Tuesday, November 30, 2010

McClure, Hefty To Tri-Star Motorsports

Eric McClure confirmed to Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody that he will move from Team Rensi Racing to Tri-Star Motorsports for the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series, with sponsorship from Hefty.

"It does look like that’s where we’re going to go,” said McClure. “We are going to move over to TriStar Motorsports. Things have kind of skyrocketed in the last 24 hours, and it looks like we’re going to be able to get the deal done.”

He said conversations are underway with 2010 Tri-Star drivers Jason Keller and Tony Raines about ways for them to remain involved, adding, “It’s a great opportunity for me to go over there and learn from two veterans.”

Martin To Make Nationwide, Truck Return In 2011

Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody has learned that Mark Martin will run a limited schedule in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series’ in 2011 for Turner Motorsports.

Kyle Busch’s drive to become the all-time career winner in the NASCAR Nationwide Series may have just hit a speed bump. Reliable sources say Mark Martin will run an undetermined number of Nationwide and Truck races with Turner next season, in addition to his full-time Sprint Cup Series ride with Hendrick Motorsports. Specific dates will be announced once sponsorship and scheduling conflicts are determined. Turner Motorsports is actively seeking sponsorship for the effort, but a spokesperson for the team denied any knowledge of the deal when contacted earlier today. Martin's representatives declined to comment.

Martin is the all-time NASCAR Nationwide Series win leader with 48 career victories, just five more than a fast-closing Busch. He also has seven career Truck Series wins.

NASCAR Needs A Shot Clock

There has never been a more competitive era in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing. The Chase for the Sprint Cup, double-file restarts, a tighter competitive box and even NASCAR’s “Boys Have At It” policy have combined to make the racing as close and exciting as at any time in the nearly 60-year history of the sport.

And yet, somehow, fewer people seem to be watching.

In-person attendance is down dramatically in this difficult economy, as fans struggle to find the discretionary income necessary to fund a weekend at the race track. Television ratings have also plummeted, despite the fact that watching NASCAR on television is – for the most part – free. No one fully understands the motivating factors behind NASCAR’s drop in attendance and viewership, and truthfully, there is no single cause. One significant factor, however, is the average NASCAR fan’s unwillingness to devote an entire afternoon to watching the race.

Today’s ADHD society has lost its stomach for four-hour sporting events. Other sports have recognized this and taken action. The NBA long ago instituted a 24-second shot clock to speed play. The National Football League also has a play clock to prevent undue dawdling in the huddle. Major League Baseball umpires break up manager-pitcher conferences almost immediately these days, to ensure that the game maintains its proper pace.

NASCAR needs to do the same, or risk losing even more of its audience.

The simplest answer, of course, is to shorten the events themselves. With the possible exception of the Daytona 500, the Southern 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, none of NASCAR’s events are historically tied to a specific distance. New Hampshire Motor Speedway has run 300-mile Sprint Cup races since Day One, and nobody in the Granite State seems to feel shortchanged. Auto Club Speedway slashed its mileage from 500 to 400 this season, and fans witnessed one of the best races ever at the Fontana oval. NASCAR needs to take a long, hard look at trimming its events to 400 miles, or at least 500 kilometers.

There may be some initial resistance to slashing mileage, and NASCAR is almost certain to hear the “I paid for 500 miles and I want to see 500 miles” retort from its older, more traditional patrons. Eventually, though, fans will realize that the only thing lacking from a 400-mile Sprint Cup Series event is 100 miles of single file, mid-race lollygagging.

That’s no loss.

NASCAR must bite the bullet and cut the distance in all but a few of its marquee events, giving fans a modest rollback in ticket prices in return. A 2½ hour event is tailor made for the modern race fan; a fan who has been raised in a microwave oven society of instant gratification and 90-second, ESPN highlight packages.

There are other ways to speed up the product, as well.

In recent seasons, NASCAR has found a way to turn every caution flag into a 10-minute intermission. Even a simple, single-car spin with no damage and no debris on the racetrack requires 5-7 laps of caution, and those unnecessary stoppages give television viewers plenty of time to check out the NFL game on another network. Many of them never find their way back, contributing significantly to NASCAR’s recent ratings drop.

When the caution flag flies, NASCAR must make every effort to complete its pit stop procedures as quickly and efficiently as possible. As soon as the Pace Car has the field in tow, get the lead-lap cars on pit road for service. One lap later, do the same for the lapped machines. On the third caution lap – assuming the track is clear -- the green flag should wave once again. TV and radio will need to modify their traditional way of doing business, breaking away quickly when the caution flag flies to air the necessary commercial announcements. Pit stops may not be aired live under this new system, but if something goes wrong on pit road, the networks can easily recap the action when they return from break.

NASCAR also needs to resurrect the “quickie caution,” a good idea that went by the wayside a few years ago with no logical explanation.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, NASCAR’s fan base has changed over the last 50 years. Old-time NASCAR was not forced to compete with the internet, Facebook, Twitter and 250 channels of satellite television. Fans either watched the race live, or they didn’t watch it at all. It’s a different world today -- faster and more accommodating of people’s individual schedules -- and the sport must keep pace with those changes if it hopes to thrive. NASCAR must commit to keeping the show moving at all times, realizing that even the most hardcore fans are no longer willing to commit their entire day to the watching of a single race.

Monday, November 29, 2010

New RPM Owner Douglas Bergeron: "“I’m Not Going To Bulls#it Anybody."

Make no mistake about it, new Richard Petty Motorsports ownership partner Douglas G. Bergeron sees NASCAR as a way to make money. Big money. Saving one of the sport’s legendary teams is a nice fringe benefit.

