Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dodge President Says Challenger Could Soon Race In Cup

Dodge President Ralph Gilles said today that the automaker may submit the Dodge Challenger for Sprint Cup competition at some point in the future, replacing the Dodge Charger.

Gilles said, “It's up to NASCAR,” adding "the fans will tell us" what they want to see. Ford’s North American Motorsports Manager, Jamie Allison said recently that the Blue Oval is considering bringing its Mustang brand to the Cup Series, if it performs well at the Nationwide level.

The new Nationwide car makes its competitive debut Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

Goodyear To Salute Troops At Daytona

Goodyear spokesman Mike Siberini told Sirius NASCAR Radio's Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody today that the tire maker has manufactured special tires for the Independence Day weekend Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series events at Daytona International Speedway.

Siberini said the Goodyear Eagle logo will be smaller, making way for a "Support Our Troops” message written in red, white and blue.

SMI Expected To Request Date Changes This Week

NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell said he expects Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO Bruton Smith to submit an official request this week to realign some of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race dates next season. Smith has repeatedly said he hopes to bring Sprint Cup racing to Kentucky Speedway and add a second date at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; moves that will require him to relocate races from other SMI tracks.

Five SMI tracks -- Charlotte, Bristol, Texas, New Hampshire and Atlanta – host two Sprint Cup events each season, and O’Donnell said, “We expect to hear something this coming week. Last year we didn’t get the schedule (done) until early September. We’ve got enough time to look at it, make a decision and work with all the tracks out there.”

O’Donnell declined to comment on where the Kentucky and Las Vegas races might come from, saying, “We’ve got a pretty long streak of great support in New Hampshire, but I’m not going to speculate on what may be out there.” He confirmed that International Speedway Corporation has submitted an official request to add a second Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway, but declined to say where that race would come from.

NASCAR usually meets with track operators in May to discuss the next season’s schedule, but postponed those meetings until a decision was handed down in the Kentucky Speedway lawsuit. That suit was dismissed last month, clearing the way for Smith to move a Sprint Cup race to Kentucky in 2011. Sources say he met with NASCAR officials Saturday in New Hampshire to discuss proposed realignment scenarios, and O’Donnell said Smith is “still within his time limit” for requesting a 2011 venue change.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Reiser Likely To Return As Kenseth's Crewchief Next Season

Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody has learned that Robbie Reiser is likely to return as crewchief for Matt Kenseth’s #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford next season.

Team owner Jack Roush replaced Todd Parrott with veteran Jimmy Fennig last week, the second change of the season for the #17 team. “Matt and I shared a concern that we weren't getting the optimum number of changes in the garage (during practice) based on the plan and the preparation and the execution of the pre-race activities," explained Roush, adding that after an encouraging start to the season, “we kind of had a breakdown in team communication and the effectiveness… of getting ready for the race. I don't know if Matt stopped talking to (Parrott) or I stopped talking to him or what happened.”

Kenseth’s fifth crewchief since 2007, Fennig said last week that he expects to remain atop the pit box for the remainder of the 2010 campaign. However, sources tell Sirius Speedway that there is “a very strong possibility” that RFR General Manager Robbie Reiser will return to the post in 2011. “Robbie wants to come back,” said one source on condition of anonymity, “but he’s doing such a good job as GM that Jack can’t justify making a move right now. Next season, don’t be surprised to see Reiser back on the pit box, with Robbie Loomis succeeding him as General Manager.”

Kenseth admitted that consideration is being given to bringing Reiser back as crewchief, saying, "He probably would have filled in for the rest of the year (and tried) to do both, but there just are not enough hours in a day.”

Friday, June 25, 2010

Allmendinger To Finalize 2011 Plans Soon

A.J. Allmendinger told Sirius NASCAR Radio's Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody Friday that he hopes to make a decision on where he will race next season within the next 30 days.

"I've had some great talks with the people at Richard Petty Motorsports," said Allmendinger. "I have also had some great talks with other teams. I can't tell you right now how it's all going to turn out, But I hope to have it all wrapped up by the middle or end of July."

