Thursday, December 15, 2016

UPDATED: DiBenedetto To GoFas Racing In 2017; Charter Swap Makes Wood Brothers A Chartered Team

Matt DiBenedetto will drive the #32 GoFas Racing Ford in 2017.

"I am very excited to join Go Fas Racing for the 2017 season,” said DiBenedetto, who comes to GFR after running for BK Racing last season. In two years of NASCAR premier series competition, he has 68 starts and a season-best finish of sixth at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016. “We have a great group of people that I am very excited to work with this season. I am thankful for the opportunity and I look forward to representing the team and sponsors to the best of my ability.”

"This will be our first season in the premier series with one driver running the complete season for us,” said GoFas Racing owner Archie St. Hillaire. “We believe Matt's driving ability and a fleet of newer race equipment purchased this off-season will elevate our program to new levels in 2017.

Backing for the team will come from Can-Am/Kappa, Keen Parts, Visone RV and Really Cheap Floors, with the potential for some of Scott's former RPM sponsors to transfer to GFR next season.

"We're also talking with RPM about maintaining some of the No. 44 sponsors on our car," revealed St. Hillaire in an exclusive Sirius XM NASCAR Radio interview. "Three-quarters of our sponsorships are already sold; more than we’ve ever had."

GoFas has purchased six cars from Richard Petty Motorsports; one superspeedway car and six downforce machines.

St. Hillaire confirmed that he has leased GoFas Racing's 2016 charter to Wood Brothers Racing for use on their No. 21 Ford. GoFas will race using the charter campaigned by driver Brian Scott and the No. 44 Ford last year; leased from RPM. Scott announced his retirement from the sport prior to the season final at Homestead Miami Speedway.

RPM is expected to field only a single car next season; the No. 43 Smithfield Ford driven by Aric Almirola.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Earnhardt Confident, Contemplative Ahead Of Daytona Return

After weeks of conjecture and uncertainty, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. confirmed last week that he will return to NASCAR premier series competition in 2017, after missing 18 races this season with a concussion.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver completed a clandestine test at Darlington (SC) Raceway last Wednesday, under the watchful eye of NASCAR officials and neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, before being declared symptom-free and ready to race.

“The test… couldn’t have gone any better,” said Earnhardt afterward. “NASCAR was really great to put it together. I appreciate them creating rules for drivers in this type of situation to be able to get in a car. It really helps build your confidence to know that everything is working like it’s supposed to work… before you get back into a full race weekend. 

“We just ran laps,” he said. “We put tires on, ran 15 laps at a time (and) took about a 20-minute break. Dr. Petty was there. We did a personal evaluation before I got in the car to set a baseline and Dr. Petty evaluated me after each run to see if everything was good. A lot of the things that he was checking -- visual and balance and so forth -- actually strengthened throughout the process. You sort of get acclimated and up to speed with what it takes to drive a race car, and those systems strengthened through the process. 

“Throughout the day, I got more and more comfortable in the car. It felt like an old shoe by the end of the day. I was happy with the speed we had. That wasn’t really the ultimate goal, but we had great speed. By the end of the day, we felt really confident that health-wise, I was 100-percent ready to get back in the car.”

Earnhardt admitted nervousness prior to the Darlington test, saying, “I have nerves and butterflies every time I get in a race car. But I was certainly very anxious to get in the car (last week). As soon as I got my feet on the ground in Darlington, I was in my suit and over by the door, wondering if the car was ready to go. I couldn’t wait to get in there and see what I felt like. 

“I had a hard time sleeping the night before. It had been a long, long time since I had drove a car. As soon as I got out there… it came right back to me. It wasn’t like I had to re-learn to do it all over again. It felt very comfortable. Of all the tracks we could have gone to, Darlington was a good choice to put me through the test, physically and mentally. I was a little bit nervous about that. Darlington is a tough track, but the nerves were gone after about four laps.

“Then it was, `Let’s just run. Let’s run some more, put some tires on and go some more.”

Earnhardt said it has been a long road back to where he was pre-injury, saying, “I worked with Dr. Micky Collins, and we worked -- not only to get healthy and back to being a normal human being again -- but to get stronger than we were before. I wouldn’t be coming back to the seat if there was any risk, other than the typical risk that every driver faces on Sunday. I feel very confident in what I’ve seen in myself, what my doctors are telling me about my future, the risks I am taking and my ability to be able to withstand the normal wear and tear of driving a race and getting in that unfortunate accident from time to time. 

