Sunday, September 24, 2017

COMMENTARY: Junior's Right, It's Time To Put An End To Post-Race Burnouts

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said last week what many of us have been thinking for years; that it’s time for NASCAR to put a stop to the ludicrous practice of post-race burnouts.

Commenting in the aftermath of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott’s penalty for a piece of tape added to his car’s rear spoiler two weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway, NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver questioned the logic of penalizing duct tape, while allowing race winners to roll into the weekly post-race technical inspection with their cars “tore all to hell.''
"I have been kind of waiting all this time for NASCAR to eventually say, `Look… we would just rather you guys not blow the tires out,'' said Earnhardt. "They talk about not wanting to be the 'fun police,' but being the 'fun police' is not on the radar of their damn problems.''
Earnhardt’s comments were spot-on and long overdue.
In an era where the difference between legal and illegal is often measured in thousandths of an inch, it makes no sense for NASCAR to continue allowing winning teams to demolish the rear end of their machines with a series of lengthy, tire-blowing, fender-shredding burnouts.
"It doesn't make sense."
The sanctioning body long ago banned swerving on the post-race cool down lap, after teams used the technique to reset their cars’ rear suspensions to a more neutral (read legal) configuration, just in time for the weekly round of post-race, white-glove scrutiny. If a simple swerve is enough to camouflage under-the-car mechanical chicanery, how can a pair of exploding rear tires not accomplish the same nefarious goal?
It’s simple common sense.
In addition to being cliché, predictable and dull; these weekly, post-race donut fests are now entirely devoid of any spontaneity or emotion. They are the motorsports equivalent of celebrating a Kentucky Derby victory by shooting Secretariat.
And more important, they’re no longer fooling anybody.
NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller defended the sanctioning body’s post-race protocol in a written statement last week, saying, “We're confident that our process provides a fair playing field for all of our competitors, while also allowing the fans to enjoy the celebration of the winning driver.
"In addition to the pre-race inspections, every winning vehicle must still go through a full post-race inspection where we expect it to be within the rules set forth by the rulebook.''

No way to treat a winner...
Earnhardt, however, doesn’t seem to be buying it.

He directly addressed the long-ignored elephant in the room last week, acknowledging that winning drivers are intentionally blowing out their rear tires, under the guise of post-race celebration. The resulting damage makes it virtually impossible to take accurate measurements after the event, while also providing crewmembers with an opportunity to illegally manipulate their cars while replacing those smoldering tire carcasses.

In the days when post-race inspections were conducted with a tape measure and the naked eye, drivers had neither the need nor desire to destroy their winning mounts. Burnouts were unheard of, with winning drivers generally taking a nice, slow celebratory lap with the checkered flag before driving directly to Victory Lane.
Carl Edwards might stick the landing on a backflip, or Tony Stewart would occasionally climb the fence. But like Hall Of Fame running back Barry Sanders once counseled his end zone-dancing teammates, NASCAR drivers used to be content to “act like you’ve been there before.”
Today, however, it’s more about covering their clandestine tracks and beating the lasers with a post-race burndown thinly veiled as celebration.
"Until (the officials) tell them not to do it, it's fair game,'' added Earnhardt last week. "It just upset me -- with what happened to Chase and how they sort of got zeroed-in on -- when all this is going on right under everybody's nose.
“It doesn't make sense.''

Monday, September 18, 2017

COMMENTARY: Twitter Wars Now Part Of NASCAR’s Playoff Picture

Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski will not be exchanging Christmas cards, again this year.

The Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske drivers are both former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions. Both are ferocious competitors who give no quarter and ask none, whether on or off the race track. And last week, they renewed their longstanding rivalry with a heated Twitter exchange centered on Toyota’s recent dominance of the MENCS.

After Toyota drivers claimed the top four spots in practice Friday at Chicagoland Speedway, Keselowski sounded the alarm, alleging that Toyota enjoys an unfair technological advantage over its Ford and Chevrolet brethren.

We are all in for a rude awakening. Haven't seen NASCAR let a manufacturer get this far ahead since the 70s,” tweeted Keselowski, prompting an almost-immediate retort from Busch. The 2015 MENCS champion replied with a crying emoji and a four-letter request that translated loosely to “Shut the Front Door.”

