|Jimmie Johnson set to wrap up third consecutive title|
As we head towards the final NASCAR weekend it's getting closer to officially congratulating driver Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus, team owners Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon as well as the entire team that is connected to the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet for a job well done in winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship for the third consecutive year.
It's also likely that we will be watching Clint Bowyer popping champagne corks after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series title. With only three points separating drivers Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr it remains impossible to say who's going to take the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship home. But it's quite likely that this event may turn out to be the best NASCAR race in the entire 2008 season.
While the NASCAR championship weekend in Florida will be the major focal point, there are plenty of other story lines developing as well. Let's start with:
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS.
By the time that you read this there should have been an official announcement released regarding the merger between Dale Earnhardt Inc-DEI and Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. This is already being referred to as a competitive and economic alliance more than an actual merger despite the fact that the two organizations will be working under the new name of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Here's the expected breakdown for the new team:
- Martin Truex Jr will be in the #1 with full primary sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops.
- Aric Almirola will be in the #8 with a 12 race sponsorship from Wrigley's Gum with hopes of acquiring additional sponsorship between now and the end of the year.
- Juan Pablo Montoya will be in the #42 with full primary sponsorship from Target Stores
A fourth car, likely the #15 with a yet to be named driver, is expected but that is going to depend on available sponsorship.
- Garage rumors states that DEI driver Regan Smith, and the #01 team, may be looking for a job next year.
- All of the teams will be using Chevrolets meaning Ganassi will have to sever his long time ties with Dodge.
While this move will bolster the sagging competitive and economic levels of both organizations, the downside is going to be loss of jobs. There were initially reports that 75 employees were going to lose their jobs. As of Wednesday afternoon that number has reportedly hit 110.
From the downside of merger news this week is a report saying that Gillett Evernham Motorsports-GEM's plans to outright purchase and/or merge with Bill Davis Racing-BDR is not going to happen. This news is a strong display of the harsh economics our country is going through right now and how hard it has impacted NASCAR race teams. It seems that wealthy businessman George Gillett could not acquire the financing needed to buy BDR. How this news impacts BDR remains to be seen. Earlier in the year Bill Davis said that he needed major sponsor dollars, to replace the loss of longtime sponsor Caterpillar, or a merger to continue his Sprint Cup operation. It now appears that neither one is forthcoming anytime soon and it's becoming increasingly apparent that another Sprint Cup team may have to close its doors.
It's also apparent that any past merger conversations that GEM had with Petty Enterprises has also fallen through. Part of the reason was reported to be GEM's earlier interest in switching to Toyota and then later looking at a switch to Chevrolet. The Petty's entire history has been primarily with Chrysler and they made it clear that they were not interested in leaving Dodge. The Pettys, along with new majority owner Boston Ventures-BV, are another team in serious economic trouble. Their primary car, Bobby Labonte's #43, is still without major sponsorship. The #44, with driver Chad McCumbee, reportedly has a partial sponsor program with Marathon Oil and no one is sure what is going to become of Kyle Petty's #45 Dodge. In fact the Phoenix race may have been the final one for Petty and his family owned team.
In yet another GEM financial issues look for an announcement soon that says Ray Evernham is going to sell his 20% minority interest in the team to Gillett. Noting that his role in the team's day to day operations has been reduced to almost nothing at all, Evernham wants to move on to other projects, such as television, and spend more time with his family.
In other merger news this week comes word that Hall Of Fame Motorsports-HOF is looking for both a merger and a new car manufacturer. This team was originally created by NFL Hall Of Fame quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach along with others. However late last year the sole ownership of the team was purchased by Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkel who are baseball executives with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Currently HOF is campaigning a single car Toyota operation with a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing who provides them with chassis and engines. That alliance ends at the conclusion of 2008 and the word is out that HOF does not want to renew the deal with Gibbs and is not expected to remain with Toyota. HOF executives have been reportedly talking with other teams while examining merger options. The most serious of these talks seems to be with Wood Brothers Racing who has a long time, and very strong, alliance with Ford.
Updating the mother of all mergers, and its impact on the plans of NASCAR team owners, is the proposed merger between General Motors and Chrysler which was first believed to be a done deal and was supposed to be formally announced over two weeks ago. It now seems that proposal has been completely put on hold. One of the major reasons is General Motors who is taking a wait and see position on proposed government assistance. A bill, being pushed by U.S. Speaker Of The House Nancy Pelosi, is currently in the system that would offer government financial assistance to the beleaguered nation's automakers. General Motors is concerned that going forward with any merger might upset their participation in this program. The second major reason for this merger being put on hold comes from strong opposition from the UAW-United Auto Workers. The automotive labor union has expressed great concern over the loss of jobs, reported to be estimated at 30 to 40 thousand unemployed workers, that this merger will bring. Meanwhile a spokesperson for Dodge Motorsports said earlier this week that they are committed to supporting their present roster of NASCAR teams through at least the 2009 season but could not make any guarantees past that point.
NASCAR Chairman Brian France was none too pleased about the ABC Network's decision to pull the plug on the broadcast of the Phoenix race early on the east coast last Sunday. The race went into massive overtime, due to two unexpected red flags, so ABC officials informed race viewers in the eastern states to switch over to ESPN2, the sports channel owned by ABC, to see the conclusion of the race. The move allowed ABC to present their regularly scheduled Sunday night programming in the east which in this case was "America's Funniest Home Videos." From a politely worded statement France said "I guess they had their own issues that they had to manage around." But you could tell the NASCAR Czar was clearly angry after he realized that homemade videos of small children and animals doing cute things was more important to ABC than the conclusion of race number nine of the Chase For The Championship.
