Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays From All Of Us Here At Sirius Speedway

This is obviously a busy time of year for everyone, but I didn't want to go away on our brief, one-day Holiday Break without saying "Thank You" to everyone who has helped to make Sirius Speedway such a joy to do over the last three years.

To the Gang at MRN Radio; President David Hyatt, Director of Programming Mike Storms and all the production and programming staff, thanks for being so good at what you do. Special thanks to our beloved Board Op/Call Screeners, Todd Costello and Chris "Cheesecake" Desrochers. You guys are the greatest, and you make our jobs easy.

To The Guys At Sirius Headquarters In NYC: Steve "Boss Man" Cohen and the "New Kids On The Block;" Producers Daniel Norwood and Matt Deutsch, thanks for the constant (and much needed) words of encouragement, and for making Sirius NASCAR Radio 128 a reality.

To Marty and The Q: thanks for being there every single day, and for giving everything you have to keep the listeners informed, entertained and amused. I appreciate you more than you will ever know. And last, but not least...

To Our Listeners: Thanks so much for putting your trust in us every weekday, and tuning in to what we do. Your kind words, suggestions, arguments and wisecracks are a HUGE part of what makes Sirius Speedway such a great place to come to work, and we couldn't do it without you. Many of you have become like an extended radio family to us, and every one of you is valued and appreciated beyond words.

We'll be taking Christmas Day off -- leaving you to suffer through a lively, "Encore Presentation" of today's show -- but we'll be back on Tuesday, December 26th with less than a week remaining until the debut of Sirius NASCAR Radio 128.

Happy Holidays to one and all.

National Guard To Hendrick In 2007

Hendrick Motorsports confirmed today what Sirius Speedway first reported more than three weeks ago, that the Army National Guard will join GMAC as major sponsors of Hendrick's No. 25 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Chevrolet, driven by Casey Mears.

Mears will debut the new-look No. 25 National Guard/GMAC Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS next February in Daytona Beach, Florida, after its first public appearance at the January 7 GMAC Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. New enlistees of the Alabama National Guard will be sworn in on the field prior to the game between Ohio University and Southern Mississippi.

"This is a fantastic day for our organization," said team owner Rick Hendrick. "We take an enormous amount of pride in welcoming the men and women of the National Guard and continuing our time-honored relationship with GMAC. These are two incredible groups that share our vision for the No. 25 team and its bright future."

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Ball Is In Junior's Court

Teresa Earnhardt laid it on the line this week, saying of stepson Dale Earnhardt Jr., "…the ball's in his court to decide whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or…a public personality."

In most instances, that kind of talk attracts little attention outside the family. Stepmothers have been known to question the focus and commitment of their stepchildren from time to time, but when the stepchild is the namesake of an honest-to-goodness NASCAR legend, and the stepmother doubles as CEO of the family business, things get a bit more complicated.

Teresa Earnhardt is correct when she says the ball is in Junior’s court. With just 12 months remaining on his current contract with DEI, “Driver 8” could soon have the entire NASCAR world groveling at his feet. Should he opt for a change of venue in 2008, there’s not a team in the Nextel Cup garage that won’t put out the Welcome Mat for him. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver (the second-place man isn’t even close) would bring an army of apparel and diecast-buying fans to any new team he chooses, as well as a major sponsor -- Budweiser -- and more associate backers than you can shake a stick at. He hasn’t won a Nextel Cup championship of his own yet, but if Earnhardt elects to put his services up for bid at the end of next season, there are very few drivers whose job security won’t be adversely impacted.

DEI, meanwhile, would lose their main (some would say only) cash cow. Without Junior, Dale Earnhardt, Inc., would be no more noteworthy than Penske Racing South or Chip Ganassi Racing, and probably less marketable. As savvy as she is, CEO Earnhardt would be hard-pressed to find a replacement driver with even half of Junior’s “buzz,” and hard-pressed to find sponsors interested in spending anything close to the money Junior’s current backers do.

Teresa knows all that, but she also knows Junior has no intention of leaving the team his father built for him, unless he’s forced to do so. “Little E” has said repeatedly that he wants to win a championship at DEI, as a way of fulfilling his father’s legacy. Anything short of that will be considered a failure, and Junior doesn’t like to fail. The name over the door at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., may be his father’s, but it’s also his. And that name means more to him than all the music videos and satellite radio gigs in the world.

Clearly, DEI needs Junior much more than Junior needs DEI. Teresa Earnhardt has no real complaint with her stepson’s 2006 performance. The second-generation driver juggled the demands on his time masterfully, calling the shots at his own JR Motorsports Busch Series team and satisfying his many sponsors, while simultaneously making a legitimate championship run for DEI.

Still, Teresa is rightly concerned that there are too many distractions in Junior’s world these days; too many MTV appearances, movie cameos and side projects. Rather than worrying about JR Motorsports, she wants him fully focused on winning a Nextel Cup championship for DEI.

This week’s “NASCAR driver or…public personality" comment was the first step in what will be a long and complicated effort to convince him to do exactly that.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Brendan Gaughan: Ironman

There’s an old saying that claims, “looks can be deceiving,” and Brendan Gaughan is living proof.

Despite standing just 5'9" tall and being unable to elevate both feet off the ground at the same time, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver, Sirius Speedway favorite and hairy backed knuckle dragger extraordinaire Brendan Gaughan played college basketball for legendary coach John Thompson at Georgetown University. An admitted propensity for the free buffet at his family’s South Point Hotel and Casino has blessed him with the decidedly unathletic build of…oh…a radio talkshow host, making him one of the last people you would expect to actually run anywhere, unless he was being chased.

