As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the Texas Motor Speedway there are quite a few interesting story lines that will bear watching in the days ahead. Let's start with:
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS AND/OR THE LACK OF IT
Gillett Evernham Motorsports-GEM, who fields Dodges, will apparently have to abandon plans to purchase the Toyota operation belonging to Bill Davis Racing-BDR. In recent days it was revealed that Toyota was less than thrilled with the idea and then on Monday NASCAR made it clear that they were not interested in approving GEM's plans to switch to Toyota. All of this is expected to have a major impact on BDR who, in recent months, said that if they couldn't find a financial partner then they will sell their Sprint Cup operation and shift their focus to their Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series teams.
Meanwhile Dodge teams remain worried about the potential negative impacts that may come from the merger between General Motors and Chrysler which could be announced on November 4th. Team owners currently under contract with Dodge Motorsports are concerned that the merger could create a major shake-up in the NASCAR garages because the state of the country's economics may not allow GM, Ford and Toyota to pick up new teams and drivers. In fact it's been widely speculated that the number of full-time factory supported teams may shrink down to 30 by next year.
It also appears that GEM will no longer be providing engines and technical assistance to other Dodge teams and that slack may be taken up by Penske Racing who is currently supplying Robby Gordon Motorsports.
But the wildest garage rumor to date states that Roger Penske may be looking at launching a satellite Toyota team next year that will be used to help prepare the operation for a total change over to Toyota in 2010. As a sheer matter of coincidence Roger Penske just happens to own the largest Toyota dealership in Los Angeles.
In other business news involving Roger Penske it now appears that the Eastman Kodak Company will discontinue their sponsorship of his teams at the end of this year. In fact Kodak plans to cease all promotional activities associated with NASCAR to take up the sport of golf. They signed a promotional agreement with the PGA Professional Golfers Association, last December that will lead to the creation of the Kodak Competition Challenge. They also will place their brand logo on digital scoreboards at all of the major PGA venues. The company wants to realign their corporate sponsorships to better support their digital business models. They are also planning to expand promotional efforts in other countries because 60% of their annual sales revenues are coming from outside of the U.S.
At a time when some teams are reported to be considering a move to Toyota comes word that one Toyota team may be wanting to sever ties with the Japanese automaker. That would be Hall Of Fame Motor Sports-HOF whose single car operation fields a Toyota currently being driven by veteran Ken Schrader. The team's chassis, engines and general technical support has been supplied by Joe Gibbs Racing but that current agreement runs out at the end of this year. This rumor states that HOF has been negotiating a Ford partnership with the Woods Brothers for next year whose single car operation has been made secure for 2009 with financial support from Ford and their Motorcraft division.
It was also recently revealed that there has been a major change in the ownership of HOF. The team was originally created by football hall of famers Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, of Dallas Cowboys fame, along with businessmen Bill Saunders and Mark Griege. However it appears that all of them withdrew their ownership interest in the team approximately a month ago and Jeff Moorad has emerged as the lone owner.
If you can't find a ride then buy one. That's apparently what former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield is up to these days. Mayfield is rumored to be in negotiations to purchase 50% of Billy Ballew Motorsports who field Toyotas in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. This operation is enjoying its best year ever and that's largely due to the part-time diving presence of Kyle Busch who has won four races for the team. Mayfield said he plans to drive the team's #15 Toyota and will be a teammate to the #51 which Busch has driven in the past. This deal isn't even close to being finalized and the tongues are already wagging. A lot of NASCAR observers are wondering if two outspoken fireballs like Busch and Mayfield will be able to coexist with each other.
THE PERSONNEL FILES.
Road racing veteran Max Papis is going to make a return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup ranks next year. An official announcement from last Monday stated that Papis will drive the #13 Toyota Camry fielded by Germain Racing for 18 races in 2009. Geico Insurance will be the primary sponsor. The new team recently conducted some tests at the Kentucky Speedway.
