Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Part II of Steve Letarte's Hendrick exit interview: 'I've learned from the best'

   Steve Letarte's final interview as a Hendrick Motorsports employee comes to a close with his thoughts on the No. 88 team and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. going forward and how success in 2014 reaffirmed his decision to move on to a new career at NBC Sports.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Part I of Steve Letarte's 'exit interview' from Hendrick Motorsports

   After two decades working at Hendrick Motorsports, crew chief Steve Letarte is changing career paths and moving to the TV booth with NBC Sports. Letarte sat down with HendrickMotorsports.com during his final week on the job to share his thoughts on working for Rick Hendrick and with two of NASCAR's most legendary drivers in Part I of his "Exit Interview."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NASCAR statement on the death of former public relations representative Denny Darnell

NASCAR Statement from Brett Jewkes, NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, Regarding The Passing Of Denny Darnell

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 22,  2014)"NASCAR offers its sincere condolences to the friends and family of Denny Darnell. For decades working with Bristol Motor Speedway, RJ Reynolds, NEXTEL and Dodge, Denny was a familiar and friendly face in media centers and NASCAR garages throughout the country. He approached his job seriously and professionally, but few could bring laughter like Denny. He was a public relations institution, and will be greatly missed."

To read more, go here.

To read a story on what Darnell meant to those in NASCAR and his contribution to the sport, go here.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s team gets a postseason penalty from NASCAR

   The No. 17 Sprint Cup Series team and driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. avoided a points penalty but his crew chief and car chief were penalized by NASCAR on Thursday.

   Although the Cup season ended Sunday, NASCAR had some unfinished penalty business left over from pre-qualifying inspection on Nov. 14 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Suspension parts from Stenhouse's No. 17 Ford were confiscated and found to allow improper movement of the suspension/drive line component.

   Mike Kelley, Stenhouse's crew chief, was fined $50,000 and placed on probation through June 30, 2015. The team's car chief, Patrick Magee, was also placed on probation through June 30.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Personnel changes made to Kasey Kahne's Sprint Cup team

   Team press release

   In preparation for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and revised rules that affect race car development and on-track testing, Hendrick Motorsports has named Kenny Francis to the new position of vehicle technical director and Keith Rodden as crew chief of the No. 5 Chevrolet SS team of driver Kasey Kahne. The roles take effect immediately.

   Francis, 44, will oversee organization-wide car design and development with day-to-day management of Hendrick Motorsports’ chassis, body, research and development, on-track testing, vehicle engineering and simulation programs. Reporting to general manager Doug Duchardt, he will serve as the primary liaison between Hendrick Motorsports’ crew chiefs and its vehicle group. 

   Rodden will return to Hendrick Motorsports where he worked alongside Francis in 2012 and 2013 while the lead engineer for Kahne and the No. 5 team. For 2014, he was named crew chief for the No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing where he won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, earned two pole positions and helped driver Jamie McMurray set a career-best season in laps led.

   “This is a great opportunity for both guys, and it will strengthen our overall organization,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “With the new rules for next year, it’s more important than ever to have a strong vehicle development program. Unifying those efforts for the first time under Kenny’s guidance will be critical to our success. It plays to his experience as a leader, innovative engineer and race-winning crew chief. He’s just tailor-made for it."

   A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Francis holds a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Florida. Known as one of the most innovative minds in the NASCAR garage, he worked as a team director, engineer and fabricator before posting 17 wins as a Sprint Cup crew chief. Francis has led Kahne’s efforts since the final race of 2005, earning 16 race wins and five Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berths. The pair joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.

   “When it was clear there was a need for this role, I was very intrigued and felt it would be a great challenge,” Francis said. “It encompasses areas I’m passionate about, and I know we can make a difference for our teams, especially with the new rules for next year. There are a lot of reasons why it feels right at this point in my career, and I’m looking forward to contributing in a new way.” 

   Rodden, 33, has enjoyed a long relationship with Kahne, having worked with the driver as a team engineer from 2004 until 2013. After graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in mechanical engineering, his motor sports career began in 2003 with owner Andy Petree. Rodden in 2004 joined Evernham Motorsports to support Kahne’s NASCAR XFINITY Series effort before moving in 2006 to the No. 9 Sprint Cup team, which began an eight-year stint under the tutelage of Francis. 