The Canadian-born Bergeron is best known for his ownership of VeriFone; the system used to verify credit card transactions around the world. He purchased VeriFone a decade ago for $50 million. Today, the company is worth an estimated $3 billion. He and his new partner, Medallion Financial Corp CEO Andrew Murstein, are making their first foray into the world of professional sports, and Bergeron said he is looking forward to being part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“NASCAR teams have historically been quite profitable businesses,” he said. “They’re also a lot of fun to own. There’s quite a lot of personal pleasure that comes from owning a business that succeeds.”

Asked where the team’s previous owners, Boston Ventures and George Gillett, Jr. went wrong, Bergeron stated emphatically, “Too much debt. It is widely known that Gillett took out a $90 million loan with Wachovia. That’s five, six, or seven million dollars per year in interest payments alone; money that cannot go toward funding the team (and) investing in next-generation technology.”

He called RPM’s financial structure “fundamentally strong, but poorly financed and over-paid for at the wrong time,” saying Gillett fell into a trap that consumed many investors. “It’s not unlike a lot of businesses outside the motor racing industry that were bought in 2006 and 2007,” said Bergeron. “There was too much debt that needed to be restructured. They were also in the wrong place at the wrong time when the auto industry went through bankruptcy in 2008 and 2009, (leaving the team) with a lot of receivables that were not paid.”

Bergeron called those economic circumstances “a perfect storm of unfortunate events. I don’t think those guys did anything wrong operationally. They just had too much debt up front and failed to plan for a recession that forced sponsorship revenue down. But we’re in a new place now. With a new balance sheet, a new investor group and Richard Petty involved as a very significant co-owner and chairman, I think it’s going to be a very successful several years for the business.”

The VeriFone CEO stressed that neither he, Murstein nor Petty bring any debt to the team, allowing RPM to proceed without the financial encumbrances that crippled the previous owners. “It’s the same as with an individual consumer,” he explained. “If the first bill you have to pay each month is to the bank, it has a big influence on how you run your personal business. If you can invest what you earn, it’s a much easier way forward.”

He said RPM’s newfound financial freedom will allow the team to invest revenue from sponsorship and race winnings back into the operation, rather than making multi-million dollar interest payments to banks. “I think this is going to be a much easier, less-stressful structure for the team,” he said.

Bergeron admitted that he is motivated primarily by the opportunity to purchase a NASCAR team for pennies on the dollar, from a lender highly motivated to sell. “I don’t apologize for being opportunistic,” he said. “I bought VeriFone 10 years ago from a seller who didn’t know what to do with it, and just wanted to get rid of it. I have found that if you buy things right and put the proper amount of management attention to them, you can create great value. The Petty name is fantastic, but getting a franchise with a great track record and a bright future at an opportunistic price was the real attraction.”

Bergeron said he and Murstein will have a different management style than Boston Ventures or Gillett. “Both of them did the same thing; running off the people within the organization who know and understand the sport,” he said. “My management style over the years has been to let the people who know the business run the business. Set goals and milestones, agree to a budget up-front, then get out of the way and let your people perform. I don’t know how to run a race team, but I know how to create value. We’ll have good communication with the (competition side), but we need to get out of their way and let them excel.”

Bergeron said that while Petty will serve as chairman of Richard Petty Motorsports and “the face of the organization, we will also install profession managers to run the financial side of the business and give Richard a hand with that.” He pledged that Petty will have “a much more active and meaningful role with the team than he had under the previous ownership structure.”

There are plenty of examples of businessmen running NASCAR teams into the ground. JD Stacy, Bobby Ginn, BANG Racing owner Alex Meshkin and homebuilder Michael Holigan all came to the sport with considerable fanfare and grandiose plans, only to slink away in a maelstrom of broken promises and shattered dreams. Bergeron attempted to calm fears that he and Murstein are cut from the same cloth, saying, “I’m not going to bullshit anybody. Investors invest in businesses to make money and create value. The way you create value in professional sports is to put out winning teams… and make sponsors want to pay larger amounts to sponsor you.”

Not all NASCAR investors fail. John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group has done tremendous things for Roush Fenway Racing, opening financial and marketing doors that were not accessible before. The same can be said for Michael Waltrip Motorsports’ “silent partner,” Rob Kauffman. Douglas Bergeron and Andrew Murstein seem determined to join the list of successful businessmen who have found a home in NASCAR; simultaneously helping Richard Petty Motorsports regain its former glory.

“I’m putting my money at risk because there is money to be made,” said Bergeron. ”I don’t apologize for that.”

Gillett Out As Petty Takes Control of RPM

Richard Petty has completed his bid to oust former Richard Petty Motorsports majority owner George Gillett, Jr., and take control of the team that bears his name. The seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has completed a deal with Medallion Financial Corp and DGB Investments to restructure the team’s financing, installing himself as chairman. Gillett retains no ownership stake, banished in much the same way he ousted Ray Evernham in the weeks following his purchase of the team in 2007. RPM recently downsized to a two-car organization, and will field Fords for AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose next season.

Medallion Financial President Andrew Murstein met with Petty at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month and reportedly pledged his support only if Petty made a substantial financial commitment to the team. Gillett had very little of his own money – if any – in the operation, financing his purchase through heavily leveraged bank loans that he eventually proved unable to repay. Murstein told ESPN.com’s David Newton that Gillett’s financial collapse threatened to destroy the team, as well, saying, “things were shaky for a while. If we didn't move as quickly as we did, I'm not sure the Petty name would have continued in this sport." The deal was finalized in less than three weeks, allowing Petty to assume operation of a team that is debt-free for the first time. "Now that there is no debt,” said Murstein, “I think it will do quite well."

Murstein said he watched Gillett closely as he was forced to sell his interest in the Montreal Canadiens and other sports-related ventures. "As George Gillett started selling assets, I thought maybe this was next on his list," said Murstein. Gillett reportedly owed more than $100 million to various parties in relation to the team, and say one of his lenders, Mill Financial, is reportedly suing him for breach of contract, alleging he owes approximately $117 million in connection with his failed English Premier League soccer club. Petty called the new deal, “a great day for me, our family, our fans and our wonderful sponsors."

