Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Nuts For Nationwide · Danny Peters · Friday May 2, 2008
As is often the case, it was one conversation that changed Joe Balash’s life.
“Just happened to be another one of those phone calls,” he says now, but at the time it was clearly anything but. When that call came, Balash was Senior Vice President of Operations for the now-defunct ASA Series, rising to the top after just four short years of working his way up the ladder.
Little did he know the next step would be a little higher.
“[NASCAR’s] Gary Nelson asked me to come down and interview,” he explained. “We talked about me working as a Technical Director for the Regional Tours.”
Making the move from ASA to the top stock car series in America, Balash and his wife moved from Ohio to North Carolina and began the transition to NASCAR. But 60 days later, another phone call turned his life upside down once again. This time, the call came from NASCAR President Mike Helton, and the words would change this official’s life for good. Was Balash interested in becoming Director of the Busch Series?
The answer was yes; and in the matter of two months, a man who never envisioned working in stock cars in his younger days had risen to one of the most powerful positions within the sport.
Joe Balash grew up in northwest Indiana, and it was the thrill of Top Fuel cars, not NASCAR, that caught his attention in his formative years. The son of a gas station owner in northwest Indiana, Balash spent most of his childhood “at the drag strip,” dreaming of one day working with Top Fuel cars. But after a sporting injury in his first year of college, he moved back to Indianapolis and completed a degree in automotive management. Balash then went to work for a company teaching engine electronics and fuel injection; eight years later, he accepted a position with Mac Tools and moved to Columbus, Ohio. Happy with his job and content with life, it appeared Balash was on a career track that didn’t involve NASCAR.
But a small request for help would lead to a sudden change of focus for Balash. One of Mac’s primary sponsorships was as the “Official Tool of the ASA” (American Speed Association). When the ASA converted their carbureted race engines to fuel injected race engines, they turned to Balash who, in 1999, started to teach engine electronics and fuel injection to the crew chiefs. A year later, he parlayed the part-time position into a full time role with the ASA, eventually rising to Senior Vice President of Race Operations. It was then that Gary Nelson – then working in NASCAR’s R & D department – made contact with Balash; and the rest, as they say, is history.
So, what exactly does it mean to be Director of the Nationwide Series? As Balash puts it, he’s a man who wears many different hats over the course of a race weekend. “Managing the Rule Book and the competition side of the Nationwide Series is first and foremost,” he says, recognizing the need to constantly set priorities. “The other big part is managing all the event logistics.”
And as you might imagine, those logistics come in all shapes and sizes.
“It’s anything from Rule Book questions to parking the haulers to helping call the race from the tower,” says Balash. “Every weekend in different.”
There are six primary areas of responsibility under his remit, each of which has its own supervisor: engine, chassis, templates, safety, tires, and weights & measures. Clearly, Balash is not alone in the quest to keep the Nationwide Series in line; aiding the director each race weekend is a full-time traveling staff of around 35 people.
But as the guy in charge, it’s Balash who makes the decisions that can ultimately make or break the series; and in his four and a half years in the role, the director has seen his far share of incidents and challenges. Perhaps his biggest one lies ahead; with the series at a crossroads, Balash is working hard to change the style of cars, engaged in research and development to come up with a secondary equivalent to the Car of Tomorrow.
In talking with the director, you can sense his wealth of knowledge on the project from the get go. Clearly, this is something he’s been wrapped around from the start, a change he truly believes is necessary to take the series to the next level.
“We are working very hard on the COT,” Balash explains. “We’ll utilize the NASCAR 110-inch wheelbase certified chassis, and it will be interchangeable between the Sprint Cup and Nationwide garages. [But] we’re going to do something unique with the bodies to give the Series its own look as opposed to the past.”
The last point is a reminder of the dangers posed by creating a Nationwide car too much like their Sprint Cup cousins; and when you talk to Balash, you sense his focus at ensuring the next generation of Nationwide vehicles create a unique driving style all their own.
