Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Daugherty Stands Tall In Martinsville Truck Test

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Brad Daugherty has watched lots of races at Martinsville Speedway as a fan, car owner and TV analyst for ESPN. After last month’s TUMS Fast Relief 500, he knew he had to turn some laps himself on the historic oval.

That’s what he did most of Wednesday, run laps at Martinsville Speedway, in a race truck, specially modified to allow plenty of room for his 7-foot-1 frame. The former NBA All-Star recorded some pretty good times, too, clocking in laps of under 22 seconds, which is within shouting distance of the qualifying speed for a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville.

“This is a great track. I think the biggest thing for Andy Petree (former Sprint Cup Series championship crew chief and fellow ESPN analyst) and I was the last race here,” said Daugherty, explaining why he picked Martinsville to test.

“I thought it (TUMS Fast Relief 500) was the best race we had all year, including the Homestead race, which was great … watching Carl and Tony battle. But that race we had here was just the best we had all season long. And when we left here, Andy was like, ‘we got to bring our stuff back here and runs some laps.’ This place is just cool.”

Petree, who has actually run a couple of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Martinsville, was back behind the wheel in his own truck Wednesday, helping show Daugherty the ropes. Not that he needed a lot of help. He’s been involved in racing since he was a teenager and driven in several different divisions over the years.

“I’ve been racing a little here and there, at Hickory and at Myrtle Beach. Probably over the last eight or nine years, I’ve raced more and more,” said Daugherty, a former All-American at the University of North Carolina. “I’ve raced for quite a while, but I’ve always just dabbled. I’ve never been able to do a lot because of basketball and the TV work I do.”

Daugherty plans on running much of the National Auto Sport Association Southeastern Regional schedule in a truck next season. That’s the reason he built the truck he had at Martinsville, one with an interior designed for his size.

“We took the oil cooler out from behind the seat and moved it up to the right front corner of the truck and moved the seat and cab back about 14 inches,” said Daugherty, who will have to do a little offseason work on the truck after scrubbing the wall late in Wednesday’s test. “It’s the first time I’ve ever had this much room in anything I’ve raced.”

Racing returns to Martinsville Speedway with the Kroger 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on March 31 and the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 on April 1. Tickets are on sale and may be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.

(Thanks to Ken Childs for the photos.)

TRG Motorsports Announces Layoffs

TRG Motorsports announced today that it has "temporarily scaled back" on payroll while continuing to search for sponsorship for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

An undisclosed number of employees have been laid off, though many or all of the effected crew members could be hired back next season. Team owner Kevin Buckler commented on the moves, saying, "I'm sad to announce the layoffs," but reiterated that the team's business model has always been lean and efficient, allowing TRG to have competitive advantages in difficult economic times.

"These seasonal layoffs are unfortunately necessary with the present economic environment," said Buckler. "We have kept our core shop, key business leaders, and administrative staff in place, and have actually enhanced our Sales and Marketing side; all in an effort to come back efficient, strong and funded in 2012. With many of the teams in front of us (in points) downsizing or closing all together, we are hoping that we could gain a position and re-take a spot in the Top 35, which would be fantastic."

He said the team will also be "enhancing their competition side with additional talent, in light of current layoffs at (other) major race teams." Buckler said TRG is keeping its options open with "several winning drivers" looking to secure a competitive seat for the upcoming 2012 Sprint Cup season.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: ThorSport To Toyota In 2012

The ThorSport Racing NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team will change to Toyota power in 2012.

The Duke and Rhonda Thorson-owned operation has campaigned Chevrolets since joining the circuit 16 years ago, with drivers Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton finishing second and eighth in the 2011 championship standings, respectively. The pair combined for three wins – including a victory by Sauter in the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway two weeks ago – and ThorSport Vice President of Motorsports Partnerships Matt Lanave said the desire to win more races in 2012 prompted a change in manufacturer.

“Were here to win races, and Toyota is all about winning races,” said LaNeve. “They came to us with a great package late last season, and now we’ve got a lot a lot of work to do to get ready for Daytona.”

LaNeve said the team’s support package will equal that of Kyle Busch Motorsports. “Kyle is obviously their driver, but we feel that with KBM, Red Horse Racing and now ThorSport, Toyota has the most dynamic lineup in the Camping World Truck Series. “They are putting a lot of resources behind us, and we’re getting everything we need to go out and race competitively. They want a Toyota to win, and that’s their bottom line.”

ThorSport Director of Competition David Pepper concurred, saying, “There is no ranking order within the Toyota organization. All they want is for a Toyota to win. The bar is set very high now; we are expected to go out and win races. We feel like we should be running 1-2-3 in the Truck Series, and win ARCA races and a record 10th series championship with Frank Kimmel, as well.

NASCAR Preview 2012 Set For January 21

With the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion's Gala just a few days away, planning for the NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint is now in high gear. Driver appearances by all three newly crowned 2011 NASCAR National Series champions have been confirmed for the fan-centric daylong event, located inside the Charlotte Convention Center on Saturday, Jan. 21.

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and first-time NASCAR Nationwide Series titlist Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and 2011 Camping World Truck Series champion Austin Dillon are all scheduled for two-hour appearances that include driver autographs and on-stage question-and-answer sessions.

The NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint is a new addition to the off season calendar. RJ Reynolds Tobacco hosted a similar Fan Preview in Winston Salem, NC for many years, and this new event is designed around a similar model. It will feature numerous driver and show car appearances, simulators, games, prizes and a host of other fan-friendly and interactive activities.

The NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint is part of the three-day NASCAR Acceleration Weekend from Jan. 20-22 in Charlotte, N.C. that gives fans an unprecedented experience through a combination of events and activities featuring the legends of the sport and stars of today. The weekend kicks off Friday, Jan. 20 with the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for the Class of 2012, featuring inductees Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Dale Inman, Richie Evans and Glen Wood. Following Saturday’s NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint, the new, Class of 2012 exhibits will be unveiled in the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Sunday, Jan. 22.

For many fans, the highlight of the weekend will be the opportunity to meet their favorite NASCAR driver. Stewart and other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will sign autographs in the Ballroom of the Charlotte Convention Center beginning at 9:15 a.m. on Sat., Jan. 21. Saturday at 7 a.m. in the Charlotte Convention Center Ballroom, wristbands will be distributed to a limited number of fans. Recipients must have an event ticket to be eligible to receive a wristband.

Driver Appearance Times
3:15 p.m. – 5:15 p.m. – Tony Stewart
11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. – Austin Dillon

Additional drivers from the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, plus the four living NASCAR Hall of Fame members inducted the previous night, will be announced at a later date. Appearance times are subject to change.

Tickets to NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint start at just $10, and range upward to $299 for a VIP weekend package that includes the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.

For additional information, visit www.NASCARAcceleration2012.com.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Blickensderfer Jumps To RCR To Lead #31 Team

Richard Childress Racing has named Drew Blickensderfer as the crew chief for the No. 31 Caterpillar/Wheaties Racing team with driver Jeff Burton for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Luke Lambert, interim crew chief during the latter part of the 2011 season for the No. 31 team, will assume a yet-to-be announced new position at RCR.

Blickensderfer begins his RCR career after nearly a decade with Roush Fenway Racing. He spent the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season leading the No. 6 team and has been a crew chief, in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, since 2007.

"I'm excited about the move to RCR and the opportunity to help lead Jeff Burton and the Cat/Wheaties Racing team back into Chase contention," said Blickensderfer. "I was around Jeff briefly at RFR and always admired and liked him. He's a very talented driver and I look forward to working him and the rest of the No. 31 team in 2012."

Burton qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup from 2006-2008 and 2010. He finished 20th in the final 2011 driver championship point standings.

"Drew is a strong leader and will be a great complement to the Caterpillar/Wheaties Racing team," said Childress. "He's won some big races, including the 2009 Daytona 500, his first race as a Sprint Cup Series crew chief. There's every reason to believe the combination of Jeff and Drew will be a successful one."