“Not only am I as healthy as I was before the symptoms came last year, but I’m actually stronger. This isn’t uncharted territory for me, so I know I’m as strong as I need to be. I’m feeling that way, and I’m also hearing the affirmation from my doctors that I can go back and drive racecars.”

The 14-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver said he returns to the cockpit with a new appreciation for his life and career.

“You certainly realize things that you might be taking for granted,” he admitted. “(You) learn to appreciate a lot of different parts and aspects of your life a lot more. When you get something taken away from you, you realize what it is worth. We gripe about our schedule… but when you are watching your friends out there on the track and watching your crew work without you, it really puts things into perspective. It helps you appreciate what you’ve got. 

“I definitely feel recharged and energized about the opportunity to be able to come back and race,” he said. “I felt like I have a lot left in the tank (and) I’m excited about getting to Daytona. We are going to test in Phoenix, which I’m really looking forward to. Testing is kind of boring, but I’m ready to get more and more laps in the car, so I feel confident in myself. Confidence is really critical for me to perform well. The more I can do to help build my confidence before we got to Daytona, the better.

"I'm cleared and I am healthy,” assured Earnhardt. “That’s not patting myself on the back, that’s from my doctor's mouth. I had to work really hard to get to be a human being be normal. Then I had to work even harder to be able to drive race cars; to be a professional race car driver. The distance between just being myself and being a race car driver… was another handful of responsibilities.” 

The third-generation NASCAR driver also commented on the role he has played in spotlighting the impact of concussions on professional athletes, saying "It is not something that I intentionally wanted to spearhead, but I have seen a culture change tremendously.

“I think everyone in general -- not just athletes, but the public, the doctors...everyone -- we are all learning something new every day,” he added. “Mickey sees two dozen patients a day with various types of injuries, and every day he learns something new. He has seen a million people with the same thing that I had, but every day he learns something new. It's incredible the progress that is being made. It is happening right in front of us. It is being taken more seriously, and I think that is great.

“I don't want anyone to go through the injury (I did), much less the rehabilitation. But it is great for folks that do get injured to know there is something that can be done. There is a place to go to get help. That’s something people are becoming aware of; that there are ways to get help so you can get healthy and return to the activity that you love.”

Friday, December 09, 2016

Haley To Truck Series With GMS Racing

2016 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Justin Haley will join GMS Racing for the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season. 

Haley, who will accept his NKNPSE championship trophy Saturday night in Charlotte, NC, will drive the No. 24 Chevrolet beginning at Martinsville Speedway, under tutelage of second-year crew chief Kevin Bellicourt. 

“I’m so excited and thankful for this opportunity with GMS Racing. The past few years in K&N has been an effort to get to the next step in my career and I don’t think we could have done any better than joining GMS, especially at this point in time,” said Haley. “Everyone knows what they’ve been able to accomplish over the last year and it’s that type of consistency and drive that every driver wants to see when making a decision like this. Kevin Bellicourt coming on for 2017 is one of the most exciting parts of this deal. He’s had a lot of success with young drivers and I can’t wait to see what we’re able to accomplish.” 

Bellicourt joins GMS after completing his first year as a NCWTS crew chief with ThorSport Racing and driver Ben Rhodes. He also earned the 2015 NKNPSE Championship with driver William Byron. 

“There are a lot of great things happening at GMS Racing,” said Bellicourt. “It’s one thing to watch the progress and success from a distance, but to now be a part of what is coming together is a completely different experience and I’m thankful for chance to be here. Justin is a great driver, who has had a lot of success fast, but he has handled it like a driver who has been doing this for years. I’m excited to see what he’s able to do once we get him in the No. 24.” 

Additional details on sponsorship for all three drivers will be announced at a later date.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Junior's Back! Earnhardt Cleared For Competition After Darlington Test

After missing 18 races this season in the aftermath of a concussion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to resume NASCAR competition. He will return to the wheel of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in the 2017 Daytona 500.

Earnhardt’s road back to the cockpit ended at Darlington Raceway last Wednesday, where he completed a nearly five-hour test session observed by NASCAR officials and Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. He turned 185 laps during the session, which followed more than 15 hours in a racing simulator as part of his recovery plan.

Earnhardt was cleared Wednesday evening by Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, in consultation with Dr. Petty.

“I feel great, and I’m excited to officially be back,” Earnhardt said. “I expected things to go really well yesterday, and that’s exactly what happened. Getting in a race car was an important final step, and it gives me a ton of confidence going into 2017. Thanks to the staff at Darlington for hosting our team and to NASCAR for giving us the opportunity to put a car on the track. I’ll do more testing in January to help knock the rust off. When it’s time to go to Daytona, I’ll be ready.”