This week’s news is a much-needed ray of sunshine for a team that has had little in the way of good news recently. The team slashed its payroll dramatically following the 2010 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with RPM Vice President and Director of Competition Robbie Loomis, President and General Manager Max Jones and Director of Operations Sammy Johns meeting with employees to announce who will remain with the team and who was being let go.

Richard Petty issued a statement saying the team “has completed its restructuring process and is now in the process of moving forward. RPM will shift from running four cars to two in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and that is never an easy process for the people involved.” No information was released on how many employees were terminated, but crewchiefs Kenny Francis and Slugger Labbe had already announced plans to follow drivers Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard to Red Bull Racing and Richard Childress Racing, with at least some of their former crews in tow. AJ Allmendinger’s team – led by crewchief Mike Shiplett – will return virtually intact in 2011.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hendrick Shuffles Crewchief Deck; Letarte to Earnhardt's #88 in 2011

Hendrick Motorsports has made personnel adjustments in advance of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, with drivers Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. teaming with new crew chiefs.

Mark Martin will now be teamed with former Dale Earnhardt, Jr. crewchief Lance McGrew, while Martin's former crewchief, Alan Gustafson, will now work with Jeff Gordon on the #24 Chevrolet. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., will be paired with Gordon's 2010 crewchief, Steve Letarte, while the championship-winning combination of Jimmie Johnson and crewchief Chad Knaus will remain intact.

The cars of Martin and four-time Sprint Cup champion Gordon will have their cars fielded out of the same facility, now known as the 5/24 shop. Earnhardt Jr.'s Chevrolets will be prepared out of the renamed 48/88 shop alongside those of five-time and defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

"This will improve us as an organization, across the board," said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. "We had a championship season (in 2010), but we weren't where we wanted and needed to be with all four teams. We've made the right adjustments, and I'm excited to go racing with this lineup."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Layoffs at RPM Pave Way For Petty Takeover

Richard Petty Motorsports is officially a two-car team today, after a series of employee layoffs early this morning.

The meeting was held today at 8 AM, to announce which employees will remain with the team going forward and which are being let go, with Vice President and Director of Competition Robbie Loomis delivering the news along with team President and General Manager Max Jones and Director of Operations Sammy Johns. There is no immediate word on how many employees were terminated, but crewchiefs Kenny Francis and Slugger Labbe had already announced plans to follow drivers Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard to Red Bull Racing and Richard Childress Racing, respectively, with at least some of their former crews in tow.

Reliable sources tell Sirius Speedway that AJ Allmendinger’s team – led by crewchief Mike Shiplett – will return virtually intact in 2011.

Richard Petty issued a statement late this morning saying that the team “has completed its restructuring process and is now in the process of moving forward. RPM will shift from running four cars to two in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and that is never an easy process for the people involved.”

Medallion Financial Corp. President Andrew Murstein was at Homestead-Miami Speedway yesterday to meet with Petty, Allmendinger and officials from Ford Racing. Medallion is expected to provide financing for Petty to purchase a controlling interest in the team and force out embattled majority owner George Gillett. Petty created a new limited liability company -- R P Family Franchise – earlier this month, a move that is thought to be a part of his takeover bid.

Richard Petty Motorsports placed two cars in the Top Five yesterday at Homestead Miami Speedway, with Aric Almirola fourth and Allmendinger fifth.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Petty Nearing Deal To Seize RPM

Richard Petty says that the team bearing his name will be a part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season. Petty declined to offer specifics on potential investors in his bid to wrest control of Richard Petty Motorsports away from majority owner George Gillett, but sources say talks with Medallion Financial Group are nearing fruition. Petty said his previous assessment of RPM as a team “in limbo” was not longer accurate. "We're going to make it," he said, "(but) that's all I can say now."

Multiple sources at RPM have told Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody that they expect to learn their fate during a mandatory 8 AM ET Monday meeting. It is likely that the team will close its doors for at least a day, before reorganizing under a new, Petty-led ownership group later in the week. Multiple layoffs are expected, but those layoffs would almost certainly have taken place anyway, as the team contracts from four Sprint Cup Series entries to two.

Petty met with officials of Ford Racing Saturday, and Ford spokesman Kevin Kennedy said the automaker is “confident it will get worked out.'' Ford Motor Company’s Edsel Ford II said this weekend that Ford has “done everything we can'' to help the team survive. “Quite frankly,” he added, “a lot of their suppliers have done the same."

Ford Director of North American Motorsports Jamie Allison called the talks, “is a daily conversation that goes on between the team, its new investor and its new partner," adding, "We want to see an orderly transfer of ownership to Richard Petty and his new ownership group. I am more confident today than I was at the start of this development.

"But we await just like you — confirmation from the team.”

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ray Evernham: "I'm Free!"

Ray Evernham is free at last.

The former crewchief, team owner and current ESPN analyst revealed Saturday that he is no longer contractually bound to the team now known as Richard Petty Motorports,and is free to entertain offers from rival race teams. Evernham had been barred from working for other NASCAR operations, even after majority owner George Gillett stripped him of his management role more than a year ago.

“I am free and clear,” said Evernham to reporters at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “According to my (legal) people, every contract I've had has been breached in every shape or form. I have been buried under a mire of legal paperwork, caught up in something I don't really want to be involved in. But it is what it is.”

Despite widespread speculation that he might return to Hendrick Motorsports to assist former driver Jeff Gordon or lend his expertise to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s struggling #88 Chevrolet, Evernham said he has no interest in returning to a full-time competitive role. "I have no desire to be… the guy on top of the box,'' he said. "I'm past that. That was a different time in my life. I have a lot to offer in a lot of different areas. I don't want to be pinned down in one area.”

