Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cheerios To Back Burton In 2013

General Mills' iconic Cheerios brand will return to the track in 2013 in partnership with Richard Childress Racing as the primary sponsor for six races and as a major associate sponsor for the rest of the season with the No. 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team and driver Jeff Burton.  

Cheerios will bring its familiar yellow and black paint scheme to the following races in 2013: Phoenix International Raceway (March 3), Bristol Motor Speedway (March 17), Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 26), Dover International Speedway (June 2), Michigan International Speedway (August 18) and New Hampshire Motor Speedway (September 22).

Involved as a NASCAR sponsor for more than 15 years, General Mills began its partnership with RCR in 2008 with Cheerios as primary sponsor of the #33 Sprint Cup Series team. The program moved to the #31 team as a co-primary sponsor for the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Johnson's "On The Road" Goes To Second Printing

Chandra and Jimmie Johnson announced today a second edition of “On The Road,” their 208-page, hardcover book that chronicles Johnson’s 2011 unsuccessful quest for an historic sixth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. In addition, a partnership with online retailer Amazon has been formed and the book is now available for purchase on Amazon.com. 

In less than three months, more than 4,200books have been sold through various outlets, including JimmieJohnson.com and the No. 48 Lowe’s trackside merchandise hauler – a testament to the passion and loyalty of NASCAR fans that played a significant role in the book’s sellout status. The second edition will be sold at those outlets again in addition to mass distribution through the new relationship with Amazon.com. 

“NASCAR fans continue to show how loyal and supportive they are,” said Johnson, who currently leads the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship standings with three races to go to decide the 2012 champion. “Chani and I are very proud of the book and are most proud that fans are enjoying the book, too. We are overwhelmed by the positive feedback and strong sales and the support of my fellow competitors.” 

The No. 48 merchandise hauler sold the last of its original order this past race weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway but will have a few more books from a re-order available during this weekend’s event at Texas Motor Speedway. The second edition is scheduled to be available at the No. 48 merchandise hauler during the following weekend’s race activities at Phoenix International Raceway, beginning Friday, Nov. 9. In addition, JimmieJohnson.com and Amazon.com will continue to take orders that will ship once supplies are available.
“The response to this book at-track has surpassed our expectations,” said George Gay, Vice President and General Manager of Motorsports Authentics, which staffs and maintains the No. 48 merchandise hauler. “It shows the power that Jimmie has in our sport and the fact that fans are always looking for something that brings them closer to their favorite driver. It’s rare that a product sells out this quickly on the merchandise rigs, but it just goes to show how excited fans are about this book.”
“On the Road” reveals lifestyle photographer Missy McLamb’s unprecedented access to all aspects of the Johnsons’ lives, from the frustrations of ending his record-breaking winning streak to the joys of fatherhood with then 1-year-old daughter Genevieve. NASCAR’s 10-week playoff known as the Chase serves as the backdrop for this first-hand account of the emotional toll running for a championship takes on Johnson, his family and team.  

The book was self-published by the Johnsons and packaged for publication by designer Mark Pollard.

Truck Series Preps For Critical Texas Stop

James Buescher
James Buescher heads home to Texas Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points lead and a championship in his grasp. In 200 laps at Martinsville Speedway last weekend, Buescher turned an ill-handling truck and a one-point deficit to main challenger Ty Dillon into a 21-point advantage. Now, Buescher heads home to the Lone Star State hoping to hold serve and claim a title he’s been chasing since he joined the series fulltime in 2009.

All four of Buescher’s 2012 Truck Series wins have come on 1.5-mile tracks; two at Kentucky and one each at Kansas and Chicagoland.  Both Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the championship will be awarded next month, are also 1.5-mile facilities.
Buescher has not thrived on TMS’ home cooking in the past. Despite leading laps in each of the last three races there – and winning the pole in two -- Buescher has an average finish of 14.3. Lifetime, he has three Top-10 finishes in seven Texas truck starts.
By comparison, Dillon has only two career starts at Texas, with Top-10 finishes in each. His best showing was a third in the fall race last year. Timothy Peters –still within striking distance -- is 25 points behind Buescher and has one Top-10 finish in nine starts at Texas.
Kyle is looking to rebound this weekend
Truck Notes: It’s been a difficult season for the Kyle Busch Motorsports team. In 2011, KBM piled up eight wins, six of them with Busch at the wheel. This season, a revolving roster of drivers that includes Busch, elder brother Kurt, Denny Hamlin, Jason Leffler, David Mayhew, German Quiroga, Drew Herring and Brian Scott have combined for just one checkered flag. That win came last week at Martinsville with Hamlin at the controls, and his checkered flag that could be a positive sign for the team. In the past, success has come in bunches for Busch, whose 30 wins as a driver rank him second all-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The team will double-down again this weekend, with Busch and NASCAR Toyota (Mexico) Series champion Quiroga both eying Victory Lane.
Chevrolet leads the Camping World Truck Series manufacturers’ standings by 18 points, and can clinch the title this weekend by leaving Texas with a 13-point lead over Toyota. The title can be secured by earning third-place points, or better.
Based on prior success, ThorSport Racing could figure prominently this weekend. Johnny Sauter won at Texas in the spring, with teammate Matt Crafton close behind in second. Crafton also had a strong run at Martinsville last week before being ushered aside in the late going by eventual winner Denny Hamlin.  

