Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is it time to change NASCAR's traditional race day?

   Is it time to change NASCAR’s traditional race day?

   For the second Chase for the Sprint Cup in the past three seasons, NASCAR is seeing a significant ratings decline during the 10-race playoff.

   In the 2010 season, every Chase race except for the season finale at Homestead, Fla., saw a ratings decline over the previous season.

   So far in 2012, in the six races run on the same day as the year before – one was rained out in 2011 – TV ratings have been equal or in most cases significantly down from 2011. The worst was this past Sunday’s race at Martinsville, Va., which was off 22 percent from a year ago.

   Small ratings increases and decreases happen all the time for a variety of reasons, but anytime a sport loses one-fifth of its audience, it should be a cause for concern.

   In the last several years, NASCAR has tried a variety of methods to recapture some of the TV audience lost in the past five to eight years.

   There have been numerous “tweaks” to the Chase format and its rules.

   Common race start times were tried, and then abandoned.

   NASCAR even loosened its authoritative grip by allowing drivers to settle more of their issues between themselves on the track.

   While certainly the economy has seen significant problems in the past four years, the NFL – NASCAR’s competition on Sunday – has seen no similar significant declines.

   So, the question arises, is it time to yield to the NFL juggernaut rather than continue to compete against it side-by-side?

   The NFL isn’t going anywhere, folks. In fact, even during the time NASCAR grew dramatically in appeal and ratings, it wasn’t because the NFL went south. The NFL grew, too, just not as much.

   And there are no signs America’s fascination with the gridiron will change.

   Hence an idea: Why not make Saturday afternoon the traditional race day for the Cup series?

   Yes, there are lots of college football games in the fall, but only the biggest games – a relatively small number – even come close to bringing in the number of national viewers that NASCAR Cup races do.

   While this change may be inconvenient for ESPN/ABC as they broadcast dozens of college games on Saturdays, the network would still benefit if, in fact, the audience for NASCAR grows because some fans are no longer torn away by the NFL.

   One other thing to consider: Fans and particularly those who work in NASCAR generally enjoy Saturday day or night races because it frees up a weekend day. It would be difficult to imagine at least those in the industry not enjoying many Sundays off.

   It would be a bold step. It would also step on tradition.

   But if the long-term success and vitality of NASCAR itself would be better off, would it really be so bad?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Crew chief change at Richard Petty Motorsports

    Richard Petty Motorsports announced Tuesday Drew Blickensderfer has been assigned as the crew chief of the No. 9 Sprint Cup Series team and driver Marcos Ambrose. Blickensderfer replaces Mike Ford who has left the organization.

   The Mount Zion, Ill., native comes to RPM most recently from Richard Childress Racing where he was the crew chief for Jeff Burton. Prior to his time there, Blickensderfer spent the majority of his career with teams associated with Ford Racing and Roush-Fenway Racing. He is a former Daytona 500 champion and has multiple Cup and Nationwide Series wins with drivers Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.

   "Drew has a lot of experience with Ford Racing and also how our current operation works," said team owner Richard Petty. "His knowledge can immediately improve the performance of the No. 9 race team. Marcos has proved to win races and compete in the top-five. The addition of Drew will hopefully provide those results on a more consistent basis."

   Ambrose has one win, eight top-10 and three top-five finishes this season. In addition, Ambrose has won two poles this year.

   "We have had success this season and now we're just looking for more consistency as we prepare for next season," said Ambrose. "Drew brings a strong resume to our team and can help us find the results that we want each week. I'm looking forward to working with him."

Keselowski: 'We like our role in this Chase'

   The points race may be tight in the Sprint Cup Series and the pressure may be building for Brad Keselowski, who will go two-to-toe with five-time champion Jimmie Johnson to earn his first series championship.

   That doesn't appear to change Keselowski's approach heading into this weekend's race at Texas Motor Speedway.

   Keselowski's thoughts going into this weekend:

   When you have a team like we have on the Miller Lite Dodge, it’s easy to stay calm in the face of adversity. We all have each other’s back. We like our role is in this Chase. While we aren’t being overlooked by any means, there are many who think that we are still too young of a team to seriously challenge the 48 team. We like it that way," he said.