It's been known for several months now that NASCAR veteran Mark Martin will be leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc at the end of the season to take over the #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in a final effort to win a Sprint Cup championship before he retires from racing. However there are garage rumors that says we may be treated to a sneak peek at Martin in the Hendrick car before the year is over and it may likely be at NASCAR's final race next month at the Miami Homestead Speedway. This is all contingent on Casey Mears, who leaves the Hendrick ride next month, being able to get an early look at his new 2009 team with Richard Childress Racing. Childress is reported to be highly interested in the possibility of Mears getting an early start with his newly formed fourth team. The team's new sponsorship program, with Cheerios/Hamburger Helper, doesn't officially begin until February of next year but Childress has reportedly indicated that he would be willing to enter his #33 Chevrolet unsponsored in the 2008 final race.
In the wake of an extremely embarrassing post race technical inspection that found NASCAR levying a record breaking fine, Red Bull Racing-RBR has fired one of the team's supervisors and has officially reprimanded several other employees. This action came during the aftermath of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville and involved RBR's #83 Toyota driven by Brian Vickers. NASCAR randomly selects cars representing each manufacturer to be taken to their North Carolina based Research and Development for a more comprehensive post race inspection. During that process it was discovered that the RBR Toyota's fenders were too thin and it was believed that the sheet metal had been shaved down to create a slight reduction in weight that resulted in an aerodynamic and grip advantage.
Kevin Hamlin, the team's crew chief was fined $100,000 and suspended indefinitely from all NASCAR activities. Car Chief Craig Smokstad also received an indefinite suspension. Vickers was docked 150 driver's points while the team was docked 150 owner's points. Last week Jay Frye, RBR General Manager issued a statement that said that Kevin Hamlin and Brian Vickers had no knowledge of what was done to their car's fenders and added "it was an isolated incident and somebody made the decision without the appropriate people knowing. These people are veteran guys so they should have known better. They just made a poor decision."
Congratulations goes out this week to Bob Decker who was recently named the winner of the 2008 Pilot Truck Driver Challenge presented by Pilot Travel Centers. Decker, who drives the #99 transporter for driver Carl Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing, collected the first place prize of $50,000 for winning a very close competition over drivers Peter Jellen and Tom McCrimmon who tied for second and split the $25,000 second place prize. Both of these drivers work for Joe Gibbs Racing. The theme of the annual contest is to promote safe and responsible driving on the highways. The competitors in the contest were judged in various categories including safety quizzes, a DOT, Department of Transportation, check and running their trucks through a special chicane course to test their driving skills.
DOES FORT WORTH EVER CROSS YOUR MIND?
That classic country music song title, from George Strait, has a major ring of reality to it for NASCAR's Sprint Cup teams this week. Fort Worth and the Texas Motor Speedway is the next stop on the Chase For The Championship. Here's this week race run down:
The Dickies 500 has 47 entries and will be aired this Sunday by ABC Sports beginning at 3pm eastern and 1pm pacific.
The race is 334 laps long and has a purse in excess of $7.3 million.
The track is a 1.54 mile oval with 24 degrees banking in the turn and five degrees in the straightaways.
The pit road speed is 45 MPH.
The defending race champion is Jimmie Johnson. Carl Edwards won the spring race held last April.
Carl Edwards and Jeff Burton has the most wins at the track with two each.
The track has hosted 15 Sprint Cup races. 12 have been won by drivers who started within the top ten. Only one has won starting from the pole position.
Brian Vickers holds the track's qualifying record, 196.235 MPH, set in November of 2006.
This weeks NASCAR odds, presented by the World Sports Exchange-WSE favors Kyle Busch to win the race at 7 to 1 odds followed closely by Carl Edwards at 7 to 2. Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are rated at 8 to 1 and 9 to 1 this week while Jimmie Johnson, who can clinch his third title with an average finish of ninth over the final three races, is rated at 9 to 2 odds. Other promising hopefuls includes Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr at 12 to 1 while Jeff Gordon, who is looking for his first win at Texas, along with Denny Hamlin are rated at 14 to 1.
The companion events include the Chevy Silverado 350K at Texas for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series which will be aired on Friday, 9 pm easter/7 pm pacific, by the Speed Channel. The NASCAR Nationwide Series will see action in Saturday's O'Reilly Challenge At Texas, aired at 3pm eastern/1 pm pacific, on ESPN2.
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