Monday, May 30, 2011

Jeff Burton on cautions: "They have certainly thrown them for less."

   Stuck in the middle of a multi-car wreck, Jeff Burton wanted to see a caution on the next-to-last lap of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600.

   Now, he’s not so certain.

   Burton’s No. 31 Chevrolet was among the most seriously damaged in the incident which was triggered when race leader Kasey Kahne suddenly ran out of gas on a restart on Lap 401.

   “I assumed the caution was coming out because there was a wreck,” Burton told the Observer on Monday. “At the time I thought there were more cars down there stopped (on the apron) than just me.

   “When I got home (Sunday night) and replayed it, as it turned out, there really wasn’t. It seemed everybody else cleared out.”

   Burton said his first instinct was that the caution ‘no-call’ wasn’t right and he complained about it over his team radio at the time. In retrospect, he thinks in terms of safety, NASCAR made the right call.

   That doesn’t mean, however, the debate on whether a caution should have been thrown is settled.

   “It’s tough because if the track is clear then they need to let the race continue,” he said. “On the other hand, that’s not necessarily what they do with 200 (laps) to go.

   “The big question is does NASCAR understand everyone has fuel issues? Should NASCAR care? I don’t know what the answer to that is.”

   Burton said NASCAR officials have been hesitant to throw cautions during green-flag pit cycles to try to keep it fair for all competitors.

   “You can debate all day long if NASCAR should have thrown a caution for a reason other than safety on Sunday night. They have certainly thrown them for less,” Burton said.

   “I think they knew everyone was short on fuel and they were trying to do everything they could to take care of everybody. I don’t know that for a fact, but I think that probably played into their mindset.”

   NASCAR has said in the past it would hold the caution flag at the race’s end as long as drivers’ safety wasn’t compromised. However, NASCAR also has a multiple green-white-checkered flag restart policy in place to ensure green-flag finishes.

   On Sunday night, the race ended in the first two-lap overtime. Had the caution been thrown at the time of Burton’s wreck, two more two-lap overtimes were still possible.

   It is likely several more drivers – including race winner Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was leading entering the last lap – would have been forced to pit for fuel in that instance.

   “Throwing the caution isn’t like an out-of-bounds call. You’re either out of bounds or you’re not,” Burton said. “When to throw the caution – there is no definitive answer.”

Friday, May 27, 2011

One-on-one with Rick Hendrick

   I recently spent some time with Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick discussing a story about the uncanny parallels between the careers of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. You can see that story here.

   We also covered some other topics, not directly related to that story, including Hendrick's thoughts on when Gordon may retire.

   What makes Jimmie Johnson a special driver?
   Hendrick: “You’ve seen some phenomenal moves and such and he’s just smart and can drive a car out of control. Carl Edwards beats himself a lot of the time when he gets pissed off. Kyle Busch beats himself a lot of times when he gets angry. You can lose control in the race car. You have to learn to deal with it. Jeff (Gordon) tried to carry it on his shoulders a lot, too - he drove the cars and we would just take one of Jeff’s cars and put Jimmie’s seat in it. I will say Chad (Knaus) has a butt load of intensity. He eats, sleeps and breaths racing. If you took the kid who drives the 6 car (David Ragan) and you put him with Chad and you put his crew chief with Jimmie -- which one would run better? Would they run better together - yes. Can Kyle Busch get in almost any car? I think you have to have the talent. I think talent -- there’s a whole lot of guys with talent. Car control -- there’s a whole lot of guys with car control. There are not a whole lot of them that are as smooth as Jimmie is when it comes to performing in the clutch.”

   Do you think Jimmie Johnson would want to win a championship with a crew chief other than Chad Knaus?
   Hendrick: “I don’t think Jimmie -- I think Jimmie is more focused. Jimmie may one day in his career, but not right now because they know that they know each other. They know how to pull each other’s trigger and they know what they like and dislike about each other. They’ve been together and the team has been together a long time. I’ve told them before that the toughest part you guys are faced with is how you can stay united when you don’t win. You’re not going to win them all and you can’t win them all -- there’s bad luck or somebody’s outsmarted you or whatever. You can’t win them all and how you handle not being the top dog is the deal.  They know how each other thinks and Chad knows how to adjust the car, Jimmie knows how to drive it."