Don’t you believe it, though.

Our boy Gonzo recently competed in the 13.1-mile Las Vegas Marathon, after being “called out” by a friend who questioned his athletic prowess. Gaughan said, “He called me a chicken, and in the words of Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future III, 'Nobody calls me yellow.’”

Against all odds (and at least three laws of physics) Gaughan completed the race in two hours, 53 minutes and 10 seconds. That won’t quite qualify him for the Olympic trials, but for a guy who trained by watching someone else work out on a Stairmaster one day, it’s not bad. He did lose neighborhood bragging rights by finishing one agonizing second behind his friend, however, and said afterward that marathoning may not be his true calling, after all.

“Every joint in my body hurts,” he said. “I've got no cartilage in my right knee - it's just bone on bone. I felt that every step of the way, and my feet hurt because my arches have fallen. It even hurts to breathe. I certainly don't have a marathoner's body.”

He may not have the slender build and titanium calves of Bill Rodgers, but I’ve got to give him credit. Gonzo’s got a lot of heart.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

This Week's Sign That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us

The "Sit With Jimmy" ticket package for February's 49th annual Daytona 500 is selling like hotcakes.

The promotion got its start in September, when Kenny "Have I Mentioned I'm The 2006 Busch Series Most Popular Driver" Wallace accused broadcast partner Jimmy "Mr. Excitement" Spencer of being out of touch with race fans. In a matter of hours, Spencer unveiled his "Sit With Jimmy" promotion, allowing fan to buy tickets and sit with him on the Daytona Superstretch during the 500.

The original block of Lund Grandstand seats has already sold out, and officials at the Speedway have added more seats in the Allison Grandstand. Speedway President Robin Braig announced the move, saying, "Jimmy's setting himself and his fans up for a great Superstretch party."

A few weeks ago, I promised Spencer that if enough people showed up to sit in his section, I would wander down from my Turn Two broadcast position and smoke a cigar with them. It looks like I may have to follow through.

Two different "Sit With Jimmy" packages are still available; the $155 "Mr. Excitement" package, which includes superstretch "Sit With Jimmy" seats for both the Daytona 300 and Daytona 500, admission to DAYTONA USA (home of Sirius Speedway) and an exclusive "Sit With Jimmy" t-shirt.

The $99 "Jimmy Special" includes superstretch "Sit With Jimmy" seats for only the Daytona 500, DAYTONA USA admission and the t-shirt. You can join the fun by calling 1-800-PITSHOP, or by visiting

Hey Spencer, I want a t-shirt for this!

Busch, Truck Banquets Produce Real Drama

For the record, I did not attend last weekend’s NASCAR Busch or Craftsman Truck Series banquets in Orlando, Florida. With all due respect to champions Kevin Harvick and Todd Bodine, after a long season of racing and four days in New York City covering the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series awards presentation, a weekend at home proved too enticing to pass up.

Unfortunately, it appears I may have skipped the wrong banquet. Everyone who attended the Busch and Truck affairs say they were everything I’m looking for in a NASCAR awards presentation:

· Quick.
· Spontaneous.
· Emotional.
· Fun

Friday night’s Busch bash was delightfully short on teleprompters, and long on spontaneity. NASCAR allowed its Top-10 Busch drivers to forego the nerve-jangling, formal acceptance speech in favor of a low-key, living-room couch conversation with NBC/TNT pit reporter (and new Sirius NASCAR Radio 128 host) Marty Snider. The drivers put their feet up and delivered a series of stories that kept the crowd laughing all evening long.

Kyle Busch revealed that his on-stage gaffe at the Waldorf-Astoria the previous week had not, in fact, cost him a girlfriend. Busch called his girlfriend Erica, “Eva” at the Nextel Cup banquet, which not-so-coincidentally is the name of his sister in law, Kurt’s wife. Snider asked Busch if he was still in the doghouse following the nationally televised flub, and Shrubby redeemed himself masterfully, saying, "I never was in it, and that shows what a sweet girl she is."

Touchdown, Kyle Busch!

Denny Hamlin told of the night Kevin Harvick preyed on his previously little-known fear of lobsters, telling the audience, "I came back to my motor coach at one race, went into the bathroom and found a live lobster in the toilet. I know Kevin did it."

Asked what happened next, He-Man Hamlin replied, "I called my mom to come get it out.”

Hamlin was not the only driver to find himself in Harvick’s crosshairs this season. The 2006 Busch Series champion gleefully told the crowd that he had sent the bill for his post-season, 160-person championship celebration to Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer.

“It's killing him," laughed Harvick. "There is no bigger mooch in NASCAR than Clint Bowyer."

The hit of the night Friday came when Carl Edwards grabbed a guitar and sat in with Robert Randolph and the Family Band, rocking the house with some decidedly tasty licks, and giving us normal humans yet another reason to resent him.

The highlight of the weekend, however, came at Sunday night’s Craftsman Truck Series banquet, when brothers Brett and Geoff joined champion Todd Bodine on stage to celebrate the family’s first major NASCAR championship, after more than three decades of trying. The pride they displayed in each other’s accomplishments was unmistakable, and the emotion of the moment far surpassed anything that occurred at the larger New York City festivities just a few days before.

