Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

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

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.

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