   "In reality, we are a very good race team that is primed to take this fight right down to the last lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway next month. I’m very confident in our abilities at Texas this weekend. The mile-and-a-half tracks have been really good to us this year. We had an awesome car in April at Texas – probably the best car I’ve ever had there – but fuel issues kept us from challenging for the win. This weekend, I’m expecting to challenge for the win.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Jeff Burton gets new crew chief

   Richard Childress Racing announced Monday that Shane Wilson will take over as crew chief for its No. 31 Chevrolet team and driver Jeff Burton for the remainder of the 2012 season. Wilson replaces Drew Blickensderfer, who is expected to join another organization.
   Luke Lambert, who has served as crew chief for Elliott Sadler in the Nationwide Series this season, will take over as Burton's permanent crew chief for the 2013 season.
   "I want to thank Drew for all of his effort with the No. 31 Caterpillar team this season," said Richard Childress, president and CEO of RCR. "He's a great crew chief and I can't say enough about his dedication to RCR. Making the move now, before the season is over, gives Drew some additional time to pursue other opportunities.
   "Shane is a proven winner and I appreciate his willingness to step into this role for the balance of the 2012 season."
   Lambert has previously worked with Burton, serving as an interim crew chief during the 2011 season.
   "Luke is proving this season that he's a strong, young crew chief who can win races and compete for a championship," added Childress. "Announcing his move to the No. 31 team in 2013 will not take anything away from his focus on the No. 2 team winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. That's his No. 1 priority. We merely wanted to show that we have both an interim plan for the rest of this season and a long-term plan for the future."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Guess who thinks Brad Keselowski will be hard to beat?

   While most of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s media availability on Friday at Martinsville Speedway was taken up by questions concerning his recent two-week absence from racing due to a pair of concussions, he did get a few non-medical questions.

   One was regarding Sprint Cup Series points leader Brad Keselowski, who kicked started his career running up front and winning races for JR Motorsports' Nationwide Series team. Earnhardt is co-owner of the team.

   Earnhardt was asked how he thought Keselowski would hold up in his current situation considering some people claim he might crack under the pressure.

   Here is Earnhardt's response: "I don’t think he’s going to crack. I think he’s going to be hard to beat. I think he will be a tough competitor all the way through. Brad has been waiting on this opportunity all his life so I don’t expect him to crack under the pressure. I think he will be tough.”

What do you do when the competition is good, too?

   Jimmie Johnson, with six career Sprint Cup wins at Martinsville Speedway, was certainly looking forward to this weekend's race to help in the hunt for his sixth series championship.
   But Denny Hamlin, who owns four wins of his own at the half-mile flat track, sees Sunday's race as a chance to pick up points as well.
   And Brad Keselowski, the series points leader, is no slouch at the track. He only has five career starts but has a solid record, including a ninth-place finish in the spring.
   So, what do you do when you're in the title hunt, you're headed to one of your best tracks but your closest competition is good there, too? According to Johnson, you battle for every single point.
   “I try to stay focused on my record and my team. But there is a part of my mind that thinks of strengths and weaknesses of the other drivers. In general, I feel like the way everybody is running, you might get a point or two; if you’re fortunate enough to win, you’ll get three (points) on a guy and that’s what we’ve seen," he said. "And that’s where my disappointment of last week (Kansas Speedway) comes into play because I feel like I could have gotten a good chunk on the No. 2 (Keselowski) and the No. 11 (Hamlin).
   "But coming here, the way we’re sitting in points, I would hope to get a handful of points on the No. 2 car. And at the same time, Denny, I got a few points on him last week so if I gave up a few it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. And I really think going down the stretch, it’s going to be a game of a few points at a time. That’s just the way my mindset is.
   "I’m focused on it this week a little bit and if I lose a little to the No. 11, it’s not what I want but I got a few last week; and if I’m able to get some on the No. 2, then we did what we should here.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Where Carl Edwards buried last season's disappointment

   Somewhere on Miami Beach is buried the disappointment and the frustration of Carl Edwards' runner-up finish to Tony Stewart for the 2011 Sprint Cup Series championship.

   Stewart won the season finale at Homestead, Fla., with Edwards finishing second. The two finished tied in points but Stewart won the championship by having more wins than Edwards over the course of the season (5-1).

   The next day Edwards and his wife, Kate, went for a walk on the beach - he was staying over for the Nationwide Series banquet - and they made a pact.

   "We made a deal right then that it was done and over and it was a fun time and we wished it would have gone different but we pretty much buried it in the sand on the beach," Edwards said. "When people ask me how long it took to get over that, it took about 10 or 11 hours and that is it."

   Edwards, however, did not come up totally empty from Homestead. He said he left with a very important life lesson.

   "I learned that you can’t place all the value on your result. You have to place some on performance," he said. "When you drive the perfect race and if your car is not fast enough, or you have some bad luck, you might finish fifth. Some of those races you finish fifth are better than ones you win.

   "I have won a number of races where I knew my car was faster and somebody else had bad luck. What I am getting at is that at the end of that race at Homestead, as devastated as I was that we didn’t win, and trust me I was really frustrated that we didn’t win, I can still hold my head up and say that we went into that race with all the pressure in the world, Tony doing all his trash-talking, everything on our shoulders, and we qualified on the pole, led the most laps, and we were leading when it started raining. We just got out gambled in the pits and it didn’t go our way.

