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.
Thomas Bowles · Wednesday November 24, 2010
Did You Notice? … Hendrick Motorsports isn’t afraid to make bold moves? Just two days after winning a fifth consecutive championship, the organization pulled the trigger on the biggest shakeup we’ve seen from them this decade. No less than three crew chiefs are changing roles, with the only operation untouched being Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, and a No. 48 shop that will remain virtually intact for 2011.
Let’s go over the changes briefly so everyone knows exactly what happened:
Old Hendrick Shops
New Hendrick Shops
Summary: For the first time since 2002, different teams get paired together as Jeff Gordon moves away from his protégé. The struggling Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will now share space with Johnson, the worst-performing car paired with the best, while Gordon and Mark Martin move in together for a season before Kasey Kahne jumps into the No. 5 car in 2012.
Crew Chief Changes
Summary: Gordon, paired with Letarte since 2005, moves into a partnership with what insiders say is the smartest man at Hendrick not named Chad Knaus. Gustafson, a former engineer for Terry Labonte’s team before moving up to crew chief Kyle Busch and then Martin, led the No. 5 team to a runner-up finish in the 2009 standings while the then 50-year-old driver won five times, his highest total since 1998. A coveted head wrench, he and Martin struggled with the new spoiler this season, resulting in a winless year and a 13th-place points finish outside the Chase. That’s a feeling the sport’s former Rainbow Warrior knows all too well, his weapons turned to cheap plastic in going winless twice in the last three years. With 82 career victories, Gordon is just three from getting to third on the all-time win list, but has seemingly forgotten how to close the deal, a long list of mistakes and bad decisions both on the track and in the pits highlighting a self-destructive end to the partnership with Steve Letarte. His 919 laps led were the most for anyone who never got to Victory Lane over the course of a season since Harry Gant in 1981.
Summary: Thought to be headed back into an R&D role, McGrew instead stays on for presumably one more season to man the No. 5 team and Martin. With just one Sprint Cup victory to his credit, he’s now in charge of the one last season this 51-year-old future Hall of Famer has to win a series title. It’s been a rough road for him on top of the box, with Earnhardt scoring just four top 5s in 60 starts with McGrew at the helm since June ’09.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Summary: The task of fixing Earnhardt’s Hendrick career comes down to a lifer whose first job at 16 was sweeping floors in the organization’s shop for Ray Evernham. Letarte was billed as a man of unlimited potential with Jeff Gordon, and did some great things: in 2007, they would have won the championship together under the old system going away, setting a modern era record with 30 top-10 finishes before losing out to Johnson down the stretch. But by 2010, the partnership was clearly getting stale, and Sunday it was noticed in the drivers’ meeting; the two entered separately and didn’t even say a word to each other, with Jeff outside on the phone for a large part of it.
The duo wound up ninth in the standings, their worst performance together over a full season, although that pales in comparison to Earnhardt’s 21st. It’s a pairing of Hendrick’s most laid back “mechanic” with its laid back driver, as Earnhardt has never seemed to fit inside the mold, while developing a nasty habit of starting the race with a good car, often charging up early in races, only to find each adjustment turning the car into an ill-handling tank, causing it to drop like a rock through the field during the final 50 laps.
Alright, well that’s a lot to take in now, right? Hendrick will have a press conference tomorrow at 10:00 AM detailing the changes, but here’s a couple of big questions that come up in my mind right off the bat.
Should Mark Martin have ever said he was retiring? The poor guy; mere months after announcing his 2011 retirement from full-time competition, 2009 offseason changes move his engineer to the No. 88 team and strip him of much-needed crewman chemistry that damages the No. 5. Then, after Kahne is hired nearly two years early to replace him, Hendrick doesn’t announce the 2011 plans for Kahne until midsummer, an ugly distraction that left Martin answering the same questions from the media for weeks while virtually killing what little chance was left at a Chase bid. Now, Hendrick gives him the equivalent of a throwaway crew chief, keeping the seat warm for when Kenny Francis reshapes the new 5/24 mold in 2012? I thought Martin was supposed to go for it all next season, not get turned into a glorified driver coach for Danica Patrick while getting shifted to No. 4 within the Hendrick hierarchy.
Are these moves simply a driver swap? With this list of changes, there’s one thing that stays the same: Knaus and Letarte, along with Gustafson and McGrew, will stay in the same shops. So will the crew and cars underneath them stay the same, restricting this change to little more than drivers changing rides and cars getting painted up in different sponsors and numbers? Or will these newly-formed teams have their pick of crews and cars within the three restructured teams, picking people and parts like a playground kickball game in second grade? It’ll be interesting to see what Hendrick says on the matter, his answer indicative of just how dramatic some of these changes will be.