Unconfirmed reports have the former Champ Car star in negotiation with Richard Childress Racing, among others, with RPM highly motivated to try and re-sign him to a multi-year contract. Allmendinger and teammates Elliott Sadler and Paul Menard are in the final years of their respective deals, and Kasey Kahne has already announced plans to race elsewhere in 2011 and beyond.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Refusing To Start And Park, Labonte Back On The Open Market

Bobby Labonte says he understands why TRG Motorsports chose to start and park its #71 Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet in three of the last five races.

He simply doesn’t want to be part of it.

The 2000 Sprint Cup Series champion severed ties with TRG Wednesday, saying, “I just don’t want to do the start-and-park thing.” While acknowledging “it’s tough out there for a lot of people,” Labonte said he has no stomach for showing up at the racetrack with no intention of racing.

“I thought we could grow into a lot of things,” said Labonte of his partnership with TRG owner Kevin Buckler. “It just didn’t quite work out like we anticipated.” Buckler signed Labonte last November, a move seen as a major coup for a team entering only its second season of Sprint Cup competition. He hoped Labonte’s star power would enable him to sign a full-time sponsor, and that cars and technology from Richard Childress Racing and a pit crew rented from Stewart-Haas Racing would make them competitive on the racetrack.

Neither proved to be the case.

The team has struggled to find sponsorship and failed to record a Top-20 finish this season. “These (Sprint Cup teams) are the best of the best,” explained Labonte. “(They) have four teams or six teams or more, and when you add it all up, there are 28 of those. When you’re 29th, you’re next in that line. We weren’t 29th all the time. On a bad day it was 35th, and on a good day it could be 20th.

“We didn’t have a teammate to lean on,” he said. “If we had a teammate and… more funding to get more technology into the race team, that would hopefully enhance the deal. But it takes a lot of money to run this series.”

In the end, the prospect of running a few token laps each week before retiring to the garage was more than Labonte’s competitive nature could stand. “I felt like I needed to find different opportunities that were going to allow me to race,” he said. “That’s what we were supposed to do to start with, and what we were doing up until (recently).”

The 21-time Cup winner will drive for Robby Gordon Motorsports this weekend in New Hampshire, before strapping in for Phoenix Racing owner James Finch at both Daytona and Chicagoland. Gordon has spoken in broad terms about possibly fielding a second RGM Toyota for Labonte in the Brickyard 400, as well, but beyond that, there are no concrete plans.

For now, Labonte will continue ride-hunting. He said his focus remains on finding a quality Sprint Cup drive, but admitted that he would consider a competitive Nationwide or even Camping World Truck Series opportunity. When he takes the green flag this weekend, Labonte will make his 599th career Sprint Cup start and his 597th in a row. That consecutive start streak is a source of pride for the 46-year old Labonte, and while he hopes to continue as a full-time racer for another season or three, he’ll quit altogether before he’ll start and park.

“I’m a racer,” he said. “I want to race. I want to win. There’s no more special feeling than winning races and being competitive. It’s the passion I have for this sport (and) the passion I have for racing that keeps me wanting to do this more and more.”

Nobody –- not even Labonte himself -– knows how many green flags remain to be waved in his Hall Of Fame-caliber career. For now, the Corpus Christi, Texas, native will concentrate on the immediate future, letting next season take care of itself. “We’ve just got to concentrate on what we’re doing right now,” he said. “It would be nice to not have to wait (to know what we’re doing next year, but you just make the best of what you have.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Labonte Leaves TRG #71 for Rides With Robby Gordon, Phoenix Racing

Bobby Labonte has reportedly terminated his contract with TRG Motorsports, and will drive the Robby Gordon Motorsports #7 Toyota this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

TRG Motorsports owner Kevin Buckler said as recently as yesterday that there was no truth to reports that Labonte has parted company with the team, but Andy Lally is now slated to drive the TRG Motorsports #71 Chevrolet this weekend. An official announcement from the team could come later today. Crewchief Doug Randolph left the operation a few weeks ago.

