Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NASCAR drivers are a changin'

   The offseason shuffle of NASCAR rides will continue into the new year, with several teams still finalizing their plans for the 2012 season.

   Among the expected moves to be announced over the next week or so:

   -- Jason Leffler, who drove in the Nationwide Series in 2011 for Turner Motorsports, is the leading candidate to drive a full season for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, multiple sources have confirmed. It appears owner Kyle Busch will drive few - if any - races for his own Truck or Nationwide teams next season.

   -- David Ragan and Cole Whitt are the leading candidates to replace Aric Almirola in JR Motorsports' No. 88 Nationwide team in 2012, sources said. A decision is expected early next week, around the time Almirola's move to the Sprint Cup Series and Richard Petty Motorsports' No. 43 car should be officially announced.

   -- The possibility of Kurt Busch driving his brother Kyle's Nationwide team fulltime in 2012 and competing for the series championships continues to be discussed, sources said. Kurt will drive a majority of the team's races regardless. Monster is expected to be announced as the team's sponsor during a news conference in January.

   Stayed tuned for more changes.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tony Stewart to compete in Chili Bowl

    Three-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will return to Tulsa, Okla., to compete in the 2012 Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, which begin Jan. 10.

   Stewart made his most recent appearance in the event in 2008, finishing eighth in the A-main finale. After taking a three-year hiatus from the biggest Midget race of the year, Stewart will return in January behind the wheel of the No. 14 Chevrolet/Chevrolet Performance Parts/Spike.

   Stewart will join one of the most powerful teams ever assembled for the events Joined him will be 2011 Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 2011 United States Auto Club (USAC) National Drivers champion Bryan Clauson, and 2011 POWRi Rookie of the Year Jake Blackhurst.

   Stewart has won the Chili Bowl in 2002 and 2007.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Preview the 2012 NASCAR season

   More than 50 drivers from the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series will appear at the inaugural NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint, scheduled for Jan. 21 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center.

   NASCAR Preview 2012 will offer a festival-like experience for fans that features driver autograph and question-and-answer sessions, show car appearances, simulators, games and more. The fan event is one of several events that comprise NASCAR Acceleration Weekend, which begins Jan. 20 with the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for Class of 2012 inductees Richie Evans, Dale Inman, Darrell Waltrip, Glen Wood and Cale Yarborough. Following Saturday’s NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint event will be the unveiling of the Class of 2012 exhibits in the  Hall of Fame on Jan. 22.

   2011 champions Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Austin Dillon plus other drivers from the Cup, Nationwide and Truck series will sign autographs in the Ballroom and the Exhibit Hall at the Charlotte Convention Center starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21.

   Driver Appearance Times (Ballroom)
   9:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. – Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth
   10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson
   11:45 a.m. – 1:45 p.m. – Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski
   12:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. – Greg Biffle
   12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman
   2:45 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya
   3:15 p.m. – 5:15 p.m. – Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart
   Driver Appearance Times (Exhibit Hall)
   9 a.m. – 11 a.m. – AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, David Ragan, Justin Allgaier, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Timmy Hill, Blake Koch, Travis Pastrana, Timothy Peters
   11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Marcos Ambrose, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Brian Vickers, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Brian Scott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Sweet, Cale Gale, Justin Lofton, Todd Peck
   12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – Michael Annett, Elliott Sadler, Mike Wallace, Dakoda Armstrong, Johnny Sauter, Parker Kligerman, Brian Keselowski, Michael Waltrip, Jason Leffler, Todd Bodine
   2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. – Danica Patrick, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Morgan Shepherd, Kenny Wallace, Joey Coulter, Ty Dillon, Brendan Gaughan, Tim George Jr., Max Gresham
   Beginning Saturday at 7 a.m. in the Charlotte Convention Center Ballroom, wristbands will be distributed to a limited number of fans to get into the Ballroom where several of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will be signing autographs. Recipients must have an event ticket to be eligible to receive a wristband.

   Tickets to NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint are available now starting at $10 for individual event admission at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000. Tickets will also be available the day of the event for $15. A discounted $20 combo ticket includes admission to both the Preview event and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, while a $299 VIP weekend package includes all NASCAR Acceleration Weekend events, including the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. 
   For additional information and updates on driver appearances, visit www.NASCARAcceleration2012.com.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kurt Busch will be doing plenty of NASCAR racing in 2012

   By Jim Utter

   Kurt Busch will be doing plenty of racing in the 2012 NASCAR season.

