Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Which is it?

First, reported over the weekend at Indianapolis that Martin Truex Jr. had signed a two-year contract extension with Dale Earnhardt Inc., which would keep him with the company through the 2010 season.

Then, Truex angrily denied the story, telling The Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service, "That's [expletive]. I don't know what the hell [the reporter] is talking about."

Yet still reports the extension is all but done. Is this a case of shoddy journalism, or does David Newton have something from a reliable source to which the rest of us aren't privy? Truex's denial doesn't really mean that much to me, since people make public denials all the time ... only to have the story they denied turn out to be true anyway.

Right, Roger Clemens?

Assuming the report is true, and that Truex is indeed staying at DEI ... sad as this might sound (and anyone who's read this blog knows how I feel about DEI), this was probably the best Truex could do, given the circumstances. Truex had been rumored to be moving to the No. 12 at Penske Racing, the new No. 33 at Richard Childress Racing, and even a possible third car at Stewart-Haas, but at the end of the day, the best Truex could've likely hoped for was a lateral move.

The No. 12 isn't the premiere ride it was when Newman broke into Sprint Cup, winning 12 races in his first four full seasons. Penske's equipment is lagging behind, much like DEI's.

Stewart-Haas might be competitive and successful in a few seasons' time, but I don't see the change being immediate. Tony Stewart has a lot of work ahead of him with that two-car operation, so much so I don't pay any mind to rumors he'll add a third car. Maybe in three or four years, but certainly not in 2009.

Which leaves RCR's No. 33. While Childress is one of the better organizations in the Sprint Cup garage, with three cars capable of qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, I'm not sure how smooth the introduction for that fourth car will be. I don't think the General Mills-sponsored No. 33 would be a Chase contender right out of the gate.

So at the end of the day, maybe Truex is best-served staying with DEI for the next two seasons. Either the organization will improve and Truex will eventually the kind of driver that organization can build itself around, or once 2010 wraps up, Truex could find himself with a better crop of rides from which to choose.

If things hold true to form (and if the last two seasons are any indication, how likely is that?), the No. 5 at Hendrick Motorsports could be open. Stewart-Haas, if competitive by this point, might go ahead and add that third car, which would also be a viable option for Truex.

The options could certainly be better than they are now; the best ride available right now is the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing, but unless your name is Joey Logano, I don't see you getting into that car -- regardless of age or experience or anything like that.

So maybe Truex is best-served staying where he is and waiting things out -- assuming DEI doesn't go belly-up within the next two years.

And I'm not convinced that won't happen.

Why So Serious?

Anyone who questions how serious Randy Moss is about succeeding in NASCAR need look no further than his announcement on Wednesday that Jimmie Johnson would drive his truck in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Bristol later this month.

Randy Moss Motorsports, which in its first two races has finished a respectable 13th and 14th, will put a two-time Sprint Cup champion in the wheel at one of NASCAR's most exciting tracks. It's a smart move, and even if Johnson doesn't win the race (which I kind of doubt he will, this being his Truck Series debut), it shows just how seriously Moss is taking this venture.

Moss has already shown he's serious enough to shell out his own money in the event of a lack of sponsorship, and he's already shown how serious he is by starting off in the Craftsman Truck Series, the perceived lowest of NASCAR's three national touring series.

Previous NFL players-turned-NASCAR owners failed, in part because they started in the Sprint Cup Series, a series dominated by four super teams that leave little room for anyone else. Moss, by starting off in the Truck Series and being willing to fund it himself, is showing he's trying to learn from the mistakes of others, and putting a driver like Johnson behind the wheel, even if only for a race, gives that team credibility.

And by agreeing to drive that truck, Johnson is in a way validating Moss' effort. Who knows? If a sponsor or up-and-coming driver sees Johnson climb into the No. 81 and have a solid run ( atop-10 would go a long way), they might decide to latch on, giving Moss even more stability and the chance for future success.

Even with everything Moss is doing right, though, even he can't find a solution for the tire debacle at Indy. Oh well, we can't all be miracle workers ...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Back in America

According to published reports, the NASCAR Nationwide Series will not return to Mexico City for the 2009 season. Though officials have not announced which track might take the road course's place, it is believed it will be a track in the United States, and the Charlotte Observer reports that sources say it could be Iowa Speedway.

Iowa, a 7/8-mile tri-oval which currently hosts IndyCar and NASCAR Camping World East events, could be a perfect fit for the Nationwide Series, which already runs a good bit of its schedule on short tracks not otherwise used in NASCAR's top national series (along the same vein as O'Reilly Raceway Park just outside of Indianapolis).

Add to that the quality of this season's IRL race at the track, and the Nationwide Series just seems like a perfect fit. In the meantime, NASCAR's move out of Mexico City isn't as much of a negative as it might seem on the surface. Though attendance had been on the decline in recent years -- and the event had its smallest crowd earlier this season when Kyle Busch won -- NASCAR's plan ultimately was to help stock car racing as a whole grow in Mexico.

