Friday, April 24, 2015

COMMENTARY: For Kyle Busch, A NASCAR Waiver Is Only Half The Battle

The clock is ticking on Kyle Busch’s hopes to salvage something from the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said this week that he would like to “figure out how to accommodate” Busch’s desire to race in the 2015 Chase when he returns from injuries suffered at Daytona International Speedway on February 21. And while the sanctioning body has the leeway to overlook Busch’s absence from the 2015 starting lineup so far, there are other requirements the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will be hard-pressed to meet.

Busch suffered a compound fracture of his right tibia and fibula – along with a broken left foot – in the NASCAR XFINITY Series season-opener at Daytona, and will miss his ninth consecutive race this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. He is still weeks away from a competitive return, and when he does come back, he will need a NASCAR waiver to exempt him from the rule requiring Chase contenders to take part in every race. In addition, he will need to fight his way into the Top-30 in championship points and win at least one of the season’s first 26 races.

No matter how NASCAR rules, Busch will have his work cut out for him.

Just 17 races remain in the 2015 regular season, and Busch is still weeks away from a return to the cockpit. He admitted recently that there is no timeline for his damaged leg to fully heal, and said he will not press for an early return.

"I have to please my doctors," he said Busch, who still carries a rod and steel plates in his right leg, along with several screws in his left foot. "I have to go step by step and do everything they ask. They say my recovery is going faster than expected but… they won't release me a timetable."

France made it clear this week that he feels some degree of responsibility for Busch’s injuries.

''What happened to him was on us,'' said the NASCAR chairman, pointing to Busch’s impact with a concrete wall unprotected by an impact-absorbing SAFER barrier. “'You can't say, `Safety is our No. 1 priority’ and get that stuff wrong.''

Even if NASCAR awards Busch a waiver, however, the numbers are stacked steeply against him making the Chase. If the M&Ms Toyota driver is unable to return until July – and sources say that is likely the best-case scenario – he will have only 10 races left to fight his way into both the Top-30 and Victory Lane.
Even for a driver of Busch’s ability, that’s a tough row to hoe.

Last season, Michael McDowell was 30th in the championship standings at the end of 26 races, with a total of 407 points. For Busch to eclipse the 400-point mark in just 10 starts, he will need to average a fourth-place finish. That’s a lot to ask of a driver that is in peak physical condition and operating at 100% of his ability with no “racer’s rust.”

Busch will be none of those things.

For now, Busch will continue to focus on his rehabilitation. It’s all he can do, while eye
ing a possible return in time for the 57th annual Coke Zero 400 at Daytona on July 5.  

Kenny Subs For Mike In Wallace Brothers XFINITY Swap

Brothers Mike (L) and Kenny Wallace
Veteran NASCAR driver and television personality Kenny Wallace will pilot JGL Racing’s No. 26 NASCAR XFINITY Series Toyota next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, joining teammates JJ Yeley (No. 28 Toyota) and Eric McClure (No. 24 Toyota) for the running of the Winn Dixie 300.
The JGL Racing team planned on having Kenny’s brother, Mike Wallace at the wheel of the No. 26 Toyota at Talladega, as he was in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. However, the elder Wallace underwent triple bypass heart surgery in the Charlotte area last week, and will be unable to compete at Talladega.
"I felt a little chest pain last week, so I went to the doctor,” explained Mike Wallace. “The next thing I know, I am going in for surgery. My dad had heart surgery about 35 years ago, so I thought I was being proactive and taking all of the necessary precautions. There are a lot of people walking around out there in the same situation. No matter how healthy we think we are, no one can be careful enough when it comes to our health. Everyone needs to go get checked out.”
Kenny Wallace said he is looking forward to returning to the XFINITY Series at one of his favorite tracks.
"Talladega is where I have some of my best finishes in my NASCAR career," he said.  "I think to have success at Talladega you have to enjoy racing there and that style of racing - and I like it.  I look forward to teaming up with JGL Racing and especially my longtime friend Gregg Mixon."
Wallace has over 900 career starts in NASCAR's top three series, and will be making his 545th career start in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. His best Sprint Cup Series finish at Talladega came in 2000, when he finished second while pushing the late Dale Earnhardt to his final NASCAR win.
Mike Wallace said he hopes to be in attendance to watch his younger brother work, adding,  “I am focused on getting back to full strength and returning to the driver's seat in the near future."

New MRN Hotline Allows Fans To Offer On-Air Comments

Since 1970, Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – has delivered award-winning race coverage to listeners throughout the United States.

With today’s introduction of the “Fan Forum Hotline,” MRN will listen to the collective voice of the fans – who can now call toll-free at 1-844-4ASKMRN during live race broadcasts to comment on events taking place on the track or offer an opinion on other pertinent issues.

Fans’ comments will air during Motor Racing Network broadcasts across all three of NASCAR’s top national series – Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Trucks.  The Fan Forum Hotline … at 1-844-4ASKMRN … 844-427-5676 … will also be available during the network’s weekly programming.