He admitted that a part-time consultant’s position might pique his interest, and left the door open for a return to his TV duties in 2011. "I love my ESPN job and the people I work with,'' said Evernham. "We're talking about that. We haven't talked about specifics (and) I haven't made any decisions because I haven't had enough time to talk about it.

Evernham is still owed millions of dollars by Gillett from the original sale of the team in 2007, and said he is mulling legal action to collect the amount due. He hinted that Gillett’s much-publicized financial problems could make a lawsuit pointless, however, saying, “Before you file a lawsuit (though), you have to make sure there is something to get.” He also restated his support for Richard Petty’s attempt to assemble an investor group to wrest control of the operation away from Gillett, and expressed confidence that Petty will ultimately be successful.

In his words, "He has the support to get it done.''

Sources close to the situation say RPM may close its doors Monday, only to reopen the following day under a new name, with a new ownership team that does not include George of Foster Gillett. That move will allow the team to proceed without the encumbrance of its existing RPM contracts, allowing them to retain select team personnel while letting others go. The team will downsize from its current four cars to two in 2011, with drivers AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gaughan Back To Trucks With Germain

Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody has learned that Brendan Gaughan will compete on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series next season, running for the series championship in a new #62 Toyota Tundra fielded by Germain Racing and sponsored by the South Point Resort and Casino. Multiple sources confirmed that the deal was completed earlier this week, with an announcement expected as soon as this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Rumors have circulated concerning a possible return by Gaughan to the Truck Series, and the Las Vegas native commented on those reports in a Twitter posting earlier this week saying, “I will drive the #62 South Point Toyota next season.” He has eight career NCWTS wins; six of them coming during a 2003 season that saw him finish fourth in points behind champion Travis Kvapil. Gaughan has spent the last two seasons with Rusty Wallace Racing on the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and currently ranks 11h in points with three Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes in 34 starts. He will run next season as a teammate to newly crowned NCWTS champion Todd Bodine.

In a related story, sources say Michael Annett will take his Pilot Travel Centers sponsorship from the #15 Germain Racing Toyota to replace Gaughan at Rusty Wallace Racing next season, with an announcement to come within the next few days.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Layoffs At Red Bull Racing

Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody has learned that Red Bull Racing laid off a number of crewmembers from its #82 Toyota team Wednesday, in part to clear the way for new personnel expected to join Kasey Kahne when he drives the car full-time in 2011. There is no immediate word on how many crewmen were let go, but sources say crewchief Ryan Pemberton remains with the team. Kenny Francis will serve as crewchief for the team next season. An after-hours call to Red Bull Racing in search of comment was not immediately returned.

Decision Time Coming For Colin Braun

Colin Braun told Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody that he is approaching the date when Roush Fenway Racing will be contractually obligated to offer him a ride for 2011 or allow him to begin talking with other teams.

If RFR is not able to make him an offer, Braun will have to begin the all-too familiar process of searching for a new job. “It all comes down to relationships and who you know (in the garage),” he said. “The toughest part of the deal is that you can’t talk to anyone when you’re under contract. It’s tough, but since I was racing quarter midgets at five years old, I’ve never had a super clear picture of what I was doing the next year. I’m used to the uncertainty.”

Joe Gibbs Says "Plan Laid Out" To Govern Busch's Behavior

Joe Gibbs told Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody that he has spoken with Kyle Busch about the profanity laced tirade at Texas Motor Speedway that resulted in Busch being fined $25,000 and placed on NASCAR probation for the remainder of 2010.

"(Kyle) gets so uptight that every now and then, he makes mistakes,” said Gibbs. “We’ve got to do everything we can here – inside Joe Gibbs Racing – to make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s what we’re totally focused on. We’ve got a plan laid out, and Kyle has agreed to do the things he needs to do… to ensure that we don’t put ourselves in that position again. We think he’s a huge talent; a smart, bright guy that we enjoy being around. His whole life is Sam (his fiancĂ©e)… and racing. There are no issues with him running around drinking or anything. He doesn’t care about any of that. He’s totally focused, and all he wants to do is race cars. (Unfortunately) he gets so wound up at the race track that it’s hard for him to handle some of the things he needs to handle. We love his competitive nature, but he just needs to learn to handle things better.”

Gibbs declined to speak specifically on what discussions have been had, or what guidelines have been put in place regarding Busch’s future behavior. He stressed, however, that all parties agree that incidents like his recent outburst at Texas Motor Speedway cannot continue to occur.

“(It) was not good for us at Joe Gibbs Racing, and it certainly wasn’t good for our sponsor,” he said. “We feel like there was a plan that we had to put out there, to assure that this doesn’t happen again. We’re going to keep that in-house, but it’s something that we think is smart, and Kyle does too. He realizes where he is, and that’s a great part of this. We just have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ren Says KBM Hoping For Two Trucks In 2011

Kyle Busch Motorsports Director Of Operations Rick Ren told Sirius NASCAR Radio's Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody that the team hopes to field two Toyota Tundras on the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, pending sponsorship.

"We want to run two full-time Truck deals next season, but I don’t know if that is going to happen or not," said Ren. "Sponsorship is pretty tough out there right now, but there are still some irons in the fire. Even for Kyle, we only have a few races sold for next year. There are definitely some holes that we’re still trying to fill."

Ren said he hopes to put together a similar lineup of drivers for KBM's #18 Toyota next season. "We’d like to have a Cup driver for some races and a young guy for a few more races; three or four drivers overall. Then we’d like to run another truck full-time for the driver’s championship."

