Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Weepers and Blowers and Rain...OH MY!

NASCAR found itself in a no-win situation Sunday night in Fontana, California.

Heavy rains red-flagged the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series “Auto Club 500” on two different occasions, while residue from a week of steady precipitation seeped through cracks in the asphalt, making conditions unsafe for competition. With a national TV audience and a small-but-determined crowd watching from in the grandstands, NASCAR worked for hours to restart the event; burning hundreds of gallons of jet fuel and hundreds of man-hours in an effort to bring the track back to raceable condition. Eventually, however, reality could no longer be denied.

NASCAR officials called it a night at 1:55 a.m. ET -- after four hours and 42 minutes of track-drying activity – rescheduling the race for Monday morning, followed by the NASCAR Nationwide Series event that had met a similar fate the previous day.

Before the decision was even announced, NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton said he knew it would be unpopular. “It quit raining, and we owed it to the fans who are here to try to do our best to get the show in,” he said. “Many times it’s only an hour, (or) an hour and a half to dry the racetrack. We worked at it 4 1/2 hours and still couldn’t get it dry. You can be upset at us for trying if you want to be, and that’s fair, but we’re always going to put our best foot forward. With the lights, we thought we could get it pulled off, but it didn’t work.”

Pemberton said that while most areas of the track were dry, “by the time we got back to them on another lap -- 20 minutes or so later with another set of dryers -- they had already picked up moisture again. The weepers will always be an issue. At a lot of racetracks that we go to, we have that from time to time. But even on the regular surface, it was quite wet.”

Sunday night’s debacle was the latest in a series of calamities for the Fontana oval; a track that can’t seem to buy itself a break. Attendance was once again abysmal throughout the weekend, but even if the weather had been warm and dry, there are serious questions about how many tickets would have been sold for this weekend’s festivities.

Attendance for Saturday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series “San Bernardino County 200” was announced at 37,000, but with all due respect to Gillian Zucker and her staff at Auto Club Speedway, there weren’t 37,000 people in attendance Saturday night if every woman in the house was pregnant with triplets.

That’s not negativity. that’s a simple statement of fact.

Inclement weather -- and an extended forecast that promised more of the same -- adversely impacted walkup traffic on both Saturday and Sunday. But blaming Fontana’s traditionally poor attendance solely on the weather is -– in my opinion –- short-sighted. There are a number of factors that contribute to Auto Club Speedway’s status as one of the least-favored tracks in all of NASCAR.

1. Location – Auto Club Raceway’s location is less than ideal, to say the least. On a good day, the track is located roughly an hour from downtown Los Angeles. On a Friday or Saturday night, it’s more like four hours. Simply put, race fans in the Greater L.A. market know they have little chance of making it to a Friday or Saturday race at Auto Club Speedway in time for the green flag. So they’ve simply stopped trying.

2. Lack Of Competition – Sunday’s Auto Club 500 was the probably the most competitive race in the history of the speedway; breaking the record for lead changes and featuring a good deal of passing at the front of the pack. By California standards, it was a great race. By the standards of most any other track, it was average. Auto Club Speedway was built with both NASCAR and Open Wheel racing in mind, and its mild, 14-degree banking is simply not conducive to the kind of side-by-side competition NASCAR fans demand. Tear up the track and add the same incremental banking that resurrected Homestead-Miami Speedway a few years ago, and then we’ll talk. Until then, Auto Club Speedway will remain one of the least-exciting venues on the Sprint Cup schedule.

3. Shoddy Scheduling – Running the Auto Club 500 head-to-head with the 80th Annual Academy Awards defies all logic. While the audiences for the two events are exclusive to a great degree, the competition for media attention in the LA market was keen this weekend.

Los Angeles may be one of the biggest media markets in the country, but there were clearly not enough cameramen and reporters to cover both the Oscars and the race. In fact, more paparazzi lined the red carpet at the Kodak Theatre Saturday night than showed up at Auto Club Speedway all weekend.

4. Lack Of Promotion – Once again, Auto Club Speedway got its promotional butt kicked by its competition to the northwest, Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Before the decision had even been made to postpone Saturday’s Nationwide race, there were radio ads running in the L.A. market touting a $25 ticket to next weekend’s Nationwide event at LVMS for any fan presenting a California ticket stub. Had the Auto Club Speedway PR people been even remotely on their toes, they could have thrown together a promotion allowing fans holding tickets for the postponed Nationwide race to see both ends of the rescheduled Monday doubleheader for a modest additional fee. To my knowledge, no such deal was offered.