    Can you believe it has been 10 years since Jeff Gordon has won a championship? 
   Hendrick: “I know two or three times that he was right there. He’s been so close. You have to think that for the last five years Jimmie has just been damn unbeatable. Four of the five anyway.  Jeff still has the fire, he’s got the talent and I think he and Alan, when we get to the Chase - he’ll be there. I think he’s going to win some more races and I think there are still championships left in Jeff. I think this car has been a bug-a-boo to him. He had a mindset that he didn’t like it. He’s got a fire in his belly.”

   What do you think will determine when Jeff Gordon is ready to retire?
   Hendrick: “I think he still really enjoys the racing. I think Jeff still loves the competition and I think when he feels like he’s not competitive, he’ll quit. I know him that well. He’s so competitive that he will quit. As long as he feels like he’s got a shot and he can run up front then he’s going to do it. I think drivers know when it’s time and he won’t be one of those guys that runs around.”

   Are you worried about Jeff Gordon retiring anytime soon?
   Hendrick: “No.  It’s kind of funny, every time we re-up a sponsor I go to him and say, ‘Jeff, I need a commitment for two more years beyond next year.’ That’s the way I hook  him up. I need at least two more after this. I keep throwing the carrot out there and I keep telling him that he has to commit to do this. We have a good relationship and I respect him a ton and his talent and the kind of person he is. He’s special.”

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mark Martin talks 2012 ... sort of

   Mark Martin, who is in his final year with Hendrick Motorsports driving the No. 5 Chevrolet, was asked on Friday whether he was close to the time he needed to make a decision about where he might be racing in 2012.

   From his responses, it doesn't seem Martin has settled on anything in particular and may not have received any concrete offers as yet.

   Martin: “It is not really time to focus on it yet. I like I said in a quote not too long ago and it is pretty true. I don’t need a job so therefore I don’t have to focus on it. I’ll let one come to me. It is getting to time when little rumblings start happening behind closed doors but I am not in a big hurry because I am really in a good place in my career and in my life. I truly believe that something really really, I don’t know how to describe it, fulfilling, fun, exciting, the right deal is going to come along for me. They are out there starting to swirl, starting to come together with some ideas but the biggest thing is that the sport is trending toward a little later in the year for some of these things coming together. This is still May so it is pretty early right now yet. Earlier than like it was in ’08 when this was coming together to go to the No. 5 car. I thought that was really early. I got the deal done early in the season. I think that deals get done later in the season now and they did in ’08. Nothing to report. Nothing going on. Not pursuing anything. Just kind of letting the pieces of the puzzle  start to fall into place.”

   Martin: “What ifs. It is like ‘what if’. There has been a handful of what ifs. And you guys have all been in this business and you know how it takes 100 what ifs to make one deal happen. So, there has been just a few what ifs starting to pop up.”

Worker hurt at CMS unloading tires

   CONCORD, N.C. – A contracted employee of Huggins Tire Sales Inc. was injured Tuesday morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway after falling off a pickup truck in the garage area.

   The employee, Marvin Near, fell from the back of a slow-moving pickup truck as it was delivering Goodyear racing tires at the track for this weekend’s NASCAR races, according to a statement provided by Goodyear officials.

   Near was transported by ambulance to Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast, where he continues to receive medical attention.

   The accident occurred about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday and was investigated by Concord Police. No charges have been filed.

   Huggins Tire Sales serves as the distributor of Goodyear’s NASCAR tires to tracks across the Southeast.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Patrick: "No truth" to report of fulltime NASCAR schedule

    IndyCar Series fan favorite Danica Patrick on Wednesday said there was "no truth" to an ESPN report that her and her management team were working on plans for a fulltime NASCAR schedule in 2012.'s Bruce Martin, in a previously-scheduled interview with Patrick on Wednesday in Indianapolis, asked her for her reaction to the report.

