whether the two can continue to function as teammates.
Team owner Don Schumacher told, "This is a personal situation between Ron and Whit. They've talked to each other, and tried to clear the air. It's something that I wish hadn't happened. I wish the media would leave it alone, but I understand why they can't. To me, it's a negative we don't need." NHRA Vice President of Racing Operations, Graham Light said he has spoken to both drivers, and that the incident is under review.

Perhaps coincidentally, both Capps and Bazemore were eliminated in the first round Sunday; Capps making his first opening round exit of the season. Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman proved long ago that you can hate each other and still be teammates, but will it work in the NHRA?

Only time will tell.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Updating The News of the Day

The mainstream media is now picking up on the story we broke earlier this week; that Dale Jarrett has signed with Michael Waltrip Racing for 2007 and 2008. Waltrip reportedly offered Jarrett a two-year, $20 million contract, and the 1999 NASCAR Cup champion informed current employer Robert Yates on April 26th that he will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season.

UPS is also in the final year of its contract with Yates, and published reports say the company will remain with RYR, if Yates can sign a championship-caliber driver to replace Jarrett. However, my sources say UPS is also insisting that Jarrett be allowed to finish the season in the #88 Ford, and has threatened to withdraw their support immediately if he is replaced before the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Jarrett has 32 career Nextel Cup wins, but has finished 15th in points in each of the last two seasons, after a 26th place showing in 2003.

Jarrett’s addition gives Toyota three confirmed Nextel Cup drivers for 2007: Jarrett, Waltrip and Dave Blaney, who drives for Bill Davis Racing. Davis reportedly plans to field a second team next year, while the new Red Bull Racing team will enter two cars, with drivers still to be announced. Rumors also persist that Toyota has made Robby Gordon an offer to purchase his operation. Gordon has an existing relationship personal services contract with Red Bull, as part of his off-road racing efforts.

A group of NASCAR executives led by Robin Pemberton and David Hoots toured Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve yesterday, and while they are convinced that a Busch Series race there would be a success in terms of attendance, questions remain about the 4.361-kilometer road course’s suitability for 3,000-pound stock cars. NASCAR International Director Robbie Weiss said, "The track is fine, but we have to look at whether the barriers can stop a stock car. We want to look at the track from a safety point of view, as well as from a racing point of view." There are also questions concerning the track’s pit and garage configuration, and their ability to accommodate 43 cars and nearly 100 transporters.

NASCAR's Weiss said the group will not visit Cayuga 2000 Speedway near Hamilton, Ontario, preferring to wait until a reported sale and upgrade of the speedway are completed. The Toronto Sun reported earlier this week that a group of potential buyers has held talks with NASCAR about the project, but NASCAR’s Jim Hunter said yesterday that the sanctioning body has not spoken to anyone about Cayuga.

Here is a handy hint to use when attempting to separate speculation from fact in matters such as this. Whenever someone hypes their proposed new NASCAR-style superspeedway by claiming they have held talks with NASCAR about racing there, it's a load of crap. NASCAR does not play the "if you build it, we will come" game with speedway developers. Their tact from the beginning has been, "once it's built, then we'll talk."

And finally, more proof (as if it's needed) that NASCAR's Car Of Tomorrow will be more like its stock, showroom brethren than the cars that are racing today. Representatives of Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota joined NASCAR officials for a wind-tunnel session Tuesday in Marietta, Georgia, in which each manufacturer's proposed "Car Of Tomorrow" nose was put through its paces. All four manufacturers came away encouraged that they can now build even more "distinguishing features" into the panels, without creating performance issues.

In short, the Fords will soon look even more like Fords, the Dodges more like Dodges, the Chevies more like Chevies, and the Toyotas more like Toyotas.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

This n' That From The NASCAR Garage

Michael Waltrip says he has sponsorship in place for two Toyota Nextel Cup teams next year. NAPA Auto Parts will back Michael's own Toyota Camry next season, with the other sponsor to be announced when Waltrip picks a driver. He has talked to both Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett about the ride in recent weeks, but my sources in the Nextel Cup garage say Jarrett has already signed a contract to leave Robert Yates Racing and drive for Waltrip in 2007 and 2008, taking his UPS sponsorship with him.