Keselowski then accused Busch of name-calling, saying, “It's 2017. When you're about to lose an argument, you call people names rather than face facts.”

Keselowski stirs the pot...
Busch’s JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin, cannonballed his way into the deep end of the conflict, tweeting, "@NASCAR is showing favoritism to @ToyotaRacing? When did this start? #encumbered. Concentrate on your own program bro.”

Furniture Row Racing crew chief Cole Pearn and Sherry Pollex, longtime girlfriend of driver Martin Truex, Jr., also weighed-in with remarks critical of Keselowski.

The Team Penske driver refused to relent, however, doubling-down on his previous remarks and insisting, “(Toyota’s) got a lot going for them right now. You can BS through it any way you want, but it’s there, and we know we’re going to have to out-execute them.

“We need a little bit of luck, because at this point in time, their cars have way more speed.”

Predictably, Busch countered once again, accusing Keselowski of “slapping his people across the face.
...and Busch responds.
“We watched those guys be fast in the beginning of the year,” said Busch. “We’ve watched them be fast in years past, even when the Penske guys were with a different manufacturer. They won a championship, but we didn’t do our complaining on TV. We did our complaining in the shop on Tuesdays and went to work. That’s where it’s all done, and that’s what we’ve done.
"The Penske group was 100% for the no-skew rules and they got what they wanted over the offseason," added Busch. "We were against that, (but) we just went to work.
“If you ask Brad, he can fix the world's problems. The fact of the matter is, nobody else is doing anything. He thinks that somehow, Big Brother is going to come and help him."
Twitter histrionics notwithstanding, does Keselowski have a point? Does Toyota enjoy enough of a technological advantage that NASCAR needs to step in?
Past history indicates that the answer is “no.”

While Truex, Busch and Hamlin have won nine races for Toyota this season, that’s just one more checkered flag than Ford Motor Company and one fewer than Chevrolet. A few short weeks ago, NASCAR garage-area conversation centered on “what’s wrong with Joe Gibbs Racing?” But the team kept its nose to the grindstone and found the speed necessary to compete -- and win – once again, just in time for the playoffs.

That’s what racers do. Momentum ebbs and flows in this sport, and the manufacturer that is riding high today can be scraping the bottom of the barrel by next week.

There is no debating that Toyota rules the roost right now, claiming six of the last nine MENCS checkered flags. But Ford began the season with five wins in the first 10 starts, without any calls for a Congressional investigation.

Penske: "We're a little bit behind right now."
Keselowski’s car owner, Roger Penske, admitted as much last weekend when asked about the war of words between his driver and the Toyota camp.

“Look, I’m not on Twitter,” said Penske. “(That’s not) the way I run my business. I’m not one that decides to talk about my pluses and minuses in the media.
“Brad has his own thoughts that are probably not the feeling of the team at this point. Toyota has done a great job in preparation for the last part of the series. I think we had good cars early on, (but) I think we’re a little bit behind right now.
“We all started with the same set of rules,” said Penske. “Toyota has gotten hot here at the end and we’ve got to acknowledge that. But on the other hand, we’re not going to give up.”
Head games have always been a part of this sport, and few drivers are more adept at getting between the ears of the competition than Keselowski. Few drivers have proven more vulnerable to psychological warfare over the years than Busch; making Keselowski’s recent comments understandable, if not entirely predictable.
Identify the guys you need to beat for the championship, then find a way to get them off their game. All’s fair in love, war and stock car racing, and the temperature will continue to rise as the stakes get higher.

"I'd like to know what Toyota is paying Brad,” laughed Hamlin last week, “because he is our best spokesman. “If you're shopping for a midsized sedan, get the unfair advantage, get a Toyota."

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Petty Reponds Angrily To Smithfield Withdrawal

Richard Petty reacted angrily today to news of the withdrawal of Smithfield Foods as major sponsor of Richard Petty Motorsports.

“We have had numerous discussions with Smithfield Foods regarding the extension of our relationship, dating as far back as February," Petty said. "Over the past few months, Smithfield had continually told me they wanted to be with us, and I recently shook hands on a deal to extend our relationship. I come from a time when we did major deals with sponsors like STP on a handshake. I'm sad to see this is where we are now.