   On Friday, Phoenix Racing announced it had hired the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion to drive for its No. 51 Chevrolet team next season.

   The No. 51 entered every Cup race in 2011 with several different drivers. The news release announcing Busch’s move said he would drive a “full schedule” with the team.

   Busch is also expected to join forces with his younger brother, Kyle, and drive for Kyle’s Nationwide series team in 2012, the Observer and ThatsRacin.com have learned.

   One option being considered is for Kurt Busch to run the full Nationwide schedule and compete for the series championship, multiple sources said.

   Under NASCAR’s current system, Busch will only be able to earn driver points in only one series. It remains unclear what effect Friday’s Cup announcement will have on the Nationwide plans.

   A spokesman for Kyle Busch Motorsports said Friday the team was still finalizing its driver lineup and would not have any official announcements until after Jan. 1.

   Kurt Busch parted ways with Penske Racing earlier this month, ending his six-year tenure with the organization. He has won 24 Cup races and the 2004 series championship in his career.

   Busch’s first race with Finch will be the Feb. 18 Budweiser Shootout, which he won last season.

    “It’s going to be old-school racing, where we show up, race hard and go for the win,” Kurt said of his new Cup ride with Phoenix. “And if we don’t win, we’ll go back to the shop, work hard and do it all over again next week.

   “That’s the way we all started racing, and it’s great to get back to that.”

   James Finch, owner of Phoenix Racing, celebrated his 20th year as a team owner in 2011. His Spartanburg, S.C.-based team has won 13 NASCAR races, the most prominent being the April 2009 Cup race at Talladega, Ala., with then-driver Brad Keselowski.

   “All we want to do is win,” Finch said. “Winning is why I’ve been in racing for as long as I have, but NASCAR is a very competitive sport, and winning – especially at the Sprint Cup level – is hard.

   “But now with Kurt Busch as our driver, we have a shot to win every week.”

Monday, December 19, 2011

NASCAR digital media outlets to grow

   NASCAR coverage on digital media platforms is looking to expand, perhaps as soon as the 2012 season.

   Sports Business Daily reported Monday that NASCAR is close to reaching an agreement to buy its digital rights back from Turner Sports, a move that could see the sanctioning body manage its own digital business as soon as 2013. Specific terms of the pending agreement were not available.

   Some changes could be seen in 2012, the Observer and ThatsRacin.com have learned. They include Sirius Satellite Radio being able to stream its content on-line to subscribers and MRN and PRN - which own the radio broadcasts rights to NASCAR races - being able to stream their race coverage online.

   When these changes could take effect remains unclear.

   There was no immediate comment from officials at Sirius.

   NASCAR spokesman Scott Warfield would not confirm any specifics but did offer the following statement:
   “As is the case with all of our partners, we are in constant dialogue with Turner Sports. While we don’t publicly comment on the nature of those discussions, it is fair to say we are exploring various options as it relates to the future of our long-standing partnership.”

   In any case, it seems NASCAR offerings in digital media should be on the rise in the near future.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

How much did the Chase drivers make?

2011 Season Winnings
Rank     Driver             Season Total
1     Tony Stewart         $12,671,071
2     Carl Edwards         $11,351,964
3     Kevin Harvick         $8,072,369
4     Matt Kenseth          $7,901,409
5     Brad Keselowski     $6,503,444
6     Jimmie Johnson     $7,599,034
7     Dale Earnhardt Jr   $5,329,888
8    Jeff Gordon              $7,126,719
9    Denny Hamlin          $6,578,688
10  Ryan Newman         $6,388,178
11  Kurt Busch               $6,714,991
12  Kyle Busch              $7,160,043

Friday, December 16, 2011

Danica Patrick picks up a crew chief

   Greg Zipadelli's move to Stewart-Haas Racing as competition director was a much anticipated and expected one. However, his temporary role at Danica Patrick's crew chief for her limited Sprint Cup schedule in 2012 was a late addition to his job description.

   Zipadelli addressed his planned work with Patrick during a teleconference on Friday.

