Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Junior By The Numbers

Hendrick Motorsports has applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for potential use of five numbers next season for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

The numbers under consideration are #38, #51, #81, #82 and #58. Filing with Patent and Trademark Office does not guarantee NASCAR approval to use any of those numbers, but does prevent an outside party from trademarking the specific font and graphic package used by Hendrick on its racecars, diecast collectibles and souvenirs.

Hendrick filed for the #81 on July 25th, with the most recent filing being for the #38 on August 9th. There have been reports that Hendrick is attempting to strike a deal with Robert Yates Racing for the #38 next season, but my sources tell me that the deal is not likely to happen.

Villeneuve Anxious For NASCAR Debut: Canadian Jacques Villeneuve says he needs a new challenge, and NASCAR is it.

"I need to do something at an extremely high level, which NASCAR is, but something different," said the former F1 World Champion. "I didn't look at IRL or Champ Car. I only concentrated on NASCAR. After Formula One, you want it to be at a top level. And in North America, the top level is NASCAR.”

Like Juan Pablo Montoya before him, Villeneuve says he is convinced that NASCAR is the correct move, despite negative feedback from the F1 community.

"It's really hard to explain to European fans, because in their mind (NASCAR is) only two corners," he said. "It looks like it's easy driving, flat out and that's it. What they don't realize is there is a lot of fine-tuning to do on the car. (There is a lot more) driving in traffic, a lot more than in open wheel racing where a lot happens at the start, and that's about it. Just watching it on TV won't give you the whole picture."

Villeneuve said he expects to have to earn the respect of the NASCAR veterans, and has been an interested observer of Montoya’s sometimes tumultuous indoctrination to the sport.

“Montoya was like that in Formula One; extremely aggressive and got on people's nerves," he said. "I guess he kept the same personality going into NASCAR. Once he settles in, it will be all right. He's driving hard, he's fast, and he's making a name for himself. Now he's earning respect, so that's fine. If and when I get in there, I'll figure it out."

Villeneuve will make his NASCAR debut in the Craftsman Truck Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 22nd, and will run the final seven races of the season in a Bill Davis Racing Toyota, with an eye toward the 2008 Daytona 500.

"Not So Fast" For Speed: While Villeneuve appears to be on NASCAR's fast track, the road from Formula One to NASCAR Nextel Cup may be longer than expected for American Scott Speed.

The 24-year old Speed is being projected as the latest Open Wheel driver to jump to stock cars, but sources close to the situation say a lack of oval course experience may prevent him from making the move as soon as expected.

Team Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has said he is interested in helping Speed – either by expanding his Nextel Cup team to three cars, or with sponsorship – but NASCAR has stringent guidelines that must be met before any driver is approved for competition. The sanctioning body is believed unlikely to approve Speed for even a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ride, without at least a few oval track starts on his resume.

Team Red Bull Director of Competition Elton Sawyer said this week that both Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger will return in 2008, with Speed as more of a long-term project. “Our two drivers will be back," he said. “Scott Speed is a Red Bull athlete, which means we'll do whatever we can to introduce him to this form of racing. But I don't think you'll see him in a Cup car with our team next year."

Braun To Make ARCA Debut: Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series star Colin Braun will drive in Friday night's ARCA RE/MAX Series race at Gateway International Speedway, steering a #99 Ford Fusion fielded by Roush Fenway Racing.

The 18-year old Braun became the youngest driver to win a major North American motorsports event when he steered a Krohn Racing Daytona Prototype to victory in the Brumos 250 at Daytona International Speedway, and became the youngest podium finisher in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans 24 with a second-place finish earlier this season.

Braun recently signed long-term contracts with Roush Fenway Racing and Ford, and will compete in selected ARCA events this season, before contesting the full ARCA schedule in 2008.

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