And considering the steady growth the NASCAR Corona Mexico Series is seeing, I would consider the sport's foray into Mexico a rousing success. And with this weekend's race in Montreal the lone international date left on the NASCAR docket, it's possible a return stateside is part of CEO Brian France's preseason pledge to bring NASCAR "back to basics," a campaign that has, by and large, been a success.

Now, if we could just get a good tire to Indy ...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Not Your Local Short Track

I would imagine even the racing world's biggest optimist (guilty as charged) would have to be embarrased following Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

I won't print the word I really have in my head to describe the mess, in the interest of decorum, but suffice it to say, this was easily the worst race of the year, and if I was one of the 200,000 people who paid for a ticket, I'd likely be demanding my money back.

Competition cautions every 10 laps isn't racing. Running a 2.5-mile track at three-quarter speed to conserve the tires isn't racing. A series of short-sprint heat races might work at the local Saturday night short track, but that shouldn't happen to what some believe is NASCAR's second-largest event behind the Daytona 500.

It's embarrassing, inexcusable. NASCAR and Goodyear should both be ashamed of themselves. For this sort of thing to happen at Charlotte or Dover would be bad enough, but at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? A place in which purists even today feel stock cars have no place? How does something like this happen?

Granted, on race day NASCAR did the best it could to ensure the drivers' safety -- which should always be priority number one. If there was no way these cars could go more than 12 laps on a set of tires, then NASCAR had to act accordingly.

Problem is, it should've never gotten to this point. Most years, NASCAR and Goodyear conduct a full tire test at Indy. The special grooves in the race track being what they are, Goodyear needs data to create a safe yet competitive tire -- which, most years, isn't an issue. Sure, the tires wear to the chords after five laps on Friday, but as the weekend progresses, the rubber fills in the grooves and by race time on Sunday, the problem's gone.

Only that didn't happen this time. The track shaved off the tire rubber until it was a fine powder, and instead of that rubber laying down on the track, it stuck to the back of the cars, only to be deposited in pit road or the garage area. NASCAR and Goodyear were left scratching their heads, wondering why the rubber wasn't setting on the track. Drivers and crews were left tiptoeing though what should be one of the series' marquee events.

This year's "tire test" consisted of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brian Vickers and Kurt Busch running a series of laps at the Brickyard. Even then, in April, the problem was evident -- Earnhardt's crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., said they couldn't run any more than six laps to a time before the right sides gave way.

NASCAR and Goodyear's response? "Oh, it'll get better when we're here for the race."

NASCAR said a full-field test wouldn't have made a difference, but I'm not so convinced. Perhaps it's hindsight, an undeniable feeling of "Well, you should've done something!" Rather than wait until race weekend to bust out extra sets, unloading the Pocono-compound tire and throwing the caution flag every 10 laps, NASCAR and Goodyear should've been proactive, taking the data from that test in April to create a safer, more competitive tire.

Now we're left with a year of questions and watching as the sanctioning body and its only tire provider try to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen next year.

Texas Motor Speedway probably has the right idea; before an event at the track, president Eddie Gossage hooks about 10 to 12 race tires to the back of a pickup before dragging them along the surface. It's an old-school idea -- one Darrell Waltrip advocated Sunday night on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain -- but I think it would've helped this time around.

Particularly since teams only got a combined four hours of practice time for the race.

Another option that is being discussed is moving the Nationwide Series and Craftsman Truck events from nearby O'Reilly Raceway Park to the Brickyard so those races could help lay down some rubber. I'm not sure how I feel about this move, considering ORP is a staple of both series and I rather enjoy the action on the short track (Kyle Busch's dominating win in the Nationwide race Saturday night notwithstanding).

That said, something has to be done. Not only to ensure this doesn't happen again this season -- this is the second time this year Goodyear has come under fire for an inferior product -- but to make sure it never happens again. ESPN touted the Brickyard as one of NASCAR's "majors" all weekend, and to have an event reduced to a series of heat races at a place of such importance and magnitude is simply inexcusable.

Oh, FYI: Jimmie Johnson won the race, capturing his second Brickyard title. To give you an idea of how bad this tire situation was, just watch his reaction. Sure, he was happy to win, but such a muted celebration after winning one of the series' marquee events tells me even he knew how horribly things were screwed up.

The winner of the Brickyard is often immortalized. This year, the race winner will be but a mere footnote as we examine the mistakes made by NASCAR and Goodyear.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Indy Indy Indy

An interesting question has surfaced as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this year's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard:

Just where does Indianapolis fit in NASCAR lore?

Depending on who you talk to, the 400-mile race at Indy is NASCAR's second-biggest race behind the Daytona 500. Others will tell you it's actually bigger than the February tradition. Others still will shrug their shoulders and call it just another race.

Something tells me Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart would disagree with that last one.

While I can't offer the definitive answer, I can offer my own perspective. Growing up, I was more of an open-wheel fan than a NASCAR fan. To me, I loved the sleek look of the Indy cars -- I loved how they almost looked like spaceships, and I loved how fast they were. Stock cars looked too much like the kind of thing I'd see on the streets, and they weren't as fast.

