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NASCAR Notebook for December 8, 2008

by Dave Grayson
Monday, December 8, 2008


It's likely that no one expected any real surprises when NASCAR presented their annual Sprint Cup awards banquet in New York last Friday night. But they came up with a big one when three time series champion Cale Yarborough walked out onto the stage to present Jimmie Johnson his championship ring much to Johnson's total amazement. Yarborough reportedly was not planning on being at the banquet.  Both drivers now share the status of winning the Sprint Cup championship for three consecutive years.

The always fun Yarborough, who won his NASCAR titles from 1976 to 1978, received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd gathered in the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom. "I set a pretty good record, it took them 30 years to tie it," he said adding "there are only two of us who have done it in the sixty years of the sport."  With a big smile on his face Yarborough reminded Johnson that all he really did was tie the record and he still needs to break it which means he has a lot of work to do. "I want to congratulate Jimmie: he's a great man and a great racer. I know he's going to win more championships but maybe he can skip a year," he said. Before he departed the stage Yarborough pointed at Johnson's team owner, Rick Hendrick, and told him if he ever had an opening in his racing stable then he should call because he was confident that he would become NASCAR's first ever 70 year old champion.

So, how much was Jimmie Johnson's excellent year worth? First off he collected $7,354,861 in race winnings. He was given a giant check, worth $7,225,603, for winning the Sprint Cup championship and he collected an additional $590,000 in special awards from NASCAR's sponsorship partners. Add it all up and the total calculates to a whopping $15,170,464. Runner up Carl Edwards' earnings totaled to $11,364,210.

It's doubtful that anyone was surprised by the announcement that said Dale Earnhardt Jr won the National Motorsports Press Association's Chex Most Popular Driver award. NASCAR's most popular driver has now won this award for six consecutive years. He rates second on the win list behind Bill Elliot who won this award nine consecutive years from 1991 to 2000. Well over one million fans voted on line to determine the winner.

It was great to note that NASCAR team owner Richard Childress received the 2008 Home Depot Humanitarian Award. The famed team owner put up $5 million of his own money to establish the Childress Institute For Pediatric Trauma in conjunction with the North Carolina based Wake Forrest Baptist Medical College. This special award included a $100,000 donation from Home Depot to this most worthy cause.


From this week's business news it was revealed this past Tuesday that NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr sent a letter to key members of Congress urging them to support a financial rescue plan for the country's big three automakers: Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. In that letter France wrote "I'm writing you as a concerned American who wants what's best in general for our country. Of course the domestic automotive manufacturers play a very important part in the heritage of NASCAR, but more importantly it is, (the rescue plan), vital for all of America."

During the course of a press conference held last month France said that he was confident that NASCAR could survive a manufacturer pull back, or even a complete pull out, but did express concern that such a move would likely cripple the efforts of many of the race teams in the sport.

It's sad to note that harsh economics has hampered the effort of one of NASCAR's most historic teams. The Wood Brothers, who has been fielding cars in NASCAR racing since its inception, announced this week that they will be cutting back to a 12 race schedule in 2009 with veteran driver Bill Elliot behind the wheel. The team will enter the Daytona 500 and eleven other events on super speedways that are at least a mile and a half long. The track size stipulation is based on Ford's traditional strong presence at the larger speedways.

The team's economic profile recently took a hard hit after learning that one of their long time sponsors, the United States Air Force, was leaving to become an associate sponsor with Gillett Evernham Motorsports. That setback was also the catalyst for the Wood Brothers having to recently lay off 22 of their employees.

Stewart Haas Racing is still in the process of securing a second sponsor for driver Ryan Newman and the #39 Chevrolet. The team does have a 22 race sponsor deal in place with the United States Army. New team owner Tony Stewart said he didn't consider the situation to be based on economics and cited a delay in the process of getting Newman signed, which didn't take place until October, as the reason. That delay, in turn, slowed the process of acquiring the additional needed sponsorship. Stewart did say that he will be meeting with a potential sponsor this week and expects to be able to make an announcement very soon. The rumor mill states that Burger King may turn out to be the team's second sponsor.

NASCAR just recently launched a one year promotional deal with actor Kevin Costner that features three different phases. The first phase began last Friday night when Costner made a special appearance at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards Banquet to narrate a historical presentation commemorating the sport's 60th anniversary.

The second phase began on Tuesday when Costner and his band, Modern West, debuted their new single and video, from their forthcoming new album, exclusively on "NASCAR Dot Com." For those of you unfamiliar with this musical effort Modern West is actually a very good band and Costner has garnered some critical acclaim for his singing and songwriting talents.

The third phase will feature Costner doing the narrative voice work for a new documentary film entitled "The Ride Of Their Lives." The film examines how family dynamics contributed to more than a half century of NASCAR racing and features interviews from Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. Produced by CMT Films and the NASCAR Media Group, "The Ride Of Their Lives" will make its official debut December 13th on CMT, Country Music Television, beginning at 9 pm eastern time.