Richard "Slugger" Labbe will remain as the crew chief for the No. 27 Menards Racing team in 2012. It was announced previously that crew chief Shane Wilson will crew chief the No. 29 Budweiser/Rheem/Jimmy John's team for driver Kevin Harvick. Gil Martin, the No. 29 team crew chief since May 2009 and a crew chief at RCR since August 2000, has been named director of team operations.

Further personnel changes within RCR's competition department will be announced in the coming weeks.

Paludo Signs With Turner Motorsports

Miguel Paludo has signed to drive the full 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule for Turner Motorsports.

Paludo finished 17th in Truck Series points driving for Red Horse Racing this season, recording a career-high three Top-5 and seven Top-10 finishes. The 28-year old Brazilian made his mark racing go-karts at age 14, winning a regional championship in his home country. Paludo then headed to the national ranks, winning a pair Porsche GT3 Championships in 2006 and 2009.

Paludo made the move to stock cars in 2010, making nine K&N Pro Series East starts before jumping to the NCWTS in August of that year. Paludo made a statement in his first start, notching an impressive ninth-place finish at the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway. He joins a stable of drivers at Turner Motorsports that includes James Buescher and Nelson Piquet, Jr. who will both contend for the 2012 NCWTS championship.

"I'm really excited to join Turner Motorsports next season," said Paludo. "I'm grateful to Mr. Turner for the opportunity he has given me to drive for the team and I'm looking forward to a strong season in 2012. I'm also thrilled to have some really strong teammates and I'm excited to see what we can do to make next season a good one for Turner Motorsports as we make a run for the championship."

In adding Paludo to the already strong line-up of talent, team owner Steve Turner affirmed his commitment to giving young drivers a platform on which to build their careers. "Miguel adds another dimension to our NASCAR Camping World Truck Series lineup," said Turner. "He has shown a significant amount of potential and is committed to making his mark in the NASCAR ranks. He is a proven champion winning titles in multiple disciplines. I am looking forward to a very competitive 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season and watching all of our entries run up front."

Martinsville Revamping Restrooms, Concourse

Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell announced today a project that will result in new and larger restrooms and a wider concourse under the Richard Petty Tower. The new restrooms will be almost twice as large as the present ones and contain amenities comparable with any large entertainment venue.

The width of the concourse will be doubled, which should greatly improve the flow of pedestrian traffic under the Richard Petty Tower, located on the Turn Four end of the front stretch.

“We constantly work on making sure our fans have the best experience possible on race weekends and this was the next logical step for us,” said Campbell. “We’ve gotten great fan feedback from the project we completed last winter and this one is very similar. We think it’s going to be a big hit with the fans.”

Work will begin immediately, with demolition of the existing buildings under the Richard Petty Tower. Construction will be completed in time for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 on April 1. This comes on the heels of a similar project completed last winter, when all of the restrooms and concession stands on the first-turn end of the front stretch were demolished and replaced, also created a larger concourse area.

According to Rick Magee of Frith Construction Co., the project’s general contractor, all of the work will be done by local contractors, subcontractors and suppliers. He said the project will employ about 35 workers for 2½ months.

Racing returns to Martinsville Speedway March 30-April 1 with the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 weekend. Tickets for both events are on sale and may be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.

Addington Tabbed As Stewart's New Crew Chief

Steve Addington, winner of 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races as a crew chief, has been named to the same position for three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart and the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 team of Stewart-Haas Racing, effective immediately.

The Spartanburg, S.C., native is only the third crew chief Stewart has had during his 13-year Sprint Cup career, with the announcement coming just a week after Stewart captured the 2011 Sprint Cup title.

“I know Steve well and I know how he goes about setting up a race car,” said Stewart, who worked with Addington from 2005-2008 at Joe Gibbs Racing. “My comfort level with him is already strong. He balances the technical part of our sport with the real-world experiences we get at the track, and that will allow for a smooth transition as we prepare to defend our title in 2012.”

Addington has served as crew chief for Bobby Labonte (2005), J.J. Yeley (2006-2007), Kyle Busch (2008-2009) and Kurt Busch (2010-2011) during his time in the Sprint Cup Series. He scored 12 wins with Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing and four with older brother Kurt during his most recent stint at Penske Racing.

Prior to joining the Sprint Cup ranks, Addington spent 15 seasons as a crew chief in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, 11 of which came with driver Jason Keller where he won 10 races, 11 poles and scored 69 top-five and 122 top-10 finishes.

“Tony and I are a lot alike and we’re able to push each other,” Addington said. “I saw how he worked when we were at Gibbs together and I’m not surprised at all at the success he’s created at Stewart-Haas Racing. He expects a lot and he knows a lot. His talent behind the wheel is obvious, but his ability to motivate and get everyone to believe that whatever goal they set is attainable is something every crew chief wants, and I plan to make the most of it.”

“Steve has proven himself everywhere he’s been,” Stewart added. “Our expectation when we unload each weekend is to win, and that’s Steve’s expectation, too. Getting there is never easy, but we’ve both been around long enough to know what it takes to be successful.”

Addington replaces Darian Grubb, who served as Stewart’s crew chief since the inception of SHR in 2009. “Darian was a very important part of the success we’ve had at Stewart-Haas Racing,” said Stewart. “I’m very proud of everything he helped accomplish, especially this year when we all rallied to win the championship. He’s a great person and I know he’ll continue to be successful in this sport.”

Three Changes NASCAR Needs To Make In 2012

NASCAR will crown its 2011 Sprint Cup Series champion later this week in Las Vegas, when Tony Stewart accepts the accolades for his third series title. The 2011 season was one of the best in NASCAR history, with five first-time winners, 19 overall victors and a much-needed resurgence in both at-track attendance and television viewership. There’s not much that needs fixing in NASCAR these days, but on three specific counts, the sanctioning body can -- and should -– do better.

Job One on NASCAR’s off-season "To-Do List" is to end the annual outbreak of owner point chicanery. NASCAR’s Top-35 system was instituted with noble intent. In an effort to reward teams for supporting the full-36-race championship schedule, NASCAR offers guaranteed starting spots in the first five races of each season to the Top 35 teams in the previous year’s owner points. Unfortunately, the system has been horribly manipulated over the years, until now, it frequently rewards teams that did not even exist the previous season.

It’s time to end the monkey business.

NASCAR should institute a new, “Use It Or Lose It” owner points system for the 2012 Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series campaigns. Under this new system, only the Top-35 in this year’s owner points (Top-30 in Nationwide and Trucks) will be allowed to claim a guaranteed starting spot in their respective season-openers at Daytona International Speedway. No more five-week guarantee, no more bogus ownership transfers, no more selling of owner points to the highest bidder.

And best of all, no more asking, “How did HE make it into the Daytona 500?”

If only 33 of the Top-35 teams return next season, so be it. Thirty three teams will be locked into the 2012 Daytona 500, with two additional spots made available to teams attempting to qualify on speed.

Once the 2012 Daytona 500 is in the books, NASCAR will be free to make much-needed changes to the qualifying system for the remaining 35 races. Since only seven cars actually qualify for a race these days, there’s no drama, no excitement and no reason for anyone to care. “Qualifying Day” has become “Arranging Day,” with nothing at stake other than the starting order for Sunday’s race.

NASCAR can do better.

Next season, old-style qualifying should be scrapped in favor of a new “Happy Hour” qualifying format. Teams will take to the track en masse -– just like they do on race day -– for a 60-minute, free form session that awards the pole position to the driver who turns the fastest lap. It’s simple, it’s exciting and it gives fans a reason to turn out on Qualifying Day for the first time in years.

Finally, NASCAR needs to eliminate the controversial practice of assessing “secret fines” to drivers and teams. Anything worth doing is worth doing in the light of day, and NASCAR demeans itself by operating behind a false cloak of secrecy. It is virtually impossible to keep secrets in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck garages these days, and by attempting to do so, NASCAR gives the impression that it is somehow ashamed of its actions.

