Thursday, June 28, 2007

Oh, yeah! Carl Edwards' Roush-Fenway Racing #99 Ford will carry the logo of the greatest baseball team in the land, Dave's beloved Boston Red Sox this weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway. No WAY does this car lose on Sunday!

Mediation For Kentucky Speedway, NASCAR

Kentucky Speedway and NASCAR will go to mediation Friday in an effort to settle the $400 million antitrust lawsuit filed by the speedway against the sanctioning body.

Lawyers for both sides have declined to comment on whether they are close to settling the case, which is scheduled to go to trial on March 8, 2008. The Speedway’s attorney, Stan Chesley, said he was unsure how long mediation might last, or what the talks could produce.

"The fact we're going to mediate doesn't mean it's going to get settled," he said. "We'll either settle it, or try (the case) in March."

A settlement hearing is set for 10 am ET tomorrow in Covington, Kentucky, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory Wehrman. The owners of the speedway recently dropped their initial demand for a NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race, and now say they want the France family to relinquish control of either International Speedway Corporation or NASCAR. They are also demanding that ISC be forced to sell at least eight of its 12 Nextel Cup racetracks.

In its original complaint, the speedway asked that NASCAR Nextel Cup events be awarded through a competitive bidding process, with races going to the tracks that offer the largest purses.

An antitrust suit filed in 2004 by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., shareholder Francis Ferko resulted in International Speedway Corporation forfeiting a race (the Southern 500 at Darlington) to Texas Motor Speedway. ISC also sold North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham to SMI; a move that effectively meant the end of NASCAR Nextel Cup Series racing at that track.

At the time, many observers believed the Ferko settlement would spawn “copycat suits” from other tracks hoping to litigate their way onto the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule. Less than two years later, those fears were justified when Kentucky Speedway filed its suit.

If ISC and NASCAR elect to settle this latest lawsuit by awarding Kentucky Speedway a Nextel Cup date, they will succeed only in delaying the inevitable. In time, another track will file suit, hoping to earn its place at the NASCAR table, and the process will begin anew.

It’s time for NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation to stand tall and meet the Kentucky Speedway lawsuit, head-on. Only by answering these charges and settling the long-debated antitrust issue can NASCAR finally secure its position as the rightful arbiter of the sport.

The author is an employee of MRN Radio; a division of International Speedway Corporation.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Time For A New Way Of Thinking

In the next few weeks, NASCAR has an opportunity to change the way fans view this sport, for the better.

Over the last five decades, cheating – or “creative interpretation of the rules,” as some prefer to call it – has become an accepted part of the sport. Perhaps that attitude stems from NASCAR’s moonshining roots, where staying one step ahead of the law was not only recommended, but required. Perhaps it is rooted in everyman’s subconscious desire to (as Johnny Paycheck so eloquently stated) tell the boss to “take this job and shove it.” Perhaps it was forged in the fires of the turbulent 1960s, where questioning authority was widely accepted as a God-given right.

No matter where it came from, it’s here now. In spades.

People who would never think of cheating on their income tax or shoplifting a Snickers bar from the local convenience store see nothing wrong with “bending the rules” in NASCAR Nextel Cup Series racing. In fact, they applaud it.

The same people who vilify Barry Bonds for his (alleged) use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball defend Chad Knaus’ use of performance enhancing fenders last weekend at Infineon Raceway. People who would be horrified if their eight-year old stole $10 from mother’s purse think it’s fine for Michael Waltrip to put a little extra tiger in his tank at Daytona. They defend to the death the right of NASCAR mechanics to break every rule necessary on their way to Victory Lane.

Apparently, I just don’t get it.

To my mind, cheating is little more than stealing; taking something that doesn’t belong to you by whatever illicit means are necessary. Explain to me how adding something illegal to your fuel in an effort to go faster is significantly different than pouring sugar in a fellow competitor’s gas tank to slow him down. The simple answer is…it’s not.

Stick a syringe full of testosterone in your backside. Pay off the starting center to brick a critical, late-game freethrow. Cork your bat. Massage your fenders. It’s all the same to me. It’s all cheating.