Brandon McReynolds, son of NASCAR On FOX analyst Larry McReynolds, will pilot the No. 4 Chevrolet Silverado for Turner Motorsports Friday night. 
 
Brendan Gaughan will drive the No. 2 truck for Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Texas, a track where he collected four consecutive Truck Series wins from 2002-2003.  

Todd Bodine leads all drivers with six career Texas wins, and will drive the No. 11 Toyota for Red Horse Racing.  

Nelson Piquet Jr. will make his 50th NCWTS start Saturday.

 

 

Busch Set For Busy Weekend In Texas

Mud run, qualifying run, race run. 

Those three issues will consume 100% of Kurt Busch’s focus as he heads to Texas Motor Speedway for a memorable weekend at the “No Limits” motorsports facility. 
 
Busch supports the Armed Forces Foundation
First up in Busch’s “Texas Three-Step” is Thursday’s inaugural Busch Whacked Mud Run, from 4-10 p.m. at the Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track. The charity Mud Run is a competition on an obstacle course and features troops from nearby Fort Hood, NASCAR drivers and team members, celebrity supporters and media members, with proceeds supporting military families and children through the Armed Forces Foundation, The Kurt Busch Foundation and Speedway Children’s Charities. 

“The Mud Run came together with ideas from a few different avenues,” said Busch this week. “And when we pulled the trigger to get it started, it was because of this trend across America where people are doing fun things to work out, stay athletic, or just to engage in activities centered around well-being and health. 

“It was also a great opportunity to tie-in the troops from Fort Hood to the AFF foundation, as well as my connection to the racing world. And a big shout out goes to Eddie Gossage (president of TMS) for giving us the green light with his dirt track.” 

Supporting the troops is a longtime passion for Busch, who is a frequent visitor to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. 

“Visiting our injured troops has had a huge impact on me,” he said. “There is so much to learn from the mental anguish that our troops go through to the mental toughness during their recovery. You want to be there to give your time, your support and tell our men and women in uniform how much you appreciate their service and sacrifice to our country.” 

While Busch is looking to have fun in Thursday’s Mud Run, he will admittedly take Friday’s practice and qualifying sessions more seriously in the No. 78 Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet. This weekend’s event is Busch’s fourth with Furniture Row Racing. He has not qualified well in his first three attempts, with starting positions of 21st, 29th and 19th.  

“We’re working hard to better our qualifying program,” stated Busch. “It’s still early in our driver/team relationship, but this is an area we need to focus on. It’s much easier to run up front when you start up front.” 

Despite those sub-par qualifying efforts, Busch was running solidly in the Top-5 in the last two races at Kansas and Martinsville, before being stymied in each race as an accident victim. 

“We have quality cars at Furniture Row Racing and are coming together as a team,” noted Busch, a 24-time Sprint Cup Series winner. “The decision to run the final six races to prepare for next year was the right one. There is so much to learn and also to merge the best of the way the team and I have done things in the past. I am encouraged with the progress we have made so far.” 

Busch said he is aiming for a strong performance in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, a track where he has enjoyed success with one win, three Top-5 and 11 Top-10 finishes. 

"I like Texas Motor Speedway,” explained Busch, who won the 2009 fall race there. “It’s fast and you have to be on the edge with that speed. Over the years, Texas has treated me well and I always get up on the wheel there.”