   Here was Patrick's complete response:

   "I'm watching TV and see it scroll across the bottom of the screen. I don't know where it came from but it's all speculation. Anybody can speculate that and write that. I don't know where it came from but there is no truth to it; it's just speculation," she said.

   "It's no different than it was last month or even last year. There is nothing new in it."

   Patrick also told Martin she was curious about the timing of such a story coming out a few days before the Indy 500.

Kyle Busch: 128 mph car 'just a toy'

Kyle Busch's citation for going 128 mph in a 45 mph zone (click to enlarge):

Trevor Bayne will sit out one more week

   Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne will not compete this weekend in the Nationwide or Sprint Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but does appear to be closer to a return to NASCAR competition.

   Roush Fenway Racing officials said Wednesday they expect Bayne to compete in next week's standalone Nationwide race at Chicagoland Speedway. Subject to any unforeseen changes, Bayne is expected to resume his full racing schedule next week. His next scheduled Cup start is June 18 at Michigan with the Wood Brothers' No. 21 Ford.

   “By all standards Trevor had a great week,” said Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark. “His symptoms have completely subsided. He tested at Virginia International Raceway on Tuesday, had one of the fastest Nationwide Series cars on the race track and his team was extremely pleased with his progress.

   "As a result, we plan to have him back in competition next week in Chicago, and have consulted with his doctors at the Mayo Clinic and the NASCAR medical staff about that timetable."

   Newmark said Bayne, 20, wanted to return this weekend.

   “However, we feel it is in his best interest for us to exercise an abundance of caution with this matter and withhold him from racing this weekend; especially considering the length of the races and the fact that Trevor is just starting to get back into his daily routine," Newmark said.

   "Although Trevor would have preferred to compete in all 900 miles this weekend, he respects and understands our decision and will shift his considerable focus to his return at Chicagoland next weekend.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Full text of Kyle Busch statement

   "Today I received a traffic citation in Iredell County. I was test driving a new sports car and I got carried away. I went  beyond the speed I should have been going on a public road. I apologize to the public, my fans, sponsors, and race teams for my lack of judgment. I take responsibility for my actions and I can assure you that something like this will never happen again. I thank the Iredell County Sheriff's Department and all law enforcement for the hard work they do every day to protect the public and to enforce the laws in a fair and equitable manner."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Who should be next in NASCAR Hall?

   With the completion of the induction of the Class of 2011 in to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, I asked some of this year's nominees who they thought should be next.

   David Pearson said he would like to see Cotton Owens inducted and wished Raymond Parks had been inducted before he passed away last year. "I think people who really got (NASCAR) going should be inducted first," he said.

   Kyle Petty, grandson of inductee Lee Petty, said during his speech Monday night that Lee's son, Maurice, should be the next Petty inducted to the Hall of Fame. Maurice Petty said he hoped he would be inducted at some point. "I just hope I'm still alive when it happens," he said.

    Ned Jarrett said he thought Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough would be in the Hall's third class. He also said Owens, Dale Inman, Richie Evans, Jack Ingram and Herb Thomas should also be considered.

   Bud Moore agreed with Jarrett on Owens and also threw his support behind Raymond Parks and Joe Weatherly.


Who intros who at the NASCAR Hall

   If you're attending Monday night's NASCAR Hall of Fame inductions or planning to watch on Speed, here is a guide has to who will be introducing and inducting the five members of the Class of 2011 into the NASCAR Hall.

