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NASCAR Notebook for Wednesday Nov. 26th

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, November 26, 2008

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While we're awaiting to see our favorite NASCAR stars and their beautiful ladies all dressed up for the annual awards banquet in New York next month, there are still some NASCAR related stories that require tracking. These stories involve the recent moratorium on team testing, two ageless wonders who refuse to hang up their helmet, as well as harsh economics that has heavily impacted the sport.

A HIGHLY UNIQUE CONTRACT.

NASCAR's recent moratorium on team testing, at tracks where their big three national touring series race, has been heralded by everyone from team owners to the racing media. However Jack Roush, of Roush Fenway Racing, recently decided to take that test ban one giant step further. There are reports that Roush has devised a special contract, to be agreed on and signed by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owners and drivers, that says they will, in a cooperative spirit, extend the period of the test ban well beyond NASCAR's one year moratorium.

Roush and Carl Edwards, driver of the Roush Fenway #99 Ford, are reportedly more than ready to be the first to sign the proposed contract. "This will work as long as everybody is doing the same thing," Edwards said earlier this week while adding "what does everyone need all of this practice for? This is NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. We all know how to race and we've been to these tracks before."

It's going to be interesting to monitor the progress, and level of cooperation, of this proposed contract. Just this past Friday and Saturday Red Bull Racing sent one of their Toyota teams, with driver Brian Vickers, to the Nashville Superspeedway for testing in an effort to get a session in before the moratorium begins in 2009. This particular speedway will be on NASCAR's moratorium list. However there are plenty of other tracks where NASCAR's big three does not visit and it will be interesting to see who does or does not take advantage of those facilities next year. Andy Hillenburg's North Carolina Motor Speedway, AKA "The Rock", quickly comes to mind. Hillenburg's one mile speedway, in Rockingham-North Carolina, could possibly provide a rather interesting focal point for NASCAR team owners next year.

JUST LIKE A TIMEX WATCH, THEY JUST KEEP ON TICKING.

John Carter, owner of EM Motorsports, recently announced plans to field an additional car in next February's Daytona 500 to be driven by -get ready for it- 74 year old James Hylton. The South Carolina racing veteran attempted to make the starting field in this year's Daytona event. During a point in one of the 125 mile qualifying races Hylton actually drove his car as high as second before a faulty clutch sent him backwards in the field and ruined any chances of making the race. He proved last February that he can still drive competitively and one has to assume that the fire will still be in him next February. How time flies. I can actually recall asking Hylton to autograph my racing Darlington race program when I was a youngster back in nineteen sixty something.

The same passion for racing also applies to ageless wonder Morgan Shepherd. Now in his late sixties, Shepherd announced this week that he plans to return to NASCAR's Nationwide Series on a full time basis in 2009. He will be campaigning his Faith Motorsports Dodge in conjunction with the Racing For Jesus Ministry. Don't be the least bit surprised if you see him, between on-track schedules, keeping in shape by roller skating up and down pit road. He's really very good at it.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, is thrilled that his company is going to become the official title sponsor of NASCAR's truck racing series and said he would like to extend one of his company's favorite promotions to help the auto manufacturers. For quite some time now Chevrolet has been the official car and truck of the Camping World retail centers. Every time a customer purchased a RV or towable camping unit they received a $500 coupon good towards the purchase of a new General Motors vehicle. Lemonis noted that nearly 1,000 of these coupons have already been handed out in 2008 and he has offered to include Ford, Chrysler and Toyota to participate in this promotion. Much to his amazement the remaining three auto makers haven't even filed a polite response to his office which caused him to quip "I guess they're selling so many cars and trucks right now that they just don't need a little extra excitement."

