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NASCAR Notebook

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, October 23, 2008

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DON'T MESS WITH THE CAR OF TOMORROW

That's a message that NASCAR officials have been sending since their new cars hit the race tracks at the beginning of this season. They have proved that point time and time again by assessing fines and suspensions against any team that failed to pass a technical inspection. This year NASCAR launched the post race process of randomly selecting cars to be transported to their Research and Development in Concord, North Carolina for a comprehensive inspection.

Following last weekend's race in Martinsville, Virginia NASCAR did their random draw with one of the cars selected being the Red Bull Racing Toyota #83 driven by Brian Vickers. Once the car was inspected at the R&D Center it was discovered that the Toyota's fenders were too thin and had in fact been shaved to create a weight advantage. In the aftermath of this inspection NASCAR announced what was described as one of the harshest penalties in the sanctioning body's history.

Crew Chief Kevin Hamlin has been indefinitely suspended and fined $100,000. Car Chief Craig Smokstad has also been indefinitely suspended. Brian Vickers was docked 150 drivers points and team owner Dietrich Mateschitz was docked 150 owners points. Red Bull Racing General Manager Jay Frye said there were no plans to appeal the penalties. 

MERGER MANIA

In the final weeks of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season there are a handful of teams who are reportedly making moves to gain some solid financial ground for 2009 and the words "potential merger" seems to be attached to every one of them. This is especially true of Petty Enterprises/Boston Ventures whose organization seems to be in the forefront of all these merger rumors. First off Robbie Loomis, Vice President of Operations for Petty Enterprises, has never denied that his organization has been in talks regarding formal mergers with other teams.

The rumors started spreading approximately two weeks ago and said the Pettys were talking to Gillett Evernham Motorsports-GEM. However there's another rumor associated with GEM that may make this deal impossible. Businessman George Gillett has publically stated that he's seriously thinking about switching his three car teams from Dodge to Toyota. Meanwhile the Pettys, who has been associated with Chrysler since their inception in 1949, is reported to be contractually tied to Dodge until 2011.

Then a week ago there were rampant rumors that said the Pettys were talking to Dale Earnhardt Inc-DEI about a merger. Robbie Loomis never denied it but said he really didn't expect anything to come from it. The aforementioned contract with Dodge plus a DEI contract renewal with Chevrolet last year is expected to be an obstacle.

Now we're hearing reports of talks between Petty Enterprises and Ganassi Racing owners Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates. This rumor seems to have some viability and further states that driver Bobby Labonte's #43 Petty Dodge would be sponsored by Target Stores a longtime Ganassi sponsor. He would also be a teammate with Juan Pablo Montoya and his #42 Wrigley's Gum Dodge. Also on the proposed new team would be Petty driver Chad McCumbee in the #44 Dodge with Marathon Oil on the hood. There is also a fourth part-time ride being talked about for Kyle Petty who has a 12 race personal services contract with Wells Fargo. Maybe this is what Robbie Loomis meant when he said last week that they were close to announcing sponsorship programs for Labonte and McCumbee. 

What really makes all of these merger rumors really interesting is the proposed plan by General Motors and their merger/buyout of Chrysler. If that merger happens then it will be unclear on how this is going to impact the Dodge teams of the Pettys, Ganassi Racing and Roger Penske Racing. Several weeks ago officials from Dodge Motorsports said everything was fine. Now they do not seem to be saying anything at all. By the way a formal announcement regarding the GM and Chrysler merger could be coming as early as November 4th.

THE PERSONNEL FILES.

Representatives from Roger Penske are adamantly denying rumors that their driver Kurt Busch plans to move to another team in 2009. It's hardly a secret that the Penske Dodge teams have performance consistency issues this year and Busch has not been that happy. One racing observer recently quipped that Busch needs to decide if he wants the racing glory or the money. In other words does he want to be with another team with a consistency level capable of frequently winning races and a championship or does he want to stay with Penske and reap the financial rewards from the lucrative Miller Beer endorsement. It really is a very lucrative sponsor endorsement. As many of us know you can barely find a cocktail lounge, mini mart of major super market that doesn't have Miller signage with Busch's likeness on it.
           
Calling it a lack of chemistry between driver and crew chief, Jack Roush recently announced that Larry Carter will not be returning next year as the crew chief for Jamie McMurray's #26 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Donnie Wingo, who has a long history with McMurray from their tenure at Ganassi Racing, will take over the pit box in 2009.