He said discussions are ongoing with potential drivers for that championship effort, but that nothing has been finalized. "We’ve talked with a few (drivers) and we had a meeting today with a potential guy," said Ren. "Unfortunately, some of them are trying to sell sponsorship to companies that are new to the sport, and they don’t understand that right now is the time to build your team for next year. In January, you’re not going to find the people you need."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Furniture Row Racing Transporter Involved In Massive Highway Crash

A racecar transporter and motor home belonging to the Furniture Row Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team were demolished this morning in a massive pileup on Interstate 25 near Larkspur, Col.; about 40 miles south of Denver.

Authorities say the crash happened on northbound Interstate 25 at about 8:45 a.m. local time. The Colorado State Patrol said 34 vehicles, including four tractor-trailers, were involved in three separate crashes on northbound Interstate 25. Two victims required extrication from their vehicles, and approximately 20 people were transported to hospitals with non life-threatening injuries. One of the semi-trucks spilled diesel fuel onto the highway, requiring a HazMat crew to respond to the scene.

Furniture Row Racing General Manager Joe Garone told Sirius NASCAR Radio's Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody that details on what caused the crash are still sketchy. "From what I understand, our transporters came over the top of hill and saw cars all over the highway."

Garone said the tractor was "for sure totalled" and the trailer seriously damaged, to the point of being unusable. "We cant get the back door of the transporter open," he said. "We'll have to cut it open." The motorcoach, a pickup truck in tow behind the coach and a golf cart in the bed of the pickup were also destroyed in the crash. The motorhome was used to house team personnel at the speedway. Driver Regan Smith's personal coach was not involved.

Race cars for this weekend's event at Homestead-Miami Speedway were not in the transporter at the time of the crash, and Garone said Richard Childress Racing has offered a transporter loaded with equipment to help FRR make it to Homesetad on time. "Mike Dillon jumped immediately on board to help," he said. "They're putting the final touches on a transporter full of equipment for us."

Garone assessed the damages at more than $500,000, and said the total could climb higher once a more accurate assessment can be made. "It's a big mess," he said. "We're just grateful that nobody got seriously hurt."

Random Thoughts On The Final Monday Of The NASCAR Season

Dale Earnhardt Jr. reiterated for the 732nd time Sunday that he doesn't want to talk -– or think -- about a possible crewchief change on his #88 Chevrolet until after this weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Junior told The Sporting News, "I ain't really making any decisions on that until after the season's over with. I asked Rick (Hendrick) and everybody in the corporation if I could not consider any options for next year… until we're done racing.”

In comments eerily similar to those he made about former crewchiefs Pete Rondeau and Tony Eury, Jr, before their departures, Earnhardt said, “I've really enjoyed working with (Lance McGrew). I've enjoyed even more so becoming his friend and getting to know him as well as I have. I have a lot of respect for him, and he's put up with a lot of crap this year and last year, trying to help get this thing going. He gave me his best effort to try to help each weekend, and I've just got a lot of respect for him."

NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver is winless since June of 2008, and stands 19th in championship points after missing the Chase for the second consecutive year. He started 31st and finished 14th at Phoenix yesterday and called the ongoing performance issues surrounding his team, “a moving target."

Job Hunting: Is anyone else buying this sudden burst of interest in NASCAR by out-of-work Indy Car drivers? Both Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon have spoken with Kyle Busch recently about possible 2011 opportunities with Shrubby’s Camping World Truck Series team. Those discussions are being called preliminary in nature, and both drivers are honest enough to admit that their preference is to remain in open wheel.

For the record, any deal struck with KBM will be contingent on sponsorship, and if Kanaan and Wheldon had sponsorship, they’d still be in Indy Cars. Both Tony and Dan are good guys and great drivers who would energize the Truck Series with their personalities alone. But when did NASCAR become the fast food gig you take after getting canned from your “real job?”

The Mania Continues: Danica Patrick had another rough day at Phoenix International Raceway Saturday, qualifying 28th and jostling her way to a 32nd place finish in the Nationwide Series WYPALL 200. The highlight of her effort was the payback-bump administered to young Alex Kennedy, after Kennedy leaned too heavily for her liking on the driver’s door of the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. Her “bump back” elicited a veritable standing ovation from her team, but did little to improve her eventual finish.

In 11 Nationwide starts this season, Patrick has an average start of 28.8 and an average finish of 28.4, making one wonder exactly what Steve Arpin did that was so wrong?

In Case You Haven’t Noticed: Here’s proof -– as if any is needed -– that non-Chase drivers fly considerably under the radar at this time of year. Heading into Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway, only three drivers had scored more points in this year’s Chase than Joey Logano. His Joe Gibbs Racing/Home Depot Toyota finished third yesterday; Logano’s fifth top-10 finish in his last five starts.

After suffering through the growing pains expected of any young driver in his first two years on the Sprint Cup circuit, “Sliced Bread” and veteran crewchief Greg Zipadelli seem ready to begin the 2011 campaign right now!

And Finally: The only way Denny Hamlin can guarantee himself the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship Sunday is by winning the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, or finishing second while leading the most laps. That scenario is exactly what the boys in the big mahogany offices in Daytona Beach had in mind when they dreamed up the Chase format a few years ago.

Even After Phoenix Stumble, The Odds Still Favor Hamlin

Carl Edwards delivered his customary Victory Lane back flip at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday, on an afternoon when the Sprint Cup championship chase also got turned upside down.

Edwards’ victory trumped an afternoon of complete and utter dominance by championship point leader Denny Hamlin, whose Joe Gibbs Racing/Fed Ex Toyota appeared headed for an easy win until poor fuel mileage forced him to pit road with just a handful of laps to go. Hamlin led a race-high 190 laps Sunday, soaring over the competition like the Luftwaffe over London while fellow contenders Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick struggled with mediocre race cars and – in Harvick’s case – a horribly timed miscue that forced him back to pit road to tighten a loose lug nut.

The door appeared wide open for Hamlin to take a cushy, 60-point lead into the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Then that door came slamming shut.