It couldn't help but be noticed that AT&T kept a very quiet profile during what was likely going to be their final race with Richard Childress Racing, and driver Jeff Burton, at the Homestead Miami Speedway. For quite some time Cingular Wireless was the primary sponsor for RCR's #31 Chevrolet. However Cingular completed a corporate merger with AT&T. Normally that would not have been a business problem for anyone except for the fact that all of the corporate branding was going to use the name AT&T. NASCAR had a huge problem with the AT&T branding because their contract with their Cup series sponsor, Nextel and then later Sprint, contained a protection clause meaning no telecommunication companies in NASCAR Cup beyond what was already in place. If Cingular would have remained the brand name on the Childress car then it would have been allowed because the corporate name was grandfathered into NASCAR's new contract with Sprint. This did not apply to AT&T, a conflict was declared and Childress was told that he needed to find a new corporate logo to place on the hood of his car. He did that by signing Caterpillar to be the new primary sponsor for 2009. While all of this raised a few eyebrows, and buzz phrases like restraint of trade were used, there's actually nothing illegal about brand protection clauses in corporate contracts. They're just not very fair. It remains to be seen if AT&T will continue its advertising campaigns during NASCAR broadcasts.

An announcement this week from Hendrick Motorsports said that the National Guard will be on the hood of Jeff Gordon's #24 Chevrolet for at least eight races in 2009. There's no indication that this announcement will impact the National Guard's sponsorship program with Dale Earnhardt Jr's #88 Hendrick Chevrolet.

Look for NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner Ray Evernham to make a series of business moves that will eventually allow him to fully retire from big league NASCAR racing. It was recently reported that he has already sold nearly all of his interest in Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Earlier this week it was revealed that Evernham is in negotiations to purchase the East Lincoln Speedway a three eighths of a mile clay oval located in North Carolina.

In the final months of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season David Reutimann, driver of the #44 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing-MWR, was garnering some well deserved attention for being one of the most improved teams on the track. Sadly, this week there were some reports may hinder the team from capitalizing on those improvements. First off there's reported sponsorship issues that will need to be dealt with. The team at this point only has full time sponsorship for approximately half of the upcoming 36 race schedule in 2009. Plans for Reutimann to campaign a MWR Toyota in the NASCAR Nationwide Series full time, as he did in 2008, may also have to be sharply revised also due to sponsorship. In the middle of all of this the team recently learned that they will have to recruit a new crew chief for next year. Ryan Pemberton asked MWR for his contract release to pursue a similar opportunity with Red Bull Racing. Reutimann reportedly was rather critical of his crew chief announcing his impending departure so late in the season when finding a suitable replacement is going to be difficult.

Driver Chad McCumbee is also extremely unsure of his Sprint Cup future for the 2009 season. In the final month of the season it was announced that the young up-and-coming driver would be driving full time next year in a Petty Enterprises Dodge with full sponsorship. Unfortunately the sponsor, citing the economic uncertainties that the entire country is facing, has to withdraw from the deal. While every effort is being made to find a new sponsor, the effort is reportedly not moving along in a timely manner. McCumbee is coming to terms with the fact that he may be running some Nationwide Series events on a part-time basis and will likely return to the Camping World Truck Series next year.

There appears to be more problems brewing for Armando Fitz, owner of the Fitz Motorsports NASCAR Nationwide Series team. Like many team owners he has been looking for investors and considered a merger only to find out that two struggling teams becoming one actually was not that financially attractive. Making the situation even worse was the notification Fitz received this week informing that his longtime primary sponsor, Super Cuts, will not be returning. Add all of this to some family related personal issues it appears that Fitz Motorsports may not be able to operate at all next season.

There's word this week that the latest round of NASCAR layoffs came from Kevin Harvick Inc. who had to release a reported eight to ten employees from their Nationwide and Truck Series teams.

There seems to be a disturbing trend that indicates a hesitation by corporate America to invest in the talents of a young up-and-coming race driver. It's not surprising but it is disturbing. The latest victim of this trend seems to be Landon Cassill who spent much of the 2008 season driving a limited NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule in a car co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr and Rick Hendrick. Cassill, at this point in time, truly does not know what his plans are for 2009 and the lack of sponsorship is the reason. You know times are tough when a high profile personality like Dale Jr is having trouble landing sponsor deals.

