Wednesday, November 30, 2016

ISC Approves Phoenix Redevelopment

The Board of Directors of International Speedway Corporation has approved a multi-year redevelopment project for Phoenix International Raceway. 

The 52-year old venue will receive new and upgraded seating areas, vertical transportation options, new concourses, enhanced hospitality offerings and an intimate infield experience with greater accessibility to pre-race activities. In addition to fan and spectator areas, PIR is exploring improvements for competitors and industry personnel, particularly key structures located throughout the infield. 

The redevelopment project is expected to cost approximately $178 million, is expected to commence in early 2017 and be complete in late 2018.  

“Phoenix Raceway provides a one-of-a-kind setting for some of the most exciting and thrilling races that the sport has to offer,” said ISC Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy. “This project will further enhance that experience and ensure that the venue continues to be a treasured destination for race fans.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

BREAKING: Buescher To Second JTG Daugherty Chevrolet

JTG Daugherty Racing has announced that they will field a second Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet next season, with former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Chris Buescher at the wheel. 

Team owner Tad Geschickter confirmed the move today, saying, “We can confirm at this time that JTG Daugherty Racing is currently in the process of starting a second team in the NASCAR premier series. We would also like to confirm and welcome Chris Buescher to the team as our driver for the second car.” 

Buescher also commented on the move, saying, “I can confirm that I have signed to race for JTG Daugherty Racing as they expand to a two-car team in the NASCAR premier series in 2017. I’m thankful for the opportunity and look forward to competing for a spot in the Chase.” 

Details on sponsorship and crew alignments are expected in the coming days.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ty Dillon To Germain Racing With GEICO Sponsorship

Ty Dillon will assume the full-time driving duties of the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Germain Racing. Dillon follows Casey Mears, who has driven for the last seven years.

"I have been preparing for this next step in my career for several years," Dillon said. "With my experience in the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series, I am ready to drive full-time in the Sprint Cup Series. I want to thank Bob Germain and the entire Germain Racing organiza tion for giving me this opportunity. It will be an honor to represent a brand and sponsor like GEICO which has played such a significant role in the sport for so many years."

The 24-year old Dillon has made 17 starts in the Sprint Cup Series for several different teams, including Circle Sport/Leavine Family Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. He scored a career-best sixth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway in May 2016 while serving as a relief driver for Tony Stewart.

Germain Racing notched two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championships and two top-10 points finishes in the NASCAR XFINITY Series before making the jump to the nation's top racing series. Since the inception of their Sprint Cup Series program in 2009, the team has established itself as an accomplished restrictor-plate program, while also achieving success at the series' road course events.

With the switch to Chevrolet and the addition of Richard Childress Racing as a technical partner in 2014, they have experienced improvement at the challenging intermediate tracks. Team owner Bob Germain said he aims to continue making progress in the coming years.

"I want to thank Casey Mears for everything he's done for our race team over the past six years," Germain said. "He's been an integral part of our growth and a great representative for GEICO and our many partners. Bringing Ty onboard is an exciting opportunity for us and we are committed to giving him all the resources he needs to reach his full potential. He's a very talented driver and first class young man. I'm looking forward to working with him, as well as expanding our relationship with RCR."

RCR's partnership with Germain Racing includes technology sharing, research and development, and engineering under the Chevrolet banner. Germain Racing will also continue to utilize engines from ECR Engines.

"Ty has done an exceptional job for us at RCR in every series he has raced in," said RCR Chairman and CEO, Richard Childress. "He has won races at each level and competed for championships every year. Ty is a passionate driver and has shown that he is ready for the highest level of stock car racing. I'm proud of him and I am confident he will succeed. I have a lot of respect for Bob Germain and the organization he has built, and I know he and Ty will be successful together. I also look forward to Ty's continued involvement in RCR's XFINITY Series program."