   “Opportunities like this don’t come around often,” said Rodden, who grew up in Denver, North Carolina. “The people at Hendrick Motorsports are like my family, especially in the 5/24 shop. I expect we’ll have great chemistry right off the bat, which should make for a smooth transition. I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running with the No. 5 team and everyone who supports us. There’s no better resource than Kenny, so I hope he’s ready for some late-night phone calls.” 

   Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, Kahne, 34, has earned at least one victory each season while securing three consecutive Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berths. The Enumclaw, Washington, native has 17 career wins in NASCAR’s top division, including five in three full seasons with the No. 5 team. 

   “I’m so grateful to Kenny and happy for him and his family,” Kahne said. “He’s one of my biggest supporters and best friends, and I’m excited about his new role. It’s going to give all four Hendrick Motorsports teams the best possible opportunity to win races and compete for championships."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Jamie McMurray's crew chief returning to Hendrick Motorsports

   Keith Rodden, who just completed his first season as crew chief for Sprint Cup driver Jamie McMurray at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, is leaving the organization,  The Observer and ThatsRacin.com have learned.

   Matt McCall, who most recently served as race engineer on Ryan Newman's Cup team at Richard Childress racing, will take over for Rodden, the Ganassi organization announced on Tuesday.

   Rodden is expected to return to Hendrick Motorsports, sources said.

   McCall is also a former driver who has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide and Truck series and the ARCA series. The Denver, N.C., native graduated from UNC Charlotte with a major in mechanical engineering. The 33-year-old McCall is also passionate about fitness and holds a third-degree black belt in karate. 

   "This organization is one that everyone in the garage has taken notice of in 2014 and I am just looking forward to the opportunity to make them even better," McCall said. "We have a group of very talented people building and driving the race cars here and I can’t wait to get started.”   

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Statement from Budweiser on Kevin Harvick's first Sprint Cup championship

   Anheuser-Busch statement regarding Kevin Harvick's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship:

   "Budweiser has a rich history in NASCAR and we’re proud to see Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team bring home the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Kevin has been an amazing ambassador for Budweiser—both on and off the track—and it’s truly impressive to see what he and the team have accomplished in their first season together."

   -Lucas Herscovici, VP, consumer connections

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rodney Childers worried he worked his team so hard they would quit

   As Kevin Harvick crossed the finish line last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, a Motor Racing Network reporter - like the network normally does after a race - went to speak with the crew chief, Rodney Childers.

   As Childers began to talk about win, he began to break down and was overcome with emotion and couldn't continue. This week, Childers was asked what he was thinking about at the time that got him so emotional, if he didn't mind sharing. 

   Here is Childers' explanation of what was going through his mind when Harvick won last weekend's race:

   "You know, there's thousands of things that run through your mind at that moment, and basically how you got to where you're at, how many people helped you get there, how many people on this race team at Stewart‑Haas and how many people in the engine shop at Hendrick Motorsports and how many people in that chassis shop put their heart and soul into this stuff every single day and just work countless hours. The guys on this race team and what we went through at the beginning of the year to get it going, there's not too many people that would have went through that, and I really expected people to work a couple months and realize how bad it was and turn around and walk out the door," Childers said.

   "Really nobody ever gave up, and just thinking about all that and how far we've come and how important of a race it is, and for me personally I've wanted to be part of something like that for a long time. I've wanted to race for a championship, and I've never really had that opportunity. You know, to be able to do that was just something that was exciting to me, and the more I thought about it, the worse I got. 

   "You know, it's emotional for everybody, and it's important to everybody. You know, like Kevin said at lunch today, we were actually talking about this same subject, and he says, you can't blame somebody for caring, and really when you see somebody in that situation, they're in that situation because they really care and they give 100 percent. These guys give up a lot. They're away from their families, away from their kids, and it's hard on everybody.  We're all thankful when something like that goes the right way."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Nielsen issues correction for fall Talladega race TV rating

   A poor TV rating for the Oct. 19 Sprint Cup race at Talladega, Ala., turned a lot of heads this season, particularly since it was a “transfer race” in the new Chase format, where several drivers needed to win in order to advance to the next round of the Chase.