But more than anything, I loved Indy cars because of Indianapolis.

My father didn't do much with me, but one of the things he did was instill in me a love and respect for the history and tradition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From that, I came to respect Indy as the most hallowed ground in all of American motorsports, and as a child, my credo was simple: if you don't race at Indianapolis, you don't matter.

Which meant that, until 1994, I paid little attention to NASCAR. Hard to believe, as much as I love the sport now, but that was the way I felt. No Indy, no interest.

But whereas other traditionalists were up in arms when Tony George announced NASCAR would invade the Brickyard in August 1994, I sat up with interest. Could it be that this form of auto racing I mocked and despised was finally growing up? Coming out with the big boys and firing up the engines on the only race track that truly mattered?

When Rick Mast led that 43-car field to the green flag, I watched my first full NASCAR race. All the way through, and I loved every minute of it. Before that race, if I had been pressured to choose a NASCAR driver I liked, I would've chosen Rusty Wallace -- mostly because that was who my mother liked, and I wasn't about to root for Dad's favorite, Dale Earnhardt.

But after the inaugural Brickyard 400, I became a Jeff Gordon fan. I didn't care that he drove a rainbow car, and I didn't care that he wasn't from the South -- I would never be considered an old-school NASCAR fan. All that mattered to me was that Gordon had talent and won the first stock car race on the world's most important track.

Then, an odd thing happened: I watched the following weekend's NASCAR race, and then another, and then another. Soon, I came to appreciate Daytona and Bristol nearly as much as I appreciated Indy, and I often slapped myself for missing out on a brand of racing that was, frankly, better than the joke open-wheel racing had become.

For me, NASCAR's 400-mile visit to the Yard of Bricks is less about the race and more about the atmosphere and what that track means -- not just to open-wheel racing, but all of motorsports. Daytona will always be the top dog for NASCAR, as well it should be, but Indianapolis is a close second.

I know a lot of people will call the racing at the Brickyard boring, and they're not necessarily wrong. But every time the boring argument fires up, I counter with television's at-times lackluster coverage -- and the fact that Ned Jarrett once won a race at Darlington in the 1970s by lapping the field eight times.

Try staying awake through that one.

The Brickyard got me into NASCAR, and for that reason alone, I will always love that track and get excited whenever the series visits. I even watched Formula One races at Indy, in spite of my distaste for that style of "racing," and I think it's a huge mistake for that series to not be returning. You can't call yourself the premiere form of motorsports in the world if you won't even visit one of the world's most prestigious tracks.

I don't know who's going to win this weekend, and I don't really care. For me, this isn't about the drivers or the cars, but the race track. And even though I can't be there in person, I'll be glued to the TV on Sunday.

Because it's Indy.

Cat Fight

By now I'm sure you've seen the video from Mid-Ohio this past weekend, where IndyCar Series drivers Danica Patrick and Milka Duno got into a shouting match after a practice session. Patrick felt the slower Duno should've let her by, rather than forcing the issue, and wanted to discuss the situation with the Brazilian model-turned-driver.

What Patrick got instead was a tongue-lashing and a towel thrown in her face. Not once, but twice. Not sure if this is what Duno had in mind in terms of making a name for herself in racing, but it worked nonetheless.

In terms of who I side with on the argument itself, I side with Patrick. Duno was clearly slower -- as she has been her entire IndyCar career -- and Patrick felt she didn't need to be pressured so hard in the corner during a practice session.

To paraphrase Allen Iverson: Not a race, not a race. Not a race. We talkin' 'bout practice.

For the three of you interested, Duno sits 25th in the IRL standings, 355 behind leader Scott Dixon. Patrick, meanwhile, sits sixth in points with a win and one of the largest fan bases in the IndyCar Series.

In a lot of ways, this fued would be a lot like what might happen if Dale Earnhardt Jr. got into it with Patrick Carpentier. Amusing for a time, but ultimately useless.

Instead of lashing out at Patrick for trying to talk to her, Duno needs to concern herself with trying not to be so slow. She's practically nothing more than a field-filler, someone taking advantage of a door opened to her by Patrick's popularity and isn't really doing anything with it. While Patrick has a win to her name and is driving for one of the IRL's most successful teams, Duno's driving for IndyCar's equivalent to Haas/CNC.

Which makes her about as relevant as Anna Kournikova on the tennis court.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Title Sponsors

How does the Kobalt Truck Series sound?

A little odd, I'll admit, but it might be a name we have to get used to; Craftsman's contract to serve as title sponsor for NASCAR's truck division runs out at the end of the season, and a report says Kobalt Tools is a leading candidate to land the next contract. According to the report, Stanley Tools and NAPA have also inquired about title sponsorship.

As if NASCAR fans didn't have enough to get used to, what with both the Cup and Grand National Series having new sponsors this season. Sprint replaced Nextel as title sponsor of the Cup Series, while Busch beer gave way to Nationwide in the Grand National ranks.

I'm still having a hard time trying not to call it the Busch Series.

