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by David Grayson
Friday, September 19, 2008

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The ESPN Sports Networks likes to treat its viewers to Saturday night boxing matches. But even network executives were amazed when their coverage of last Saturday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race from New Hampshire turned into a genuine boxing match between team members representing drivers Todd Bodine, David Reutimann and David Starr. While it may have been the last thing NASCAR officials wanted to see, it was riveting, and highly entertaining, live television. Of course NASCAR can't condone this sort of behavior and this past Wednesday the suspensions, fines, and probations were handed down to all involved.

From all of this came a rather unusual proposition from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway where the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be racing this Saturday. The LVMS staff is not convinced that the issues between these teams are completely resolved. They have proposed that team members representing Todd Bodine and David Starr stage an old fashioned tug of war at the speedway's start/finish line during the prerace festivities. At this writing there's no confirmation from the teams regarding their participation or, for that matter, whether or not NASCAR will even allow it. But you have to admit that innovative thinking like this is just one more reason why LVMS is a very fun place.

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT THE SILLY SEASON WAS OVER.

I have to admit that NASCAR's 2008 silly season has been one of the best ever. Just when you thought we had heard all of the announcements regarding who's going where and doing what it just seems to keep coming on strong.

Bruton Smith, owner and CEO of Speedway Motor Sports Inc-SMI, continues to be one of the most fascinating people active in NASCAR racing today. Smith and SMI already owns six speedways with NASCAR dates and he's in the process to buying the Kentucky Speedway. Now the garage rumors are saying that Smith is looking to purchase the Dover Speedway. There has been absolutely no comment from Dover Motor Sports Inc-DMS but a public corporation known as Marathon Partners LP-MPL, the largest shareholder of the track outside of DMS, thinks the speedway should be sold to Smith. A spokesman for MPL recently said he believes that the Dover Speedway doesn't have much of a future as an independently operated track citing the fact that many share holders agree with him. He also cited the fact that the majority of the tracks on NASCAR's schedule are owned by either SMI or the International Speedway Corporation which is in turn owned by the France family who of course owns NASCAR.

There's a huge sigh of relief at Red Bull Racing-RBR with the recent announcement that said General Manager Jay Frye has decided to remain with the operation and will not be moving to Tony Stewart’s newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing as originally believed. Frye has worked wonders with RBR and is considered largely responsible for the improved progress of the teams.

With that bullet successfully dodged, RBR will not shift its focus to their driver line up for 2009 and in particular the future status of A J Allmendinger the driver of the #84 Red Bull Toyota. RBR plans on running at least two teams next season but are reportedly considering replacing Allmendinger, the former CART open wheel champion, with Scott Speed. Speed, an alumnus of Formula One racing, is a RBR development driver who was loaned out to teams from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the ARCA ReMax Series. He has already won races in each series and is a serious contender to win the ARCA ReMax championship. An announcement from RBR regarding their plans is expected soon.

It's sad to hear that Rensi Motor Sports, who fields the #25 Ford for driver Bobby Hamilton Jr in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, may be closing its doors for good in December if they can't find a primary sponsor to replace the soon to be departing Smithfield Foods. Hamilton has been given permission from the team to start shopping for a ride and reports a 40% chance of a Sprint Cup ride, a Craftsman Truck opportunity and has not ruled out the possibility of starting his own Nationwide Series team next year.

Merger rumors continue to make the NASCAR news this week. Last week we were told that Gillett-Evernham Motor Sports-GEM has filed a lawsuit against Robby Gordon Motor Sports alleging that he backed out of a merger deal that would have had GEM purchasing his racing assets. Now we're hearing that George Gillett, majority owner of GEM, has expressed an interest in purchasing Bill Davis Racing-BDR, which is of course a Toyota team. Davis has not denied that his NASCAR Sprint Cup operation is for sale and the purchase would include the #22 team, currently driven by Dave Blaney, as well as all affiliations with Toyota, Triad Racing Development and of course the race shop itself. The deal will not included BDR's very successful NASCAR Craftsman Truck Operation or plans to expand their Nationwide Series efforts. GEM has been looking to add a fourth team to its stable to shore up future business plans and are preferably interested in a team that is currently in the top 35 of NASCAR's owner points. Reportedly Toyota Racing Development has already approved the proposed purchase but allegedly Dodge Motor Sports, who has an agreement with GEM, is less than thrilled with the prospect.

It's also likely that the Dodge boys are shooting flames over rumors that state Chip Ganassi Racing-CGR is considering a merger with Michael Waltrip Racing-MWR in what is yet another source of Toyota aggravation for Dodge Motor Sports. Over the past approximate two months CGR has shut down one of its NASCAR Sprint Cup teams, sent driver Dario Franchitti back to the Indy Racing League, and laid off 71 employees. This was followed by the loss of long time sponsor Havoline Motor Oil and the defection of driver Reed Sorenson. Meanwhile at MWR the Napa Toyota driven by Michael Waltrip is the only one, of three, Toyotas that has full time sponsorship for next year. David Reutimann’s car has 50% sponsorship at this writing and Michael McDowell's ride may be temporarily shut down if a sponsor is not found soon. If this rumored merger becomes a reality then it's possible that MWR will expand to four teams with Ganassi's lead driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, driving a Toyota.

