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.
Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Monday June 25, 2007
Saturday night was the best of times and the worst of times for a couple of drivers attempting to take part in the Busch Series race in Milwaukee. Denny Hamlin was scheduled to run both the Nextel Cup race at Sonoma as well as the Busch Series event in the No. 20 Rockwell Automation Monte Carlo, just minutes away from the company’s corporate headquarters. When he didn’t start the race, however, it appeared his traveling road show 2,000 miles across the country would appear to go for naught. Starting the race from the pole, Aric Almirola wasted no time bringing the No. 20 up to the front of the pack, exactly where it belonged regardless of when – or if – Denny came back.
Problem was, he eventually did.
And that’s where Rockwell stepped up and made a decision that left us all in awe. In its wake, there are more questions than answers about a sponsor who switched drivers in literally midstream, going to the lengths of taking a competitive risk with their team’s finish in order to see a different driver in their car. However, it was a horrific case of forcing someone’s hand while holding the checkbook, meaning the ramifications of that sole decision may ruin the sport of women and minorities here for years to come.
First off, let’s understand how the decision came about. Traveling back and forth put Hamlin in a bind, making it impossible for him to do everything; the distance between the two tracks would make practicing and qualifying both impossible. In his stead, Tampa native Aric Almirola practiced and qualified the No. 20, all with the best laid plans to step aside in plenty of time for Saturday night’s race.
Well, Almirola gave Hamlin a great starting spot, qualifying the No. 20 on the pole; then, he waited patiently for him to arrive from Sonoma after practicing the No. 11 Monte Carlo. While Almirola waited, the No. 11 team struggled to setup the new Car of Tomorrow for Infineon’s twisting turns. That delayed Hamlin from making the trip, but he deemed providing feedback on the Car Of His Foreseeable Future to be far more important in the long run.
When the Gibbs jet finally arrived in Wisconsin during the late afternoon, Hamlin hurriedly boarded a helicopter to take him to the race track with time to spare. The helicopter was arriving at the track 15 minutes before the cutoff time they had been informed of for landing at the track, but when they arrived, they ran into a second problem. The pilot was informed that cars were inadvertently parked on the helicopter landing pad and would have to be moved before Hamlin could touch the ground. As the helicopter hovered, waiting for the landing area to be cleared, Almirola was dressed and at the ready just in case Hamlin was further delayed.
Turns out he’d need be.
When the cars in the lot were finally moved and the pilot was given approval, he had to abort before landing when it was discovered that more cars had been parked on the pad. By now, the window of opportunity for landing at the track had closed, and the helicopter diverted to a local airport. Hamlin wasted no time jumping into a car to drive to the racetrack; unfortunately, it was too late to make the start of the AT&T 250.
That opened the door for an excited Almirola. Informed that he would be driving instead of Hamlin, the Cuban-American climbed into the No. 20 car, preparing himself to run the full race distance. He drove the pace laps, took the green flag, and barreled off into the first turn pacing the field. In fact, he led the first 43 laps of the race before he was passed by Buschwhacker Carl Edwards. Curious as to what would happen next and watching intently on the sidelines, Hamlin was also asked and affirmed that, indeed, Almirola would be in the car for the night.
Everything seemed to be fine and dandy…well, not quite.
That wasn’t enough of an answer for a racer that flew all the way out here to drive. Hamlin was looking for another car to finish the race for, possibly filling in for Stephen Wallace, who was driving under the weather with some stomach issues and wasn’t feeling well.
Well, it was at this point, based on post-race interviews, that J.D. Gibbs, was informed of the team’s decision and asked if it was worth it to put someone like Denny Hamlin into the car. The primary reason for asking the question of Hamlin’s ability to go through a driver change and still win the race was because the team sponsor, Rockwell Automation, had hundreds of employees at the track who came to see Hamlin drive their car. The Gibbs organization apparently felt pressure that they had to have Hamlin in the car to keep their sponsor happy, although according to JGR spokesman J.D. Gibbs, it was apparently a group decision that they could win the race with Hamlin behind the wheel. As a result, it was decided that Hamlin would replace Almirola to keep the sponsors happy – and the team well-funded. The fact that Almirola had been leading the race and was keeping pace with Edwards was irrelevant; as if to show their lack of support, Almirola was subsequently called down pit road on Lap 58 while track crews cleared a simple accident that had bought out the yellow flag. Quickly and efficiently, Almirola was removed from the car while Hamlin got in to finish the race.
Just like that, the firestorm of controversy had begun.
The driver change took some time, causing Hamlin to lose a lap, but he was able to make it up and ultimately went on to win. Meanwhile, Almirola left the track before the race’s completion, refusing to be interviewed even though he started the race behind the wheel. Still, Almirola is credited with being the victor even though he was nowhere near Victory Lane when the race concluded…it’s a weird situation for everyone involved, to say the least.
