Monday, June 22, 2009

What goes around comes around, right? and Other notes from the weekend.

-Apparently not entirely.

I know I've probably exhausted all of my energies (and your nerves) with my opinions of Joey Logano following the January running of the Camping World East/West Series Toyota All Star Showdown, where, on the last lap, Logano retaliated against Peyton Sellers' pass for the lead, sending him into the wall in turn four, just feet from the checkered flag (and from the biggest celebration of Sellers' career.).

Logano argued that the move was unintentional, and many compared it to a similar bonzai pass Carl Edwards tried (but failed) on Jimmie Johnson at Kansas Speedway last fall, but NASCAR wasn't up for Logano's games, and penalized him by disqualifying his efforts, placing him 40th in the 40 car field and handed the win to the second car to cross the S/F line, 2008 East Series Champion (and all around good guy) Matt Kobyluck.
But, that was January, so why am I bringing it up?

This Saturday at Infineon Raceway, the Camping World West Series took to the track, with now Cup Series regular Logano, again in a Joe Gibbs Racing entry, joining in the fun.
As the laps ticked off, it became the Logano/Patrick Long show at the front of the field, with the duo leading 57 of the races 64 laps. On the final lap in turn 11, Long spun Logano from the lead, which Long held on to for the remaining distance to the checkers, and the length of time it took NASCAR to decide the contact was intentional and to assess the penalty. Long was pushed back to 23rd, the last on the lead lap, Logano was 17th, and Long's teammate Jason Bowles was declared to victor.
I'm never disappointed to see Bowles in victory lane, and NASCAR needs these rules in place to keep the drivers from punting each other out of the way to keep the series from becoming bumper cars instead of the leading developmental series for the Big 3, so I won't for a minute argue that Long's penalty was unnecessary. And since Long isn't a series regular, his placement won't have any impact on his points standings, much like Logano's penalty in the All Star Showdown, a non-points paying event, didn't have any impact on him points-wise. Where I find fault in the ruling is in this: NASCAR set a precedence in January by penalizing Logano so severely, which had many shaking their heads, as rough driving has always incurred, if after the event, as the last car on the lead lap. So why was Long given just a slap on the wrist in comparison?
Guess what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander this time. Sorry, Joey.

-Ron Hornaday won the rain delayed Copart 200 Saturday afternoon at the Milwaukee Mile driving the Kevin Harvick Inc 33 Copart Silverado. With the victory, on his 51st birthday, nonetheless, Hornaday takes over the points lead from fellow Chevy driver Matt Crafton, leading him by 36 markers heading into Memphis this Saturday. Don't know for sure what other presents Ron got on Saturday, but this was probably his favorite.

- Carl Edwards made the trek from Wine Country to Beer Country worth it Saturday evening, coming from the back of the pack due to the driver change, to take the win in the 250, also at the Milwaukee Mile. Major props and a shoutout to Colin Braun, Roush's Truck series driver, who dialed in and qualified the 60 Save-A-Lot Ford before turning over the reigns to Edwards an hour before race time.
An additional shoutout to Roush's other two drivers in the field, rookies Erik Darnell, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr, who put on one heck of a show, and finished 4th and 5th respectfully. If only Roush can be that dominant in the coming weeks, and not have Kyle Busch finish 2nd, we might actually have a battle for the championship on our hands.

-Speaking of the Roush Nationwide teams, Edwards plans to drive full time yet again in 2010, and Roush plans to promote Braun to the series, as according to Geoff Smith, president of Roush Racing, they've been losing money in the truck series and have only dedicated to this season because of their commitment to Braun and sponsor Con-Way Freight. Stenhouse and Braun expected to compete, at least on a limited schedule in 2010, although the details haven't been made clear. Not sure what that means for Darnell, as his name was decidedly left out of the article, but hope it was an oversight on the reporter and/or Smith's part, and not a sign of Darnell's limited future with Roush. We've spoken with Erik numerous times, and he's a genuinely nice person, not to mention a very talented racecar driver, and I'd hate to see him face the same fate as former Roush drivers Todd Kluever and Danny O'Quinn.