   "I am telling you, if I went back and ran that race again, I don’t know if I personally could do a better job managing that race."

   Sometimes all you can do has to be enough.

Jimmie Johnson on his car Sunday: 'It wasn't pretty.'

   Jimmie Johnson had just wrecked his No. 48 Chevrolet in Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway and instead of heading right to the garage for repairs, his crew chief Chad Knaus elected to have him make multiple pit stops to try to fix the damage.

   "There's nothing wrong with that thing. Nothing," Knaus told Johnson over their team radio after his fourth trip to the pits. "You just might have a little trouble looking out the back window."

   What did Johnson think listening to Knaus direct the repairs and then seeing what the car looked like after he rallied for a ninth-place finish? 

Read more here:
   "I knew he would make it sound better than it really was. That's just part of what you mentioned, (of him) quarterbacking the situation. I could tell from the impact it wasn't all that hard," Johnson said. "I knew I didn't bend the rear suspension. I knew the front end didn't hit. From a mechanical standpoint, I knew the chassis was sound and it really was an aero situation.

   " Chad seemed calm as we had two or three stops to work on the car. Once they didn't lead me back to pit road, I assumed things were decent. I took my time getting up to speed and the car felt fine. In traffic it did act different. I had to be aware of where I put myself around other cars because the car would lose some grip then."

   So, did Knaus lie about the extent of the damage in order to make Johnson believe the situation was so dire?

   "He wasn't lying. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't efficient. Slow on corner exiting down the straightaway because of the fenders being pushed out like they were," Johnson said of his car. "Through the corner, the car had a spoiler on it in a decent location and it was creating downforce. It drove well. That's what allowed me to work traffic like I did to allow me to get up inside the top 10."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hendrick 'clarifies' Earnhardt's status

Team owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday that he misspoke earlier Sunday when he said Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been cleared to race next week at Martinsville.

Hendrick came into the Kansas Speedway media center during Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 to correct that: He said Earnhardt -- who has missed the last two races due to two concussions he recently sustained -- still had not been cleared by Dr. Jerry Petty, and that Earnhardt would have a track test Monday at Georgia's Gresham Motorsports Park then be evaluated Tuesday.

Hendrick, however, said he would "be shocked" if Earnhardt is not cleared to race in Martinsville. -- David Scott

Hendrick: Earnhardt cleared

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been cleared by doctors to race next week at Martinsville.

Earnhardt has missed the Sprint Cup's last two races at Charlotte and Sunday at Kansas after suffering two concussions over the last seven weeks. Earnhardt saw a doctor in Charlotte last week when he continued to feel the effects of the concussions and was advised to sit out two races.

But Earnhardt's condition has improved enough that he was given the the go ahead to race next week.

"He came through with flying colors," Hendrick told ESPN before Sunday's race at Kansas, where Regan Smith will drive Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Chevy. "He's doing great and he's been cleared to race next week at Martinsville." -- David Scott

Friday, October 19, 2012

Richard Petty Motorsports to remain with Ford Racing

   Team press release

   Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) and Ford Racing announced today they will continue their manufacturer partnership. The announcement ensures that Richard Petty Motorsports' two NASCAR Sprint Cup race teams and its Nationwide Series race team will race under the Ford Racing banner into 2013. It will be the fourth consecutive season the team has raced with the manufacturer. Subsequently, RPM will continue its services contract with Roush-Fenway Racing and Roush-Yates Racing to supply new Ford Fusions and Ford horsepower for its entries.
   RPM has a winning record with Ford Racing. The team has two wins in the Sprint Cup Series and one win in the Nationwide Series with the blue oval. Over the past three seasons, RPM has also earned eight poles, 74 top-10 and 26 top-five finishes with the manufacturer in both the Cup and Nationwide Series.

   "Our team relationship with Ford Racing has helped us win races and be competitive in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series," said Richard Petty, co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports. "They have been our partner over the past three seasons and we're proud to continue that relationship into next season, especially with the debut of the new Ford Fusion in the Sprint Cup Series. We expect to continue to win races and challenge for championships in both series with Ford Racing."

   RPM will continue to enter the No. 9 Ford Fusion with partners Stanley and DEWALT and the No. 43 Ford Fusion with Smithfield Foods and its family of brands, Smithfield, Eckrich, Farmland and Gwaltney, in the Sprint Cup Series, as well as the No. 43 Pilot/Flying J Ford Mustang with driver Michael Annett in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

   "We're delighted Richard Petty Motorsports will continue to run Fords going forward," said Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing. "The team has certainly gained momentum this year, and together we believe the continued Ford technical tools and engineering support will further enable RPM the opportunity to win more races and be a contender to get drivers into the Chase in 2013.

   "Richard's presence means so much to this sport, to the fans, and to us, and we are proud to have the King and RPM with Ford."

