ONE: Being Sponsor Savvy No Longer Enough for Elliott Sadler?
Sitting 27th in the points, Elliott Sadler is sitting fourth of four teams in the Richard Petty Motorsports stable. And while teammates AJ Allmendinger and Paul Menard are also outside the top 20 in the standings, it’s the way Sadler has limped to 27th that truly has the Virginia veteran the backmarker of the RPM fleet. He has no top-10 finishes, just four top 20s in 19 starts, and has been hardly competitive thus far in 2010 at any track sans Daytona.
So was anyone out there really surprised to read comments that Sadler doesn’t “fit into their [RPM’s] future plans?” Sooner or later, no matter how much a sponsor loves a driver, results have to come at this level. And for Sadler, those results have long been absent.
It would seem to be no surprise, then, that the marriage between the two is shortly coming to an end. However, RPM VP of Race Operations Robbie Loomis was out doing damage control immediately following Sadler’s remarks that he would likely not be back in the No. 19 for 2011, stressing to the media that Sadler was on a short list of drivers being considered by RPM for their seats next year. All of a sudden, he came out of the woodwork to claim the team was confident that reuniting Sadler with crew chief Todd Parrott would produce results after struggling all season.
I just have one question about that whole PR stunt: why? Why on earth would a driver that’s been in the stable since the middle of 2006, with only four top-five finishes in 141 starts to show for it, be the right move? In that timeframe, Allmendinger and Menard have both made marked strides forward, with Kasey Kahne winning races and threatening for Chase berths. In comparison, Sadler has done what he’s done throughout this campaign; run quietly in the shadows.
There’s certainly an argument to be made that having a veteran on track, even when struggling to perform, provides information and benefits to the other team cars that are worth having an entry lagging in the back of the field. But on the flip side, cutting deadweight has been proven to work, too. Just ask Richard Childress Racing how they’ve run since Casey Mears got the boot.
The only reason that hasn’t happened to Sadler is that sponsors Stanley and others have refused to see the writing on the wall the way Jack Daniel’s did with Mears. Using those connections (and a lawyer) to keep his ride when RPM tried to release him 18 months ago, the Virginian has continually proven able to get those backers to sign his paychecks and keep him on track. But eventually, RPM has got to start asking whether lean and mean might not be the better way to go. Allmendinger has proven to click with sponsor Best Buy, and Menard is money in the bank. For a team that has reportedly deep unresolved financial issues, a two-car future, with two cars running well, may well outweigh a fully-sponsored anchor.
TWO: Why, Exactly, Did RCR Have to Field a Car for Morgan Shepherd?
When Morgan Shepherd made the deal to run RCR’s number last week, it was a win-win for both sides. Richard Childress Racing would have its No. 21 get credit for an entry at Chicagoland and what few points would be there for start-and-parking, assuming that Shepherd held to 2010 form. Shepherd, on the other hand, would get a guaranteed starting position and a paycheck, all for putting a No. 21 decal on the side of his trademark green car.
Not so fast, said NASCAR. At the last minute, officials informed RCR that if they wanted the points, their car had to race. The resulting frenzy saw the No. 21 that Shepherd would drive arrive at the Chicagoland Speedway only minutes before the start of practice; he would qualify in the back and drive to a 25th-place result when the night was done.
So why was it necessary to have RCR essentially overnight a racecar from North Carolina to Illinois? After all, just last week at Daytona Penske Racing fielded a third car for Parker Kligerman… a third car that earned points for Brian Keselowski and his K-Automotive operation because it carried the No. 26 on its quarterpanels. Why didn’t NASCAR step in last week and tell the K-Automotive boys they had to put one of their own cars on the track for Kligerman to run?
Well, K-Automotive didn’t have a Nationwide CoT to put Kligerman in. And with Specialty Racing already unable to contest the race, only one new owner present and the field only full because a number of Cup teams fielded extra cars, NASCAR kept their mouths shut and allowed a Nationwide independent team to benefit. And, true to form, they inconsistently held just a week later that what was sauce for Penske and K-Automotive wasn’t for RCR and Shepherd.
