Tuesday, August 26, 2008

COMMENTARY: While Others Wait, Richmond Gets Busy Promoting

It’s nice to know that the art of racetrack promotion is still alive and well in isolated pockets of the country.

On Monday's Sirius Speedway, I spoke at some length about the public relations goldmine Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have deposited on the doorstep of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Their post-race shenanigans at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday night have been replayed hundreds of times on every major sports outlet in the nation, giving NASCAR the kind of personal rivalry it cannot buy, at any price.

I talked about how, if I ran Auto Club Speedway, there would be a major PR effort in the next 72 hours to highlight the Edwards/Busch rivalry, and sell tickets with it. Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker was asked about precisely that on The Morning Drive with Mike Bagley and David Poole this morning, and her response was that Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards “sell themselves.”

Two hours later, I received a press release in my e-mail inbox, hyping the Kyle vs. Carl feud. The title of the release -- in 16-point, bold-print capital letters, read, “WILL RICHMOND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY BE THE SITE OF KYLE BUSCH’S RIVALRY REVENGE?”

While some people wait for the event to sell itself, it's nice to see others put on their promoter’s hats and get busy.

I’m not here to criticize anyone. The marketing and promotional staffs at Auto Club Speedway have more college degrees than I do, and I'm not about to try and tell them how to do their jobs. However, it occurs to me that there are reasons for all the empty seats when NASCAR comes to Fontana; reasons that have nothing to do with traffic, summer heat waves or Wolfgang Puck. There are also reasons why Richmond packs `em in for its twice-annual NASCAR weekends.

One of those reasons lies in the difference between being a promoter, and merely a track operator.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sabates Blasts Texaco, Sorenson

Felix Sabates has never been shy about stating his views, and Saturday, the outspoken co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates let loose with his thoughts on departing sponsor Texaco-Havoline and driver Reed Sorenson, who is reportedly looking to jump to Gillett-Evernham Motorsports next season.

Sorenson is reportedly being courted to replace rookie Patrick Carpentier in GEM’s #10 Dodge, or to drive a new, fourth Gillett-Evernham entry. He did not deny the reports Saturday at Bristol, saying, “Nothing’s happened yet. Stuff is going on, but nothing has happened yet.”

Sabates, however, said he has “a pretty good idea” that Sorenson will drive for Gillett-Evernham in 2009, and effectively bid him good riddance, saying, “I think Reed is today as good as he’s ever going to be. If somebody else wants to put him in a car, fine with us. I wish him good luck. From my point of view, his contract is over.”

For his part, Sorenson expressed frustration with the performance of the entire Ganassi team, saying, “I’ve been here for five years, and obviously we’re not running where we should be.”

If Sorenson jumps to GEM, he will almost certainly have to race his way into the first five races of the season; a prospect he said he does not look forward to. “I don’t think anybody wants to go to Daytona outside the top 35,” he said. “That’s not something you want to do. I’ve never been in that position, (and) I don’t think I want to be in that position.”

A spokesman for Gillett Evernham Motorsports had no comment Saturday, team co-owner Ray Evernham will join us Tuesday afternoon on Sirius Speedway.

Sabates also took a backhanded slap at Texaco-Havoline, calling their sponsorship “a liability,” and their departure “a blessing.

“Texaco was a great sponsor for a long time, but for the last year they really have been disconnected with the sport,” Sabates said. “They have focused on other things. We really didn’t get much support from them. The money wasn’t all that great. It is a blessing that we can go out and find somebody who can pay us some real money.

“Texaco was a liability for us because out of loyalty to them, we weren’t aggressively looking to replace them," he said. "Texaco management is disconnected from racing. All the new people don’t know what a race car looks like. We kept hoping they maybe would wake up one of these days and decide they need to be in NASCAR. I feel bad for them, they only made $6 billion last quarter.”

Sanctions Coming For Shrubby? NASCAR officials are meeting this afternoon to discuss whether Kyle Busch will be penalized for his incident with Carl Edwards on the cool-down lap of Saturday night's race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch hit Edwards’ Ford with the right side of his Toyota as they came back to the start/finish line, and Edwards retaliated by spinning Busch out. Busch was called to the NASCAR trailer after the race for a meeting with President Mike Helton, Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton and Sprint Cup Series director John Darby.

