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 · Thursday March 31, 2011
Did You Notice? … That the one crew chief change working brilliantly at Hendrick is the one I least expected? When looking at the trio of switches: Lance McGrew with Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon with Alan Gustafson, and Steve Letarte with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I figured it was NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver getting the shaft. After all, Letarte’s as laid back as your local Californian traversing Venice Beach, the last thing I thought Earnhardt needed for a guy who’s about as high-maintenance as they come on the racetrack. As Rick Hendrick detailed the changes last November on the phone, I was driving near Pocono and visualizing how his press conference would go there this summer…
Reporter: “You’re 25th in points with two top-10 finishes, just yelled at Steve three times last week and missed pit road. What’s wrong?”
Since when have we heard that before? (Cough cough, about every week since February 2008). But it’s here where I deliver a sincere apology to Letarte, because while Earnhardt sits 12th in points the radio traffic and overall enthusiasm surrounding the No. 88 is better than it’s ever been. Powering through a stretch that included two of Earnhardt’s worst tracks, Las Vegas and California, while remaining within striking distance of the Chase this team is poised for a Spring breakout performance at Martinsville this weekend – the track where Earnhardt led 90 laps last Fall before a late-race handling fade left him seventh.
I think that’s the biggest change we’ve seen in Earnhardt this season, Letarte’s uncanny ability to turn him back into a driver capable of closing the deal. Take a look at Earnhardt’s stats through five races this season:
Daytona – 50 Laps To Go: 1st
Phoenix – 57 To Go: 19th
Las Vegas – 57 To Go: 8th
Bristol – 50 To Go: 12th
Fontana – 50 To Go: 14th
OK, the stats aren’t exactly Kevin Harvick-like, the type that’ll lead to a last-lap pass of Jimmie Johnson at Fontana. But – Daytona notwithstanding – Earnhardt is holding his own as the race winds down instead of throwing a hissy fit and waving the white flag a half-hour early. In the last four races, he has a net gain of +13 positions over the final 50 to 60 laps of each race which is what Chase-contending teams do: they save the best for last.
I thought the Bristol speeding penalty, incurred two weeks ago by Earnhardt encapsulated how this relationship has changed the dynamic. Bit under caution with 65 to go, he lost track position, restarted at the end of the longest line and was right in the eye of the storm where wrecking is as easy as one bad tap of the brakes. A similar pit penalty last year at that same race, one where Lance McGrew spouted off, “Don’t lay down on me” with a few expletives thrown in had the divorce papers sitting on ice from virtually that moment on (and that’s despite a seventh-place recovery).
Compare that to March 2011 where Letarte told Junior there was “plenty of time” to keep his composure and work his way back through the pack. Earnhardt responded without anger, just a central focus to keep from fading further back and he didn’t: working back up through, the reward was 11th but most importantly a calm, relaxed chemistry between all aspects of the team that should keep carrying over.
Who knew laid back vs. laid back off the track (Junior) would actually work out? It’s bittersweet for Hendrick, who’s watching Earnhardt’s new stablemate, the No. 48 chug along just fine (virtually in Chase test mode already) while the Jeff Gordon / Mark Martin combinations are a bit … troubling. Gordon hooked the Phoenix victory but has looked like junk ever since, he and Alan Gustafson seemingly unsure where to go from here after peaking too soon by popping a two-year victory drought that was clearly bothering Mr. Four-Time behind the scenes. Runs of 36th, 14th, and 18th the last three weekends at a trio of tracks Gordon used to dominate – remember how he led almost the entire Vegas race last year before a poor Letarte pit call? – equals trouble in my book.
As for Martin and McGrew, some of the No. 5 team’s problems have been self-inflicted, including an uncharacteristic tendency for Martin to accidentally run into other people. Since when does one of the sport’s cleanest drivers become the catalyst for crashes? At 52, I’ve heard it suggested Martin’s reaction times have slowed as he’s gotten older which is part of the problem (Harvick has no qualms in pointing that out, either). It’s not a theory I lend a lot of credence to, despite garage whispers – if that’s the case, 69-year-old Morgan Shepherd should wreck every time he steps into a car – but for a “lame duck” Martin, it’s important to start strong in order to keep his team believing there’s something to fight for. We saw what happens last year when Hendrick gets distracted internally, and if Martin’s 20th in points come June his 2012 plans, not the rest of 2011 will take center stage and complicate an already difficult task to contend in a stable crowded with success.
Did You Notice? … Trevor Bayne’s marketing shortfall in the wake of the sport’s biggest upset? It’s true the 20-year-old has crashed back to Earth with a thud since the 500, producing an average finish of 31.0 on the Cup level while looking every bit like a freshman driver competing with an underfunded, single-car team. No one expected him to transition into a championship contender overnight.