Monday, November 21, 2016

Smoke, Out. Stewart Says Goodbye With 22nd-Place Finish At Homestead-Miami Speedway

Tony Stewart took his final ride in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race car Sunday night at Homestead Miami Speedway, driving his Stewart Haas Motorsports Chevrolet to a 22nd-place finish in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400.

The exit was not what Stewart or his fans would have wished. In a perfect world, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion would have exited in Victory Lane; a winner in his final career NASCAR start. But in a 2016 campaign with relatively few competitive highlights, the Indiana native exited with a whimper, rather than a bang.

Despite his lukewarm farewell performance, however, Stewart climbed from his No, 14 Chevrolet wearing a contended smile. Burdened these last few years by sponsor commitments, legal entanglements and injury, the driver known as “Smoke” is free to do what he wants to do going forward, rather than what he is contractually obligated to do.

This is the last one,” said Stewart Friday, vowing not to be lured back into the cockpit the way Jeff Gordon was earlier this season.

“I think I learned my lesson from Jeff,” laughed Stewart. “He tried to do somebody a favor this year and got roped into running half the season. Thank you, Jeff for teaching me a lesson before I got roped in.”

While he will not be strapping into Sprint Cup Series machinery on Sunday afternoons any longer, Stewart made it clear that he has no plans to retire as a driver.

“I have a lot of race cars to have fun in,” he said, repeating his oft-stated pledge to increase the amount of time spent on dirt tracks across the country. “I would love to race the (Camping World) Truck race at Eldora.

“Since I was eight-years old, there has never been a thought in my mind about doing anything outside of racing,” he added. “I don’t know what to do outside of racing. 24/7, my mind is consumed (with racing) in some capacity.”

The mere mention of dirt racing brings a gleam to Stewart’s eye. He clearly relishes the thought of tossing a Sprint Car sideways through minefields of choppy red clay next season, and with career winnings in excess of $122 million, he has the financial wherewithal to do so at the very highest level. For Stewart, a return to dirt in 2017 represents a return to his racing roots; where post-race festivities are long on cold beer and short on Media Center obligations.

That’s dirt racing’s gain and NASCAR’s loss.

Since the day he arrived – a rail-thin wunderkind straight out of the open wheel Indy Car ranks – Stewart has served as NASCAR’s resident truth teller. Unwilling -- or perhaps incapable -- of giving anything but his honest opinion, Stewart angered NASCAR officials, track owners, fellow drivers and media members alike. He lampooned rule changes, criticized driving tactics and mocked moronic questions with equal glee. His weekly media availabilities were can’t-miss affairs, veering instantaneously from insightful to sarcastic, bombastic to belligerent.

He was sometimes inconsistent in his commentary, like the day he lambasted the blocking tactics employed by drivers at Daytona and Talladega, saying “we’re probably going to kill somebody… and it could be me.” Moments later, he employed those same blocking tactics himself; blissfully ignorant of the irony. NASCAR responded by implementing strict regulations on blocking and bump-drafting.

After criticizing NASCAR in the past for being over-officious, Stewart demand this season that the sanctioning body regulate lug nuts to save teams from themselves. The sanctioning body fined him $35,000 for those comments, then changed its lug nut rule less than a week later.

He blasted NASCAR Chairman Brian France earlier this year for failing to attend meetings of the Sprint Cup Drivers Council. France defending his absence, insisting that drivers spoke more candidly without him in the room. Weeks later, France attended his first Driver’s Council meeting.

That’s the wonder of Tony Stewart. Calling it like he sees it, come hell or high water.

Stewart’s brand of heart-on-his-sleeve outspokenness has its price, however. His periodic clashes with media, NASCAR and his fellow drivers have branded him a “loose cannon” in some circles, and the 2014 incident that resulted in the death of Sprint Car driver Kevin Ward, Jr. only reinforced the renegade image in some people’s eyes.