"This decision is very unexpected, and we are extremely disappointed in this late and abrupt change of direction," he added. "Losing a sponsor of this magnitude in September is a significant set-back to Richard Petty Motorsports, but Andy (Murstein) and I are committed to moving forward with the No. 43 team. We have a lot of great partners who have expressed their continued support, and our fans will rally around the No. 43. We've been around since 1949, and we'll be around a lot longer."

Petty also confirmed that driver Aric Almirola will not return to RPM next season. Almirola is widely expected to accompany Smithfield to Stewart Haas Racing.

Smithfield In, Patrick Out At Stewart Haas Racing

Danica Patrick is a free agent
Smithfield Foods announced last week that it will leave Richard Petty Motorsports at season’s end to join Stewart-Haas Racing as a primary team sponsor. 

No announcement was made concerning which SHR Ford will carry the Smithfield logo, or who will drive the car. An announcement from the team confirmed, however, that a “driver will be added to SHR’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series lineup in 2018.”

“We’re very proud to have Smithfield Foods join the Stewart-Haas Racing family,” said SHR president Brett Frood. “Smithfield has activated heavily and successfully within the sport, and we’re honored to be a part of the brand’s forward initiatives and strategy. Although we’re not ready to announce the full details of the program, we look forward to this new endeavor while remaining focused on the upcoming playoffs and putting forth the best effort possible to win more races and contend for another championship.”

Shortly after that announcement, Danica Patrick confirmed that her tenue at SHR will end at Homestead Miami Speedway. 

“It has been my honor to drive for Tony Stewart, Gene Haas and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing for the past six seasons,” said Patrick in a written statement. “Together, we earned a Daytona 500 pole, seven top-10 finishes and we also had some exciting racing along the way. My time driving for them, however, has come to an end due to a new sponsorship arrangement in 2018.


“Sponsorship plays a vital role in our sport, and I have been very fortunate over the course of my career, but this year threw us for a curve. Our amazing partners, such as Aspen Dental and Code 3, stepped up in a big way on short notice this year and I am incredibly grateful. I wish SHR the best of luck with their new sponsorship and driver. Thanks for the memories. Right now, my focus is on the remainder of the 2017 season and finishing the year strong. I have the utmost faith in myself and those around me, and feel confident about my future.”

Sunday, September 10, 2017

COMMENTARY: NASCAR Is Poorly Served By Situational Ethics

Saturday night was a bad night for the umpires.
In its much-anticipated final event of the regular season, NASCAR impacted the outcome of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway with a series of questionable calls that defied both explanation and logic.

The first sign of trouble came on Lap 88, when leader Matt Kenseth locked-up his left-front brake on entry to Turn Three, producing a brief plume of tire smoke. NASCAR threw the caution flag, despite no contact, crash or debris.

Had it ended there, the unnecessary caution would have quickly been forgotten; a simple case of an itchy trigger finger by an official tasked with safeguarding the safety of competitors.

Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

On Lap 257, Danica Patrick brought out the fifth caution flag of the evening, spinning in Turn One after contact with Austin Dillon. As the field pitted for tires and fuel, drivers encountered an errant ambulance parked at the entrance to pit road. As competitors braked and swerved to avoid the vehicle, Matt Kenseth ran into the back of fellow playoff contender Clint Bowyer. Kenseth was sidelined with front-end damage and a ruptured radiator, while Bowyer was forced to restart at the rear of the field after pitting for repairs.
“We were all coming to pit road and I saw an ambulance sitting there,” said an incredulous Kenseth afterward. “(Spotter) Jason Hedlesky yelled to stop, that there was an ambulance just sitting there. It was an accordion effect, and I couldn’t get stopped. I’m not really sure why pit road was open with an ambulance parked there, but everybody stopped. I didn’t see it in time and ran into the car in front of me.”
Ambulance dodging on pit road
NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller blamed the incident on an ambulance driver who pulled onto the racetrack without permission, then failed to stop immediately when ordered to do so.
“(We told him) `Stop,’” said Miller. “Pretty simple, `Stop!’ He didn’t stop when he was told to.

“It happened very, very quickly. The race director (is) in charge of (declaring) pit road opened and closed and the track services and safety crews are in charge of the other. We didn’t sync up tonight, and we will make sure we don’t let that happen again.”

Many observers questioned why an ambulance was dispatched at all, since Patrick never came to a complete stop during a solo spin that featured no significant contact and no damage.

Unfortunately for NASCAR, the worst was still to come.

