Did You Notice? That Boris Said was a one-man wrecking ball on the road course at Sonoma this past Sunday? Of course you did, because unless you’re a PJ Jones or Dave Blaney fan, Said probably made contact with your favorite driver during the race’s 113 laps. Said’s brazenly reckless and even violent performance on the track was a sharp departure from the car control and breathtaking footwork that he has demonstrated on NASCAR’s road courses over the years, and a large number of fans took notice.
However, I don’t buy any of the explanations that have been floated out there as to why Said looked like anything but a road-course specialist. Yes, the No. 08 car was a largely untested piece with a largely untested team. That didn’t keep Brandon Ash from racing clean until he got punted late in the race. Yes, this was Said’s first time in a stock car since Daytona Speedweeks, and he’s had very little seat time in the CoT. That didn’t keep Ron Fellows from delivering a solid, controlled performance. And yes, Said must have been hot under the collar… between getting banged up himself early in the race and a pit-road speeding penalty, his race was far from a Sunday drive.
But the explanation that he was frustrated, angry, with how the race was going doesn’t go far enough to explain his actions on-track. What fans saw on Sunday was a manifestation of a brooding anger that apparently finally boiled over in Said – that this sport has largely let him pass by. We’re talking about one of the best road racers the U.S., and even the world, has seen in recent memory, and all he could muster up for Sunday was a borrowed pit crew and Victory Junction Gang Camp decals for his Ford. We’re talking about a driver who had a Cup deal lined up as of Daytona, only to miss the 500 and have to wait over four months before getting another shot at Cup racing. And we’re talking about a driver who, despite having offered his expertise and services to countless other drivers and teams throughout the Sprint Cup garage, has never gotten a shot at the big-time.
Said’s worked with some very big names – the former MB2 Motorsports, Phoenix Racing, Roush Racing – and has nothing to show for it. He’s got nowhere really left to go in the Cup garage in search of a ride… and with his age going up and the economy still tanking down, the dream may very well be over for him.
So, what did he do Sunday? He took the win it or wreck it approach and he wrecked it. Said drove with reckless abandon, and didn’t seem to care about who he hit or how crazy a move he made – but not because he forgot how to race. I think he took matters into his own hands and came up short. There was no need to show respect to the competitors out there or their larger goals this season because when has that ever translated into anything for Boris Said?
Did You Notice? That the guy who didn’t come up short at Sonoma, Kasey Kahne, will be driving Toyotas in the Cup ranks as early as this summer? Yes, the story has been reported… and denied. But come on, is there really any doubt that Richard Petty Motorsports is looking away from Dodge? It’s already public knowledge that RPM has partnered with Braun Racing to field a Nationwide Series entry, an arrangement that will have the team’s two flagship drivers, Kahne and Elliott Sadler, behind the wheel of a Camry as early as this weekend at Loudon.
It’s true that the same sources that originally reported the plans to have Kahne in a Toyota by August have now said there’s a very good chance that he’ll, instead, remain in a Dodge. For 2009, maybe. But there’s no way to think that Kahne, or RPM for that matter, can be looking at Dodge as the long-term solution the team needs. There’s no doubt that this is an organization in dire straits financially; between fielding AJ Allmendinger’s No. 44 car full-time unexpectedly and largely out-of-pocket, the example observed in scanner traffic at Richmond of the team buying tires as the race went on to give to only the front-running teams in the stable, and Kahne being the team’s only driver to get a new Dodge motor (and that’s not for every race), the only certainty for this camp is they need cash. Now. And it’s not going to come from Dodge, because it already owes RPM a boatload of money as is.
Like it or not, the most stable auto manufacturer that RPM can turn to is Toyota. And, as victory lane showed on Sunday, this camp is going to do anything it must to survive. Seriously, who’d have ever thought you’d see Richard Petty in the winner’s circle beside the Budweiser car?
Did You Notice? Speaking of RPM’s partnership with Braun Racing, Braun’s current Nationwide Series title contender, Jason Leffler, will not be a contender for much longer? That’s right, you heard it here first.
How can this be? Leffler finished in the top 10 again at Milwaukee on Saturday, right? Yes he did, but Leffler’s resurgence in the Braun camp is about to be derailed because Braun Racing’s focus is shifting from where it’s been so far in 2009 to where it was in 2008 – on its second and third cars and the Cup drivers filling those seats. Look at the recent announcements coming from the Braun camp: RPM drivers to bring their names and Cup sponsors to field a NNS entry with Braun backing, and just on Monday that Burney Lamar has been booted from the Dollar General car (again) in favor of “a strong team of drivers.” Man, that sounds a lot like what was heard in 2006 when Lamar lost the Dollar General ride in favor of Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte.