If NASCAR truly wants to be accepted as a major professional sport alongside football, baseball, basketball and hockey, it needs to act professional. “Double-secret probation” has a decidedly Bush League feel to it, and should be done away with, once and for all.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ray Elder Dies at Age 69

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 25, 2011) – Ray Elder, who won a record six championships in what is now the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, died Thursday at the age of 69.

Elder – who won titles in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1975 – also distinguished himself and his West Coast-based family racing team by winning two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway in 1971 and 1972.

“Ray was a tough competitor and a great representative of NASCAR on the West Coast,” said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president, regional and touring series. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Elder’s team, which included his car-owner father, Fred, and crew chief brother, Richard, were well known as the “Racing Farmers” from Caruthers, Calif. Following their retirement from racing, they continued their farming operation. In addition, Elder and his wife, Pat, ran a mini-mart in Caruthers, located about 15 miles from Fresno.

Elder is second on the list of career wins in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West with 47 and also second on the list of career series poles, also with 47. His first series win came at Ascot Park in Gardena, Calif., in 1966 and his last victory was at Craig Road Speedway in Las Vegas in 1978.

In addition to his six championships, Elder finished as the runner-up in the final standings in three consecutive seasons; 1966, 1967, 1968. He holds numerous records in the modern era of the series, including the most consecutive starts, with 121, and the most top 10 finishes in a season, with 27.

Elder received the Most Popular Driver Award in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West eight times, seven in consecutive years. He was among the drivers named to the “NASCAR K&N Pro Series West All-Time Top-10,” compiled by NASCAR and NASCAR Insider in 2005. He was among the inaugural inductees into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2002 and was inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Busch Fined 50K By NASCAR

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 25, 2011) – NASCAR has fined Penske Racing driver Kurt Busch $50,000 for his actions during the Nov. 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NASCAR determined that Kurt Busch violated Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing – inappropriate hand gesture; abusive language) of the 2011 NASCAR Rule Book.

In issuing the penalty, NASCAR cited Kurt Busch's "poor judgment in making an inappropriate hand gesture" when he drove his car into the garage early in the race after it experienced transmission problems. In addition, NASCAR said Kurt Busch showed "disrespect towards a media member" during an obscenity filled tirade directed at ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch. NASCAR cited similar inappropriate media confrontations involving Busch earlier in the season in their announcement of the penalty.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bests And Worsts Of 2011

The 2011 NASCAR season was one to remember; filled with highlights and a dizzying series of unexpected turns that a team of Hollywood scriptwriters could never have imagined. With 18 different winners, five first-time victors and a Chase that produced the first dead-heat tie in the history of the sport, this season set the competitive bar high enough that it may never be equaled, much less cleared.

Here are some of the highlights – and lowlights – of the season just complete.

Race Of The Year: Ford 400, Homestead Miami Speedway. Point leader Carl Edwards and second-place tony Stewart came to South Florida knowing that nothing short of a win would guarantee them the championship. They combined to lead virtually every lap of a spellbinding season finale, with Stewart overcoming multiple early race setbacks to win the race and earn a tie in points with Edwards. Stewart claimed the title on a tiebreaker, as fans filed out of the grandstands knowing they had witnessed a classic for the ages.

Biggest Disappointment: Red Bull Racing. NASCAR is different than Formula One. Unfortunately, that fact was lost on Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz, who hired NASCAR insider Jay Frye to serve as General Manager, then shackled him with a series of decisions that doomed the team to failure. The Austrian Energy Drink magnate hired AJ Allmendinger and Scott Speed to drive his Toyotas; neither of whom had a lick of stock car experience to fall back on. He then bailed out on them when they failed to produce immediately, keeping his team in constant turmoil for years. Only after announcing that he would shutter the team at the end of 2011 did he hire an experienced driver -- Kasey Kahne – who won a race at Phoenix and trailed only Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards in Chase performance. Honorable Mention: Kevin Harvick. Inc.’s withdrawal from the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

Best Comeback: Jeff Gordon. The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion struggled to adapt to NASCAR’s new race car, leading some to question whether age and his newfound status as a family man might have extinguished his competitive fire. The 2011 season put all that talk to rest. Three regular season victories made him a favorite to win it all at the start of the Chase, and while he eventually settled for eighth in the final standings, Gordon served notice that he will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012, and beyond.

Best News: Trucks to Rockingham in 2012. “The Rock” is tailor-made for the Tough Trucks of NASCAR, and the April 15th “Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200” is a can’t-miss race for NASCAR fans.

Worst News: No Trucks at Darlington in 2012. Heartbreaking. Simply heartbreaking.

Best New Act: Brad Keselowski. A year ago, Keselowski was NASCAR’s resident loose cannon; a volatile young talent best known for a nasty, long-running feud with Carl Edwards. This season, he emerged as a championship contender and one of the toughest customers in the business. A broken left ankle suffered in a testing crash at Road Atlanta sent him on a month-long hot streak and wins at Pocono and Bristol. That momentum carried him all the way to the Chase, where he finished the season fifth in points. For the Miller Lite Dodge driver, 2012 can’t come a moment too soon.

Classiest Loser: Carl Edwards/Ford 400, Homestead Miami Speedway. Moments after losing the 2011 Sprint Cup Series championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker, Edwards delivered one of the most gracious concession speeches in the history of this sport, or any other. More important than winning the championship, he said, was conducting himself in a way that would make his young children proud. Mission accomplished, Carl. Honorable Mention: Jimmie Johnson.

Most Self Destructive: The Busch Brothers. Al Qaeda suicide bombers do themselves less damage than the fabulous Busch Brothers. Whether it’s driving a $400,000 sports car 128 mph in a 45 mph zone (Kyle), tearing up a reporter’s notes when she dares to quote you directly (Kurt), intentionally wiping Ron Hornaday out of the Truck Series title chase (Kyle) or M-F’ing a pit reporter for attempting to do his job (Kurt), Al and Gay Busch’s boys consistently managed to lower the bar. They also performed a tandem flame-out in the final 10 races of the season, finishing the 2011 Chase in 11th and 12th place. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Biggest Puzzler: Darian Grubb. After going winless in the regular season and sneaking into the 2011 Chase as an afterthought, Grubb guided Tony Stewart’s #14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet team to a record five victories in the 10-race Chase and a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship for the ages. He is now the most successful crew chief ever to be fired for his trouble. Honorable Mention: Gil Martin.

Most Underrated: Steve Letarte. One year ago, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., left Homestead Miami Speedway 21st in points, nursing a two-year winless streak and the bruises inflicted by a fan base grown tired of mediocrity. Twelve months later, virtually everything had changed. Earnhardt finished the 2011 campaign seventh in championship points, due in large part to Letarte’s ability to keep his driver focused, positive and productive. The winless streak rolls on, but NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver regained his relevance this season. Letarte is 100-percent responsible.

Biggest Upset: Trevor Bayne/Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway. Calling Bayne a dark horse bet to win the 2011 season opener would be an understatement of colossal proportions. He had less experience on the 2-5-mile Daytona high banks than Danica Patrick will have coming into next year’s race, but managed to drive his Wood Brothers Ford all the way to Victory Lane. It was NASCAR’s ultimate Cinderella story, and it set the standard for a year filled with first-time winners. Honorable Mention: Regan Smith/Southern 500, Darlington Raceway.

Biggest Blowhard: Peter DeLorenzo, AutoExtremist.com. In this category, DeLorenzo never fails to disappoint. After incorrectly predicting the imminent withdrawal of at least one automaker from NASCAR in each of the last five years, the self-proclaimed automotive insider changed gears in 2011, predicting that “the 2011 Daytona 500 is likely to be a processional, follow-the-leader exercise that will be as exciting as watching paint dry.” A classic race ensued, with Bayne scoring one of the most shocking upsets in the history of the sport. Honorable Mention: DeLorenzo again, who predicted in January that “unless and until somebody beats the Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus/Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut at their own game, these guys are going to win the whole damn deal yet again.” In short, “unless Jimmie loses, he’ll win.”

