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
Tuesday March 4, 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.
The recent Sprint Cup adventures of Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 FedEx team at Joe Gibbs Racing have been fun to watch.
Not only has Hamlin won three of the last five races, but his victory at New Hampshire last weekend was apparently the result of sheer destiny. Hamlin met with race fans and tweeted like a swami with a Smartphone as the day of the Sylvania 300 approached. Not even incorrect tire pressures for qualifying could de-rail the FedEx Freight Express. Starting 32nd was little more than a hiccup for the No. 11 Toyota. Hamlin raced into the lead on lap 94 and led an additional 99 circuits en route to his fifth Cup victory of the season. Life looks good right now for the No. 11 team, especially when its oh-so-confident driver can predict specific wins weeks before the green flag flies.
When I watch the success of Hamlin and his race team, a part of me is happy to see their accomplishments. Five wins in 2012 (so far) is no small feat, and the fact that Sunday’s victory was the 100th win for Joe Gibbs Racing gave the season another milestone to celebrate. Hamlin is an expectant father, which is always exciting in a terrifying sort of way, and he’s enjoying a run of seemingly good health (no gashes on his hands or blown-out knees like we’ve seen in years past). A positive season makes for positive energy, and all race teams deserve as much.
Another part of me, however, watches the success of the FedEx team with disdain. Dare I admit that part of me is wildly jealous about Hamlin’s winning ways in the No. 11 car? Yes, I do dare…. I have to admit that it’s difficult to watch Hamlin and his team race through the Chase in hopes of winning this year’s Sprint Cup title.
Celebrating success is one thing; being reminded of failure is another.
Allow me to explain. I enjoyed very close ties to the No. 11 back when it was a Winston Cup entry. It was during the 1998 racing season that a publisher asked me to consider writing a biography of the Bodine brothers. The publisher worked with manuscripts about both sports and New York history, so a book documenting the Bodines from Chemung seemed to make a good fit.
My closest connection with the family was through middle-sibling Brett, who had graciously written the foreword for my first (and, thus far, only) book. I first met Brett during the early 1980s when he drove a NASCAR Modified for a team based in my hometown; it was that experience (I helped with the car at a race one weekend) that led to his assistance with my book in 1997. This new project would require even more of his insight and assistance.
A quick telephone call to Brett led to him calling Geoffrey and Todd to see if the book project sounded good to them. Within an hour, I had an answer for my new publisher: all three Bodine brothers were onboard and ready to go. The publishing company quickly “green-lighted” the project and a formal contract arrived at my house about a week later. All systems, as they say at NASA, were “go”.
The biggest obstacle the project initially faced was the matter of access – how could a mere academic (me) gain constant access to three drivers whose schedules were a perpetual whirlwind of racing, testing, sponsor appearances, and media responsibilities? I wasn’t a “real” writer following NASCAR in the way that a newspaper, magazine, or internet journalist would – my work needed to wind around my teaching load and any time I could wrestle free for travel.
Early work on the book was pretty smooth since background research could be done either at home or in a library. As long as I could periodically travel to North Carolina and upstate New York, specific material about the brothers and their family’s history could be collected fairly easily. When in doubt, I could conduct interviews over the telephone or via e-mail, as well, although this method tends to siphon-off much of the “human” element one can observe through a face-to-face exchange.
Doing “face-to-face” interviews at races was going to be another story. Much of my education in cultural studies focused on the benefits of “participant observer” field research. “Fieldwork”, as explained by William Shaffir and Robert Stebbins in their 1991 publication Experiencing Fieldwork: An Inside View of Qualitative Research, “must certainly rank with the more disagreeable activities that humanity has fashioned for itself. It is usually inconvenient, to say the least, sometimes physically uncomfortable, frequently embarrassing, and, to a degree, always tense” (1).
To sum up my early fieldwork experience on the Bodine project in a word: “You bet!”
Not that conducting this fieldwork was always an inconvenient, uncomfortable, embarrassing, and tense experience. It was often precisely the opposite. Never before had participant observer research been so exciting and fun. In order to get a complete understanding of what the Bodine brothers dealt with as both racers and businessmen, I had to spend time with them “behind the scenes” in-and-around NASCAR Nation. This meant going to races with the brothers and observing how the culture of stock car racing affected their lives. To get the unlimited access needed to conduct such intimate fieldwork, Brett Bodine suggested – during a meeting at his shop during the winter of 2000 – that I “join” his race team.
This was back when Brett Bodine was one of the few (if not only) owner/drivers regularly competing in the then-Winston Cup Series. At the end of 1995, Brett bought Junior Johnson’s race team after spending that year driving Johnson’s No. 11 Lowe’s Ford. Bodine had spent two seasons with Bud Moore, then five years with Kenny Bernstein, during which time he scored his first career win (at North Wilkesboro in 1990) and finished second in the inaugural running of the Brickyard 400.
