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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Voice of Vito: Toyotas Vs. Tires

There was a lot of politicking at Michigan International Speedway last weekend, reminiscent of the 1990s and early 2000s back and forth among the manufacturers.

The rumor was that NASCAR was planning on taking cars to the wind tunnel after the race, as it is the final intermediate track race, which make up the majority of the tracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, before the start of the playoffs. Brad Keselowski called Toyota out for sandbagging, Kyle Busch called Keselowski out for being a “f—ing moron.”

Ultimately, cars weren’t taken after the race, with NASCAR stating it had made its point, and inspection seemed to go smoother than before.

Which kind of supports Keselowski’s original contention.

Why would NASCAR bother taking cars that are clearly in spec and not pushing the ragged edge of legality? They would be taking cars to critique the likes of which won’t see the track for the rest of the year. As it was, Martin Truex Jr. was leading when the final caution came out and likely was on the way to his fifth win of the year before the monster restart (and new tires) by Kyle Larson to get by for the green-white-checkered that decided the race.

That is pretty scary. If Toyota can show up with its B-game and still almost win convincingly in Ford and Chevrolet’s backyard in a race that is very important for them to win, it should be pretty easy to guess the odds-on favorites to go to Homestead-Miami Speedway with a shot at the championship.

RIP BKR

Brad Keselowski Racing announced on Thursday that it will not be fielding a Camping World Series Truck team for 2018. BKR has been competing since 2008, its alumni list including new Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney and Tyler Reddick, as well as current drivers Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric.

The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise, as Keselowski has always spoken highly of his truck teams and the opportunity it provides to help give back to the sport and carry on the legacy of his father’s involvement as an owner-driver.

So what gives?

In the press release, Keselowski said he had hoped someday in the future to become an owner in the Cup Series, and to do that will move toward building an advanced manufacturing and engineering facility where his race team is currently operating. Given his long-standing partnership with Roger Penske, he’s had an inside look at how to properly run a motorsports engineering operation. Remember that when Keselowski and Penske won the 2012 Cup championship, it was as the only Dodge team in the field – and he had two new teammates pass through the No. 22 that season. Dodge left the Cup Series after the season finale at Homestead.

It also goes onto highlight a number of longstanding pressures the sport is facing.

The first is cost. In the past few years, Keselowski has said he’s spent his own money to keep things running at BKR, losing up to $2 million in a season doing so. It also calls attention to the ownership crisis the sport is facing. The familiar faces we all grew up with in the ‘80s and ‘90s are about to hit their 80s and 90s. As the new guard of young drivers come into the sport, there is going to be a new wave of ownership that will be entering the sport in the not-too-distant future. Keselowski is thinking ahead and seizing the opportunity to get started now to prepare to contend with the established pillars of the racing world.

Kyle Busch has made comments recently that if he’s not allowed to compete in the Truck Series due to declaring as a championship Cup driver, he would shut down Kyle Busch Motorsports as well. Is there any truth to that, or is he just carping about not being able to beat up on the beginners? While he does get substantial support from Toyota, part of that is predicated on him actually being in the truck for a specified number of races a year.

While a potential eventual move upward is great for Keselowski, what about his drivers and the series itself? BKR is the only competitive Ford organization in the Truck Series, with two Penske-connected drivers waiting in the wings. A wild guess says that they move to either Penske-owned equipment or Stewart-Haas Racing steps up and begins to field a truck team. If not, the loss of BKR and potentially KBM if Busch were to follow through on his threats would leave a large vacuum to fill for the series, which has launched many of the Cup stars we’ll be seeing in the next couple of years.

This Bud’s for You

The August race at Bristol Motor Speedway was once the hardest ticket on the NASCAR tour to acquire. Long before cages were being rattled or swords handed out as trophies, Thunder Valley would usually set the stage for some of the most memorable moments of the season. While there are a number of races to highlight, many usually point to the last lap slobberknockers between Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte in 1999 and 1995.

The one that always sticks in my mind is the 1993 Bud 500. Mark Martin came from two laps down after pit road issues had him out of contention after leading from the pole early in the race. With 64 laps to go, Martin was pacing Rusty Wallace, the two never touching, rubbing or bump-and-running.

With 12 to go, Martin got by but ran into the lapped traffic of Brett and Geoff Bodine racing for position. Bodine held up Martin with laps to go, nearly costing him his third consecutive victory.

After the checkered flag fell, Martin ran into the back of the Bud Moore Ford, showing his displeasure. As he wheeled into Victory Lane and exited the car, the brakes caught fire and had to be extinguished.

The following week he’d go onto win for the fourth consecutive race at Darlington Raceway in the Southern 500, which is still tied as the modern record.

The 1993 win was his first of two career victories at Bristol Motor Speedway, the next an emotional one coming five years later, following the plane crash that took the lives of his father Julian, stepmother Shelly and half-sister Sarah.

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About Vito Pugliese

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Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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One comment

  1. Avatar

    “I was running into Geoff” – awesome!