In a related story, Phoenix Racing owner James Finch has announced that Labonte will run his #09 Chevrolet in next Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, and in the LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 10th. Finch said of Labonte, “We’re going to run several (races). We’d like to run as many as we can to get sponsorship.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Randy LaJoie: "I Screwed Up."

Two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Randy LaJoie told Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody Tuesday that he is guilty of violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.

LaJoie won the then-NASCAR Busch Series championship in both 1996 and 1997, and has recently worked as an analyst for both ESPN and Sirius NASCAR Radio, in addition to manufacturing racing seats for his company, The Joie Of Seating. He said he expects an announcement from NASCAR within the hour confirming his suspension, but wanted to "get out in front of it" by speaking out now.

“I screwed up,” said LaJoie in an exclusive Sirius Speedway interview. “NASCAR tested me when I wanted to spot for someone at Nashville. I already have two NASCAR licenses, but they said I needed a spotter’s license, and that included taking a drug test. I took the test, and got a call a few days later saying I had tested positive for marijuana.”

LaJoie called the incident “a one-time, isolated situation,” saying he smoked marijuana just once, immediately following the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I'm not Cheech and Chong," he said. "I volunteer my time driving a golf cart taking people back and forth, and I dropped one group off in the campground after the race. There was a pretty good party going on and I did something I shouldn’t have done. I sure wish I had picked up a different bunch, but I don’t blame any of them. Nobody held a gun to my head. I blame myself. You can’t fix stupid.”

LaJoie said he will do whatever NASCAR requires in order to be reinstated. “I have already spoken to my own drug abuse counselor, and I am waiting for a call back from NASCAR’s doctor,” he said. “I’ll go wherever they tell me to go, and I’ll do what they tell me to do.”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Commentary: The Umpire May Be Blind, But He's Probably Not A Crook

Denny Hamlin called NASCAR on the carpet in the moments following the “Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips 400” at Michigan International Speedway, accusing officials of manufacturing a phantom caution to tighten up the field in the race’s final laps.

Hamlin held a huge lead with 15 laps remaining when a debris caution eliminated his 10-second advantage. He easily fended off the advances of Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch to claim his fifth win of the 2010 season, but climbed from his FedEx Ground Toyota and lambasted what he claimed was an attempt by the sanctioning body to intentionally manipulate the outcome of the race.

“This is show business,” said Hamlin, adding that he expected the late caution flag. His comments touched off the biggest avalanche of conspiracy theories since Tony Stewart’s ill-fated “WWE” analogy a few years back, and while some of his fellow drivers supported his claim, others did not. Second-place Michigan finisher Kahne said he observed debris on the track prior to the final caution, while Ryan Newman said he actually ran over the debris, causing damage to his car that helped drop him to a 32nd-place finish.

A week later, Hamlin was still in an accusatory mood.

“There is always debris around the track,” he said to reporters at Infineon Raceway. “You can call anything debris... and that it is a legitimate safety hazard, but I just think it’s the timing. (NASCAR says) ‘OK, there it is, let’s pick it up and regroup.’ For the sake of show, that’s OK. But for the sake of competition, it’s not always the right thing.”

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver tempered his comments somewhat, saying, “If NASCAR had let (the race) go, people were going to be talking about a boring race. That’s something we don’t want, either. I think that sometimes, they just don’t throw the caution. Sometimes they just kind of let it go, when maybe things are getting mixed up. Other times, when things are spread out, (they say) `Let’s tighten it back up.' You don’t have to be so smart to realize that these things are just by chance.”

To the surprise of no-one, NASCAR denied Hamlin’s claims, with spokesman Ramsey Poston saying officials throw caution flags for debris whenever they believe safety could be compromised.