No Lull On The NASCAR News Beat

Roush Fenway Racing has confirmed that an undisclosed number of employees were laid off this week as part of the team’s plan to trim its roster of NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series entries.

David Ragan’s #6 Sprint Cup Series Ford will likely not return next season due to lack of sponsorship, trimming RFR’s lineup in the series from four cars to three. The team will also cut its involvement in the Nationwide Series, trimming its roster to a single full-time Ford and a second part-time effort. Sources close to the team say more than 100 employees received pink slips this week, but RFR spokesman Kevin Woods declined to confirm that number, and said there could be further cuts, if necessary.

Roush Fenway has full 2012 sponsorship in place for the Sprint Cup Series Fords driven by Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Matt Kenseth’s #17 machine is only partially sponsored, but team owner Jack Roush has pledged to keep that car on track, regardless of backing. RFR will field a single Nationwide Series Ford Mustang next season, to be driven by recently crowned series champion Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. or 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne. Woods said a second Nationwide entry will likely be fielded on a part-time basis, dependent on sponsorship.

New Number At MWR: Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip’s Toyota Camry will carry the number 55 during the 2012 and 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seasons. The number commemorates Charlie Loudermilk’s founding of Aaron’s, Inc. in 1955.

“This is a new era for the Aaron’s Dream Machine,” said Aaron’s Chief Operating Officer Ken Butler. “Our new driver lineup with Mark and Michael created a good opportunity for us to make more changes, including the car number. Every one of our employees knows the significance of the number 55 in our company, and I know they will have pride watching that number compete on Sundays while flying our colors.”

Martin will drive in 25 Sprint Cup events each of the next two seasons, sharing the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine with Waltrip, who will drive seven events with Aaron’s sponsorship. Martin will join Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. in the MWR stable of drivers. Martin will begin his tenure with MWR at the 2012 Daytona 500, while Waltrip will run the remaining restrictor plate races and the race in his home state of Kentucky. A combination of drivers and sponsors will fill the remaining races.

Waltrip raced the No. 55 at Bill Davis Racing in 2006 and 2007-2009, and said, “This means a lot to me. I know how far MWR has come since we started with the No. 55 NAPA Toyota and how much we’ve grown heading into 2012. To get back into the No. 55 Toyota in 2012 and share driving duties with a first ballot hall of famer in Mark Martin is certainly an honor.”

Heroy Tabbed As Crew Chief: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has named Chris Heroy crew chief of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet driven by Juan Pablo Montoya.

“We are very excited to bring Chris into the organization and to have him work with Juan Pablo,” said team owner Chip Ganassi. “We think he will be a great addition to the Target team and believe his combined engineering and crew chief background should help him work well with both our engineers and competition folks to move our program forward. He has a great reputation in the industry and we are happy to bring him into the mix.”

Heroy joins Earnhardt Ganassi Racing from Hendrick Motorsports, where he served as lead engineer on the No. 5 Chevrolet driven by Mark Martin. “I am really looking forward to working with the guys in the shop at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to help the 42 improve their performance,” he said. “Juan Pablo is a great driver and they have a lot of great people here, so I am thrilled to get this opportunity.”

Montoya finished the 2011 season a disappointing 21st in the championship standings. The Colombia native has two wins, seven poles, 20 Top-5 and 49 Top-10 finishes in 181 career Sprint Cup starts. Interim crew chief Jim Pohlman, who took over the No. 42 team at the end of July, will remain with the organization.

Lally Inks New Deal: Andy Lally will return to the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series in 2012, after spending this season with the TRG Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. Lally will drive for Magnus Racing in the Rolex Sports Car Series GT class, teaming with owner/driver John Potter after claiming Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Honors with TRG this season. The three-time Rolex Series champion is Grand-Am's all-time mileage and podiums leader, and a three-time winner of the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Smith Suspended: Jack C. Smith, a driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, has been indefinitely suspended from NASCAR for violating the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy. He was found to have violated Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 19 (violation of the NASCAR substance abuse policy) of the 2011 NASCAR rule book.

Wilson Replaces Martin As Harvick's Crew Chief

Longtime Richard Childress Racing crew chiefs Shane Wilson and Gil Martin have taken new assignments with the team for 2012. Wilson has been named crew chief of the No. 29 Budweiser/Rheem/Jimmy John’s Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet and driver Kevin Harvick. Wilson spent the last three seasons in the same position with RCR’s No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper team. Martin will assume the role of Director of Team Operations, after serving as Harvick's crew chief since May of 2009.

Team owner Richard Childress said the change came at the request of Harvick.
“Kevin came to me after the Phoenix race a couple weeks ago and asked for a change in the leadership of his team for the 2012 season,” he said. “The expectations at RCR are to win championships, so the decision was made to move Shane Wilson to the No. 29 Budweiser/Rheem/Jimmy Johns program. Shane did a great job for RCR in the Nationwide Series when he first got here, and built on that success the past three seasons with our No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper team. We feel he will continue do a great job with the No. 29 team.”

Wilson and Harvick worked together in 2006, winning 10 races and recording 24 Top-5 and 31 Top-10 finishes en route to that season’s NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. The team’s 824-point margin of victory is a series record.

“Shane is a good friend of mine and we had a lot of success together in the NASCAR Nationwide Series,” said Harvick. “He has a lot of experience now in the Sprint Cup Series and I look forward to working with him again.”

Further personnel changes within RCR’s competition department will be announced in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Penske's Attempt To Distance Falls Short

Penske Racing commented today on the actions of driver Kurt Busch toward ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch Sunday at Homestead Miami Speedway. Angry with a delay in being put on the air, Busch lobbed multiple obscenities at Punch until the veteran reporter eventually reached the breaking point and walked away, before Busch’s interview could be conducted.

"Penske Racing extends its apologies to Dr. Jerry Punch, our media partners and our sponsors and fans for Kurt Busch's inappropriate actions in Homestead on Sunday,” said a statement from the team. “These actions do not represent Penske Racing and are inconsistent with the company's standards for behavior, respect for others and professionalism. This matter is being reviewed internally with no further comment at this time."

That statement is, in two words, horse manure.

Kurt Busch absolutely does represent Penske Racing, its sponsors and employees. The uniform he wore Sunday included the Penske Racing logo. He drove the #22 Penske Racing Dodge – albeit briefly – and made numerous appearances on behalf of the team and its sponsors throughout Ford Championship Weekend. Roger Penske hired Busch, not long after Jack Roush terminated him in the aftermath of a similar outburst of boorish behavior. Penske has maintained Busch in his employ, despite periodic bouts of unpleasantness, public criticism of his own team, and comments about team management (including Penske) that in the minds of many bordered on outright mutiny. None of those outbursts elicited any sort of public sanction from the team; other than Tuesday’s semi-indignant press release.

Sorry, Mr. Penske, but you can’t have it both ways. You cannot embrace Kurt Busch as your driver and corporate spokesman for the last six seasons, then conveniently disavow the relationship on the day he he shows his ass to the world. Your failure to sanction Busch for prior bouts of boorishness have sent a consistently poor message, both to him and the sport as a whole. Tuesday’s attempt at hand-washing is just another brick in that wall.

In an effort to determine how it could – and should – be done, compare Busch’s deportment Sunday to that of fellow Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards. Busch exploded like a petulant teenager over a simple, blown transmission. Mechanical failures are an unfortunate -- but not uncommon – part of the sport, and most drivers treat them as such. Hours later, Edwards conducted himself as a gentleman in the aftermath of the most crushing defeat of his racing career, if not his life. There was nothing gentlemanly about Busch’s display, and the only thing adult was his language.

It’s time for Penske Racing to stop sheltering Kurt Busch from his own actions. Jack Roush taught Busch a valuable lesson in late 2005, yanking him from behind the wheel with two races remaining and handing him a pink slip. Busch learned that day that nobody is bigger than the sport, and that even extreme driving talent is not enough to counteract a repeated lack of class, civility and compassion. After six years, that lesson has apparently been forgotten.