And yet, thousands of otherwise normal, well-adjusted adults who would never tolerate dishonesty or deceit in their own children have no problem applauding it in their favorite sport. “Be honest, tell the truth, do the right thing,” they teach. “At least until you get hired by a NASCAR team. Then cheat your brains out. It’s the NASCAR way.”

There’s an old NASCAR adage that states, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

I’ve got a different take. “If you’re not cheating, good for you.”

I applaud NASCAR for its heavyhanded approach to enforcing the rules on its new Car Of Tomorrow. They lost control of the so-called “spoiler cars” decades ago, allowing the ridiculous concept of “gray areas” to pervert the basic tenet of the sport.

No other professional sport has “gray areas.” In football, holding is holding. If you do it, you get penalized 10 yards. In hockey, a slash is a slash, whether you “meant to do it” or not. Two minutes in the penalty box, if you please. Hammer a guy in basketball, and he’s headed to the foul line. Hammer him a few more times, and you’re headed to the locker room. Only in NASCAR is playing outside the rules something to be celebrated, rather than punished.

NASCAR has a tremendous opportunity on its doorstep right now; a chance to start with a clean sheet of COT paper and institute a brand new way of doing business. The opportunity exists to banish the cheater’s mentality once and for all, eliminating all discussion of “gray areas” and enforcing the rules to the letter. Those who rebel should be chastised in a way that convinces them not to re-offend. Repeat offenders should be directed to the ARCA, ASA, or Hooters Pro Cup Series, where fame and fortune most surely wait.

The transition will not be an easy one. People don’t change their ways overnight, or without a fight. But in the end, it can be done, if NASCAR has the intestinal fortitude to see the job through.

It’s time to stamp out NASCAR’s Cult of Criminal Conduct.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Gordon/Johnson Controversy: What Was Lost, What We Have Learned

Assuming they are penalized later this week in a manner similar to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s Darlington penalty (100 points, $100,000 and a six-week crewchief suspension), what will the Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teams really lose?

A 100-point penalty will not remove either team from Chase For The Nextel Cup contention. Not even close.

A $100,000 fine will bankrupt nobody. The light bill will be paid at Hendrick Motorsports this month, and the payroll will be met.

Six-week suspensions for Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte will be dealt with, and overcome. Both men will continue to work in the Hendrick Motorsports shops, arguably making their cars better on arrival at the racetrack than they would have been otherwise. In terms of personnel, HMS is the deepest team in NASCAR, and they won’t miss a beat.

Starting in the back of the pack Sunday certainly did not cripple either Gordon or Johnson. Both ran in the Top-10 during the race, with Gordon finishing seventh and Johnson 17th. That’s not exactly the death penalty, especially when you recall that Ward Burton and Scott Riggs went home Friday, bumped from the starting lineup by cars that had not even made a qualifying attempt.

Johnson and Gordon were even allowed to run their primary cars at Infineon, after reworking their modified front fenders.

Not surprisingly, team owner Rick Hendrick defended his teams' handiwork, saying, "I don't necessarily say they bent the rules, I think they thought they were working inside an area in which they could. The fenders on the car are sitting out there in front of God and everybody, so if you're going to try to do something to gain an advantage, you wouldn't do it rolling through inspection.

"I think it's a gray area...unless you've got a digital machine here and you're going to coordinates-measure everything."

NASCAR's Ramsey Poston disagreed, telling Sirius Speedway Friday that the entire COT body has been digitally mapped, and that teams are well aware of the importance of meeting all the criteria, not just in those areas where the template touches the body.

Interestingly, only two of Hendrick's four car failed pre-qualifying inspection Friday. Teammates Kyle Busch and Casey Mears breezed through the tech line, with no problems found on their cars. Why the difference?

Some garage area railbirds point out that unlike their teammates, Busch and Mears has plenty to lose by being found out of compliance in inspection. Busch is 10th in Nextel Cup points -- just two spots away from being out of the Chase -- while Mears struggles to gain admittance to the postseason dance in 20th place. Obviously, neither the #5 nor #25 team can afford to forfeit 100 points right now.