   Richard Petty Motorsports first partnered full-time with Ford Racing at the beginning of the 2010 season. The manufacturer currently supports RPM drivers Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola and Annett. The team is currently in the process of securing its Sprint Cup Series driver agreements.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NASCAR announces competition changes for 2013

New Qualifying Format For NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Highlights 2013 Competition Changes

Rule Places Greater Emphasis On Speed
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 16, 2012) – NASCAR today announced a number of competition changes for the 2013 season, highlighted by a new qualifying format in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series that places a greater emphasis on speed.

Below is a breakdown of next season’s slate of competition updates…

Qualifying Format In The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
In NASCAR Sprint Cup competition, the series will move to a 36-6-1 format where the fastest 36 cars will make the race on speed.

The next six highest ranking cars in owners points that have not already earned a starting position through qualifying and who have entered the event by the posted entry deadline will also make the field. The final starting position will be awarded to the most recent eligible past champion driver. If there is no eligible past champion driver, then a seventh car will make the field based upon owners’ points.

Provisional positions in the 36-6-1 format will be lined up by owners’ points, not speed.

Since 2005, the top 35 cars in owners’ points were guaranteed a spot in the field. Now, only a maximum of seven cars will be locked into a given race.
“This is a big win for our fans,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “They’ll see the fastest cars earn their starting spots. This change adds intrigue, drama and excitement to qualifying.”

In 2013, the qualifying order for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events will return to a random draw. However, in the event qualifying is canceled due to rain, the field will be set per the rule book and the starting lineup will continue to be determined by practice speeds.

Additionally, provisional positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be based upon the previous year’s owner points for the first three races, as opposed to the first five races in previous years for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and four races for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Testing Policy Opened Up For 2013
Beginning next season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, there will be up to four tests per organization available to teams at tracks at which the series competes. Since 2009, teams could only test at tracks that did not hold NASCAR national series events.

“We feel like it’s time to open that up and allow the teams to manage their testing and get back to facilities that host our events,” said Pemberton. “We made the decision at the end of 2008 to restrict testing, primarily for economic reasons. Now we believe it will be best for the garage and for the tracks to have some testing return in 2013.”

For the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, starting in 2013, there will be up to two tests per organization at tracks where those series compete. If the organization has an official Sunoco Rookie of Year candidate, then that team will receive one additional test. Additionally, NASCAR will open track activity early for extended practice at two additional events per series, to be determined.

Maximum Field Set At 40 Cars For NASCAR Nationwide Series
In an effort to strengthen the ownership base up and create a sense of urgency among teams to make races, the maximum starting field for the NASCAR Nationwide Series will be set at 40, as opposed to the 43-car field in previous years.

A maximum NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starting field will remain at 43 cars while the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will hold steady at 36.

Monday, October 15, 2012

NASCAR and Fox reach multi-year media rights extension

NASCAR and FOX Sports Media Group Reach Expansive Multi-Year, Multi-Platform Rights Agreement

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 15, 2012) – With two full seasons left on their current television contract, NASCAR and FOX Sports Media Group (FSMG) announced today an extensive new eight-year, multiplatform media rights agreement that ensures FSMG’s broadcast of NASCAR racing through 2022.
Under terms of the new agreement, FSMG also significantly increases its digital rights to include “TV Everywhere” live race streaming of its portion of the season for the first time ever beginning in 2013.
“NASCAR has been in very good hands and has enjoyed tremendous success the last 12 years in large part because of our fantastic partnership with FOX and FOX Sports Media Group,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. “We are thrilled to be able to extend our relationship in such a significant way for our track partners, race teams, and most importantly, our millions of loyal and passionate fans. This extension with FOX Sports Media Group helps position the sport for future growth as NASCAR continues to be an anchor with one of the world’s largest and most influential media companies.”
As part of the new agreement, which takes effect in 2015, FSMG retains the television rights to 13 consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points races beginning each year with the prestigious Daytona 500. In addition, FSMG retains the rights to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, the Daytona Shootout, the Duel at Daytona, the entire NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season and practice and qualifying for both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races that FSMG broadcasts.
FOX also remains the exclusive home of The Great American Race through 2022, a title it has proudly held for the last six years and nine of the last 12.
“We’re extremely happy to have worked closely with Brian and his team at NASCAR over the last few months to expand and extend our relationship for what is without question the most popular motorsport in the country,” said FSMG Co-Presidents and CEOs Eric Shanks and Randy Freer. “NASCAR has been a staple at FOX for more than a decade and we consider it one of the signature sports we cover. With our commitment renewed, we look forward to presenting NASCAR thoroughly, professionally and creatively for many years to come.”