Poor fuel mileage and a lack of late cautions forced crewchief Mike Ford to play it safe, calling his driver to the pits for a green-flag fuel stop with 14 laps remaining. Hamlin relinquished the runner-up position and returned to the track in 19th place, slashing his way forward in the final laps while Jimmie Johnson milked his fuel cell at near-pedestrian speed to finish fifth, one spot ahead of a resurgent Harvick. Somehow, in the blink of an eye, Hamlin’s dominant day had wilted into a 12th place finish; with his 60-point lead suddenly a paltry, 15-point bulge.

"That was ugly," said Ford on the cool-down lap. "That’s something we've definitely got to work on. Fuel mileage. That was awful."

"It's tough not to be happy (with) the point lead going into the last race,” said a crestfallen Hamlin afterward. “But we were sitting pretty."

Johnson, meanwhile, basked in the afterglow of a day that was the NASCAR equivalent of found money. After winning the last three fall races at PIR, his Lowes Chevrolet was never in the hunt Sunday, and he welcomed the late turn of fortune that kept his drive for a fifth consecutive Sprint Cup title alive.

"We have one heck of a points race going to Miami and I'm pumped," he said. "I am so happy to put pressure on the #11 team. We're ready to race for this thing. (It’s) one race, winner take all, and it's going to be a hell of a show.” Johnson also attempted to turn the trash-talking tables on Hamlin, saying, “I hope the pressure of us being on his heels really works on his mind throughout the course of the week."

Hamlin must ensure that it doesn’t.

In the aftermath of their Phoenix misfortune, it’s tempting for Hamlin and company to focus on the negatives. But there is no time to think about what might have been. Instead, they must focus on the reality of what is. They enter this weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami with 15 points in hand; a far better fate than awaited any of Johnson’s challengers in the last four years. They are the Sprint Cup point leaders, and have consistently fielded the fastest cars on the racetrack in recent weeks.

If Johnson is going to complete his quest for a record fifth consecutive title Sunday, he’ll have to do it by coming from behind. And if recent history is any guide, he’ll have to beat a red-hot driver with a better racecar and a superior over-the-wall pit crew. Can it be done? Absolutely. It happened at Phoenix, and it can happen again at Homestead.

But if you’re Denny Hamlin, you’ve got to like the odds.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

RPM's Phoenix Cars Still Sitting In Texas

Eight Richard Petty Motorsports Fords scheduled to compete this weekend at Phoenix international Raceway remain at Texas Motor Speedway today, waiting to be paid for so they can be released to travel to PIR. Reliable sources tell Sirius Speedway that as of 3 PM ET today, the cars sit on an unmarked, white Roush Fenway Racing transporter in a parking lot at Texas Motor Speedway. Alongside sit the respective Richard Petty Motorsports transporters, empty and waiting for permission to load the cars and begin their drive from Fort Worth to Avondale, Arizona.

“The plan was to take RPM’s Phoenix cars to Texas and hold them there until the check cleared,” said a source close to the situation, speaking on the condition on anonymity. “The money was supposed to be there Monday, but that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen again yesterday, and everyone’s still there today, on hold. Everyone knew this was going to happen before they left for Texas. Our hands are tied and there’s nothing we can do but wait.”

A representative for Richard Petty Motorsports said early this afternoon, “(The transporters) are headed to Phoenix. We’re all scheduled to leave as planned tomorrow morning. Nothing has changed.” Federal regulations allow transporter drivers to drive for only 10 hours before getting 10 hours of rest. It is approximately 18 hours from Texas to Phoenix, and teams are required to sign in at the track at 7:45 AM ET (5:45 AM local) on Friday.

A similar situation occurred last week, when RPM’s Texas cars were withheld by Roush Fenway until late Wednesday, pending payment. “The #9 and #98 trucks loaded up and left last week before they had been cleared to go, and that created a big issue,” said a second RPM source. “The #43 and #19 cars were finally released at 4 PM last Wednesday, but until then, there was considerable doubt whether Richard Petty Motorsports was going to race in Texas at all. Now, they’re right back in the same situation. The transporter drivers are sitting in Texas, waiting to find out if they’re heading to Phoenix, or back to North Carolina.”

Richard Petty Motorsports employees have been required to work on their cars at Roush Fenway Racing in recent weeks, since Roush will not release the cars until they are paid for. RPM faces other financial obligations in the near future. The team is scheduled to make winnings and retainer payments to each of its drivers on the 15th of this month.


Monday, November 08, 2010

COMMENTARY: It's Time For Kyle To Change His Ways

A few years ago, former Joe Gibbs Racing driver Tony Stewart was called on the carpet by his team and its sponsors after squandering a potential win with one of his infamous piques of temper. Stewart’s team reportedly took a vote that week on whether to retain him as driver, and then-sponsor Home Depot informed him – in no uncertain terms – that his conduct was unacceptable and had to change.

Perhaps it’s time for someone to have a similar “Come To Jesus Meeting” with Kyle Busch.

Busch’s car was fast enough to win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. He wasted little time overcoming a 29th-place qualifying effort, running as high as third before a piece of debris lodged in his front splitter and forced him to drop back. Busch then spun out on lap 160, and got busted for speeding while trying to avoid losing a lap to the pace car on pit road.

That’s when it all came unglued, as Busch’s hair-trigger temper once again short-circuited his team’s chances for victory. He erupted in a storm of expletives when informed of the penalty; a four-letter tirade that prompted NASCAR to summon him to pit road for further consultation. He then made a bad situation even worse, making an obscene gesture to a NASCAR official and earning a two-lap “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty from the sanctioning body. A fast race car was not enough for Busch to dig out of his self-inflicted hole, and he finished the race two laps down in 32nd place; his third finish of 30th or worse in the last four events.