Mears To RCR: Richard Childress Racing has made it official, announcing that Casey Mears will drive the team’s #07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet next season, while Clint Bowyer moves to a new #33 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Hamburger Helper and Cheerios.

Childress said his current plan is for the #07 team to keep its 2008 owner points, forcing Bowyer to qualify on time for the first five races of next season. However, Childress said he is researching the possibility of acquiring owners points from a team presently in the Top-35. In his words, “We really can’t say what the plan is, but we are definitely working on a few things.”

Asked how he feels about going into next season with no owners’ points, Bowyer said, “It beats beatin’ dents in the body shop.”

HOF Looking To Merge: Hall of Fame Racing co-owner Tom Garfinkel said his team is evaluating its options for next season, and could change manufacturers as part of a merger or partnership with another team.

Garfinkel said the team would like to remain with Toyota, but is having conversations with other teams that could result in a move from the Toyota camp. Hall Of Fame put Ken Schrader behind the wheel Saturday night at Bristol, after firing JJ Yeley and replacing him with young Brad Coleman a week earlier. Joey Logano may drive the team’s #96 Toyota later this year, as well, while the team investigates the possibility of expanding to two or more cars, via merger or acquisition.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Hammer Falls On Joe Gibbs Racing

NASCAR has indefinitely suspended seven Joe Gibbs Racing crewmembers for their parts in attempting to manipulate the results of a post-race chassis dyno test at Michigan International Speedway Saturday.

No. 20 crewchief Dave Rogers, carchief Richard Bray and engine tuner Dan Bajek were all suspended indefinitely, along with No. 18 crewchief Jason Ratcliff, carchief Dorian Thorsen, engine tuner Michael Johnson and crewmember Toby Bigelow. Drivers Joey Logano and Tony Stewart have been penalized 150 championship points, and placed on NASCAR probation until December 31st. Car owner Joe Gibbs was penalized 150 owner points for each car. In addition, all remaining members of both teams have been placed on NASCAR probation until December 31st.

JGR’s No. 20 team still leads the owners points by 168 over the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing team.

NASCAR cited four different violations, as outlined in the 2009 Nationwide Series rulebook:

Sections 12-4-A, the omnipresent "Actions detrimental to stock car racing."

Section 8-9, which reads, "From time to time, NASCAR may determine, in the interest of competition, that it is necessary or appropriate to undertake an analysis of the performance capabilities of a car, car part, component or equipment. The Competitor shall take whatever steps are requested by NASCAR Officials for this purpose."

Section 12-4-Q, which states, "Car, car parts, components and/or equipment used that do not conform to NASCAR rules… has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event, or is not required for the normal functional operation of the race car, or has been altered to detract from or compromise its integrity or effectiveness, whether operational or not."

And finally, Section 12-4-K, which reads, "When NASCAR Officials mandate inspection during the Event, if any car, car parts, components, and/or equipment which have been used in the Event are taken from the racing premises without permission of a NASCAR Official, or are tampered with by any member of the team or anyone associated with the team."

In layman’s terms, Sections 12-4-Q and 12-4-K are the most applicable to this case. Section 12-4-Q effectively says that teams cannot place parts on the car that are not required for normal function during the race. JGR clearly did this, after the race was over.

Section 12-4-K says teams cannot tamper with their cars prior to (or during) post-race inspection, without NASCAR's permission. That clearly happened Saturday.

JGR has the right to appeal the ruling to the National Stock Car Racing Commission, but JD Gibbs said Sunday that the team would accept whatever penalties were handed down.

For those who wonder what "indefinite suspension" means in the world of NASCAR, the seven suspended team members are now in the same boat as Shane Hmiel and Aaron Fike. They are suspended from competition, with no set timetable for reinstatement. They may apply to NASCAR for reinstatement at any time, with the sanctioning body determining when (and if) they come back. They seven crewmen can continue to work for in the Joe Gibbs Racing shop, but cannot enter any NASCAR-sanctioned facility until their suspensions are lifted.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

CONFIRMED: Texaco-Havoline Will Not Return in 2009

Sirius Speedway has learned that Chevron-Texaco will not return as sponsor of Juan Pablo Montoya’s #42 Dodge next season. The Texaco-Havoline brand is in the final year of its sponsorship contract with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, and a media representative for Ganassi Racing confirmed the move this afternoon.