If Kobalt were to land the deal, which is said to be in the seven-figure range, it would likely also become the Official Tool of NASCAR (whatever that means). And since Kobalt is a Lowe's brand, there's the potential for Lowe's to replace The Home Depot as the Official Home Improvement Warehouse of NASCAR at season's end.

The IndyCar Series is also looking for a primary series sponsor, having been without one for the past couple years. Kodak and Subway are said to be in talks with the series about title sponsorship, even thought both companies have a strong presence in NASCAR.

In financially lean times, any motor racing body who can find a sponsor is already ahead of the game, and it's nice to see the Truck Series on the verge of a new deal. NASCAR truck racing is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the world of American motorsports, while a revitalized IRL can only benefit from the exposure and dollars a title sponsor would give them.

Remember, NASCAR's monumental growth didn't really start until R.J. Reynolds slapped the Winston brand on the Cup Series all those years back. Sponsors = money, and in auto racing, money = everything.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Saw That Coming

In a move that surprised absolutely no one, Penske Racing announced on Monday that Ryan Newman will not return to the No. 12 team in 2009. While Newman's destination has not been officially announced, sources close to the situation say Newman is a virtual lock to drive the second car for Tony Stewart at Stewart Haas Racing next season.

Despite winning the Daytona 500, Newman has struggled this season, sitting 16th in the point standings with seven top-10 finishes. Newman has said throughout the season that he would leave if performance didn't improve, which only fueled the rumors he'd drive for Stewart in 2009.

An announcement regarding Newman's signing with Stewart Haas is expected in two weeks when the Sprint Cup Series visits Indianapolis.

While the move itself lacks any surprise or drama -- Newman hasn't been a consistent threat to win in two years -- the intrigue comes in who could potentially fill Newman's spot in the No. 12. Sponsor Alltel isn't expected back, and rumors continue to circulate that Martin Truex Jr. will leave DEI at the end of the season and join Penske.

There were rumors IndyCar star Helio Castroneves would make the switch to NASCAR and take over the ride, but Penske announced a few weeks ago Castroneves signed an extension to remain in the IRL.

Casey Mears is still out there, as is Dario Franchitti. And if Stewart makes the moves everyone expects, guys like Scott Riggs and Johnny Sauter will be looking for rides as well. But regardless of who drives or sponsors the No. 12 next season, expect the struggles to continue; Penske is not one of the elite Cup organizations anymore, and I really don't see that changing any time soon. And with all due respect to the drivers I just mentioned, this year's Silly Season lacks any real punch now that Stewart and Newman are supposedly spoken for.

Will Newman find his form again with a new team? Possibly -- this is a guy who won 12 Cup races in his first four seasons -- and while I expect Stewart Haas to struggle initially, look for Newman to start making frequent trips to Victory Lane again by 2010, maybe as late as 2011.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

For the Ages

In 1998, while Jeff Gordon was in the midst of winning his third career Sprint Cup title in convincing fashion, I was confused. I didn't understand why so many fans hated Gordon and seemed insistent on expressing their displeasure every time Gordon pulled into Victory Lane. And considering how Gordon did so 13 times that season, there was plenty of hate to go around.

Now, 10 years later, I finally understand what all those Gordon haters were feeling.

I've made no secret my displeasure for Kyle Busch, from the attitude that got him bounced from Hendrick Motorsports to the demeanor that has some comparing him to a young Darrell Waltrip or Dale Earnhardt, to a move at Richmond that likely stole the most popular driver's first win in two years. As Busch took his seventh checkered flag of the season Saturday night at the 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, I felt a lot like those Gordon haters did back in '98.

Frustrated, angry, over the whole thing. A palpable sense of "Enough, already!" as the No. 18 crossed the finish line first.

Even with that, I'm somewhat perversly drawn in by Busch's dominance. I hate to give him credit, but Busch is having a season for the ages, one that could see him make a run at the modern-era wins record -- 13, held by both Gordon and Richard Petty. And if the Chase were to start in Indanapolis in two weeks, Busch would have 70 bonus points to his name. No other driver would have more than 20.

Right now, the Sprint Cup title appears to be Busch's to lose. And lose it, he may still; in a conversation Saturday night on ESPN Radio with host Bob Valvano, Mike Massaro brought up the point of peaking too soon.

Busch has won three of the last four races, becoming the epitome of the midseason hot streak. But with seven races remaining until the Chase begins, there's the chance Busch is peaking too soon, that he'll cool off or experience a run of bad luck in the later stages of the season while someone else gets hot and closes the title gap.

Consider it a by-product of the Chase; like a team that gets hot in the baseball playoffs to take the World Series, it's quite possible Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jimmie Johnson could rattle off a bunch of wins and top-5s late in the season to steal the title away.

But the way this year has gone for Busch, that's not likely. He's just too good; everything has come together in a manner of historic proportions, and even though Busch could win a couple Cup titles in his career, he may never have another year that comes close to what he's experiencing here in 2008.

