*ONE: Red Bull Leaving Sprint Cup is a Big, Big Deal*
Red Bull Racing’s Sprint Cup team, a two-car operation that has been around since Toyota’s much-maligned entry into Cup racing in 2007, is not returning to NASCAR for 2012. Countless dominoes fall as a result; the full-time pit crew positions offered by each of the two teams are on the chopping block, Brian Vickers needs a new ride, and one of the premier rides available for 2012 in Silly Season is gone. The team has made public that they are seeking outside investors for 2012, with FOX Sports reporting that the team had gone a long way negotiating with Clint Bowyer to take over the No. 4 for Kasey Kahne next year.
The fact that the team is seeking outside investment does mean that their two current Cup programs may not be shuttered for 2012. But, obviously, with this kind of financial uncertainty, it is highly unlikely that signing an all-star name like Bowyer is in the cards for the operation. That leaves flagship driver Brian Vickers relying on a rich backer coming forward…and if team general manager Jay Frye’s past history with big-time financial rescuers is any indication, that’s not an enviable situation to be in. Anyone remember a bloke named Bobby Ginn? How’d that deal work out?
The scenarios swirling around Vickers as well as development prospect Cole Whitt are endless and tantalizing for analysis. But the point that can’t afford to be lost in this discussion is how a corporate entity like Red Bull is deciding to pull out of a sport they’ve spent five seasons being a major presence in. Being both a billion-dollar company and a peddler of energy drinks, Red Bull has no shortage of dollars to put into this type of advertising and targets a demographic that NASCAR sponsorship goes hand in hand with: young males. And yet, they’re pulling out, even after having endured driver-by-committee last season after Vickers struggled with blood clots and that God-awful 2007 season that saw both Vickers and Allmendinger plagued by dozens of DNQs.
Now, Red Bull is shedding ownership of the team, their sponsorship future in the sport unclear. A huge, international company with a product completely in line with NASCAR’s fanbase is pulling up the tent and moving on. Losing Red Bull Racing is a tremendous blow to the Sprint Cup field, and is going to send shockwaves through NASCAR’s business community. This will be the story of 2011 for a long time to come.
*TWO: Another Energy-Drink Backed Machine to Look Out For*
Any weekend the Sprint Cup Series heads out to Sonoma, it goes without saying that Robby Gordon is a driver to watch. Either he’ll win as he did back in 2003, or he’ll lose in the most entertaining fashion possible. Now, heading into Sonoma weekend, the stakes are about as high as they’ve been for Gordon and his No. 7 team. Sitting less than 30 points behind the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 entry that will not be at the track on Sunday in the battle for the last locked-in spot in the field, Gordon’s team is in position to lock itself into the Firecracker 400 weekend at Daytona even after a month solid of start-and-parking.
What’s more, in a year that’s been as friendly to single-car race teams as any in recent memory, Gordon’s Cup operation is in desperate need of a big result. The Speed Energy Drink money that kept the team afloat to start 2011 has all but dried up, and finding additonal backing has proven all but impossible for the No. 7 team. Though Gordon may have professed since last year his frustration and exasperation of dealing with playing David vs. Goliath on stock car racing’s premier stage, there’s no doubt that the existential situation his team finds itself in will be all over his brain when the green drops Sunday.
And given Gordon’s highly aggressive history on NASCAR’s road courses, it’ll be interesting to see if Gordon pulls a repeat of Boris Said’s bull-in-a-china-shop 2009 performance that saw his underfunded No. 08 machine run over half the field en route to to a disappointing 24th-place result. With a top-10 result this weekend, Gordon can lock his team back into the top 35 and generate momentum heading into a major race at Daytona. Whether aggression and frustration get the best of him, as they did Said two seasons ago, will be a show to see either way this Sunday.
*THREE: Something Chevrolet and Ford Can Agree On*
It’s become old news by now, but it’s certainly worth noting that Jack Roush publicly echoed his support for Richard Childress’ taking Kyle Busch behind the wood shed at Kansas. Unlike RCR, which has a long history of scuffling on track and aggressively dealing with its opponents, the same can’t be said for the Roush Fenway Racing camp, sans Carl Edwards anyway.
Then again, maybe it’s not too surprising. Sure, there isn’t an owner out there that hasn’t gotten a repair bill courtesy of Rowdy at some point. But Roush, like Childress, has been at this ownership gig in NASCAR for a long time. To have an owner whose only real connection to Childress is longevity speak in open support of Childress’ vigilante approach to policing the sport speaks volumes as to where the perception in the garage of what happened at Kansas really is.
And it also is significant in that it suggests there’s a growing coalition out there that’s had enough of Busch’s antics. The question every analyst asked after the Kansas throwdown was whether or not this was finally the incident that would get Rowdy to shape up, a moment similar to his older brother’s after getting decked by Jimmy Spencer back in 2003.
With the road course at Sonoma and Daytona on the horizon, that’s two venues that provide ample opportunity to play rough. Watch Busch closely the next two weeks. He behaves himself, a message very well may have finally gotten through. Because as Roush’s comments demonstrate, RC is not the only owner with a bone to pick with the Shrub.
*FOUR: The ARCA Racing Series Title Will Be Decided This Weekend*
Let’s be clear, that’s a figure of speech; this Saturday night’s race at the Winchester Speedway in Indiana is actually only the ninth of 19 races on the series’ schedule this year. But for the first time since Frank Kimmel left Tri-State Motorsports after the 2007 season, the 2011 ARCA title chase is taking on the look of a runaway. RCR driver Ty Dillon is coming off his fourth victory of the season at Michigan, with his points lead growing for the third straight race since New Jersey.
Dillon has won on a plate track, two intermediate ovals and a short-track. He’s winning absolutely everywhere, while his closest challenger in Frank Kimmel is having a hard time taking the step from a top 10 car to a top 5 car. Sooner or later, Kimmel has to break through and snap a three-year winless streak, both to make up ground on Dillon and snap the momentum that the No. 41 team clearly has.
The short track at Winchester is just the type of venue for that to happen. Kimmel’s reputation as one of the greatest in ARCA history is owed in no small part to his prowess on short tracks across the Midwest, and after losing ground three consecutive races the time for a momentum shift is here. It’s a short-track weekend with big implications for the rest of the year. Shame it’s not being televised.
*FIVE: Stop with the Damned Repaves!*
Michigan International Raceway plans to join the ranks of the repaved after this summer’s Cup race, and the question that has to be asked is…why?! Sure, the track has gotten bumpy with age. It’s called character, and strangely enough tracks with character put on better races. Atlanta and the old Daytona say hello.
For all the talk of bumps, MIS is far from falling apart. The asphalt’s not chunking, tires are more than capable of lasting a run…it’s raceable. Now take a look at what recent repaves have done. Charlotte Motor Speedway gets repaved, the Humpy bumps disappear, the levigating disaster of 2005 sets a record for yellows in a Cup race, and to this day the track has teams racing on rocks shaped as race tires. Darlington Raceway gets repaved, and suddenly it’s possible to win the Southern 500 by staying out on old tires. Daytona International Speedway gets repaved, and the racing goes from some of the most compelling the Cup Series sees all year to the joke of a dance party that played out back in February (imagine if Trevor Bayne hadn’t won what would have been said about that 500).
Take a hint, Michigan. Leave the asphalt alone. Use that money to fill some more grandstands. There’s plenty of seats to fill.
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