Year after year, Auto Club Speedway seems content to set a ticket price, open the box office door and wait for people to show up. Meanwhile, Las Vegas Motor Speedway rolls out one ingenious promotion after another, drawing thousands of fans away from Fontana. Is it any wonder why Las Vegas plays to packed houses, while Auto Club Speedway sits two-thirds empty?

5. Convenience – The Fontana faclity offers fewer options for campers than any other track on the circuit. The track’s infield is jammed with RVs, but space is strictly limited. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Compare Auto Club’s extremely limited camping options with those at Phoenix, Las Vegas or Infineon Raceway, and you’ll understand why many fans have crossed California off their list.

6. Weather – In our last two trips to Auto Club Raceway, we have endured oppressive, 110-degree heat and high humidity, then rain and 40-degree temperatures. As one unnamed NASCAR official said to me Sunday night as the rain pelted down, “Even God doesn’t want us to race here.” The crappy weather excuse was not enough to save Rockingham’s Sprint Cup Series dates. One has to wonder how long NASCAR will continue to accept it as an excuse for thousands of empty seats in Fontana.

Do I have answers to all the problems that continue to plague Auto Club Speedway?

Absolutely not. In fact, I’m not even sure I understand all the questions. But there are clearly a number of issues that need to be addressed there, and adding a flashy corporate logo to the masthead doesn't address any of them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

NASCAR Drops The Hammer On Robby Gordon For Speedweek Violation

NASCAR has issued penalties and fines to Robby Gordon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team for rule infractions found during Speedweeks at Daytona. The car was found with an unapproved front bumper cover during opening day inspection on February 8th. Gordon was penalized 100 driver and owner points, and crewchief Frank Kerr has been fined $100,000, suspended for the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events -- until April 9 -- and placed on probation until Dec. 31, 2008.

The penalties struck some observers as excessive, since the violations were – by almost all counts – inadvertent; the result of Dodge Motorsports sending Gordon an incorrect, unapproved nose. However, the NASCAR rulebook makes no mention of intent, and NASCAR has never considered whether or not a team meant to be illegal when applying penalties. In short, it doesn’t matter why the car isn’t right, it only matters if it’s right. And if it’s not right, expect the sanctioning body to drop the hammer.

While Gordon’s penalty is the talk of the town today, Speedweek 2008 was a decidedly calm one in the Sprint Cup Series garage. In contrast to past seasons, when huge piles of confiscated parts accumulated throughout the week, Gordon’s offending bumper cover was the only part that failed to pass muster with NASCAR inspectors. No crewchiefs were escorted from the property, no cars impounded, and Kerr will be the only man not welcome on the property this weekend in California.

Things definitely did not go as well in the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck garages.
On the Nationwide side, a whopping seven teams were penalized for various violations. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 5 car was found with rear spoiler ends that failed to meet the specified height, along with a rear spoiler that had been altered after inspection to improve its aerodynamics. Earnhardt and car owner Rick Hendrick were each penalized 50 points, which is essentially a non-penalty, since they will contest a very small number of races this season. Crewchief Chad Walter took it on the chin, though, receiving a $25,000 fine, a suspension for the next six races (until April 9th) and probation until Dec. 31st.

Five other Nationwide cars were found with unsecured oil reservoir tank covers during post-qualifying inspection. Each of their driver/owner combinations -- Kertus Davis/Johnny Davis for the #0; Johnny Sauter/James Finch for the #1; David Gilliland/Carl Haas for the #14; David Stremme/Ed Rensi for the #64; and Cale Gale/ DeLana Harvick for the #77 -- were docked 25 driver/owner points each. Crewchiefs Gene Allnutt (# 0); Newt Moore (#1); Bob Edwards (#14); Steve Darne (#64); and Charlie Wilson (#77) have each been fined $15,000, suspended for the next six events and placed on probation until Dec. 31st. Jerry Baxter, crewchief for David Reutimann’s Michel Waltrip Racing Toyota, received a $5,000 fine and probation until July 9th for carburetor venturis that exceeded the specified size.