The driver that many predicted to win the 2010 Sprint Cup championship has now finished no better than 13th in the last six Chase races, plummeting to seventh in points. His second playoff meltdown in as many seasons comes as his teammate, Denny Hamlin, uses similar physical skills and a far-superior mental outlook to contend for the championship. Busch’s latest collapse raises valid questions about whether one of the best pure wheelmen in the history of the sport possesses the mental toughness needed to contend for anything more than race wins.

When it comes to winning championships, handling pressure is as important as handling an uncooperative race car. All the car control in the world won’t make up for a lack of self control by the driver. Busch’s volatility is both his best and worst quality. His unwillingness to accept anything but first place has driven him to become the multi race-winning driver he is today. His propensity for coming unhinged at the first sign of adversity, however, prevents him from accomplishing anything more significant than that.

Busch may face additional penalties later this week. NASCAR Director of Communications Kerry Tharp made it clear that the sanctioning body will not allow its officials to be disrespected the way Busch did Sunday. Kyle eventually apologized for his actions, saying, “I'm sorry… to everybody on this team, to everybody at NASCAR and all of my guys that support me.” Unfortunately, that apology came long after the damage was done.

Team President J.D. Gibbs spoke to the media after Sunday’s race and said it was time for Busch to begin controlling his emotions. “I think that's something that he's going to have to continue to work on,” said Gibbs. “I think he acknowledges that. But right when it happens, it's hard for him to control. That’s an area… in life he's going to have to address. We've got to make sure it happens sooner rather than later."

Hopefully, Gibbs will make similar comments – in considerably stronger terms – to Busch in the next few days, putting him on a path to eventually fulfill his enormous potential.

A True Test For Team 48

For the first time in his nearly five-year run at the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, Jimmie Johnson’s mettle is being tested to the limit.

That much was clear Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway, as Johnson’s over-the-wall pit crew made mistake after mistake in the heat of a red-hot championship battle, before being replaced by Jeff Gordon’s Dupont Chevrolet team. With Gordon out of the race following a bizarre yellow-flag crash with Jeff Burton – and the spirited shoving match that followed – crewchief Chad Knaus pulled the trigger on a move unprecedented in the history of NASCAR. He benched his bumbling over-the-wall gang, bringing in Gordon’s tire changers for the remainder of the race. The move was effective to a degree, as the 24 team performed flawlessly on its final three pit stops and allowed Johnson to rebound for a ninth-place finish at day’s end. The karmic damage done to the once-unbeatable Lowe’s Chevrolet team, however, has yet to be assessed.

"At this point in the game, you can't have feelings," said Johnson, who left the Lone Star State 33 points behind Denny Hamlin with just two races remaining. "If somebody's feelings got hurt, too bad. We're here to win a championship, and we have to do everything we can."

Crew swaps happen all the time in NASCAR. Richard Childress Racing moved Clint Bowyer’s team to the Kevin Harvick pit a few weeks ago to address a similar lack of pit road performance. But that move happened at mid-week, not mid-race. Nobody got fired on national television, and nobody was forced to stand and watch while replacement players took over their job in the biggest race of the season to date.

"It's a professional sport, and you see it all the time," explained Knaus. "If somebody's… not getting it done in football, you get a different receiver in the game, or a different quarterback. Our guys weren't hitting on all eight cylinders and we had an opportunity to bring those guys in. They came in and played relief, and I thought they did a good job. It's unfortunate. I don't like doing that stuff, nobody does. But it's kind of your job."

Others, however, saw the move as a sign of weakness, a panicky, desperation move by a team unaccustomed to having to play from behind when the chips are down.

"You put the two pit crews toe-to-toe, and those guys are going to make mistakes," said Fed Ex Toyota crewchief Mike Ford, who long ago identified Johnson’s pit road issues as a weakness to be exploited. Ford intentionally chose the pit stall next to Johnson Sunday, hoping the pressure of performing head-to-head would cause the 48 team to fail. “We've seen it this year, and we (intentionally) went beside them,” said Ford. “Those guys faltered, and it made them panic and push to the point where they made changes.

“Jimmie, Chad and Rick (Hendrick)… just took their team out of it,” said Ford. “Their team got them to this point and they pulled them out.”

Knaus promised to speak to his embattled team Monday at their North Carolina shop, but nothing he says will undo the decision made Sunday night, in the heat of battle. For the first time in nearly half a decade, the man with all the answers said he has no idea what lies ahead. "I don't know what we're going to do,” said Knaus. “We'll have to wait and see. Everything's on the table. Everything.”

For his part, Johnson said his bottom line is performance, hurt feelings be damned. "I'm not sure what the implications are going to be (back at) the shop," he said, "but we've been lacking and we needed to get it straightened out. I really do care for these guys from the bottom of my heart. They're my guys, (but) we have to perform. We can't come down pit road and lose 10 spots every stop. That's just killing us.

"The alarm clock's been ringing for quite a few months."

No one knows what decisions will ultimately be made, or who will man the air guns this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Some members of Johnson’s crew have been together for all four championship seasons, forging a battle-tested camaraderie that – until Sunday – seemed utterly unshakeable. That’s all changed now, no matter who jumps over the wall at Phoenix. Unconfirmed reports had tire changer Mike Lingerfelt leaving the track in anger immediately after the move. For others, the palate of emotions ranged from anger to embarrassment to concern for their jobs.

The unbeatable, unassailable Team 48 was rocked to its core Sunday by a move Ford called, “more about trying to win a championship for the company (than for) the team.” Its image of invincibility has now been shattered, leaving only unanswered questions about how they will respond.

"We'll find out," said Johnson. "I've got no clue. It's unchartered territory for us."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

EGR Confirms They'll Stay With Chevy

Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing President Steve Lauletta confirmed to Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody that EGR will remain in the Chevrolet camp in 2011 and beyond.