“When we identify something, or there is something on the track that can’t be identified, we are going to err on the side of safety and throw the caution,” he said. “Cautions exist for the safety of the competitors and fans, and we take that very seriously. I suspect drivers would have a different point of view if they were to hit that piece of debris... and ruin their day, or worse.” He added that officials often receive false reports of debris on the track from drivers hoping to benefit from a late caution, further complicating their jobs.

Poston also said it is up to the drivers – not NASCAR -- to put on a good show. “The racing is in the hands of the drivers,” he said. “They are the ones who are responsible for putting on a good show by going out and racing as hard as they can. We can’t get goaded into going lax on safety, and we won’t.”

Second-guessing and complaining about the referee are common practices in every sport. But only in NASCAR do competitors accuse the officials of being – not only incompetent – but corrupt. Only in our sport do drivers like Denny Hamlin accuse the umpire of intentionally making an incorrect call, in an attempt to manipulate the outcome of the game. NASCAR could silence the conspiracy theorists by fining drivers who publically criticize officials. Every other professional sport does it, as does the NCAA. But NASCAR chooses to let its athletes vent, even when they put their own best interest ahead of the integrity of the sport itself.

Drivers openly admit “fudging” debris reports in an effort to draw late-race caution flags, and some have even created their own debris cautions by tossing items onto the racing surface. The athletes clearly cannot be trusted to provide honest, accurate information on track conditions, so the responsibility must necessarily fall on the officials.

Did NASCAR blow the call at Michigan? Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. It’s all a matter of perspective and personal agenda, and nobody (NASCAR officials included) knows with 100% certainty where the truth lies.

In the end, perhaps we should adopt the same attitude embraced by fans of other professional sports. We don’t have to like the call, but we do have to accept it and trust that while the referee may be blind, he’s not a crook.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sorenson To Replace Mears At Red Bull

Reed Sorenson will replace Casey Mears in Red Bull Racing's #83 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota, beginning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend.

Casey Mears replaced Brian Vickers last month after Vickers was diagnosed with season-ending blood clots in his lungs, but was released earlier this week after struggling in his four starts. Red Bull Racing Vice President and General Manager Jay Frye confirmed Sorenson's hiring today, saying, "Our unique situation has afforded us the opportunity to try some different things, and we're continuing to do that with Reed. We appreciate Casey's work and everything he's done the past five weeks."

Sorenson has driven in 10 of this season's 14 NASCAR Nationwide Series races for Braun Racing, with four Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes, including a runnerup showing at Nashville Superspeedway. He is winless in 148 career Sprint Cup starts over six seasons, primarily with Ganassi Racing.

German Touring Car star Mattias Ekstrom will steer the #83 Camry this weekenbd at Infineon Raceway.

Sadler Signs 10-Race Nationwide Deal With JR Motorsports

Elliott Sadler has signed to drive 10 NASCAR Nationwide Series races this season in the #88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

Sadler will drive at New Hampshire, O’Reilly Raceway Park, Michigan, Richmond, Dover, Kansas, California, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami Speedways. Two of the 10 races will include sponsorship from Delta Apparel and Realtree Outfitters, with the other races sponsored by Grand Touring Vodka. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is also scheduled to drive a Realtree Outfitters-sponsored car at Bristol Motor Speedway next month.

“Elliott is a really good buddy of mine, and I’m happy that he has agreed to race our cars on a limited basis this year,” said Earnhardt. “By now, everybody knows our situation. We are looking for (a) full-time replacement for the #88, but in the meantime, we’ve called upon some proven racers to keep it up front, capture points, and contend for wins.”

“I am grateful to Dale Jr. and Kelley (Earnhardt) for this opportunity,” said Sadler. “Dale Jr. and I have been friends since our days racing Late Models, so it’s a great opportunity for us to partner together in the Nationwide Series."