Why did Ron Malec not get a shot? Simple: Johnson won his fifth straight title. It’s clear the No. 48 grouping of driver, crew chief, car chief (Malec) and the boys back at the shop (not the pit crew that got cast aside) smell the history of seven straight Sprint Cup titles in front of them. Making a major change now, when they’re already an overwhelming favorite for 2011 after mentally debilitating their challenger and recovering from an off year would be silly. I think Malec really likes where he is right now – Johnson has been one of his best friends for oh, well over a decade – and even if the man was unhappy, well, I don’t think there was any choice in the matter. History can sometimes dictate your position, and you don’t make any major changes to a juggernaut like this one.
Was this move the right one for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? We’ll see what Hendrick says tomorrow, but my initial take on it is I don’t think so. It’s been talked about at length that Earnhardt needs a guy that’s going to light a fire underneath him. So the organization goes out and gets … a man who spent five years in a position where he was clearly subservient to Jeff Gordon? I just don’t get it. If there was no one else out there available, why not take a chance on bringing up another “Letarte” type personality from the inside, pushing the real one back to R&D or some other role within the organization? I just don’t see this role being the type of one either person grows into.
How much did money affect this decision? We’ll never know in public, but it’s fair to bring it up. Hendrick claims they don’t go by a hierarchy; they’ve made it quite clear every team is created equal (this, despite victory totals of 24 and 1 for Johnson and Gordon the last three seasons, respectively). But after years of DuPont sponsorship, Gordon is bringing in the equivalent of a charity backer this year (AARP Drive For Hunger) who’s trying to sell off individual race sponsorships. According to sources, the team was spurred by multiple companies, including Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven, before closing on a deal that’s not as financially lucrative. Compare that to Earnhardt, whose deal is reportedly as high as $40 million, a long-term Lowe’s deal and the patchwork sponsorship over on Martin’s No. 5. Could it be that Gordon’s deal slipped financially and he was, in essence, demoted on the totem pole? Over at Gibbs, I have heard past sponsorship deals very much played a role in overall performance, the No. 18 suffering greatly from lackluster deals with Interstate Batteries before M&M’s came on board with Kyle Busch – and with much-needed cash.
Will all this switching make Hendrick better? My gut, quick reaction is the following:
Gordon – Better. Will win races, be a top-5 points contender with Gustafson.
Johnson – Same as always.
Martin – Worse. 15th in points, another winless season and he’ll be miserable by the end. Not back with Hendrick in 2012.
Earnhardt – Slightly better, but not good enough to make the Chase (around 14th, maybe one win at Loudon or Daytona midsummer). Not enough uptick in performance causes the driver to seek an out in his contract a year early.
Does Hendrick have guts, or what? Well, kind of. Some may say it’s a bold move to make this many changes so soon after one of the organization’s teams won the title. But the No. 48 in many ways survived a strong challenge without any of the additional information they glean from teammates, the team forced to drain resources and even the pit crew from a bumbling No. 24 down the stretch just to hold on to the top spot. None of HMS’ other three teams won a race other than Johnson, and for much of the year the No. 5 and No. 88 were riding around getting lapped by the entire three-car fleet at Joe Gibbs Racing. With Roush Fenway coming on strong to end the year, something needed to change – and fast.
Did You Notice? … An interesting comment by Jack Roush in the post-race press conference Sunday, one which indicates just how little racing is in the hands of the driver now? A reporter asked Roush what it was going to take to beat Hendrick in 2011, and here was his response:
“You have to make fewer mistakes than they do and be better at spending your money. There’s enough money to do what you need to do here, but the main thing is spending money on the things that you have got enough time to effect a good result and a good solution to the problems and challenges you’ve got. That’s what we have to do.”
Nowhere in that paragraph was finding the best driver/crew chief combination. Nowhere was that all about at-track innovation with the car, earning back the three or four tenths you may start out behind during Friday’s first practice. Instead, Roush continues:
“Last year as we made our plans for 2010, we dared to be great as it related to our simulations and we didn’t get it done right and that put us behind this year for six months before we got it fixed and then got the confidence in it. But we have got to tear up as all of the teams do over the winter this year to try to make things better, otherwise you get passed behind.”