   The original final rating issued by Nielsen Media Research, the leader is measuring what people watch, listen to and buy, was a 2.7, which was 13 percent lower than the previous season’s rating (3.1). 

   Nielsen issued a correction this week, citing a "minor crediting error.". The company notified ESPN and NASCAR this week the rating for the race was actually a 3.0, which was roughly 3 percent down from the previous season. 

   “We’re glad they fixed the mistake,” said NASCAR’s chief communications officer, Brett Jewkes. 

   On Friday, NASCAR Chairman Brian France was asked about the TV ratings for the season and made mention of the Talladega correction. 

   "It will still take a fair amount of time, in my view, to fully have this format (understood), and the important moments like Talladega being an example, although those ratings weren't quite as off as originally reported but almost flat."

Member of Congress demands Kurt Busch be suspended; SHR response

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) has sent a letter to NASCAR president Mike Helton as well as Busch’s Stewart-Haas Racing owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas demanding Kurt Busch be suspended from Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in addition to any future NASCAR events until the matter of domestic abuse charges against him is settled. 

Here is the text of the letter and a response from SHR:

Mike Helton
President, NASCAR
1801 West International Speed Boulevard
Daytona Beach, Florida 32114

Tony Stewart and Gene Haas
Co-owners, Stewart-Haas Racing
6001 Haas Way,
Kannapolis, NC 28081

Dear Mr. Helton, Mr. Stewart, and Mr. Haas:

Each year, domestic violence causes more injuries to women than auto accidents, rapes, and muggings combined. On average, 24 Americans each minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner. High-profile news stories have shown that major sports leagues like the National Football League (NFL) have stood by or failed to adequately respond when these violent crimes are committed by their players. Unfortunately, National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing’s (NASCAR) and Stewart-Haas Racing’s response to Patricia Driscoll’s allegations of domestic violence against Kurt Busch seem to indicate that NASCAR’s responses to these crimes are also off track.

The charges are horrifying. Court documents allege Mr. Busch verbally and physically abused Ms. Driscoll in his motorhome at Dover International Speedway, smashing her head against a wall three times. Dover police are investigating the incident, and press statements from NASCAR chief communications officer Brett Jewkes indicate NASCAR is also conducting its own investigation.  But despite the severity of the criminal allegations against Mr. Busch, I am disappointed to see that NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing have not taken any action.

Your response to these serious allegations has been totally inadequate. Your decision to let Mr. Busch continue to drive is inconsistent with previous disciplinary actions taken for lesser offenses, and it sends a clear signal to drivers that owners do not take these violent actions seriously. As you are aware, this is not the first time that Mr. Busch’s anger management issues have been brought to NASCAR’s attention. He and Mr. Penske agreed to end his relationship with Penske Racing after Mr. Busch profanely yelled at an ESPN reporter in 2011. It’s not even the first time that Mr. Busch has demonstrated problems at Dover: he was suspended after threatening a reporter there in June 2012.

How is it that NASCAR can take actions when a reporter is threatened, and not when a woman is physically assaulted? It seems unconscionable that a threat would be treated more gravely than an assault. It calls into question the enforcement policies exercised by NASCAR and whether your code of conduct has a double standard. You only punish misconduct caught on camera. Unfortunately NASCAR was equally passive when Sprint Cup driver Travis Kvapil was accused of pulling his wife by her hair into a bedroom and striking her head when she tried to pull away. Neither NASCAR nor BK Racing stopped Mr. Kvapil from driving, though they did remove the domestic violence awareness ribbon from his car.

NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing should not wait until the investigation is complete to act. I urge you to suspend Mr. Busch from this weekend’s Championship and adopt a policy going forward in all domestic violence cases to suspend drivers until criminal proceedings end or there is a clear lack of evidence. Please also provide my office with an update on your investigation, including information about who is conducting the investigation, and a history of sanctions levied by NASCAR and racing teams for domestic violence incidents brought to your attention over the last five years.


Jackie Speier
Member of Congress

The following is a statement from Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Joe Custer regarding Kurt Busch.

