Recent Posts

The Forgotten Rookie: Michael McDowell Prepares for Rolex 24 Before Beginning His Cup Career

With former open wheel stars Dario Franchitti, Patrick Carpentier, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Jacques Villeneuve leading the 2008 Sprint Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year class, there is one other open wheel and sports car regular who seems to go unnoticed - Michael McDowell. A former Star Mazda Series champion, Rolex Sports Car Series race winner, and the fifth youngest driver to ever compete in the Champ Car series, McDowell has quite a list of accomplishments for a guy who's only 23. On Wednesday, the youngster officially added another bullet point to that glowing resume, as he was officially announced as the heir apparent for the No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Taking over the seat March 30th at Martinsville, McDowell will replace rising sophomore David Reutimann, who will jump to the No. 44 UPS Toyota in place of the retiring Dale Jarrett. The move completes a jump for McDowell from Grand-Am to the ARCA Series full-time one year ago, when he shot into the stock car ranks by winning four races, nine poles, and giving 8-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel a serious run at the series title. But before he starts his biggest racing assignment to date, this month McDowell returns to the series where he competed in 2005 and 2006, participating in the Rolex 24 at Daytona for the No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Racing Porsche FABCAR. As he prepares for his fourth grueling 24-hour event and his upcoming rookie season for MWR, McDowell took some time out at the Spirit of Daytona race shop to talk with The Frontstretch, discussing why he made the transition from sports cars to stock cars and what his goals are for 2008.

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The Best Of The Frontstretch: Two Little Brothers, Public Mourning, and a Kid Named Junior-Victory Lane Revisited

"Well, the (fill in sponsor/manufacturer/ model here) ran great today. My super, amazing crew chief made some great calls and the guys did a great job on pit stops that got us to the front. I'd also like to thank (insert ten other sponsors here), my Mom, and all my fans!" How many times a year have you heard this speech in Victory Lane and shaken your head at how scripted it is? I'd have to say, in the average Cup season…about 36. The reason Victory Lane sounds and looks scripted is because it IS. And for good reason: there are a lot of people who pay a lot of money or supply a lot of equipment who expect a return on that: photos of the team wearing their hat, gathered around the trophy and a thanks on national TV to impress their corporate clients. NASCAR wants the publicity photos of driver and crew hosing each other with champagne. The team owner wants his own photos. The ceremony takes forever; the five minutes you see on TV can stretch to a half hour or more while all the sponsors get taken care of. While everyone is complaining about Joe Driver not being spontaneous enough, I always figure, the poor guy is saying what he's paid to say. He's just spent four hours in that car and he'd probably like a cold Gatorade, a trip to the restroom, and a couple of aspirin about now, so you can't really blame him if it comes out boring and scripted.

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The Best Of The Frontstretch: Tearing Apart the Trucks: Kelly Sutton Makes Her Return

When the Craftsman Truck Series rolls into Kansas on April 28th, Kelly Sutton will make her return to racing after an extended absence. Sutton and Billy Ballew Motorsports announced a four race deal for Sutton to drive the No. 51 Team Copaxone Chevy Silverado at the beginning of this month: Sutton will also pilot the truck at Mansfield Motorsports Park (May 26th), Texas Motor Speedway (June 8th), and Memphis Motorsports Park (June 30th) in her debut season for Ballew. The return of Sutton once again brings a woman back into the Truck Series as at least a part-time competitor; but Kelly Sutton isn't just any racer, and it's not because she's female, either. Sutton has been battling relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS), an "autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system" for the last 19 years. She was diagnosed with MS at the age of 16; tingling and numbness on her right side sent her to the doctor, where a spinal tap and an MRI revealed MS. Doctors told her she would be confined to a wheelchair within 8-10 years; instead, she's developed into one of the best female drivers in the United States.

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The Best Of The Frontstretch: The Daytona 500: The Next Victim Of NASCAR’s Greed?

Quick, name the track that hosts the IRL's season opening race. Did it take a second? Still don't know? Heck...I had to look it up myself, as I'm not the die-hard IndyCar enthusiast. The answer to this question is not as important on a factual level so much as it is on a subconscious one. In NASCAR, where the Daytona 500 has served as the starting block to a new season for 25 years, everyone — even my mother who only catches a glimpse of races on random trips through the living room — knows that Daytona kicks off the traveling road show known as the NASCAR season. In an otherwise barren gap on the sports landscape — the Super Bowl has just concluded and March Madness is still a few weeks away — Daytona has carved its own neat little niche in February where the sport of auto racing can take center stage on a national level.

