_Have you been keeping up with all the latest racing news this offseason? Or, like a lot of busy fans, did you miss a late-night press release, an important sponsorship rumor, or a juicy piece of news? If you did, you’ve come to the right place! Each week, The Frontstretch will break down the racing, series by series, to bring you the biggest stories that you need to watch as the 2013 season ramps up. Let our experts help you get up to speed for the coming week no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!_
*Sprint Cup: New Backers Hope To Boost Underdog Organizations* A handful of new sponsors were announced this week for two Sprint Cup teams, both of whom are scrapping to survive towards the back end of the series garage. Tommy Baldwin Racing announced that his No. 36, which will be driven by J.J. Yeley, acquired sponsorship from Golden Corral for the restrictor plate events: four races total at Daytona and Talladega. In addition, Accell Construction has signed on with Yeley for six, including both events at Phoenix, Kansas, and Texas. Finally, United Mining Equipment will sponsor Yeley at both Bristol events and Kentucky Speedway. TBR’s other entry, which will run the No. 7 this year, also signed up two primary sponsors. Florida Lottery will back Dave Blaney in both races at Daytona this year, as well as Homestead while SANY, the sixth-largest industrial equipment company in the world, will sponsor Blaney in 14 events. SANY, new to NASCAR will also serve as an associate partner on the No. 7 for 22 races. In addition to the sponsorships, team owner Tommy Baldwin announced that he will also serve as crew chief for the No. 7 team and Blaney this year. Baldwin is a veteran head wrench who has won the Daytona 500 with Ward Burton; he was also on top of the box for Kasey Kahne’s 2004 Rookie of the Year campaign.
Swan Racing, which will field the No. 30 of David Stremme, will have Widow Wax on the car for the 2013 season as either a primary or associate sponsor, although the company hasn’t yet given a final number of races they will serve as either. All we know for sure, at this point is Michael Waltrip will drive a Widow Wax-sponsored car in February’s Daytona 500. Stremme will have Nutrition53 on the hood for 10 races as well, with the company serving as as an associate for the remaining 26 events. Nutrition53 is run by new Swan Racing minority owner Bill Romanowski, a former NFL player.
There seem to be a couple of new trends emerging with these offseason sponsor signings. One, as sponsorship for the larger teams continues to be prohibitively expensive for many companies, they’re looking to enter the sport with smaller teams instead. That hasn’t happened much in recent years, and it’s a positive sign for the health of the sport as the back end of the garage has been filled with nothing but blank hoods. Meanwhile, marquee teams like the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the No. 14 of Tony Stewart, and the No. 39 of Ryan Newman still have significant holes to fill. Have the big-money sponsors priced themselves out of the game?
Another trend, illustrated by TBR’s addition of SANY as well as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s signing of Textron and Cessna, is the addition of sponsors that are advertising not to fans, but to other businesses. If this venture proves profitable, could these partnerships become a trend? It would certainly benefit the sport financially. The risk, however, in it is making fans feel disconnected as the products being advertised aren’t something that the average viewer would purchase. Either way, it’s definitely something to watch as businesses start investing in stock car racing once again. _Amy Henderson_
*IndyCar Series: 2013 Driver/Team Combinations Taking Shape* First off, congratulations to IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball, part of the winning team at the Rolex 24 at Daytona for Chip Ganassi Racing. Kimball joined Juan Pablo Montoya as drivers from other series moonlighting successfully in Grand Am’s season-opening event.
Once Daytona gets out of the way, though this month the focus for open-wheelers begins to turn towards the upcoming year. The start of the IZOD IndyCar Series season is still almost two months away, meaning there are likely still a few team and driver combos to be revealed; as of now, there are 21 confirmed for 2013. The newest this week is Tristan Vautier, hired to drive for Sam Schmidt’s team as a teammate to returning driver Simon Pagenaud. Rahal Letterman Lanigan has also been active, announcing that Mike Conway will join them for the race at Long Beach in April. Graham Rahal has jumped on board his father’s program as the team’s full-time driver, replacing Takuma Sato who moved to A.J. Foyt Racing, a combination that should definitely be interesting.
