The Frontstretch: Four Burning Questions: Kimi's Risky Venture and Chinks in Johnson's Armor? by Mike Lovecchio -- Thursday March 31, 2011

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Is Kimi Raikkonen making a mistake by coming to NASCAR?

Former Formula 1 champion and current rally driver Kimi Raikkonen has expressed his desire to make a transition to NASCAR, and will do just that this spring, running in a Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Foster Gillett. Gillett as you may remember is the son of George Gillett of the infamous Richard Petty Motorsports fiasco one year ago and was the team principal during the events that led ultimately to selling the remaining assets of the team to an investor group led by Richard Petty. Now, while you can’t blame Raikkonen for getting his feet in NASCAR (a natural curiosity it appears for current and former open-wheelers) you can certainly fault his selection of who he will be doing so with. So much so that former partner of Gillett, Ray Evernham, has already voiced his concerns.

“I really don’t know why Kimi would partner with people who continually fail with sports franchises,” Evernham told Auto123.com. “I don’t know how they could leave with so many unpaid bills and return to the sport.”

Nonetheless, Raikkonen has received approval from NASCAR and will make his truck debut at Charlotte on May 20. Given Gillett’s recent history in the sport and Raikkonen’s lack of experience it’s hard to see the development of this team going much of anywhere, but fortunately for Raikkonen he’s not making a drastic career move and leaving his rally career behind. As long as he understands what he’s in for and doesn’t give up too much in the process he can have an enjoyable, albeit brief stay in NASCAR and still keep his day job.

What the heck is going on with Jeffrey Earnhardt?

Jeffrey Earnhardt has proven to be one of the bigger names in the Truck Series, which seemingly led to Rick Ware Racing repairing fences with the driver after releasing a damning press release days before.

Another day, another episode in the soap opera between Rick Ware Racing and Jeffrey Earnhardt. Earlier this week RWR stated in a press release that it learned Earnhardt had breached his contract by shopping around for offers from other teams and had effectively been released from his Truck Series ride. Earnhardt responded by saying he shopped around for offers only after learning team sponsor Fuel Doctor was pursuing other marketing ventures and the team would not be able to operate after Martinsville without sponsorship. It appeared the relationship between Earnhardt and RWR was beyond repair until Wednesday, when the team issued another statement with a quote from Ware stating:

“Jeffrey will be in the truck at Martinsville and we will work hard to continue to keep him in that seat. The amount of effort we have poured into his career and having a place for him to perform is important in his development. He is young and there is a lot of promise in him and both the management of RWR and JEI have the same goal for him.”

Wait, what happened here?

What happened was RWR realized the best way to attract sponsorship was to keep that driver with that Earnhardt name behind the wheel. Earnhardt gets to keep his ride (for now) and RWR enjoys the luxury of having one of the more marketable drivers in the Truck Series. Still, you have to wonder A) if a sponsor will be found and B) if Earnhardt truly wants to stay with the team. Either way the story will continue to unfold and if it unfolds anything like it has this week, it surely will be unpredictable.

Will Carl Edwards sign an extension with Roush Fenway?

As Carl Edwards enjoys a great start to his 2011 campaign and a return to the series spotlight, a spotlight will soon shine on whether or not Edwards will re-up with the team he has enjoyed great success with in all three of NASCAR’s national divisions. Edwards has stated he doesn’t want contract negotiations to affect his career-best start to a season in the Cup Series, so Roush Fenway has negotiated by continuing to give him cars worthy of winning week in and week out. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Edwards has everything he needs at Roush Fenway. If he has cars he can win with, he doesn’t need anything else. It’s a situation that will be interesting to track as the season progresses, but one thing is certain…if Edwards is in the title hunt, he’s not going anywhere.

Was the Fontana Finish A Sign that Johnson’s Reign is Over?

If there is any sign that Jimmie Johnson’s grasp on the Sprint Cup Series may be slipping, no matter how early in the season it may be, it becomes a story. Such has been the case since Johnson allowed a hard-charging Kevin Harvick to steal a victory at Fontana one week ago, but Johnson has continued to quietly run strong. With three top 3s in five races and heading to a track where he has just one non-top 10 in his career, Johnson is just waiting. He knows wins will come and he knows under the current points format, nothing matters until the Chase starts.

As Johnson showed last year, it’s not who wins the regular season that wins the title, it’s who runs strongest over a ten-race stretch. If anything, last Sunday’s pass shows once again that Harvick may be the driver to challenge Johnson. One thing is certain though, if Harvick beats Johnson for the title, it’ll be a little more difficult than passing him to win an early-season race at Fontana.

Contact Mike Lovecchio

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RamblinWreck
04/01/2011 11:43 AM
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Edwards has no other place to go. Even if Roush was unhappy with his performance, do you really think there’s a seat for him with some other team? Carl wants to hold off on contract talk because he’s running well right now and can get more money. If he negotiated a contract based on his 2009-2010 performance, he’d be on the wrong end of the table.

And Johnson’s reign will only be over when (if) everyone starts racing him the way Harvick does.

Todd
04/01/2011 12:05 PM
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I have never understood why people don’t race Johnson harder. It’s almost as if there is a hands off approach when it comes to Mr. Five Time. I always thought that someone needs to rattle his cage a bit to get him off his game. Of course Johnson would probably use that to his advantage.

Carl D.
04/01/2011 01:38 PM
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Susan… I wouldn’t say that Kevin Harvick didn’t need the win. every win is worth 10 points once you qualify for the chase. You are right, though… as long as Johnson makes the chase, (and of course he will), beating him in the regular season means absolutely nothing. When Harvick, Edwards, Busch, or some other driver can slam the door on Johnson during the chase, that’s when Johnson’s reign will be over, or at least interrupted. And while Johnson hasn’t won a race yet, his team certainly seems to be sharp again this year.

I looked up RWR and got Rusty Wallace Racing, not Rick Ware Racing. I only bring that up because I discovered Rusty Wallace Racing has the coolest background music of any racing website I’ve ever visited. Who’d have figured Rusty Wallace for techno-jazz? Not me.

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