Perhaps it’s time for a refresher.

Busch Blows Up, Addington Bows Out

Kurt Busch is in the public relations doghouse once again.

The controversial Penske Racing driver directed a profanity laced tirade at ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch Sunday at Homestead Miami Speedway, when Punch attempted to interview him following a transmission failure on his Shell/Pennzoil Dodge. Cameras captured Busch and Punch standing side-by-side, waiting to begin the live interview. Busch was clearly unhappy with the wait and reacted angrily when informed by Punch that debris from his blown transmission had damaged the nose of title contender Tony Stewart’s Chevrolet.

“That just makes me feel a lot better, Doctor,” snapped Busch. “Can you get this motherf--ker out of my face?”

He continued to fume while waiting for the interview to begin, asking, “Why can’t we tape this s--t?” Punch responded that the network preferred to do the interview live, prompting Busch to respond, “Yeah, well I would have liked to do it live f--king 10 minutes ago.”

Tired of Busch’s abuse, Punch walked away, saying “never mind.” As Punch departed, Busch turned and stalked toward his transporter before turning to shout, “Thank you, now get the f--k out of here.” Video of the incident can be viewed by clicking HERE.

The outburst is the latest in a series directed by Busch toward media members, crew members, team management and others. He has repeatedly browbeaten his own pit crew over their in-car radio this season, and his blow-ups reportedly played a major role crew chief Steve Addington's decision not to work with Busch going forward. Addington informed the driver by telephone Monday that he will not return to the crew chief's post next season, and he is widely believed to be heading to Stewart Haas Racing to work for recently crowned Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart.

Addington's departure leaves Busch in the market for a new pit boss, and based on his track record of anger, abuse and mistreatment, that position may not be easy to fill.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Edwards Is NASCAR's Other Champion

Carl Edwards lost the closest championship in NASCAR history Sunday night at Homestead Miami Speedway, leading a race-high 119 laps and finishing second to rival Tony Stewart in the title-deciding Ford 400. He and Stewart tallied an identical 2,403 points over the 10-race Chase, with Stewart claiming the Sprint Cup on a tiebreaker.

If there were a trophy for class, however, Edwards would have taken it, hands down.

As his Roush Fenway Racing Aflac Ford crossed beneath the checkered flag Sunday, just 1.5 seconds too late to realize his season long championship dream, Edwards spoke immediately to his team, hailing them for their hard work over the last 10 months, urging them to “keep your heads up” and promising to “go home and work and beat them next year.” He spoke directly to crew chief Bob Osborne on the cool down lap, calling him “the best on pit road," then exited his racer to deal with the media.

He waited patiently while third-place finisher Martin Truex, Jr., answered his post-race questions in the deadline room, then fielded dozens of his own; describing the toughest, most demoralizing night of his career with an uncommon degree of poise and grace.

“They beat us fair and square," said Edwards, forcing a smile. “That was all I had at the end. My guys did a really good job. We led the most laps, and Tony still managed to do a good job with their strategy. That was all I (had) at the end. That’s as hard as I can drive.”

When he mourned, he did so for his team, not himself. “As tough as this is for me, it’s tougher for those guys,” he said. “(They're) the guys that prepare these cars and determine which things we’re gonna work on through the year and what strategies we’re going to use. They make some very, very big decisions that they can't turn around and change in a heartbeat.

“As a race-car driver, I can make quick decisions out there and I can fix things and make things happen. They make some very, very thought-out decisions, and I’m sure their disappointment is as great -- or greater -- than mine.”

After speaking so confidently throughout the Chase, the Roush Fenway Racing driver admitted after the race that he was prepared for the possibility of failure. "I knew this was a possibility,” he said. “I was prepared for this. I told myself and my family that the one thing I am going to do is walk back to that motor home -- win, lose or draw -- and be a good example for my kids. We talked about it before the race... I’m not to go back and tear the door off the motor home.

“As painful as this is right now, I know we are fortunate to go to Daytona and start all over again.”

Edwards’ grace under fire was not lost on Stewart, who recalled his post-race conversation with the Missouri native. “You couldn’t ask for a better guy,” said Stewart. “He (said), ‘I hope a year from now, we are in the same battle again just like this. Everyone respects Carl for the person that he is. There have been a lot of things that have happened (in the past) that make you go, `Is there sincerity involved in what he says?' But there were no cameras there when he said that. He just came and talked to me, driver to driver. That means a lot. It shows who he is as a person… and he’ll win a championship.

“He’ll be up here in our position again.”

2012 Truck Series Down To 22 Races

NASCAR has finally announced the much-anticipated 2012 schedule for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The schedule includes just 22 events -- down from 25 this season -- and includes no road course events, despite widespread speculation that the circuit would compete at both Road America and Watkins Glen. It is highlighted by NASCAR’s return to historic Rockingham Speedway for the first time since 2004.

“The 2012 schedule has a great mix of tracks that will continue to deliver great racing for our fans," said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. "We're excited to bring the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to the famed Rockingham Speedway, along with the addition of a second date at Iowa Speedway. Looking ahead, interest in the truck series continues to grow in a number of different markets and we’re excited about what the future holds for next season and beyond.”

The championship chase begins at Daytona International Speedway on Friday night, Feb. 24 and concludes at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16. Iowa Speedway also hosts two NASCAR Camping World Truck events next season, on July 14 and Sept. 15. Bristol Motor Speedway’s high banks will host their traditional Wednesday night show, on Aug. 22. For the third consecutive season, the series will race at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway.

2012 NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES SCHEDULE
2/24 Daytona International Speedway
3/31 Martinsville Speedway
4/15 Rockingham Speedway
4/21 Kansas Speedway
5/18 Charlotte Motor Speedway
6/1 Dover International Speedway
6/8 Texas Motor Speedway
6/28 Kentucky Speedway
7/14 Iowa Speedway
7/21 Chicagoland Speedway
8/4 Pocono Raceway
8/18 Michigan International Speedway
8/22 Bristol Motor Speedway
8/31 Atlanta Motor Speedway
9/15 Iowa Speedway
9/21 Kentucky Speedway
10/6 Talladega Superspeedway
10/13 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
10/27 Martinsville Speedway
11/2 Texas Motor Speedway
11/9 Phoenix International Raceway
11/16 Homestead-Miami Speedway

Rockingham To Host 2012 KNPSE, WSMT Finales

The hits just keep on coming for Rockingham Speedway. Just weeks after confirming that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will compete at the historic North Carolina oval in April of next year, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody has learned that the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will close its 2012 championship season there in early November of 2012.

Track President Andy Hillenburg will announce a tripleheader weekend of racing at the Richmond County (NC) oval on November 3, 2012, featuring season finales for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour and UARA Late Model Series.

While the complete 2012 season schedules have not yet been released, the K&N Pro Series has historically closed it season at Dover International Speedway in late September. Darrell Wallace, Jr., capped the 2011 K&N East chase with a win on "The Monster Mile" September 30. George Brunnhoelzl III won the 2011 Whelen Southern Modified Tour finale at Caraway Speedway on October 22 and the UARA Late Models completed their 2011 schedule at Rockingham two weeks ago, with third-generation driver Corey LaJoie in Victory Lane.

Stewart Wins One For The Ages

Jimmie Johnson formulated the battle plan five years ago. Sunday night at Homestead Miami Speedway, Tony Stewart executed it to perfection.

After laboring through the 26-race regular season, Stewart limped into the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the ninth of 12 championship contenders. He was winless on the year and – by his own admission -- an afterthought for the 2011 title. But once the Chase began, Stewart shed his regular-season mediocrity like Clark Kent sheds suit, tie and eyeglasses, winning five of the final 10 races en route to an unlikely and unforgettable championship triumph.