At a point in time when economic adjustments means everything comes a story that says four time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon has offered to take a salary cut to help maintain performance levels for his #24 DuPont team. It's been reported that it takes approximately $30 million per year to operate this team and an estimated one third of that cost is driver salary. Gordon reportedly told team owner Rick Hendrick "I'll do whatever it takes for us to have the best team possible. If that means taking part of my salary to keep certain people on, or to hire certain people, I'll do it."

The persistent rumors of a merger between Petty Enterprises and Gillette Evernham Motorsports simply will not subside despite the fact that corporate executives from both organizations are mum on the subject. Earlier this week Robbie Loomis, Chief Operating Officer of Petty Enterprises, reluctantly conceded that the merger had been discussed but denied that it's going to take place.

Loomis went on to say to say that they are currently very busy in the Petty shop preparing cars for next year and that the #43 Dodge, driver Bobby Labonte as well as King Richard Petty will all be at the tracks next season business as usual. Loomis also said that "the sponsorship drive is moving forward and is on track for the 43 car." However he did concede that the sponsor status for their second full time team, the #44 Dodge for driver Chad McCumbee, is still "up in the air."

The International Speedway Corporation-ISC, owned by the France Family who also owns NASCAR, has apparently backed away from plans to construct a hotel and casino at the Kansas Speedway. The ISC, along with development partner The Cordish Corporation, has withdrawn their application to construct a $705 million Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in the speedway's turn two area. The official withdrawal came last Friday morning a mere hours before a hearing that was expected to grant the project final approval. A tight credit market, and the economic crises in general, were said to be the reason. There is a reported possibility that the developers may consider resubmitting an application to build just the casino and then add the other amenities later once the economy improves.

Sadly this action will virtually kill any plans to award a second NASCAR Sprint Cup date, by 2010, to the Kansas Speedway which is also owned by the ISC. Also in jeopardy are plans by the ISC to construct a road racing course at the facility.


Joey Logano will be testing an ARCA ReMax Series car for Venturini Motorsports later this month at Daytona. The Venturini team has also announced that they will continue their alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing who fields Logano's NASCAR Sprint Cup ride. That alliance renewal is expected to pave the way for Logano to drive for Venturini in next year's ARCA ReMax events at Daytona and Pocono.

Driver Dave Blaney says he fully expects to be with a NASCAR team in 2009. He's just unsure which NASCAR series he's going to land in. Blaney spent the 2008 season driving the #22 Toyota in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series for Bill Davis Racing-BDR. However the team learned that their long time sponsor, Caterpillar, would not be returning next year. Efforts to locate a new primary sponsor has failed and that has
left BDR's Cup operation in a virtual state of shutdown. Blaney did indicate that he's had some conversations with a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team and could be heading to the trucks next year.

Last Friday night, at the NASCAR awards banquet in New York, Regan Smith collected a check worth $75,000 for winning the 2008 NASCAR Raybestos Rookie Of The Year title. Now it seems that Smith is trying to figure where his next NASCAR related check will be coming from. The young driver spent 2008 driving the #01 Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc-DEI. But part of the recently completed merger between DEI and Ganassi Racing, now known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing-EGR, called for the discontinuance of the #01 team. Smith recently said that he's had very little dialogue with EGR since the completion of the merger and admits that the prospects of getting a ride with them are slim to none.

However in recent days Smith journeyed to Colorado to visit the shop of Furniture Row Racing and said he was very impressed with their organization. The team is planning a part time Cup schedule while searching for full time sponsorships. Smith is reported to be in negotiations to drive their #78 Chevrolet. If the deal is completed he will replace veteran driver Joe Nemechek who was released from the ride in recent weeks after the team reportedly bought out the balance of his contract.


Last week Mr. and Mrs. Jimmie Johnson cancelled vacation plans to Thailand after protesters there shut down the Bangkok Airport for the better part of a week. Now we're hearing that another high profile NASCAR couple are going to proceed with plans to visit that same country. Carl Edwards and his fiancée, Dr. Kate Downey, said they're not worried about the recent turmoil and they're looking forward to visiting Thailand and plan to bicycle their way all through the country.

Denny Hamlin recently returned from Japan after taking part in Toyota's Motorsports day at the Fuji Speedway. The event featured Toyota drivers from a variety of racing series including NASCAR and Formula One. Hamlin did some hot laps in his Joe Gibbs Racing and the fans loved it. Hamlin said that this was his first ever trip overseas and he was impressed with Japan and how gracious the people were.


Fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr are aware that he owns a trendy nightclub, called Whiskey River, in the upscale district of Charlotte-North Carolina. From the "Associated Press" comes a disturbing story that says the club was the focus of a police narcotics sting in recent days  After receiving numerous complaints regarding drugs being sold at the club, police set up a sting operation that led to the arrest of Anthony Ortega Rodriquez who was employed at the club as a doorman and bouncer. Police reports allege that the employee sold narcotics to an undercover officer. Following the arrest police confiscated 12 bags of cocaine with an approximate weight of 15 grams.

It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that Earnhardt was no where near the club when this incident occurred and had nothing to do with it other than the fact that, as property owner, he will have to play an active role in the public relations fall out that will likely follow this story.

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