Friday, November 28, 2008

The Best And Worst Of 2008

The just-completed 2008 season featured a number of highlights, and plenty of lowlights, as well. Here are a few of Dave's thoughts on both fronts, in an effort to kick-start a conversation for today's "Post Turkey Day" edition of Sirius Speedway...


Jimmie, Part III: Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus did what only one other team in the history of the sport had ever done, winning their third consecutive Sprint Cup Series championship. Incredible consistency combined with seven victories to make the #48 team the best in the business once again, and they will almost certainly be favored for a four-peat in 2009.

Carl Edwards: He combined aw-shucks humility, the kind of intensity that prompted him to wrap his hands around a fellow driver’s neck every now and again, and the raw skill necessary to compete for both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series championships. A premier wheelman who’s great with the fans and media, as well, Edwards will be a part of NASCAR’s championship picture for years to come.

Kyle Busch: Eight wins in the Sprint Cup ranks, combined with 10 Nationwide victories and three more in the Truck Series made Shrubby the fastest gun in NASCAR this season. The air went out of his balloon once the Chase began, but Busch served notice that he will be someone to reckon with in 2009, and beyond.

The COT: Pronounced “dead on arrival” and “undriveable” by some drivers and media members a year ago, NASCAR’s new racer improved dramatically in 2008. It raced well just about everywhere, despite having its implementation timetable accelerated by one full year. It also saved Michael McDowell’s life in an early April qualifying crash at Texas Motor Speedway. `Nuff said.


Empty Seats on Race Day: The plunging economy took its toll on NASCAR this season, with empty seats the norm at most venues. Skyrocketing gasoline prices trimmed the number of motorhomes in the infield lots, as well, making it a gloomy season for track operators. The good news is that there were still between 60,000 and 100,000 fans at most races; numbers that make the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball pale by comparison.

Hornaday’s Media Nightmare: After a Mike Wallace/60 Minutes-style ambush interview in early September, ESPN The Magazine writer Shaun Assael set new standards in yellow journalism when he wrote that former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday had “received shipments of testosterone and human growth hormone from an anti-aging center that has been linked to drug-related scandals in the NFL and Major League Baseball.” In his zeal to portray Hornaday as a 600-horsepower version of Jose Canseco, Assael slow-played the fact that Hornaday briefly used only a mild steroid cream to treat a diagnosed case of Graves disease. After a shameless, weeklong media frenzy, Hornaday was cleared of any wrongdoing. No apology was ever issued by Assael or ESPN The Magazine.

Indy: There’s plenty of blame to be shared for the July 27 debacle at the Brickyard. Goodyear failed to adequately test the tires they planned to use in the event, NASCAR stubbornly insisted that the problem would fix itself in time, and race teams continued to “push” tires that clearly were not up to the challenge. End result? A stop-and-go race that would have tested the patience of Job, thousands of irate fans and a public relations nightmare of unprecedented proportions.

It’s not over yet, either. Just wait and see what the ticket sales look like for the 2009 edition.

Plight of the Open Wheel Rookies: Jacques Villeneuve never made it out of Daytona Beach in February.

Dario Franchitti had barely gotten his bearings when a broken leg in a Talladega Nationwide race sidelined him for more than a month. Lot long after returning, his team was shuttered due to lack of sponsorship. He’ll be back in an IndyCar in 2009, after never truly getting a fair crack at NASCAR.

Fellow Open Wheel alum Patrick Carpentier was a victim of… well, I’m not sure what he was a victim of, other than a team that was unwilling to wait for a rookie driver – a driver they chose -- to adapt to his new surroundings. Simply put, Patty C took a royal screwing this year.

The Layoffs: The excitement of Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway was muted by a series of layoffs that shook the NASCAR garage. A handful of particularly tactless teams laid off employees in the back of their haulers before the season finale, and the blood-letting continued in Charlotte the following week. In all, it is expected that 700-1,200 workers have lost their jobs in the last month, as teams tighten their belts for what will certainly be a leaner season in 2009.

Pepsi Steve Strikes Again!

Loyal listener "Pepsi Steve" Buhala checks in with his version of a possible James Hylton-driven Chevrolet for the 2009 Daytona 500. Click on the photo for a larger view.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NASCAR Must Be Doing Something Right

General Motors announced yesterday that In an effort to cut costs, it will opt-out of its endorsement deal with golf megastar Tiger Woods. Tiger’s endorsement deal with Buick is reportedly worth $7 million per year, and had at least a year remaining.