It sad to note that the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series operation created by the late Bobby Hamilton back in 1999 is over and they expect to be closing down their shop at the end of this week. Last year several investors, including driver Stacey Compton, joined the team and moved the operation from Tennessee to Virginia. Apparently the big blow came in the middle of the year when the team lost their financial and technical support from Dodge Motorsports.

Wyler Racing hopes to field two Toyota Truck teams in 2009: one for series champion Jack Sprague who will be a mentor and teammate to a yet to be named up-and-coming driver. Whether or not this happens will depend on available sponsorship.

Within the last month Germain Racing announced that driver Todd Bodine and his sponsor, Lumber Liquidators, would be returning in 2009 in the #30 Toyota Tundra. However this week there are indications that this announcement may have been a little premature and the sponsorship deal is not officially locked in place. Meanwhile Germain Racing is still trying to land a sponsor for their #7 Nationwide Series team, and driver Mike Wallace, to replace Geico who was forced out after NASCAR signed a series sponsorship agreement with Nationwide Insurance.

THE PERSONNEL FILES.

Driver Brad Coleman is a very lucky fellow. He's spent the past two seasons bouncing in and out of NASCAR rides like a human pinball. He began his NASCAR career with Joe Gibbs Racing's driver development program who began his grooming process with a part time Nationwide Series schedule. He left there to race the series full time with Baker Curb Motorsports and then left that operation because he thought he was going to land a full-time Sprint Cup ride with Hall Of Fame Racing in 2008. Unfortunately that fell through and he spent much of this year racing when and where he could. Earlier this week J D Gibbs, President of Gibbs Racing, said he'd love to have Coleman back and is apparently ready to offer him the same part-time Nationwide Series ride that he left to begin with.

Expect an announcement soon that says Scott Zipadelli will be leaving JTG Daugherty Racing and his crew chief position, for their #47 Nationwide Series team driven by Kelly Bires, to take a similar role with Braun Racing and driver Jason Leffler.

Here's yet another reason why Carl Edwards is smiling. He just learned that PK the crew chief, Pierre Kuettel, has elected to stay with his #60 Roush Fenway Racing Nationwide Series team.

Rampant rumors, from earlier in the year, that said driver David Starr was going to be released from his ride in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series are apparently not true. Red Horse Racing, co-owned by NASCAR veteran turned broadcaster Jeff Hammond, announced this week that Starr will indeed be back in their truck for 2009 and their primary sponsor, Zachary Holdings, will also be returning.

FINALLY THIS WEEK SOME HOORAHS FOR SOME GOOD DEEDS.

HOORAH to driver Johnny Sauter, and Pro Beach Volleyball player Angie Akers, for their recent visit to the U.S. Army Base in Fort Bragg-North Carolina in the support of the Warriors Promise Foundation. This non profit organization provides support aid and support to the U.S. Military community at the grassroots level.

HOORAH to the Tony Stewart Foundation for bestowing a $20,000 grant to The Friends Of Ferdinand Inc-FFI. This non profit organization works with owner and trainers of race horses at the two major race tracks located in Stewart's home state of Indiana. The group identifies horses who are approaching the end of their racing careers and helps with making the transition to other avenues that includes everything from becoming show horses to beloved companions to new owners. The Stewart Foundation grant will sponsor ten of these horses who have now been dubbed "Tony's Ex Racers."

HOORAH to NASCAR driver A J Allmendinger who, during the course of a talk radio interview in Indianapolis, made a $6,000 donation to the area's Make A Wish program which grants wishes to terminally ill children. The Allmendinger donation will provide wishes to two children and their families including one lucky little girl who will get to go on the Disney Cruise vacation she's always dreamed about.

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