On the digital front, FSMG gains “TV Everywhere” rights starting next season to live stream all FSMG races, along with pre- and post-race coverage, race highlights and in-progress race highlights to events it televises. This portion of the deal was made possible by NASCAR’s reacquisition of operational, business and editorial control of its digital platform, a move that takes effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

“NASCAR fans’ demand and desire for NASCAR content stretches across all platforms and distribution channels,” France said. “As we’ve done with this FSMG extension, we will continue to take the appropriate measures to ensure our fans have access to the sport wherever they are and through all available devices. NASCAR is one of the most accessible sports in the world and this new deal builds upon that in a very significant way.”

FSMG’s new and expanded television and digital media rights agreement with NASCAR includes, but is not limited to:

- An eight-year term from 2015 to 2022. The current FSMG/NASCAR rights agreement began in 2006 and runs through 2014
- Thirteen (13) consecutive points races beginning with the Daytona 500 on FOX
- The Daytona Shootout; Duel at Daytona; NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race; and Daytona 500 Qualifying
- Full NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season
- Right to televise all practice and qualifying sessions for FSMG races
- Ability to re-telecast races on a FOX network and via video-on-demand (VOD) for 24 hours
- Right to ancillary programming including, but not limited to, a nightly NASCAR news and information show as well as weekend at-track shows
- Right to NASCAR branded pre- and post-race shows
- Extensive digital rights beginning in 2013, including:
-TV Everywhere – live digital distribution of all races FSMG has rights to broadcast
- Pre- and post-race coverage
- Race highlights
- In-progress race highlights
- Replays of FOX-televised races
Today’s announcement comes less than two months after NASCAR and FOX announced they are teaming up to provide the sport’s most expansive Spanish-language broadcast offering ever with FOX Deportes’ coverage of 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races starting in 2013. Of the 15 race broadcasts, FOX Deportes, the No. 1 U.S. Latino Sports network, will carry six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races live, including, for the first time ever, a Spanish-language broadcast of the Daytona 500 (Sunday, Feb. 24).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A special message for Dale Junior

   Amanda Gardstrom, the daughter of former NASCAR driver, Fred Lorenzen, found some special meaning in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s announcement on Thursday that he would sit out the next two Sprint Cup Series races to help his recovery from two concussions in the past six weeks.

   James shared the message on her dad's Facebook page and provided permission for The Observer to re-post it here:

   From Fred's daughter to Dale Jr. and his fans:

   What a smart, educated and courageous choice you have made. I commend you for thinking of the importance to rest and take care of your brain. It's a tremendously difficult hard choice you've made to sit out. You have given your family, friends and fans a wonderful gift. I have never spoken publicly about this, but you have now made it OK for me. Many of you know my Dad suffers from dementia. This is serious stuff ... head injuries should be taken incredibly seriously. My Dad was and still is as tough as nails. In his racing career he suffered 2 severe head traumas and concussions and never took a break to heal. The one at Darlington he promised to travel home and see a doctor. He never did. He got right back in the car and drove ... being tough and doing what he loved. He suffered another concussion that was also very bad, those are the 2 we 'knew' of. Soon after, he had terrible headaches, blurred vision and more. He refused to see a doctor because he's 'tough.'

   I love my Dad more than anything and would give the world to have had him sit out of those races when he just got right back in the car. It's clear he suffers from what they call chronic traumatic encephalopathy, most common in football players and wrestlers. Only a brain biopsy will confirm it, but he has every symptom on the list. It was once called 'punch drunk' syndrome. If my Dad knew now what getting back in the car would do, he would be sitting out too. For himself, his fans and for the family he loves so much. I miss him being just my 'Dad' every day.


   So ... Dale Jr. , you've found a new special fan today (me) and your family will be forever grateful. You are not only a talented driver, but a smart and thoughtful one. If only we had the knowledge back then of head injuries, my Dad would be sitting with me in good health today, playing with his grand babies and living happily at home . Thank you from the bottom of my heart for standing up and doing this. You're making a difference for your later life and hopefully for NASCAR.

   With love and honor, Amanda

   (Fred Lorenzen's daughter)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kevin Harvick to award athletic scholarship at UNC

   On Monday, NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick will appear at UNC Chapel Hill to award a student athlete the Kevin Harvick Athletic Scholarship to student-athlete Nick Heilmann of the Tar Heels' wrestling team.

   The scholarship will be awarded prior to the UNC wrestling team's "Rumble in the Pit," which kicks off the squad's 2012-'13 season.

   Harvick's scholarship presentation marks the first stage of the Kevin Harvick Foundation's three-year commitment for an annual, full-ride scholarship to UNC for one need-based student athlete. Other applicants will be accepted and evaluated for the next two scholarships.

