The Frontstretch: My Winter of NASCAR Discontent -- With A Little Amusement Tossed In by Amy Henderson -- Friday January 30, 2009

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My Winter of NASCAR Discontent -- With A Little Amusement Tossed In

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday January 30, 2009

 

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With Daytona around the corner, the racing world is picking up speed, and with that comes a whole slew of questions — but not too many answers. So after a long and eventful offseason, it’s time to dust off the things that made it notable for me…

First up, I have an issue with the timing of NASCAR’s approval of the new Ford engine. While it is true that Toyota’s racing engines are a whole separate species of animal, and the Chevrolet R07 was designed with an eye toward the Cup Series, I find this one more troubling. It’s not so much because it deviates from the “stock” small-block engines the sport once mandated, but rather because of one feature in particular that’s reportedly far more advanced than its counterparts.

By all accounts, the new Ford FR9’s cooling system is advanced enough that teams will be able to run with significantly more tape on the nose… thus giving them more downforce than the competition. Usually, that wouldn’t be a long-term issue, because the other makes would come up with setups that could compensate — they always do. But this year, they won’t have the time. The testing ban, while it won’t completely curtail adjustments, will significantly impair the amount of time even the larger teams can get on the intermediate tracks — the ones that require the most downforce to begin with. They would have to travel to Texas World Speedway to really come close to practicing on any type of 1.5-miler they run — and that’s a trip that all but the Hendricks, Gibbs, and Childresses of the racing world can’t afford to make on the regular basis they need to.

If NASCAR wanted to level the playing field for the smaller teams, the introduction of a radically new engine for any make should have been put on hold until after the testing ban is lifted. Simply put, the moratorium on testing should have included a moratorium on any significant changes on the cars or under the hood. There is a bit of irony to all this, though; those same tracks where Ford will likely gain their aerodynamic advantage from this new piece are those hardest on engines. Since a dynamometer can’t always reproduce race conditions, if these engines are less than reliable, it will actually be Ford who will become the victim themselves.

Switching gears, could things at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing (sorry, but I can no longer think of that operation as anything but Chip and Dale Racing) be in any more of a shambles? First, they can’t afford to run Aric Almirola for a full season in the third car; but suddenly, they will run that full-time and a fourth car for a partial schedule, too? That car will consist of John Andretti — with rumors of an alliance with Front Row Motorsports following behind him? Really? That’s the best they could do?

To me, it seems far more sensible to funnel both partial sponsorships to Almirola and give him maximum support. Instead, they’re spreading themselves thin. If this chaos is happening because there is a power struggle, and neither Teresa Earnhardt nor Chip Ganassi is willing to give up one of their own car numbers to benefit the team as a whole, perhaps they need to revisit the reason for this deal in the first place. And I still can’t decide if Max Siegel’s departure is a bane or a blessing — because I can’t decide if he was a driving force behind what was DEI, or whether he led the team on a drive down the path to destruction.

Since the merger with Gillett-Evernham Motorsports is now complete, most expect Richard Petty to fade into the shadows, having little more than a bit role in the new four-car organization.

Which brings me to the newly-formed Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM – cute, but it’s been done before, most recently by Rudd Performance Motorsports). Gillett-Evernham Motorsports was a disaster even before they sucked Petty Enterprises into the vortex. George Gillett is certainly willing to toss money at his program, but he doesn’t seem to want the advice of anybody who has been in NASCAR racing for more than a handful of years. He even drove Ray Evernham (say what you want, the man knows race cars like nobody else) out of a day-to-day leadership role, and does anyone really believe that Richard Petty will have any involvement in that place — beyond his name on the door and the occasional meet ‘n’ greet?

Finally, does anyone else find the it sad — and perhaps very telling — that in the end, the cause of the 2007 airplane crash that killed five people, including the husband of Lesa France Kennedy, was ultimately caused by carelessness on the part of NASCAR’s own aviation department and their failure to properly maintain the aircraft despite a pilot’s report of previous engine issues. The incident seems like a microcosm of NASCAR as a whole — all too willing to sacrifice quality to save or grab a few dollars. Unfortunately, in this case, it wasn’t merely race fans getting the shaft in the form of mediocre competition; it was innocent victims paying far too dearly, both in the air and on the ground.