The Hendrick cars that needed to start well Sunday passed inspection with flying colors. The cars that did not... did not. Coincidence? Maybe.

Some valuable lessons were learned Friday in Sonoma.

For instance, we now know that under NASCAR’s Top-35 Qualifying System, it is possible to qualify for a race without actually attempting to do so. Based on this information, a team in the Top-35 in Owners Points could theoretically show up at New Hampshire International Speedway Sunday morning, unload their car, place it on the tail of the field and demand inclusion in the race.

Not only is it no longer necessary to be fast on Qualifying Day, it’s apparently not even necessary to be present.

Hamlin "Wins" After Almirola Snub

Joe Gibbs Racing President J.D. Gibbs was not able to congratulate winner Aric Almirola following Saturday night’s Busch Series race at The Milwaukee Mile.

You see, Almirola wasn’t there.

Denny Hamlin was, after Almirola was yanked from the Rockwell Automation Chevrolet while leading, in favor of the late-arriving Nextel Cup star.

Hamlin’s late arrival from Infineon Raceway, compounded by a helipad-turned-parking lot at the Milwaukee oval, caused him to miss the start of Saturday’s race. Almirola -- dutiful developmental driver that he is -- strapped into the car he had practiced in and qualified on the pole earlier in the weekend, and led 43 of the first 57 laps before his team (or better stated, Hamlin’s team) ordered him to the pits for a bizarre driver switcheroo. Almirola climbed out – fuming – and Hamlin climbed in, losing a lap in the process. He then battled back to win the race, triggering the oddest Victory Lane “celebration” in NASCAR Busch Series history.

It should be noted that Milwaukee is the hometown of the team’s sponsor, Rockwell Automation. There was plenty of Rockwell brass in attendance at The Mile Saturday night, and every one of them arrived expecting to see Hamlin in the car. Even the Rockwell Automation team weighed-in, voting to have Almirola pulled from the car in favor of Hamlin.

"I told those guys, `If you think Denny can get in the car and win the race, let's go. Let's do that,’" said J.D. Gibbs afterward. "If you don't think he can do that, let Aric run it out. Our guys thought about it and said, 'We think Denny can run well, and we're fast enough to win the race.'

Hamlin, however, was against the move, saying, "I didn't want to do it. I knew he would be really upset. He did all the hard work."

“That was a huge discouragement to Aric," said Gibbs, putting himself in contention for Understatement of the Year honors. "He's upset. I know he's upset. I would be too, if I was in his shoes. At the same time, I think he knows he's like a younger brother. He's like family."

Gibbs left a telephone message for Almirola after the race. As of Sunday morning, it still had not been returned. Almirola will receive the winner's check of $66,823, and will be credited with the win in NASCAR’s record books, since he became the driver of record by taking the green flag. What he will not receive is immunity from the asterisk people will understandably place after his name, knowing he is a Busch Series winner in name only.

Saturday night's race marked the first time a relief driver had won a Busch Series race since Harry Gant won in relief of Jack Ingram at Darlington Raceway in April of 1985.

"I've known (Aric) for over four years,” said Gibbs. “I know his family, and I know how much this means to them. He's a huge part of our future. We've invested a lot in him, time-wise and financially, and no one wants to see him succeed more than we do."

Just not Saturday night, apparently.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Road Course Ringers Don't Justify Hype

Ron Fellows, Butch Leitzinger, Klaus Graf, P.J. Jones, Marc Goossens and Brian Simo will all race this weekend at Infineon Raceway, replacing a sextet of full-time Nextel Cup drivers.

The consensus of opinion has always been that these so-called “road course ringers” are better at making right turns than the drivers they replace, and as such, will benefit the team by bringing home an up-front finish. Past history shows that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the average finish for this year’s “super subs” at Sonoma is a downright pedestrian 24th place. None has won a Nextel Cup race. In fact, few have even come close.

Fellows – along with Boris Said the most successful road course specialist in recent NASCAR history – has 15 career Nextel Cup starts, with two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes. His best finish in five Infineon starts is a seventh, and his average is 23rd.