Photo: Andy Rubenstein

K&N Leader LaJoie Docked For Carburetor Infraction

LaJoie won the pole and the race at Greenville Pickens
NASCAR announced today the No. 07 and No. 97 teams that compete in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East have been penalized as a result of rules violations committed Saturday, Oct. 27, at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway.
The No. 07 team was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4-I (Race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); and Section 20C-5.10.1A: (Carburetor Eligibility: The Holley 4150HP Series, list number 80509, four (4) barrel carburetor is the only carburetor approved for the NASCAR-approved "Spec Engine". The carburetor must remain as supplied by the NASCAR-approved supplier (refer to sub-section 20C-4.1B)); Section 20C-4.1B: (No modifications to the carburetor and carburetor spacer - Must remain as supplied by the NASCAR-approved supplier: Unapproved modification to the carburetor metering block). The violation was discovered during post-race inspection on Oct. 27.
Ron Otto, crew chief of the No. 07 car, has been fined $5,000, suspended from NASCAR until the fine is paid and placed on NASCAR probation for the next NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event. No. 07 car owner, Randy LaJoie, and No. 07 driver, Corey LaJoie, have been penalized with the loss of 25 championship owner and driver points, respectively.
The No. 97 team was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing); Section 12-4-I (Race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); Section 20C-12.1A(1): (Front coil springs must be constructed with a minimum wire diameter of 0.575 inch); Section 20C-12.1A(3): (The free height of the bare front coil springs must not be more than 9-1/2 inches and must not be less than 7-1/2 inches: The left front spring was less than the minimum diameter and exceeded the maximum height). The violation was discovered during post-race inspection on Oct. 27.
Kris Bowen, crew chief of the No. 97 car, has been fined $750 and suspended from NASCAR until the fine is paid.
Randy LaJoie said on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio today that his team will appeal the penalty.

By The Numbers, Jimmie Favored Again In Texas

Johnson leads the series to Texas
With just three races remaining in the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, it’s a four-man battle for the championship. Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson leads challenger Brad Keselowski by just two points in the race for the title, while Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne remain on the fringes of title contention. 

Of the four championship contenders, five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson once again appears to be the best bet for Victory Lane Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. The current Sprint Cup Series point leader has one win in 18 career Sprint Cup Series starts at Texas, with eight Top-5 and 13 Top-10 finishes and an average finish of 9.7.  

Johnson has just one finish outside the Top-10 in his last five Texas starts; a 14th-place showing last fall. He finished second behind winner Greg Biffle there in April, after leading 156 laps. 
 
By comparison, Keselowski has struggled at Texas, with an average finish of 25.3 in eight career races there. Those numbers are somewhat skewed by a 36th-place finish earlier this season due to a failed electronic fuel injection component, but his Miller Lite “Blue Deuce” has often struggled at TMS. Since joining Penske Racing, Keselowski’s best Texas finish has been a 14th in August of 2010, and he has three finishes of 30th or worse.

Lifetime, Keselowski has an average Texas running position of just 23.2, 27th-best among active Sprint Cup Series drivers.
Like Keselowski, third-place point man Clint Bowyer has never won a Sprint Cup race at TMS. He does have three Top-5 and seven Top-10 finishes in 13 starts there, however, good for an average finish of 13.3. His average running position at the Fort Worth oval is 13.4, ninth-best among active drivers. 

Fourth place contender Kasey Kahne is a former winner at Texas Motor Speedway, having driven to Victory Lane in the 2006 Samsung/Radio Shack 500 for Evernham Motorsports. He also has four Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes there in 16 career starts; good for an average finish of 18.8. His average running position of 16.0 is 16th-best among active Sprint Cup Series drivers at Texas. 

Trailing Johnson by 26 and 29 points, respectively, Bowyer and Kahne will need strong runs Sunday – along with some stumbling by Johnson – to position themselves strongly for a championship run in the final two races at Phoenix and Homestead.
 
Photo: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images North America

Numbers Don't Lie: No Need To Tinker With The Chase


No matter how intense the championship chase may be, there will always be those wanting to improve it. 

In recent weeks, a small but vocal group of fans and media members has espoused a revision to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup point system, creating a separate points table for the 12 Chase contenders. Under the so-called “12-1 System,” the top-finishing Chase contender in each race would receive 12 points, regardless of where he finished in the overall rundown. The next-best Chase contender (regardless of overall finish) would receive 11 points, with each subsequent Chase driver receiving one less point.  

Proponents claim the “12-1” system would produce tighter, more exciting championship races by penalizing drivers less in the aftermath of a poor finish, keeping more teams in title contention and increasing fan interest. Unfortunately, the numbers show that the exact opposite is true. 

Sirius XM Speedway listener Jason Lundstrom did the math this week, performing an “apples-to-apples” comparison  to determine whether the “12-1” system really does produce a closer, more exciting Chase. Lundstrom’s table reveals that under a separate, “12-1” points system for Chase contenders, Jimmie Johnson would hold a two-point lead over Brad Keselowski with three races remaining; identical to the margin he enjoys under the current, 43-1 points system. 

