NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Of Money, Mears, Danica & Goodyears

The fish were biting, the beer was cold, and the batteries are now recharged. Come to think of it, it’s going to take a charged battery to get through a rather brutal schedule in June. I know it’s hard to follow Richmond, Darlington and Charlotte’s events that fall in May (yeah, I left Dover out… sue me), but Pocono, Michigan, Infineon and Loudon? Whew.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch. But I don’t have to skip through the flowers and sing praises about it.

I do, however, like getting your emails. Questions, comments, observations and fishing rod repair tips are welcome.

Q: Matt, my question involves Casey Mears and the second chance he has been given with Brian Vickers’s illness. We have read how marketable and sponsor friendly he is, that he is a great guy who is well-liked with his peers. All that understood, he has not gotten results in the Red Bull car, nor in the Childress car the last two years. Is his image with corporate America enough to keep him in the Red Bull car with results like he has earned so far, and what are his prospects for another ride next year? Thanks. — Ben McNally, Chicago, Ill.

A: Finishes of 22nd and 29th in the No. 83 haven’t turned any heads, but let’s be honest about Mears: at the moment, he is the first guy off the bench for anyone’s roster. And while a pair of 20-somethings thus far are pedestrian, the team’s performance dating back to the first Chase race last season (average finish: 21.7) is consistent with what we’ve seen with Mears behind the wheel. So let’s at least give the guy a chance to get comfortable — after all, he’s a hired gun that’s never worked with this group before.

Which is where the move on Tuesday came in: by shuffling the organization’s crew chiefs, GM Jay Frye has teamed Mears up with his ol’ running buddy from the Ganassi Racing days, Jimmy Elledge. Whether the performance picks up remains to be seen, but it’s at the very least a vote of confidence from management to driver.

As for his 2011 options, I think the chance of Mears scoring a full-time seat next season are relatively high. The problem is, I doubt it will be with a powerhouse team. Whether Mears is open to a Scott Riggs/Michael McDowell-type role I don’t know, but that may be his only option unless a Richard Petty Motorsports-type gig can land sponsorship.

Q: A hearty round of boos awaited Danica Patrick when she threw her crew under the bus at Indy. Because of a bad season in IndyCar and a fan backlash, does this signal Danica making a full jump to NASCAR any sooner? I think she has peaked over there and if the fan support dries up, her best move would be to join Hendrick and start over. — Rhonda L., Marietta, Ga.

A: Well, the last headcount I took still shows Danica as being the most enthralling figure in the IndyCar Series. Boos or not, her merchandise still moves at a Junior-esque pace, so I’m not convinced there’s a fan revolt going on yet; she had a beef, went about addressing it the wrong way and got called out for it. Stuff happens.

Now, does this reciprocate a quicker move to the comfy confines of NASCAR full-time? Doubtful. She’s under contract with Andretti Autosport through next season, and I can’t imagine Michael Andretti letting that money magnet get away prematurely. Besides — and I know Rick Hendrick has a way of making room for drivers when no room seems available — I’m not sure where he’d put her with a roster that reads Gordon, Johnson, Junior, Martin, Stewart, Newman and Kahne. Yes, the rumors about a possible Martin-spun team are intriguing, and the sponsorship seems to line up perfectly, but it’s become apparent that she’s nowhere near ready for anything beyond a Nationwide ride.

Q: Hi Matt. A question I have always wondered about is why do new tires have more grip than ones with many laps on them? I know that both new and old tires are slicks down to the cord, so what’s the difference? Do the high temps generated in the tread make them less grippy, or is the tire compound harder closer to the casing, which would come into play as the tire wears? Thanks for any help on this. — David Lee, Saint Cloud, Fla.

A: I’m not going to pretend to be a Goodyear engineer, but I did talk to a couple of people that know more about tire compounds, wear, etc. It seems you’re on the right path with the temperature (heat buildup) as well as the compound (which varies from track to track).

Now, the answers I got bordered on being too technical to comprehend (not for you, for me). Words like polymers and elastomers don’t make for interesting reading or easy comprehension, so here’s me attempting to boil it all down: Throughout a tire run, heat builds, chemically changing the composition of the rubber compound. How much change occurs depends largely on the specific compound used for different tracks. As this heat changes the rubber on a molecular level (that’s as technical as I’ll go), the tire wears, losing grip.

This explanation doesn’t account for mechanical and aerodynamic grip, but those factors determine how a car handles more than why a tire wears — although those do come into play. So David, it’s not quite so much the rubber that wears away, but the heat that changes the ever-depleting tire that causes it to lose grip.

Q: Matt, whatever became of the Old School Racing Series that was going to tour two or three years ago? Did the money run dry? Any chance we will see it on a touring basis and not just at Bristol? Thanks! — Beth Hawkings., Columbia, Mo.

A: I kind of doubt we’ll see any old-school racing at Bristol after Larry Pearson’s nasty wreck back in March. And a touring series is definitely out of the question. Brothers Norm and Gene Weaver shelved the Old School Racing project in 2008 after the money wasn’t there. Initially, they promised a 2009 debut and series that would include the likes of David Pearson, Harry Gant and a whole host of other old-schoolers. Obviously, that didn’t happen. OSR itself was to provide the equipment for the drivers, but without the proper funding… well, we all know what sponsor dollars mean to a racing league.

It’s too bad, because they even had a date set for my Music City Motorplex here in Nashville before the plug was pulled. Other stops were to be at Eldora Speedway, Southside Speedway, Hickory, South Boston, Flat Rock and Springport Speedway.

In the meantime, we’ll always have Mark Martin.

Thanks for sticking around this long, folks. Enjoy a long afternoon on TNT.

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