Sunday’s Homestead finale was one for the record books. After dropping to 40th place with damage caused by debris from Kurt Busch’s shattered transmission, Stewart began slashing his way back into title contention with a fury that cemented his spot – once and for all – as one of the greatest pure wheelmen in the 64-year history of NASCAR. He ran down fellow championship contender Carl Edwards, passed him and held his Roush Fenway Racing Ford at bay over the final 35 laps to claim his fifth victory in 10 Chase starts; a win that left him tied with Edwards for the series championship. Those five victories – to Edwards’ one – gave Stewart the decisive tiebreaker, allowing him to claim the championship trophy.

"If this doesn't go down as one of the greatest championship battles in history, I don't know what will," said Stewart in Victory Lane Sunday. The title was the third of his NASCAR career, putting him in the company of NASCAR legends Lee Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip. It virtually guaranteed him first-ballot admission to the Hall Of Fame, and set a standard of playoff excellence that likely will never be eclipsed.

Not bad for a guy who a few weeks ago proclaimed, "If we're going to run this bad, it really doesn't matter whether we make the Chase or not." In fact, Stewart said that pre-Chase critique played a major role in turning the team around. "When I said we didn't belong in the Chase, there were two things that could have happened with our guys," he said. "They could have hung their heads and said, 'Our guy doesn't believe in us.' Or they could do exactly what they did. They never gave up. They fought like the Bad News Bears."

Stewart’s Mobil 1/Office Depot team hurdled a number of obstacles Sunday; obstacles that would have beaten a lesser team. They repaired early damage to the grille of their Chevrolet, overcame a slow pit stop caused by a jammed lug nut, and narrowly avoided running out of fuel after trying to stretch their fuel mileage to the limit in the late going.

"I was fully prepared for Tony to run out of fuel… have a tire problem, for anything to happen," said a crestfallen but gracious Edwards. "I drove it to the edge and beyond, and that's all I had."

In any other Chase – against any other opponent – Edwards’ 4.7 average finish would have been enough to prevail, with ease. But against Stewart, it was good for nothing more than a dead-heat tie for second best.

"Five out of 10 -- pretty damned impressive," stated crew chief Darian Grubb Sunday, basking in the champagne-soaked glow of victory.

Damned impressive, indeed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Uncle Kracker To Perform at Homestead Miami

Top Dog/Atlantic recording artist Uncle Kracker will kick off the headline event of Ford Championship Weekend Sunday, performing on the frontstretch stage at 1:15 p.m.

The Detroit-based singer/songwriter will perform Sunday afternoon prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series “Ford 400.” He has enjoyed multi-platinum success with chart topping hits including “Smile”, “Drift Away,” and “Follow Me,” and released a brand new single, "My Hometown" on November 1st.

“What a way to start our NASCAR party,” said Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matthew Becherer. “With the tightest points race in the history of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ coming down to Sunday’s “Ford 400” here in Miami, we’re going to kick it all off with a performance that should be fun for everybody.”

"My Hometown" was produced by Keith Stegall — known for his work with such country superstars as the Zac Brown Band, Alan Jackson, and George Jones — and marks the first release from Uncle Kracker's new album, currently slated for release in 2012.

“NASCAR has always been a favorite for me,” said Uncle Kracker. “I am thrilled to be a part of the last NASCAR-race weekend of the year.” He has spent most of 2011 on the road with country superstar Kenny Chesney, hitting stadiums and arenas in nearly every major U.S. market. He has also performed at his own headline shows and benefit concerts supporting The Uncle Kracker Music Education Foundation.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nelson Piquet Jr. To Turner Motorsports In 2012

Nelson Piquet Jr. has signed to drive for Turner Motorsports on the 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, with a limited schedule of events on the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Piquet will make his debut with the team in tomorrow night's Nationwide season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the No. 30 Chevrolet Impala.

Piquet Jr. is the son of three-time Formula One World Champion, Nelson Piquet, and began racing karts at age eight in his native Brazil. Making his way through the open-wheel racing ranks in South America and Europe, he made his Formula One debut in 2008 before making the transition to NASCAR in 2010. Currently engaged in a fierce battle for the 2011 NCWTS Rookie of the Year honors, Piquet Jr. has recorded four top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 24 starts this season.

"I am excited to have the opportunity to come to Turner Motorsports in 2012. They are one of the top organizations in our sport and are proven winners. I know we will be in the hunt for the Camping World Truck Series championship and I will gain invaluable experience behind the wheel of the Nationwide Series car. I want to thank Steve Turner and everyone at Turner Motorsports and I know 2012 will bring great things for me and my new team," said Piquet Jr.

By adding another young driver to his roster, team owner Steve Turner, reaffirms his commitment to helping drivers establish their careers with his organization.

"Turner Motorsports prides itself on cultivating young talent. One of our main objectives is to give drivers a platform to showcase their abilities to help propel them to NASCAR's highest level. Nelson brings a significant amount of experience and depth to our driver line up. He also brings a strong international fan base to our program. I am confident he will compete for both race wins and the 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship."

Hornaday Signs With Joe Denette Motorsports

Joe Denette Motorsports, a rookie team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, announced today that four-time series champion, Ron Hornaday, Jr., will drive the the team's No. 9 Chevrolet powered by Pro Motor Engines in 2012. Hornaday will be teamed at JDM with veteran crew chief, Jeff Hensley.

"We are proud to have a champion like Ron Hornaday joining our team," said team owner Joe Denette. "It's not every day that a young organization gets the opportunity to bring a veteran driver like Hornaday on board. He will bring a lot of experience and an entirely new dimension to our team. We are dedicated to winning races and contending for a championship in 2012, and we think our decision to bring Hornaday and Jeff Hensley to JDM shows that commitment."

Hornaday, a 14-year veteran of the series, has amassed 51 career victories, 27 pole awards, 146 top-five and 208 top-10 finishes.

"I'm very excited for the opportunity to work with JDM next season," said Hornaday. "This is a young team and they have put a lot of the right people in place to win races and compete for a championship in 2012. I'm honored to continue my relationship with Chevrolet and I'm looking forward to a successful 2012 season."

A sponsorship announcement for Hornaday and the No. 9 JDM entry is expected in the coming weeks. JDM also plans to run a second entry in 2012 for selected events.

Keselowski's Fine Triggers Debate

Brad Keselowski’s apparent $50,000 fine for comments critical of NASCAR has inspired a great deal of debate; debate that unfortunately detracts from what promises to be an exciting tripleheader weekend of championship-deciding events at Homestead Miami Speedway.

Among all the emotion, here are a few facts.

During an appearance last week at the NASCAR Hall Of Fame, Keselowski responded critically when asked by reporters about NASCAR’s conversion to electronic fuel injection in 2012. "We're not doing this because it's better for the teams," said Keselowski. "I don't think we're really going to save any gas. Cars on the street are injected with real electronics, not a throttle body. So we've managed to go from 50-year-old technology to 35-year-old technology. I don't see what the big deal is."

Had Keselowski stopped there, he may be gotten off scot-free. However, he also accused NASCAR of orchestrating a fuel-injected “media circus” to curry favorable press reaction, comments that clearly did not sit well with the sanctioning body. “It's a media circus,” said the Penske Racing driver. “(NASCAR is) trying to make you guys happy so you write good stories. It gives them something to promote. We're always looking for something to promote, but the honest answer is it does nothing for the sport, except cost the team owners money.”

While stopping short of confirming a fine, NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp told Associated Press reporter Jenna Fryer Thursday, “We did talk to Brad following his recent comments that were highly critical of the series moving to electronic fuel injection next season. We made it clear to him that these kind of comments are detrimental to the sport, and we handled it accordingly."

Fining athletes for comments critical of their respective leagues is hardly new, and it is not unique to NASCAR. The National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League all routinely sanction athletes and coaches for disparaging comments about officials, and have for years. In the 1980s, Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon was fined by the NFL for wearing a headband emblazoned with an unauthorized corporate logo, then fined again a week later for replacing the logo with the name of then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. More recently, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was fined $10,000 by the NFL last month for using a cell phone on the sidelines after leaving a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars with a concussion. NFL players are routinely penalized for undue celebration after a big play, and virtually every sports league fines coaches and players for disparaging remarks and second-guessing of umpires and referees.