In 22 career Nextel Cup starts, Jones has just one top-five finish; a fourth at Watkins Glen in 2002. His best finish in four Infineon starts is 25th, and his average is 33rd.

In four Cup starts, Simo has an average finish of 33.2, with a best of tenth at Sonoma in 2005. Leitzinger’s best finish in three career Cup outings (all on road courses) is 12th, while Graf finished 17th in his lone Cup outing a year ago, and Goossens was 43rd in his.

That’s not exactly a track record to strike fear into the hearts of the Nextel Cup regulars. In fact, it makes one wonder whether Hall Of Fame Racing and Michael Waltrip Motorsports might be better off to stick with Tony Raines and David Reutimann, rather than importing a “road course specialist” who won’t be showing up in the top 15, anyway.

There is a perception in some corners that road racers are the most talented drivers on the planet. But if road racers are truly superior to roundy-rounders, why do the NASCAR guys seem to adapt better to right turns than the road course guys adapt to ovals? Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte have fared extremely well in their limited ventures into sports car racing, with Stewart nearly winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona in his maiden outing a few years ago. Find me a single right-turn artist that has come to NASCAR and thrived right away.

Juan Pablo Montoya? A respectable 23rd in points, but hardly tearing up the circuit. AJ Allmendinger? Back in 44th. Sam Hornish, Jr.? Tearing up Roger Penske’s Busch cars at an alarming rate. In fact, you have to go back to Dan Gurney to find a road racer who was able to win in NASCAR, right away.

In equal cars, I believe Gordon and Stewart would hold their own with Said and Fellows on any road course in the country. I would even like their chances against Formula One guys like Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher; certainly more than I would like Schumacher and Hamilton’s odds in a NASCAR stocker.

So go ahead and get excited about the “road course ringers” this weekend if you want to. Just don’t expect much in the way of results.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Who Leads The Earnhardt Sponsorship Derby?

The speculation over Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s 2008 sponsor has reached a fever pitch, with as many as four different companies now being touted as "signed, sealed and delivered" by various media outlets.

Published reports say that Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick is negotiating with both PepsiCo and Monster Energy Drink about title sponsorship of Earnhardt's as-yet-unnumbered Chevrolet next season. Pepsi has served as a Hendrick associate sponsor for a number of years, while Monster Energy is reportedly set to back the JR Motorsports Late Model entry to be driven by developmental driver Jeremy McGrath in 10 races later this season. The brand will also back Robby Gordon's #7 Nextel Cup Ford at California's Infineon Raceway this weekend.

JR Motorsports has been working on a deal with Adidas to market a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. line of ClimaCool wear to major sporting goods retailers. Contrary to published reports, Sirius Speedway has learned that the deal is not likely to include major sponsorship on Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Budweiser also remains a player in the Earnhardt sponsorship derby. Anheuser-Busch has one year remaining on its personal services contract with Earnhardt, no matter where he races. That agreement has nothing to do with the signage on his racecar, however, and my sources say that Bud is a longshot -- at best -- to fill Junior's quarterpanels again next season.

The negotiations are extremely complex, since HMS has outstanding contracts with both Kellogg's and Carquest to back the #5 Chevrolet currently driven by Kyle Busch through the 2009 campaign. Both sponsors could theoretically opt-out of the deal (since Busch will no longer be the driver), but it is more likely that they will remain on the car in some capacity, to take advantage of the huge media blitz that will accompany Earnhardt's debut with HMS.

There are still plenty of details to be hammered out, but time is relatively short if Earnhardt and Hendrick want to have souvenirs and collectibles available for sale at SpeedWeeks 2008.

Our guess? Look for Junior to be sporting a blue firesuit next February, with the Pepsi logo liberally applied.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Good News And Bad News For AT&T

Jeff Burton and his sponsor, AT&T, have signed contract extensions with Richard Childress Racing that ensure they will remain together for the foreseeable future. No terms of the deal were released.

AT&T, formerly known as Cingular Wireless, has sponsored a Nextel Cup team for 10 years, and is in its sixth season with RCR's No. 31 Chevrolet. Burton began driving the car in 2005, and has two wins, four poles, 15 top-five and 33 top-10 finishes in 85 races.