   -Bud Moore, Video introduction by Tom Brokaw; MRN's Barney Hall will be the inductor.
   -Lee Petty, Video introduction by former President George H.W. Bush; inductors: Kyle, Mark, Ritchie and Tim Petty.
   -Ned Jarrett, Video introduction by Ken SquierMakar.
   -Bobby Allison, Video introduction by Nick Saban; inductor: Donnie Allison.
   -David Pearson, Video introduction by Richard Petty; inductors: Russell Branham and Leonard Wood.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Q&A with Travis Pastrana

   Extreme sports star Travis Pastrana plans to make his debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in July at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Ind., outside Indianapolis. In the meantime, he has been running a couple races in the K&N Pro Series, including this past weekend at Iowa Speedway.chances if you will. You listen to your co-driver and you just start cutting corners a little bit more. You can carry more momentum into your corners, you’re breaking later and you’re breaking harder. Here, in NASCAR, you know the course so it’s not about taking chances. If you take a chance you’re just simply overshooting the corner. You’re pushing up the

   Pastrana met with the media over the weekend for an update on his NASCAR career.

   What has your biggest transition been coming into NASCAR?
  “Definitely the biggest transition for me is with Rally it’s all about aggression. You can make up time by simply taking corner. It’s a lot more that comes down to it -- communication with your team. Let them know exactly what the car is doing and how they can help you get around the course faster because everyone is very close and it’s just a matter of figuring out that exact line and the line changes every lap so it’s been a lot of fun.”

   Would you like your Rally co-driver to be with you in NASCAR?
   “For sure. I tell you what, I did really well in Rally mostly because I had a great co-driver. That’s kind of what your spotter is like in this I guess.”

   How is NASCAR compared to the stunts you have done?
   “I was always a really competitive person so I don’t really get nervous as much about getting injured or crashing. My nerves come from trying to succeed and do the best you can in the
competition. For me, I’m just as nervous if not more nervous in this sport because there are a lot of eyes on this sport. Going to Rally, I had probably two years before anyone really started paying attention, which was kind of nice. Here, it’s not the Cup but there are a lot of eyes. A lot of sponsors and a lot of money involved trying to help me to reach up where my goal will eventually be. The learning process has been tough and we have a lot to learn.”

   How much of a learning curve is there when you get to a new track?
   “That’s been really difficult for me. With the motorcycle I can get on and I won’t even have to look at the course and in the second lap I’ve done all of the jumps and probably by the third or fourth lap I’m up to speed. Where that is what all of the guys here have been doing -- even the guys that haven’t driven this course particularly, they are familiar with their equipment. They are familiar with everything and they really come right up to speed. Where, me, every time we change tires or have cold rubber or whatever is going on -- or it rained a little -- I’m very, very cautious. I’m just definitely trying to get a lot more used to; I’ve always been able to read dirt very well. That’s just what I’ve grown up doing and training on.
   "Pavement is definitely something that is different, and trying to read where you’re going to have the traction and how to get the balance of the car right. So, yeah, we had an hour and a half of practice and I could’ve used another four hours probably. In fact, I probably could’ve used another four days. It is what it is and I do better under race conditions than practice conditions so qualifying has always been a very difficult part, and definitely it’s going to be difficult here today for sure.”

   What is the biggest thing you’ve learned in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series in your two starts?
   “The biggest thing that I’ve learned and something that was really funny is Jimmie Johnson said the biggest help that he had that anyone ever told him, and probably the biggest thing that made the most sense, is he said, ‘When you think you leave something in the corner, you didn’t.’ Which, basically means the harder you try to drive these cars -- if you feel like you’re
doing everything really smooth you’re like, ‘Oh, I have more. I can do more.’ And then you start pushing harder and your lap times -- it feels faster -- you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m sliding and I’m pushing and working the car and sweating.’ And then your times are slowing down and by the end -- it was interesting because at my first race at Irwindale I just drove. I was like, ‘I don’t want to get in a crash.’ At the end of the race we had a car that was untouched, a car that the tires were still good, a car that was ready to race and we were able to race the last couple of laps real hard and it was my best finish. After that I was -- racing from the beginning I’m like, ‘Alright, I’m working the car and taking the aero off of the front and the back bumpers and banging it up, and by the end we got nothing. So, I think you have to take an in-between approach.”