With just three laps remaining and leader Martin Truex, Jr., on his way to a dominant fifth victory of the season, veteran Derrike Cope – running 16 laps down to the leaders -- brushed the Turn Four SAFER barrier. The incident did no damage to Cope’s Chevrolet and dropped no debris on the racing surface, but inexplicably triggered a late-race caution flag.

Truex forfeited his three-second advantage, lost the lead to eventual winner Kyle Larson during a dramatic pit-road money stop, then crashed on the ensuing restart after being hit from behind by Denny Hamlin.

“Tonight sucked, plain and simple,” said Truex, who led a race-high 198 laps of 400 laps en route to a crushing, 20th-place finish. “(Cope) really doesn’t belong out there. It’s ridiculous that a guy could cause a caution as bad as he was running; just riding around there basically just making laps.”

Truex: "Tonight sucked."
Truex’s anger was understandable, especially considering the events of the previous weekend, when he slammed the wall at Darlington Raceway while leading with just three laps remaining. The impact severely damaged his Furniture Row Racing Toyota and dropped debris on the racetrack.

It did not, however, trigger a caution flag.

In the past, NASCAR has been accused of manipulating the outcome of races; making calls (or not) with an eye toward creating the kind of “Game Seven moments” espoused by CEO Brian France. Saturday night’s unnecessary, late-race caution will absolutely amplify those complaints, and justifiably so.

Had Cope’s wall-duster occurred in the middle stages of Saturday night’s race, it would almost certainly have gone unnoticed, with no reaction from NASCAR. With three laps remaining, however, it provided an opportunity for the sanctioning body to avoid a ho-hum, half-lap margin of victory, throw an unnecessary caution flag and create a nail-biting finish.
Saturday night’s call created a slam-bang ending, a come-from-behind winner and plenty of water-cooler talk on Monday morning. Unfortunately, it did so at the expense of the sport's integrity.

Simply stated, if Cope’s incident would not have produced a caution flag on lap 57 – and it most certainly would not – it should not have produced a caution flag on lap 397.

Race Directors, track workers and ambulance drivers are all human beings, capable of human error. No one expects them to get every call precisely right, every single time. Mistakes are part of every game, whether it’s baseball, football, basketball, or NASCAR.

Unfortunately, NASCAR sometimes appears more interested in doing what’s exciting, rather than doing what’s right. And the sport is poorly served by that approach.

Going forward, NASCAR must eliminate the kind of situational ethics that governed Saturday night’s race, concentrating on making the correct call, regardless of how it might impact the quality of the finish.

If Truex’s Darlington crash was unworthy of a yellow flag, Cope’s Richmond incident was most certainly not.

Arguing otherwise does nothing but insult the intelligence of the fan base.

Monday, September 04, 2017

It's "Do Or Die" As Regular Season Finale Looms at Richmond

With just one race remaining in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, it is “Do or Die” time for a number of prime contenders.

The championship picture has become more clear with every passing week, until now, every contender knows exactly what they must do to be a part of the championship field at Chicagoland Speedway in two weeks.

Logano: "We're in this together."
As long as there is no new winner – or Joey Logano does not repeat his earlier encumbered victory at Richmond this weekend -- Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray will qualify for the 2017 playoffs on points. Elliott, Kenseth and McMurray remain winless in 2017, and left the Lady In Black seventh, eighth and ninth in the championship standings, separated by just three points. If a new winner goes to Victory Lane this weekend — or Logano returns there with no technical issues -- only two of those three drivers will qualify for the playoffs.

Logano was once again a step behind at Darlington Sunday, running in the back half of the Top-10 for most of the night before fading to 18th at the drop of the checkered flag. Logano’s Shell-Pennzoil Ford team has never recovered from that encumbered win at Richmond in the spring, and the Connecticut native currently does not appear to have the off-the-truck speed necessary for contend for either a Richmond win, or the MENCS championship.

This is the same Logano, however, who pulled a rabbit out of the hat twice in recent playoff runs, claiming “must win” victories in the final race of a playoff round to keep his title hopes alive. Crew chief Todd Gordon is one of the most aggressive pit bosses in the game, and will absolutely roll the dice on strategy if necessary, to put his driver in position to steal a win.