Under the “12-1” system, Kasey Kahne would rank third in championship points -- six points behind Johnson – while Clint Bowyer would be 11 points behind in fourth. At first glance, that seems like a tighter points chase. In reality, however, it’s not. 

Under the “12-1” system, the third-place driver trails by 50% of the points available in a single race. Under the current system, however, the third-place driver trails by 54% of a single race. That’s a minimal difference, at best.  

Under the “12-1” system, the fourth-place driver lags behind the leader by 92% of a single race. Under the current system, the gap between the championship leader and fourth place is 60% of a race. 

The top six in championship points are closer under the current system, as well. Sixth-place point man Jeff Gordon is currently 1.13 races from the lead, while under the 12-1 system, Martin Truex, Jr., would be sixth in the title chase, 1.5 races behind. 

Under the current system, the entire Chase field is separated by 140 points, or 2.92 races. Under the 12-1 system, there would be 38 points (3.17 races) between leader Johnson and 12th place Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  

Again, the 12-1 system actually results in a less-competitive title chase.
 

 

RPM Confirms Blickensderfer Hiring

Blickensderfer to RPM
Richard Petty Motorsports confirmed today that former Richard Childress Racing crew chief Drew Blickensderfer has joined the team as crew chief of the No. 9 Ford and driver Marcos Ambrose.

Prior to his tenure at RCR, the Mount Zion, Ill., native spent the majority of his career with teams associated with Ford Racing and Roush-Fenway Racing. He is a former Daytona 500 champion and has multiple Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series wins with drivers Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.

"Drew has a lot of experience with Ford Racing and also how our current operation works," said team owner Richard Petty. "His knowledge can immediately improve the performance of the No. 9 race team. Marcos has proved to win races and compete in the top-five. The addition of Drew will hopefully provide those results on a more consistent basis."

Ambrose has one win, eight top-10 and three top-five finishes this season. In addition, Ambrose has won two poles this year.

"We have had success this season and now we're just looking for more consistency as we prepare for next season," said Ambrose. "Drew brings a strong resume to our team and can help us find the results that we want each week. I'm looking forward to working with him."

Blickensderfer replaces Mike Ford, who is expected to land at BK Racing.

Photo: Action Sports Photography

Monday, October 29, 2012

Keselowski Pushing Title Hunt To New Heights

Brad Keselowski has elevated his game to previously unheard-of levels this season. And he has taken Jimmie Johnson along for the ride.  

With the exception of Tony Stewart’s five-win Chase a year ago, nobody has succeeded in taking the championship battle to Johnson in the last six years. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been able to dictate the tempo of his five successful title hunts, winning more races than the competition and running consistently enough when he didn’t win to keep his pursuers at bay.  

This time around, though, it’s different.  

Instead of a healthy 15, 20 or 25-point advantage with three races remaining, Johnson’s current edge is just two points. No meltdown needed, no colossal collapse, not even a substantial glitch. In fact, Johnson can finish in the Top Three in all of the remaining races and still lose the title. Win, lose or draw, Keselowski has pushed Johnson harder – and farther – than anyone has pushed him before. 

Over the years, Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team have seemingly been immune to pressure. They go about their jobs in an efficient, workmanlike manner, capitalizing on every opportunity and rebounding efficiently from their infrequent miscues.  

This year, the same can be said for Keselowski.  

He and crew chief Paul Wolfe went to Dover International Speedway last month as major underdogs, having never finished in the Top-10 there in five career Sprint Cup Series starts. Johnson was widely heralded as the favorite to win on the Monster Mile, but at the end of the day, it was Keselowski in Victory Lane. Johnson held a major statistical edge last weekend at Martinsville, as well, and while he once again drove the Lowe’s Chevrolet to Victory Lane, Keselowski was close behind with an overachieving sixth-place finish. 

“We did what we needed to do today for sure,” said Johnson Sunday. “We have done a very nice job over these seven races to put us in the points lead (and) we’re ready to race under any conditions. But he is a great driver (with) a great team. The next three races will tell the tale.
“Anything can happen,” he said, insisting that with just a little bad luck for the lead pair, “Bowyer is your champion. There are a lot of laps to be run with three races left. It’s hard to say that even Hamlin is out of it yet."
For his part, Keselowski does not sound like a man unhappy to be battling from behind.
“I feel really confident going into Texas and Homestead,” he said. “I feel like those are two races we can race (Johnson) heads-up on speed and maybe even a little better. I'm not quite so sure about Phoenix, but I'm feeling great. It's like being in a war and surviving the battle.”
Now, Keselowski can be the hunter, rather than the hunted. He can counterpunch, playing whatever strategy card Johnson does not in an effort to claim the 2012 title. And like like Johnson, the Penske Racing driver predicted that the 2012 title fight will go right down to the final laps. 