“The allegation made against Kurt Busch is one Stewart-Haas Racing and its partners take very seriously. We have spoken to Kurt in depth regarding this matter and he has vehemently denied that it happened and assures us there is no truth to it whatsoever. We are monitoring this situation closely and will let the authorities continue with their thorough investigation. At this point in time we are taking Kurt at his word and his status with the team is unchanged.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Brian France to Gordon/Keselowski fans: 'That's racing'

   In an interview on Wednesday on SiriusXM Satellite Radio's NASCAR Channel, NASCAR Chairman Brian France was asked what he would say to angry fans who don't like the fact either Jeff Gordon or Brad Keselowski - both of whom had among the most wins this season - didn't advance in the Chase to compete for the championship in Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

   Here was France's response:

   "In any format that we could ever devise, even if you had to win to compete for the championship, that's auto racing, that happens. Talk to Rusty Wallace. Talk to Bill Elliott. Talk to all the past competitors in NASCAR who had a stellar season but they weren't the best on any given day. In this format you have to be the best all the way through. There is no format that we're going to devise that weights it so much that if you win so many races you're somehow automatically going to be the champion. You've got to do it all the way through. This is the best balance in auto racing, no question about it."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Richard Childress on Ryan Newman: 'He drove with his heart'

   Ryan Newman is in his first season driving for Richard Childress Racing but he's already made quite an impression on his team owner. Newman gained a position on the final lap of Sunday's race at Phoenix which earned him the fourth and final berth in the Sprint Cup championship race next Sunday at Homestead, Fla. Childress last won a Cup championship in 1994 with the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.

   "It is unbelievable. We are in it for the championship when we go down there," Childress said after the race. "Ryan drove with his heart; that is what he did.That is what it took to get in. 

   "That was the worst set of tires (last set) that we'd had all day long. He ran in the top five, six, seven and eight the whole race. Then that set of tires just knocked us plumb out of it. But he still made it happen."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Phoenix International Raceway addresses power outages during Friday's Truck race

   Phoenix International Raceway issued the following statement early Saturday morning regarding the power outages during Friday night's NASCAR Truck Series race that ultimately forced the race to be halted early:

   "We are extremely disappointed that tonight’s race was delayed and ultimately shortened by failures in the local power grid. We want to thank the devoted race fans who stayed throughout the race, however PIR and NASCAR both agreed that it was in the best interest of the drivers to call an end to the race after the second power outage, as safety of the competitors is paramount. While we appreciate the efforts of APS and its repair crews to restore service as quickly as possible, having to end the race prematurely is not the experience that our fans expect and deserve."

   Pole-winner Erik Jones was declared the winner when the race was halted 24 laps from the finish when the track's lights went out for the second time during the race.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Dover (DE) Police investigating allegation of domestic abuse involving Kurt Busch

   Statement from the Dover (Del.) Police Department:
   "The Dover Police Department can confirm that an investigation is being conducted based on an allegation of domestic assault that is alleged to have occurred in the City of Dover involving Mr. Busch. These allegations were brought to the Dover Police Department on Wednesday, November 5th at 2:00PM. At this time, the department is still investigating the victim’s claims and will not have any further comment on this matter in order to preserve the integrity of the case. The Dover Police Department will release further information as it becomes available. We appreciate the public’s and media’s patience in this matter and are confident that the department is taking the proper investigative steps to ensure the case is resolved appropriately."

   Statement issued by NASCAR:
   "NASCAR is aware of the investigation involving driver Kurt Busch. We recognize the seriousness of this matter and are actively gathering information from all parties, including law enforcement authorities and Stewart-Haas Racing. It would be inappropriate for NASCAR to comment further on this matter until we have more information." 

   Statement from Stewart-Haas Racing:
   "This is an allegation Stewart-Haas Racing takes very seriously, but we're still gathering all of the facts and are not in position to comment in greater detail."

   Police reports are not public record in the state of Delaware during ongoing investigations so a copy of the original complaint is not available at this time. 

   An attorney for Kurt Busch, Rusty Hardin, issued the following statement on Friday afternoon:

   "The Dover Police Department has been informed that Mr. Busch will fully cooperate with their investigation and he expects to be vindicated when the entire truth of the situation comes to light. This allegation is a complete fabrication by a woman who has refused to accept the end of a relationship and Mr. Busch vehemently denies her allegations in every respect. At this time we intend to have no further comment in the media out of respect for the Dover Police Department’s desire to conduct a thorough investigation without a media circus. " 

 • Full story: Police investigate domestic violence case involving Kurt Busch

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NASCAR's developmental K&N Pro series gets a new look

   NASCAR this week unveiled a new car body design for its developmental K&N Pro series, making the cars much more similar to those used in the Sprint Cup series.