And as fans, we can only hope that's the case.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Domino Effect

Well, it's official ... according to sources.'s Marty Smith reported late Tuesday night that Tony Stewart has been granted his release from Joe Gibbs Racing and will become driver and part-owner for Haas/CNC Racing in 2009. The team will be re-named Stewart Haas Racing, and an official announcement is expected Thursday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Stewart will reportedly hold 50 percent stake in the organization, and he could change the car numbers. Currently, Haas/CNC runs the No. 66 and No. 70, two teams currently outside the Top 35 in owner points.

Scott Riggs sits 36th in points, while Johnny Sauter is 44th. Both drivers are expected to be out at the end of the year, with Stewart and Ryan Newman expected to fill those rides.

Given the rumors that have persisted for months -- and the fact that Stewart reached a sponsorship deal with Office Depot last week -- the move isn't a surprise. Stewart expressed a desire to own a Sprint Cup team, and this is his foot in the door. Haas/CNC receives chassis, engines and engineering support from Hendrick Motorsports, so Stewart will have a decent base with which to start.

But I can't help but wonder why Stewart was so eager to leave a team he's been with for 10 years. Stewart has won 32 races for Gibbs, along with the 2002 and 2005 Cup championships, so why bolt now?

Granted, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are having better years, at least on paper. Stewart's luck has been terrible this season; without that, Stewart could be sitting on three or four wins -- including the Daytona 500.

Busch might be carrying the JGR banner with six wins and a 182-point lead in the standings, but Stewart will be a factor before the trophy's handed out at Homestead in November.

It could be the fact that Stewart never completely embraced Gibbs' move to Toyota, after spending his entire NASCAR career driving for General Motors (Pontiac, then Chevrolet). In buying a portion of Haas/CNC, Stewart returns to Chevy, which I would imagine was important to him.

I think in the long run, Stewart will turn that organization around. Stewart has the clout to bring in the sponsors necessary to build those two cars up to a competitive level, and with him and Newman behind the wheels, the on-track performance will improve drastically. I don't see an instant elevation to winning races and contending for titles, but within two or three seasons, Stewart Haas will be in the conversation.

My only question is, can Stewart handle two or so years of running mid-pack?

And what about the No. 20 car? The ride Stewart will leave behind? Rumors have persisted that should Stewart leave, Gibbs would place 18-year-old phenom Joey Logano in the ride. While that's a possibility, I hope the organization looks elsewhere.

Martin Truex Jr. could be on the market if he leaves Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and Casey Mears still hasn't landed a ride since learning he won't be returning to Hendrick Motorsports in 2009. Dario Franchitti is also out there, but he's the longest of long shots. I would rather put someone with extensive Sprint Cup experience in that car before putting Logano in a full-time Cup ride.

Logano is obviously a special talent, having dominated nearly every level he's raced at and picking up his first Nationwide Series win in just his third career start. But Logano's still so young, and has so much to learn. I know he's logged over 4,000 laps in a Cup car in testing, but testing and racing are completely different things.

Besides, do we really wanna risk turning Logano into the next Casey Atwood?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Turning Over in His Grave

According to both and Sirius NASCAR Radio's Sirius Speedway, Teresa Earnhardt could be looking to sell Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Rather than sell a controlling interest, like Dale Earnhardt Jr. wanted her to do last year, Teresa is reportedly looking to sell the entire team.

Cars, employees, shops ... the whole damn thing.

The company is rumored to sell for between $115 and 130 million, and DEI President of Global Operations Max Siegel is apparently one of the interested buyers. Siegel is reportedly in talks with investment firm J.P. Morgan to acquire the team. If the reports are true, Teresa would no longer have anything to do with her late husband's company.

All Teresa will have left will be the likeness and merchandising rights for her husband's name and image. According to reports, Teresa has become frustrated and disenfranchised with NASCAR following her company's public and messy divorce with Dale Earnhardt Jr. last season, a fiasco that led Junior to leave the company and drive for Hendrick Motorsports.

Junior is second in points this season with his first checkered flag in over two years, while DEI is struggling both on and off the race track. Sponsorship is an issue, Mark Martin has already announced he won't return in 2009 and Martin Truex Jr., lounging about 14th in points, might not be back either.

I've already written in this space about what kind of trouble DEI is in, between losing Junior last year and the myriad of problems facing the company this season. This report, if true, only reinforces those problems and leaves the company with yet another significant change. If Truex does indeed leave at the end of the season, whoever winds up owning the company will enter 2009 with Aric Almirola, Regan Smith and Paul Menard (though rumors persist Menard won't return, either).

Something tells me this isn't what the Intimidator had in mind when he founded DEI.

While part of me can't really blame Teresa for wanting out, the fact is ... she kind of brought this upon herself. Already an absentee owner (so much so Kevin Harvick called her out for it last year), her frosty relationship with the Sprint Cup Series' most popular driver did no one at the company any favors, and everything she's done since taking the reigns at DEI has been centered around the bottom line.

Her husband's legacy -- which was what DEI was founded to preserve -- be damned.

The fact that she would still be able to profit off Dale Earnhardt merchandise sales points to that. By the letter of the law, she was the rightful heir to DEI; it was in Senior's will, which hadn't been updated since 1990. But Senior made it clear in numerous interviews over the years that DEI was meant to be left for his children -- specifically Junior.