But certainly, when you win a race watched by 15 million people and you need sponsorship for both your Cup ride and a full-time assault on the Nationwide Series… companies are supposed to come calling. I don’t care what type of economy we’re in or how budgets work nowadays: when you have a twentysomething driver in the limelight, almost singlehandedly inspiring a NASCAR ratings spike while being pursued by a stadium of teenage girls at every stop on the tour – think the Kasey Kahne, Allstate years – the Wood Brothers should have been turning down offers and expanding their marketing department, pronto. Do you see how people capitalize on 15 minutes of fame nowadays, regardless of circumstances? The fact the No. 21 team, one month later can’t even run the All-Star Race because they don’t have the proper funding isn’t just “raise your eyebrows” worthy: it’s code red. I remember in the late 1990s, when I was just an awkward teenager watching from afar drivers would get a top-10 Daytona 500 finish, then have sponsorship for the whole year (Wally Dallenbach and Johnny Benson come to mind). As it is, Bayne can’t even conjure up extra cash from Ford, who’s by-and-large sponsoring the part-time effort with the Woods.
How bad is it? That’s the worst thing going for NASCAR in 2011, hands down: in an era when new stars have come along about as often as the Olympics this inability for the sport or the teams Bayne’s positioned with to get even a minnow-sized bite from the Fortune 500. And that’s considering a strong performance in Bayne’s fallback job, the Nationwide Series, where three top-10 finishes leave him sixth in the standings while positioning himself for a future audition driving a Roush Fenway Cup car.
Too bad Roush will have to fund his career many weeks with blank quarterpanels. To the outside observer, Bayne winning the title and then having to slug along unsponsored raises the curtain on a mammoth issue: a month’s worth of stats or hype describing “NASCAR’s back!” regardless of truth does not change many years of perception in the corporate world. It’s going to take a consistent, aggressive marketing campaign to turn things around, and Bayne serves as a real world benchmark which tells me they’re getting an “F” in that category right now.
Did You Notice? … Speaking of the letter “F” and “we’re back!,” Ford’s bold return atop the Sprint Cup standings with Carl Edwards is missing something: everyone else. The nine-point lead for the No. 99 exemplifies my belief I’ve had since the start of 2011, that he’ll be Johnson’s biggest challenger when it matters down the stretch. Runs of first, second, second, sixth and a pole run at Phoenix before wrecking signifies a return to Edwards’ glory days of 2008, a season where he won a career high nine races and came within 68 points of knocking Johnson off his perch.
That’s where the Blue Oval simply turns blue, with just Edwards and Matt Kenseth (tied for ninth in points) inside Chase contention as of now. While Edwards has led 108 laps, his manufacturer teammates have combined for just 38 while combining for seven top-10 finishes in 49 starts. That’s well off the pace of Edwards’ four top-10s in five races, often the only Fusion battling up front while the rest still struggle with track position over the closing laps.
Indeed, pit road continues to be a bugaboo for this group, whether it’s Greg Biffle’s well-documented fuel issues (they couldn’t get the gas can in right at Las Vegas) or the two-car RPM contingent’s maladjustments from the pit box over the race’s final 100 laps. What’s most frustrating for them is insiders claim the horsepower of the FR9 is the best in the business right now, combined with a new simulation strategy and teamwork that’s left all Ford teams better prepared. Right now, in many ways it’s this car that has the edge … so why aren’t the people who work on them maximizing opportunities while they can? Gibbs, Hendrick, Childress et al won’t waste time trying to catch up.
*Did You Notice?*… The only way Dale Earnhardt’s grandson gets in the news is through a bizarre breakup/makeup that seems more like a public relations ploy? On Tuesday, Rick Ware Racing announced the 21-year-old Earnhardt was fired, breaching his contract by shopping around sponsor Fuel Doctor – and his services – to other teams.
“It is disheartening that all the effort, time and money spent on Jeffrey have been for nothing,” he said, claiming a dramatic breach of contract as if the driver had reached for a knife, stabbed him in the back and then continued on his merry way. “We have been given no choice but to look for another driver.”
Of course, Earnhardt had a different side to the story, insinuating that money – or lack thereof – was forcing him into survival mode to make sure his career didn’t fall apart.
“We were contacted by Rick Ware, informing us that he would be unable to support me without the sponsor’s funding,” was Earnhardt’s response. “And the facts support the sponsor notified Ware and my group they were pursuing alternative marketing venues. To suggest anything other than these facts does not reflect the truth.”
OK, so what is the truth, seeing as 24 hours later everyone’s kissing and making up? I guess Judge Judy wasn’t taking on any new cases to get them more national attention…
“Jeffrey will be in the truck at Martinsville and we will work hard to continue to keep him in that seat,” Ware said in today’s bizarre, retraction-like press release. “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.”
Of course, that same release also references how aggressively they’re searching for additional marketing partners to keep both Earnhardt and Ware on the track this season, likely the heart of this whole teen-sized drama. My personal theory, one which won’t be confirmed involves the silence of one very important player: Fuel Doctor either ain’t paying much longer or doesn’t have the money to fund this full-season effort. If that’s true, it’s a brilliant strategy move for both of these guys to engage in 24 hours of statement shenanigans: haven’t you learned more about both in the last day or two than you had all season long? I bet some people didn’t even know Dale Earnhardt’s grandson was competing, which is a shame considering he’s tenth in the points with three top-20 results in three Truck events (See: NASCAR, marketing new stars better, above).