Sadler is in the final year of his Sprint Cup Series contract with Richard Petty Motorsports, and sources say this new, 10-race deal with JR Motorsports could expand into a full-time opportunity in 2011.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Casey Mears Will Not Return To #83 Red Bull Toyota

Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody has learned that Casey Mears will not return to the #83 Red Bull Racing Toyota when the series returns to oval tracks at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 27. Road course expert Mattias Ekstrom will drive the car this weekend at Infineon Raceway, and no decision has been made on who will fill the seat for the remainder of the season. Mears took over the ride when Brian Vickers was sidelined by blood clots last month at Dover, with a best finish of 22nd and an average finish of 27.5 He finished 36th at Michigan last weekend after becoming involved in a crash with teammate Scott Speed.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

COMMENTARY: Critical Times Ahead For Richard Petty Motorsports

With only 15 of 36 races complete, most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams are fully focused on winning races, positioning themselves for a spot in the Chase and finishing the 2010 season on a high note.

Richard Petty Motorsports does not have that luxury.

Just eight months away from a return to Daytona Beach for SpeedWeeks 2011, RPM has no drivers signed for next season and no appreciable sponsorship. Their marquee driver, Kasey Kahne, announced recently that he will jump ship at the end of the season for an eventual spot in the Hendrick Motorsports stable, while teammates AJ Allmendinger, Elliott Sadler and Paul Menard all labor in the final year of their respective contracts.

Sadler appears the least likely to return in 2011. RPM majority owner George Gillett attempted to deep-six the Emporia, Va., veteran last winter, before relenting under the threat of a lawsuit. Sources close to the team say Sadler routinely gets the oldest, heaviest cars in the RPM stable, and he stood a disappointing 29th in the championship standings prior to Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway. He continues to say all the right things, touting team unity and expressing happiness with the hard work of his team, but a return to the RPM fold in 2011 appears to be a long shot, at best.

Menard has been one of 2010’s “Cinderella stories,” running solidly in the Top-10 early, and still ranking as RPM’s top point driver going into Michigan. While his performance has silenced any remaining talk about “daddy’s money,” his unsigned status – and the fact that he comes fully-sponsored -- is already earning him attention from other teams, months before NASCAR’s annual free agent “Silly Season” ramps up in earnest.

Allmendinger seems ready to become RPM’s “go to” driver in 2011, if the team can re-sign him. Richard Petty himself is reportedly pushing Allmendinger to sign a new, multi-year contract, hoping to use the former Champ Car star to firm-up sponsorship for the legendary #43 Ford. Unfortunately, Petty and Gillett find themselves in a textbook “Catch 22” situation. They need a quality wheelman to attract sponsorship, but very few drivers are willing to sign multi-year deals with unsponsored teams.

Sources in the Sprint Cup garage say Allmendinger has had informal conversations with a number of other teams, including Richard Childress Racing. And while the California native says his top priority is to continue raising the bar at RPM, he – like Menard – will almost certainly be courted by new suitors this offseason.

Kahne, meanwhile, will spend six difficult months as a lame-duck driver before departing RPM at the end of the year. That’s a difficult role for any driver to fill, and since cracks have already begun to show in the foundation. He and Allmendinger clashed last week in the aftermath of an incident at Pocono Raceway, when Allmendinger ran his teammate into the grass on the final lap, causing a violent, multi-car wreck.

"I don't know what AJ was doing there," said Kahne after climbing from his battered Budweiser Ford. “I don’t ever really talk to him much, and I doubt I will be talking to him this week.” Allmendinger, who quickly accepted blame for the crash, agreed that the incident did little to damage what was already a shaky relationship between the two teammates.

“Kasey has no (desire) to talk to me usually, and I’m cool with that,” he said. “Our race teams work well enough. I’ve got six or seven other Ford guys that I can talk to and ask questions. So it’s fine.”

Allmendinger said their strained relationship stems from Kahne’s belief that the former Champ Car driver is too aggressive on the racetrack. “I’m a hard racer (and) sometimes I race too hard with people I’m not supposed to race hard with,” he said. “(Kasey) has accused me of racing him too hard at times, and that’s fine. We both have our own opinions. I’m fighting for every inch, and if he doesn’t like me at times, I understand that.”