NASCAR Sprint Cup veteran Shane Wilson has been named as crew chief for Richard Childress Racing's new fourth team. The #33 Chevrolet, sponsored by Cheerios and Hamburger Helper, will be driven by Clint Bowyer.

Tony Gibson, currently crew chief for the Dale Earnhardt Incorporated #8 Chevrolet, will be leaving that team to join Stewart-Haas Racing where he will command the pit box for driver Ryan Newman.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS.

There may be a change in associate sponsorship for Jeff Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Longtime associate sponsor Nicorette may be replaced with the National Guard. The new 2009 paint scheme for the car was recently unveiled without the Nicorette decal in its usual position on the lower rear quarter panels. Then on October 17th the car was seen in the background of the QVC shopping channel's "For Race Fans Only" program and the National Guard logo was on the car. However officials from Hendrick Motorsports are saying that they are renegotiating with Nicorette for the 2009 season.

Cue the duck because he's doing a good thing. Aflac Insurance announced this week that their Aflac Children's Cancer Center will be on the hood of David Gilliland's #38 Yates Racing Ford for this Sunday's race in Atlanta. Child Magazine recently named the Aflac Center as one of the top five childhood cancer centers in the country and cited their commitment to providing their pediatric patients a brighter future through advanced medical treatment, family centered care, a child friendly environment and innovative research. The Aflac Children's Cancer Center works in conjunction with the Emory University School Of Medicine and Emory Winship Cancer Research Center.

Ford Racing announced this week that they will be re-signing with Roush Fenway Racing for another five years. At the same time Ford announced they will be discontinuing their financial assistance in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series but will still continue to provide technical assistance to the teams.

It's sad to note that Rensi Motorsports, who fields the #25 Ford for driver Bobby Hamilton Jr in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, will be likely closing their shops for good following this Saturday's race in Memphis. A lack of sponsorship has been cited as the reason.

CHAMPION TO CHAMPION

All NASCAR fans are naturally watching driver Jimmie Johnson's quest to be the second man to win three consecutive championships since Cale Yarborough set that record back in 1978. In a recent interview Yarborough said he was surprised that it's taken 30 years before the record was challenged and added "the handwriting's on the wall, it's going to happen. I understand that I was Jimmie's hero when he was growing up so if he does it then more power to him." Then, laughing, he said "this doesn't mean that I'm pulling for him but if he does break the record I'll be in good company."

TIME TO GO TO HOT LANTA.

NASCAR's Chase For The Championship moves on to the Atlanta Motor Speedway this Sunday and here's the race breakdown.
  • The Pep Boys 500 has 45 entries and can be seen on ABC Sports this Sunday beginning at 1 pm eastern and 10 am pacific.
  • The race is 325 laps run on a 1.54 mile quad oval with banking of 24 degrees in the turns and 5 degrees on the straightaways. The track seats 161,000. Pit road speed is 45 MPH. 
  • Jimmie Johnson is the defending race champion from October of last year. Kyle Busch won the spring race back in March.
  • The track qualifying record is held by Geoff Bodine, 197.479 MPH, and was set in 1997.
  • Bobby Labonte has the most wins with six among active drivers
  • Dale Earnhardt Sr has the most wins with nine.
  • Chevrolet has the most manufacturer's wins at 35.
  • The first NASCAR race at Atlanta was held in 1960 and was won by Fireball Roberts.       
  • There have been 98 Sprint Cup races in the history of the speedway. Of them 14 races have been won from the pole and 55 have been won by drivers starting in the top five.

Looking at this week's odds, presented by the World Sports Exchange-WSE, they are favoring Carl Edwards who comes in this week at 4 to l odds. The WSE places 6 to 1 odds on Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart are rated at 8 to 1, defending champion Jimmie Johnson is rated at 9 to 2 while Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon are favored at 12 to l odds to win the race.

The companion event for the weekend is the E-Z-Go 200 from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series which can be seen on the Speed Channel at 1 pm eastern and 10 am pacific. This race has 33 entries. Johnny Benson, on the strength of his win at Martinsville last weekend, is once again on top of the series points standings and leads Ron Hornaday Jr by 65 markers. That's because Hornaday ran out of fuel with four laps left in the race which could turn out to be the most expensive price of gas that we've ever seen.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series will be at the Memphis Motorsports park on Saturday for the running of the Kroger On Track For The Cure 250. This race has 50 entries and will be aired on ESPN2 at 3:30 pm eastern and 12:30 pm pacific.

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