On the NASCAR Craftsman Trucks Series, penalties and fines were assessed to the #30 of Todd Bodine, which was found with a device designed to reduce the bed panel height at the points of inspection during pre-qualifying inspection on Feb. 14. As a result, Bodine lost 25 driver points, with owner Stephen Germain penalized 25 owner points. Crewchief Mike Hillman Jr. was fined $10,000 and suspended for the next four races – through April 30th -- and placed on probation until Dec. 31st. The #33 of Ron Hornaday Jr. was found to have spoiler braces that exceeded the maximum one-inch width, earning a $5,000 fine for crewchief Rick Ren.

Clanton Out At Roush-Fenway; Kvapil To Drive #09 Truck in California

It didn't take long for the first driver change of 2008 to take place.

Just one race into the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule, Roush Fenway Racing announced today that Travis Kvapil will replace Joey Clanton in the No. 09 Zaxby's Ford for this weekend's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series San Bernardino County 200 at California Speedway.

Clanton ran among the top-10 for most of last Friday night’s season opener at Daytona, before crashing late en route to a 32nd place finish. Roush was visibly upset following the crash, and said today that he will re-evaluate his plans for the team after Saturday’s race.

Clanton, meanwhile, said he is satisfied with the team’s decision, adding, “I have made the decision that it is time for me to pursue other opportunities. I have several business and family obligations, and it is time to focus on them right now." A year ago, he recorded a best finish of sixth (twice) in 16 Truck Series starts.

IROC On The Block: International Race of Champions officials have announced that the series will liquidate all its assets in a public auction on March 7th and 8th in Tinton Falls, NJ. The series has been dormant since the conclusion of the 2006 season due to lack of sponsorship.

IROC President Jay Signore said, “We’re all very sad to see IROC come to an end, but the competition for major corporate sponsorship is very tough, and the car manufacturers have not shown any interest. We kept hope alive as long as we could, but now it’s time to look forward and move on.”

Among the items set to go on the auction block are approximately a dozen race ready cars, tools and equipment, driver uniforms, helmets and autographed pictures.

Martin's Milestone: Mark Martin will make his 700th career Sprint Cup start this weekend at California Speedway, becoming only the 13th driver in NASCAR history to reach that milestone. Martin’s Principal Financial Chevrolet will feature a paint scheme showcasing his 700th start, dating back to April 5, 1981 at North Wilkesboro Speedway, where Martin started fifth and finished 27th.

Bliss Truckin' In Cali: Former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Mike Bliss will drive the No. 07 SS-Green Light Racing Chevrolet in Saturday's San Bernardino 200 at California Speedway. The deal is for one race only, as Bliss concentrates on the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where he drives the No. 22 Dodge for Fitz Motorsports.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fun On Lake Lloyd

Many thanks to the fine folks at the Darrell Gwynn Foundation and Eliminator Boats for taking the Sirius Speedway crew for a wide-open SpeedWeek tour of Daytona International Speedway's Lake Lloyd. Eliminator Boats has built a special, 50th Anniversary Daytona 500 Edition boat -- complete with a V-10 Dodge Viper powerplant -- to be auctioned off at the upcoming Barrett Jackson Auto Auction, with the proceeds going to the Darrell Gwynn Foundation. Dave, Ryan and MRN Radio's Jeff Striegle were treated to a 100-mph test drive, and take it from us: that's one ROCKIN' boat. We also took a spin in the companion Budweiser/Kasey Kahne boat, equipped with a 355 c.i.d. V8 engine and a three-liter blower!

Thanks to Kevin Striegle of FlatFootRacin.com for the photo.

Miller: Teamwork Paying Off For Penske

Former Penske Racing President Don Miller told Sirius Speedway yesterday that the teamwork displayed by drivers Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish, Jr., in Sunday's Daytna 500 is a significant improvement over the days when Newman and former Sprint Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace shared the stable.

"I'll be very frank with you," said Miller in an exclusive Sirius Speedway interview. "We struggled getting the cooperation between our two drivers a couple of years back, as you know. It was difficult, because even though you are in the same building and you've got two guys who really want to win, if they don't want to work together, it makes everybody's life a little bit more difficult.

"Over the past couple of years that Ryan and Kurt have been running together, they have built a really strong confidence situation as far as (saying), 'Hey, if I'm in a position to help you, you know I'm going to help you.' People that paid attention probably saw that quite a few times last year."

Newman echoed those thoughts in numerous post-race interviews Sunday; including one fairly awkward affair conducted in part by Wallace. The newly crowned Daytona 500 champion said he never could have win without the efforts of Busch, who he called, "a great teammate and a tremendous team player."

Miller, meanwhile, said he believes Sunday's victory is just the beginning for Newman and Penske Racing.