But the wildest garage rumor yet, involving Michael Waltrip, actually comes from Europe. For many years now Steve Hallam has been the lead engineer and in charge of racing operations for team McLaren’s highly successful Formula One operation. Garage rumors are rampant and saying that Hallam is leaving his present position to come to America, NASCAR and MWR next year. It doesn't seem likely that someone would leave a successful Formula One operation, with a reported racing budget in excess of $400 million, to take over a NASCAR operation that doesn't have complete sponsorship lined up for next year. However, this rumor seems to be getting a little stronger with each passing day.

There's a strong possibility that we may be hearing an announcement from the United States Army that says at least a portion of their sponsorship will be placed with driver Ryan Newman and his new ride with Stewart-Haas Racing.

GOOD GUYS DOING GOOD THINGS

Four time NASCAR champion, and Chase hopeful, Jeff Gordon spent last Tuesday in Washington DC raising political awareness for the life saving potential of umbilical cord transplants. Gordon was joined by Dr. Jeffrey W. Chell the CEO of the National Marrow Donor Program. They were asking members of Congress to consider support for funding for the Bell and Young Transportation Program as well as full funding for the National Cord Blood Inventory.

A NASCAR contingency led by drivers Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Scott Riggs spent this past Wednesday visiting wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Driver Bobby Labonte was in West Virginia this week at the Pratt Elementary School where he helped raise $15,000 to upgrade the school's playground and shelter facilities. The event was part of the General Mills/Hamburger Helper "My Helping Hand Program." Students wrote essays, at 250 words or less, on why their school deserved to be part of the program.

The Lowe's Home Improvement Center's #48 Racing For Relief program will benefit the American Red Cross and their efforts to assist the victims of Hurricane Ike. During this Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Dover Speedway Lowes will donate $48 for every lap that driver Jimmie Johnson completes during the race. The donation could be as high as $19,200 if Johnson completes all of the scheduled laps. If Johnson wins the race Lowes will donate an additional $4,800. All of this is in addition to the $1 million the retail chain has already donated to hurricane victims.

I PITY THE FOOL WHO RIPS OFF JACK ROUSH AND ROGER PENSKE

From Mooresville-North Carolina comes a report that someone broke into the Roush-Yates Engine shops and stole three Ford racing motors valued at $50,000 each. According to investigators whomever's responsible for this theft is going to need some sort of racing connection to get anything for the stolen merchandise. There's no way these engines are going to work inside of a street vehicle. Also it seems that the thieves stole a utility truck from a local Roger Penske Truck Rental Center to transport the engines.

THE CHASE TAKES ON THE MONSTER

The Dover Raceway, and its challenging one mile concrete oval, has for years been known as the Monster Mile and it will be the scene of round two of NASCAR's Chase For The Championship this Sunday. Here are some of the facts regarding this Sunday's Camping World 400:

The race has 46 entries vying for 43 starting berths.
Carl Edwards won this race in September of last year. Kyle Busch won the spring event held last June.
This is the 77th Cup race held at Dover. In the past 59.7% of the races were won by drivers who started within the top five positions. 77.9% were won by drivers who started inside of the top ten.
NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points will be as tight as ever during this race. Michael McDowell, #00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, is 34th in the standings and 28 points ahead of 36th followed by Robby Gordon, #7 Robby Gordon Motor Sports Dodge, at +15. A J Allmendinger, #84 Red Bull Toyota, is on the outside looking in at -15 followed by Sam Hornish, #77 Penske South Racing, at -18.

Of course the main focal point will be the 12 drivers competing in the Chase For The Championship. "Vegas Insider Dot Com" has made some odds adjustment on potential Chase winners from last week. Greg Biffle, #16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, was listed at 35 to 1 last week to win the championship. But after his outstanding performance and win at New Hampshire last Sunday he's now listed at 8 to 1. He's also listed as a 10 to 1 favorite to win this Sunday's Dover Race.

"Vegas Insider" still believes that drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are the favorites to win the championship. Johnson, #48 Hendrick Motor Sports Chevrolet, is listed at 2 to 1 odds to win the title and 6 to 1 odds to win Sunday's race.

Kyle Busch, #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, will be the man to watch because he's expected to pull out all of the stops to redeem himself from last Sunday's disaster in New Hampshire which saw him fall from first to eighth in the Chase standings. Busch is still rated 2 to 1 odds to win his first NASCAR title but, strangely enough, is only listed at 9 to 2 to win the Dover race.

The Las Vegas odds makers also still has a lot of faith in Carl Edwards, #99 Roush Fenway Ford, and his chances for his first NASCAR championship. He listed at 5 to 2 odds this week. "Concrete Carl", so named due to his outstanding performance record on concrete surface race tracks, has been given a 9 to 2 shot to win the Dover race.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup's Camping World RV 400 can be seen Sunday, 2 pm eastern/11 am pacific, on ABC Sports. The NASCAR Nationwide Series' Camping World Sales 200, also at Dover, will be aired on Saturday, 330 pm eastern/1230 pm pacific, on ESPN2. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350, from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, will be seen on Speed beginning at 930 pm eastern/ 630 pm pacific. By the way "Vegas Insider" places Ron Hornaday Jr as a 5 to 2 favorite to win the Las Vegas truck race and gain some more ground on a tight points battle with Johnny Benson. 

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