“We’re going through a little bit of a downturn right now,” admitted Logano last week. “It’s obvious, and it’s something as a team that we haven’t gone through together, But we’ve all gone through it individually before and we’ve all come out of it.

“These are the moments that are a true test of your character and who you are; the way you handle these situations internally in your team. And it’s time to step up and be a leader.

“Is this the easiest time? No. (But) we do this together. We’re in this together.” 

Jones: Poised to play the spoiler
Logano admitted that his Team Penske organization has struggled to keep pace with the Toyota-backed Furniture Row and Joe Gibbs Racing teams.

“Let’s face it, the things that we’ve done in the past to be successful are not working,” he said. “You have to understand what’s going on; take a step back and reevaluate. We have to go back through things to find speed in our cars… compared to the Toyotas.

“Let’s be honest, those are the fastest cars right now, every single week. Obviously, we have to take big steps to catch them. That’s not to say we can’t catch them, we will catch them. Racing goes in cycles, it always does. It’s just a matter of weathering the storm and staying together as a team.

“I feel confident that we will get through this.”

Logano is not the only driver capable of summoning the spirit of Jeremy Mayfield and claiming a last-second playoff berth by winning Saturday night’s regular-season finale. Chief among them is Furniture Row Racing rookie Erik Jones, who followed up a stellar, runner-up finish to Kyle Busch at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago with an equally impressive fifth at Darlington.

“We had a good car for sure,” said Jones after bringing his Toyota Camry home from a 500-mile bout with the Lady In Black without a scratch. “And for my first time here, I thought we did a good job. We’ll fight hard at Richmond like we always do, and who knows? Maybe that first Cup win will also get us into the playoffs.”

Last chance for Bowyer
Fellow freshman Daniel Suarez had less luck at Darlington, crashing en route to a 38th-place finish. But like Jones, he has shown sufficient speed to win this weekend, if all the cards fall his way. Trevor Bayne, three-time Richmond winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Paul Menard and Ty Dillon would also contend for a win, with a little luck, as could Clint Bowyer, whose playoff hopes suffered a major blow Sunday when engine issues ended his evening after just a handful of laps.

“It just blew up,” said the Stewart Haas Racing driver afterward. “It’s a pretty inopportune time to have it happen, but it’s never a good time.  Doug Yates and all the guys over at his shop do such a good job of bringing us reliable, good horsepower and it was just my time. It was my turn and there isn’t much you can do about it.” Bowyer now must win this weekend at Richmond to earn a spot on the 2017 playoffs.

“We’re not out of this thing,” Bowyer said. “We’ll just go (to Richmond), do the best we can and put all the cards on the table.

“You come to all these race tracks with an urgency to win, just like we did at the Daytona 500. Richmond is a good track for us. We’ll go there and do the best we can.”

The stage is set for a Game Seven Moment this weekend at Richmond. Now, it’s time for someone to step up and seize the day.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Keselowski’s Truck Withdrawal Part Of A Larger Plan

Brad Keselowski announced yesterday that he will close the doors on his successful NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team at season’s end, leaving drivers Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric without clear options for 2018 and beyond.

Speaking to the media today at Bristol Motor Speedway, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion – and 23-time event winner – said that while the decision was difficult, it is part of a larger business plan that could see him return to the sport in the future.

Keselowski has repeatedly said that his Truck Series team operated in the red, losing money each season despite being a perennial winner and championship contender. Asked if that lack of profitability played a major role in his decision to close the doors, he said, “There were a lot of decisions that went into it. There wasn’t really one reason, but at some point, every business needs to have some profitability. But I never went into it expecting to make money, so I can’t really blame that. Everybody is losing a little, but that was one of the factors. I wouldn’t say it was the only one.”
While admitting that he has plans for the current BKR facility, Keselowski cautioned that “we’re not ready to announce anything.” He hinted that his future plans could involve building a new business within the current BKR facility that eventually becomes a race team partner.

“It’s an idea, absolutely,” he said. “If you look at all the business owners at this level – and really all three of these levels – they have a sustainable, profitable business outside of motorsports. That’s going to remain the key for any owner to have success.

“The reality is, I can only be a race car driver for so long. When that time comes up, my business will have to shut down, because I don’t have a profit center. Having that profit center is what helps you get through the ebbs and flows that every race team has.