   What made you decide to get into NASCAR?
   “It’s the most competitive form of racing in the world and it’s definitely about competition for me. It’s going to be the biggest challenge for sure because it’s so much different than why I’ve been able to succeed in other things just based on aggression. NASCAR is not so much the aggression so much as it is the technique and communication. That, for me, is a huge challenge and something that I want to take on.”


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Raikkonen adds another Charlotte race

   Apparently Kimi Raikkonen enjoyed his first race at Charlotte Motor Speedway so much he's coming back for a second.

   Fresh off a 15th-place finish in Friday night's NASCAR Trucks Series race at Charlotte, the former Formula One champion will also run in next Saturday's Nationwide race at the track, driving the No. 87 fielded by Nemco Motorsports, several sources familiar with the decision confirmed on Saturday.
   Raikkonen drove a Truck fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports on Friday night. KBM will work with Raikkonen in the Nationwide race but the car will come from Nemco.
   Busch, himself, actually made his Nationwide debut with the same team in the same race eight years ago, while he was under contract with Hendrick Motorsports.
   Raikkonen has never tested a Nationwide car. He did two, one-day tests in the Truck prior to his debut.
   "(It) was a good learning experience and hopefully he learned enough (Friday) that will help him for next week and we’ll try to make the transition a lot easier for him as best we can,” Busch said Friday night following his Truck win.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Harvick gets a probation reminder

   During his media availability on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick said he was still confused as to whether he was on probation in Saturday night’s all-star race.

   NASCAR quickly cleared it up.

   Before he was allowed on the track for practice Friday, Harvick was called to the NASCAR hauler where spokeswoman Kristi King said he received a reminder his probation covered the all-star race and what it entailed.

   Asked Friday how he would approach a situation in which he ended up racing Kyle Busch for the all-star win, Harvick said, “I’m still confused on whether I am on probation or not on probation. So, I can’t answer that, I don’t really know.

   “I’m just going to race and see what happens.”

   Busch and Harvick were both placed on probation through June 15 and fined $25,000 for actions on pit road following the Cup race at Darlington, S.C., two weeks ago.

   At the time there was some confusion by the drivers whether probation covered non-points race, but NASCAR has said repeatedly that it does.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kyle Busch, Speedway Children's Charities honor Zahra Baker

   Zahra Baker will get another visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway thanks to Kyle Busch.
   Busch and his Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck team are teaming up with Speedway Children's Charities to pay remembrance to the 10-year-old disabled girl from Hickory, whose body was found dismembered last year.

   Zahra's name and picture will be placed above the passenger side window of Busch's No. 18 Toyota which will run in Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The speedway will also observe a moment of silence in her honor before the start of the race.

   "The story of Zahra Baker's tragic murder really hit home with KBM and the Kyle Busch Foundation," said Busch. "We wanted to do something special in her honor and felt that the truck race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the perfect opportunity."

   One of the last times that Zahra was seen in public was at the Starkey Hearing Foundation "Get in Gear to Help Children Hear" event hosted by Speedway Children's Charities at CMS last May. She was one of 75 underprivileged children and adults throughout the Carolinas given the gift of hearing at the event.

   Speedway Children's Charities has invited several of the hearing–impaired children who attended last May's event to take part in Friday's pre-race activities. The children will stand next to Busch and his No. 18 Toyota during pre-race and following the moment of silence, release balloons in honor of Zahra.

   Speedway Children's Charities has also donated tickets for these children to watch the race from the grandstand along with residents of the Church of God Children's Home, a primary charity of the Kyle Busch Foundation located in Kannapolis, N.C.

   "Zahra will never be forgotten," Busch said. "She will always be in our hearts."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

ESPN will try 'split screen' in NASCAR Chase races

NASCAR fans are going to see more racing than ever on their TVs this season.

ESPN on Tuesday announced its telecasts of the 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup races will use "NASCAR NonStop," a commercial format that will bring more racing action to viewers.