“Part of the reason I’m retiring is because I’m tired of being responsible for (speaking out),” Said Stewart recently. “It’s somebody else’s responsibility now. I’ve had my fill of it. I’ve had my fill of fighting the fight. At some point, you say, ‘Why do I keep fighting this fight when I’m not getting anywhere?’

“There are 39 of these guys (in the Sprint Cup garage) that -- 99 out of 100 times -- won’t say a thing to you guys or to NASCAR or anybody else. I’m the one guy that will say, ‘Man this is a bad thing to talk about, I shouldn’t talk about it,’ but I’ll get pissed off enough about it to talk about it, because I believe it’s worth talking about.

Stewart’s on-track ride has not always been smooth, either. In 2013, he suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his right leg in a grinding Sprint Car crash, missing the remainder of the NASCAR season.

The following year brought Ward’s death, and allegations that Stewart had intentionally struck and killed the New York youngster after an on-track tangle just moments before. “It’s not something that goes away,’’ said Stewart after being cleared of criminal charges following the incident. “It will never go away. It’s going to be part of my life the rest of my life.’’

This season, a freak sand buggy accident left him with a fractured vertebra in his back that sidelined him for eight more races.

Those incidents left Stewart with far more pain -- both physical and emotional – than the average 45-year old, and while he energized his fan base with a flashback victory at Sonoma in June, he ended the 2017 campaign left him only 15th in the championship standings, with almost as many finishes of 30th or worse (seven) as Top-10s (eight).

Few drivers leave the sport at their competitive peak. Father Time is undefeated, after all. But Stewart’s decline into competitive mediocrity has been as difficult for him to accept as it was for us to watch.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t win a Daytona 500, a Southern 500 and most of all, an Indy 500,” said Stewart at Homestead last week. “But when I was 15 (or) 18 years old, I never even thought I would get a chance to race those races, let alone to win them.

“In a perfect world, I would have loved to be able to cross those three races off the list. But at the same time, I look at the big picture. It was pretty damn cool to just have the opportunity to race those races.”

His 49 career NASCAR Cup Series wins place him 13th on NASCAR’s all-time list. His three premier series championships make him a guaranteed, first-ballot Hall of Famer. And his take-no-quarter style – both on and off the race track – will ensure that he is sorely missed by NASCAR Nation.

Thanks, Smoke. It’s been one hell of a ride.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Logano Poised For Championship Breakthrough

For Joey Logano, the opportunity for redemption is less than seven days away.

Sunday’s win at Phoenix International Raceway qualified Logano to return to the second Championship Four race of his career at Homestead Miami Speedway. Two years ago, in the inaugural season of the Chase’s elimination format, the Team Penske driver appeared to be en route to a title-clinching victory, until a jack failure on his final pit stop dropped him back in the pack and out of title contention.

Last season, the Middletown, Conn., native won a season-high six races, but failed to qualify for the Homestead finale after on-track feud with rival Matt Kenseth eventually cost both men their shot at the title.

This time around, however, there have been no such missteps. No mistakes, no letdowns, no loss of championship focus. This time around, Logano has his eye on the prize.

“I don’t think I can put it into words,” said Logano after Sunday’s dramatic Phoenix victory. “This isn’t just a race. This is a championship. We raced today like it was Homestead, because we had to. I was still yelling and screaming down in Victory Lane.

“What an amazing feeling to be able to succeed under that amount of pressure… to have a race team that is truly better under pressure. I couldn’t be more proud of that.

For those who appreciate such things, Sunday’s race featured a certain degree of karmic resolution.

After being crashed out of title contention by Kenseth just 12 months ago – payback for a previous tangle between the two at Kansas Speedway a few weeks earlier -- Logano watched as Kenseth wrecked out of the lead within sight of the checkered flag Sunday. He threaded his way through the wreckage, then waltzed away from Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch to claim his spot in the 2016 Homestead finale.