Perhaps bigger is not necessarily better, after all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sirius Speedway Scoops The Enquirer; Gordon and Vandebosch Expecting!

Just weeks after their surprise wedding, Jeff Gordon and his new wife are wasting no time getting “in a family way.” Gordon announced today that his new wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, is pregnant. In a statement on his personal website,, the four-time NASCAR Nextel Cup champion said, “We’re obviously very excited. Christmas came early for us this year. This is a very special gift for us – one that we’re both looking forward to. The due date is early July, and Ingrid and I can’t wait to be parents.

“We’ve known for a little while, but we couldn’t wait any longer to share the good news with our friends and fans.”

The Demise Of The Dinosaur

When the last pterodactyl fell off its perch, there was nobody around to notice. The final Tyrannosaurus Rex sank into the tar pit with little or no notice, and the last brontosaurus keeled over without so much as a press release to herald the demise of its gene pool.

There’s another species teetering on the brink of extinction today; the single car NASCAR team. And while there are still a few left, it behooves us all to take notice.

Not one single-car team finished among the Top-20 in this season’s NASCAR Nextel Cup point standings. The top-ranked solo entry was Jeff Green’s Haas-CNC Racing Chevrolet, which finished a lowly 28th in the final rundown. Robby Gordon steered his self-owned Chevy to 30th, the only other single-car effort in the Top 30. Few were surprised at the lack of one-off racers at the front of the Nextel Cup pack. In fact, most observers express shock that even two single-car operations were able to crack the Top-30.

It wasn’t always that way.

In their day, single-car teams were the exception, rather than the rule. As little as 20 years ago, most drivers owned their own equipment, and very few fielded more than a single entry on a weekly basis. Richard Childress had one car back then; a #3 Chevrolet that he drove himself. Today, he fields a trio of Nextel Cup entries for Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer, and a couple of stout Busch Series machines, as well. Ole’ RC is far from alone in rolling out multiple entries on Sunday afternoon. Jack Roush has five (at last count), Rick Hendrick has four, while Joe Gibbs, Ray Evernham and Dale Earnhardt, Inc., field three cars each.

Even some of the single-car operations need the support of their multi-car brethren to survive. Both Green and Gordon used engines purchased from one of the superteams in 2006, Hall Of Fame Racing relied heavily on its partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing to field cars, and even the two-car Petty Enterprises team uses power from Evernham to drive its Dodges.

There are a few Morgan Shepherds, Morgan-McClures and Furniture Row Racings left in the Nextel Cup garage these days, but not many. And not very competitive.

Ward Burton, who signed to drive for the single-car Morgan McClure team next season, knows he’s in for an uphill fight, saying, "We've got a lot of work to do, but we're excited about it. Hopefully, we can get that ship righted and get the #4 car back to where it used to be."

It’s been more than a decade since Larry McClure won three Daytona 500s with Ernie Irvan (1991) and Sterling Marlin (94 and `95). Their last win came with Bobby Hamilton at the wheel in 1998, and in that time, the team has fallen dangerously behind. A single driver – even one as good as Ward Burton – and his lone crewchief will find it difficult to catch Jack Roush’s five-car juggernaut. They’ll probably find it downright impossible.

So at some point next February, amid the hubbub and pandemonium of Daytona Speedweek, take a moment to wander by the garage stall of Morgan-McClure Racing, Furniture Row, or Morgan Shepherd. Stand off to the side and watch as the brontosaurus attempts to extricate itself from the primordial ooze.

It’s a battle worth watching, at least as long as it lasts.

Welcome Back, Wahd!

Ward Burton has signed to drive the #4 Morgan McClure Motorsports Chevrolet next season, with sponsorship from State Water Heaters.

Burton and team owner Larry McClure made the announcement yesterday, returning Burton to the ranks of full-time Nextel Cup drivers for the first time since 2004. Burton said the deal came together just yesterday, but that he and McClure have been talking with the sponsor for a couple of weeks.

He drove the Morgan-McClure Chevy in three races at the end of last season, with a best finish of 25th at Texas Motor Speedway in November. Burton said of the deal, "We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re excited about it. Hopefully, we can help Larry and Tim Morgan get that ship righted and get the 4 car back to where it used to be."

Burton also said he has been talking to an unidentified team about running as many as 20 NASCAR Busch Series races next season. He will join us live on Sirius Speedway at 3:15 p.m. Eastern Time today (Wednesday) to talk about his new deal.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jimmie Falls Down, Goes Boom

Recently crowned NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson suffered a broken left wrist Friday in a golf cart accident during a charity golf tournament in Florida. The injury has forced Johnson to withdraw from the annual Race of Champions Nations Cup in Paris this weekend, but Johnson says he will attend the event anyway, to consult with Team USA.

In his words, "I was in a golf cart, and the driver took a sharp turn. I wasn't holding on tight enough, landed awkwardly on the ground and heard a little pop.”

At least one published report today says that Johnson was lying on the roof of the golf cart when the incident occurred, but neither Johnson nor Hendrick Motorsports has commented on the story. He is wearing a cast today, and doctors estimate his recovery at four to six weeks. Johnson’s replacement on the Team USA roster has not yet been announced, but sources say Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. has been contacted about the position.

This is the second consecutive year that NASCAR's reigning champion has been injured during the offseason. Tony Stewart inured his wrist and ribs last January in a qualifying crash at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.