ESPN's commercial breaks will feature a split-screen format - showing the advertisement on the left side of the screen and racing on the right.

ESPN's scoring ticker also will continue to move across the top of the screen, allowing fans to follow the running order during the breaks.

"I've watched the format on the open-wheel races for years, I think we all have. I'm not sure if it will move the meter to bring more fans in, but I think for the dedicated fans watching you don't want to see the breaks, you want to the race continue," said five-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

"I think it's a great perk and should be really helpful for our fan base during the Chase races."

NASCAR NonStop will take effect at or near the halfway point of the race, with the first half of the race presented in the traditional commercial-break format.

"Since we returned to NASCAR racing in 2007, one of the most common questions from our fans has been 'Why don't you do the commercials side-by-side?'" said John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president of content.

"We're very pleased to be able to do it now with NASCAR NonStop and showcase the advertiser while still showcasing the race."

During Sunday's Cup series telecast from Dover, Del., Fox used a split-screen format for the first time, for its final commercial break. The move was praised by fans.

Skipper said ESPN worked with NASCAR to create the new format and that the change had been planned for months.

"ESPN's NonStop format will ensure our fans maximize their viewing experience during the most intense and thrilling time of the season - the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup," said Paul Brooks, president of NASCAR Media Group.

The final 17 races of the Cup will be televised on ESPN networks, with 14 on ESPN and three Saturday night races - including the October Chase race at Charlotte Motor Speedway - on ABC.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Roush plans to test Bayne before his return to NASCAR

   Roush Fenway Racing plans to test driver Trevor Bayne this week in preparation for what it hopes is his return to the race track at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

   Bayne, 20, entered the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., two weeks ago to undergo tests for symptoms originally thought to have been related to an insect bite for which he was hospitalized briefly last month.
   He was released last week still receiving treatment for blurred vision - the result, doctors said, of an “inflammatory condition.” He has missed the last three Nationwide Series races.
   "I can't say definitely (Bayne will return at Charlotte) because I don't have the right pay grade and education for that but he is making progress and his symptoms are by and large gone," said team owner Jack Roush.
   "His blurred vision is by and large gone but we are going to take him to Gresham (Motorsports Park) in Georgia to give him some laps to see if he is comfortable and then report back to the doctors and NASCAR to see what they think."
   Roush officials said earlier this week they hoped Bayne would be able to compete in next Saturday's Sprint All Star Race at Charlotte as well as the Nationwide race in Iowa.
   Bayne qualified for the all-star race by winning the season-opening Daytona 500, driving the No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Furniture Row Racing: NASCAR's version of the Denver Broncos

   Regan Smith received a lot of attention from the media and fans for his surprise win in last Saturday's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. His Furniture Row Racing team, which is headquartered in Denver, Colo., didn't go unnoticed, either.

   On Thursday, team owner Barney Visser received a congratulatory phone call from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. The following message was posted on the governor's Twitter account on Thursday: "Gov. Hickenlooper today called Furniture Row team owner Barney Visser to congratulate the team on the big win last week. Well done! "

   Smith was asked Friday at Dover about the recognition he and his team has received in Colorado.

   "We’ve worked very hard within Colorado to say hey, we’re Denver’s and Colorado’s race team and to have the governor call is neat. That means a lot to us. Denver has really kind of taken us under their arm and it’s been really neat to see what the media out there has done," he said. "They certainly give us attention like they would give the Broncos or the Avalanche and I wouldn’t have guessed that’s how that would go for when I first went to work for Furniture Row Racing.

   "It's been neat to see. We talked with them all throughout the off-season and the start of this year and I was out there three weeks ago. And they said well, we’ve been qualifying good, when’s the first win going to come? And we kept saying we’ve got fast race cars, we just need to focus on finishing them off and getting top 10’s. So to get to take the trophy back and show it off there is meaningful and to have the governor call is really cool.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dale Jr.'s take on NASCAR probation

   While unveiling the new giant HDTV at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked about a variety of topics, including his take on NASCAR probation.