Freedom of speech is one of the basic tenets of our free society; guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. There are limits to free speech, however. Courts long ago ruled that there is no right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie house, and businesses routinely fire employees for comments and conduct detrimental to the company. NASCAR – along with the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL – are no different.

We can only hope that in the future, the process may become a bit more transparent.

Edwards and Stewart Escalate The Rhetoric

If NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship contenders Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart trade half as much paint Sunday as they did in Thursday's Champion's Press Conference, it’s going to be one heck of a show.

Both drivers were at their verbal and intellectual best Thursday, sparring, jousting and good-natured firebombs at each other prior to Sunday’s decisive Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. There has been a bit of trash-talking during this year’s Chase, most of it directed by Stewart at Edwards, the Sprint Cup Series point leader. Both drivers ratcheted up the rhetoric to a new level Thursday, however. Asked if he might take the gloves off and resort to a little “Boys Have At It” in the final laps Sunday, Stewart quipped, “I’d wreck my mom to win a championship. I’d wreck your mom to win a championship. I respect (Carl) as a driver, but this isn’t about friendship. This is war. This is battle. This is for a national championship. It’s no-holds barred. I didn’t come this far to be one step away from it and let it slip away. We’re going to go for it.’’

“I’ve listened to you talk a lot today," said Edwards with a smile. "You’ve talked a lot about your past successes (and) that is very respectable. And… that will make it more fun if we’re able to beat you. It will make me more proud.’’ Edwards’ jab triggered a series of exchanges between the two that revealed a great deal about their emotional state heading into the final race of the season.

"It’s like Kid Rock said,” replied Stewart of his trash-talk. “It’s not cocky if you can back it up (and) I think we’ve been backing it up the last three weeks.’’

"Did you say something" asked Edwards, feigning disinterest. “(You’ve) got the talking part figured out. The problem is, you haven't led the points yet this year, have you?"

"There's talkers and doers,” said Stewart. “I've (won the championship) twice.”

The former Series champion downplayed Edwards’ three-point championship lead,” saying, "We're not trying to overcome a big deficit. We're right there, right behind him. We can finish 43rd this weekend and not be any worse off than we are right now. We don't have anything to lose. We can throw everything we’ve got at it (and) if we make a mistake, it doesn't cost anything. There's no penalty for us screwing up."

Edwards said he likes his chances of hoisting the Sprint Cup late Sunday afternoon and feels no pressure. "I don't really have any nerves," he said. "We've been running well (and) earned our spot at the top of the standings. I'm excited to have this opportunity to go out and win this championship.” He cited his past record at Homestead – which includes two wins, four Top-5 and six Top-10 finishes in seven career starts -- as the leading factor in his pre-race confidence.

“We couldn't feel better about the racetrack,” he said. “We feel really good about the race. I'm looking forward to going out there and racing the car."

Both drivers claim to have studied the other’s style in recent weeks, finding critical areas to exploit. "I've learned a lot about Tony, by the way he competes and what he's said,” said Edwards. “I've paid attention to what he says. I pay attention to the way he looks when he gets out of the race car, the body language he uses, things like that. I've learned a lot."

Stewart said he has been observing Edwards, as well, and believes he has the point leader rattled. "I think he's doing a pretty good acting job,” said the Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet driver. “I think he's a lot more nervous than he lets on. He's got a lot of class and character and is a strong person. But I don't think he's as strong as he wants to lead everyone to believe."

As entertaining as yesterday’s duel was, the time for talk is nearly over. Both Edwards and Stewart will take to the track later today and begin the critical process of fine-tuning their mounts for the most importance race of their season, and possibly their lives.

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gordon Honored For Charitable Efforts

Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon has been named the 2011 NASCAR Illustrated Person of the Year. Gordon is the first three-time recipient of the award, but this marks the first time he is the sole recipient. Gordon and Darrell Waltrip were named co-persons of the year in 1997. Gordon also shared the title when Hendrick Motorsports was named Persons of the Year in 2004.

Other past recipients include Joe Gibbs, Mark Martin, Kyle Petty and Tony Stewart for their influence on the NASCAR community, as well as admirable charitable efforts.

“We are thrilled to name Jeff Gordon the 2011 NASCAR Illustrated Person of the Year,” said Jay Pfeifer, Editor of NASCAR Illustrated. “In addition to scoring his 85th win, third-most in NASCAR history, he took his philanthropy to a new level. By expanding his fight against pediatric cancer to Africa, Gordon showed that compassion can extend across borders and around the world. We salute Jeff for his incredible achievements.”

Gordon has made three trips to Victory Lane during the 2011 season, and devoted the third and final off-week of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season to a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of the Clinton Global Initiative; a program created by former President Bill Clinton to improve the lives of 43 million internally displaced persons and refugees around the world.

In May, the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation announced its new initiative to bring accessible cancer treatment to children of Rwanda, committing to raising $1.5 million over the course of three years.

Gordon has also been instrumental in feeding millions of America’s elderly through AARP's Drive to End Hunger program, which adorned the hood of his No. 24 Chevrolet for the first time this year. Over $12 million in donations and more than 3.7 million meals have been provided to senior citizens struggling with hunger issues in America through the Drive to End Hunger program.

“It’s very rewarding to be named the 2011 Person of the Year, and I am so thankful for all the opportunities I have been given,” said Gordon. “The Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation has been able to accomplish a lot since its inception in 1999 in the battle against pediatric cancer, but that battle continues nationally and globally. It’s been an eye-opening experience learning about the more than nine million older Americans with hunger issues. We’ve been able to make an impact this year with the help of the NASCAR community and fans, but that battle continues.”

Allison: Ford Not Ready For Truck Series Return

Director of Ford North America Motorsports Jamie Allison said Wednesday that the automaker has no immediate plans to return to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Allison told Sirius XM NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody, ”There is nothing that pains me more than to have a team owner that has run Ford for so many years come to me and say, “I’m a loyal Ford guy, can’t you do something to help?” That’s very painful to deal with, because I know it comes from the heart.

“The situation is that our effort is primarily focused on Sprint Cup, especially with 2013 coming,” said Allison. “(The new car) is going to create an increase in cost, as is the change to electronic fuel injection. The new body parts are all going to be stamped parts, so our cost is going to go up in Sprint Cup.

“I know I’m giving you a very long-winded answer, but we are not quite ready to this point to return to the Truck Series.”

Police: Mayfield Was At Scene Of Theft

The latest chapter in the increasingly sad saga of Jeremy Mayfield became public today when WSOC-TV in Charlotte, NC reported the latest in a series of search warrants issued for Mayfield’s Catawba, NC home and grounds. The latest warrant includes allegations of additional stolen property found at Mayfield’s home, and evidence that Mayfield himself was personally involved in the thefts.

Sherriff’s deputies say that in February of this year, they discovered the former NASCAR driver and a companion at 3 AM, sitting in a truck parked behind a Hudson, NC, furniture store. Mayfield explained that they had purchased the truck in Tennessee earlier that evening, and had stopped behind the store to rest. Later that morning, the furniture store reported that several trailers filled with approximately 70 pieces of furniture had been stolen. Sheriff’s deputies eventually obtained a search warrant and found the stolen furniture in a trailer next to Mayfield's home.

Last month, authorities discovered approximately 1.5 ounces of methamphetamine in a locked safe inside Mayfield’s home, along with more than 50 guns -- at least some of them allegedly stolen -- and more than $100,000 in property taken from various local businesses including Fitz Racing and Red Bull Racing.