Friday, December 08, 2006

It's Official; Borland Signs With Michael Waltip Racing

Michael Waltrip Racing announced today that Matt Borland is one of three new crewchiefs that will guide the organization during the 2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.

Borland, Larry Carter and David Hyder have been added to the MWR roster, with Borland designated crewchief for the No. 44 UPS Toyota and driver Dale Jarrett. Carter will work with the No. 00 Burger King/Dominos Toyota of David Reutimann, with Hyder wrenching Waltrips’ No. 55 NAPA Toyota.

Waltrip made the announcement today, saying, ”We concentrated on pairing personalities, to find the perfect qualified individuals for each position. Matt is a proven winner and we’re proud to have him steering the No. 44 UPS Toyota team. I’ve known David for a while and look forward to him leading the NAPA team. Larry was vitally important in building our teams, and I know he will be instrumental in building David Reutimann’s future.”

Borland, who led Ryan Newman to 12 wins, 37 poles, 54 top-fives, 83 top-10s in 186 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series starts, said, “I’m looking forward to making a new home at Michael Waltrip Racing and working with Dale Jarrett. Dale is a champion and he has a ton of respect in the garage. He’s obviously proven himself as a driver. Also, Toyota will be great to work with. I think Toyota is one of the most technologically advanced manufacturers.”

Carter is a former crewchief at Penske Racing South, while Hyder served as crewchief for Ken Schrader at BAM Racing in 2005, and Wood Brothers Racing this season.

There's Nothing Cooler Than An Old Race Car

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Schrader/Hamilton Team For 2007 Truck Bid; Starr Out At Red Horse Racing

Ken Schrader will drive the No. 18 Fastenal-sponsored NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Dodge for Bobby Hamilton Racing next season. Schrader will steer the BHR entry in the majority of NCTS events, with a to-be-determined driver filling in for Schrader when his Nextel Cup schedule conflicts. Schrader said he is looking forward to the partnership with Hamilton, adding, “Bobby Hamilton and I have been friends for a long time, so to get the chance to work with him is just an ideal situation for me.”

Hamilton also spoke optimistically about the deal, saying, “We are really happy to be able to get a driver the caliber of Ken Schrader for the Fastenal Dodge. We looked at a number of different drivers, but Kenny was just a perfect fit. He is a proven winner -- both on the track and off -- and he will help us win races and compete for championships in the future.”

Schrader has four NASCAR Nextel Cup wins, two NASCAR Busch Series wins and one NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory to his credit. All told, he has logged 283,398 miles in NASCAR’s top three divisions; the equivalent of racing around the world 12 times, or all the way to the moon and a quarter of the way back.

In other Truck Series news, fourth-place 2006 points finisher David Starr has been released by Red Horse Racing, due to a lack of sponsorship. He's expected to be replaced by Aaron Fike, who is bringing a sponsor to the team for 2007. Team owner Jeff Hammond said late last season that he hoped to expand to two trucks next season; with Starr driving one of them. Sponsorship reportedly could not be found however, leaving Starr without a ride.

Starr said of the move, “We had a pretty good year, and I was really looking forward to 2007. I thought we had a shot at the championship. When I got the news that it was a possibility that we wouldn't run because of the sponsor situation, it was really disappointing. But when it comes down to it… how many years can you take a loss? From a business standpoint. I understand.”

Starr said today that he hopes to have another ride lined up in a top NASCAR division within a week. He was orginally rumored to be in the running for the #88 Nextel Cup Ford ride at Robert Yates Racing, but denied those rumors a few weeks ago.

And finally, team owner Billy Ballew confirmed what we told you Monday, that he is close to finalizing a deal to run Bill Lester in his No. 15 Chevrolet next season.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

SIrius Speedway Exclusive: Richert Speaks Out On Move To Team Red Bull

Doug Richert is out at Roush Racing, leaving the team to take a new position with Team Red Bull. Richert will serve as crewchief for driver Brian Vickers and the #83 Red Bull-sponsored Toyota Camry, after finding himself the odd man out in a post-season personel shuffle at Roush. He sat atop the pitbox for Greg Biffle since 2003, and the pair fell just 35 points short of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series championship in 2004. They struggled this season, however, ending the year 13th in points, with a pair of wins and 15 Top-10 finishes.

In an exclusive Sirius Speedway interview, Richert spoke Wednesday about his departure from Roush Racing, and the task that faces him at Team Red Bull:

Dave Moody: Before we talk about the future, we need to talk about the past. What can you tell us what led to your departure from Roush Racing?

Doug Richert: Well, let’s just say that at a certain point, it became obvious that I was not going to be with Greg Biffle anymore. I still had a position with Roush Racing, but it was leaning toward the kind of role that Jimmy Fennig played over in the Busch and Truck shops this year. I really wanted to stay in the Nextel Cup Series if at all possible, and that’s the thought process that led me to where I am now.

DM: There has been speculation that you were offered a crewchief position with the #26 car and Jamie McMurray, but turned it down. True?

DR: There might have been somewhat of an offer there. Not taking anything away from Jamie or anyone on that team – because we all had equal stuff – but it was probably more of a mental thing for me. I thought we had one of the best deals going, and to have it taken away because we only won two races and were 13th points, that hurt. We’re still the same people we were in 2004 when we came 35 points from winning the championship. So maybe I was a little sour (about it). I know that going into a situation like that, your head has to be in the game. I didn’t feel like my head was in the game to do myself, Jamie McMurray or that team any good.

