The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be making their second appearance of the year at the Pocono Speedway, and its 2.5 triangular shaped track, this Sunday, August 3d, with the running of the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. Kasey Kahne won the June race earlier this year and Kurt Busch won the August race in 2007.
Veteran driver Bill Elliot, who will be in the Wood Brothers #21 Ford this Sunday, has the most Pocono wins with five followed by Jeff Gordon's four trips to victory lane. Chevrolet leads the manufacturer's wins with 23. The race will be broadcast on ESPN with the countdown show starting at 10am PT and the green flag at approximately 11:17am PT.
The focal point here will be the separation between the 11th and 13th positions in the Chase For The Championship. There is only six points between drivers Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick. Meanwhile NASCAR's Nationwide Series will be north of the border racing on the road course in Montreal on Saturday. The broadcast time is 12:30 pm PT on ESPN2.
Sprint Cup veteran Kyle Petty will not be racing at Pocono. Petty completed his annual six race hiatus to join the TNT television team over two weeks ago while Terry Labonte filled in for him. Labonte has another driving commitment this weekend so Petty Enterprises development driver Chad McCumbee will be driving Kyle's #45 Dodge. This has led to speculation that Petty may be considering retirement and will not be returning to his car in 2009. Robbie Loomis, Petty Enterprises Vice President of Operations, only said "right now we're still working through a few things."
There will be no double duty for Patrick Carpentier this weekend. The driver of the #10 Gillett Evernham Motor Sports Dodge will be driving in the Nationwide Series race Saturday in his native Montreal, Canada. He declined to drive in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. The aforementioned Terry Labonte will drive his Sprint Cup car in the Pocono race.
Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #1 Dale Earnhardt Inc, (DEI), Chevrolet, was reported to be furious over a premature report published on ESPN.Com that said he had signed a two year contract extension to return to the team. Truex, who is a high profile free agent whose contract expires this year, was reportedly so angry that he was seen engaged in a rather loud confrontation with Max Siegel the DEI President of Global Operations last weekend prior to the Indianapolis race.
It's well known that Ryan Newman, driver of the #12 Penske Dodge, is leaving that team at the end of this season. He's expected to join Tony Stewart and drive the second car for the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing. The other high profile free agent in NASCAR's silly season was also being wooed by Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing however both teams have apparently conceded defeat and said that expect Newman to sign with Stewart.
What Newman couldn't see coming was the harsh words from a former teammate. Newman and former Cup champion Rusty Wallace were teammates at Penske Racing from 2002 to 2005 and it's very common knowledge that the two drivers didn't get along to the point of actually not speaking to each other. When asked for an opinion on Newman's departure Wallace said "I'll clean this leaving thing up. He didn't leave he was fired. Roger called him to his office and said I don't need your services next year. Ryan didn't come to him and say he's leaving. That's exactly the way it went down." A very surprised Newman said "I don't know what Rusty's trying to prove but that's not the case. Roger and I agreed not to continue our association simply because our goals didn't align." Penske supported Newman's statement to the point of saying "Wallace doesn't know what he's talking about." However Penske did concede that he's been talking to driver David Stremme about taking over the soon to be empty ride. Stremme is a full time driver for Rusty Wallace Inc in the Nationwide Series and also does test driving in Penske's Cup cars.
When the 2008 NASCAR season began in February Chip Ganassi Racing launched a third team for Indy Racing League champion Dario Franchitti. As we all know by now the driver development deal never developed and Ganassi stunned everyone by pulling the plug on the team last June and laying off 71 employees. Sponsorship problems were reported to be a major factor in that decision. While he plans to keep Franchitti in NASCAR, mostly in selected Nationwide Series events, there was speculation regarding how long Ganassi was going to remain a Cup team owner. That speculation hit a fever pitch last weekend when representatives from Ganassi were seen having dinner in an Indianapolis restaurant with reps from Michael Waltrip Racing. The garage rumors state that a merger may be in the making. The sponsorship for Ganassi's two remaining teams is reported to be shaky at best while Waltrip's three teams have serious sponsor issues. But there is one major situation here. Ganassi is under contract to field Dodges while Waltrip has a commitment with Toyota.
WHAT WOULD A RACING COLUMN BE WITHOUT A GREAT TONY STEWART STORY?
"Smoke" spent a night at Indiana's O'Reilly Raceway Park to watch his USAC, United States Auto Club, teams participate in a USAC sanctioned National Midget Series race there. During the race one of his drivers, Tracy Hines, scrapped the retaining wall and cut a tire down which brought out the yellow flag. The team changed the tire and sent their driver back out but the car was stopped at the track entrance by a USAC who said it was too late for Hines to blend into the field before the restart of the race.
Stewart ran to the scene and demanded an explanation and, during the heat of the moment, actually slapped the official's radio headset right off of the top of his head. USAC responded by fining Stewart $10,000 and placed his team on probation for a year. Last Monday Stewart said that he misunderstood USAC's pit road policy and formally apologized for the incident. He also pledged to purchase new headset radios and custom company shirts for all of the USAC officials.