Mayfield currently faces a felony charge for possession of methamphetamine. Officials have not yet charged him in relation to any of the stolen property. His attorney said Mayfield has no knowledge of any stolen items or illegal drugs on his property. Hudson police chief Andy Day told WSOC, "The investigation is not over. We are still looking for more property. No charges have been filed (and) we anticipate this investigation will continue for some time."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lally Out At TRG, Bliss To Replace

Andy Lally has parted company with the TRG Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team, with just one race remaining in the 2012 season.

Lally was unavailable for comment today, but team owner Kevin Buckler confirmed the move, saying that veteran Mike Bliss will be in the #71 Ford this weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway. "Mikes a great qualifier, and we need to have a good run this weekend," said Buckler. "I'm not sure right now whether we will be able to run the entire race, but we're about 3/4 of the way there (on sponsorship)."

Buckler declined to speak specifically on reasons for the driver change, saying, "Let's jut say we're having some internal issues with who's driving the car this weekend, and leave it at that. We're working around some issues with Andy, but that's really all I want to say about it."

Lally said via Twitter this morning, “Had a hard decision to make this morning, but there are just some things you need to do on principle. I’ll keep you updated on things to come.”

Lally is currently 33rd in Sprint Cup Series championship points after failing to qualify last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. He has run unopposed for 2011 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors, and will secure that title despite his apparent dismissal. The #71 TRG Motorsports Ford recently dropped out of the Top-35 in owners points, and trails the #38 Front Row Motorsports team by 28 points in the battle for the final guaranteed starting spot in the first five races of next season.

NASCAR Notebook: Daytona AeroTesting, Grubb Moving Up?

Seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams took part in an aerodynamic test at Daytona International Speedway yesterday, establishing aero parameters for Preseason Thunder testing next January, and ultimately for the 2012 Daytona 500. Job One is the reduction (or outright elimination) of the two-by-two drafting that has dominated recent restrictor plate races at both Daytona and Talladega.

Teams participating in Tuesday's test included Hendrick Motorsports (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Aric Almirola); Roush Fenway Racing (David Ragan and Marcos Ambrose); Joe Gibbs Racing (Joey Logano); Michael Waltrip Racing (Martin Truex Jr.); and NEMCO Motorsports (Joe Nemechek). The test was delayed by early morning rain showers, with teams kept off the track at 11:45 AM ET. Initial laps were run with a 29/32” restrictor plate and 4½ by 63” rear spoiler; the same configuration used in July's Coke Zero 400. By day's end, the size of the rear spoiler had been reduced to 3” by 62”; reducing rear down force and drag. As expected, those changes produced increased speeds, with cars topping out at more than 207 mph.

Earnhardt Jr., a 13-time race winner at Daytona, called the test "a positive step in finding a solution to the drafting style at Daytona. I did not anticipate finding a magical solution here today, but we will be much better off and a lot smarter about things by having tested," said Earnhardt. "This is just part of the work that needs to get done. There are a lot of creative minds out here. We're learning what we need to know. I think we're all in agreement that we probably won't totally rid ourselves of the tandem racing, but I'm confident we can get to the point where it will not be the norm."

NAPA Toyota driver Martin Truex, Jr. said, "We tried several different packages out there today. What we're trying to do is put an end to this two-car draft, or at least make it so we can only get together for a lap or two and have to switch or run in a pack. NASCAR is being smart about all of this, and they are going through some steps to see if the changes we're making will result in what they think they will."

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby said Tuesday's test should “give the teams more options when it comes to how they draft. We believe we're headed in the right direction on that," said Darby. "We want to be able to reduce the difference in the speeds between the tandem style of racing and more of the pack style of racing and we made a lot of good progress on that here today."

Grubb Playing Coy: Crew chief Darrien Grubb continues to keep mum on his plans for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Just days before driver Tony Stewart makes his final bid for the 2011 series championship at Homestead Miami Speedway, the Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet crew chief fended off questions about his future during a NASCAR teleconference Tuesday. Various rumors have Grubb promoted to Director of Competition at Stewart Haas Racing next season -- replaced atop the pit box by current Penske Racing crew chief Steve Addington -- or even fired outright from the team. He was reportedly told weeks ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway that he will not return as crewchief. Penske Racing holds an option year on Addington’s contract, and sources say team owner Roger Penske has not yet agreed to grant him his release.

Asked about his 2012 plans, Grubb said, “We'll leave that to after Sunday and figure out what's going to happen then. Our goal is to win the championship. We'll decide everything else after that.” Grubb said he has not allowed himself to be distracted by speculation about his future, adding, “We've still got the same goals we've always had; that we want to go out and win the championship. Winning races is the way to do that. What we've done in the last nine weeks (has) shown we have the capability to do that. Hopefully we can continue that streak… and win at Homestead.”

And Finally: NASCAR Nationwide Series veteran Jason Leffler will make his last start in the #38 Great Clips Chevrolet for Turner Motorsports this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Leffler and his distinctive “faux hawk” hairdo have been the face of Great Clips’ Nationwide program for the last six seasons, and the former open wheel star continues to seek a new ride for the 2012 campaign. He will continue to represent Great Clips in select projects, and his longtime NASCAR sponsor will back his effort in the 2012 Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in January.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

JR Motorsports Fined, Penalized

NASCAR announced today that the No. 7 NASCAR Nationwide Series team of Danica Patrick has been issued penalties and fines as a result of rule infractions at Phoenix International Raceway last week.

The No. 7 Chevrolet was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4-J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); and 20A-2.3A (improperly attached weight) of the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series rule book. The infraction occurred during the race on Nov. 12.

As a result of the violations, crew chief Tony Eury Jr. has been fined $10,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until March 28, 2012.

Sgt. Slaughter Named GM of Ford 300

"Maggots, start your engines!"

WWE Hall of Famer Sgt. Slaughter has been announced as Grand Marshal for Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series championship race, the Ford 300, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Track President Matthew Becherer made that announcement today.

“I am really excited to start the Ford 300,” said Slaughter. “Ricky Stenhouse, Elliott Sadler, Justin Algaier and Aric Almirola have made the 2011 Nationwide Series special, and I can’t wait to see who is named champion once the checkered flag is waved and history is made.”

Sgt. Slaughter is truly one of a kind. A former United States Marine, he earned his famous ring name during his time in the service. Once he began his professional wrestling career, he solidified that name, intimidating adversaries and fans alike with his trademark drill sergeant attire and booming baritone. He remains one of the WWE’s most recognizable figures and comes to South Florida in advance of WrestleMania XXVIII, which will take place at Sun Life Stadium on April 1.

Following his retirement from full-time mat competition, he spent some time as WWE Commissioner and today serves as a WWE Ambassador.

“Sgt. Slaughter is a huge racing enthusiast,” said Becherer. “I am sure he’ll put his full effort into the command to start engines, and it’ll be a lot of fun for the fans Saturday night.”

Hamilton Jr. Out At Nashville Fairgrounds, Marlin Could Assume Promotional Reins

City officials are seeking a new promoter for the legendary Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, after 2011 leaseholder Bobby Hamilton, Jr., was determined to be in breach of contract.

WTVF-TV in Nashville reported recently that Hamilton’s last three checks to the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners bounced, after a difficult first season where he struggled to attract both cars and fans. He recently cancelled the track’s showcase event, the All-American 400, after being unable to negotiate a mutually agreeable financial arrangement with the sanctioning body for the event, CRA Super Series.
Hamilton’s contract to promote the city owned speedway expired at the end of October, and State Fair Director Buck Dozier said the board is looking for a new promoter to operate the track in 2012.

A group of investors headed by former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Sterling Marlin has expressed interested in acquiring the lease. Marlin won three championships at the legendary oval in the 1980s and his father, the late Clifton “Coo Coo” Marlin was a four-time titlist there in the 1960s. Both drivers used the track as a springboard to what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and Sterling Marlin said recently that he would like to take over the track "if everything can be worked out."

The Fair Board has asked for potential 2012 promoters to present proposals at a meeting December 6, with a decision expected by the end of the month. Hamilton will reportedly continue to own and operate Highland Rim Speedway, a quarter-mile short track 20 miles north of Nashville.