In Earnhardt’s absence, Alex Bowman ran 10 races in the No. 88 Chevrolet, with four-time NASCAR premier series champion Jeff Gordon driving eight times. Bowman earned the team’s lone Coors Light Pole Award, at Phoenix International Raceway. Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports have elected to have Bowman drive the car in the season-opening, non-points Clash at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 18.

“Alex did such a great job in the car this year, and I felt like he deserved another opportunity,” Earnhardt explained. “When I spoke with Rick (Hendrick) and the team about him driving The Clash, everyone agreed that he more than earned it, and Nationwide was 100-percent on board. I’m really grateful to him and Jeff (Gordon) for what they did for our team, and I’m glad Alex is getting another run with us.”

Monday, December 05, 2016

BREAKING: HScott Motorsports To Close Its Doors

Harry Scott, Jr. 
HScott Motorsports informed its employees last week that the organization will not field a NASCAR entry during the 2017 season.

"Over the past several months, I considered a number of options for moving forward with the team,” said team owner Harry Scott, Jr., in a written statement. “Regrettably, there are no viable sponsor/driver options immediately available to allow the team to participate in 2017. One thing I learned about NASCAR is that it is a 'people business.' I will forever be grateful to the men and women who worked tirelessly to make HScott Motorsports successful. This includes our dedicated employees, sponsors and partners. We were fortunate to have the support of world-class sponsors like Brandt, DC Solar, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Pilot Flying J, and 5 hour ENERGY. Our racing program would not have been possible without the assistance of Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports, and Chevrolet."

The charter owned by HScott Motorsports and used by its No. 15 team this season has been sold to Premium Motorsports. The charter that was leased for the No. 46 team was sold by Premium Motorsport to Furniture Row Racing. 

"I love this sport and being part of it,” said Scott. “I invested in NASCAR because I truly believe it represents the best racing competition in the world and the best people in all sports. Looking back, I will always be especially proud of the unprecedented success of our NASCAR K&N Series teams, including four consecutive championships and for the lifelong friendships that were forged over the last seven years. 

"My hope is that we were able to develop drivers that will thrive at the highest levels for years to come.”

Grala To Truck Series With GMS Racing In 2017

Massachusetts native Kaz Grala will drive the No. 33 GMS Motorsports Chevrolet full time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series next season. 

The soon-to-be 18-year-old rookie drove part-time for GMS Racing in 2016, with three Top-10 results in nine starts. He advanced to the final of qualifying in all but one race, and recorded a best finish of seventh at his home track, New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

“I am beyond thankful to have an opportunity with GMS Racing to run full time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2017,” said Grala. “This organization has been on a steep rise the past couple of years, and it’s been fun being a part of it in 2016.” 

Veteran crew chief Jerry Baxter will oversee the operation, after spending the 2016 campaign with rookie Chase contender Christopher Bell. “I’m looking forward to next season with GMS and working through this transition with Kaz. I really enjoy helping young drivers get started in this series and developing their talent, and I saw what Kaz accomplished in the few races he ran last season,” said Baxter. 

There is no word yet on sponsorship, and the status of Ben Kennedy – drove the No. 33 Chevrolet last season – is unknown.

COMMENTARY: Stewart Receives Fitting Send-Off At Champion's Banquet

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is not often left speechless.

But Saturday night at the Wynn Las Vegas, the retiring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver was surprised with the announcement of a $1.8 million donation in his name to the EB Research Partnership, a global non-profit organization dedicated to curing Epidermolysis Bullosa; a serious skin disorder. The announcement came following a surprise appearance by Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder, a friend of Stewart’s and a leading proponent of the EB Research Partnership.

The announcement came from Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, who joined NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton on stage, and brought both Stewart and Vedder close to tears.

The motorsports industry originally planned to raise $1.4 million for the cause, corresponding to Stewart's iconic No. 14 car number. But a herculean effort led by Stewart’s longtime business manager, Eddie Jarvis, soon surpassed the $1.4 million goal by a longshot, as individuals and corporations stepped forward to express their affection and admiration for one of NASCAR’s greatest champions.

“I was totally blown away and caught off guard,” said an emotional Stewart afterward. “I really don’t know what to say, to be honest with you.”
“This is un(effing) believable,” said a stunned Vedder, adding, "Are we on television? I'll pay the fine."

