All three of NASCAR's national touring series will be in championship mode this week as the teams journey to Phoenix International Raceway for the next to the last stop in the 2008 season. But in the midst of the attention the championships will receive, there are also some interesting story lines that will bear some follow up. Let's start with:
THE PERSONNEL FILES
Amidst rampant speculation over the past several days it now appears that drivers Casey Mears and Mark Martin will not be getting an early look at their 2009 rides. Mears will remain in the Hendrick Motorsports #5 Chevrolet through the end of the season and then report to his new ride with Richard Childress Racing in February. Mark Martin has now completed his part-time commitments with Dale Earnhardt Inc, and their #8 Chevrolet, and will be virtually a spectator for the remainder of the season. He takes over the Hendrick #5 on a full-time basis in 2009.
On the subject of Dale Earnhardt Inc, it appears that they're on the way to losing another key member of their personnel. Bobby Hutchens last weekend acknowledged that he has been offered the General Manager's position with the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing and expects to make a final decision sometime this week. A DEI spokesman said that it's a done deal and Hutchens has already signed the contract. However Hutchens insists that nothing has been signed.
In yet another likely DEI defection expect an announcement soon that says that Tony Gibson, crew chief for DEI's #8 Chevrolet, will be leaving that operation to man the pit box for Ryan Newman and his U.S. Army Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. The Army announced several weeks ago that they were leaving DEI's #8 to sign on with Newman. There's also rampant rumors that says a significant amount of the DEI #8 team has expressed an interest in following Gibson to SHR.
Are we fixing to see another open wheel casualty who wants to give up on making the conversion to NASCAR? It's beginning to look like and that casualty may turn out to be Sam Hornish Jr the driver of the #77 Dodge for Roger Penske Racing. At this writing Hornish has a better than good chance of winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie Of The Year title but that's about the only bright moment during what has been a very long season. NASCAR garage rumors are saying that Hornish is planning a return to Penske's Indy Racing League operation in 2009.
Just because Jeff Gordon hasn't won a Sprint Cup event so far in 2008 doesn't mean that there's going to be a crew chief change for next year. Last weekend in Texas Gordon made quick work of quashing rumors that said crew chief Steve Letarte would not be returning in 2009. "We're not changing Steve Letarte for another crew chief," Gordon said adding "I believe in him. The problems we are having this year are not with Steve. We need to build more depth in the team and Steve has been a big part in organizing that and has been spearheading a lot of the ideas that are going to become improvements for the remainder of this season as well as next year."
While in the midst of chasing down the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship comes rumors that says Johnny Benson may be leaving Bill Davis Racing-BDR. BDR's overall financial state is reported to be the major reason. The rumors also state that Benson will sign with Red Horse Racing for 2009 and drive the #11 truck currently occupied by driver David Starr and further states that the members of Benson's BDR crew wants to leave with him. Meanwhile Starr is busy denying rumors regarding his pending unemployment and says that he's been talking to the team's sponsor, Zachary, about future plans for the 2009 season.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS.
You know the state of the economy has greatly impacted NASCAR teams when the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr starts worrying about potential sponsors. JR Motorsports, Dale Jr's NASCAR Nationwide Series team, recently reported that escalating operation costs will force them to lay off approximately 15 to 20 members of the team this week. They are committed to racing their #88 Chevrolet, with driver Brad Keselowski, in 2009 but will have to curtail the schedule for their #5 Chevrolet. The 5 car, in conjunction with Hendrick Motorsports, will run a limited schedule next year with a variety of drivers behind the wheel.
Bruton Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc-SMI, was on hand to take in the festivities at his Texas Motor Speedway last weekend and spent some time enjoying his favorite hobby: stirring up really large pots. Smith said he still wants to buy NASCAR from the France family and said "I stand by that and it's getting closer." Not for a second has anyone named France ever indicated that their family racing empire might be up for sale.
THE COURT CALENDAR
Larry McClure, co owner of McClure-Morgan Motorsports, pleaded not guilty to tax fraud charges this past Thursday during an appearance in the U.S. District Court in Abingdon-Virginia. The charges are based on allegations regarding $325,000 in unreported income from 2002 to 2004 along with an alleged fraudulent claim by McClure that the money was the subject of a personal loan and not actual income. If convicted McClure could receive the maximum sentence of 115 years in prison and a $2.75 million fine. The trial date has been set for January 20th through the 23d.
The case of Mauricia Grant versus NASCAR racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit will remain in its New York jurisdiction according to a recent ruling that denied NASCAR's change of venue motion. NASCAR wanted the case to be tried in either Florida or North Carolina. However the U.S. District Court ruling stated that NASCAR has a corporate marketing office in New York and further pointed out that the plaintiff worked NASCAR sanctioned races in New York and was allegedly disciplined and demoted by NASCAR while she was working in New York.
THE ACTION COULD GET A LITTLE HOT IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN
NASCAR's elite teams will be arriving in Phoenix this week for race number nine in the Chase For The Championship. Here's the breakdown for Sunday's Checkers O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 k.
For you high rollers the World Sports Exchange-WSE swears that Jimmie Johnson is going to win the Phoenix race, and backed that up by placing 1 to 10 odds on him. Other notables include Carl Edwards at 6 to 1 and Greg Biffle at 15 to 1. Jeff Burton stands alone at 50 to 1 odds while everyone else in the Chase has odds that range from 125 to 250 to 1.
One of the more interesting wagers involves drivers Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. All of these drivers are set at 200 to 1 and that could lead to some speculative betting.
The NASCAR companion dates at Phoenix include the Nationwide Series running the Hefty Odor Block 200 on Saturday which has 50 entries. The race can be seen Saturday on ESPN2 beginning at 4 pm eastern and 1 pm pacific.
But the one to watch will be the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series who will run the Lucas Oil 150 on Friday which will be aired by Speed beginning at 7:30 pm eastern and 4:30 pm pacific. This race has a full 36 entries and features a six point championship deficit between drivers Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr.
Robby Gordon Motorsports and sponsor Jim Beam are presently auctioning off the hood from their special Operation Home Front car. Operation Home Front is a non profit organization that provides emergency services and morale assistance to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. The auction, coordinated in honor of Veteran's Day, began on November 4th on eBay and will conclude on November 11th.
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