   Both Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were fined $25,000 and placed on probation through June 15 for their post race altercation on pit road following Saturday night's Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

   With many race fans - and media - still wondering exactly what probation means, Earnhardt weighed in as well:

   “Probation doesn’t change the way you drive, because you’re still going to drive hard, and you’re still going to race as hard as you can. It’s obvious when things are intentional and things aren’t. As far I understand it, if you go out there and race hard … and say they get into the same situation that happened before the checkered flag (at Darlington) - I don’t think anything would happen to them. But if they go out of the box and do things that are detrimental, then I think the probation becomes a problem. When you’re a driver, you’re cognizant of that," he said.

   "You can still race hard and get in your fair share of scrape-ups on the race track, when you’re racing. That’s part of the race in-between flags, but it’s the kind of things that happen after the race that I guess they don’t like.

     “Probation works as it’s intended to work. I think that NASCAR wants you to do whatever you think you’re capable of doing in between the flags. They’ve really went to penalize someone for anything that happened between the green and the checkered flag. It’s always everything that happened after that. They’re not going to come and do a judgment call on what happened on the race track. There’s too many variables involved, and the drivers are there now to police themselves during that period."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

NASCAR penalizes Harvick, Busch

   NASCAR released the following penalty announcement this morning:

   NASCAR has penalized NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as a result of rules infractions committed at last weekend’s event at Darlington Raceway.
   Busch, driver of the No. 18 car, and Harvick, driver of the No. 29 car, have each been fined $25,000 and placed on NASCAR probation for the next four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events until June 15 for violating Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing – involved in an altercation on pit road after the conclusion of the race).
   “These penalties are a result of what occurred on pit road after the race was over,” said Kerry Tharp, Senior Director for Communications, Competition. “They are about maintaining a safe environment on pit road.”

Monday, May 9, 2011

North Wilkesboro closes yet again

   Speedway Associates Inc., which has been leasing historic North Wilkesboro Speedway the past 1 1/2 years, announced on Monday night it was shutting down operations at the track.

   “We lined up some great events. However, even though we can project positive income from events at the speedway, we do not have the money needed on the front end to make those events happen," Speedway Associates Inc. President Alton McBride Jr. said.

   "In spite of our complete investment in the speedway and in this community, we have run out of money necessary to go forward."

   Speedway Associates took over operation of the 5/8ths mile track in November 2009. The track had closed following the fall Cup series race in 1996. From Labor Day weekend 2010 through the 2011 season-opening Pro All-Star Series race, there were six large and more than a dozen small successful events held at the track.

   "In just 1½ years, SAI's fantastic team returned this wonderful, historic track to its rightful place as the most popular place for past and present industry icons to come and feel the history that was being kept alive by those who carry this speedway in their heart," McBride said.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Kyle Busch provides blow-by-blow of Darlington postrace

   Kyle Busch was very willing to discuss the aftermath of Saturday night's Southern 500 and  his run-in with Kevin Harvick. After tangling on the track, the drivers took their feud to pit road.

   Both drivers were called to the NASCAR hauler for a discussion of their postrace actions. Here is Busch's description of the events:

   “After the race I was just kind of cooling down and talking to Dave (Rogers, crew chief) on the radio about that I wanted to talk to him in the hauler about something and I see the (Kevin) Harvick car -- the 29 come up flying up on my inside through three and four. Instead of going to pit road I thought he was going to force me into the inside of the pit road wall so I gave myself a little bit of room and turned up to go back up onto the race track like I would for another cool down lap and he followed me. When he pulled up next to me, I tried to back up. I put my car in reverse and tried to back up and I blew reverse out of the transmission. I tried to back up too fast and the transmission gears are so light that they can’t take that kind of abuse. Blew reverse out so then I had to pull forward and kind of do a U-turn to get back to pit road.