“This championship is going to come down to Homestead,” he said. “You have to be in a position where you're in sight of it. We need to do what we need to do to be in contention at Homestead. I'm sure it's going to be a duel there.
“We'll keep fighting the good fight.”
Photo: HHP Photo/Alan Marler, K&N



 

RCR Confirms Blickensderfer's Departure

Richard Childress
Richard Childress Racing made it official today, confirming that crew chief Shane Wilson will replace Drew Blickensderfer at the helm of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team with driver Jeff Burton for the final three races of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. 

"I want to thank Drew for all of his effort with the No. 31 Caterpillar team this season," said Richard Childress, president and CEO of Richard Childress Racing. "He's a great crew chief and I can't say enough about his dedication to RCR. Making the move now, before the season is over, gives Drew some additional time to pursue other opportunities. 

"Shane is a proven winner and I appreciate his willingness to step into this role for the balance of the 2012 season." 

Luke Lambert, who currently calls the shots for RCR's NASCAR Nationwide Series driver championship point standings leading No. 2 team with Elliott Sadler, will take over the No. 31 team crew chief duties for the 2013 season. Lambert served as interim crew chief for the No. 31 team in 2011. 

"Luke is proving this season that he's a strong, young crew chief who can win races and compete for a championship," added Childress. "

Announcing his move to the No. 31 team in 2013 will not take anything away from his focus on the No. 2 team winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. That's his No. 1 priority. We merely wanted to show that we have both an interim plan for the rest of this season and a long-term plan for the future."

Blickensderfer, Ford, Lambert Part Of Major Crew Chief Shuffle

Blickensderfer is on the move.
Drew Blickensderfer resigned as crew chief of Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet Sunday, and will leave Richard Childress Racing for a new spot atop the pit box for driver Marcos Ambrose at Richard Petty Motorsports.

Burton has suffered through a miserable 2012 campaign, and currently ranks 19th in championship points with just two Top-5 and six Top-10 finishes in 33 starts. While sponsor Caterpillar recently issued a statement of confidence in both Burton and his team, the veteran driver said he sees the 2013 season as a “make or break” campaign. Rumors have circulated widely in recent weeks about possible changes at the crew chief position for the No. 31 team.
Blickensderfer will replace Mike Ford, who has been calling the shots for Ambrose since swapping jobs with veteran Todd Parrott a few weeks ago. Multiple sources say Ambrose was not consulted prior to the change, and disapproved of the move. Blickensderfer spent nearly a decade at Roush Fenway Racing, which provides technical assistance, chassis and engines to RPM.
FOXSports.com’s Lee Spencer reported today that Ford has been offered a crew chief’s position at BK Racing for 2013.
Veteran RCR crewman Shane Wilson will oversee Burton’s team for the final three races of this season. Multiple sources say Elliott Sadler’s Nationwide Series crew chief, Luke Lambert, will fill the role next year, after finishing the 2012 campaign with Sadler. Lambert spent nearly half of the 2011 season as interim crew chief for Burton, recording two Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes in 17 starts.
Photo: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images North America
 

 

Top-Five Finish Proves Riggs Still Belongs

Riggs was fifth Saturday at Martinsville
Going into Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway, Scott Riggs was looking to “have a little fun” with the Ricky Benton Racing Enterprises team. 

"I've been doing start and parks for the last year and a half," said Riggs, "so it will be a blast to go out and run a full race." 

Riggs did more than just race, bringing the No. 92 BTS Tire and Wheel Distributors/fleetHQ.com Chevrolet Silverado home fifth, in his first-ever start for the team. It was the RBR's first Top-5 showing since the 2011 NextEra 250 at Daytona International Speedway, and proved that Riggs can still compete in the upper echelon of the sport. 

The Bahama, NC, native has not had a full-time, competitive ride since 2008, when he ran the full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule in Gene Haas’ State Water Heaters-sponsored Chevrolet. The team struggled, with only one Top-10 finish; a seventh at Talladega in October. The following year, he drove Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 36 Sprint Cup Chevy, but made only eight starts all season after failing to qualify four times in the first seven weeks.  

Eventually, Riggs was forced to become a “start and park” racer, running just a handful of laps for various underfinanced teams before pulling the car to the garage. After contending for championships in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, the “start and park” label was difficult for him to accept. 

