*Did You Notice?…* Kurt Busch’s pick of Furniture Row was based on finances more than future success? Yes, he had offers from plenty of other programs, and Richard Petty Motorsports in particular would have loved to add him. But after a year with Phoenix, in which sponsorship has been near impossible to come by, Busch knows the obstacles at stake in NASCAR today. There are no new companies waltzing in for a 36-race schedule, and the ones remaining know all about the 2004 Cup Series champ and his personal _Days Of Our Lives_ history with the fans, media, NASCAR officials … you name it. You don’t erase that “bad boy” image up at corporate in less than ten months, no matter how many touchy-feely statements people make before you enter the boardroom. Let’s not forget, this “recovery period” included a one-race suspension for swearing and personal misconduct, applied after a postrace interview at the same track we’re headed to this weekend: Dover.
*Did You Notice?…* For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., there’s no such thing as a “family business” anymore? Just five years after leaving Dale Earnhardt, Inc., getting scorned by stepmother Teresa Earnhardt by his bid for control of the organization Dale Jr. has turned a blind eye to a different set of relatives. Tony Eury, Sr. and Jr., his uncle and cousin respectively have been kicked to the curb from his JR Motorsports operation, a Nationwide Series team that admittedly hasn’t won a race in two-plus seasons but also features a car, the No. 88 solidly inside the top 10 in championship points with rookie Cole Whitt. Add in third-year driver Danica Patrick, 11th in the season standings and it’s not like this organization is the laughingstock of the league. Far from it.
*Did You Notice?…* Sponsorship is what’s making the Silly Season world go round these days? Matt Kenseth didn’t have enough of it at Roush Fenway; Joey Logano had it stripped from him at Joe Gibbs Racing. Their financial problems, not personality conflicts or performance issues led to the biggest day of announcements we’ll see for 2013.
Kenseth’s time in front of the cameras came first, one of the most poorly kept secrets in NASCAR history due to a contract that kept him from “officially” announcing his move until a certain date. (Side note: When will NASCAR get with the 21st Century? Do they really think an archaic piece of paper will keep the Twitterverse silent for three months? Hello… someone get Jack Roush an iPhone and a paper shredder – that contract should have been ripped up and a press conference held back in July. But I digress.)
*Did You Notice?…* Dodge’s departure from the sport dashes expansion dreams? In the past few months, the manufacturer has been linked with Furniture Row Racing, looking to add a a second car with driver Kurt Busch; Andretti Autosport, exploring the option of debuting a team in 2013; and Richard Petty Motorsports, whose funding from Dodge could have spearheaded co-owner Andy Murstein’s desire to build from two cars to three. It’s clear, despite the loss of Penske Racing that Dodge had options; they just clearly didn’t like any of them. Why?
“Really this issue started many, many years ago as we consolidated down to one team,” explained SRT’s Ralph Gilles, President Of Racing and Technology. “We had a very, I would say, an elegant situation with the Penske group, having a one-stop shop, an engine, everything, a very high quality team to work with.”
*Did You Notice?…* How so many people in NASCAR are living on a prayer? Too bad even Jon Bon Jovi would know better than to believe Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is on the verge of “reviving” the sport. I know what you’re saying… who am I to shoot the messengers? After all, in the past 72 hours Earnhardt has been revered for his ability to rise for the top of the point standings for the first time in eight years; that, his win at Michigan and a rumored ability to walk on water on the way has made him a demigod during a week there hasn’t been much to write about.
But speculation, in this case can be replaced by simple fact, one quotation that more than any other explains why the 2012 version of Junior will never be the “national racing savior” for millions of disillusioned fans he once was on the verge of becoming.
*Did You Notice?…* That in life, all it takes is one fleeting moment, one spoken word to turn our lives from successful to shattered?
In this case, it was as simple and tasteless as peeing into a cup. A.J. Allmendinger’s life changed forever Tuesday, suspended indefinitely by NASCAR for violating the sport’s drug policy in a decision that plunges his career into chaos. The driver’s “B” sample, tested weeks after the “A” showed no change in result, an unknown substance (rumored to be everything from methamphetamine to a rare stimulant found in an energy drink A.J. was endorsing) the root cause of what has kept him on the sidelines since hours before the July 7th Cup Series race at Daytona.
*Did You Notice?…* Chad Norris wasn’t informed he would be Carl Edwards’ new crew chief until yesterday morning? That’s the biggest nugget from Tuesday’s big surprise, No. 99 head wrench Bob Osborne stepping down after spending more than eight of the past nine seasons atop that pit box. That alone should tell you this decision was not as pre-planned as some out in the racing world might surmise. Yes, the duo had been having a bad season together but as recently as Kentucky, after poor pit strategy doomed them both sides were adamant about the pairing continuing over the long-term. Edwards and Osborne have always been close, the outgoing driver a perfect match for the introverted, ultra-intelligent engineer who brought them within one position on the racetrack of a championship last season. Consistently, through the years Edwards has told me in interviews how much their relationship has been the key to remaining at or near the top of the Cup Series. So, until all the facts come out, or sources explain differently let’s take the press release at its word and wish Osborne well while dealing with undisclosed, health-related issues behind the scenes.
*Did You Notice?…* How the U.S. Army’s departure from NASCAR puts the focus on the No. 88 car manned by the sport’s Most Popular Driver? With the Army’s decision to leave stock car racing, announced Tuesday, that leaves the National Guard, who backs Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as the lone military branch with a major presence in the sport. In the past few seasons, we’ve seen the Coast Guard, the Navy, and the Marines leave the Nationwide Series, all while the U.S. Air Force has seen primary sponsorship reduced to just two Sprint Cup events with the No. 43 and Aric Almirola. Even auxiliary branches of government, like the U.S. Border Patrol, have pulled back and turned their marketing dollars towards other areas.
*Did You Notice?…* The biggest story in NASCAR right now, in my opinion isn’t the Silly Season move of Matt Kenseth but Michael Andretti. One of the most famous last names in open wheel racing has been openly courting Dodge, looking for money and manufacturer support to start a NASCAR Cup team beginning in 2013. While Kenseth is unlikely to land there, just the name raises eyebrows and could attract at least a “B” level free agent (Ryan Newman? Kurt Busch post-rehab?) towards an organization that would come out of the box at least mildly competitive. Even with a single car, there’s no doubt if that “celebrity name” is coming to NASCAR racing they’re not going to settle for running 30th every week.
*Did You Notice?…* No Cup Series champion in the modern era has driven for a different team the _following season?_ That’s a stat Matt Kenseth won’t like to hear, mere hours after informing the world he’ll be leaving his lone Cup home, Roush Fenway Racing, following the 2012 season. Kenseth’s No. 17 team didn’t just win this year’s Daytona 500; they’re leading the Chase for the Cup, armed with an average finish of 7.7 and lead-lap finishes in 15 of 16 events. Winning just a shade less than $4 million, Kenseth has made more money on-track in 2012 than future Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin _combined._