Meanwhile, the defending Sprint Cup champion (again) is a great driver, but he’s also a bit of a wreck magnet — off the NASCAR track, that is. Jimmie Johnson followed up his first Sprint Cup championship by taking a header off the roof of a golf cart and breaking his wrist. Two years later, his encore for the third was to cut his finger with a knife while trying to thread a cooling tube through the pocket of his uniform — while he was already in the uniform. The cut was deep enough to damage a tendon and a nerve, requiring surgery to fix. It won’t affect his driving come Daytona, but it certainly humanizes Johnson, who is known for being anything but unconventional.

Other than Johnson’s unfortunate confrontation with his kitchen utensil, though, the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona was actually a hell of a race — the top two were separated by a few car lengths after 24 hours of competition. And as the checkered flag flew, it was cool to see David Donohue bring it home 40 years after his late father, Mark.

Yes, it has certainly been an interesting offseason full of surprises. It certainly doesn’t look as though the news is over, either — there is plenty to think about as the teams begin to pack their bags for Daytona. Now, whether NASCAR ends up traveling easy in 2009 or becoming little more than excess baggage remains to be seen. I’m steeling myself for the latter — but hoping that NASCAR can surprise me one more time.

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Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
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©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Joe W.
01/30/2009 12:40 PM
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I don’t know why you have a problem with the new Ford engine. Most of the teams will not use it until later in the season. This will give the others the time to adjust to the cooling system. The problem EVERYONE should have had was with Toyota being given basicly whatever they wanted when they designed an engine completely unlike anything they ever had and were allowed to run the same engine in all 3 Nascar series. Give me a break on complaining about the Ford engine. I hope they go out and kick some tail this year. We need more Ford and Chevy wins and fewer Toyotas period.

keith
01/30/2009 02:11 PM
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I have no problem with the Ford engine but if I was Na$car I would not allow tape to be used at all. I would make everyone run a stock looking front end and grill.

Denise Williams
01/31/2009 12:04 AM
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I loved “chip n dale racing” my mental picture was 2 chipmunks running in one of those excecise wheels powering Martin Truex’s car.I,m afraid thats all i’ll think of whenever i’m watching the races.I hope the cars run better than that but,i’m afraid my hopes will be in vain .

Marc
02/01/2009 09:37 AM
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I, for one, along with many other Dale Earnhardt fans, resent very much your Chip and Dale remark. Dale Earnhardt would not have teamed up with the likes of Chip Ganassi, and you know it. Amy, you try to look flip and cute all the time, but this is over the line.

As far as George Gillett is concerned, does anyone remember a couple of high rollers in the 70’s and 80’s named JD Stacy, and Warner Hodgdon. I seriously doubt very many do.

Phil Allaway
02/01/2009 02:50 PM
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This whole Front Row thing has confused the heck out of me. Does the team still physically exist, or does it only exist in this partnership, Amy?

After unsuccessfully trying to contact anybody with the team by phone or e-mail a few months back for a newsletter article (I just wanted to get an idea what they were up to), I had written them off. The team’s phone number was disconnected and one of the e-mail addresses bounced! Crazy stuff.

Needless to say, I never got in touch with anyone, including the team’s PR representative.

Douglas
02/02/2009 08:58 AM
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A quote from your article: “Finally, does anyone else find the it sad — and perhaps very telling — that in the end, the cause of the 2007 airplane crash that killed five people, including the husband of Lesa France Kennedy, was ultimately caused by carelessness on the part of NASCAR’s own aviation department and their failure to properly maintain the aircraft despite a pilot’s report of previous engine issues. The incident seems like a microcosm of NASCAR as a whole — all too willing to sacrifice quality to save or grab a few dollars. Unfortunately, in this case, it wasn’t merely race fans getting the shaft in the form of mediocre competition; it was innocent victims paying far too dearly, both in the air and on the ground.”

How sick is the ship Brian is steering? King Brian has no problem throwing crew chiefs out of the track and banning them for “minor” infractions, at best, disgracing entire crews, drivers, owners and such, BUT he allows his very own organization to conduct itself with no regard for life!

A “loose piece of metal” (on a race car), points deductions, suspensions for the crew, probations for crew and driver!

And this JERK, as in Brian France, allows his own organization to fly un-safe aircraft that actually kills innocents!

And you wonder why I rag on NA$CRAP?

Wonder no more my friends!

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
Piquet, Jr. Wins K&N East Opener

Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.