DM: Do you feel like you were made the scapegoat for the problems the #16 team had this year?

DR: Well, if you were going to look at it from the outside, I guess you could say I was the guy that took the heat for not being in the Top-10. But this stuff doesn’t get handed to you on a silver platter. You have to go out and work for it. If there were problems with communication, a situation between myself and Greg, or something that Greg wasn’t liking, it needed to be worked on. It’s not going to fix itself, and I don’t feel like we had the opportunity to fix it and make it better. That was frustrating.

DM: Greg Biffle told us a week ago that he couldn’t believe Jack Roush would let you get away. He certainly wasn’t laying any blame at your feet.

DR: It’s hard to say what triggered the whole thing. I’m sure there was some discontent in some area somewhere that led to the process of making the change. Something started it somewhere, and maybe we’ll never know what. I have my suspicions, but it’s time to move on. Toyota and Team Red Bull look to be very exciting options for me, and they will be an exciting team to watch in the future.

DM: How did this new deal come about?

DR: There was a point in time where I spoke to Jack Roush and said, `Give me an opportunity to go out and talk around. Let me see what’s out there.’ And through talking to people, word got out around the garage. I’ve always known of this Toyota program, and new programs obviously need new people. Getting in on the ground floor of something like this excites me. I’ve been (involved) in a lot of start-up teams, and this opportunity kind of rose to the top. When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and this is what came out in the end.

DM: What was the main attraction of this deal for you? Was it the challenge, the money, the opportunity to prove to Jack Roush that you can still do this?

DR: I think it’s a combination of all three. If you’re going to make a move in your career, you want to make more money for your family. Second, there is the challenge that’s going to be out there with Toyota. And three, it’s somewhat personal when someone thinks you’re not good enough. You want to show them that you are good enough. Things have to click. You have to work hard at a relationship. A driver and crewchief have to communicate. It’s like a marriage; if you don’t talk to your wife, it’s not going to last. You’ve got to want to make it work, and I hope that’s what we have here at Team Red Bull.

DM: How daunting is it to look around and see everything that you have to do in the next few weeks? Where does the team stand right now?

DR: Are we ahead? No. There are Car Of Tomorrow projects, Car Of Today projects, cars that they tried to field this past season, lots of stuff to deal with. But there are also a lot of people already in place. Management has done a really good job of hiring a bunch of people, and they have been working on this job for several months now. So it’s not like I just walked in the door of a new shop. This is something that’s already well underway. I still have to select a road crew – they waited on the crewchief to do that, so we can have the right chemistry to go out on the road – but it seems like it’s going to be an enjoyable, fun place to work.

DM: Does the fact that Team Red Bull failed to qualify for both of the races they attempted late this season cause concern on your part, or was that more a case of them running equipment (Dodges) that will not be on the track in 2007?

DR: That hasn’t even entered my mind. When you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle, it’s tough. Our puzzle is the Toyota program, and they ran a Dodge last year. Was it the best car? Did it have the aero balance that their particular driver needed? There are things you have to build around your driver, and when you plug different people in at different times, you can’t build the `feel’ that your driver needs. So that doesn’t concern me at all. It’s my job right now to find out what Brian Vickers needs to feel good entering a corner at 200-plus mph.

DM: What kind of relationship do you have with Brian?

DR: Well, I introduced myself to him the other day. (Laughs) Do I know him on a personal level? No. But I’ve heard nothing other than he’s a good guy. He had a good relationship with his crew. When the crew doesn’t talk bad about him; that’s number one. And two, he seems to be a good qualifier. That’s going to be very important for us in the first five races. Those two things stood out the most. If you can make these (drivers) feel good, and give them a car that feels the way they want it to feel, they can go out and win.

Here's A Shocking Revelation

Jimmie Johnson may have won the Nextel Cup, but you’ll never guess whose sponsor got the most TV exposure this season.

No, it’s not Jon Wood. It’s Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who put Budweiser on top of the list of most-exposed NASCAR sponsors, according to the Joyce Julius research firm. The King of Beers topped the charts with $183.1 million in exposure, with 68.8 percent of that total due directly to the efforts of the team, despite a fifth place finish in 2006 points.

Lowe’s was second at $143.6 million, followed by Cingular Wireless at $116.6 million. Home Depot and DuPont rounded out the top five.

Surprisingly, exposure did not necessarily equate to running up front. Kurt Busch struggled on the track this season, but Miller Lite was sixth in exposure, followed by NAPA Auto Parts (sponsor of omnipresent plugmeister Michael Waltrip), and Tony Raines' sponsor, DLP.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Presenting The FIrst Annual "Sirius Speedway Post Season Road Dog Awards"

The 2006 season is finally behind us, leaving time for only one final bit of business before the holidays; the presentation of the coveted, first annual "Sirius Speedway Post Season Road Dog Awards." These awards are voted on by a quasi-impartial panel of three (two if Suzy has a hair appointment), and all decisions are final. Winners will be declared honorary "Sirius Speedway Road Dogs" for the balance of the 2007 season.

And now, without further ado, this year's winners...

Best Alternative Use Of Closed-Cell Foam In An Athletic Event: Robby Gordon. His late-race use of a roll-bar padding projectile was second in audacity only to his, “nothing came out of my car…that I know of” innocent plea on national television. If Poker Face Gordon had represented OJ Simpson, The Juice would have fried by now.