The honor was fitting for Stewart, whose charitable foundation has contributed more than $6.5 million over the years to organizations benefitting three of his favorite causes; children, animals and injured racers. In addition to those cash contributions, Stewart meets with literally dozens of handicapped and terminally ill children each season, while steadfastly refusing any publicity or credit for his efforts.

"Tony wanted to have a very low-key sendoff during his final NASCAR season,” said Helton. “He was pretty emphatic about it. (But we) as an industry felt it was important to honor him. People know how passionate he is about motorsports, but he's equally passionate about helping others. On behalf of the entire motorsports industry, we felt this collective donation in Tony's name was a fitting tribute to all that he's accomplished during his NASCAR career."

Eddie Vedder and Tony Stewart
It was all that, and more.

"The pain these kids (with EB) face is constant, and yet they still find ways to stay upbeat," said Stewart Saturday night. "You quickly realize that your idea of a bad day is nothing. It puts your life and the things you take for granted in perspective. But it also makes you mad, because this is a devastating disorder that no one should have to endure. Yet it exists, and after seeing it, you want to do anything you can to make it go away."

EB sufferers lack proteins that bind their skin together, resulting in painful wounds that never heal, the fusing of fingers and toes, along with blisters, intense pain and disfigurement. The condition can also cause blisters in the eyes, mouth, esophagus. The condition affects one in every 50,000 births -- roughly 25-30,000 people in the United States alone – and has no known cure.

“When I first heard about it, it was quite hard to grasp the intensity of the condition,” said Vedder. “It’s about the most insane skin disorder you could imagine. It is diabolical. It’s very hard to describe until you meet the young folks with it, and they make you realize how much you take for granted. These are some of the strongest, coolest, most admirable people on the face of the Earth.”

Those words – strong, cool and admirable – apply equally to Tony Stewart, and it was nice to see him honored in his final trip to the champion’s stage as a driver.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

IT'S OFFICIAL: Monster Energy To Back NASCAR's Premier Series

NASCAR and Monster Energy have announced a multi-year agreement that will make Monster the entitlement sponsor of the premier series, as well as the annual NASCAR All-Star Race. Monster Energy, which will begin its tenure as naming rights partner on Jan. 1, 2017, will become only the third company to serve as the entitlement sponsor in NASCAR premier series history, following RJ Reynolds and Sprint/Nextel.

As part of the agreement, the brand also becomes the Official Energy Drink of NASCAR.

“Monster Energy is a brand built on excitement and enthusiasm, qualities that align with NASCAR,” said Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO. “This sponsorship position is the most unique in all of sports and entertainment, and we are thrilled to have a partner that will help us further elevate the series. Today’s announcement is the culmination of a thorough search, one that resulted in the right partner at this important time in our sport’s history.”

“Monster Energy has an established and versatile history in motorsports, and we’re thrilled to take this historic next step,” said Rodney Sacks, Monster Beverage Chairman and CEO. “We feel strongly that our brand is a perfect fit for this sport and its star athletes. We look forward to interacting with the millions of passionate NASCAR fans week-in, week out.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

ISC Approves Phoenix Redevelopment

The Board of Directors of International Speedway Corporation has approved a multi-year redevelopment project for Phoenix International Raceway. 

The 52-year old venue will receive new and upgraded seating areas, vertical transportation options, new concourses, enhanced hospitality offerings and an intimate infield experience with greater accessibility to pre-race activities. In addition to fan and spectator areas, PIR is exploring improvements for competitors and industry personnel, particularly key structures located throughout the infield. 

The redevelopment project is expected to cost approximately $178 million, is expected to commence in early 2017 and be complete in late 2018.  

“Phoenix Raceway provides a one-of-a-kind setting for some of the most exciting and thrilling races that the sport has to offer,” said ISC Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy. “This project will further enhance that experience and ensure that the venue continues to be a treasured destination for race fans.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

BREAKING: Buescher To Second JTG Daugherty Chevrolet

JTG Daugherty Racing has announced that they will field a second Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet next season, with former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Chris Buescher at the wheel. 

Team owner Tad Geschickter confirmed the move today, saying, “We can confirm at this time that JTG Daugherty Racing is currently in the process of starting a second team in the NASCAR premier series. We would also like to confirm and welcome Chris Buescher to the team as our driver for the second car.” 

Buescher also commented on the move, saying, “I can confirm that I have signed to race for JTG Daugherty Racing as they expand to a two-car team in the NASCAR premier series in 2017. I’m thankful for the opportunity and look forward to competing for a spot in the Chase.” 