“Over the years, our fans have relied on Motor Racing Network to provide them with the best broadcast coverage of the sport they love,” said MRN President and Executive Producer David Hyatt.  “With the introduction of the Fan Forum Hotline, our listeners now have the chance to be heard and join us as the collective ‘Voice of NASCAR.’”

The announcement was made today during MRN’s exclusive radio coverage of the NASCAR weekend at Richmond International Raceway, which will feature the ToyotaCare 250 XFINITY Series race on Friday and Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 in the Sprint Cup Series.

The Fan Forum Hotline will complement the new MRN App that was introduced earlier this year – giving fans unprecedented access to Motor Racing Network content and now, the means to voice their opinion.
“This is one more way to initiate a conversation with our listeners,” Hyatt said.  “They’ve heard us and now, we hear them.  A vibrant, informative dialogue with the fans during our race broadcasts and other programming adds volume to the ‘The Voice of NASCAR.’”

In February, Motor Racing Network kicked off its 46th year by introducing the MRN App, available for free on Apple and Android devices.  Motor sports fans on the go stay in the know with comprehensive coverage of NASCAR, drag racing and dirt-track action from multiple series.

They can locate and listen to their local Motor Racing Network affiliate, or the one nearest their location, with the push of a button in the palm of their hand.  News and other online content are available, too, from MRN.com.

In addition to the Fan Forum Hotline, NASCAR fans have the opportunity to interact with the MRN broadcast crew through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as part of the MRN App.  There is a calendar reminder and NASCAR Series push notices, in addition to MRN archive audio and video.  Connectivity to track apps from International Speedway Corporation-owned facilities is also available, featuring quick access for ticket purchases.

In addition to exclusive radio coverage of 25 Sprint Cup Series race weekends this year, MRN will broadcast 21 XFINITY Series events and all 23 races in the Camping World Truck Series.  The network’s 2015 slate will once again conclude in December with live coverage of the Sprint Cup Series Awards in Las Vegas.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Waltrip To Drive No. 55 Toyota At Talladega

Two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip will drive the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3.

Waltrip, founder and co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, replaces 22-year-old Brett Moffitt, who has driven MWR’s No. 55 since the March 22nd race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Moffitt is filling in for Brian Vickers, who is sidelined after a recent bout with recurring blood clots.

“Talladega is a place where I know we will be very competitive,” said Waltrip who owns four restrictor plate victories including a Talladega win in the fall of 2003. “This will be my 58th Sprint Cup start at Talladega so believe me when I tell you Talladega is some of the best racing in the world and I’m glad I’ll get to be part of it again in the Aaron’s Dream Machine.”

“We’ve had a long-standing relationship with MWR and Michael is part of the Aaron’s family – he will represent Aaron’s well as the No. 55 Dream Machine driver at Talladega,” said Andrea Freeman, Vice President of Marketing, Aaron’s, Inc. “Talladega proves to be one of the most exciting races in the Sprint Cup Series and we know Michael will be in his element at this race.”

Waltrip owns 779 Sprint Cup starts and finished 26th driving the No. 55 in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 22 in his lone 2015 start.  The May 3 and Oct. 25 Talladega races are the only remaining races Waltrip is scheduled to drive this season.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dover All-Stars Win Celebrity Softball Game

Race fans attending the third annual Dover International Speedway vs. Pocono Raceway celebrity softball game were treated to an entertaining afternoon in Trenton, N.J. yesterday. The game was part of NASCAR’s Victory Tour program to promote the upcoming Dover and Pocono race weekends, and was played at ARM & HAMMER Park, home of the Trenton Thunder, prior to their AA League game that night versus the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

The game included the four NASCAR personalities -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Todd Bodine and Darrell Wallace Jr. -- along with members of the media and other dignitaries. Mike Bagley of Motor Racing Network and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio served as emcee for the event. The game also provided content for MRN’s nationally syndicated NASCAR Live program on Tuesday night, hosted by Bagley.

Dover won the five-inning game, 12-6, setting the celebrity softball series now at 2-1 in favor of Team Dover.

Before the game there was a moment of silence for Steve Byrnes, the well-known NASCAR announcer who passed away on Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. Both teams taped armbands to their jerseys in honor of him.

Pocono got off to a hot start to begin the game, with Wallace Jr. recording the first run of the game, and tacked on two more runs in the second inning with back-to-back home runs from Crockett (WXTU-FM personality), and Pocono Raceway president Brandon Igdalsky.

With the score 3-0 in favor of Pocono entering the top of the third inning, Ryan Troutman (AAA Mid-Atlantic) began the comeback charge with a solo home run. Chris Shearn (YES Network) drove in another run with a ground-rule double, and Chris Flood (Cape Gazette) gave Dover a 4-3 lead with a ground-rule double of his own.

At one point in the game, with Logano playing defense at second base, a comical collision occurred when Wallace Jr. slid into Logano as he valiantly tried to tag him out. Although Wallace Jr. was ruled safe, Logano got the last laugh by turning a timely double-play to end the fourth inning in style.

