NASCAR News Recap for the Week of December 1, 2008

Johnson, remainder of top 10 finishers in the points feted at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan

On Friday night, NASCAR held its’ annual Sprint Cup Series Banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Jimmie Johnson was awarded his championship ring by surprise guest Cale Yarborough during the ceremony, which merited a rousing, standing ovation.

Johnson was surprised (obviously) and flattered by the occasion.

“What a surprise and an honor to have Cale present me the with the championship ring,” Johnson said. “I’m pretty much floored.”

As is tradition at the banquet, the remainder of the top 10 drivers in points all made their way up to the stage to give speeches about their seasons.

Actor Kevin Costner and seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty both spoke during the star-studded event, Costner about NASCAR celebrating its 60th anniversary, while Petty spoke at length about NASCAR’s impact on his own life and the growth of the sport during his participation.

Petty Enterprises a Question Mark for 2009

Last week, rumors ran wild throughout the motorsports industry that Petty Enterprises had terminated their agreement with Boston Ventures and were merging with Gillett-Evernham Motorsports (GEM). The result of that merger would have GEM absorbing the No. 43 currently driven by former series champion Bobby Labonte, while the No. 44 (formerly No. 45) that Kyle Petty, Terry Labonte and Chad McCumbee shared during the 2008 season would be dissolved.

As of now, this deal has not been officially announced, although many sources are considering it to be a done deal.

Rumors have also been swirling around that if the merger goes down, there could be a reorganization of the driver lineup. FoxSports.com reported last week that Bobby Labonte could end up driving the No. 41 for the Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team, while Reed Sorenson would drive the No. 43 and A.J. Allmendinger would keep his ride in the No. 10 from the end of last season. More to come on this story in the coming weeks.

Wood Brothers Racing to run 12 races in 2009

ESPN.com is reporting that Wood Brothers Racing will run a limited schedule in the 2009 season, due to a lack of sponsorship.

The plan for 2009 is to run 12 races, consisting of the Daytona 500 and 11 races on intermediate tracks. As of right now, it is unclear which intermediate races these 11 will be. Bill Elliott will continue to drive the No. 21 Ford (despite claiming earlier this year that the Ford 400 at Homestead would be his final start) next season.

“We’re going back to doing it the way we did it years ago,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “We could have run up to 20 [races], but we decided to do 12 and do it right.”

Major capital improvements at Kansas Speedway on indefinite hold

Kansas Speedway announced on Friday that they put an “indefinite hold” on plans to build a $705 million Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on the grounds of Kansas Speedway because of the current economic climate.

Officially, the track withdrew their application for a Lottery Gaming Facility Management license for the Northeast Gaming Zone of the State of Kansas. Without the license, the track cannot legally build the casino, or operate the casino once it is built.

The hotel is considered to be a requirement for Kansas Speedway to gain a second Sprint Cup date (and likely, a second Nationwide Series date as well). This announcement, despite the nasty economic climate, was considered to be a surprise. As recently as Tuesday, Brian France stated publicly that Kansas could get a second race as early as 2010.

This hold appears to give tracks like Martinsville a temporary reprieve from losing a date; however the project is by no means dead. The renovation plans that include an infield road course are still on the agenda, and the track is still seeking a second race date.

The track also does plan to reapply for a gaming management license as soon as possible.

“While we’ve delayed these projects [including the proposed hotel/casino] for the time being, we remain steadfastly committed to pursuing both the road course and a potential second Sprint Cup race date at Kansas Speedway if we’re awarded the management contract,” Kansas Speedway President Jeff Boerger said.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. voted Most Popular Driver for 2008

In what is not a surprise in any sense, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was officially announced as the NASCAR NMPA Chex Most Popular Driver for 2008 on Thursday. It is Earnhardt’s sixth consecutive Most Popular Driver award.

This award is the only end of year award that is voted on by fans over the course of the season at the website set up for the purpose of the vote.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to win this award now for the sixth time, and I can tell you, it never gets old,” Earnhardt, Jr. said during the NMPA Myers Brothers media luncheon on Thursday. Earnhardt Jr.’s six awards put him alone in third place all time in most popular driver awards, behind only Elliott’s 16 (nine of them consecutive) and Petty’s nine.

Official word on the Top 35 configuration for the beginning of the 2009

NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp confirmed on Thursday that teams will not be engaging in owner points buying in the off season this year like in years past in order to lock new teams into the field for the first five races of 2009.

Since the merger of Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has cut the number of cars from those squads down from six to four (the DEI Nos. 01 and 15 have been dissolved in the deal), the No. 47 for Michael Waltrip Racing/JTG Daugherty Racing and the No. 10 for Gillett-Evernham Racing have moved into the Top 35 in owners points and will be locked into the first five races of 2009.

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About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor. Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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