Details on sponsorship and crew alignments are expected in the coming days.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ty Dillon To Germain Racing With GEICO Sponsorship

Ty Dillon will assume the full-time driving duties of the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Germain Racing. Dillon follows Casey Mears, who has driven for the last seven years.

"I have been preparing for this next step in my career for several years," Dillon said. "With my experience in the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series, I am ready to drive full-time in the Sprint Cup Series. I want to thank Bob Germain and the entire Germain Racing organiza tion for giving me this opportunity. It will be an honor to represent a brand and sponsor like GEICO which has played such a significant role in the sport for so many years."

The 24-year old Dillon has made 17 starts in the Sprint Cup Series for several different teams, including Circle Sport/Leavine Family Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. He scored a career-best sixth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway in May 2016 while serving as a relief driver for Tony Stewart.

Germain Racing notched two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championships and two top-10 points finishes in the NASCAR XFINITY Series before making the jump to the nation's top racing series. Since the inception of their Sprint Cup Series program in 2009, the team has established itself as an accomplished restrictor-plate program, while also achieving success at the series' road course events.

With the switch to Chevrolet and the addition of Richard Childress Racing as a technical partner in 2014, they have experienced improvement at the challenging intermediate tracks. Team owner Bob Germain said he aims to continue making progress in the coming years.

"I want to thank Casey Mears for everything he's done for our race team over the past six years," Germain said. "He's been an integral part of our growth and a great representative for GEICO and our many partners. Bringing Ty onboard is an exciting opportunity for us and we are committed to giving him all the resources he needs to reach his full potential. He's a very talented driver and first class young man. I'm looking forward to working with him, as well as expanding our relationship with RCR."

RCR's partnership with Germain Racing includes technology sharing, research and development, and engineering under the Chevrolet banner. Germain Racing will also continue to utilize engines from ECR Engines.

"Ty has done an exceptional job for us at RCR in every series he has raced in," said RCR Chairman and CEO, Richard Childress. "He has won races at each level and competed for championships every year. Ty is a passionate driver and has shown that he is ready for the highest level of stock car racing. I'm proud of him and I am confident he will succeed. I have a lot of respect for Bob Germain and the organization he has built, and I know he and Ty will be successful together. I also look forward to Ty's continued involvement in RCR's XFINITY Series program."

Monday, November 21, 2016

Smoke, Out. Stewart Says Goodbye With 22nd-Place Finish At Homestead-Miami Speedway

Tony Stewart took his final ride in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race car Sunday night at Homestead Miami Speedway, driving his Stewart Haas Motorsports Chevrolet to a 22nd-place finish in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400.

The exit was not what Stewart or his fans would have wished. In a perfect world, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion would have exited in Victory Lane; a winner in his final career NASCAR start. But in a 2016 campaign with relatively few competitive highlights, the Indiana native exited with a whimper, rather than a bang.

Despite his lukewarm farewell performance, however, Stewart climbed from his No, 14 Chevrolet wearing a contended smile. Burdened these last few years by sponsor commitments, legal entanglements and injury, the driver known as “Smoke” is free to do what he wants to do going forward, rather than what he is contractually obligated to do.

This is the last one,” said Stewart Friday, vowing not to be lured back into the cockpit the way Jeff Gordon was earlier this season.

“I think I learned my lesson from Jeff,” laughed Stewart. “He tried to do somebody a favor this year and got roped into running half the season. Thank you, Jeff for teaching me a lesson before I got roped in.”

While he will not be strapping into Sprint Cup Series machinery on Sunday afternoons any longer, Stewart made it clear that he has no plans to retire as a driver.

“I have a lot of race cars to have fun in,” he said, repeating his oft-stated pledge to increase the amount of time spent on dirt tracks across the country. “I would love to race the (Camping World) Truck race at Eldora.

“Since I was eight-years old, there has never been a thought in my mind about doing anything outside of racing,” he added. “I don’t know what to do outside of racing. 24/7, my mind is consumed (with racing) in some capacity.”

The mere mention of dirt racing brings a gleam to Stewart’s eye. He clearly relishes the thought of tossing a Sprint Car sideways through minefields of choppy red clay next season, and with career winnings in excess of $122 million, he has the financial wherewithal to do so at the very highest level. For Stewart, a return to dirt in 2017 represents a return to his racing roots; where post-race festivities are long on cold beer and short on Media Center obligations.

That’s dirt racing’s gain and NASCAR’s loss.