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The Best Of The Frontstretch: Penske Preparing For Past Champion Provisional Sham With Hornish, Busch

Kurt Busch has proved his stock car talent, winning the 2004 Nextel Cup championship. On the flip side, teammate Sam Hornish, Jr. has yet to prove he can make a race as a Nextel Cup rookie. But both may have the same comfy exemption to make starting fields for 2008; and that has left many a NASCAR observer scratching their head in disbelief. The word around the garage at Texas was that car owner Roger Penske is considering making a change next year to his driver lineup, taking advantage of the rules as they are written to ensure Hornish a starting spot in the first five races next season. In a move that would put all three of his cars on solid ground, Penske is thinking of putting his open wheel star turned stock car rookie into the No. 2 car - or at the very least, applying the owner's points from that car to Hornish's ride for the 2008 season. In the meantime, Kurt Busch would have points from Penske's third entry, the No. 06, which he plans to bring full-time in 2008. Under that scenario, the slew of Hornish DNQs which have plagued him throughout the Chase will stop in a hurry; his team would have an automatic starting spot in the first five races, based on Busch's owner points from 2007. All the rookie would need is to flip the ignition to earn the spot; meanwhile, Busch would qualify on speed, with the luxury of his Past Champion's Provisional to fall back on should he falter.

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The Best Of The Frontstretch: Robby Gordon Got Dumped

Robby, Robby, Robby…What went wrong during Saturday's Busch race in Montreal? Does anybody know? I mean, save from Robby Gordon being kicked out of Sunday's Nextel Cup Pocono race by NASCAR, of course. Was that called for? Well, let's see what I can decide. So, what exactly happened on Saturday? See, this is the first problem. Nobody really saw…I doubt even NASCAR got a look at what transpired between his No. 55 and Marcos Ambrose's No. 59. At the moment that the field was busy spinning into a pile of debris behind Robby and Marcos, Robby was putting the moves on the No. 59's rear bumper. I swore Robby almost had Marcos' rear end off the ground when the camera shot pulled away to focus on the melee behind them. The next thing we knew, the camera picks the pair up coming out of a turn, with the yellow flag flying and Marcos dumping Robby. As I indicated, Robby may have had that coming...we just never fully saw why.

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The Best Of The Frontstretch: Voices From the Heartland: Nextel/ISC/NASCAR; From Tiananmen Square to Talladega

As I mentioned at the beginning of last weeks Top Ten List, Brian France and few other NASCAR party officials recently spent a week in China to "discuss possible projects with government, sports, and business officials in Beijing". The more I thought about this, and especially after the FRN's (France's Republic of NASCAR) punishment of Tony Stewart, a couple of things crossed my mind. First and foremost was; where is the outrage? And secondly; perhaps NASCAR is returning to its real roots after all!

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The Best Of The Frontstretch: Beyond The Cockpit: David Reutimann

_David Reutimann knows all too well what it feels like to be on a roller coaster. The first-year driver from Michael Waltrip Racing has experienced the ups and downs of Nextel Cup racing harder than most everyone this year, going through the nervewracking procedure each Friday of attempting to qualify for races on time...not provisionals. When Reutimann HAS cracked the starting field, he's had to deal with the gremlins of mechanical failure and rookie mistakes, all of which have taken their toll on a new Toyota team working hard to catch up to the rest of the pack. But having made six consecutive races on speed (P.J. Jones drove the No. 00 at Watkins Glen), it's clear the Burger King Camry is heading in the right direction - and a lot of that has to do with the way one of NASCAR's brightest future talents has conducted himself behind the wheel._ _Our Tony Lumbis talked with Reutimann during the Pocono race weekend about how he's handled the nerves of Friday afternoons at the track, which Waltrip is the funniest, and why his program on the Busch side is having far more success than his Cup effort to date._ Tony Lumbis, Frontstretch.com: *In many ways, you've been the face of Michael Waltrip Racing on the track this season, qualifying for more races than both of your teammates to this point. What do you contribute your success to?* David Reutimann: Ya know, I've been asked that a lot, and I really don't have any answers. I mean, both those guys are good qualifiers (teammates Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip)...I just think that my guys are doing a really great job. (Crew chief) Frankie Kerr has been doing a good job getting the cars set up for me.

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The Best Of The Frontstretch: White Flag: Junior’s Last Lap at DEI

It seems like a lifetime ago, and in a way, it was. It's hard to believe that it's been almost a decade since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. came onto the scene as a then Winston Cup rookie with a heck of a name to live up to. He was a likeable young kid who liked to party and have a good time and race on Sunday. He didn't seem to be in any hurry to grow up, and that was okay. He was determined to be his own person, free of the shadow of his father, a seven-time Cup champion and a racing legend. But Dale Earnhardt cast a long shadow, and his death in February 2001 forced Junior to grow up overnight. Driving for the organization his father built for him, Earnhardt, Jr. proved his prowess on the racetrack with seventeen wins to date. After his father's death, Junior wanted to uphold the reputation of Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated on the track and was successful, as were teammates Steve Park and Michael Waltrip. Everything was turning up roses, and there was no reason to believe that the Earnhardt name on the sign outside wouldn't be carried on inside the shop as well for years to come, with Junior racing the red No. 8 for as long as he wanted to race at NASCAR's top level.

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The Best Of The Frontstretch: Passion Fuels Waltrip’s Past, Present and Future

The year was 2002. It was my 27th birthday. My father was receiving the Mayor's Award of Excellence for community service. Darrell Waltrip was there too, accepting the award for excellence in sports. Each recipient stood and spoke and, while I was very proud of my father and felt him to be more than deserving, it was Darrell's speech that spoke directly to me. "Find your passion," he told us that night. Whether that be ballet or racing, teaching or writing, the path to being happy and successful is to zero in on what you do well and follow it.

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