That Teresa never once intended to honor those wishes -- or even field a competitive organization -- speaks to how little she cares about the Earnhardt name and how little business she has being in NASCAR.

If the sale goes through, I kind of hope Siegel changes the company name and starts over from scratch. The drivers and other employees at DEI deserve better than what they've been given, and as tragic as it would be to see Earnhardt's legacy done away with, it's better than watching it wither away week in and week out while Teresa rakes in millions.

I just wonder what Senior would say if he could see any of this.

UPDATE #1:'s Marty Smith has reported that Max Siegel has denied the report, saying, "We have not engaged Bear, Stearns or Goldman Sachs or anyone else. We are contacted all the time by outside firms about getting involved in the sport. We are not for sale right now. Nothing is imminent."

The denial isn't surprising, nor does it mean anything. Denials are part of the public relations game, and DEI has spent virtually all season trying to put a positive spin on the team's situation. So unless and until the official announcement comes, I believe the denial about as much as I believe Alex Rodriguez never cheated on his wife.

UPDATE #2: Martin Truex Jr. has been docked 150 points for rules infractions from Daytona this past weekend. The penalty drops Truex from 14th to 18th in points, 238 out of 12th with eight races until the Chase. No driver has ever qualified for the Chase after overcoming this large a deficit this late in the season, so according to history, Truex's chances at back-to-back Chase appearances are done.

The car was deemed to be 1/16th of an inch too narrow, not fitting NASCAR-issue templates. DEI officials publicly wonder why the car fit the templates all year until now, and have 10 days to decide whether to appeal the penalty.

Crew chief Kevin Manion, as well as car chief Gary Putman, has been suspended for six races. Manion has also been fined $100,000.

Teresa Earnhardt, owner of Truex's No. 1 car, has also been docked 150 owner points.

All in all, not a good day for DEI. The Truex penalties were expected (NASCAR has been consistent in punishing rules violators with the new car -- last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were all slapped with similar penalties, and this year the HAAS-CNC teams were busted in Charlotte), but the sale rumors can't help.

And if Truex was already leaning out the door at DEI, these penalties might be that final push. Truex was visibly frustrated in interviews on Thursday at the track, and you could hear it in his voice, even if he wouldn't publicly throw anyone on his team under the bus.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

One Wacky Night

Does NASCAR need to tweak the green-white-checkered finish?

As it stands now, NASCAR makes one attempt at the green-white-checkered (henceforth referred to as GWC) whenever a caution comes out that would under normal circumstances cause the race to end under caution. When it does so, NASCAR makes one attempt at the GWC -- if the caution comes out after the GWC, the race is over.

But after Kyle Busch's confusing win in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona Saturday night, the question begs asking: do we need to change the GWC format? Replays showed Busch just in front of Carl Edwards in Turn 1 as the Big One unfolded behind them on the last lap.

Confusion reigned for several moments, as Busch, Edwards and all the fans wondered exactly who won the race. Once Busch was declared the winner -- his sixth checkered flag this season -- fans booed and showered his car with water bottles.

Were the fans booing Busch or the GWC format?

Larry McReynolds made the following point on TNT's broadcast Saturday night: under most caution flags, the field is set by the running order at the last scoring loop. But in the event of a caution during a GWC, the winner is determined by who was in the lead at the moment of caution -- which, replay showed, was Busch.

Had NASCAR used the same loop scoring it uses in the middle of the race, there's a chance Edwards would've been declared the winner. Shouldn't NASCAR use the caution rule consistsntely, regardless of whether the caution flies on lap 100 or the last lap?

And should there be more than one attempt at the GWC? Keeping in mind that NASCAR must make driver safety a priority, examine the Craftsman Truck Series (where the GWC orginiated). Truck races literally run until the race finishes under the green flag; if that means more than one GWC finish, then so be it.

Should the Sprint Cup Series adopt the same philosophy?

On some level, I happen to think so. If the point of the GWC is to keep the race from ending under caution, then why let the race end under caution in the event of a crash during the GWC?

But again, there's the safety issue. And the fact that were NASCAR to allow unlimited GWC attempts, can't you see a race in which we try this thing seven or eight times? Okay, perhaps that's a little excessive, but we saw how hectic things got Saturday night as the laps wound down.

In the end, I can't help but wonder: would everyone be as upset over the GWC finish if someone other than Busch won?


-Props to Tony Stewart. While he's driven under the weather before -- I remember him winning at Watkins Glen a few years back while battling stomach issues -- it was obvious Saturday night he was struggling. Getting out of the ride in favor of J.J. Yeley, Stewart spent the rest of the night watching and receiving IV fluids. Stewart is one of the toughest drivers in the Sprint Cup garage, so for him to get out of the car -- that tells me whatever was bothering him was beyond bad.