So basically, spending cash in the right places behind the scenes in engineering is what gets it done now, something we’ve always known but is weird to see vocalized by one of the sport’s most influential people. Wasn’t the Car of Tomorrow supposed to put things back into the hands of the drivers? Apparently it did not. No wonder the start-and-parkers proliferate the series instead of trying to get better; if money, not innovation talks, well they just don’t have any money to spend that makes them competitive. So they might as well make a good paycheck on the side.
Did You Notice? … Some quick hits to finish off:
- Mike Ford and Denny Hamlin are going to need a lot of in-house therapy to repair the damage done these last two weeks, between the crew chief trash talking and ultimately conservative decisions that threw the 2010 Chase right back in Johnson’s hands. I’d call it a “Milk And Cookies Meeting, Hendrick, 2005,” times ten. Here’s the issue, though; that duo will never be friends. Too much of a generational gap… so there’s a much bigger question mark over whether they can recover from this incident and work together. I see a hangover coming…
- Aric Almirola’s performance Sunday (fourth) was completely shoved under the rug. But that’s the type of run which tells me Elliott Sadler has him some competition for next year’s Nationwide Series title.
- Did Martin Truex, Jr. nearly win a race down the stretch before that equalized tire? Let’s not forget the impact Pat Tryson’s made to that program in just one year. If you’re looking for a darkhorse Chase pick…
- Personally, I thought Kyle Busch had it coming, not because of past incidents but of the way he was acting on the track. It’s one thing for both Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson to ask Ryan Newman to move over on the track, like he shouldn’t race. But it’s one thing to fight for your position; another to spend the day like an offensive lineman blocking for the quarterback. Busch wasn’t out there to win, he made it his personal mission to make life miserable for Hamlin’s rivals … team orders or a silly driver philosophy that should have never been put in place. Frankly, I’m surprised Harvick didn’t lay the bumper to him sooner.
- Speaking of Harvick, his one biggest regret during the Chase? “Having his old pit crew for the first five races.” (Before switching to Bowyer’s.) You wonder how much public criticism these people can take before internal divisions threaten to tear the team back apart at the shop. And has Harvick made any mention of the No. 83 crewman he ran over on pit lane? An “I’m sorry,” even though accidents happen? A public acknowledgment would be nice … it’s the holidays.
- Don’t believe for a second RPM’s woes are over just because they sent out a nice memo saying they’ll be a two-car team. Meetings don’t mean signatures are on paper yet for any sort of restructuring effort; I give this one less than a 50/50 chance at survival, still.
- Did Brian France really say he hadn’t heard anyone complain about the Chase? That one line was more damaging than anything I’ve heard him say in 2010. “The best Chase race in history,” so they say, and Homestead was still down eight percent in the ratings. Need I say more?
Did You Notice? … It’s Thanksgiving? Following some analysis of Wednesday’s Hendrick teleconference, Frontstretch once again goes into hibernation for the holiday. It’s a chance for the staff to enjoy some time off, spending Turkey Day with the family and friends they care about most. I hope you’re able to do the same, but make sure you take the time to thank your favorite writer here before you do: if everyone pledged to give one extra compliment a day, do you know how much better a world we’d live in?
After Thanksgiving, this column is going into at least semi-hibernation for most of the offseason, returning to its perch on the Frontstretch calendar in February. So, as always, I want to take the time to thank my most dedicated fans, the ones who follow me not only here but at AthlonSports.com and SI.com or wherever else my name happens to turn up. Without your feedback, these columns are meaningless, and your comments, questions, and friendships help make my career as fulfilling as it’s been. Hard to believe it’s been seven years now of covering this sport, five professionally… and I’m still in my 20s!
Looking forward to an even better and brighter 2011 for everyone!
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©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
I was brought up to judge people primarily by how they treated other people. Ive done the same thing with my children. The money you have, the races youve won, all of those things fade into insignificance compared to your treatment of other people. By that measure Mr. Harvick has once again shown us all what an egomaniacal, self-centered essentially worthless human being he really is.
When Junior wins 17 races with DEI, of course it’s because he’s the greatest driver ever, and stop bringing up restrictor plates that even Michael Waltrip could win with. But when he can’t dent the top 15 with the best equipment in motorsports, it’s the crew chief, the owner, the engineers, whatever.
Now that the 48 doesn’t have the 24 team in the same garage…well, hope you enjoyed the ride, Jimmie fans.
Let’s see, the sports juggernaut, will now share the garage with the sport’s most popular and bankable driver. It would be idiotic to miss the $$,$$$,$$$ in that decision.
It’s pretty bold to think that Elliott Sadler will contend for a championship in Nationwide next year. His career luck factor is in the negatives, I don’t see that changing. Aric might give Carl and Brad a run for their money though. Time will tell.