“We want [the new car] to drive somewhere between a Truck and Cup car,” he says. “And we’ve been working with drag and downforce to be somewhere in between. We want the car to drive a little easier than a Sprint Cup car; [and while] there are some components of the body that are the same, we’ve relocated them. For example, we’ve moved the rear deck lid forward, and the same distance we moved it forward, we’ve moved the front of the body forward, helping the car turn just a little bit better in the corner.”
“It’s been great to see from concept to the car in the wind tunnel.”
When that concept becomes reality, the timeframe is still very much TBD. “My hope is to introduce the new car next year,” says the series director. “We’re looking at an August timeframe based on the conversations we’ve had with owners and others in the garage.”
As for what brands they’ll be, Balash deferred that question to the individual manufacturers; however, don’t expect the rumored “pony cars” to appear in this new rendition of the CoT. Since the interview, Toyota has announced they’ll still run the Camry with the new generation Nationwide CoT, a sign that cars like the Ford Mustang will remain a dream, not reality for NASCAR’s number two Series in the near future. But whatever and whenever the new car will be, assurance has been given that the teams on the Nationwide side will have a lot more input with their vehicle than ever before.
“There are certainly lessons to be learned from the introduction of the COT at Cup level,” explained Balash. “Initially, some teams were more serious than others [about the changes], and our garage has learned from that. [Nationwide] teams [know this is coming] and they’re spending a lot more time on the new car. We can gain experience without the expenditure.”
Cost saving in general is a key factor in the Nationwide Series these days, with a number of teams closing up shop before the start of 2008. Balash is very much aware of the problem – at least half a dozen teams are currently making a living pulling the patented “start and park” — and claims he’s always looking for ways to ease the pressure for the financially strapped smaller teams.
“One of the reasons we have the start and parks is because we don’t have our costs in line,” he says point blank. “The more we can work on getting teams racing week in and week out, the better; maybe not all 35 events, maybe 20. I think that will reduce the start and parks. We can’t restrict anybody from coming into the event if they meet the criteria, but it’s unfortunate that they don’t try and race all the laps. It’s up to us, those that are governing the sport to work on the costs – to make it more affordable for more people to race.”
“The challenge of sponsor dollars has become more difficult. [But] the value proposition of the Nationwide Series is a little better than the Sprint Cup when you think about the exposure versus the costs of getting into the sport.”
The biggest change on the sponsorship front for the series was the arrival of the new title sponsor, Nationwide, after 26 years under the Anheuser-Busch banner. So, how has the new sponsor integrated? “They’ve been really engaged,” claims Balash. “They wanted to start by meeting all the teams to find out their needs; they’re having the conversations in the garage with teams and owners to help put the [sponsorship] plan together rather than saying this is how we would do it. They’ve also [worked towards] a younger audience, with educational programs and simulators with the high schools about not being a distracted driver.”
One such area the series has focused on cutting costs is the engine packages. On a typical annual budget of 4-6 million for a full-time Nationwide team the engine portion of that can suck up as much as 1.5 million dollars – around a quarter of the budget. One of Balash’s main initiatives this season has been to work with the manufacturers to cut costs in this arena, focusing on durability as well as power; ten races in, there are signs are that the program is starting to work. At Talladega, several teams ran on engines that survived the previous weekend in Mexico, with that extended lifespan the key to future cost savings. While that won’t cut the engine budget in half, it can certainly have a positive effect on the teams financially, and that can only be a good thing.
With the new car on the horizon, does Balash see any other radical changes, such as no points for Sprint Cup drivers or a Nationwide version of the Chase? “There’s been a lot of things discussed and we are having those conversations,” he claimed. “We’re still a long way from making those decisions. You can argue both ways [on the Chase] and we need to spend more time doing some research – we’ve got teams working on this. We’re going back in history and seeing how things would have changed with different rules … we want to make sure that if we make big changes, we’re doing the proper research with fans, owners, and people that work at the tracks. Lots of things come into play.”