Chevrolet has also trimmed its spending in NASCAR recently, with cutbacks in event sponsorship, signage and support programs like pace cars and safety vehicles. But Chevrolet’s decision to continue supporting teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, and the new Earnhardt-Ganassi and Stewart Haas Racing teams – to the tune of a reported $100 million per year – says a lot about the return GM brass is apparently seeing on their NASCAR sponsorship dollar. Clearly, General Motors believes it is getting more from its relationships with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., than it is from its relationship with the man recognized as arguably the greatest golfer of all time.

That has got to be a good sign.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dodson Critical After Highway Crash

Carl Edwards’ USAC Silver Crown Series driver was critically injured in a highway crash Wednesday in Indiana.

20-year old Cameron Dodson was thrown from his vehicle when it left the road and crashed into a ditch near his home in Greenfield, Indiana early Wednesday. He was airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis and is listed in critical condition with undisclosed injuries. The 2007 USAC Silver Crown Series Rookie of the Year drove four races for Edwards’ team this season, with a win, two seconds and a sixth-place finish, including a runner-up showing in the annual Copper Classic at Phoenix International Raceway two weeks ago. Authorities said Dodson was not wearing a seat belt.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


"Sirius Speedway's Most Wanted," aka Mike Weaver, pictured with the MRN Radio Satellite Truck. If you see him, tell him you love him in that oh-so-special way!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Commentary: Downsizing Difficult, But Necessary

These are trying times for those who work in the motorsports industry in Charlotte, North Carolina.

NASCAR is downsizing, with new rounds of employee layoffs announced on a daily basis. And for the tens of thousands of people whose livelihood depends on the roar of racing engines, the monthly mortgage payment seems suddenly less secure.

Furniture Row Racing announced recently that it will cut back to a part-time schedule next season, trimming its employee roster by roughly 25%. Wood Brothers Racing cut its Sprint Cup and Craftsman Truck teams by a reported 25 people this week, and both Stewart-Hass and Hall of Fame Racing handed out multiple pink slips of their own. Dale Earnhardt, Inc., terminated more than 100 employees recently, and there have been cutbacks at Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, as well.

The Wood Brothers, DEI and Hall Of Fame layoffs can be directly attributed to an inability to attract sponsorship in these tough economic times. Furniture Row’s cutbacks came after discouraging forecasts on the housing and retail fronts. Not every team is laying off employees in response to a looming financial crisis, however. Some are simply tightening their belts after realizing that they’ve been living too high on the hog for too long.

While a sagging economy is to blame for many of the layoffs scything their way through this sport, seven-time Cup Series champion Richard Petty says he and his fellow team owner share some of the blame, as well. Petty said, "We've all overspent. We had it so good we just kept going forward without saying, 'What if it goes bad?'"

Many of King Richard’s fellow owners admit – off the record, of course – that bad business decisions have exacerbated the current economic downturn, and that they are now paring-back operations that grew larger (and flashier) than necessary.

As little as a decade ago, teams won races with only a small handful of mechanics and fabricators. They built the cars, then loaded them on the transporters and followed them to the racetrack, serving as race day mechanic and over-the-wall crewmember, all in one.

Today, those same jobs are handled by dozens of specialists, who generally do one thing and nothing else. Top teams employ hundreds of fabricators to build the chassis and hang the bodies; dozens of specialists to handle gears, shocks and tires; and “travel teams” who fly in on race weekend to maintain and service the cars. A prominent Sprint Cup Series owner admitted to me recently that 18-20 fabricators are involved in the construction of each of his racecars. Asked how many he absolutely needs to do the job, he sheepishly replied, “six or eight.”

NASCAR’s new Car Of Tomorrow has swelled the corporate payroll, as well, as teams attempted to develop the new racecar while continuing to race the old model. Now that the COT has been fully implemented -- a year ahead of NASCAR’s original schedule -- there is less R&D being done, fewer cars being built, and less need for all those engineers and fabricators.

Jack Roush said recently that most of those laid off at Roush-Fenway Racing have been fabricators. “If you look at where we were a year ago, we were running two different kinds of cars,” he said. “That required a staffing increase for most of the teams.” Now that the COT has been refined and implemented, those workers are no longer needed.