Most Improved: Kurt Busch. Not his driving, his ears. He does make a lovely snow angel, though.

Most Admirable Insistence On Sticking To His Guns: SPEED’s Bob Dillner. Gullible? Perhaps. But steadfast in his devotion to protecting his sources. It could be worse.

Best Rebounder: Chad Knauss. He began the 2006 season by getting tossed out of Daytona International Speedway for cheating, and ended it with the Nextel Cup. There’s no quit in this guy.

Most Inspirational: Brian Vickers. After all, not just anyone can get 10,000 Talladega fans to throw down a perfectly good can of beer. The boy is a born motivator, that’s for sure.

The “Don’t Let The Door Hit You In The Butt On Your Way Out” Award: NBC. After failing in their attempt to incite a racial incident by sending a group of imitation Muslims to Martinsville this spring, the Peacock Network took a more passive approach the rest of the season; simply ignoring the sport they had paid handsomely to broadcast. NBC took the term “lame duck” to new depths in 2006, and they will not be missed.

The “I Don’t Deserve This, But Thanks” Award: California Speedway. NASCAR inexplicably rewards the nation’s largest market with a second Nextel Cup date, giving Los Angelans a chance to ignore stock car racing twice a year, instead of just once.

Most Insecure: Jamie McMurray. Other than a win in Sterling Marlin’s dominant Dodge 148 races ago, there hasn’t been much to write home about for J-Mac. A 25th place points showing for Roush Racing produced plenty of murmuring about his long-term job security, and it’s safe to say that 2007 will be a pivotal season for him.

The Lasik Award: NASCAR Officials. For their incredible ability to spot a chewing gum wrapper on the apron at 200 yards, just when Junior’s about to go a lap down.

The “Gee, I Really Thought It Was Ray’s Fault” Award: Jeremy Mayfield. He got the boot from Ray Evernham’s #19 Dodge after recording just four top-20 finishes (and no Top-10s) in 21 starts, then blamed it all on a “close personal relationship” between the boss and Erin Crocker. The fact that Elliott Sadler ran Top-10 in his first two replacement runs did little to bolster Mayfield’s case.

Bravest Driver: Jeff Gordon. The wreck he suffered at Pocono would make any normal human being contemplate retirement. But Gordo’s braver than most, as evidenced by his late-season decision to marry for the second time. Talk about big oysters.

The “I Should Have Quit While I Was Ahead” Award: Michael Waltrip. It took him decades – and an assist from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. -- to earn the respect of NASCAR fans and prove that he could drive. Now, he’s right back where he started, after failing to qualify twice in 2006, and running in the back of the pack when he did.

The “Time Warp” Award: NASCAR Fans who continue to insist that Rockingham and North Wilkesboro should return to the NASCAR Nextel Series schedule immediately, despite the fact that they never went to either track when they were ON the schedule!

Best Example Of Playing Both Ends Against The Middle: Mark Martin. He’ll run a Nextel Cup Chevrolet for Bobby Ginn next season, and a Craftsman Truck Series Ford for Wood Brothers/JTG Racing. If he can firm-up parttime Busch Series deals with Dodge and Toyota, he’ll have all his bases (and manufacturers) covered. There’s still time.

Most Improved: Scott Riggs. Is there any remaining doubt that his move from MB2 to Evernham Motorsports was a good one? Two poles and eight Top-10 finishes this season put him atop our “Best Driver Who Hasn’t Won Yet” list. He’ll change that in a hurry in 2007.

Worst Move: Brewco Motorsports. Brewco axed former Series champion David Green after 27 races, when he stood 16th in Busch Series points. Replacement Casey Atwood managed a best finish of 17th in his eight starts, proving that Green was not the problem. Now, veteran Jason Keller is in the running to replace Atwood in 2007, as the revolving door begins to pick up speed.

Best Freudian Slip: Kyle Busch. Calling his girlfriend by his sister-in-law’s name on national television may have given us an unintended look inside Shrubby’s mind last Saturday night, but it almost certainly doomed him to sleep on the couch for a few days.

Least Lovable: Robert Yates. Dale Jarrett bolted for a start-up team run by Michael Waltrip. Elliott Sadler threw him under the bus for a Ray Evernham ride that was 96th in points at the time. And now, Johnny Sauter says he’d rather stay with Haas CNC Racing than drive Yate’s #88 Ford. What’s the guy got, leprosy?

Best Target For A Sophomore Jinx: Denny Hamlin. After the season Joe Gibbs’ new wonderboy had in 2006, is there anywhere to go BUT down? Well, yes, but he’ll have a tough time equalling his phenominal rookie campaign in 2007. The good news is, Carl Edwards is off the hotseat at last.

Best Timing: Travis Kvapil. When Cal Wells’ PPI Motorsports began taking on water like the Titantic at tea time, Kvapil wasted little time heading for the life boats. A new ride in Jack Roush’s #6 NCTS Ford makes Kvapil the first man ever to be promoted from Cup to Trucks, and leaves him just a heartbeat away from a Nextel Cup return, should David Ragan or Jamie McMurray not make the grade in 2007.

Monday, December 04, 2006

NASCAR Banquet Not Half Bad

Somebody congratulate me. I made it through the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Awards Banquet without losing consciousness.