   This marks the second Kevin Harvick Athletic Scholarship offered to a college athletics program. The first was awarded at California State University-Bakersfield in Harvick's hometown. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver wrestled at North High in Bakersfield and donated money to refurbish the school's wrestling room after its 2008 condemnation.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Opportunities abound for Regan Smith

   Regan Smith may have lost a ride but not for long.

    Last weekend was Smith's last with the Furniture Row Racing team but he unexpectedly picked up a ride in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway as a fill-in for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

     Earnhardt will miss at least the next two races while he recovers from lingering effects from two concussions over the past six weeks. Hendrick Motorsports tapped Smith to drive Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet while Earnhardt remains on the sidelines.

   Smith's association with Earnhardt isn't likely to end anytime soon.
   Smith is expected to drive a full Nationwide Series schedule in 2013 with JR Motorsports, several sources said Thursday. Rick Hendrick, who has partial ownership in JRM, said Thursday the organization was talking to Smith about a Nationwide ride.

    “If Mr. H said it, usually what Mr. H says is gospel,” Smith said.

    Ryan Truex, who ran a partial Nationwide schedule at Joe Gibbs Racing this season, is also expected to join JRM next season, sources said.

Baby born at NH track dies

   A baby born unexpectedly on Sept. 12 in the parking lot of New Hampshire Motor Speedway has died, according to a report by The Union Leader newspaper.

   Katie Ann Hebert was pronounced dead early Monday at Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia, where she was taken by ambulance after she was found not breathing at home. She was three weeks old.

   Katie Ann was born to Shauna Arnold, 27, in the NHMS front parking lot, while en route to Concord Hospital from their home about 45 minutes away in Belmont, N.H. Katie could not wait, so Shauna's boyfriend wisely pulled into the speedway.

   The track was hosting a Rusty Wallace Driving School event, so an was ambulance on hand. By the time NHMS director of operations Tom Blanchette got to the car to assist, Katie had already been delivered.

   Katie and her mom took part in a news conference at the speedway on Sept. 23.

  To read the complete story, go here.

   For an account of the news conference at the speedway, go here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Take a ride and wave the flag at CMS

   Speedway Children’s Charities will provide lucky race fans with the opportunity to ride in the parade lap prior to Saturday night's Bank of America 500 through an online auction. The fans with the winning bid will take a parade lap around Charlotte Motor Speedway with their favorite NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and help support children in the Charlotte region.

   Through Wednesday (Oct. 10), fans can visit to bid on this once-in-a-lifetime experience. All auction winners will receive a VIP tour of the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield and a guided tour through the Sprint Cup Series garage. Each winning bidder is allowed to bring one guest.

   Fans who want to feel the thrill of Sprint Cup Series racing from the flag stand can do so on Bojangles’ Pole Night with a $100 donation to Speedway Chidlren’s Charities. With the donation, fans will wave the green flag for one driver as he begins his qualifying run on Thursday night. Contact Lisa Starnes at (704) 455-4426 to reserve a spot in the flag stand.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Newest Kulwicki scholarship winner

  The Lee College of Engineering at UNC Charlotte has awarded its Alan Kulwicki Memorial Scholarship to Matthew Piercy of Conover, N.C. The presentation of the 2012 scholarship will be made Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway prior to the running of the Dollar General 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

   The four-year Kulwicki Scholarship, established in 1994, is one of the highest honors within UNC Charlotte’s Motorsports Engineering program. The scholarship is given in memory of late NASCAR Cup champion Alan Kulwicki, who lost his life in a plane crash in 1993. Kulwicki was himself an engineer, and a strong supporter of engineering and science education. The Lee College of Engineering at UNC Charlotte presents the scholarship to a high-school senior who demonstrates outstanding academic achievement and has an affiliation with auto racing.

   During his high school career at St. Stephens High, Piercy won the Award of Academic Excellence all four years, was a junior marshal and won the Scholar Athlete Award. He was in the Beta Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and National Technical Honor Society.

   Piercy’s racing interests include driving Limited Late Model and Late Model stock cars at Hickory Motor Speedway. In 2011 he placed third in the Limited season championship with four wins, seven second place finishes and nine poles. In 2010 he was fourth in the Limited season championship with nine top-five finishes.

   After graduating Piercy would like to work in the race industry as a team engineer and eventually work his way up to become a NASCAR crew chief.

   “I’m a driven and passionate racer,” Piercy said, “much like Kulwicki. I believe I will represent the scholarship in a manner that directly relates to what Alan Kulwicki stood for. This scholarship will aid me in getting an engineering education that will further my knowledge of race cars and the physics of how they work.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fan Fest this week at Penske Racing

   For the first time since 2009, Penske Racing will host a Fan Fest at its headquarters in Mooresville, N.C., with most of its IndyCar Series and NASCAR drivers on hand for autographs and a question-and-answer session with fans.