The last few weeks have been extremely difficult, and there is more hardship to come. Every pink slip handed out is a real person; with a real family, a real mortgage, and real bills to pay. Let's not lose track of that sad fact, even as the sport undergoes what many believe is a long overdue correction in course.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Commentary: Economics...And Class

I have heard from at least four different people today that crewmembers were being released in the back of their respective transporters yesterday; told that they would no longer be needed on their return to town this morning.

I understand that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing is a business. Big business. I also understand that the realities of today’s economy make dramatic cutbacks necessary. By the time it’s over, an estimated 750 to 1,000 people will be newly unemployed here in the Charlotte area, but firing someone before the final race of the season – in the back of the hauler, no less – is a thoroughly classless way to do business.

I’m not going to name names here – more out of respect to the fired workers than their bosses – but if those team members were a classless as their respective owners and team managers apparently are, they would have waited until Sunday’s final round of pit stops, then thrown down their impact guns and walked off the job, saying, “change your own damned tires. I’m going home.”

Allmendinger, Riggs In Running For #41 Ride

Sources close to the new Dale Earnhardt, Inc./Chip Ganassi Racing alliance say the decision on who drives their #41 car next season is down to two drivers; Scott Riggs and AJ Allmendinger.

Riggs has sponsorship money from State Water Heaters and Hunt Brothers Pizza to bring to the deal, while Allmendinger has impressed with his on-track performance this season. If Riggs gets the nod, Ganassi Racing’s Target sponsorship will reportedly move to the #8 Chevrolet, to be driven next season by Aric Almirola.

Team principals were reportedly waiting to see the results of yesterday’s race before deciding who gets the ride. Both drivers had good days, with Allmendinger finishing 11th and Riggs 14th.

In a related story, Richard Childress said this weekend that a meeting is scheduled for tomorrow to finalize plans to bring Ganassi Racing into the Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines program. He said he expected those talks to be successful, even though Chip Ganassi has expressed a desire to keep his own engine program going. Childress did not rule out the possibility of some of Ganassi's engine shop employees moving to ECR.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

DEI-Ganassi Deal Imminent

The long-speculated partnership between Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates now appears to be imminent. Sources close to the situation tell Sirius Speedway that while the deal cannot technically be classified as a merger, an announcement is expected within the next few days regarding a competitive and economic partnership between the two teams.

The deal will allow DEI and Ganassi to field at least three cars next season with drivers Martin Truex, Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya and Aric Almirola. A fourth car is possible, dependant on sponsorship. There is no word on potential manufacturer affiliations, with DEI currently aligned with Chevrolet, and Ganassi in the Dodge camp.

BB&T Backs Bowyer: BB&T Corporation will sponsor Clint Bowyer’s #33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races next season.

BB&T’s burgundy and gold paint scheme will be on the #33 Impala for 10 point-counting races –- beginning with the March 8th event at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- and the Sprint Cup All-Star Race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May. BB&T will serve as a major associate sponsor for the remaining 26 races, with Cheerios and Hamburger Helper as primary backers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

UPDATE: Martin-Red Bull Deal Off; Nixed By GM Executives

Mark Martin's deal to drive the #84 Red Bull Toyota this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway has apparently fallen through. Sources close to the team say the deal was signed, sealed and all but delivered, only to have high level executives at General Motors nix it at the last minute.

Martin is set to drive a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet full-time next season, and when GM brass got wind of Red Bull's plans, a series of phone calls was made to scuttle the deal just minutes before a press release was to be issued announcing it. The end result is reportedly an angry Martin, a disappointed Red Bull Racing Team, and a "Plan B" that could result in Scott Speed and Brian Vickers trading cars this weekend in Miami. With the #84 Toyota currently 17 points out of the all-important Top-35 in owners' points, it's possible that Vickers could be asked to drive the car this weekend, in an attempt to maximize its points potential.

Furniture Row To Cut 2009 Schedule

Furniture Row Racing announced today that it will cut back to a limited 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule with driver Joe Nemechek and the #78 Chevrolet.

Furniture Row operates as part of the Furniture Row Companies; one the nation's largest furniture retailers. Company President Tom Faulkner said he is reining-in all expenses in response to a plummeting economy and discouraging retail sales projections.

"Running a limited schedule is simply a cautionary measure," said Faulkner. "While we've been faring significantly better than most in our category, it's no secret that our business is tied to the health of the economy - in particular, housing starts and real estate sales."