These number swaps are nothing new. Jeremy Clements‘s racing team ran their own equipment while carrying JD Motorsports’ numbers through much of 2009 and even this year. Jay Robinson Racing runs the No. 70 car on weekends that ML Motorsports isn’t at the track. It’s to the point where they’ve become commonplace; but all of a sudden, in this case, NASCAR stood up on their high horse and cried foul. That turnabout cost RCR thousands of dollars, forced to wheel out a car for Shepherd to drive.
Don’t get me wrong; I was thrilled to see Shepherd get to drive a halfway decent machine. Hopefully, with some more practice, we’ll see some top 20s out of him. But NASCAR’s inconsistency here just begs to have light shed on it. It’s the one thing they’re consistent at.
THREE: The Dillon Brothers Just What the Doctor Ordered for RCR Development
Speaking of the RCR camp, those two Dillon brothers they’re bringing through the development ranks went from promising to full-fledged prospects over the course of two days at Iowa Speedway. Austin Dillon went out and won the Truck Series pole on Friday afternoon, just like his younger brother Ty Dillon did in his ARCA Racing Series debut that same afternoon. Ty went on to run second in the ARCA event, while Austin won the Truck race handily the following day. It was quite the departure for a development program that endured the disastrous John Wes Townley experiment as well as having Tim George Jr. and the team’s ARCA operation lolly-gagging around the back half of the top 10 in that series, with only four top-10 finishes in the first nine races this season.
The results on-track speak for themselves; the Dillon brothers owned Iowa this past weekend. But just as importantly, off the track the two can best be described as a breath of fresh air for the organization. Be it Austin enthusiastically, and professionally, calling his brother’s race from the booth Friday night or both he and Ty joking around after taking a group photo with the pole award, there’s a far different aura coming from these two than from RCR’s other development projects. Let’s compare: would you like Townley and his underage alcohol citation in Las Vegas, or George missing the drivers’ meeting (Salem) and having to be verbally whipped time and time again by his spotter to pick the pace up on the track (Salem, Toledo, Pocono)?
If you look at it that way, well… aw shucks, them two are just what RCR’s been looking for. And right at home, no less.
FOUR: Jeff Gordon’s Enduring the Longest Winless Streak of His Career
48 races, to be exact. But who cares? With a championship system that grants a maximum 25-point bonus to the race winner, Jeff Gordon‘s only 103 markers out of first place despite being the only driver in the top six in points without multiple victories. And we all know what the Chase does to those pesky points leads, don’t we?
FIVE: Three National Touring Races, Three Examples of Why a Chase Isn’t Needed
Friday night’s Nationwide Series race saw Brad Keselowski go from an all-but-certain top-five finish to a 21st-place result after missing his pit box for a late-race stop… and running out of fuel as a result. Ahead of him, Carl Edwards went on to finish sixth, then picked up 45 points on the lead for his troubles. Saturday night saw Kevin Harvick suffer from fuel pump issues mid-race, leading to a 34th-place result that saw his points lead over Gordon shrink from 212 to 103. And in the Truck Series on Sunday, a calamitous day that saw standings leaders Todd Bodine, Aric Almirola and Timothy Peters all worse for the wear from crashes and blown motors, the points race now has five drivers within 201 markers of the lead (Johnny Sauter made up over 60 Sunday afternoon).
Didn’t take a convoluted, pre-scheduled points reset to make these title chases a bit more interesting, did it? Though it may go beyond the pea-sized brains running NASCAR, this sport tends to see drivers building point leads face adversity over the course of the season. This, in turn, allows other competitors to catch up, creating drama on the track and a motivation for racers to push harder, go faster and put on a whale of a show doing it.
So just get the hell out of the way, NASCAR, and let the sport play out. If it’s anything like this past weekend, it just might be worth watching.