The news was not all good for AT&T this weekend, though, as NASCAR filed a $100 million counter claim against the company yesterday, accusing them of interfering with its exclusive sponsorship agreement with Nextel. The suit asks that NASCAR be allowed to remove AT&T -- and all telecommunications companies other than Nextel – from the Nextel Cup Series, beginning in 2008.

NASCAR alleges breach of contract, fraud, misrepresentation, and conspiracy to aid and abet wrongful interference with Nextel’s contract to serve as title sponsor of the series. The sanctioning body claims that Nextel enjoys exclusivity as part of its 10-year, $700 million sponsorship, but U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob issued a preliminary injunction last month that allows Cingular logos to appear on Jeff Burton’s car. He also barred NASCAR from interfering with AT&T's status as primary sponsor of the car.

NASCAR alleges that AT&T and Cingular breached their contract with NASCAR by refusing to abide by NASCAR rules. The filing stated in part, "Cingular’s refusal to follow NASCAR rules and accept NASCARs denial of this paint scheme, and the filing of this lawsuit, has undermined NASCARs authority as the sanctioning body of stock car auto racing.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thoughts On The Kurt Busch Penalty

A few thoughts -- if I may -- on Kurt Busch's recent pitroad incident with Tony Stewart, now that the tumult has been replaced by a new, earth-shaking story du jour; the signing of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by Hendrick Motorsports.

In this writer's humble opinion, the whole "what could have happened" argument is based on pure fantasy, and nothing more. True, Kurt Busch could have hit Stewart's jackman, Jason Lee. He could have injured him, possibly seriously. He could have even killed him, God forbid. But then again, he could have flipped over the pit wall and killed 500 innocent bystanders, including a troop of Girl Scouts.

None of that happened.

Busch intentionally hit Stewart's car (a serious violation in itself), injuring nobody. His penalty reflected the seriousness of the act, without crossing over into speculation and wild conjecture. Based on the prevailing "could have" logic, every driver who speeds on pit road should be suspended for a race, because he could have hit and killed someone.

Obviously, NASCAR has to deal with the facts, not some hysterical account of what could have happened, but didn't.

Hendrick: Busch Was Lured Away From HMS

One day after announcing that Dale Earnhardt, Jr., will join his NASCAR Nextel Cup stable next season, Rick Hendrick said the driver Earnhardt will replace was lured away by promises of fame and fortune from other teams.

Hendrick said yesterday that Kyle Busch’s head was turned by financial offers from rival team owners, making his return to Hendrick Motorsports impossible. “No matter what I try to do, it's not going to be as good as what somebody else is willing to do. There's some unbelievable opportunities, some unbelievable money out there right now.

"He's a young guy, and when everyone tells you how great you are and says 'You're not going to be the top dog there. You'll be the top dog here, we'll pay you whatever it's going to take,' what would you do? How would you respond to that?"

Hendrick said that while he is sad to see Busch go, he hopes to reunite with the 22-year old phenom one day. "I'm hoping…that he can come back,(and) that we can hook up again. He's got to see what the world's like, what other teams are like and what the best fit is."

Busch clearly will not lack for offers. Dale Earnhardt, Inc., President of Global Operations Max Siegel said Tuesday that Busch is on his short list of replacements for Earnhardt, Jr., and Ray Evernham told Sirius Speedway that same day that he would “absolutely be interested” in talking to Busch about driving a fourth Evernham car next season.

Ginn Racing Owner/GM Jay Frye adding his name to the mix as well, saying,”Would we like to have him? Yes. Half the garage will want to talk to him. He's 22, and the kid is going to be great."

Hendrick himself compared Busch to another volatile (though supremely talented) former driver, saying, “I compare Kyle to Tim Richmond. He's got that desire to win. He doesn't like to run second. He doesn't want to wait. His success has been even faster than I thought it would be."

Busch, meanwhile, said all the right things in a prepared statement released yesterday.