“We’ve got momentum,” said Logano in Victory Lane. “I remember when we (qualified for Homestead) a couple of years ago. I remember standing here -- we finished third or fourth that day -- and I wasn’t as excited. This is not that feeling. This is a feeling of, `Hey, we’ve got confidence. I know we can do it.’ I don’t feel like it’s a long shot like it was last time. 

“I feel like we’ve been here before. We’ve been in these situations.”

Logano’s path to the 2016 championship will be anything but easy. Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson is poised to take his shot at a record-tying seventh title. Defending champ Kyle Busch has designs on a back-to-back reign, while Carl Edwards hopes to atone for a 2011 Homestead finale that saw him lose the championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker; the closest result in the sport’s 60-plus year history.

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to live through things once” said Logano. “After the 2014 race, everyone told me, `You’ve got to lose one to win one,’ and I thought that was the biggest crock of crap I’ve ever heard in my life.

“But you know what? Maybe it really did help me, to live through it once. Since then, we’ve been in those situations. We raced today for a championship.  We raced in Talladega for a championship. We’ve done this before.”

“The last few years, we’ve been in a position where we’ve had our backs against the wall and had to win. We’ve been able to do that, so it’s really cool. We have experience now. We've been together four years, and we've gone through some hard situations together.”

"We're peaking at the right time, which is a good sign,” he added. “We've had some speed in the last three races. Texas was one of our best races of the year and to go to a race track (Homestead) that's very similar makes me excited. We know what it takes to win a championship, because we've been through that situation once before.”

In seven career Homestead starts, Logano has one Top-5 (a fourth last season) and two Top-10 finishes. But the Connecticut native isn’t interested in statistics right now. He’s focused fully forward, on a winner-take-all championship finale and an opportunity to fulfill the “Best Thing Since Sliced Bread” predictions that have dogged him since the age of 14.

In the 50th anniversary season of Team Penske, Logano can also deliver a NASCAR title to bookend the IndyCar Series championship earned by Simon Pagenaud a few weeks ago, while delivering the first Sprint Cup Series title to Ford Motor Company since Kurt Busch turned the trick with Roush Fenway Racing in 2004.

"We're racing for a championship now," said Logano Sunday. "We did exactly what we had to do today. Now, we're going to go to Homestead and do the same thing."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Scott Announces Retirement From NASCAR

Richard Petty Motorsports driver Brian Scott has announced his retirement from full-time competition at the end of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season. 

"This was a difficult decision, but one that I made myself for my family," said Scott. "Racing -- and specifically NASCAR -- has been and will always be in my heart. But right now, I want to turn all my attention to my family and to be able to spend more time with them. Racing has blessed me with great opportunities, and I'm very grateful for everything that it has allowed me to do, but for me, it's time to move on. I can't thank everyone enough who helped me in my career. I would not have made it to where I am at today without their trust and commitment." 

Scott began competing in NASCAR's national series in 2007, debuting in the NASCAR Camping World Series and competing full-time there in 2008 and 2009, with a win at the Dover International Speedway in 2009. From 2010 through 2015, he competed in the NASCAR XFINTY Series, finishing in the Top-10 in the championship standings in five of his six seasons. He signed to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with RPM in 2016, with a best finish of second at Talladega Superspeedway last month. 

"Brian competed at a level that very few do in NASCAR," said Brian Moffitt, Chief Executive Officer of Richard Petty Motorsports. "Brian became part of the Petty family this year, and he committed himself to making our organization better. We feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know Brian and wish him nothing but the best for him and his family." RPM will continue to field the No. 44 Ford Fusion in 2017 with a driver to be announced later.

In a related story, Albertsons Companies has announced that they will not return to RPM in 2017. "Local sports sponsorships are an important part of our marketing strategy in communities across the country," said Albertsons Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer Shane Sampson. "While we have decided to focus our investments elsewhere in 2017, we appreciate the work that Brian, Richard Petty Motorsports and the entire No. 44 team put forth for Albertsons Companies this year, and we wish them the very best in the future."