Texaco-Havoline will not move to another team in 2009, electing instead to end their longstanding involvement in NASCAR. That decision leaves Ganassi Racing in need of at least two new sponsors in 2009, and possibly three. Team owner Chip Ganassi recently parked the #40 Dodge driven by Dario Franchitti due to lack of sponsorship, and there are longstanding rumors that Target may not return to the #41 Dodge currently driven by Reed Sorenson.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Silly Season Still Going Strong

Ryan Newman is finally confirmed as Tony Stewart's 2009 teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, but there is still a bit of silliness left in NASCAR Silly Season 2008.

A spokesman for Joey Logano confirmed this weekend that the 18-year old driver will likely make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut next month at Richmond International Raceway. Sirius Speedway reported two weeks ago that Logano will make his Cup debut at Richmond in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota; the first of a planned 6-7 race schedule in preparation for a full Rookie of the Year bid in 2009. Spokesman Bill Janitz said the number of races to be run this season is still to be determined, and that no decision has been made on whether he will replace Tony Stewart in JGR’s #20 Toyota next season.

A source close to the team told Sirius Speedway Saturday that Logano will run an orange-and-white #02 Toyota at Richmond with sponsorship from the Home Depot. In addition, that source said the home improvement giant will back the Connecticut youngster in his freshman season of Cup competition in 2009. Team President J.D. Gibbs said the team has not yet finalized plans for Logano, saying, “He'll run some Cup races this year, whether or not he's running the full thing next year or not.”

At least one more vacant seat appears set to be filled this week. Richard Childress would not confirm widespread reports that Casey Mears will be the driver of his new fourth Chevrolet next year, but smiled as he said, “I'll be glad to talk to you about the fourth car next week at Bristol."

Penske Racing spokesman Walter Czarnecki confirmed that David Stremme is one of several drivers being considered to replace Ryan Newman in the No. 12 Dodge next season, adding that "there's a lot of balls still in the air right now.” Czarnecki said the team hopes to have a driver signed within the next two weeks.

Yates Racing is making a concerted bid to sign driver Paul Menard away from Dale Earnhardt, Inc., with the assistance of Roush Fenway Racing. Roush Fenway President Geoff Smith confirmed yesterday that the Roush/Yates alliance is pursuing Menard, saying, “We believe we're the leading contender outside of the incumbent." DEI officials say they are negotiating to re-sign Menard, and feel confident he will return to the team.

Hamlin Blasts JGR Engines: Denny Hamlin lashed out at his Joe Gibbs Racing team yesterday, after an engine failure with six laps remaining dropped him to a 39th place finish. Hamlin now stands 12th in the Sprint Cup standings -- just 26 points away from dropping out of the Chase -- and blamed the JGR engine shop for his predicament.

“We're so far behind," he said. "When we come to the racetrack with a piece that’s got more power, we just hope it lasts. And it just hasn’t yet.”

Hamlin also questioned the team’s decision to run a new engine combination at Michigan Sunday, saying, “We just make stupid choices. We came here with a new engine package, (and) we're a bubble driver. We can't keep our cars together. At this point, we don’t even deserve to be in the Chase. I know the engine guys are doing all they can to keep up, (but) the Hendrick guys seem to be the class of the field right now as far as engines.”

Hamlin has now finished 23rd or worse in eight of his last 14 races.

Sullivan Bids For BDR: 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan says he has made a bid to purchase Bill Davis Racing, but that the two sides are still apart on price. Davis confirmed to Sirius NASCAR Radio yesterday that discussions have taken place with Sullivan, but that talks are not as far along as Sullivan implied. He said Sullivan is one of several people who have approached him about purchasing the team, and that he will “do what is best for Bill and Gail Davis.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Kansas Wants Second Cup Date; Announces Casino Plan

Kansas Speedway will petition NASCAR for a second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series date for the track, if approval is obtained for a proposed 1.5 million square-foot Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on speedway grounds.

The project -– located in the speedway’s Second Turn -- would include a 300-room luxury hotel, a state-of-the-art casino with 3,000 slot machines and 140 gaming tables, 275,000 square-feet of retail, dining and entertainment space and meeting and convention facilities. The project will cost over $700 million, with no public incentives or revenue needed.

A study commissioned by the speedway indicates that the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino would provide an economic benefit of $4.86 billion to the community over 20 years. The proposal includes a temporary casino what would open within eight months, and operate during the construction period.