And the scenario that looks to replay itself this summer in the Braun camp is much like the one that transpired last year when the No. 38 ride was just another car in the stable, not the flagship that it has been through 2009 thus far. Who can forget seeing Kyle Busch taking shots at Leffler following the spring race at Dover last season, where Leffler got loose and ended up taking himself and his sister No. 32 Toyota out? Busch’s response: Leffler couldn’t stand being the second-place driver. The part-timer taking shots at the full-timer… that’s a real healthy team situation.
Now, Busch’s account is definitely not what happened at Dover, as Leffler got loose, and wasn’t trying to prove a point. But that incident proves a point about what happens when big names bring big sponsors and a mentality that they’re not racing for points. The last time that happened with this organization, Leffler got lost in the shuffle, and so did his results.
Fortunately for Leffler, the egos of the incoming Cup guys – Brian Vickers, Kahne, Sadler – are not what he had to deal with last year in Busch and Denny Hamlin, so maybe there’s still hope that his No. 38 operation will be able to continue its legitimate challenge for a Nationwide Series title. But I believe you can’t learn more about the future than from the past, and that doesn’t bode well for Leffler or the No. 38 team as we head towards summer.
Did You Notice? That just as Leffler, one of the Nationwide Series’ strongest regulars, may well be getting marginalized in his own garage, that many Nationwide Series owners may be getting marginalized by the sanctioning body? Despite the myriad of economic problems gripping the Nationwide Series right now, rumor has it the NNS CoT will see a limited schedule in 2010.
How in the world can this be justified to make economic sense? OK, it’d only be for road course races and restrictor-plate events, five races of a 35-race schedule. But it’s still a brand new car that will take loads of man hours and yes, engineering, to build. And call it a hunch, but between the manufacturers cutting support and running from NASCAR’s lower ranks and a lot of smaller teams already busting their butts just to prep cars they didn’t even build themselves to get to the track every weekend, I don’t think there’s a lot of Nationwide teams that have extra hands out there to take NASCAR’s newest model kit and get cracking on it.
Plus, what does this mean for smaller teams that in actuality don’t build their own cars, instead operating like an ARCA operation and buying them used? Is NASCAR going to contract the giant super-teams to kick into overdrive and build complete fleets of these latest spec-cars to dole out to the smaller guys out there operating on a shoe-string?
This is completely unscientific, but I’ve spoken to a number of NNS team owners over the last month about the CoT and not a single, solitary one has considered it a good idea to introduce it in any form next season.
Of course, I didn’t speak to any owners named Childress, Gibbs, Hendrick or Roush, either.
Did You Notice? That while even some of the aforementioned giants’ operations, such as Richard Childress Racing, are feeling a pinch in the wallet, there are at least two camps who have expansion on the brain? Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing are both being widely speculated to be considering adding a third and fourth car, respectively, to their Cup stables for 2010. The situation at Hendrick/Stewart-Haas is all but known: Either Brad Keselowski will drive a third SHR car or Dale Earnhardt Jr. will form his own team and Keselowski will take the fourth car at HMS. Heard it a million times over, right?
Now a fourth seat at JGR is intriguing because there’s multiple scenarios that could play out here. On the one side, there’s Martin Truex Jr. Truex has been continually swirled about as a done deal with Michael Waltrip Racing – but would those negotiations be able to withstand an offer from JGR? For everything MWR has accomplished in its short existence, it still can’t hold a candle to what JGR can offer, and a chance to drive such stout race cars will certainly make a racer like Truex think twice. Why do you think it took Ryan Newman so long last year to fully commit to Stewart-Haas? Because that No. 20 ride was still a possibility.
On the other side, there’s a chance that JGR could end up signing a driver who, when paired with the already flammable driver stable of Kyle Busch and Hamlin, may pour gasoline on an open fire, for better or worse. There’s Juan Pablo Montoya, who with Truex likely to leave EGR, would be the only driver left in that camp… and we already know EGR isn’t afraid to merge to survive.
But there’s also – yes, you guessed it – Danica Patrick. No, I don’t think there’s much, if any, chance of seeing her in stock cars next year. But if she was to make the move, JGR would make the most sense, and not just because of the IMG connection (both Danica and JGR are partnered with the same marketing firm). A move to JGR brings Danica top-notch Cup equipment and the best minor league cars out there. (A monkey can win in those JGR Toyotas, remember? So why not a tantrum-prone open-wheeler?) Plus, this talk of JGR expanding for next year is a recent development.
And ironically, it’s a story that’s breaking within a few weeks of reports about how NASCAR was hounding everyone and their mother in the garage, trying to find a way to get Danica in stock cars next year….