“I have tremendous respect for Mr. Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports," he said. "It's where I grew up, and I have a lot of great memories. I kind of feel like I'm graduating. I'm excited about my future, and I know a lot of opportunities await because of what everyone at Hendrick did for me, on the track and off."

“I still have a job to do this year, and will give it my all -- just as I've always done -- to make sure we put the No. 5 car in Victory Lane a few more times before the year is out."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

AT LONG LAST: Lynne (Kushnirenko) Allmendinger's World Famous "Sex In a Pan"

Layer #1
-1 cup chopped pecans (buy them chopped, or crush them yourself)
-1 cup flour
-1/2 cup melted butter (make sure you measure when it’s melted)
-4 teaspoons sugar

Combined the above, and lightly pat into a 9X13 inch lasagna pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Let cool for a few hours.

Layer #2
-8 oz package of cream cheese
-1 cup of icing sugar
-1/2 tub of Large Cool Whip

Cut the cream cheese into smaller squares, and cream it in a cake mixer until smooth. Add the icing sugar in slowly, and continue to mix until well blended. FOLD in the Cool Whip slowly. Don’t mix it into the cream cheese, or else it will lose its fluffiness.
Spread over the crust, and put in the fridge too cool.

Layer #3
-1 small package of Instant Vanilla Pudding
-add ½ the required amount of Milk…(if it asks for 2 cups, put in 1 cup.

Blend the pudding until well mixed, spread over layer #2, and cool in the fridge.

Layer #4
-1 sm. Package of Instant Chocolate Pudding
-add ½ the required amount of Milk…(if it asks for 2 cups, put in 1 cup.

Blend the pudding until well mixed, spread over layer #3, and cool in the fridge.

Layer #5
Top with remaining Cool Whip, and decorate with whatever you like. Usually chocolate shavings are a favourite for flavour. (Note from Dave: Lynne is Canadian, and insists on using the proper Queen's English, hence the bonus U's.)

Voila…Lynne's Sex in a Pan!!! Enjoy!

Monday, June 11, 2007

(Soggy) Notes From The Pocono Zone

Roger Penske told reporters this weekend that his team will not switch to Toyota next season.

"Our Dodge commitment is a long-term contract," said Penske. "I read in the paper where we’re switching to Toyota. We haven't even talked to them about it. We've got to honor the commitments that we have."

Penske said he will field at least two Nextel Cup Series Dodges next season, with the door still open on the possibility of a third team. "We've looked at whether we'd run an additional car, but we haven't made any commitment on it at this point," he said. "We've got a lot of moving parts right now. I'm not committing to a third team at this point, at all."

And finally, Penske expressed supprt for driver Kurt Busch in the aftermath of last week’s pit road incident that saw Busch fined $100,000 and docked 100 championship points. Penske said, “I looked at what happened last weekend, and the biggest disappointment I have is that I wasn't there to maybe keep that situation from happening."

He said he and Busch met with team executives last week to discuss the situation, and its impact on the team.

Waltrip Rumor Mill Smoking: Michael Waltrip failed to qualify at Pocono, making it 12 DNQs in 14 races this season, and adding more fuel to the fires of speculation surrounding his team.

Unconfirmed reports continue to circulate about Waltrip refunding between $300,000 and $400,000 per missed race to his sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, and about the unhappiness of Dale Jarrett’s sponsor, UPS. Jarrett also failed to make Sunday’s race -- his third DNQ in the last five events -- and there is talk in the Nextel Cup garage that he could be released by MWR, or moved to another operation.

As a team, Waltrip, Jarrett and rookie David Reutimann have qualified just 22 times in 42 attempts this season.

Pocono Re-Signs For 2008: Pocono Raceway has fended off the Doomsday predictions for at least another year, after CEO Dr. Joe Mattioli signed a sanctioning agreement with NASCAR this weekend for two NASCAR Nextel Cup races there next season.

Mattioli said he signed the papers without reading them -- continuing a decades-long tradition -- after asking the same question of NASCAR officials that he asks each year. “I asked them, `Are you going to treat me like everybody else? Look me in the eye. I never read (the agreements). These people made us all millionaires. Never once in 35 years was I led wrong. Never.’"