NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Fishin’ for Some Answers to Tony Stewart’s Likely Defection

Although no one asked, we did catch a few bass last weekend, even with a stiff wind and temps in the 40s. (When I mention fishing at the end of a column, it’s your cue to ask me how I did so I can talk racing and fishing in the same article – and what’s better than that?) The truth was, my uncle and I couldn’t resist the call of the water on a Cup off-weekend despite the nasty weather forecast; and all was well, too, until the engine died as we were heading home for the morning. It’s like Grandad always said, “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.” Looks like we found the hole early this spring.

Big news is breaking, so let’s get to it. Let’s start with the Big One:

Q: What are the odds that Rick Hendrick is able to put together NASCAR’s version of the “Dream Team” by adding Tony Stewart to his team of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson? In the big picture, would that team be good or bad for the sport? – Dale Petty

A: This question appears to be a moot point, my man (nice moniker, by the way). As was reported in Frontstretch’s daily e-newsletter just this morning, Stewart is in talks to drive for Haas CNC Racing next season. The deal would include an ownership stake in the Hendrick satellite team as well as a seat. So, in effect, he’ll be a quasi-teammate to the triumvirate.

I’d expect Hendrick’s support, be it financial, technological, or what have you, will ratchet up exponentially with this move. I’ve also heard that Haas could become a three-car team with Hendrick’s No. 5 being moved over to the Haas shop, possibly being the actual car Smoke pilots.

But will it be good or bad for the sport, you ask? I can’t imagine the amount of publicity and coverage a move of this caliber could generate could be bad for the sport. Competition-wise, the question will be how quickly Haas CNC, with Hendrick’s increased support no doubt, can get its program up to the level Stewart is accustomed to. My inclination is that Chevy wanted him back so bad, it’s willing to pour whatever additional resources Stewart requests into the operation. Good or bad, this move will generate interest, and that’s always a good thing.

So, the first domino has fallen. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Silly Season ’08.

Q: Do you think it’s a smart move for Red Bull Racing to put AJ Allmendinger back in the No. 84 car or should they have arranged with Bill Davis Racing to have him and Mike Skinner switch rides for the rest of this season? Switching drivers would allow Allmendinger to get seat time in the Truck Series, where he wouldn’t have the pressure of the Top-35 rule weighing him down, and where Skinner’s knack for qualifying would continue to serve the Cup team well. I’m gonna say they should leave Skinner in the car, but I’m a Skinner fan. – Nyghtbandit

A: This is a tough one. It goes beyond saying, “Skinner is five-for-five in qualifying the No. 84, so keep him in,” largely because Skinner’s best finish is 27th in those five starts. And if there’s one track where Allmendinger, who is zero for three in qualifying in 2008, can put the car in the show, it’s Talladega; you put the pedal to the floor, turn left and let the engine do the talking. If the car has the muscle, AJ should qualify without any problem, which is important; any track time he can get in a Cup race is a good thing – for him, anyway. So, knowing that his hiatus was only temporary, this is a good weekend for the 20-something rookie to jump back into the shark tank.

However, I do agree with your reasoning that Allmendinger needs more seasoning. The kid only had three starts in the Truck Series in ’06 before making the jump to Cup in ’07 (when he also made seven Busch and nine truck starts). Would it be best if he were “demoted” to the Nationwide or Truck Series again while Skinner vies for a Top-35 spot? Yep. No doubt.

Regardless, he has a bad-A paint scheme this weekend. I’m a sucker for silver cars… or anything chrome.

Q: Hi Matt. Now that Danica Patrick has finally won on the IRL circuit, what is the latest on Chrissy Wallace after her impressive 18th-place finish at Martinsville in the Truck Series? Is she scheduled to run any more races for Germain Racing or anyone else? – Pat Mitchell

A: How timely. Chrissy signed a contract with Germain Racing just last week to run for Rookie of the Year honors in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2009 following her lead lap, 18th-place finish at Martinsville on March 29th.

THOMPSON: A SUCCESSFUL FEMALE NASCAR DRIVER WOULD BE OPRAH-LIKE

Wallace is to run a development schedule, according to Germain, throughout the remainder of the 2008 season that should include six additional races in the Craftsman Truck Series. ARCA events are scheduled as well. Her next start? Looks like the Milwaukee Mile in June. It’s a perfect scenario for her; this girl is 19 years old and being brought up by a family who knows how to do it right. She’s with the right outfit in Germain Racing, too; so the future indeed looks bright for this second-generation racer.

And speaking of the fairer sex…

Q: Patrick finally won an IRL race, taking the checkers in Japan over the weekend. Do you think the victory will restart the engines of Danica-mania in NASCAR’s Cup circuit? I’d love to see her SI swimsuit body sitting on the pole… what do you think, the “Black Widow” at DEI or another open-wheel import at Ganassi? – Rowdy Rush

A: Funny how everyone includes the word “finally” when speaking of Danica’s first IRL win. Anyway, I could be totally off-base here but I just don’t see Danica making the jump to stocks anytime soon. We’ve seen the struggles of her fellow open wheelers this season, and these are the same guys who ran circles around her a year back. And with the open-wheel unification now a reality, she’ll once again be at the forefront of a premier racing league that could rival NASCAR. “Why start over?” is my opinion at this point.

The only whisper we’ve heard from the Danica camp concerning a jump to Carolina was during her contract year, and that was more a bargaining ploy than an honest-to-goodness interest. Besides, Danica dreams of milk and Borg-Warner more than Gatorade and Harley J. Earl.

It’s going to be a big weekend with all the Stewart talk; throw in the fact that we’re heading to Talladega, and you’ve got racing’s version of Can’t Miss TV. So, enjoy the show, and keep those emails coming in.

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