In only its third year as a Sprint Cup Series team, Furniture Row Racing is about to complete its best season yet, having qualified for 31 out of the 35 races to date. The highlight of their year was a pole position at Talladega.

Furniture Row Racing President Joe Garone said the cutback "has nothing to do with on-track performance," calling it "simply a business decision...of balancing priorities in a tough economy."

While no announcements were made regarding staffing or organizational changes, Garone said, "We've got some tough decisions to make. We all know it will take fewer people and resources to run a limited versus full schedule, but we're also optimistic that our best days are still ahead of us."

More Merger Mania: Published reports today say that a deal may be in the works to team the legendary Wood Brothers with Hall Of Fame Racing.

Hall Of Fame owners Jeffrey Moorad and Tom Garfinkle are not expected to continue their relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing beyond this season, and sources tell Sirius Speedway that serious discussions are underway to forge an alliance with the Wood Brothers and Ford Motor Company.

Moorad told that the team is assessing all its options for the future, and has “talked to a couple of teams about some interesting merger possibilities.” Moorad said his preference is to have the #96 team continue, but that he is open to other possibilities.

France: NASCAR Could Survive Manufacturer Pullout

NASCAR Chairman Brian France said Sunday that the sanctioning body will remain a viable entity, with or without the continued support of General Motors, Ford, Dodge and Toyota. France said the struggling economy and plummeting auto sales could conceivably force one or more of the automakers to reduce support to race teams, or even withdraw from the sport entirely. But he stressed that even if that happens, the sport will survive.

“We're not going to live or die if one manufacturer or another has a pullback or pullout," said France. "We're working like mad to make sure it doesn't happen, (and) the sport is on very solid ground that transcends one manufacturer or another."

He revealed that he and NASCAR President Mike Helton have met with high-ranking executives of all four manufacturers, and that each of them agreed that the sport remains an important and effective marketing tool. "Each (of them) went out of their way to tell me that while there are pullbacks and cuts to meet these challenges, the last thing would be to abandon something that works so well," he said.

France also expressed confidence that NASCAR will have full, 43-car fields next season.

Monday, November 10, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Martin To Drive Red Bull #84 At Homestead

Sirius Speedway has learned that Mark Martin will drive the #84 Red Bull Toyota this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, replacing Scott Speed.

Since taking over for the released AJ Allmendinger four races ago, Speed has recorded an average finish of 34.2, including a 40th yesterday in Phoenix. The team has fallen out of the Top-35 in owners’ points, now trailing the Michael Waltrip Motorsports #47 team by 16 points with one race to go in the battle for the 35th position in owner points. An official announcement is expected from the team later this afternoon.

Martin enjoys a long relationship with Red Bull General Manager Jay Frye, for whom he drove at the former MB3/Ginn Racing. He ran his final scheduled race for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., yesterday in Phoenix, and will move to Hendrick Motorsports in 2009. His arrangement with Red Bull Racing is for one race only, and will have no impact on the team's long term plans wit Speed.

BDR/GEM Merger Off: Team owner Bill Davis said this weekend that a possible merger involving his Sprint Cup Series team has fallen through.

Widespread reports in recent weeks had Davis negotiating with Gillett-Evernham Motorsports majority owner George Gillett about a merger or outright purchase of Bill Davis Racing’s Cup operation, with a possible move by Gillett-Evernham to the Toyota camp. Sources told Sirius Speedway this weekend that Gillett has been unable to secure financing for the deal, and that talks have now stalled.

Davis did not comment specifically on a rumors of a merger with GEM, but admitted that he thought he had a potential merger done recently, only to have it fall through.

In a related story, sources close to Bill Davis Racing say that NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point leader Johnny Benson will move to Red Horse Racing next season, taking the majority of his current team -- and possibly his sponsor – along with him. Benson will race as a teammate to David Starr, reportedly with the backing of Benson’s current sponsor, Toyota Certified Used Vehicles. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Sderies point leader has declined to comment on his future plans recently, saying only that he will not return to BDR in 2009, and has contemplated retirement.