    Q.  Zippy, is one of your big jobs right now to get the 10 team kind of put together and is there any chance that you would end up crew chiefing that at least for the 500?
    ZIPADELLI:  Yeah, I think that is the plan now.  I mean, I will start immediately as soon as this afternoon, working on putting some of those pieces together.  I know Matt Borland has done a really good job of keeping that going already, so they're not behind.  And as far as Daytona, yes, Daytona test and Daytona 500, right now it looks like I'll be there to do that and just see ‑‑ most important is that we find the right person long‑term for that position.

    Q.  And when would kind of the target date for that be? 
    ZIPADELLI:  I think honestly, if it takes until the end of the year to make sure we look at everybody that's going to be available either now or coming available at the end of the year ‑‑ really see who that person is that fits with the other crew chiefs, fits into Stewart‑Haas's, under their umbrella and the mold and the way they like to do things, that's important is finding that right person.  We'll take as much time as we need.

   Q. The second part of the question is being on top of the pit box with Danica for Daytona, I mean, you know there's just going to be so much attention placed on her first Cup race, especially being the biggest NASCAR race of the year.  I mean, in a lot of ways it's got to be an enviable position but also a position that can be quite difficult.  
   ZIPADELLI:  I mean, when we talked about this, this wasn't part of it.  They got through it and they thought about it and they asked if this was something that I would do, and here's the deal:  I'm here to help this team grow in anything that I can do.  I'm looking forward to it.  I think it'll be fun, it'll be exciting, and like I said, it gives me a little bit of the ‑‑ helps with the withdrawal as far as being on that box.  The races are spread out throughout the year, so that'll be good.  It shouldn't take a whole lot away from the things I'm trying to learn and help with over here on a daily basis.
   With that being said, to me I'm just looking at it as, hey, it's a good opportunity, we're going to go and do the best we can with it, surround her with the best people we can and give her a great opportunity.

   Q. As the guy who helped Tony ease through the transition from IndyCar to stock car racing, how will that experience, 13 or so years ago, impact your assisting Danica through that same transition next year?
   ZIPADELLI:  I mean, I hope just the things that I've learned over the years, the patience and the things that I've had to ‑‑ going through those transitions, we'll be able to pull from those things.  I think Tony is going to ‑‑ and Ryan are going to be able to help her way more with that.  They've actually experienced it and felt it and been through a lot of that stuff, and as far as that goes, she couldn't have two better teachers, you know?  

JGR announces new crew chief for driver Joey Logano

   Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) announces today that Jason Ratcliff has been named crew chief for its No. 20 Sprint Cup Series team, replacing Greg Zipadelli who is leaving the organization to pursue an opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing. 

   “We appreciate everything Greg has done for us here at Joe Gibbs Racing. He has been a big part of our success, but we felt the timing was right to make this transition for our race team which allows Greg the opportunity to pursue a director of competition position with Tony (Stewart),” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. “We also felt that the timing was right to bring Jason (Ratcliff) to our Cup operation. He is a proven leader with a tremendous track record in our Nationwide program and we think he and Joey will work well together.”

   Ratcliff spent the previous seven years as crew chief for JGR’s No. 18 Nationwide Series team. No team has been better over the past three seasons as the team won two consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series Owner’s Championships in 2009 and 2010. They narrowly missed out on a third consecutive title this past season finishing just a few points off the pace in second. Over the past three seasons JGR’s No. 18 Nationwide Series team has won an incredible 30 races, with 68 top-five, and 85 top-ten finishes. In addition, they have led an astonishing 6,124 laps over that time.

   “I’m excited about the opportunity to join our Cup operation and work with Joey and everyone on the 20 team,” said Ratcliff. “There is a great history with this program and we have two of the best sponsors in the sport with The Home Depot and Dollar General. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Joey a few times now on the Nationwide side so there is a familiarity there, but I’m looking forward to getting started fulltime and working alongside Dave (Rogers) and Darian (Grubb).”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lineup for 2012 Budweiser Shootout

    NASCAR announced Wednesday the list of eligible competitors for the 2012 Shootout. The 34th annual season-opening event launches Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 18 with a start time set for 8:10 p.m. FOX.

   Criteria are based upon the following qualifications, with eligibility based on a driver having been active in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series during the 2011 season:
· The highest ranked 25 competitors in 2011 NSCS driver points
· Previous winners at Daytona, including the Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola, and Shootout events

   Starting positions will again be determined by a blind-draw at the annual Shootout Draw Party on Friday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. on the SPEED stage in the Midway, outside Turn 4.