That’s a new track record for this writer, who annually succumbs to the enticements of the Sandman within the first 90 minutes of NASCAR’s annual, post-season awards marathon. Somehow, the idea of tremendously rich athletes collecting a series of obscenely large paychecks has never been appealing enough to keep my chin off my chest for very long; despite the fact that I know and genuinely like most of the tremendously rich athletes in question.

Apparently, I have not been alone in that opinion.

This year, in an attempt to keep the Monday morning “NASCAR Banquet Sucks” columns to a minimum, NASCAR made a series of moves designed to trim the ceremony to a more-workable, three hour timetable. They shuffled many of the more obscure awards to Thursday’s NMPA/Myers Brothers Luncheon, lightening Saturday night’s load to only the Top-10 drivers, and Tony Stewart. The goal was to kiss the national TV audience goodnight by 10:15 p.m., and that’s almost exactly when the confetti cannon went off at the end of the evening.

That, to me, was enough to make up for the banquet’s shortcomings, of which there were a few.

For instance, Melissa Rivers. The talentless daughter of comedienne, talkshow host and Botox overdose candidate Joan Rivers was simply awful in the pre-banquet show. Her performance on the “Yellow Carpet” -- in deference to series sponsor Sprint/Nextel -- was cliché, obnoxious and dull. Adding Michael Waltrip to the mix served only to double the number of uncomfortable, out-of-their element people standing in front of the camera. Note to Hollywood: have Melissa taken out and euthanized.

Returning emcee Jay Mohr was better this year. Some of the jabs he directed at NASCAR’s elite went over like lead balloons, but some were genuinely funny. His predictable “Jeff Gordon is a robot” and “Jimmie Johnson plucks his eyebrows” gags were met with little more than nervous twitters from the crowd, but his spoof of Kasey Kahne’s award-wining Allstate Insurance commercials was a big hit, and rightly so.

As always, most of the drivers’ acceptance speeches were as spontaneous as an Ashlee Simpson lip-synch. But for every soul-less, professionally written, “I couldn’t have done it without my crew” snoozer, there was at least one Kyle Busch, who stepped to the microphone to thank his girlfriend, “Eva.”

Kyle’s girlfriend is not named Eva.

Eva is his sister-in-law.

Kurt’s wife.


In hindsight, I have decided that the standards by which I have judged past banquets may have been a bit too high. After all, name one other awards ceremony that’s fun to watch. From the Oscars to the Emmys to the CMAs, they’re all hokey, self-important and long-winded; no different than NASCAR’s annual affair.

So that’s it. Count me out of the Monday morning, “NASCAR Banquet Sucks” crowd.

This year’s affair wasn’t that bad.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

SIRIUS Offers New In Car Channels

SIRIUS Satellite Radio has announced that it will present unprecedented live radio coverage of NASCAR races starting in 2007, making listeners feel like they are on top of their favorite team's pit box on race day.

In addition to the live race broadcast, SIRIUS will take fans into the cars and pits by devoting up to 10 additional "Team Talk" channels that will carry the driver-to-crew communications of up to 10 different race teams during Nextel Cup Series races. SIRIUS will combine the race broadcast with the driver-to-crew chatter on these channels, allowing fans to follow the overall race call and the in-car audio of a driver on a single channel throughout the race. The channels will feature top drivers based on the Nextel Cup Series standings. The lineup of drivers and their channel assignments will be available at prior to each race.

Listeners will hear drivers and crew chiefs schedule pit stops and discuss strategy over audio of the overall race broadcast. When the team members are not on the radio the audio of the live race broadcast will come up allowing listeners to follow the entire race uninterrupted.

As the Official Satellite Radio Partner of NASCAR starting in 2007, SIRIUS will broadcast every Nextel Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, carrying the live broadcasts of Motor Racing Network (MRN), Performance Racing Network (PRN) and the IMS Radio Network's broadcast from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In addition to live race coverage, SIRIUS will launch SIRIUS NASCAR Radio 128 in January. The channel will air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and will include live races, plus daily and weekly talk programs, including Tony Stewart Live, a two-hour show hosted by the two-time Nextel Cup Series champion and veteran pit road reporter Matt Yocum. A detailed schedule of programs and hosts on SIRIUS NASCAR Radio will be announced prior to launch. Click on to listen to SIRIUS live, or to purchase a SIRIUS radio and subscription.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Who? The What?

More than one million dollars in award money was doled out at the National Motorsports Press Association's Myers Brothers luncheon Thursday in New York City. And of that million dollars, I recognized about 50-grand.

I certainly understood what Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s “Chex Most Popular Driver Award” stood for. I grasped the concept behind Denny Hamlin’s $50,000 “Raybestos Rookie of the Year” honor, and I knew what the Hendrick Motorsports engine department had done to win the $107,000 “Clevite Engine Builder of the Year” Award.

On a couple of fronts, however, I willingly declare my complete and total ignorance.

Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 team received a $105,000 check for the “Checker's/Rally's Double-Drive Thru Pit Award” Thursday, and I haven’t a clue why. What, exactly, is the “Checker's/Rally's Double-Drive Thru Pit Award?” I haven’t the foggiest idea. And what about the $75,000 Sunoco Diamond Performance Award, also won by Johnson? Not a clue there, either.

Tony Stewart pocketed $100,000 for winning the “USG Improving the Finish Award.” Kasey Kahne bagged $101,000 for my favorite award of all; the “Commit Lozenges Commit to Win Award.”

Commit to Win? Don’t they all do that?