- Kasey Kahne won the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway in an impressive fashion, holding off charges from two of the best road racers on the circuit, Tony Stewart and Marcos Ambrose despite numerous opportunities for the two to take advantage of the new double-filed restarts. Kahne's previous best roadcourse finish had been 14th at Watkins Glen International, and each of his previous attempts at Infenion had resulted in finishes outside the top 20.

-The win was also the first for the newly minted Richard Petty Motorsports, and if there's anything better than seeing The King back in victory lane, I can't think of one. The team has a lot to celebrate, as Kahne was the first of 3 RPM drivers who left Sonoma, CA with a top 10. After struggling for a large part of the season, with the four teams having combined for only 11 top 10s in 16 outings, the team is probably looking forward to Watkins Glen more than any other team on the circuit. AJ Allmendinger and his 44 Best Buy came home a respectable 6th, and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 10 in his 19 Stanley Tools Dodge.

-As the Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup teams head to Memphis and New Hampshire this weekend, our thoughts are with Nationwide Series 16 Citi Financial Ford crew chief Eddie Pardue, and his family, especially 4 year old daughter Lani who is battling kidney problems. Props to Eddie for understanding that daddy duties always should take prescendence over crew chief duties. In this sport, families often take a backseat to team responsibilities birthdays and anniversaries, recitals and concerts missed all in exchange for chasing this (crazy) dream. And Prayers for a speedy recovery for Lani!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Making room for Kentucky

It seems all but inevitable that Kentucky Speedway will be adding a Sprint Cup series event to its schedule in the very new feature. Although SMI owner Bruton Smith seemed pessimistic that 2010 will see the blue grass track make its Cup debut, it seems the track is poised to take over hosting duties from one of the other 8 SMI owned properties.

But of the current Cup SMI-owned tracks, where is this race going to come from?

Bristol and Lowes Motor Speedway ,two tracks high in history and fan support are as likely to lose either one of their two Cup points-paying events as Humpy Wheeler is to be named the new president of Kentucky Speedway.

After a long and hard fought battle with NASCAR to put a second date on the schedule for Texas Motor Speedway, it's not likely that TMS would be willing to share.

While many fans (and Matt Kenseth) would be happy to see Infineon and Watkins Glen, the two road course tracks on the schedule, both disappear, with the sights and tastes of Sonoma, CA second to none on the circuit, many would be reluctant to leave the rolling hills of Napa Valley for the rolling hills of northern KY.
The tourist appeal of the riverboat casinos along the Ohio river not far from KY Speedway are no match for the bright lights of Las Vegas.Atlanta and Richmond are likely to squeak by unscathed as well, although the low attendance at Atlanta Motor Speedway this spring was well documented by the drivers and media alike. Their proximity to such major metropolisis, especially when compared to Sparta, KY will likely keep them safe.

That leaves only New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a staple of the series since the early 90s, but unfortunately a track best known by many new-school fans for the two tragedies during the 2000 season that took away first Adam Petty and then two months later Kenny Irwin far too soon. While NHMS is currently the only track in New England to host a NASCAR Sprint Cup event, and they boast, these events host the largest sports attendance in New England, is that enough to save the track from losing (at least one) of its events? Probably not.

Luckily for the fine folks at NHMS, they still have two opportunities this season to prove their value to Smith and SMI, and for their sake, I hope the motor-enthusiast New Englanders rally around the track.

Kentucky holds a special place in my heart, as it has played host to many of my favorite track memories: the 2002 Nationwide (then Busch, of course) race was my very first in-person race experience, and the pre-race autograph session led to my very first television appearance (but that's for another time), I skipped my senior prom to go see the likes of Benny Parsons, Jamie McMurray, Larry Foyt, Jeremy Mayfield, Sterling Marlin and Ricky Craven, and my mom and I witnessed the first of many acrobatic performances by a certain driver we've come to appreciate over the years, about 30 rows up right by the start finish line at the track.