“I just can’t do it,” said Riggs at the time. “I’m a racer, and if I can’t give a 100% effort, I would rather not be out there at all.” 

Riggs was as good as his word for a time, walking away from the sport and making no NASCAR National Series starts in 2009.  He transition into “the real world” in an attempt to pay the bills and support his young family, and while the money was good, Riggs missed the smell of exhaust and burning rubber, not to mention the competition and camaraderie of the NASCAR garage. 

“I had it set in my mind that I was never going back,” he recalls. “I never thought I’d get another chance. But after sitting out for a year, I saw that things had changed. `Start and park’ was becoming more of an accepted approach for small teams to try and survive. And personally, I discovered that the only thing worse than `start and park’ was not being a part of the sport at all.  

“I did a lot of pride swallowing,” he admitted. “When R3 Motorsports called and asked if I would do a few (start and park) Nationwide races for them, I accepted the offer. We did that a few times, then went to Darlington and finished 13th. I’ll admit it felt good to be back in the car, even if we only ran a few laps most weeks.” 

When R3 Motorsports decided to take its operation to the headline NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season, Riggs said he expected the worst. 

“I was prepared to be miserable,” he said. “I thought we’d miss 75% of the races until they got tired of it, ran out of money and pulled the plug.  But we’ve actually done quite a bit better than that.” 

In fact, R3 has qualified 19 times in 26 Sprint Cup attempts this season. Prior to this week, Riggs had also made 13 Nationwide starts for Rick Ware Racing and four Camping World Truck appearances for team owners Mike Alger, Mike Harmon and Richie Wauters. Virtually all were `start and park’ appearances, a practice Riggs has come to accept, if not enjoy. Saturday offered him a rare opportunity to run a complete NASCAR race, albeit with an RBR team that is badly underfunded in comparison to its competition. 

“We know we’re down on resources,” he said. “We were seriously short on horsepower and the truck was way too heavy. We didn’t have half the lead weight in our truck that the top guys did. I just wanted to take care of my equipment, stay out of trouble and see what the day would bring. I thought if we could finish in the Top-12, it’d be like a win.” 

Riggs started the race in the 23rd position, and quickly began moving through the field once the green flag flew. After cracking the Top-15, Riggs’ RBR crew did its part, ripping off a sizzling, yellow-flag pit stop that pushed him into the Top-10 on Lap 152. From there, the veteran driver deftly worked his way into the Top-5, and into contention for a win. 

"With age comes wisdom,” said Riggs. "It was getting rough out there, and guys were beating and banging on each other. I took my spots when I could, while still keeping the truck clean. I decided to walk down the hill, instead of running.”  

Riggs was fifth at the drop of the checkered flag, his best NASCAR finish since 2001, when he contended for the Truck Series championship with Jim Smith’s Ultra Motorsports. 

“I did a lot of smiling Saturday,” admitted Riggs. “It was fun to get back to real racing again. That finish put a lot of life back into me, for sure. 

“I don’t feel any different as a driver than I ever did,” he said. “I drove the same race Saturday that I ever would have, and honestly, I am more confident in my abilities today than I have ever been in my career.  

“Put a driver in something that is down on horsepower -- heavy, with no engineering support, no testing and no data to fall back on – and you’ll find out what he’s made of. You’ve got to be damned good to qualify for a Sprint Cup race under those conditions, and we’ve qualified a lot this year.  

“Don’t misunderstand,” cautioned Riggs. “`Start and park’ still sucks, and it always will. It’s totally against a driver’s makeup. It’s hard to do. On Friday, you’re ecstatic to qualify 35th fastest; high-fiving your guys and celebrating because you made the show. Then on Sunday, you’re ashamed that you can’t go out there and actually race.  

“It’s hard, but it has made me stronger, better, and more appreciative of what I had before.” 

RBR Enterprises has no more NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events on its 2012 Truck Series schedule, and Benton said the team’s 2013 slate depends on sponsorship.  

Riggs’ effort Saturday can only help.

Bernard Resigns As CEO of INDYCAR

Bernard out as IndyCar CEO
Randy Bernard has stepped down as CEO of INDYCAR, effective immediately. 

The board of directors of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation convened a special meeting Sunday to accept Bernard’s resignation, and appoint Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation President and CEO Jeff Belskus as interim CEO of INDYCAR.

"We are very grateful for the tireless effort that Randy has invested into learning, understanding and working to grow the IndyCar Series over the last three racing seasons," said Belskus. "As both Randy and our organization have reflected on the past season and as we look toward the opportunities ahead and how to best take advantage of them, we agreed that the timing was right to pursue separate paths."