Drivers eligible for the 2012 Shootout include:
2011 Top 25 Driver Points
Tony Stewart
Carl Edwards
Kevin Harvick
Matt Kenseth
Brad Keselowski
Jimmie Johnson
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jeff Gordon
Denny Hamlin
Ryan Newman
Kurt Busch
Kyle Busch
Clint Bowyer
Kasey Kahne
AJ Allmendinger
Greg Biffle
Paul Menard
Martin Truex Jr.
Marcos Ambrose
Jeff Burton
Juan Pablo Montoya
Mark Martin
David Ragan
Joey Logano
Brian Vickers

Others (criteria in parentheses)
Bill Elliott (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400, Shootout)
Geoff Bodine (Daytona 500, Shootout)
Derrike Cope (Daytona 500)
Michael Waltrip (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400)
Jamie McMurray (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400)
Trevor Bayne (Daytona 500)
Terry Labonte (Shootout)
Ken Schrader (Shootout)

Friday, December 9, 2011

NASCAR champ crew chief joins Hamlin's team

   This year's championship-winning crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series will try to win one next season with the 2010 season runner-up.
   Joe Gibbs Racing will name Darian Grubb - who won this season's championship with driver Tony Stewart - as the new crew chief for Denny Hamlin on Friday afternoon, sources confirmed to The Observer and ThatsRacin.com.
   Grubb, who was told early during the Chase for the Cup that he would not return as Stewart's crew chief next season, had been mulling several offers before deciding to join Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR released Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford, earlier this week.
   In three seasons together at Stewart-Haas Racing, Grubb and Stewart won 11 races, including five in this season's Chase.
   Hamlin finished second in the 2010 Chase, falling 39 points short of Jimmie Johnson, who won his NASCAR-record fifth consecutive title.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gaughan lands rides at RCR

   Veteran NASCAR driver Brendan Gaughan will compete in 10 races on the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule, driving Richard Childress Racing's No. 33 Chevrolet, and in eight races on the 2012 Camping World Truck Series schedule, driving RCR's No. 2 Chevrolet, the organization announced on Thursday.

   Gaughan, 36, is the 2002 Truck Series rookie of the year and competed fulltime in the Nationwide Series in 2009 and 2010, earning one pole and 17 top-10 finishes in 71 career starts. He finished ninth in the 2009 series standings and 11th in 2010.

   "The last few years, I have been racing for teams that try to buy their engineering or equipment from organizations as great as RCR, but doing that is never the same as racing for RCR," said Gaughan. "I have always steered away from switching to a part-time schedule in the past but I had to look at where I would have the best opportunity to win races again and the opportunity to race for Richard Childress is one I couldn't pass up."

   Gaughan's Nationwide and Truck Series races will be sponsored by South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, with the exception of two Nationwide events which will be sponsored by Menards.

   The Las Vegas native's 18-race schedule will kick-off with the Truck Series event at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and includes visits in both series to his home track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Gaughan's Nationwide Series events include races at Iowa Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway among others.

   His Truck Series line-up includes events at Texas Motor Speedway, where he is a four-time winner, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and others, as well as the 2012 season finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway.

   "Brendan is a proven race winner and champion so we're excited to have him driving for RCR," said team owner Richard Childress. "He will be a great addition to RCR's overall driver lineup as we re-launch our NASCAR Nationwide Series program and continue the strength of our Camping World Truck Series program in 2012."

   RCR said the complete crew chief and remaining driver lineup for the No. 33 Nationwide team and the No. 2 Truck team will be announced at a later date.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fred Lorenzen honored by home state

   Elmhurst, Ill., native and 1965 Daytona 500 winner, Fred Lorenzen was honored by the Illinois General Assembly on Wednesday at Chicagoland Speedway for his accomplishments as a NASCAR driver between 1958-1972.

   “Fred Lorenzen was an icon of NASCAR and the racing world,” Illinois State Representative, Dennis Reboletti said. “He is an Illinois sports legend and we recognize him for his lifetime of accomplishments."