Since the day he arrived – a rail-thin wunderkind straight out of the open wheel Indy Car ranks – Stewart has served as NASCAR’s resident truth teller. Unwilling -- or perhaps incapable -- of giving anything but his honest opinion, Stewart angered NASCAR officials, track owners, fellow drivers and media members alike. He lampooned rule changes, criticized driving tactics and mocked moronic questions with equal glee. His weekly media availabilities were can’t-miss affairs, veering instantaneously from insightful to sarcastic, bombastic to belligerent.

He was sometimes inconsistent in his commentary, like the day he lambasted the blocking tactics employed by drivers at Daytona and Talladega, saying “we’re probably going to kill somebody… and it could be me.” Moments later, he employed those same blocking tactics himself; blissfully ignorant of the irony. NASCAR responded by implementing strict regulations on blocking and bump-drafting.

After criticizing NASCAR in the past for being over-officious, Stewart demand this season that the sanctioning body regulate lug nuts to save teams from themselves. The sanctioning body fined him $35,000 for those comments, then changed its lug nut rule less than a week later.

He blasted NASCAR Chairman Brian France earlier this year for failing to attend meetings of the Sprint Cup Drivers Council. France defending his absence, insisting that drivers spoke more candidly without him in the room. Weeks later, France attended his first Driver’s Council meeting.

That’s the wonder of Tony Stewart. Calling it like he sees it, come hell or high water.

Stewart’s brand of heart-on-his-sleeve outspokenness has its price, however. His periodic clashes with media, NASCAR and his fellow drivers have branded him a “loose cannon” in some circles, and the 2014 incident that resulted in the death of Sprint Car driver Kevin Ward, Jr. only reinforced the renegade image in some people’s eyes.

“Part of the reason I’m retiring is because I’m tired of being responsible for (speaking out),” Said Stewart recently. “It’s somebody else’s responsibility now. I’ve had my fill of it. I’ve had my fill of fighting the fight. At some point, you say, ‘Why do I keep fighting this fight when I’m not getting anywhere?’

“There are 39 of these guys (in the Sprint Cup garage) that -- 99 out of 100 times -- won’t say a thing to you guys or to NASCAR or anybody else. I’m the one guy that will say, ‘Man this is a bad thing to talk about, I shouldn’t talk about it,’ but I’ll get pissed off enough about it to talk about it, because I believe it’s worth talking about.

Stewart’s on-track ride has not always been smooth, either. In 2013, he suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his right leg in a grinding Sprint Car crash, missing the remainder of the NASCAR season.

The following year brought Ward’s death, and allegations that Stewart had intentionally struck and killed the New York youngster after an on-track tangle just moments before. “It’s not something that goes away,’’ said Stewart after being cleared of criminal charges following the incident. “It will never go away. It’s going to be part of my life the rest of my life.’’

This season, a freak sand buggy accident left him with a fractured vertebra in his back that sidelined him for eight more races.

Those incidents left Stewart with far more pain -- both physical and emotional – than the average 45-year old, and while he energized his fan base with a flashback victory at Sonoma in June, he ended the 2017 campaign left him only 15th in the championship standings, with almost as many finishes of 30th or worse (seven) as Top-10s (eight).

Few drivers leave the sport at their competitive peak. Father Time is undefeated, after all. But Stewart’s decline into competitive mediocrity has been as difficult for him to accept as it was for us to watch.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t win a Daytona 500, a Southern 500 and most of all, an Indy 500,” said Stewart at Homestead last week. “But when I was 15 (or) 18 years old, I never even thought I would get a chance to race those races, let alone to win them.

“In a perfect world, I would have loved to be able to cross those three races off the list. But at the same time, I look at the big picture. It was pretty damn cool to just have the opportunity to race those races.”

His 49 career NASCAR Cup Series wins place him 13th on NASCAR’s all-time list. His three premier series championships make him a guaranteed, first-ballot Hall of Famer. And his take-no-quarter style – both on and off the race track – will ensure that he is sorely missed by NASCAR Nation.

Thanks, Smoke. It’s been one hell of a ride.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Logano Poised For Championship Breakthrough

For Joey Logano, the opportunity for redemption is less than seven days away.

Sunday’s win at Phoenix International Raceway qualified Logano to return to the second Championship Four race of his career at Homestead Miami Speedway. Two years ago, in the inaugural season of the Chase’s elimination format, the Team Penske driver appeared to be en route to a title-clinching victory, until a jack failure on his final pit stop dropped him back in the pack and out of title contention.

Last season, the Middletown, Conn., native won a season-high six races, but failed to qualify for the Homestead finale after on-track feud with rival Matt Kenseth eventually cost both men their shot at the title.