Needless to say, like so many others, I believe KY Speedway deserves a Cup race more than other current NASCAR sanctioned track. The fans and the community deserve it, and although the original owners did pass the torch to SMI in an effort to make their dream of the track hosting a premier NASCAR event a reality, their passion and dedication shouldn't be ignored.

I just hate to see their dreams become a reality at the expense of another's dream.

What do you think?

Get well, JB!

Johnny Benson's week gets worse....
As mentioned in my last post, he lost his Camping World Truck Series #1 ride with Red Horse Racing to sponsored Timothy Peters earlier this week, but that doesn't come close to being the worst thing to happen to him.
Involved in an accident on the second lap of the supermodified race at Berlin Raceway, in Marne, Michigan Saturday night, Benson is currently in serious but stable condition at a local hospital, with burns and at least a few broken ribs.
When it rains, it pours.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery, JB!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sponsorship woes, or something else?

Earlier, this week, Red Horse Racing announced that due to lack of sponsorship, 2008 champion Johnny Benson's number 1 Toyota Tundra team was 'regrettably' ceasing operations. With the cost of running 2 successful and competitive team primarily out of their own pockets adding up quickly after just 8 of the series 25 races, and no sponsorship-relief in sight, team owners Tom Deloach and Jeff Hammond pulled the plug on Benson's hopes of a repeat championship run, and unfortunately , his opportunity to shine in front of his home-state supporters this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
With partial backing, TJ Bell's 11 team was left unscathed.
After last weekend's WinStar World Casino 400at Texas Motor Speedway, Benson sat 7th in points, just 155 markers back from leader Matt Crafton, Bell 20th, 335 outside the top spot.

Benson's predicament surprised and disappointed many fans, as the veteran is a fan favorite, evidenced by his back-to-back Most Popular Driver awards in 2006-2007. But if they thought this was the most surprising announcement to come from the Red Horse stables this week, they were wrong.

That came when the team announced that Timothy Peters, driver of the 17 Toyota, was slated to fill the void filled by Benson in the team's roster. Peters currently sits 19th in the standings, 46 points head of his new teammates, with 2 top 10 finishes while driving for Premier Racing, a team he has particial ownership of. Throughout his career, Peters has shown he can make good use of less than stellar equiptment, but most importantly for the Red Horse Racing executives, he's garnered support for the remainder of the season from That financially backing most likely had a much larger impact on their decision than his on-track performance.

Noone can blame Peters or the RHR team for taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them, but it does bring into new light a serious problem facing the CWTS.

Touting by many (myself included) as the most competitive and enjoyable of the three upper NASCAR divisions, the truck series has attracted fans for years because of the close racing, competitive spirit, and fan accessibility. But the lack of sponsorship dollars has always plagued the series, leading many team owners to run their teams out of their pockets, putting every bit of the team's winnings back into the organization.

To put into perspective the prize money awarded to the truck teams, points leader Matt Crafton's 88 team has won $156,680, the result of 7 top 10 finishes. Todd Bodine, having won the two highest paying races so far this season (Daytona and TMS), has collected $286,875. In the Nationwide Series, Jeff Burton has won $154,115 for the 7 of 14 events he's competed in, and currently sits 26th in points, with 5 top 10s. Morgan Shepherd, 24th in points brought home $319,998. And in the Sprint Cup Series, after making his first points paying race of the season at Pocono Raceway, Dexter Bean's season earnings are $93,425.

It was announced this weekend that GM has pulled their factory support of all of their Nationwide and Camping World Series teams, puttign an even larger financial stress on their Chevy-dedicated team owners.

Obviously, the economy has hit NASCAR as hard as the rest of us, and the results can just be attested to 'a sign of the times.' But with rumblings amongst those in the garage that Benson's release wasn't completely due to the financial well having run dry, you have to wonder where the truth lies.
Peters isn't the first driver to use his sponsor's checkbook to find a ride, and he surely won't be the last, but for the integrity and well-being of the sport, we should all hope this isn't a sign of things to come for the beloved series.