Don’t look to for a change in the Top 30 qualifying rule anytime soon, either. “We’re really happy with the Top 30,” Balash further explained. “Look back in our history, and we averaged around 24-25 full time teams before lock-ins. Once we started [with lock-ins], we grew the number of teams that ran with the series full-time. We’re happy with 30, and we have more full-time teams competing for a Championship than in the past. 30 allows for 12 open spots per race, plus a past champion. There’s a lot of opportunity to make the show.”
Those increased number of spots available — especially at companion events — have also made it very easy for Sprint Cup drivers to run part-time schedules, dipping in and out of the Series as they choose. Balash refers to them as “double duty drivers,” but as he notes, the problem is a little overblown. “We’ve ebbed and flowed with the number [of Cup drivers] in the Series,” he said. “There have always been double duty drivers; it’s not unique, and it’s not new. What’s happened is a couple of years ago, the numbers spiked. This year, they’ve come down to a more natural level.”
“Another thing that has happened [in recent years] is that the age of the drivers has gotten younger. More drivers are moving to the higher levels at a younger age. But once they reach the Sprint Cup level, they still need more experience and more laps on the racetrack.”
As expected, the series director is up for meeting the challenges that lie ahead; as the leader of NASCAR’s number two division, one can never expect a dull moment. As Balash describes it, one of the strangest days of his time running the show came in his first year at Richmond, during the Chevy Rock “N” Roll 400 Weekend. Gene Simmons was one of the Grand Marshals of the race, and he and his entourage of scantily clad females were attempting to enter the garage … until a resolute NASCAR official who had been with the Series for 55 years stopped them. Simmons tried to explain who he was, and that he simply wanted to see the special “Kiss” paint scheme Kevin Harvick was running. But the official was having none of it. The problem? The ladies who were not wearing “the proper garage attire.” Balash and team intervened, resolved the attire issues and quickly smoothed over the incident.
Five years from that fateful first phone call, Balash is in a position he never imagined; and for a man that never expected to be working in the sport, it has been quite the transition. All problems aside, the Nationwide Series is still the final rung on the ladder before the very top echelon of NASCAR; and with a string of cost cutting initiatives already beginning to pay dividends, not to mention a steady hand at the helm of the Nationwide CoT program, you get the sense that Joe Balash is the perfect man to keep the series afloat.
That is, I suppose, until the next fateful phone call.
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We’ll never know, but I suspect that if the COT version of the Nationwide car was being run now, with its extra door and side protection and greater distance from the side to the driver, Dario Franchitti probably wouldn’t have suffered that broken ankle last week.
Sounds to me like it’s going to be another Sprint Cut car with body panels relocated, but they’ll still all look the same. They’ll just put different model names on them. That’s not going to give the series it’s own identity! Let ‘em use the COT chassis with a body that looks like what it’s suppose to be!
I enjoy Nationwide Series more than the Sprint Cup this year. This economy needs more Balash type management. Experience is everything. And that goes for the presidential race too!
Actually, Marty, at last word, Toyota’s NCOT is still going to be a Camry, and I don’t believe the other manufacturers have committed yet. The idea to use two door models on the NCOT chassis got shot down, apparently by the manufacturers, if I recall, though I could be wrong on that last part. But I do like the idea of bridging the characteristics of the trucks and Cup cars in this middle series, it makes sense from a developmental standpoint. Of course, the big teams would have to actually start using the Nationwide series as a developmental series for that to make sense (I don’t think Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch need more development, do you?).
Well, so much for the PONY CAR thing, as the car for the Nationwide Series then, huh? How did that get lost in the shuffle?
My foggy memory of what I heard on Sirius NASCAR on the way home on night seems to recall Ford putting the kibosh on using the Mustang because it was already selling well enough without the additional marketing $$ of putting it on the NCOT, and Toyota not having a car that really made sense on a “2-door” NCOT. I don’t think GM and Dodge have said anything one way or the other yet. Maybe Dodge will resurrect the Avenger label, but if I had to guess I’m thinking they’ll use the Charger again.
Nice article, Danny. We can only hope the Nationwide Series manages to find its own identity…however they manage to do it.