“I need to have one of those profit centers. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be a Cup owner one day, but it means when the time is right -- if we achieve the goals that I have -- I’ll have the opportunity to make that decision myself and not have it made for me.

“I know where I want to go and we’re in the middle of putting all that together,” he added. “Until it’s together, I don’t want to get too far down the road with it. But I know that I’m committed to the facility and the community to have an operational and functioning business in that area. I plan to do just that. Hopefully, that opens a spot to retain a good number of our people.”

He also said he plans to retain most of the team’s equipment and assets, adding, “The trucks and parts go out of style and are irrelevant so quickly that I’m going to liquidate that. But a good part of the equipment that we have I’m going to keep and utilize for future opportunities.”

Keselowski called the process of informing his drivers and employees “very difficult,” adding “I feel like we’ll be able to find a good home for probably 75 percent of the group. Whether that’s new business opportunities, Team Penske or different things… I still need people within the fold that I have.  I feel really bad for the 25 percent that I’m not going to be able to find a spot for, but I’m wishing them the best and thankful for their help over the years.

“Being a business owner, it’s more about the people than anything else,” he said. “You care about them. They give you their all and you want to give them your all.  In some ways, you feel like you’re letting them down when you’re not able to keep it going, so that’s never any fun.”

Despite his unexpected withdrawal and that of Red Horse Racing just a few weeks ago, Keselowski said he believes the NCWTS is still strong.

“The Truck Series has been around a long time,” he said. “It’s going to be around a lot longer than me, so I’m not so self-centered to think that series is based solely on my team and participation. It’ll be around. It’ll be all right. I don’t know where the future is going to take me in my life. I know that I’m trying to be positioned to have as many opportunities as possible to kind of control what (my future) might be, and this is a necessary step business-wise to have those opportunities.

“It’s not really the most pleasurable (decision) to undertake. In fact, it really kind of stinks. But it was the right move long-term and I’m hopeful that it works out for the best.”










Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Harvick: Earnhardt "Stunting The Growth Of NASCAR"

Former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick pulled no punches last night when talking about the imminent retirement of fellow driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., saying the sport’s perennial Most Popular Driver “had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR” by not winning enough races.
Speaking on his weekly Sirius XM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours,” the 2014 series champion said he is puzzled by the popularity of Earnhardt, who has won just nine races in the last 10 seasons.
“He is the most popular driver, but did he have the credentials to back up being the highest paid driver in the sport? Probably not,” said Harvick. He was the most popular driver in the sport (and) he could demand a huge sum of money, because he brought things in from the souvenir side of things and a popularity side of things, that other drivers didn’t. He earned his money a different way. It wasn’t from a performance base.
“This is where some of the growth in this sport has not reached the levels that it should have,” he added. Because our most popular driver hasn’t been our most successful driver.
“When you look at other sports; basketball (and) football -- and you look at their most popular (athletes) -- they’re also right up there at the top of the list as their most successful. So, I believe that Dale Jr. has had a big part in kind of stunting the growth of NASCAR, because he’s got these legions of fans. (He has) this huge outreach, being able to reach different places that none of us have the possibility to reach. But he’s won 9 races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports.
“Did we miss a lot of that wave because our most popular driver wasn’t winning?” 
Harvick admitted that “these aren’t the most popular comments,” but insisted “those are real-life facts that you can look up on the stat sheet.”
Harvick said Earnhardt’s massive fan base is “totally confusing to me,” adding that “Jimmie Johnson should be our most popular guy, because he’s won seven championships. But when you look at the souvenir sheets every week, he’s 3-4-5, coming off of a championship year.
“That part is a little bit confusing.”
Harvick said Earnhardt’s late father, Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, Sr. “became Dale Earnhardt because of the fact that he won seven championships and was out there grinding every week. That hasn’t happened (with Junior). The thing that makes sports go around is success. The people… that are the most popular people in other sports, win.”
“Lebron James wins. Steph Curry wins. Peyton Manning won. That’s how you drive the sport and take it to a new level; when your most popular guys are winning, week after week after week. It’s so confusing to me, the whole scenario. I keep bringing up Jimmie Johnson because he’s won seven championships. (We should be) putting him on a pedestal with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, but it’s like that doesn’t even register with everybody out there.”
Harvick also discounted Earnhardt’s recent comments about declining driver salaries, saying, “Dale’s never really been in a position -- since he’s been at Hendrick Motorsports -- to understand where normal driver salaries even are.
“He’s always been the highest-paid guy in NASCAR. He’s been the guy that makes the most money.
“Hendrick Motorsports is about to go through a total reset,” he said. “For years, they’ve had the highest-paid athletes in motorsports on their team. Now, with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kasey Kahne exiting within a two-year period, it’s a complete re-branding. Sure it’s going to lower the cost. Hendrick Motorsports has had the highest paid drivers for a number of years, with Jeff Gordon and the highest paid driver, Dale Jr.
“(In 2018), they’re going to have some of the lowest payroll with three of their drivers. They’re going to lean on Jimmie Johnson to be the veteran guy and lead the company; teaching those guys how to race. And they’re going to have to pay him more than the other three guys combined, in order to take that role and push Hendrick Motorsports forward.”