It’s not the first time Ware has played the public relations card, picking up Jennifer Jo Cobb after that woman’s public start-and-park refusal that turned into a truTV-style lawsuit all its own. It’s just disheartening that in order to get sponsorship these days, these are the games people have to play in order to keep themselves in the public eye. And now there’s a report from Finland Foster Gillett is looking to make a return to the sport with F-1 champ Kimi Raikkonen? Seriously? How much more recycling of the country club elite can we have? This sport needs to stop accepting Bobby Ginns and go find new ownership that doesn’t throw money down a black hole.
We’ll stop here, but I’ve still got plenty to say – a month on the sidelines will do that to you. Check the site tomorrow for Part II.
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Nice to have you back, Tom. You’ve been missed.
The whole Trevor Bayne thing may seem like a huge marketing opportunity to a lot of people in the media, but I’m not sure keeping Bayne in the spotlight is in his best interest long-term. Rather, keeping him grounded in the reality that he still has a lot to learn might be the smart thing to do for all involved, especially Trevor. All the hype leads to exagerated expectations for a young man who still has yet to make a significant mark in the Nationwide series. And as for the Cup series, Trevor isn’t even a rookie yet. He’s a talented young driver who, with help and some luck, won a restrictor plate race for one of the most legendary teams in Nascar. A great story, but his results since then say a whole lot more about where he is, career-wise, than the Daytona 500 win.
Talk to me after the 2nd Daytona race about whether Earnhardt Jr. will make the chase. His season has gotten off to a pretty decent start, but he’s still only 12th in points with no wins, not even a top 5. We’ll have to wait and see.
This was posted on Craigslist on the 26th
Yes you can be part of the race. For this price your company logo will be on the #1 truck driven by Jeffery Earnhardt and you will get to pit passes for being a sponsor. 2800.00 for the sponsorship and 200.00 for the pit passes to nascar. Come be part of our top ten team with one of the biggest names in nascar and get great exposure for your company and make some great memories.call 512-749-0536 or email for details.
With Trevor Bayne, you’ve just described the reason that NASCAR can’t concentrate on the ‘here today because it’s cool, gone tomorrow because I really need to tweet’ 20-somethings. Sure NASCAR needs to gain young fans as the old ones disappear to the Great Pitstop, but forced promotion of someone/something “cool” doesn’t work for very long. They pushed Danica hard and long in the promos to try and get more viewers (but that’s wearing off especially since she’s not gotten that much better in NASCAR and is having some serious competition in IRL from other more competent female drivers). What next? Oh, yeah, I forgot, their Drive for Diversity program can now take over no doubt. Bleh.
I find it disturbing that Roush can’t find full funding for Bayne in Nationwide. Despite some improvement this season there is a lot of work needed to bring sponsorship, tv viewers, attendance back up. I’ll be doing my part heading to Martinsville this weekend. I’m also shocked that the 24 has looked like junk since Phoenix. Alan should steal Steve’s 2010 notes.
What’s happening with sponsorship is a reflcction of companies not getting the return on investment (ROI) from their sponsorship so they take their advertising money elsewhere.
The boom years are gone thanks to mismanagement at the top of NASCAR. Driving away the core fan base didn’t help either. They’re ones who truly were brand loyal to the sponsors.
Now they’re grabbing at straws trying to find something that will bring in the ADHD crowd and get sponsors to fill the cars’ quarterpanels and they’re not having much luck on either count.
It’s going to take a real marketing genius to turn things around and not the guy running NASCAR who is anything but a marketing genius.
Nice to see you back, Tom. Missed reading your columns. I, too, have been surprised by how well Jr has done, but that’s great for him. Like you, I expected more from Gordon and Gustafson – I’m getting worried myself and hope they turn around soon for the 24 team.
I feel bad for Trevor Bayne. He seems like a very nice fellow, the 500 win was amazing for him and the Wood Brothers and sure, reality has set in, but still, you’d think winning the 500 would have some sponsorship value, but as you say, there seem to be a lot of shaky deals with owners out there right now.
And as you said, NASCAR seemed to gain a false sense of security with the first 3 races being on the upswing. NASCAR has a long way to go to regain its footing.
Many companies fiscal year go from September to September. They dont have a lot of cash lying around to throw at the latest flash in the pan. Also its obvious that the teams are really close to pricing themselves out of the reach of most companies. Those companies aren’t really thrilled at sharing with other companies, even to split the cost.
Good to have you back Tom.
The Bayne sponsorship thing makes me wonder how much Roush is wanting to sponsor his Nationwide programs.
BZF has royally pissed off the fans that helped build this sport. I don’t see them coming back unless BZF steps down and they get some one who has a clue to run NA$CAR.
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