I also don’t really believe that King Richard is in a stable position yet. I won’t believe it until the green flag falls in Daytona.
Happy Holidays to one and all. It has been enjoyable to debate the current state of na$car during 2010. Enjoy yourselves and be safe.
Finally, Thom, this article is an example of why I thought that you are the most fair, knowledgable, and well read contributer of this site for most of this season. I don’t know what happened at the start of the chase, but I am glad to see that you are back on track, examining the issues from all sides. Well done. Be safe, and happy holidays to you and your family.
You may call the 88/48 team the “Junior Johnson” Shop!
Maybe Hendrick realizes that Earnhardt’s problems are between his ears. Have you heard Letarte speak? The kid is a master motivator. This may prove to be the stupidest decision in recent memory, but I think you’ll see the Hendrick stable improve across the board. You argue that Earnhardt started with good cars with McGrew. Martin will be able to help McGrew make a good car better. Earnhardt will be motivated by sharing the shop with Johnson and having Letarte in his ear. Gustafson did wonders with an aging driver named Mark Martin two years ago. Who is to say that can’t happen again. Personally, I think this is a brilliant move. Of course, what do I know about it?
I am not a fan of the 88 car, but would love it if it was the only one of the Hendrick cars to make the CHASE next year.
Randy, if you’re talking about Friday’s press conference, it was on NASCAR.com and what I saw was a reporter asking Brian France about all the fans that didn’t like the Chase format and before the reporter could finish the sentence, Brian asked him if he had actually talked with someone face-to-face about not liking the Chase. Which to me implied that he felt all the media coverage of fans not liking the Chase was trumped up polls by imaginary people.
To me it showed just how out of touch the man is with the fans.
Great moves for Jeff Gordon’s sake. He gets some separation from the 48 and gets the second best crew chief in the Hendrick organization. I kind of feel bad for Letarte because he’ll get far worse from Jr. Nation than he ever got from Gordon fans. Letarte just wasn’t working on the 24. Robbie Loomis had 3 wins, including a 500 win in 2005 when he got canned, while Letarte has 1 win in the last 3 years. It was time for a change. I don’t think Gordon got demoted. If that was the case, Gustufson would have gone to Jr.
Randy and Sherri T,
Yeah, what Bill B. said.
What you are really saying Bill, is that you cannot believe anyone could be that stupid. I suggest you rethink that..:)
Yes Don, his stupidity is only exceeded by his arrogance.
No ol Brainfart is most certainly that stupid. The best was when he said drivers should be competing high,ROFLMAO
I feel sorry for the guy who has to change the car number signs on the outside of the Hendrick Shops. Those are big numbers to move.
Bite me Rick Hendrick! Bet Jimmie will be keeping Jeff’s pit crew too!
Now I know what Kyle was doing in his car in front of NASCAR official two weeks ago. He was just trying to show all the fans the IQ of Brian France. LOL
Enjoy your time off, Thom. We look fwd to your insightful columns.
@ Randy, ‘Why doesn’t Knaus crew chief ALL the cars in the Hendrick Shop?’ I believe that is what is going on now.
I think that the sponsors, or lack of sponsors, played into this change. Rick said last summer that he did not listen to anyone who did not have a stake in it.
Jack Roush has the best take on what it takes to have a winning organization. The COT just made things worse and more expensive for the teams. More engineering money than ever has been poured into that pit.
Bring back testing. The simulated testing on the shaker rigs is far more expensive and depends on what you decide as your target. If your wrong then you car sucks. Having the whole Hendrick team use Jimmies targets made the car herder to drive for the rest of the team and they never can adjust the things right during a race. For get the simulations and get them back on the tracks to test.
“Best site on Jayski!”
I am happy about the crew chief change for Gordon. 2007 was the high point in recent years for sure, the past 2 years have been forgettable and i think that Gordon moving away from the 5X 10 race trophy winner is a VERY good move. Certainly Jeff’s fans, including me, are tired of the 48 show.
I’ve enjoyed the columns and this one is no exception. Hope you and all the Frontstetch gang have a nice Thanksgiving and enjoy the hiatus. Here’s hoping that Santa brings Brainless a clue or two for Christmas, maybe a class in public speaking, too!
Mr Priest! That is the funniest line of the year! You may call the 88/48 team the “Junior Johnson” Shop! Just don’t ever let the real Junior Johnson find out who you are.
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Did You Notice? ... The Details Behind Busch Double-Duty And NASCAR Teams/Series Needing A Boost
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