The aforementioned Chip Ganassi Racing, former team of Graham Rahal, will scale back to three cars for returning drivers Kimball, Scott Dixon, and Dario Franchitti.
Barracuda Racing, back in 2013 has confirmed that Alex Tagliani will return for another season while perennial powerhouse Team Penske has two returning drivers, Helio Castroneves and Will Power, in their lineup. Check back next week for the remainder of the 2013 team lineups confirmed to date. _Toni Montgomery_
*Nationwide Series: Two Families, Two Different Directions* It’s a tradition in NASCAR, just like other walks of life for racing families to try and pass the torch between generations. As a racer ages, a talented son looks to follow in his father’s footsteps, blazing a new trail while the family rallies around the transition. The problem these days is that patience is at a premium in the corporate boardroom; these _Lifetime_ family movies work for them only when paired with instant success. No company, these days wants to spend millions per year assisting through “the building process” — which is why it’s refreshing to see the approach of small-time Biagi-Denbeste Racing and the way they’ve chosen to develop sprint car standout Kevin Swindell. Just 23, the youngster from Tennessee has spent the last few seasons breaking records held by father Sammy while setting his sights on making NASCAR the next stop. It’s a world dad dabbled in but was ultimately unsuccessful; one full-time season in Trucks (1995) along with a spot Daytona 500 start are the only stock car highlights in an otherwise brilliant resume.
But Kevin, whose talent appears limitless has already shown signs of upstaging his father. Ninth at Phoenix, last November driving Biagi-Denbeste’s No. 98 it’s clear he’s ready to run a full schedule. However, funding remains at a premium, leaving ownership with the strategy of making the most of what they’ve got. So rather than trot Swindell out too fast, with underperforming equipment they’re building his stock car experience through a 15-race limited schedule, trying to impress sponsors over the long-term while giving Swindell time to learn his craft. Not only does it take the pressure off, a championship chase and potential rookie of the year bid thrown to the side but Swindell will remain a threat to contend every time he gets behind the wheel. There’s all the time in the world to compete for NASCAR titles; the key is working your way there without a misstep in the process.
Those mistakes, of course, are something Steve Wallace has become an expert in. After five full-time seasons produced a _total_ of just six top-5 finishes, Wallace spent most of 2012 deservedly sitting on the sidelines. But father Rusty refuses to give up, finding a handful of part-time sponsors that’ll allow Steve to earn yet another chance. With 192 career starts to his credit, you’d think by this point if Wallace was going to learn how to drive in NASCAR, it would have happened. Others like Danny O’Quinn, Landon Cassill, and even a Marc Davis wish they had those family connection to help thrust them along. But you’ve have to think a father’s love, in the form of funding can only take things so far. Companies still buy into the Wallace name; that’s secure. But 2013 is likely the final chance for its current generation to step up his game. _Tom Bowles_
*Grand Am: Third Place Is The First Loser? Heavy Penalties After Rolex 24* Michael Shank Racing’s No. 60 Ford Riley DPG3 was driven by AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Ozz Negri, John Pew and Justin Wilson to a third-place finish overall in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. As per Grand-Am regulations, the top-3 cars were taken back to NASCAR’s R&D Center for a thorough inspection. During said process, it was discovered that the Ford engine in the No. 60 had “mechanical adjustments resulting in performance levels outside the documented maximums.”
In response, Grand-Am Road Racing lowered the boom on the team on Thursday. All five drivers were penalized all 30 points that they had earned for the third-place finish. While that might not mean anything for Allmendinger, Ambrose and Wilson, it really hurts Negri and Pew, the team’s full-time regulars. Michael Shank Racing has lost all 30 of their team points and one point in the North American Endurance Championship (the championship within a championship that is comprised of the Rolex 24, plus the races at Watkins Glen and Indianapolis). Finally, they’ve had to surrender the $35,000 prize for finishing third, in addition to making a $15,000 penalty donation to Camp Boggy Creek. Ford has also been penalized 30 manufacturers’ points.