And why $101,000? Is an extra grand now necessary to get people’s attention?

Apparently, Matt Kenseth ran the fastest lap of all in 2006, as evidenced by his acceptance of the $75,000 “Goodyear Gatorback Fastest Lap Award.” And Kevin Harvick won the $100,000 “Mobil 1 Command Performance Award;” presumably by performing a dead-on rendition of the Village People's classic, “YMCA” at a local karaoke bar.

At least that’s my guess.

Villeneuve's "Deal" Still $16 Million Short

Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve has reached an agreement with Roush Racing to help him begin his NASCAR career next season, though there are still abut 16 million hurdles left to clear.

Roush Racing President Geoff Smith said yesterday that Villeneuve could race in the Craftsman Truck Series next season, before eventually graduating to the Busch Series. He said there is 50/50 chance that Villeneuve could take part in the inaugural Busch Series race at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve next August, but that Villeneuve needs to come up with 16-to-18 million dollars in sponsorship to make the deal happen.

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND---The Racing Version

ARTICLE 1: A total of 36 point-counting races will be held each season, with each team’s best three finishes used to determine championship status.

ARTICLE 2: Any team choosing not to compete in three races will be credited with three wins.

ARTICLE 3: drivers finishing in positions 30-43 will be credited with a 30th place finish, since bad luck is not their fault. Drivers finishing in positions 20-43 will be credited with a 20th place finish. Drivers finishing in positions 10-43 will be credited with a 10th place finish. All drivers finishing in the Top 10 will be credited with a win.

ARTICLE 4: All teams will be expected to compete at the same level, regardless of sponsorship, manufacturer support, personnel, and/or driver talent. NO exceptions will be made.

ARTICLE 5: In the event that a team finds itself with a shortage of sponsorship, substandard parts, incompetent crewmembers, or drivers who can’t race their way through a tub of Cool Whip, all teams will be required to lower performance to a level that allows the aforementioned team to keep up.

ARTICLE 6: All teams will qualify for the Chase For The Nextel Cup, and make every effort to finish in a tie for the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be placed on NASCAR probation and awarded an additional 50 driver and owner points PER WEEK – regardless of performance -- until they win the championship.

ARTICLE 7: Overly successful teams may be required to race without any support whatsoever, since all manufacturers and sponsors will be directed by NASCAR to assist teams that are unable and/or unwilling to keep up.

Notes From The Big Apple

Subtle Tweaks To 2007 Chase: NASCAR will not make major changes to its points system during the off-season, and the Chase for the Championship will likely undergo only minor modifications, as well. That is the word from Nextel Cup Series Director John Darby, who tells Sirius Speedway that he sees no need for sweeping reform in NASCAR’s top division.

Darby, NASCAR President Mike Helton and Vice President for Competition Robin Pemberton all said yesterday in New York City that any changes made during the off-season will be minor in nature, with Helton adding, “there is no need to fix what isn't broken.”

Darby, meanwhile, told Sirius Speedway that he anticipates a modest increase in the number of points awarded to race winners in 2007. An official announcement is not expected to come until January, but Darby said boosting the winner’s points will increase competition at the front of the pack, and make drivers less likely to settle for a “good points day,” rather than a win.

Darby also said he believes there is a strong consensus within NASCAR’s upper management to keep the Chase field at 10 drivers. “I was one of the people invited to sit in the room and come up with the original guidelines for the Chase,” he said. “One of the things that we all agreed on was that 10 is an optimal number of drivers to include. I felt at the time that including more than 10 would dilute the process, and I have seen nothing since then that makes me change my mind.”

Darby also confirmed that NASCAR will limit the number of Past Champion's Provisionals a single driver can use in 2007. While declining to name a specific number, the Nextel Cup Director quipped, “I’ve seen the number `six’ floating around the internet quite a bit.”

PPI Not Gone Yet: The doors are still open at PPI Motorsports, but team owner Cal Wells laid off six more employees Wednesday, and now has just nine workers left at his Hickory, North Carolina, shop. That number will reportedly be reduced to just four by January, unless a sponsor can be found to put the #32 Nextel Cup Chevrolet back on track in 2007.

Wells revealed yesterday that he had a signed sponsorship contract with a Silicon Valley company in hand back in June, following a negotiation that took nearly two years. Amazingly, Wells said management of the company abruptly changed their business shortly after the deal was finalized, deciding not to invest in motorsports, after all.

As a result, Wells has been forced to release most of his employees to find work elsewhere in the sport; many of them landing at Michael Waltrip Racing. He said he is now talking with people interested in buying-out PPI’s equipment, inventory and shop space. “I'm keeping PPI as a business,” he said. “I'm going to enter my number for next year, and I'm working on some other things. I've still got some other deals out there cooking.”

Dangerous Spousal Precedent: Jimmie Johnson may be the 2006 Nextel Cup champion, but the big winner at yesterday’s National Motorsports Press Association Myers Brothers Awards luncheon may have been his wife, Chandra.

General Motors presented Chandra Johnson with the keys to a 2007 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, prompting her husband to ask if he will be able to drive the car. She answered, “Yes, you can be my chauffeur.” One can only imagine the precedent the award sets for future champion’s wives, all of whom can now come to the Big Apple hoping to receive a shiny new set of high-horsepower wheels.

Johnson did get a car of his own yesterday, when Goodyear presented him with the 1/12 scale replica of his No. 48 Chevrolet, in 24-karat gold.