“The challenge of this business is that things change so quickly,” said Lauletta. “We’ve got everything settled down now, to a point where we can look two, three or even four years down the road and decide where we want to be. When companies come and ask about being a part of it, we certainly are willing to talk to them. But we’ve been very happy with both GM and Chevy, and we have to look at what’s best for this company in the long term.”

Lauletta said the success of Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines this season played a role in the decision to remain with Chevrolet. “Shutting down the in-house engine shop at Ganassi Racing a few years ago caused quite a bit of apprehension,” said Lauletta, “but there has never been a single question about way we are treated by ECR. We have been extremely happy with that relationship over the years, and we are really happy with where we are right now.”

Lauletta also said he is “not anticipating any changes” on Jamie McMurray’s #1 team next year, including driver, sponsor and crewchief.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Evernham Vows To Support Petty's Bid

Richard Petty Motorsports minority owner Ray Evernham confirmed today that Petty is assembling the financing necessary to bid for control of the troubled team, and said he will do whatever he can to ensure the success of that venture.

Evernham told Sirius NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody, “I’m going to do everything I can to help (Richard). The situation surrounding that team lately has been a... legal and financial nightmare. I don’t have an interest in owning a piece of the team anymore, but if it comes down to helping Richard bridge a financial gap for the time being, I would absolutely do what it took to help him achieve his goal.”

Evernham expressed confidence that Petty will be able to field a full roster of four cars in the remaining races of the 2010 season. “(Richard) has a lot of people behind him,” said Evernham. “He is doing the right thing for racing and doing his best to keep a lot of people employed.”

Despite still owning a minority stake in the team, Evernham said, “I don’t get communication from George Gillett. I haven’t spoken to him in months. All I know is that there are good things happening from the Richard Petty side of things. The #43 and Richard Petty need to be in NASCAR, both now and in the future. There are lots of people -- including me and in addition to me -– who want to see him succeed.”

One of the team's drivers, Stanley Tools Ford driver Elliott Sadler, said news of Petty’s involvement has helped calm fears among team employees about the future of the company. “I think people were more scared at Martinsville than they are now," said Sadler. "Richard Petty has gotten a lot more involved in the last couple of weeks and that has put people at ease. I’m confident that we’re going to be here for the remainder of the season.

"Richard Petty deserves to be part of this sport," he said. "He’s a good guy, and he’s lots of fun to race for. It wouldn’t seem right to be at the racetrack without seeing that cowboy hat and sunglasses.”

By Popular Demand: The Godfather's World Famous Apple Pie Moonshine Recipe!

1 gallon apple juice
1/2 gallon apple cider
1 1/3 cup sugar
6 cinnamon sticks
Combine, bring to a boil, allow to cool
Add 1/2 liter of Everclear or other clear corn whiskey. (More to suit your taste)
Strain through cheesecloth or paper towels into mason jars or other container.

Enjoy in moderation!!!

Another Look At The New 2011 Sprint Cup Nose

Juan Pablo Montoya tweeted this picture of the new, 2011 nose on his Target Chevrolet during testing this week. Slick, clean and with no ugly metal braces.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Ganassi Decision On Move To Ford Motor Company Expected Soon

Expect a decision on Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing’s possible move from Chevrolet to Ford by the end of this week.

Sources with the team say that Ford’s offer is better financially than what Chevrolet can provide, but that Jamie McMurray’s wins in this year’s Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Bank Of America 500 at Charlotte were due in large part to the dominance of Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines.

“The offer is on the table, and it’s up to them whether or not to take it,” said a spokesperson for Ford Motor Company. “If this was a strict business decision, I think Chip (Ganassi) would make the move. But racers are a pretty loyal bunch. I honestly think it could go either way.”

New 2013 Cup Cars Already Being Designed

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have a new look in 2013, emphasizing brand identity in much the same way the NASCAR Nationwide Series does with its new cars. Sirius NASCAR Radio's Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody has learned that all four automakers have already begun work on the new cars, after obtaining NASCAR approval for more points of similarity between their street cars and the NASCAR versions.

Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby said recently that NASCAR has solicited input from all four manufacturers, and that “2013 is the right year to do this, as it aligns with new models.”

The automakers have already submitted drawings of their proposed 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racers to the sanctioning body for preliminary approval. A number of revisions are expected, as NASCAR seeks to balance its desire for brand identity with the need for a common aerodynamic footprint between brands.

The changes will be strictly cosmetic, with the current Sprint Cup chassis remaining unaltered. Body modifications will be made, said Darby, “to help the identity and the look of the cars.” He also placed some of the blame for similar-appearing models on the manufacturers themselves, saying they “fell into (a) stagnant period where all the cars looked the same in the showroom, too. Manufacturers are working really hard on new models that don’t look like everyone else’s. We’ll do everything we can to help them with the process.”

Speaking on the condition on anonymity, one manufacturer representative credited NASCAR Nationwide Series Director Joe Balash with paving the way for the new, more stock-appearing cars. “NASCAR was not sold on the idea of revamping the look of these (Sprint Cup) cars,” he said. “But Joe pushed hard for it in the Nationwide Series, saying it was important to give those cars a distinct, stock-appearing look. The manufacturers were thrilled with the results, and once NASCAR saw the fan reaction that came with the new Nationwide car, they started thinking seriously about similar changes on the Cup side.”

In a related story, Dodge’s new 2011 Sprint Cup Series nose has now been approved by NASCAR, leaving only Ford Motor Company awaiting final approval. The new pieces are smoother and more aesthetically pleasing than the current splitter-based assemblies, with a single, molded piece replacing the two-piece splitter/bumper combination and its cumbersome metal braces. Ford is expected to have its new nose approved shortly, with implementation at SpeedWeek 2011 in Daytona.