Monday, August 07, 2017

COMMENTARY: "Right-Sizing" Proving Painful For Veteran Drivers

Kahne is out at HMS
Three of NASCAR’s biggest names are currently “at leisure” for the 2018 season; a fact that many observers struggle to understand.

Hendrick Motorsports confirmed today that Kasey Kahne has been released from the final year of his contract, freeing him to explore other opportunities for 2018 and beyond. Last week, Stewart Haas Racing declined to exercise its contract option on Kurt Busch, while Matt Kenseth currently has no ride lined up for next season, after losing his spot with Joe Gibbs Racing.

How do three proven drivers with a combined 85 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins and two series championships find themselves on the outside, looking in? And while we’re at it, how does Greg Biffle – a former Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series champion with 19 career MENCS wins -- languish on the sidelines while drivers with a small fraction of his resume continue to compete every week?

The answer comes down to money, or the lack thereof.

“Kasey has worked extremely hard,” said team owner Rick Hendrick in announcing Kahne’s impending departure. “He’s a tremendous teammate and person, and he has been totally dedicated to our program since day one.”

Kurt Busch is a free agent...
All of that is unquestionably true. Unfortunately, Kahne is also a veteran driver who expects a certain level of compensation for his labor. And like Kenseth, Busch and Biffle, Kahne’s desired level of compensation makes him expendable in these changing economic times.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – who owns a top NASCAR Xfinity Series team in addition to his driving duties with Hendrick Motorsports – explained the realities of today’s NASCAR to NBCSports.com recently, saying, “You’ve got a guy who you think has got a lot of talent (and) a lot of potential, and a veteran who is established but wants three, four, five, six times the amount of money. You’re going to go with the younger guy, because it’s a better deal financially.”

...as is Kenseth.
Earnhardt said that in an era where sponsorship is increasingly difficult to come by, drivers can no longer write their own check when it comes to salary.

“The trickle-down effect is coming through in the drivers’ contracts and making a big difference in the decisions these owners are making,” said Earnhardt. “You can’t pay a driver $5 to $8 million a year, if you ain’t got but $10 million worth of sponsorship.”

And that, my friends, is the rub.

It’s not 1998 anymore. The days when a sponsor would happily stroke a check for $30 million per year are long gone, and they’re not coming back anytime soon. The number of sponsors willing (or able) to fund an entire, 38-race season can easily be counted on the fingers of one hand. And as sponsorship wanes, teams must respond by cutting payroll, slashing expenses and paring their operation closer to the bone than ever before.

End result?

Biffle: Still sidelined
A proven commodity like Kenseth finds himself jettisoned in favor of 21-year old newcomer Erik Jones, who will win races and contend for championships while cashing a much smaller paycheck than the man he replaced.

Busch has his contract option declined by Stewart Haas Racing, who will almost certainly attempt to ink a new pact with the former series champion, at a lower rate of compensation.

Biffle – who sources say was near the top of Richard Petty’s wish list when Aric Almirola was sidelined by injury earlier this season – gets passed over in favor of 23-year old Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, in large measure due to the gaping disparity in their pay demands.

And Kahne is let go by Hendrick Motorsports, likely in favor of young William Byron; a wildly talented 19-year old who will race competitively for less money than Kahne likely has scattered beneath his couch cushions.

NASCAR has recently come face-to-face with a difficult (though arguably long overdue) period of right-sizing. The days when mid-pack drivers owned their own private jets are long gone. The team owner’s helicopter went up for sale years ago, and the mountain chalet is now a luxury, rather than a necessity.