By the end of the 2000 season, Lowe’s was long-gone as a sponsor and the thrill of being an owner/driver seemed to be fading. Bodine signed a sponsorship deal with the “Ralph’s” division of the Kroger grocery store chain, yet was forced to try and find a partner to operate the team. An agreement with California hotelier Richard Hilton (the father of pseudo-celebrities Paris and Nicky) never materialized and the year looked to be a wash-out.
One high note for 2000 was reached in August when the No. 11 Ralph’s Ford set the all-time qualifying record for a stock car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Brett’s fast lap of 181.072 came on the second day of qualifying, which led fans (and team members) to wonder what might have been had that record-setting time been established on the first day of time trials.
Needless to say, Brett Bodine had little to lose by allowing me to sign on with his team for the 2001 season. My NASCAR license read “Winston Cup Series crew member”, but my primary role was to observe, take photographs, ask questions, conduct interviews, and stay out of the way.
I was really good at this last job. My go-to participant observer/researcher moves included leaning against a workbench in the hauler, leaning against stacks of tires in the pits, and – whenever necessary – leaning against the No. 11 Ford itself. I got so proficient at my crew member role that I eventually added some advanced skills such as drinking coffee and/or eating while leaning against the aforementioned items.
Had Bodine’s No. 11 Ford been operating with an annual budget of $18-20 million dollars of solid sponsorship, I could have stayed with my primary role on the team as leaner/coffee-drinker/eater. Unfortunately, an under-financed NASCAR team is often an under-staffed NASCAR team. I was quickly called into service to help where and when necessary. Growing up around racing helped me to earn my keep by running errands, chaperoning sponsors and guests, assisting with pit stall set-up, and – beginning with the 2002 race at Las Vegas – catching rear tires (albeit not always very well) during pit stops. If NASCAR ever made a documentary about my weekends with the No. 11 racing team back in those days, the entire soundtrack would be one long rendition of “Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph….
And that’s not intended to be a comment about the nature of how things worked at Brett Bodine Racing. Those were dark days because sponsorships came and went, especially during 2002 when a last-gasp telephone call to Atlanta resulted in a deal with Hooters Restaurants – a sponsor whose image caused other firms to pull their funds from Bodine’s cars. Another sponsorship “offer” – a three-race deal worth about $300,000 to the team – turned out to be more promise than payoff.
Such is the vicious cycle of automobile racing. You can’t win without sponsors, yet you can’t get sponsors if you don’t win. This equation eventually led Brett to shut down the No. 11 team in 2003. NASCAR then assigned the number to Joe Gibbs, who was setting up a new team for Jason Leffler, who would ultimately be replaced by Denny Hamlin. In 2005, the latest chapter in the history of the number eleven began.
And stop for a moment to consider the historic significance of cars running the number eleven in NASCAR competition. Drivers whose cars featured the number include Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Buddy Baker, and Fireball Roberts. In the NASCAR version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, the number eleven provides a thread that connects Emanuel Zervakis to Geoffrey Bodine to Junior Johnson to Brett Bodine to Denny Hamlin – all names joined by various affiliations both on the track as well as off.
In fact, if Denny Hamlin runs the remainder of the 2012 Cup season in the No. 11 Toyota, he will – at Homestead-Miami in November – match the number of starts made by Brett Bodine when he carried those digits. Currently, Bodine sits second in races run in the No. 11 with 259; Denny Hamlin is at 251 starts. The record for starts in the No. 11 (at 323) was established by Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett. Hamlin can eclipse that number if he stays with the No. 11 for the next two seasons. Given his current air of confidence and stability, I’d say that milestone is clearly within Hamlin’s reach.
It was an overall lack of stability that resulted in the failure of what could have been a truly complete book about the struggles and triumphs of the Bodine brothers – not failure on their parts, but on mine. Part of my failure was my inability to ride out the professional and personal turmoil that plagued the three men. As they dealt with losses in rides, sponsors, teams, and relationships, I dealt with my inability to manage such changes and make sense of it all. The book project eventually faded into files full of draft pages, newspaper clippings, and a canceled contract with a respected publisher.
Despite all this, I still watch with great interest as Denny Hamlin wheels the No. 11 Toyota into Victory Lane. One part of me believes Hamlin and his crew certainly deserve to be standing there, while another part of me imagines what could have/should have/might have been. When the number eleven went from Brett Bodine Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing, much of my affiliation with NASCAR went with it.
But I still have my three Winston Cup crew member licenses that say “car No. 11”. Regardless of what I ever write, or what I ever accomplish, those three credentials – however minor they are – are my own little piece of NASCAR history.
Just like the number eleven….
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Good piece of writing. Do the book; I’ll buy it.
Yeh, what He said! That’s 2 books sold. Now get Crackin’…Jimi.