These are harsh penalties. Honestly, knowing that Grand-Am and ALMS are in the middle of their merger (for example, the series has brought in Paul Walter from ALMS to serve as Race Director), I’m surprised that Grand-Am didn’t simply exclude the No. 60. Exclusion has been levied for far less in ALMS previously than an engine issue (sometimes as simple as a driver being in the car for two minutes too long).
Michael Shank Racing was given the opportunity to appeal their penalties, but team owner Michael Shank has chosen not to do so.
“As much as we are frustrated with the penalty, we believe that pursuing an appeal would not change the outcome, and that we should just move forward from here,” Shank said in a press release on Friday. “Fighting will only take time and resources away from improving this process in the future.”
Regardless of the team’s decision not to appeal, Shank is not very happy with the situation.
“The team and drivers are guilty of one thing: Giving 110% to try and win this race,” Shank tweeted. “This better not diminish one iota of effort that this group did. I have always tried to run a straight up team. I will be transparent as I can with everyone over the next couple days. It’s very simple: We need better and clearer engine power balancing to finally eliminate sandbagging that is the little secret in our series. We have a great series that will be very strong over the next two years. This setback for us will lead to a stronger series in the future.”
“I want to be able to show up at DIS every year and run flat out from practice to the race without fear of engine penalties. It should be in the hands of engineering, driving talent and strategy that win these races and NOT who wins the race on the dyno in Concord. I support the Rolex Series 100%. We are like anything else, we got problems. My hope is that we show up at Austin with a comprehensive better Balance Of Performance.”
Shank does have a point here. His two Ford-powered Rileys were the fastest cars in Daytona during the Roar Before the 24 test days. However, once the race weekend started, all of a sudden the Ganassi BMW Rileys were nearly two seconds faster than in the test. After qualifying, the Corvette DP teams were accused of sandbagging, and thus penalized. This led to Max Angelelli spending his entire post-race press conference ranting about the balance of performance issues since it appeared that Ganassi’s cars were in a league of their own. In Angelelli’s own words, he described his situation by saying, “We are B Class.” Stay tuned; this situation won’t be going away before the next Rolex Series race, March 2nd at the new Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas. _Phil Allaway_
*Truck Series: Eldora Already A Rousing Success… And It’s February* Two weeks ago today, Eldora Speedway announced that only 600 reserved seats remained for the Truck Series’ inaugural visit to the half-mile clay oval situated in Western Ohio. The release, posted on the facility’s website stated, “In just 16 days of ticket sales, fans from 48 states, the Virgin Islands, seven Canadian provinces and New Zealand have secured their ticket to witness NASCAR stars take on ‘dirt track ringers’ in another historic Eldora moment.” As a result of such swift ticket sales, the speedway released 1,000 “General Admission” tickets allowing fans to choose a spot on the grassy hillside where they can set up lawn chairs or blankets.
Fast forward eight days to January 29th and just 300 GA tickets remained while all reserved seats had sold out. The release claimed, “The final pairs of tickets were sold last Friday (Jan. 25th) and sales of the remaining single seats continued throughout the weekend until the final one was purchased at 12:35 AM Tuesday (Jan. 29th) morning.” A quick test as of late Sunday evening allowed me to reserve two GA tickets for purchase, but right now, there’s no indication as to just how many are left.
Is it any surprise that the tickets have sold so quickly? Absolutely not. Since the rumors began that NASCAR _may_ be in talks with Eldora about bringing the Truck Series to the clay for the first time in series history, fans and media alike have been abuzz of what wonderful things may come from the midweek showdown. I know I’m looking forward to late July … are you? _Beth Lunkenheimer_
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