"(The Pocono crash) looked worse because it was my teammate,” said Allmendinger. “But I would have done the same thing, no matter who it was. I was trying to defend my spot and I misjudged it.

“I respect (Kasey) 100-percent on the race track. I think that he’s one of the best guys out there. As a teammate, I love going up against him because I know if I can run with him, I’m doing something great. I don’t go out of my way to avoid (talking to) him, and we do talk every now and then at the race track about the cars.

“But are we holding hands, skipping along and having ice cream together? No.”

Kahne threw another log on the fire at Michigan, telling reporters, “(I’m looking forward to) working with teammates that want to work together. I’ve never had that. I think it’ll be great to have that with all the teammates, not just say one or two like we have at Petty Motorsports.”

The coming weeks are critical for Richard Petty Motorsports. On-track performance must continue to improve, and progress must be made toward solidifying driver and sponsor lineups for 2011. Only then can an air of stability replace the atmosphere of competitive and managerial upheaval that has dogged the operation in recent seasons.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Front Row Motorsports Penalties Announced, Team Promises To Appeal

NASCAR has issued penalties, suspensions and fines to the #38 Front Row Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team, in the aftermath of rules infractions found during last Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway.

The team was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4-J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); and 20-10.7J (unapproved modification to valve stem hardware) of the 2010 NASCAR Rule Book. Crewchief Steven Lane has been fined $100,000, suspended for the next 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, suspended from NASCAR until Sept. 15 and placed on probation until Dec. 31. Carchief Richard Bourgeois and tire specialist Michael Harrold have also been suspended from the next 12 Cup races, suspended from NASCAR until Sept.15 and placed on probation until Dec. 31.

Driver Travis Kvapil and owner Doug Yates have been penalized with the loss of 150 driver and 150 owner points, which drops the team outside the Top-35 in owner points and will require them to qualify on time this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

The team released a statement today, saying, “Front Row Motorsports supports NASCAR in its efforts to enforce competition rules and to maintain integrity throughout the sport. Therefore, Front Row accepts that NASCAR must penalize the team for a rules infraction regarding valve stem caps on the No. 38 car at Pocono Raceway on June 6.

Team owner Bob Jenkins said, "It was not our intent to put unapproved valve stem caps on our car at Pocono, a track where such a maneuver would clearly not provide any advantage. We are conducting our own internal investigation to determine how those parts got into our inventory and onto our car last weekend. While we recognize we have to pay for our mistake, this was an unintentional, isolated incident,” adding that he will appeal the penalty to the National Stock Car Racing Commission.

All three Front Row Motorsports cars will compete this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Stenhouse Out Of Roush #6 Nationwide Ford For Michigan?

Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody has learned that Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., may not drive the #6 Roush Fenway Racing Nationwide Series Ford this weekend at Kentucky Speedway, and could be demoted to a part-time schedule or removed from the ride entirely.

Stenhouse failed to qualify for last weekend’s race at Nashville Superspeedway, dropping to 25th place in the Nationwide championship standings. He has only one Top-10 finish this season, with an average starting position of 13.6 and an average finish of 28.5.

Team owner Jack Roush made no mention of a driver change in a NASCAR video teleconference Tuesday afternoon, but sources close to the team say an official announcement is forthcoming that Stenhouse will be replaced by Brian Ickler at Kentucky this weekend, and perhaps beyond.

The move is be the latest in what has been a tumultuous season for RFR, with rookie Colin Braun demoted to part-time status after a series of early season crashes, including one with Stenhouse. Crewchief Eddie Pardue was fired last week after members of the #16 Nationwide Series team were involved in an incident at a Daytona Beach, Fla. strip club while testing at Daytona International Speedway.

Sirius Speedway has also learned that NASCAR discovered hidden air pressure bleeder valves on Travis Kvapil’s #38 Front Row Motorsports car Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Following a rain delay that postponed the start of the race, NASCAR officials observed two soft tires on the rear of Kvapil’s car and prevented him from rolling back onto the track for the start of the race. Closer examination of those tire and wheel assemblies revealed illegal bleeder valves, which purge excess air pressure from the tires as it accumulates under race conditions.