"I think they're going to be pretty tough all year long," he said. "We're making some really good power, and I think that the reliability is back. Looking at the tests that Kurt and Ryan completed in California and in Las Vegas, they both ran really, really good. So I think they're going to be pretty tough to deal with all year long."

Au Revoir, JV: It appears that Jacques Villeneuve’s NASCAR Sprint Cup career could be over, almost as quickly as it began. The former F1 World Champion has scheduled a press conference in Montreal tomorrow to announce his future plans, and sources say he will not return to the Bill Davis Racing #27 Toyota. Villeneuve failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 after crashing out of his Gatorade Duel qualifier, and has not been able to attract the sponsorship necessary to secure a full Rookie of the Year attempt. Now, he will reportedly announce plans to drive in the 24 hours of Le Mans in June, with options for a single NASCAR Nationwide Series start in Montreal, and a part time ARCA ride. Both are reportedly also contingent on sponsorship. Mike Skinner will drive the #27 BDR Toyota at California Speedway this weekend, with Johnny Benson also sharing time in the car this season.

500 Ratings Up: Sunday's 50th running of the Daytona 500 on FOX earned ratings slightly higher than a year ago, according to Nielsen Media Research. The overnight numbers showed a 10.2 rating and a 20 share, with the broadcast averaging 17.8 million viewers. Both the rating and average were 1% better than a year ago, and overall, 33.5 million Americans watched at least part of the race. The Daytona 500 remains far and away the top-rated event in American motorsports; more than doubling last year's Indianapolis 500.

Rensi Skipping Races: Bobby Hamilton Jr. said his Team Rensi Motorsports team will skip the NASCAR Nationwide Series races in Mexico City and Montreal this season, due to lack of financing. Hamilton’s #25 Ford has sponsorship for 30 races, and the team expects to secure backing for three more. But in his words, “As of now, we’re not going to Canada or Mexico. The bottom line is, it’s not in the budget.”

No Camaro After All: Those of us who have fantasized about an all-new, Pony Car-based NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2009 may be in for a disappointment. Published reports this week say that Chevrolet has decided not to use its new Camaro in the Nationwide Series next season, after all. Richard Childress Racing built a new, COT-based Nationwide entry for General Motors to test in the wind tunnel recently, and the car reportedly carried an Impala body, and not a Camaro. Sources close to the GM camp say the Chevy Malibu is also under consideration for use in the Series.

Ford Motor Company is reportedly considering reintroducing the Ford Taurus for competition on the Nationwide Series next season, while Dodge is expected to use the Challenger. No word from Toyota, though speculation continues to center on the Toyota Solara as the make of choice.

Penalties Coming: Expect announcements later today on possible penalties for Nationwide Series rules violations discovered last week at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR officials confiscated the carburetor from David Reutimann’s #99 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, after finding oversized venturis that allowed more air to pass through. NASCAR also confiscated the rear deck and spoiler from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s #5 Chevrolet Thursday night, after discovering what sources say was liberal aerodynamic modification of those parts. NASCAR considered sending crewchief Chad Walter home for the offense, but opted to allow him to remain on speedway grounds. Nationwide Series director Joe Balash said further sanctions will be announced today.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

THE KNOT IS TIED! William and Marianne finally did it, taking their vows after more than a decade of living in sin. Congratulations to the happy couple from all your friends at Sirius Speedway.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Report: AT&T Still Hoping To Stay Past 2008

Despite their agreement to leave the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the end of this season, this week’s SportsBusiness Journal reports that AT&T has not given up hope of remaining in the sport.

A lawsuit to determine whether the telecommunications company deserved to be grandfathered into the sport ended with a settlement in September that allowed AT&T to put its logo on Jeff Burton's Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, but only through the end of the 2008 season. Sources have told the Journal that Childress is still lobbying NASCAR to keep AT&T in the Sprint Cup Series beyond 2008; the first year of a three-year sponsorship contract that reportedly contains no exit provisions or refunds if AT&T is not allowed to remain. AT&T's annual sponsorship is believed to be between 16 and 18 million dollars per year.

NASCAR, meanwhile, says there is no option for AT&T to remain. Ramsey Poston, NASCAR's Managing Director of Communications, said, ""Nothing has changed. This is a closed issue. Agreements were made, and we expect all sides to live up to them. The fans certainly don't want to hear any more of this."