   The Fan Fest is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. to noon on Friday at Penske Racing,200 Penske Way, Mooresville, N.C. 28115.

   Highlights of Penske Racing Fan fest will include:
   ·   7:30 am – Wristbands for the Penske Racing driver autograph session distributed to the first 300 people in line at the Penske Racing store
   · 8-8:30 am - Pit stop demonstration. IndyCar teams and NASCAR teams
   ·   8:30 - 9 am – Question and Answer session with Penske Racing drivers
   ·   9 -11 am – All Penske Racing drivers will sign autographs for the 300 selected wristband holders
    · 11 -11:30 am – Silent Auction bidding ends and winners are announced

    Exclusive, autographed items from Penske Racing drivers will be up for bid during the Silent Auction. Both cash and checks will be accepted with all proceeds going to the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
   In addition, driver- and team-themed baskets will be raffled off in the Gift Shop for $1 each with all proceeds going to the Paralyzed Veterans of America.  Food and beverages may be purchased on site
   All 2012 NASCAR and IndyCar vehicles will be on display along with trophies from this year’s Penske Racing victories.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Whisky River to take up residence at Charlotte Motor Speedway

   Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s club in uptown Charlotte, "Whisky River," is going to take up temporary residence at Charlotte Motor Speedway next weekend.
   Race fans are invited to Whisky River at Charlotte Motor Speedway, opening next Friday, during the Bank of America 500 race weekend. Whisky River is bringing all that it is known for, including a DJ spinning of classic rock n’ roll along with Top 40 hits, an appearance by the notorious mechanical bull and their food menu.
   Whisky River-CMS version will be located in the Ford Grandstand near Turn 1. All grandstand ticket holders are welcome from 1 p.m. until 50 laps from the checkered flag for both the Dollar General 300 on Oct. 12 and the Bank of America 500 on Oct. 13. Hit radio station WSOC 103.7 will be on site broadcasting live all weekend long.
   “This is a great opportunity for Whisky River to partner with Charlotte Motor Speedway,” said Whisky River General Manager Eric Flanigan. “We are excited to bring the Whisky experience to the fans.”
   Whisky River - the original uptown Charlotte version - is located at EpiCentre, 210 E Trade Street in the heart of uptown Charlotte.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kyle Busch apologizes to TRD

NASCAR driver Kyle Busch has apologized for a profanity-laced tirade he made toward Toyota Racing Development during last week’s race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.

“I made some remarks out of frustration on my radio at the end of last weekend’s race in Dovert hat were very misguided,” Busch said in a statement released Thursday. “I owe my friends at Toyota and TRD an apology.”

Busch led most of the AAA 400 at Dover on before he was forced to make a late pit stop under green flag conditions in order to make it to the end of the race. He ended up finishing seventh.

As he crossed the finish line, Busch lashed out at TRD over his team radio, claiming the in-house tuning shop for all Toyota cars had cost him and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team "another one."

“We have a great partnership with TRD and they built me a motor that helped me lead over 300 laps and nearly lap the field,” said Busch in Thursday’s statement. “It's just frustrating that the caution fell where it did and suddenly it became a fuel mileage race and we were set up for maximum horsepower. Obviously, that worked well for most of the day and you can't control when the cautions will fall.

“I think we have a great partnership with TRD and we will continue to communicate with them on what our team is looking for. I’m looking forward to getting down to Talladega this weekend and focusing on the race.”

Lee White, president and general manager of TRD, responded Thursday to Busch’s apology:
“We understand Kyle’s passion for racing -- and winning. At TRD and Toyota, we have that same zeal for racing --and winning. We were disappointed with Kyle’s post-race comments from Dover -- a race that he dominated. Kyle’s had a frustrating year with several car and engine mechanical failures which were not his responsibility, and we’re working extremely hard on our end to improve our products and processes. We will continue to address these issues, but we’re ready to put this behind us and move forward with the remainder of the season, including the Toyota drivers battling for the championship.”

Other quotes
Joe Gibbs, Team Owner, Joe Gibbs Racing
“We have a great relationship with Toyota and obviously they are a major part of everything we do at Joe Gibbs Racing. Toyota is first class in every aspect of their company and they share our passion for winning. It has been a frustrating season for Kyle in many ways when you think about some of the issues we’ve had with that 18 team this year and obviously some of those frustrations carried over to his finish last week in Dover. We were able to lead over 300 laps, but unfortunately the cautions didn’t fall our way and certainly you can understand the frustration of having to give up the lead late in the race. However, Kyle recognizes that his comments and the tone of his comments were misguided. We’ve been able to work through this issue and I think everyone is ready to get back to the focus being on racing and Talladega.”

Ed Laukes, Vice President of Marketing Communications & Motorsports, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.