Finally in the NASCAR business news this week is an announcement from the BB&T Corporation who said they plan to step up their business relationship with Richard Childress Racing-RCR. BB&T has been the primary sponsor for driver Clint Bowyer's NASCAR Nationwide Series Chevrolet this year and it looks like they will be joining the team in a championship celebration. BB&T will step up their program by sponsoring Bowyer's #33 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 11 races in 2009.
THE PERSONNEL FILE
One has to think that Red Bull Racing-RBR is still kicking themselves for their decision to release driver A J Allmendinger in favor of Scott Speed. When Allmendinger left the #84 Red Bull Toyota the car was securely entrenched in NASCAR's top 35 in owner points. That's not the case anymore. In four races Speed has a dismal average finish of 34.2 and the car has slipped to 36th in the standings 17 points out of that all important top 35. With only one race left in the 2008 season getting back into the top 35 is crucial for RBR because the final 2008 standings will be used to set the field for the first five races of 2009 and that includes a guaranteed entry into the very prestigious Daytona 500 in February.
Alarmed by the situation, RBR retained the services of NASCAR icon Mark Martin to drive their #84 Toyota in next Sunday's final race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Martin had just recently concluded his 2008 tenure with Dale Earnhardt Inc following the Phoenix race and had next Sunday off while waiting to join his new Hendrick Motorsports team in 2009. RBR felt this was the perfect plan to get their car back into the top 35. However, this past Tuesday, General Motors stepped in and pulled the plug on the deal and basically said there was no way that one of their Chevrolet drivers was going to be allowed to help a Toyota team.
That now brings RBR to plan B which is a driver switch. RBR driver Brian Vickers will be driving the #84 Toyota this Sunday. It's widely believed that Vickers will be able to get the car into the starting field, on a go or go home qualifying basis, and produce a strong enough finish to get the team back into the top 35. Scott Speed will be behind the wheel of Vicker's #83 Toyota which has a rock solid position in the top 35.
Driver Juan Pablo Montoya has made it crystal clear that he's very happy with his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. Montoya recently turned down an offer from Toro Rosso Racing to return to Formula One racing. Montoya left Formula One, with seven grand prix wins, back in 2006 to take on the NASCAR challenge with Ganassi Racing.
Expect a formal announcement sometime this weekend from the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing regarding some personnel additions. Jeff Meendering, crew chief for Bobby Labonte's #43 Dodge, is expected to leave Petty Enterprises to take on the duties as car chief for Tony Stewart's #14 Chevrolet. A mass defection from Dale Earnhardt Inc to Ryan Newman's #39 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet is also expected to be announced this weekend as well. Tony Gibson, crew chief for DEI's #8, is expected to be named as Newman's new crew chief and the entire DEI #8 pit crew is expected to come with him.
Bill Elliot may be rethinking plans to completely retire from racing at the end of this year. The NASCAR icon recently said that he would consider a part-time schedule with his present team, the Wood Brothers' #21 Ford, in 2009. He also made it clear that his offer was exclusively for the Wood Brothers only. So who will drive the car during the other part of the season? The word is out that Kyle Petty has been talking to the Wood Brothers about a part time driving schedule for next year. Petty's present relationship with his family owned team, Petty Enterprises and new majority owner Boston Ventures, has become, to put it politely, strained and it's unclear whether the veteran driver will be invited to return to his longtime #45 Dodge.
A little over a week ago there were rampant rumors that said Sam Hornish, driver of the #77 Dodge for Roger Penske, was leaving NASCAR to return to the Indy Racing League. Those rumors were strongly denied by everyone associated with the team. The denials were reinforced this week with the announcement that the Auto Club Speedway, the two mile oval originally built by Penske in Fontana-California, signed with the team as a part-time primary sponsor for selected races in 2009.
Sprint Cup driver Ryan Newman will be doing another driving stint for Kevin Harvick Inc-KHI. After winning his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut in a KHI truck, Harvick was only too happy to place his longtime friend in another KHI vehicle. Newman will pilot the team's #33 Chevrolet in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In still more KHI news, Kevin Harvick will be driving his #2 truck in Friday night's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series which could have some rather interesting overtones. KHI's primary series drivers, Ron Hornaday Jr, is only three points away from series rival Johnny Benson in a final race championship run. Harvick's presence in this event could get interesting especially if he finds himself in front of Benson during the course of the race.
THE FINAL WEEKEND.
NASCAR's 2008 final race, and championship resolutions, will unfold this weekend on the Homestead-Miami's 1.5 mile progressive banked oval. Here's some breakdown facts regarding race #36 as well as the final event for the Chase For The Championship.
- The Ford 400 can be seen on ABC Television Sunday afternoon beginning at 3pm eastern and 12 noon pacific.
- The race has 46 entries meaning three teams will have to go home after qualifying.
- The defending race champion is Matt Kenseth driver of the #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
- Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 Roush Fenway Ford, has the most wins at the speedway with three.
- Roush Fenway Racing has the most team wins at the speedway with five.
- The qualifying record, 181.111 MPH, was set by Jamie McMurray in November of 2003.
- The World Sports Exchange-WSE favors Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards as the race winner and has set him at 3 to 1 odds.
- The WSE also rates prospective three time series champion Jimmie Johnson at 5 to 1 odds to win this Sunday.
The weekend companion events will be the Ford 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race which can be seen on ESPN2 this Saturday beginning at 4pm eastern and 1 pm pacific.
The Ford 200 for the NASCAR Craftsman can be seen on the Speed Channel on Friday beginning at 8 pm eastern and 5 pm pacific. It cannot be said strongly enough that this event is expected to be the premiere NASCAR race of the weekend and quite possibly the best event of the 2008 season.