AT&T's official stance continues to be that it will abide by the agreement if nothing changes.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Pepsi Steve" Buhala has come through again, sparing every expense in his attempt to design a 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship Trophy that is an actual cup! Way to go all-out Steve-O!

Friday, February 01, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Gordon To Run Dodges in 2008 With Gillett Evernham Support

Gillett Evernham Motorsports announced a technical, manufacturing and marketing services agreement with Robby Gordon Motorsports today, meaning that Gordon will drive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Dodges this season. RGM will use Gillett Evernham Dodge engines beginning in practice next week at Daytonal joining BAM Racing and Petty Enterprises on the list of teams utilizing Gillett Evernham Motorsports engines and technical assistance.

Gordon whose 28th-place finish in owner points was the best of any single-car team in 2007, said, “I feel this agreement with Gillett Evernham Motorsports helps make the learning curve of the COT little bit easier to navigate. I like what they have going on over there and I think both organizations will benefit. As an owner I want to do what is best for my employees and sponsors.

"Ford has been very good to me, and this move is not a reflection on our relationship at all," said Gordon. "Ford was planning on supporting me, and even increasing its engineering support for my program in 2008. However, I felt that I needed to make this move to help put my team in a more stable financial situation in terms of marketing and sponsorship help."

Gordon is involved in Sprint Cup Series testing in California today, at the wheel of a Ford.

Attention Bruton Smith!

The National Hot Rod Association has been notified by HD Partners Acquisition Corporation that it did not receive the necessary number of votes to finalize the transaction announced last May to acquire all of NHRA’s professional racing assets.

Eddy Hartenstein, Chairman and CEO of HD Partners said, “We are very disappointed with today’s vote, given our collective enthusiasm for NHRA and the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Unfortunately, in the time since we first announced this transaction in May of 2007, we have witnessed a dramatic shift in both the financial markets and the perceived strength of the U.S. economy, which we believe adversely impacted the final outcome of this transaction. With that said, we continue to believe that the NHRA and the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, led by Tom Compton and his management team, are very vibrant properties with a bright future. We wish them all the best for continued success.”

NHRA will continue to operate as it has in the past, though a press release from the sanctioning body said, “Given the time and energy spent on this effort, NHRA has no plans to pursue a similar opportunity in the near future. For now, NHRA will remain focused on the business and continued growth of NHRA.“ Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA sanctions 24 events through its NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, and boasts 80,000 members and 140 member tracks.

Got Tickets???Daytona International Speedway officials announced yesterday that all grandstand seats for the 50th running of the Daytona 500have been sold, the earliest sellout in modern history. While the grandstands are sold out, DIS President Robin Braig said infield tickets are still available for the February 17TH “The Great American Race.” Fans can also still purchase tickets for other events surrounding the 50th running of the Daytona 500, including the 30th Annual Budweiser Shootout, the Gatorade Duel At Daytona, the Chevy Silverado 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race and the Camping World 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Not Mad, After All: Dale Earnhardt Jr. says his feelings about the lack of memorabilia on display at Dale Earnhardt Inc. during last week’s NASCAR Media Tour have been mischaracterized, and that he has no hard feelings toward the company.

He wrote on his website, "There is no anger or ill-feeling towards DEI, period. Nearly half the cars that were moved out of the showroom to accommodate the media tour (were) cars I've won races and championships with, and any fan of mine who wants a glimpse of my past can still find it at DEI.”

He also repeated his past praise for DEI President Max Siegel, calling him “honest, direct, and supportive,” and saying both parties sincerely wish success for each other. Siegel, said yesterday that the missing cars and memorabilia were returned to the showroom after the media luncheon on Jan 23rd.

`Pops' Stays Atop The Box: After failing to come up with the right candidate in their search for a new crewchief for Brad Keselowski’s #88 NAVY Chevrolet Nationwide Series team, JR Motorsports has decided to stick with the tried and true. Tony Eury Sr., who joined the team last year as Director of Competition, will reportedly keep the crewchief’s job, after taking it on an interim basis last October.

It Was Just a Matter Of Time: Fans attending the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway March 7-9 will have a new seating option to choose from, a smoke and alcohol-free section in three grandstands. Nicorette HAS partnered with the speedway to sponsor the new smoke and alcohol-free sections. Section 156 in the Champions grandstand will be smoke and alcohol-free on Friday and Saturday. The entire Petty grandstand will be a smoke and alcohol-free family grandstand on Sunday, as will a section of the Elliott and Winners grandstands.