Now certainly, there are times when teams will have to do things that they do not like to keep a sponsor happy… but this decision went over the top. A capable and qualified driver was running at the front of the pack after putting his car on the pole, and was in very good position to win the race. Instead, tough decisions were made, and as a result, never was there a more pronounced moment where a driver knew exactly where he stood on the totem pole in NASCAR history.
In today’s corporate driven world of NASCAR, this is becoming an all too familiar tune that is quite disturbing to those fans that are more concerned with the racing than with the image. Not too long ago, it was older drivers losing their rides that appeared to be the problem; Sterling Marlin was booted out of his ride at Ganassi racing because Coors wanted a younger driver behind the wheel of the car that bears their company brand. The word was that Ward Burton lost his ride in the Caterpillar car because the people in Peoria felt like he was not a polished enough spokesperson for their company and they wanted a fresh face in the car. There have even been rumblings that Anheuser-Busch is reevaluating whether they will continue with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or whether he’s too old, peppering them with promises of a younger face they feel would be a fresher, hipper look for their Budweiser brand.
This trend can be problematic. Of course, the fallout from this is that car owners have obviously lost control of their organization’s driver development, especially when the sponsors are dictating which handsome young face is placed into the cars that they put their brand on. Young drivers are being thrust into Cup rides well before they’re prepared because owners feel like they have to get a certain face behind the wheel to keep their sponsors happy. At Michigan, Tony Stewart pointed the finger squarely at rookie David Gilliland as being too green and too unprepared to be on the track at the Cup level. While many of the pundits who follow the sport felt like Gilliland wasn’t ready, Robert Yates couldn’t take the chance on someone else stealing away the driver he wanted, so he put him into a Cup ride well before he was ready to race at the highest level. More than ever, young drivers are scooped up before they have a chance to breathe; but if you give them a chance to prove themselves, they struggle to adapt between the two series.
Saturday night’s debacle at Milwaukee is just the latest installment of a sponsor pressuring a team into make a decision that was not logical from a racing standpoint. It was a shame to see Almirola yanked out of the car; he did the dirty work necessary to be running up front and should have been rewarded when Hamlin could not make the green. If Almirola is indeed the future of Joe Gibbs Racing, as J. D. Gibbs claims, then they’ll need to do better with his development than having him only running piecemeal. Yet in this new age of keeping a sponsor happy, Almirola should probably be happy deep down the sponsor allowed him to race at all.
What a shame.
©2000 - 2008 Mike Neff and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Good article. Sponsors and money drive NASCAR, not good racing. Drivers have to be young, good looking, and have the generic accent in order to race. The only reason Bill Elliott is getting to race right now is because of the champion’s provisional. He is too old for the sponsors and certainly does not speak with the correct accent. Danica Patrick can drive a race car, but her appeal is sex appeal and that gets her camera time for the sponsor. If she could drive like Jeff Gordon, but looked like Rosie O’Donnell, I doubt she would be there.
Erick A. was hired to do just what he is doing. Substitute. I’m sure there are a lot of young drivers out there who would trade places with him in a second. He has no right to cry and sulk about what happened. Not the way he wanted it to happen but still what he was hired to do.
Mike, a serious question before my comment. If Aric was chosen as a stand in for Denny Hamlin and Denny made it to Milwaukee in time to climb into the car and start the race, would NASCAR move Hamlin to the back of the field? I know that at the Indianapolis 500, substituting a driver in an already qualified car BEFORE the race starts means that car is moved to the back of the field if it wasn’t already starting 33rd.
I personally think Aric got a raw deal. This isn’t football or baseball where a quarterback or pitcher is pulled by the coach or manager for either poor play or to put in the second string so they can rest their star players. To me, it’s another reason to dislike Cup drivers racing in the Busch league.
Mike wrote: “may ruin the sport of women and minorities here for years to come.”. I can see your point but really it doesn’t need to be said as the bigger issue really is how much control does the spnsor have in the workings of a race team..that’s the issue…not minorities or any of that. Looking at the comments made by others I can see I’m not alone in my thinking that perhaps the sponsors have a wee bit too much say. Sure they put down their money to have their logo slapped on the side of a car but what more should they have to say with the team? Its a gamble..the car your sponsoring may not make the race..might get wrecked in turn 1 on the first lap or if your lucky it may come across the finish line first. The sponsors main goal is exposure for their product. At that point their say in the workings of the race team should end. Sadly as points out by others we’ve seen over the years sponsors push to get kids fresh out of pre-school into the car they are sponsoring. Sponsors do not care, or may not even know a darn thing about racing but they do know marketing and thats what they care about. NASCAR has let racing take a back seat as the sponsors have. I can’t imagine in this day and age that being a driver or team owner is all that much fun..
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