"Why," you ask, "would D.J. leave an established team like RYR to go to a startup operation like Waltrip's?" I'll give you 20 million reasons; a two-year, $20-million contract that will send D.J. off into retirement with a nice, tidy nest egg.

I am still unable to figure out what Bill Davis is getting from his current, one-year deal with Waltrip. Waltrip is leasing cars and equipment from Bill Davis Racing, in what appears to be little more than a stop-gap measure. A year from now, Mikey will use factory support from Toyota to leave BDR and ramp-up his own Michael Waltrip Racing team; fielding two cars on both the Nextel Cup and Busch Series'. Davis, meanwhile, will be left with one sponsor -- Caterpillar -- and one driver -- Dave Blaney -- under contract for 2007. I asked Davis about this seemingly lopsided deal when it was first announced in early February, and he insisted then that it was a "win-win situation" for all involved.

Nobody I've talked to can figure it out, however, with most people seeing it as a case of Waltrip using Davis for a year, until his own deal comes to fruition. I also find it interesting that Waltrip says he would like David Reutimann and Joey Miller to steer his Busch Series Toyotas next season. Both Reutimann and Miller are currently under contract to brother Darrell Waltrip's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team, making me wonder that the atmosphere will be around the Waltrip Family table this Thanksgiving, if it all comes to pass.

The biggest item rolling through the garage at Talladega last weekend was news (still unconfirmed) that NASCAR's Chevrolet teams are set to form a technical alliance in the near future, combatting the Roush/Yates Ford tandem, increased competition from Dodge, and the impending arrival of Toyota. Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Richard Childress Racing will all be part of the new agreement, while Joe Gibbs Racing will not.

Why? Because General Motors believes the Gibbs team is ready to jump to the Toyota camp next season, with drivers Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley in tow. My source on this story is well-placed, and the fact that there have been no indignant denials from either Gibbs or General Motors tells me that this is more than just another "uncomfirmed rumor."

Stay tuned.

They're tearing up the asphalt at Talladega Superspeedway this week; the opening salvo in a resurfacing effort that will produce a whole-new Talladega in time for a scheduled Nextel Cup/Craftsman Truck doubleheader on October 6-8. Speedway President Grant Lynch climbed aboard a gigantic backhoe and began ripping up the asphalt Tuesday -- a day late, thanks to Sunday's Nextel Cup rainout -- the first step in a total resurfacing of the 2.66-mile track. It has been 26 years since Talladega was last paved.

And finally, while our friends north of the border get all hot and bothered about a possible NASCAR Busch Series race in Montreal next season, my Canadian spies say there's a chance that the event will be held in Ontario, not Quebec. A group of investors has made a bid to buy the Cayuga 2000 Speedway in Nelles Corners, Ontario, near Hamilton. Plans call for the track to be upgraded from 5/8-mile to a full mile, with seating expanded to more than 60,000. Current owners Garry Evans and Brad Litkey say they have given the Toronto group two weeks to come up with financing to purchase the 246-acre facility.

Built by Bob Slack in the 1960s, Cayuga has long ranked as one of Canada's premiere speedways. In the late `70s and early `80s, Slack used the heated rivalry (both on and off-track) between Canadian short-track legends Junior Hanley and Don Beiderman to pack the grandstands on a weekly basis, and Cayuga was an annual stop on the ASA Tour for more than two decades. There's obviously a good deal of work to do before a Cayuga NASCAR race can come to pass, but given the choice between a road race in Montreal and an oval-track stop in Ontario, I know why way I'm leaning.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Good Morning Campers!

It's a glorious, sunny day in beautiful downtown Talladega, Alabama, where the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series has a high noon (ET) date to run yesterday's rained out "Aaron's 499." The forecast calls for sunny skies and highs in the upper 70s, and an amazing number of people have called-in sick to stay and watch it happen. Yesterday, tiny little Talladega was the third-largest city in Alabama, and while it'sot quite as crowded today, my guess is that it's still in the top five.

I'll be here calling the action in Turns 1-2 for MRN Radio, while Marty and Suzy hold down the "Sirius Speedway" fort back home. Hope you can tune in, and I'll talk to you Tuesday.