   “Fred Lorenzen is a true NASCAR and Illinois sports legend, and we’re thrilled to be a part of today’s presentation honoring his accomplishments,” said Scott Paddock, Chicagoland Speedway president. “Fred was one of the first pioneers of NASCAR and his contributions have helped to make it the great sport that is today.”
   Also in attendance at the press conference, were two of Lorenzen’s old friends from his days at Holman-Moody Racing – Charlie ‘Slick’ Owens and Waddell Wilson.

   Owens had this to say about Lorenzen’s impact in the world of racing and NASCAR, “Freddie knew every piece of the race car. He worked on it, cleaned it and he never bragged about anything. He just went out and did what he had to do, and that was race.”

   Wilson added, “Freddie taught me great ethics about racing. He was one of the highlights of my life. I look back at all the great things we’ve done, and even before I worked for him, I idolized him. He was my hero; he still is.”

   Earning the nicknames “Fearless Freddie” and “Golden Boy,” Lorenzen recorded 26 wins in his NASCAR career and is still the only NASCAR driver to win 20 races in their first 100 starts. He also became the first driver to earn more than $100,000 in winnings in a single season, claiming $113,570 driving for the legendary Holman-Moody team in 1963.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kurt Busch responds to release from Penske Racing

    Kurt Busch issued the following statement today regarding the news that the 24-time NASCAR Sprint Cup winner and 2004 Cup champion had reached a mutual agreement with Penske Racing to leave the team:

   “I am grateful to Penske Racing for six very productive years. Together we won a lot of races – 16 in all. I’m proud that we won on a variety of tracks and this past season reached Victory Lane four times. Another highlight was pushing my teammate to a Daytona 500 win. I also appreciate the lasting friendships I’ve made while working with our great sponsors through the years, including Miller Lite, Shell and Dodge.

   “Coming to a mutual agreement to go our separate ways is a positive step for me. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I took time to reflect on what is most important to me and realized I need to find a way to put the fun back into racing. It’s time for a fresh start. Leaving a great organization and a lucrative contract is not easy, but it allows me to take a deep breath and work on things that can make me a better driver and a better person.

   “I recognize the passion and emotion that have helped me succeed on the track need to be better channeled off the track. The past few months I began working with a sports psychologist to help me better deal with my emotions, especially following moments of frustration during competition.

   “I never want to take for granted that it’s a privilege to earn a living as a NASCAR driver. As I begin this new chapter in my career, I’m excited about the future and committed to making the changes necessary for me to enjoy racing again, to compete for championships and to better represent NASCAR, my sponsors, my team and my fans.

   “I want to personally thank Roger Penske for the opportunity he gave me and for his friendship, which will continue long into the future.”

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sprint extends Cup Series sponsorship

   Sprint CEO Dan Hesse announced Friday night his company has agreed to a contract extension to continue to sponsor NASCAR's Cup series through "at least" the 2016 season.

   Hesser made the announcement official during his speech at the Sprint Cup Series awards banquet Friday night at the Wynn Las Vegas.

   The current 10-year deal with NASCAR expires at the end of the 2013 season but talks on an extension have been ongoing throughout the year.

   The Kansas City-based wireless phone company, then known as Nextel, signed a 10-year, $750 million agreement in 2004 to rename NASCAR’s top series. Those rights include naming the season series and championship, as well as the annual all-star race.
   As part of the sponsorship, Sprint has spent millions more creating a fan experience display that goes to all of the races. In addition, a number of NASCAR-themed features are standard for Sprint’s wireless subscribers.

   The deal began in 2004 with Nextel, which was eventually acquired by Sprint. The series was re-branded the Sprint Cup Series in 2008.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

President Obama calls to congratulate Tony Stewart

Office of the Press Secretary
November 30, 2011

Readout of the President’s Call with 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart

   Earlier today, the President called Tony Stewart to congratulate him and the entire Stewart-Haas Racing team on winning the 2011 Sprint Cup Series Championship and on the incredible season they had. The President said he was impressed that Mr. Stewart was able to come from the back of the pack to edge out Carl Edwards for the win.

   The President said that the First Lady and Dr. Biden enjoyed being at Homestead for the Ford 400 and how grateful they were to have NASCAR honor military families. The President commended Mr. Stewart and the other drivers for being such positive role models and great ambassadors for NASCAR, and said that he looks forward to congratulating Mr. Stewart in person at the White House next year.