   The new design, which can be used starting next season and becomes mandatory in 2017, is made from a composite laminate blend and allows teams to easily install and repair damaged panels. 

   It will be available in all three manufacturer models: Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion, and Toyota Camry. The new body will also be eligible for competition in the Automobile Racing Club of America series beginning in 2015.

   "The new K&N Pro Series body represents a major win for the teams, the fans, and the racing industry as a whole,” said Jim Cassidy, senior vice president, racing operations for NASCAR. “This will give our emerging talent the opportunity to gain more valuable, relevant racing experience, and our fans and industry partners will appreciate the car’s similarity in appearance to both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars and street models.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hendrick Motorsports statement regarding NASCAR penalties

   CONCORD, N.C. (Nov. 4, 2014) – Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal penalties announced today by NASCAR related to a post-race incident Sunday evening at Texas Motor Speedway.

   “With NASCAR’s new Chase format, we’re seeing an unprecedented level of intensity every single week,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “Emotions run high when you’re racing for a championship, and that’s exciting for our fans and everyone involved with the sport. But there’s a line the competitors need to be cognizant of, and we understand that.

   “Jeff (Gordon) was rightfully fired up Sunday night, and it just reiterated to me how passionate he is and how much he wants to win. The No. 24 team is a group that works together and is loyal to one another. They have our full support as we go into these final two races.”

   Team members involved in the incident will not be additionally sanctioned by Hendrick Motorsports.

NASCAR suspends several crew members for fighting

   No. 24 and No. 5 teams punished for post-Texas incident 
   Daytona Beach, Fla. (Nov. 4, 2014) -- NASCAR has assessed penalties to crew members from the No. 5 and No. 24 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams for their involvement in post-race incidents on Nov. 2 at Texas Motor Speedway. In addition, the crew chiefs from those two teams also have been penalized.

   Jeremy Fuller, a crew member with the No. 5 team along with Dwayne Doucette and Jason Ingle, crew members with the No. 24 team, each have been fined $25,000 and suspended from NASCAR through the completion of the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points races. All three were found to be in violation of:
• Section 12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing
• Section 12-4.9: Behavioral penalty – involved in a post-race physical altercation with a driver on pit road

   Dean Mozingo, a crew member with the No. 24 team, has been fined $10,000 and suspended from NASCAR through the completion of the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points races. He was found to be in violation of:
• Section 12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing
• Section 12-4.9: Behavioral penalty – involved in a post-race physical altercation with another crew member on pit road

   Kenny Francis, crew chief of the No. 5 team, and Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 24 team, have each been fined $50,000 and placed on NASCAR probation through the completion of the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points races. They were found to be in violation of:
• Section 9-4A: Crew chief assumes responsibility for the actions of his team members
• Section 12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing
• Section 12-4.9: Behavioral penalty

   While the intensity and emotions are high as we continue through the final rounds of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the actions that we saw from several crew members Sunday following the race at Texas are unacceptable," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR senior vice president/competition and racing development. "We reviewed the content that was available to us of the post-race incident along pit road, and identified several crew members who crossed the line with their actions, specifically punching others."
"We therefore have penalized four crew members as well as their crew chiefs, as they ultimately are responsible for members of their team per the NASCAR rulebook," Pemberton continued. "A NASCAR championship is at stake, but we can't allow behavior that crosses the line to go unchecked, particularly when it puts others in harm's way."

Monday, November 3, 2014

Roger Penske: Brad Keselowski has '100 percent' support

   Team Penske owner Roger Penske issued the following statement on Monday regarding the post-race brawl at Texas Motor Speedway between the teams of Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon (and several others):

   "The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has provided great excitement and intense competition. Brad Keselowski is a champion who competes to win in every race, which is what I expect of him. While the actions by others following the race in Texas were unfortunate, Brad has my 100 percent support as we now move on to Phoenix for the next stage of the NASCAR championship."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Video: Check out Jeff Gordon vs. Brad Keselowski vs. Kevin Harvick

   There were a track-record 13 cautions in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway but even more action took place on pit road after the race.