-Again, the best car didn't win. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 51 laps before being shuffled back in the pack, nearly wrecking a few times and coming home eighth. This marks the third time this season Junior has led the most laps and not won (Charlotte and Martinsville were the other two). Haters will point to a lack of talent; I point to racing luck. Things just go this way at times -- without bad luck, Junor could have four or five wins this season. Still, Junior has already won once this year and will be a factor the rest of the season -- he moved up to second in points after Jeff Burton's bad night on Saturday.

-Look for Martin Truex Jr. to take a big points hit later this week. Truex's car was confiscated Thursday after failing pre-qualifying inspection, and there are rumblings a huge penalty is on the way. Already 14th in points and struggling, Truex could find his chances at making the Chase all but dashed. If Truex didn't already want out of DEI, this might be the thing that changes his mind.

-Chicagoland this coming weekend -- under the lights for the first time. Should be interesting to see how that plays out before the off-week. After the off-week, the series heads to Indianapolis, where the ESPN-ABC coverage starts. Make of that what you will.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Official Announcement

Well, it’s official. Mark Martin will run full-time for Hendrick Motorsports next season, making what many assume will be one last shot at that elusive Sprint Cup championship.

Martin, who has finished second in the point standings four times and raced part-time for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. the past two seasons, expressed on numerous occasions his desire to remain part-time, choosing when to run and help develop younger drivers, but I suppose the chance to run for Rick Hendrick and chase a championship was just too tempting.

Let’s face it, if Hendrick called me tomorrow and wanted me in the car, I’d quit both my jobs on the spot and do it. What other team in the Sprint Cup Series can consistently give its drivers the best chance to win a Cup title? I realize Joe Gibbs Racing is setting the pace this season, but don’t let the fact that Hendrick drivers have won just twice in 2008 fool you – three of its drivers are solidly in the top 12 in points.

Though Martin spent much of his career driving for Jack Roush, it was clear watching Friday’s press conference at Daytona International Speedway how much he respects Hendrick. Martin drove for Hendrick in the Nationwide Series on a part-time basis last year, and this season has driven a couple races for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports, which has combined resources with Hendrick.

Martin gave Junior his first Nationwide Series win as a car owner in March, taking the checkered flag at Las Vegas.

Martin has 35 career Sprint Cup wins, and is among the most popular drivers in the series. Even racing part-time in subpar equipment at DEI this season, Martin was competitive – so who’s to say he won’t have just as good a shot as Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson at the Cup?

Martin might not have necessarily wanted to run a full schedule again, but if he ends up holding the Sprint Cup trophy at Homestead in 2009, it will have been worth it.

Other Tidbits

-Martin Truex Jr. failed inspection at Daytona on Thursday, forcing him to bring out the backup car and sending the original machine to NASCAR’s R&D Center. When interviewed by SPEED Channel, Truex’s frustration was evident, even as he was careful not to lay blame.

Truex’s status with DEI was already rocky, with Truex rumored to leave the company at the end of the season and replace Ryan Newman at Penske Racing. Truex sits 17th in points with just four top-10 finishes this season, a far cry from last year when he took inferior DEI equipment to one win and the Chase.

The writing appears to be on the wall, and it spells Truex’s departure. That would make three talented drivers DEI has lost in the past two seasons – Truex, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Make of that what you will.

-Tony Stewart has reportedly reached a deal with Office Depot that would result in primary sponsorship for Stewart should he leave Joe Gibbs Racing and purchase a portion of HAAS-CNC Racing. Office Depot will leave Roush-Fenway Racing and Carl Edwards at the end of the season, paving the way for Aflac to pick up the bulk of Edwards’ sponsorship.

While the fact that Stewart has landed sponsorship can only help his bid to become a Cup owner – particularly in these tough economic times – how odd would it be to see him driving something that isn’t Home Depot orange?

The home improvement warehouse chain has been Stewart’s primary sponsor through the entirety of his Sprint Cup career, and to see him parading around the track in someone else’s logo and colors will be odd – like it was odd at first to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. running around in Amp green and National Guard blue instead of Budweiser red.

Souvenir sales will go up, for sure, and Stewart already has a leg up on his ownership bid with the influx of cash, but it’ll just be … weird.

-Randy Moss is now a team owner in NASCAR.

The New England Patriots wide receiver purchased a 50 percent ownership stake in Morgan Dollar Motorsports, a team in the Craftsman Truck Series. Renaming the team Randy Moss Motorsports, Moss’ team will make its debut on July 19.

While Moss isn’t the first NFL star to enter NASCAR – Hall of Fame Racing was founded by Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach and Joe Gibbs Racing is an obvious example – he is the first to start on a level below Sprint Cup.

It takes roughly $6 million a year to run a successful truck team, money Moss can probably pay out-of-pocket if he can’t find sponsorship, but the fact that Moss is willing to start small and work his way up gives him a chance to succeed where other NFL-to-NASCAR owners have failed.

It won’t be easy, and it might take some time, but I don’t see Moss’ foray into NASCAR going belly-up. Just make sure Bill Belichek can’t tape any of the races or pit stops.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

More Racing, Less Dallenbach

Martin Truex Jr.'s departure from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. seems all but certain now, with him rumored to be moving to Penske Racing to take over the No. 12 car next season.