This time around, however, there have been no such missteps. No mistakes, no letdowns, no loss of championship focus. This time around, Logano has his eye on the prize.

“I don’t think I can put it into words,” said Logano after Sunday’s dramatic Phoenix victory. “This isn’t just a race. This is a championship. We raced today like it was Homestead, because we had to. I was still yelling and screaming down in Victory Lane.

“What an amazing feeling to be able to succeed under that amount of pressure… to have a race team that is truly better under pressure. I couldn’t be more proud of that.

For those who appreciate such things, Sunday’s race featured a certain degree of karmic resolution.

After being crashed out of title contention by Kenseth just 12 months ago – payback for a previous tangle between the two at Kansas Speedway a few weeks earlier -- Logano watched as Kenseth wrecked out of the lead within sight of the checkered flag Sunday. He threaded his way through the wreckage, then waltzed away from Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch to claim his spot in the 2016 Homestead finale.

“We’ve got momentum,” said Logano in Victory Lane. “I remember when we (qualified for Homestead) a couple of years ago. I remember standing here -- we finished third or fourth that day -- and I wasn’t as excited. This is not that feeling. This is a feeling of, `Hey, we’ve got confidence. I know we can do it.’ I don’t feel like it’s a long shot like it was last time. 

“I feel like we’ve been here before. We’ve been in these situations.”

Logano’s path to the 2016 championship will be anything but easy. Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson is poised to take his shot at a record-tying seventh title. Defending champ Kyle Busch has designs on a back-to-back reign, while Carl Edwards hopes to atone for a 2011 Homestead finale that saw him lose the championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker; the closest result in the sport’s 60-plus year history.

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to live through things once” said Logano. “After the 2014 race, everyone told me, `You’ve got to lose one to win one,’ and I thought that was the biggest crock of crap I’ve ever heard in my life.

“But you know what? Maybe it really did help me, to live through it once. Since then, we’ve been in those situations. We raced today for a championship.  We raced in Talladega for a championship. We’ve done this before.”

“The last few years, we’ve been in a position where we’ve had our backs against the wall and had to win. We’ve been able to do that, so it’s really cool. We have experience now. We've been together four years, and we've gone through some hard situations together.”

"We're peaking at the right time, which is a good sign,” he added. “We've had some speed in the last three races. Texas was one of our best races of the year and to go to a race track (Homestead) that's very similar makes me excited. We know what it takes to win a championship, because we've been through that situation once before.”

In seven career Homestead starts, Logano has one Top-5 (a fourth last season) and two Top-10 finishes. But the Connecticut native isn’t interested in statistics right now. He’s focused fully forward, on a winner-take-all championship finale and an opportunity to fulfill the “Best Thing Since Sliced Bread” predictions that have dogged him since the age of 14.

In the 50th anniversary season of Team Penske, Logano can also deliver a NASCAR title to bookend the IndyCar Series championship earned by Simon Pagenaud a few weeks ago, while delivering the first Sprint Cup Series title to Ford Motor Company since Kurt Busch turned the trick with Roush Fenway Racing in 2004.

"We're racing for a championship now," said Logano Sunday. "We did exactly what we had to do today. Now, we're going to go to Homestead and do the same thing."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Scott Announces Retirement From NASCAR

Richard Petty Motorsports driver Brian Scott has announced his retirement from full-time competition at the end of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season. 

"This was a difficult decision, but one that I made myself for my family," said Scott. "Racing -- and specifically NASCAR -- has been and will always be in my heart. But right now, I want to turn all my attention to my family and to be able to spend more time with them. Racing has blessed me with great opportunities, and I'm very grateful for everything that it has allowed me to do, but for me, it's time to move on. I can't thank everyone enough who helped me in my career. I would not have made it to where I am at today without their trust and commitment." 

Scott began competing in NASCAR's national series in 2007, debuting in the NASCAR Camping World Series and competing full-time there in 2008 and 2009, with a win at the Dover International Speedway in 2009. From 2010 through 2015, he competed in the NASCAR XFINTY Series, finishing in the Top-10 in the championship standings in five of his six seasons. He signed to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with RPM in 2016, with a best finish of second at Talladega Superspeedway last month. 

"Brian competed at a level that very few do in NASCAR," said Brian Moffitt, Chief Executive Officer of Richard Petty Motorsports. "Brian became part of the Petty family this year, and he committed himself to making our organization better. We feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know Brian and wish him nothing but the best for him and his family." RPM will continue to field the No. 44 Ford Fusion in 2017 with a driver to be announced later.