International Speedway Corporation is not commenting on which of its other tracks would lose a Sprint Cup date to Kansas. ISC President Lesa France Kennedy said she would move one of ISC’s current Cup dates to Kansas, beginning in 2010 or 2011. Seven ISC tracks -- Daytona, Richmond, California, Talladega, Martinsville, Michigan and Phoenix -- currently host two Cup dates each season. Four others -- Darlington, Homestead-Miami, Watkins Glen and Chicagoland – host one each.

`Dega's A Deal: A study commissioned by Talladega Superspeedway shows that the track generates an annual economic impact of $407 million for the region and the state of Alabama. The study, done by the Washington Economics Group Inc., shows that Talladega creates 7,955 jobs, and generates an economic impact equivalent to 11% of Alabama's total tourism revenue. The total economic impact translates to $88.50 for every man, woman and child in Alabama.

And Finally: It’s been interesting to read all the breathless reports in the last few days of Ryan Newman moving to Stewart-Haas Racing next season, especially since Sirius Speedway first broke the news on July 7th. That’s the same day we told you that Tony Stewart would drive a #14 Chevrolet at Stewart-Haas next season, with sponsorship from Office Depot and Old Spice. Since then, virtually every media outlet in the country has claimed to “break” those stories, despite the fact that we’ve been telling you about them for more than a month.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Logano To Make Cup Debut At Richmond

The plan is finally in place for Joey Logano to begin his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, with a handful of races scheduled this season in Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. A source close to the team said Saturday that Logano will run “six or seven” Sprint Cup races between now and the end of the 2008 campaign, in an effort to gain NASCAR approval for Logano to run for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors next season.

Plans call for the 18-year old Connecticut native to make his Sprint Cup debut at Richmond International Raceway on September 6th, with additional races to be announced within the next 2-3 weeks. He will also run the ARCA ReMax Series race at Talladega Superspeedway for Venturini Motorsports, to satisfy NASCAR requirements for him to compete in the 2009 Daytona 500.

McDowell Replaced At MIS: Mike Skinner will drive Michael Waltrip Racing’s #00 Champion Mortgage Toyota at Michigan this weekend, replacing Michael McDowell. McDowell admitted last weekend at Watkins Glen that he is investigating his options for next season, since Michael Waltrip Racing currently has no sponsorship on the car for 2009.

Today, Michael Waltrip said Skinner will remain in the car for the upcoming races at Bristol and California. “We’ve asked Mike Skinner to evaluate areas where we can improve our on-track performance," he said. "We feel the same way about Michael McDowell as we did when we signed him, but this is the toughest, most competitive form of racing in the world, and I know Michael and MWR can benefit from Skinner’s input.”

McDowell is scheduled to return to the car at Richmond International Raceway in Setpember, and said he supports the team’s decision.

“No driver wants to get out of the car, but I understand that every part of our program needs to be evaluated, and that certainly includes me. I plan to support Mike Skinner and our team any way I can, and hopefully learn some things that will help when I get back in the car."

Skinner previously subbed for AJ Allmendinger at Team Red Bull for a number of races this season, allowing that team to right itself. Since returning to the cockpit, Allmendinger has surged in the Spring Cup standings, climbing into the Top-35 in owners' points for the first time in his career.

Mears/RCR Close To A Deal: Expect an announcement as early as this weekend that Casey Mears will join Richard Childress Racing next season as the team’s fourth driver. Details of the deal are expected to be finalized this week, with an announcement Friday or Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

Mears will be tabbed to drive RCR’s #07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet next season, with Clint Bowyer moving to a new, #33 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Cheerios and Betty Crocker. The ride swap became necessary when General Mills – parent company of Cheerios and Betty Crocker – balked at sponsoring Mears, who is currently backed by rival Kellogg’s at Hendrick Motorsports.

RCR will petition NASCAR to transfer owner points from the #07 to the #33 at season’s end, so Bowyer will have a guaranteed starting spot in the first five races of 2009. Mears will be forced to qualify on time for the first five events of the season, and said Sunday that while he is not anxious to put himself in that situation, he would be willing to do so, “on a team that had the personnel and equipment to make the car fast enough to qualify.”