However, multiple sources close to the team say that crewchief Trip Bruce has already cleaned out his desk at BDR in anticipation of a move to Red Horse, which is co-owned by Tom Deloach and NASCAR On FOX commentator Jeff Hammond. Starr will reportedly run a full schedule for Red Horse in 2009, with backing from Zachry Holdings, Inc., which joined the team last month.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yeley: HOF-JGR Alliance Not What It Appears

Former Hall Of Fame Racing driver JJ Yeley spoke out about his tenure with the team this week, claiming that Hall Of Fame’s chassis and engine alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing was not what it appeared to be, and that he was unfairly targeted as the cause of the team’s poor performance.

HOF owners Jeffrey Moorad and Tom Garfinkel inherited the Gibbs alliance when they purchased the operation from former owners Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, and joined JGR in a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota during the off-season. In an interview with the Arizona Republic this week, Yeley claims there was no exchange of technical information between Hall Of Fame and Joe Gibbs Racing, and that he did not receive the same equipment as JGR drivers Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

"There were promises of big-name crewchiefs and a lot of testing, (but) these were things we never really got to do," said Yeley. “(The owners) started hanging the blame and pressure on me. I hope now they realize it wasn't the driver.” He said Moorad and Garfinkel “thought the relationship (they) had with Joe Gibbs Racing was better than it was. Because they thought they had a better product than they really did, it almost made them blind that they had a problem."

When Yeley failed to qualify for four of the season’s first 21 races, sponsor DLP HDTV exercised a clause in its contract that reduced its payments to the team. Yeley was released in August, shortly after the #96 team fell out of the Top-35 in owners’ points.

Garfinkel insists that Yeley’s release was related to performance, not sponsorship. He admitted, however, that the relationship between HOF and JGR was not what he hoped it would be.

"We inherited a contract that didn't have a lot of flexibility to it,” he said. “It was more of a customer-supplier relationship than an alliance. We were hopeful we could evolve the relationship in that direction, and that didn't take place." He said there will be no alliance with Gibbs next season, and that the team’s #96 Toyota is not fully sponsored for 2009.

Yeley recently hired a marketing firm to help him secure a sponsorship that he says could put him in a Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet next season. That effort includes an eBay listing offering a full season of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, in exchange for $12 million in sponsorship.

ISC Declined 1999 Kentucky Speedway Purchase

Papers filed in the ongoing lawsuit between Kentucky Speedway, International Speedway Corporation and NASCAR reveal that ISC declined at least one offer to purchase the track, because it did not mesh with the sanctioning body’s expansion plans.

In a legal brief filed Tuesday, attorneys claim that former Kentucky Speedway owner Jerry Carroll attempted to sell the track to ISC beginning in 1999 for $186 million; far more than the $78.3 million rival Speedway Motorsports, Inc., paid for the track earlier this year. ISC declined the offer, saying that a race in that market “would not further NASCAR’s expansion goals.”

Attorneys also repeated their longstanding contention that as a private company, NASCAR has the right to choose where and when it races, saying NASCAR and ISC did not violate antitrust laws by denying a race to Kentucky Speedway. Final arguments have yet to be filed by either side, meaning that hearings will likely not begin until January of next year, at the earliest.

In an interesting aside, figures cited in this week’s filing claim that in 206, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was worth $6.51 million to a track operator.

Benson Moving?: reported today that NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point leader Johnny Benson will leave Bill Davis Racing at the end of this season.

Spokespersons for Bill Davis Racing declined to comment on the story, which cited a source close to Benson. The team did announce yesterday that 19-year old Tayler Malsam will drive a fourth Toyota Tundra for them on the Truck Series next year.

Benson has made no announcement about his 2009 plans, but has hinted that retirement could be an option. The 1995 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion will join us Thursday on Sirius Speedway.

Hendrick Layoffs:The economic downturn has reached the doorstep of NASCAR’s top team, as Hendrick Motorsports underwent what is being termed "a modest round of layoffs" this week that included Jimmie Johnson's spotter, Stevie Reeves. Reeves confirmed Tuesday that he has been informed that he will not return to the #48 team next season, and has already been contacted by other teams about the 2009 campaign. Reeves will spot for Johnson in the final two races at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami Speedways.

And Finally: O'Reilly Auto Parts has signed an exclusive, multi-year agreement to become the Official Auto Parts Retailer of NASCAR. The agreement allows for O'Reilly Auto Parts to utilize NASCAR marks and marketing programs in its stores and related media. O'Reilly will become a contingency sponsor, and provide season-ending awards in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The auto parts chain sponsored six NASCAR races this season, including Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series events at Texas and Phoenix.