In a related story, Albertsons Companies has announced that they will not return to RPM in 2017. "Local sports sponsorships are an important part of our marketing strategy in communities across the country," said Albertsons Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer Shane Sampson. "While we have decided to focus our investments elsewhere in 2017, we appreciate the work that Brian, Richard Petty Motorsports and the entire No. 44 team put forth for Albertsons Companies this year, and we wish them the very best in the future."

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Charter System Has Owners Examining Their Options

Silly Season is well underway on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, with a handful of drivers mulling new opportunities for 2017 and beyond.

Baldwin is "exploring all opportunities."
New to the Silly Season dance, however, is the concept of team owners selling or leasing their competition charters to other organizations. As least two NSCS owners are openly discussing the possibility of unloading their charters in coming weeks, with others looking to acquire the guaranteed starting spots and increased purse and point fund payoffs that come with being a chartered team.

Team owner Tommy Baldwin, Jr. is expected to sell his Sprint Cup Series charter to Leavine Family Racing for the 2017 season. Baldwin met with his employees last week to “give them the options if they needed to go find a job,” and multiple published reports have the Long Island, NY native ready to sign documents on the transfer in the coming days.

The former NSCS crew chief-turned owner confirmed that he is “exploring all my opportunities right now… trying to figure everything out.'' Baldwin told NBC Sports he is not interested in shutting down his team, which made its initial Sprint Cup Series start in 2009, preferring instead to sell his charter – and possibly the assets of his team – to another organization.

"The options are (to) keep going, or sell,'' said Baldwin, who has fielded Chevrolets for driver Regan Smith this season en route to 33rd place in the championship standings, with one Top-5 and two Top-10 finishes. Their best finish of the season – a third in the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono in early August – was not enough to attract additional sponsorship to the team, forcing Baldwin to confront the looming possibility of shuttering or selling the team.

Baldwin has reportedly found a willing buyer in Leavine Family Racing, which currently partners with Circle Sport Racing to field Michael McDowell’s No. 95 Thrivent Financial/K-LOVE Chevrolet. Team owner Bob Leavine has leased a charter from Joe Falk Racing this season, on a one-year basis. NASCAR rules allow such an arrangement for only one year, however, and Falk will be forced to either use his charter in 2017, or sell it outright.

Leavine Family Racing Vice President Jeremy Lange confirmed last week that his organization is, in fact, purchasing a charter for 2017, but would not name the seller.

St. Hilaire (L) is also looking.
While Baldwin and Leavine dot the “I”s on their deal, GoFas Racing owner Archie St. Hilaire is considering his options, as well.

St. Hilaire told reporters last week that he would be willing to lease his charter next season, or partner with another chartered team in an effort to help his operation grow. NASCAR rules state that if a chartered organization finishes in the bottom three (of 36 charter holders) in three consecutive seasons, their charters can be revoked and awarded to another organization.

“Anybody in the bottom three is exploring all their options right now,'' admitted St. Hilaire, who has fielded his No. 32 Ford for a revolving-door lineup of drivers this season, including Bobby LabonteJeffrey Earnhardt, Joey Gase, Jeb Burton, Eddie MacDonald and Boris Said. The team is currently 38th in the championship owner’s standings.

St. Hilaire says he hopes to have a 2017 plan in place within the next 30 days.

While it’s always unfortunate when team owners face the end of the line, Baldwin and St. Hilaire are better off than they would have been as little as two years ago. Prior to the advent of NASCAR’s Charter System, they would have been left with little to sell but a few race cars, parts, pieces and transporters. There is usually not a long line of buyers for older, mid- to back-of-the-pack equipment, however, meaning that both organizations would be liquidated for mere pennies on the dollar.
Now, Baldwin and St. Hilaire own two of just 36 Sprint Cup Series charters, complete with guaranteed starting spots in each race, along with purse and point fund payouts large than those awarded to non-chartered, “open” teams. Depending on demand on the open market, those charters will almost certainly be worth multiple millions of dollars.

With Leavine Family Racing openly looking to buy, Furniture Row Racing expending to a second full-time operation with driver Erik Jones and JTG Daugherty Racing also reportedly planning to expand to a second car in 2017, both Baldwin and St. Hilaire stand to cash a much larger exit check than ever before possible in the history of the sport.

At the very least, they will be able to lease their respective charters for a season, allowing them time to regroup, forge new alliances and court additional sponsorship.

That opportunity has never existed before.