Bernard, who joined INDYCAR in March 2010, said he is leaving INDYCAR in a better position than when he arrived.

"I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with the entire INDYCAR community, its teams, drivers, loyal partners and fans," Bernard said. "The last three years have produced some exciting, and some difficult, times. But we have created a foundation for INDYCAR that positions it to grow over the next several years, and I am proud of what everyone at INDYCAR has been able to accomplish since I came on board."

Bernard was also grateful for the support of the Hulman-George family during his tenure.

"I want to thank the Hulman-George family, especially Josie (George), for giving me the opportunity and privilege to work with the organization and to help set a course and direction for INDYCAR," Bernard said. "With the family's firm commitment to the betterment of the sport and the dedication of our teams, drivers, partners and fans, INDYCAR is better poised for success than it has been in many years."

Belskus credited Bernard with successfully navigating INDYCAR through a challenging and important time period that included the development and rollout of the first new chassis rules in nine years and the introduction of a new engine platform and multiple engine manufactures after six years of a single-supplier format.

Belskus added that Bernard would still provide input into the overall operation of INDYCAR through an ongoing advisory capacity with INDYCAR. Bernard said he was looking forward to staying involved.

"I have developed a passion for the sport of INDYCAR, and I look forward to being involved at a strategic level as an advisor to the INDYCAR leadership," Bernard said. "As INDYCAR fans, we need to unify behind the sport in order to move it to the next level, and I look forward to providing input and being part of that unified voice along the way."

Belskus, who served as CEO of INDYCAR from July 2009 through February 2010, will continue in his current roles in addition to being named interim CEO of INDYCAR. Belskus said a specific timeline had not been established for announcing a permanent replacement, but added that future INDYCAR leadership structure will be addressed as part of a current strategic planning process that includes assistance from global business management firm The Boston Consulting Group and would incorporate consultation with INDYCAR stakeholders.

"The organization is full of talented professionals, and we will continue to prepare for what will be a very exciting 2013 racing season," Belskus said. "Once again, INDYCAR is not for sale, and the organization remains completely committed to owning and operating INDYCAR."
 
Photo: Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Roush Reflects On 3,000 Sprint Cup Starts

3,000 Cup starts for the Cat In the Hat
Roush Fenway Racing will make its 3,000th NASCAR Sprint Cup  Series start Sunday at Martinsville Speedway; a fact that made team owner Jack Roush wax nostalgic earlier today.

“I was not aware of it until somebody brought it to my attention, but it’s a milestone for sure,” said the longtime NASCAR team owner. “I remember the first year we went to Daytona. Our first race was the Daytona 500 and we didn’t have a garage to start with. They finally gave us one, down at the very end when somebody who had more standing didn’t come.
“We didn’t win at all,” recalled Roush of his first season at NASCAR’s top level. “I think we had one or two poles that first year, and I wasn’t sure we were going to win in the second year until the fall race at Rockingham, when Mark (Martin) won. The sponsors I had were teetering, but that win gave them the green to go forward with us another year.”
Roush said economic instability was a regular part of the program in the early years, adding, “All of the sponsors I had were one-year programs. That cemented a relationship with Folgers, and then Valvoline quickly wanted in, so we were on our way. Little by little, we gained the experience and I had enough good people around to make the important judgments that led us to becoming a viable multiple-car team.”
Roush called his motorsports career, “really a blessing. If you include our road racing wins and other NASCAR series, we’re at about 450 victories now. Running the Trucks, Nationwide and Cup – all three – and having the success we’ve had has done a lot to bolster our confidence.”
Roush recalled that at first, racing was a hobby, not a business.
“When I started drag racing, it was a recreational; an after-work activity fueled by youthful enthusiasm. Then as we realized how big the challenges were, and I recognized that I needed to generate cash flow and an income stream to siphon off enough money to pay for the equipment that my race cars needed. That has been the trademark of what we’ve done for more than 25 years. We’ve had to look at a series, look at a race car and the rules, and then consider the opportunity to make a viable business out of it by selling the technology and selling the success to other people who would like to bask in it.
“The fact we’ve been able to survive for 25 years in Cup racing is more important to me than 300 wins. That’s a more significant accomplishment.”

Borland Happy To Be Reunited With Newman

Newman and Borland have a winning record
Matt Borland is back atop the pit box for Ryan Newman this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, renewing a partnership that produced 12 Sprint Cup Series victories and dozens of poles at Penske Racing between 2002 and 2006.