Mears insisted that there is no signed deal between himself and Childress. “I always try to be up front about this stuff,” said Mears, “but the fact is, nothing is signed and I'm still talking to other teams.” Asked if he might have an announcement by the end of the week, he said, "I certainly hope so. The sooner the better.”

And Finally: As if it’s needed, here’s more bad news for anyone hoping to snatch the Sprint Cup title from Kyle Busch’s grasp this season. With Sunday’s victory at Watkins Glen, Busch became the 18th driver in NASCAR history to record eight or more wins in the first 22 races of a season.

Thirteen of the previous 17 drivers went on to win the championship.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Yeley Out, Coleman In At HOF; Kentucky Speedway Sale Now In Doubt

Hall of Fame Racing has announced that NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Brad Coleman will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota Camry on Aug. 17th at Michigan International Speedway. Coleman replaces J.J. Yeley, who has been released by the team. P.J. Jones will drive the No. 96 Toyota this weekend at Watkins Glen.

Tom Garfinkel, co-owner of Hall of Fame Racing, said of the move, “J.J. is a talented race car driver and a great person, and this was a difficult decision to make. We all share responsibility that our performance hasn’t been what it needs to be, but we concluded it was time to make a change. This is a performance-based industry and we need to perform better.”

Yeley ranked 36th in points with just one Top-5 finish in 17 starts this season; a third at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in June. The No. 96 team has fallen out of the top 35 in owners points -- currently standing 38th -- and Yeley has failed to qualify for four races. The 20-year-old Coleman currently ranks 16th in the Nationwide Series championship point standings driving for Baker Curb Racing. He has also served as Hall Of Fame's Racing's test driver this season.

Smith Snubbed At The Glen: Dale Earnhardt Inc. has withdrawn its entry for Regan Smith’s No. 81 Chevrolet at Watkins Glen, after NASCAR informed the team that the effort violated NASCAR’s four-team limit.

Teams are allowed to enter a fifth car in a maximum of seven races per season, allowing a prospective rookie to gain experience in Sprint Cup competition. NASCAR said that Smith – who has made 20 starts this season – does not fit the criteria for a fifth-car exception.

Canadian Ron Fellows will now steer Smith’s #01 at the Glen with Smith sitting out. That decision effectively scuttled our grassroots bid to make Smith this week’s Fans’ Choice in the Sirius Driver-to-Crew Chat Channel voting. We’ll see what we can do about getting him back in the running next week.

Kentucky Sale Now Questionable: Speedway Motorsports Inc. has less than three weeks to decide whether to carry on with its plan to purchase Kentucky Speedway, and company officials now say they are unsure what the final decision will be.

SMI Chief Financial Officer Bill Brooks told financial analysts yesterday, “The Kentucky due diligence is ongoing right now, and it’s not complete. I can’t answer definitively whether or not we will go forward with the transaction.” A final decision must be made by August 18th, and Chairman Bruton Smith has repeatedly insisted that he will go forward with the $78-million purchase of the track, which now hosts the NASCAR Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series, and the Indy Racing League.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Iowa Set For Spot On `09 Nationwide Schedule?

NASCAR Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell confirmed what Sirius Speedway told you last week, that Iowa Speedway is being considered as a replacement for Mexico City on the 2009 Nationwide Series schedule.

NASCAR announced recently that the series will not return to Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez next season, and sources tell Sirius Speedway that Iowa will take its place. O’Donnell stopped short of confirming that, saying there are more than two tracks under consideration, but admitting that conversations have been had with officials at Iowa Speedway. He also said he expects the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal to be back on the 2009 schedule, which could be announced in as little as two weeks.

Pocono Stabbing Victim Critical: A 43-year old New York man remains in critical condition today, after being stabbed in the heart at Pocono Raceway Sunday. Police said Michael Gualtiere of Seaford, Long Island, N.Y., was treated at the track’s Infield Care Center at about 7 p.m., then flown to Lehigh Valley Hospital Center where he remains in critical condition after surgery.

Police have obtained a warrant to search a vehicle involved in the incident, and have identified what they call a “person of interest.” The investigation is ongoing.

And Finally: There are reports today that P.J. Jones will drive the Hall of Fame Racing Toyota at Watkins Glen this weekend, in place of J.J. Yeley. Yeley failed to qualify on the road course at Infineon Raceway in June, and Jones recently tested the #96 Toyota at Road Atlanta. As of this morning, Yeley was still listed on the official Watkins Glen entry list.