   "I was just trying to get away from the situation with Harvick and unfortunately he got to pit road before me so I pulled in behind him. He let the 47 (Bobby Labonte) go, but I knew if I tried to turn left or right he was going to run into me or block me or something. I just stayed behind him, I was just going to sit there, not worry about it and let him cool his head for a second and let him figure out that we just need to go back to the garage area. Instead of him doing that, he wanted to get out of his car I guess and wanted to fight. I knew that wasn’t going to be a good situation and when I saw him getting out of his car, I knew it wasn’t going to be a good situation.

   "My choices were limited, I was either going to get punched in the face and then wait for Harvick to get back in his car for me to go or just drive through his car and push it out of the way so I could get out of there and try not to get hit or anything like that. I made a judgment call there and it wasn’t one of the best choices that I had, but I pushed his car out of the way on pit road and unfortunately there was men walking down pit road. I hate it that somebody could have gotten hurt, but I was just trying to get away from it and get back to my hauler and go on with my own business.”

Dale Junior talks about the strength of his grandmother

   With it being Mother's Day weekend at Darlington Raceway, many of the NASCAR drivers are asked to share stories about their mothers and many of the mothers participate in the command to start engines in the Sprint Cup race. 

   On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked to talk about the strength of his grandmother, Martha Earnhardt, in his family. Martha is the mother of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. Earnhardt Jr. gave a very poignant response:

   "Any wife, girlfriend – this business is pretty hard on them, makes them pretty tough. You stick it out. You'll be pretty tough by the end of it. My Ma-Maw (grandmother), she's got a lot of knowledge about the sport and what it takes to be involved to be involved in the sport; what she went through. You just have to respect somebody like that. You have a ton of respect for somebody like that," he said.

   "To see and done everything she's done; witnessed everything she has witnessed from her husband Ralph and her son, all of her sons. I'm sure they all put her through equal amounts of trouble and stress. She enjoying the fruits of all that now with all the grandkids and everybody, hopefully for many years to come."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Truex gets four new pit crew members for Darlington

   In apparent response to driver MartinTruex Jr.'s displeasure with his pit crew in the Sprint Cup Series, Michael Waltrip Racing on Tuesday changed four positions on his team - both the front and rear tire changers and carriers.

   The new members will be in place in time for Saturday night's Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

   Truex was extremely angry with the crew on his No. 56 Toyota Saturday night when he had to come back in after a slow pit stop to fix a broken stud on his car. Before he came down pit road Truex yelled at his crew over his team radio: “You’re all (expletive) fired. Every (expletive) one of you.”

   Truex has had problems with loose wheels on his car in previous races and suffered a bad wreck at Martinsville, Va., when the throttle hung on his car.

   "As we know, the No. 56 has experienced several challenges on pit road and we feel the need to intervene. Pit crews are professional sportsmen and as such, they understand that sometimes changes need to be made," said Steve Hallam, director of competition at MWR.

   "The team will have new tire carriers and changers beginning at Darlington this weekend. Two of those four athletes we’ve added come from our Nationwide program and the other two from our back-up squad."

   Truex said if someone isn't doing their job, then changes need to be made, including himself.

   "I want to win more than anything in this world and that’s why I got very upset," he said. "I understand changes are going to be made within our pit crew heading into Darlington. I appreciate the fact that MWR addressed the issue and we’re moving on.”


Monday, May 2, 2011

RIR will review SAFER barriers

   Richmond International Raceway President Doug Fritz released a statement on Monday in response to criticism over the track - and others - not having SAFER barriers installed around the entire facility.

  "The safety of all who attend our events, including the drivers, is of the utmost importance at Richmond International Raceway," he said. "We along with NASCAR and the developer of the Safer Barrier at the University of Nebraska, review the performance of the barrier and its locations and have made improvements from time to time based on recommendations from the University of Nebraska, and will continue to look at being able to improve upon it.”

   Jeff Gordon suffered a hard wreck late in Saturday night's race at Richmond and slammed into an area of the track not covered by a SAFER barrier wall.