"But, Jeff," you say, "isn't Ryan Newman in that car?"

Well, yes, and he did luck into the Daytona 500 with it this year. But that win, along with Kurt Busch's in the rain Sunday at New Hampshire, has done little to convince Newman that Roger Penske was doing everything he could to make that a consistent winner on the Sprint Cup level (Penske's love is, and will always be, his open-wheel rides). Newman has told Penske officials numerous times he would leave at the end of the season should performance not pick up, and considering Newman sits 15th in points with just one top-5 finish, I'd say the team hasn't responded.

Not to mention Newman might lose sponsor Alltel at the end of the year. That has to hurt his status with the race team.

Ignoring for the moment the impact of Truex leaving DEI -- mostly because I waxed poetic about that in my last post -- is Penske really a step up for him? Truex won a race last year and qualified for the Chase for the Cup, and appeared to be ready to take on the mantle of head man at DEI with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s departure to Hendrick Motorsports. But neither DEI nor Penske are among the top tier of teams on the Sprint Cup circuit right now, and both seem to lag further behind as the weeks progress.

There are those who would wish to see Truex join his buddy Junior and take over the recently-vacated No. 5 at Hendrick, but he appears destined to replace Newman. Newman, meanwhile, appears penciled in at HAAS-CNC Racing; reports have Newman being Tony Stewart's lead driver should he opt out of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

But here's the rub: what if Stewart doesn't opt out? Where will Newman go then?

Don't think he'll drive the No. 5; that ride seems to have Mark Martin's name written all over it. The No. 16 and No. 07 are unavailable, since Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer both signed contract extensions last weekend at Loudon. Newman could potentially pilot Richard Childress' fourth car, but everything I've seen has that car going to Casey Mears.

If Stewart doesn't opt out, could Newman really be the odd man out in the Sprint Cup Series? I have a hard time believing a guy with 12 career Cup wins could be without a ride, but the fact remains: the good rides are few and far between.

Especially with Roush-Fenway having to consolidate to four cars next season and Target Chip Ganassi shutting down the No. 40 car. Speaking of ...

Guitar Hero, not Race Car Hero

Do you think Dario Franchitti's regretting his move to stock cars?

With news Tuesday that Chip Ganassi is folding the No. 40 team due to a lack of sponsorship, it appears yet another setback has gotten in Franchitti's way. Franchitti, who in 2007 won both the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series title, has struggled this season.

Need proof? Try the following:

-Career-best finish of 22nd at Martinsville.

-Failed to qualify for races in Texas and Sonoma.

-41st in Sprint Cup points.

-Missed five Sprint Cup races due to a broken ankle he suffered in a Nationwide Series race at Talladega.

Ganassi's teams have been in trouble since Sterling Marlin's departure a couple seasons ago. David Stremme didn't work out last season, and after Homestead in 2007, long-time sponsor Coors Light bolted. Though Target and Texaco Havoline appear committed to the team -- which is good news for Juan Pablo Montoya and Reed Sorenson -- the fact that Ganassi had to shut down one of his teams and lay off about 70 people speaks to both the health of his organization and the economic struggles of the sport as a whole.

Franchitti's future remains up in the air, though Ganassi said he hopes to let the former open-wheel star run the remainder of the Nationwide Series season. It's a move that probably should've happened sooner -- in spite of Franchitti's obvious talent, the switch from open-wheel to stock cars is a tough one, and to throw a guy into Sprint Cup right off the bat is a questionable move.

I just hope Franchitti doesn't take a permanent career hit from this.

To Hit or Not to Hit

Examining Juan Pablo Montoya's intentional wrecking of Kyle Busch at the end of Sunday's race in New Hampshire under caution leaves me torn. As a fan, I loved the move, as I've been waiting for someone to dump Busch like that for some time now.

But as someone who wants to one day be an expert on the sport, examining things from the inside, I realize it's something we can't exactly cheer about. Sure, the fans can cheer, and mightily many of them did. To say Busch is unpopular would be the understatement of the season -- between his temperament, his cockiness and his incident with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Richmond -- but that doesn't make wrecking him on purpose right.

Funny, but not right.

NASCAR penalized Montoya two laps for the move, giving him a 32nd-place finish. Busch finished 25th and kept his points lead over Jeff Burton, though Burton's 12th-place effort slimmed the margin a fair amount. NASCAR had to punish Montoya -- the move was obviously intentional, and Montoya even admitted as such in a TV interview -- it would've risked a PR nightmare if it hadn't.

Yet the fan in me absolutely loves the move, loves that Montoya didn't shy away from the truth, and that we might have a new feud on our hands. NASCAR needs rivalries like this, and if this carries over beyond Loudon, the fans are the ones who'll benefit.

It'll be interesting to see if Busch retaliates this weekend at Daytona -- or, perhaps more likely, next weekend at Chicagoland. He does have his points lead to think about, but Busch's youth and attitude might leave him unable to help himself.

It should be entertaining, I know that much.