“It’s nice, said Borland of his new position, which comes in addition to his duties as vice president of competition at Stewart Haas Racing. “It’s good to be back with Ryan and we’ve got a great group of people at Stewart-Haas. Everybody has just jumped on board and hopefully make a good run at these last four (races) and get things rolling for next year.”
He said it is unrealistic to expect the tandem to pick up where it left off six years ago, adding, “it’s going to take a little while. He’s obviously been doing this every weekend for the last 15 years and I’ve been not doing it for the last six or so. It’s getting me back on the same page, but things are going pretty good.”
Borland said there are reasons for his previous success with Newman that he hopes to re-create once again.
“I think it’s just attitude and work ethic,” he said. “verything was about racing, everything was about winning and everything was about that particular moment in time being the best you can be. I think everybody on that team was in that mindset, (and) the program was able to run very strongly. I think that was the big piece.
“You don’t have data acquisition on the car,” he said, “(so) you’ve got to be able to trust what that driver is saying. You’ve got to be able to know that what that driver is saying is right. So you’ve got to spend a lot of time talking about what is going on with the car, what he’s feeling. Sometimes you might not get that answer in the first 30 seconds of a conversation. It might be four hours down the road and you’re like, `Wait a minute, you just said something there. I remember you said something over here that matches that.’
Borland is back!
“If the relationship is not good, you don’t have those two, three, or four-hour conversations. You end up with 30-second conversations. So then when you are making decisions you don’t really have all the information that you need.”
He called his decision to return to the crew chief ranks “a situation with our company that made sense right now. We needed to get a good strong team under Danica (Patrick) for next year, with her coming on board full time. Tony Gibson and that No. 39 team have done an awesome job the last four years, so it’s a good solid group to work with her and make that program solid.
“It’s good to see everybody,” said Borland. “It’s good to be back in a familiar job setting. The last four years I’ve been spending a lot more time working on parts for the car, working on R&D-type stuff. Now, it’s more about tuning the car (and) making the most of it on that day.”
He said the arrival of a retooled Sprint Cup Series racer next season could serve to level the playing field, allowing lower-budget teams to be more competitive, at least in the short term. However, Borland said the dominant operations will likely still prevail in the end.
I think it’s still going to be the teams that are strongest in being able to figure out things quickly,” he said. “Definitely, everybody is going to go back to ground zero (with the new car). Then it’s going to be a race to see who can find the package that works.”
Photo: Getty Images, Autostock

Keselowski Faces Another Critical Test

Keso is on the hot seat
Brad Keselowski has spent much of the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with his back against the wall. Through it all, the Miller Lite Dodge driver has persevered, maintaining his grip on the top spot in the championship standings.

Sunday, that grip may slip.

With a lead of just seven points over five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski struggled mightily in qualifying for the TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, and will roll off 32nd in Sunday’s race. Johnson, meanwhile, will lead the field to the green flag from the pole position.

Johnson has dominated in past events at the Martinsville oval, winning six times in 21 career starts there. He has recorded Top-5 finishes in two-thirds of those starts, and with a lifetime average finish of 5.8, the Lowe’s Chevrolet driver ranks as one of the best ever to turn a wheel at the Commonwealth oval.

Keselowski, meanwhile, has struggled. In five career Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville, he has managed just two Top-10 finishes; a 10th-place showing in 2010 and a ninth earlier this season. With an average finish of 13.4, Martinsville is unlikely to rank anywhere near the top of Keselowski’s “favorite track’s” list.

A back-of-the-pack start is problematic at Martinsville, for two reasons. The track’s tight, paper-clip layout produces frequent incidents that can sweep-up drivers relegated to the rear of the field by a poor qualifying effort. Even if he is able to avoid trouble Sunday, Keselowski could fall into the clutches of the race leaders, who often begin lapping slower cars in the first 25 laps of the event.

In an effort to dodge those bullets, crew chief Paul Wolfe will almost certainly have to modify his pit strategy, foregoing an early pit stop to gain Keselowski valuable track position. If Sunday’s race features multiple cautions in the first 50-75 laps, Wolfe may be able to manipulate his driver to the front of the field. If not, Keselowski’s “Blue Deuce” could be in trouble.

The good news for Keselowski fans is that the Michigan native has overcome long odds before. Johnson was also a heavy favorite going into the Dover race on Sept. 30, but Keselowski and Wolfe played their cards masterfully on the Monster Mile, stretching superior fuel mileage into an upset victory on a track where they had never before finished better than 12th.

They’ll need a similar performance Sunday if Keselowski is to remain the leader of the band.