“We’ve had a fabulous relationship with Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing over the last five years. Kyle is a talented driver who wins races and can compete for championships, and he is a very important part of the Toyota brand. We look forward to a long-term relationship with Kyle and Joe Gibbs Racing for years to come.” -- David Scott

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Drivers react to Talladega test

Talladega Superspeedway was the site Wednesday for a test of the new body styles for NASCAR race cars in 2013.

Here's how a few drivers reacted after the test:

Ford's Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: “It seemed pretty racy out there when we got in the seven-car packs. The two-car tandem could catch the group, then kind of stall out, and a single car could run right there with them.”

Chevy's Kasey Kahne: "We had five or six cars out there, and it was actually pretty dicey and pretty exciting. I think the cars are unique because they look different. They have a fresh look , and it resembles the manufacturer’s car, which is great for the fans, who ought to be able to go out and buy a similar car.”

Toyota takes issue with Kyle Busch's comments at Dover

   After leading - by far - the most laps in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, Kyle Busch was forced to make a late pit stop under green flag conditions in order to make it to the end of the race.

   The stop cost him the win and he finished seventh, one lap down. Only six cars, including winner Brad Keselowski, finished on the lead lap. And only two cars stretched their fuel the entire 89-lap distance that Busch was trying to do - Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson.

   As he crossed the finish line, Busch let loose a short, vulgarity-laced tirade over his team radio directed at Toyota Racing Development, claiming the in-house tuning shop for all Toyota cars had cost him and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team "another one."

   On Wednesday, Lee White, TRD president, took issue with Busch's comments.

   "We're as frustrated as he was that he didn't win that race considering how many laps he led, considering he and Denny (Hamlin) both literally dominated the race. We're as disappointed as he was. However, we've got used to saying 'That's just Kyle, you know' But this is a bit of a special case," White said.

   "We're extremely disappointed in his negative comments and the tone of the comments after the event. It is under discussion as we move forward. We certainly are very disappointed, having said that, Kyle is an amazing talent in a race car and he takes it very personally when something goes wrong and he loses a race he thinks he should have won.

   "Every one of our teams ran full power, full rich (fuel mixture) and kicked their ass. All six of them and some other teams did, too. It wasn't just TRD power that had this issue. The race didn't fall their way and we've seen it happen more lately.

   "I'm not going to aplogize for TRD. We went there and qualified three out of the top five. We led a gazillion freaking laps. We should have won the race but circumstances didn't work out that way and I'm sorry. We don't have anything to apologize for. The thing I am most disappointed in is TRD is not some separate entity - we are Toyota. We are a global company. Every person globally shares in our passion for winning and competing - and that's hundreds of thousands of people. All those people and their families basically had their feelings hurt by those comments last week.

   "I look forward to take it up with coach (Joe) Gibbs and see if we can't do something to sort it out so that we have a better working relationship in the future. I am confident that we will."


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Go 'On the Road' with Jimmie Johnson at Hart Witzen Gallery

   The Hart Witzen Gallery in Charlotte will host a photography exhibit of prints from "On the Road," the recently-released self-published book by five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and his wife, Chandra.

   "On the Road" is a photo documentary, shot by lifestyle photographer Missy McLamb, chronicling the 2011 Chase for the Cup championship from the Johnsons' perspective.

   The exhibit is open Oct. 13-20 at Hart Witzen Gallery, 136 E. 36th St., Charlotte. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.

   A limited number of select prints will be available for purchase at the gallery.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Who Kyle Petty thinks would make the best NASCAR champion

   Many NASCAR fans - obviously those not fans of his - would prefer someone other than Jimmie Johnson win this year's championship. Mostly, that's because he's already won five in the past six seasons.

   And then the legions of Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans would certainly prefer to see their favorite driver win his first Sprint Cup Series championship.

   But public-relations wise, who would be the best guy to win the championship? Who does NASCAR need to be champion? Earnhardt? Johnson? Brad Keselowski?

   Here is former driver and Speed TV analyst Kyle Petty's take from his appearance Sunday night on "Wind Tunnel."

   "Clint Bowyer would be the best champion. I’ll just go and throw that out there. He’s the guy with some personality who would have a good time and have some fun. I think you flip a coin between these guys – I don’t care. This is such a sterile sport now. ," Petty said.

   "Nobody has a lot of personality. Brad (Keselowski) has as much personality as anybody else. Jimmie was the champion for five years. Did the sport grow in that five years? I don’t think so. Tony Stewart was the champion last year. Did the sport grow? I think they’re great champions and they represent the sport well but they’re not Miss America. They don’t have to go out to civic organizations and preach the gospel of the sport, so I don’t think any driver is going to do that.

   "Just that blue-collar guy to bring the sport back to the Earnhardt era, the Richard Petty era, to that older deal when fans really are interested in the drivers? My money would be on Clint Bowyer."