There is a leaner, meaner NASCAR on the horizon, and the transition will be uncomfortable for some. In the end, though, we will ultimately get back to what the sport was supposed to be about all along, racing instead of revenue

BREAKING: Kahne, Hendrick To Part At Season's End

Hendrick Motorsports has announced that Kasey Kahne has been released from the final year of his contract, allowing him to immediately pursue opportunities for 2018.
“Kasey has worked extremely hard,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “He’s a tremendous teammate and person, and he has been totally dedicated to our program since day one. I’ve always believed that he’s a special talent, and I know he will thrive in the right situation. We will do everything we can to finish the season as strong as we can.”
Kahne, 37, will complete the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series schedule for Hendrick Motorsports. He was signed by the organization in April 2010, nearly two years before his February 2012 debut in its No. 5 Chevrolet. Now in their sixth season together, Kahne has earned six of his 18 career points-paying Cup victories with the No. 5 team.
“I’d like to thank Rick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for their hard work and dedication, along with providing me a great opportunity and success over the last six years,” said Kahne, who most recently won July 23 at Indianapolis. “We won six races together and I'm coming off of one of the biggest wins of my career at the Brickyard, which has given the (No.) 5 team a lot of momentum heading into the playoffs. We still have a lot of racing left in 2017 and finishing strong is our top priority. I look forward to what the next chapter in my career holds.”
Hendrick Motorsports will announce 2018 plans for its four-car operation at a later date.

Busch, Keselowski Offer Differing Views On Mid-Race Crash

Busch was fuming after the race.
Kyle Busch stalked away from his M&Ms Caramel Toyota following Sunday’s I Love New York 355 at The Glen; trailed by a pack of reporters anxious to witness a promised, post-race dustup between the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and rival Brad Keselowski, who had tangled on-track earlier in the day.

Despite an earlier warning that his crew “better keep me away from that @#$%& after the race,” Busch disappointed the media entourage, walking straight to his team’s transporter without so much as a sideways glance toward Keselowski.

Their lap-45 crash – as well as an earlier pit road miscue that dropped him to the tail of the field – ruined what appeared to be a dominating day for the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, dashing his hopes of sweep the WGI weekend and claiming his second consecutive MENCS checkered flag.

The two raced side-by-side into The Glen’s tricky “bus stop;” a right-left-left-right chicane that is difficult to negotiate, even in single-file formation. They banged doors and spun, with Busch unable to re-fire until he had fallen nearly a half-lap behind the leaders. Both drivers were forced to pit shortly afterward for tires and body repairs, effectively ending their hopes for Victory Lane.

Kyle led early...
Busch rebounded to seventh at the finish, with Keselowski 15th after driving through too many pit stalls on his final stop and serving a NASCAR penalty.

"I was going in the corner and I had (AJ Allmendinger) behind me,” explained Keselowski afterward. “I got to the corner and my spotter said `somebody there.’ I had already gotten to the corner and by then I was already committed.

"I think he was probably committed (as well). It looked like he tried to make a big move from a couple of car lengths back and it was more than what there was room for. It probably didn't help either one of us. It was a bummer.”

Asked for his post-race take on the incident, Busch said simply, "Imagine that. I couldn't tell you (what happened). I haven't seen (the replay)."

Brad led late...
Busch and Keselowski have had their moments before on the 2.454-mile road course. In 2012, Busch spun after last-lap contact from Keselowski on an oil-slicked race track, ending his hopes for victory.

Earlier this season, they tangled on the opening lap of a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Michigan International Speedway in June, and following a similar dust-up at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016, Busch called Keselowski “a dirty racer.”

This time around, however, both drivers likely owned a share of the blame, whether they accept it or not.

"This is a track where you fight for inches,” countered Keselowski. And we both are probably not willing to give in. It didn't help my day at all either, I can tell you that. I wasn't looking to get into him and I don't think he was looking to get into me. He probably had the dominant car. He didn't need any trouble. Neither did I.

After viewing the post-race videotape, Busch later tweeted that he “was going to make the corner just fine until I got drilled in my right side door.”

Asked if he expects to talk through the incident before this weekend’s race at MIS, Keselowski said, “I don’t think (Busch) is really the listening type.

“So that is pretty doubtful.”