If confirmed, the team will likely face a major NASCAR penalty -- possibly the biggest in the history of the sport -- since tires are considered to be one of the sanctioning body's “Holy Trinity" of untouchable items, along with engines and fuel. Expect a penalty announcement from NASCAR later today.

Allmendinger, Kahne “Not Having Ice Cream Together”

Less than 24 hours after a last-lap crash with Kasey Kahne at Pocono Raceway, AJ Allmendinger said the incident did little to damage what was already a shaky relationship between the two Richard Petty Motorsports teammates.

Forced into the grass when Allmendinger blocked a final-lap move on the Long Pond straightaway, Kahne’s Budweiser Ford careened into traffic and ignited a multi-car crash that eventually involved the cars of Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Marcos Ambrose, Elliott Sadler and others.

“I came off Turn One and got under (Sam) Hornish, and Kasey had a run,” explained Allmendinger. “I didn’t think he was as quick as he was, and when I moved over to defend, he was in the grass. I’m sorry for the race teams that got involved in it. It’s not something that I wanted to be a part of. We raced clean all day and I was `give and take’ all day. But (at that point), it was time to go. I’ve been moved over more often than not on these green-white-checker finishes, and I wasn’t taking it anymore.”

“It looked worse because it’s my teammate,” said Allmendinger. “But I would have done the same thing, no matter who it was. I was trying to defend my spot and I misjudged it.”

“I don’t know what AJ was doing there,” said Kahne after the crash. “I don’t ever really talk to him much, and I doubt I will be talking to him this week.”

Allmendinger confirmed that he and Kahne are not close, saying, “Kasey has no (desire) to talk to me usually, and I’m cool with that. Our race teams work well enough. I’ve got six or seven other (Ford) guys that I can go talk to and ask questions. So it’s fine.”

Asked what has strained their relationship, Allmendinger said, “I’m a hard racer (and) sometimes I race too hard with people I’m not supposed to race hard with. (Kasey) has accused me of racing him too hard at times, and that’s fine. We both have our own opinions. I’m fighting for every inch, and if he doesn’t like me at times, I understand that.”

Allmendinger said he met with RPM officials after the race to discuss the crash, and expected the criticism he received. “The team... wanted to make sure I know that we should race our teammates a little different,” he said. “That’s fine, I understand that (and) I agree 100 percent. I `fessed up (after the race) and said I misjudged it. It wasn’t something that would have been different if there was somebody else behind me.

“We had our talk about it, I’m cool with it, and now we’ll move on.”

Allmendinger said he will try to be the best teammate he can to Kahne and his fellow Ford drivers, but has no plans to change his hard-driving style. He also said he does not expect his relationship with Kahne to improve.

“I respect (Kasey) 100-percent on the race track,” he said. “I think that he’s one of the best guys out there. As a teammate, I love going up against him because I know if I can run with him, I’m doing something great. I don’t go out of my way to avoid (talking to) him, and we do talk every now and then at the race track about the race cars.

“But are we holding hands, skipping along and having ice cream together? No.”

Monday, June 07, 2010

Jeff Burton Shows Some Fire

NASCAR’s new “Boys Have At It” policy seems to be standing the test of time, and recently, it gave NASCAR Nation an unprecedented look inside the heart and mind of veteran driver Jeff Burton.

In January, the sanctioning body responded to criticism that it had become too sterile by giving its drivers freedom to settle their own on-track issues. NASCAR rescinded restrictions on bump-drafting at Daytona and Talladega, vowed to assess fewer penalties for last lap contact and took a distinct “hands off” policy regarding verbal jousting between competitors. While some doubted NASCAR’s sincerity at first, those doubts have almost certainly been erased.

Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski took the gloves off at Atlanta, with Keselowski flying upside-down into the catch fence after an intentional takeout by Edwards. NASCAR levied only a three-race probation to Edwards. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have clashed -- both on and off the racetrack -- with no response from NASCAR, as have Joe Gibbs Racing compatriots Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Busch threatened to “kill Denny Hamlin” on his in-car radio two weeks ago without so much as a peep from the sanctioning body, and Joey Logano had some pointed words for Kevin Harvick (and his wife) following a late-race crash at Pocono yesterday.

Last week, Burton took his turn. The Richard Childress Racing driver got up in Busch’s grille after contact between the two in the final laps of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Burton suffered a flat left-rear tire that spoiled an almost-certain Top-5 finish, and an overheating temper that led him straight to Busch’s pit at race’s end.

“Use your f---ing head, (or) I’ll punt your ass next time” said Burton in a finger-pointing pit road tirade replayed dozens of times by media outlets happy to exploit NASCAR’s newest feud. The blow-up was surprising, coming as it did from one of NASCAR’s most thoughtful, understated veterans. Burton has recorded 21 wins in 18 seasons of Sprint Cup competition, with insufficient angry outbursts to count on the fingers of one hand.

“I was pissed,” said Burton to reporters. “I like racing with Kyle, (but) when he gets overaggressive and I pay the price, I am not going to tolerate it. I don’t mind racing with him, or mind him being aggressive, but I’m not going to be the victim of it.”

“It’s the last restart,” replied Busch. “You’ve got to go.” While eventually taking responsibility for the incident after watching television replays, Busch insisted he had no idea there had been contact between the two, saying, “I didn’t know what (Jeff) was mad about. I thought he still ran sixth or seventh… so I was like, ‘Where did this guy come from?’”

By the time the Sprint Cup Series raised its tents at Pocono Raceway four days later, both drivers were attempting to put the issue behind them. Burton said he has no interest in spawning a feud with Busch, adding, "I'm not interested in a weekly confrontation. I don't like yearly confrontations, much less weekly.”

While admitting that he may have been a bit too animated in expressing his displeasure, Burton stopped short of an apology, saying simply, "I felt better."

"I was a lot madder about it last week than I am today,” said the Caterpillar Chevrolet driver. “(I don’t believe) Kyle set out to ruin my night. He didn't mean to get into me. He was being aggressive and made a mistake. I was mad because we've had great race cars, been in position to win a lot of races… with not a lot to show for it. It's just getting frustrating.

“It's nothing personal,” Burton said. “Like I told you all two weeks ago, I like racing with Kyle. We won't have any problems moving forward. He knows exactly how I feel and we can talk about it. (But) honestly, there's not a whole lot to talk about."

Burton said he and Busch had not spoken since their Charlotte post-race confrontation. “(It’s) not because I'm avoiding him, or I think he's avoiding me,” he explained. “I was at Watkins Glen doing a tire test for Goodyear the last two days and have honestly been really busy.” Burton even complimented Busch on his handling of the situation, saying, “It was heated, (and) to his credit, he handled it pretty well. It's hard when somebody is in your face. He handled it well and his crew handled it well."

“I didn't go looking for a fight,” Burton said. “I was just pissed off. I had 15 laps to get calmed down and I didn't. I felt like I needed to handle it and address it right then. I was just mad and it's not more complicated than that."

Burton vowed that he will race Busch the same in the future as he has in the past, adding, “I'm here to race Pocono and win… and that is what he's here to do, too. I won't race him any differently, and I don't think he'll race me any differently. We're both professionals.”

With his 43rd birthday just days away, there won’t be many more chances for Burton to claim the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. There may never be a better opportunity than he enjoys this season. This is no time to back down in the face of an aggressive youngster intent on pushing himself to the front of the pack, and if that means giving the world a taste of the competitive fire that still burns in his gut, Burton is more than willing to do it.

"This is my best shot ever to win a championship,” said Burton last week. “I really believe that. I work hard at what I do. I don't play golf on Tuesdays, I work. I'm here for a reason and it's not to be part of a game. It's to win it.”
Burton, have at it.