Team Dover rode the momentum into the fourth and fifth innings, combining for eight more runs thanks to more power hitting from Flood, who connected on a grand-slam to put a nail in the coffin for Team Pocono.

The drivers met with fans and signed autographs throughout the event, and later joined members of the press for a media session following the game.

NASCAR returns to Dover International Speedway May 29-31, 2015 and includes the May 29 “Lucas Oil 200” NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the May 30 “Buckle Up 200 Presented by Click It or Ticket” NASCAR XFINITY Series race and the May 31 “FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, which will be broadcast on FOX Sports 1 at 1 p.m. ET. For race tickets or more information, call 1-800-441-RACE or visit www.DoverSpeedway.com.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NASCAR Remembers Steve Byrnes

The tributes have flooded in today, in the aftermath of the passing of FOX Sports commentator and NASCAR Race Hub host Steve Byrnes, who lost a lengthy battle with cancer today at the age of 56.
Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell -- “Steve was everything that racing is about. He loved the sport, its roots and maybe most of all, its fans. From the first time he came to Martinsville Speedway some 30 years ago, I knew there was something special about him. He was such a great advocate for our sport and everyone in it. One of the amazing things about Steve was, I don’t think I ever saw him when he wasn’t smiling. The worst interview in the world couldn’t take that smile away. As sad as today is, there is some satisfaction to know that he’s still smiling.”
Richard Petty -- "Steve was a person who had a real passion for his job and that's what made him stand out as one the best at what he did.   He was always humble too, and I never saw him treat anyone unfairly.  That's just how he did his job and lived his life. He always treated myself, our family and our race teams with great respect and I admired him for that. He will be missed by many and our family’s thoughts and prayers are with Karen, Bryson and the rest of his family.

NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France -- “NASCAR extends its condolences to the many friends, FOX Sports colleagues and family of Steve Byrnes. Whether you had the privilege of knowing him or if you watched him on television for the last three decades, Steve’s work ethic and authenticity made him a beloved individual inside and outside the garage. His level of professionalism was matched only by the warmth he showed everyone he met. He battled cancer with tenacity, and was a true inspiration to everyone in the NASCAR family. Simply stated, we’ll miss Steve dearly. Our thoughts are especially with his wife Karen and son Bryson during this difficult time.”
NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley -- "On behalf of the NASCAR Hall of Fame team, I want to extend our deepest sympathy to Karen, Bryson and the entire Byrnes family on the passing of Steve Byrnes. As accomplished and professional as Steve was as a broadcaster, Steve was an even better person, husband and father. Just last Thursday evening, after being readmitted to the hospital, Steve was texting me to get information to help one of his nephews. I thoroughly enjoyed the many years we frequently crossed paths and shared information while patrolling Pit Road and even more so the times we spent together talking about NASCAR or other interests we shared. I was thrilled when NASCAR added Steve to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel and was so looking forward to his insights and sage wisdom as a part of this process. The courage and class with which he fought cancer should serve as an inspiration to all. Steve will be dearly missed but always remembered.”
Eric Shanks, President & COO, Executive Producer, FOX Sports -- "We lost a beloved member of the FOX Sports family today, and we extend our prayers and deepest sympathies to the Byrnes family.  It was an honor over the past year to learn just how much Steve was loved and respected throughout the NASCAR community, which was evident this weekend in Bristol.  Not even day-long heavy rains could dampen the outpouring of emotion on display.  Steve served as a friend and mentor to so, so many, that the shadow he cast will have an impact on our industry for many years to come.  The only thing that stands out more to me than Steve as a teacher is Steve as a man, and the bravery and dignity with which he carried himself throughout his terrible illness.  We'll miss Steve very, very much." 

Charlotte Motor Speedway President and General Manager Marcus Smith -- “On behalf of all of us at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Speedway Motorsports, Inc., our hearts go out to the Byrnes family, his friends and his co-workers today. He was a great friend, and was well-liked and respected by everyone in our sport. Steve’s courageous fight against cancer was an inspiration to us all. God’s peace was visible in his eyes.”
Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup -- "Watkins Glen International is deeply saddened by the passing of Steve Byrnes. Steve was an inspirational figure and great contributor to our sport, and he will be missed greatly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Karen, Bryson, and the entire Byrnes family, as well as to his many fans and friends in the NASCAR.”
David Hill, Senior Executive Vice President, 21st Century FOX -- "From the very beginning of NASCAR on FOX, Steve Byrnes was one of the linchpins of the broadcast team. His passion for the sport -- his passion for everyone involved with the sport -- shone through week in and week out. But even more than that, Steve was defined by his journalistic integrity and kindness; his ability to communicate everything from complex technical issues to the highly emotive human dramas in this sport, where injury and or death are constantly just one mistake away. The consummate television professional, he established himself as a star on SPEED Channel, where viewers simply loved his knowledge, his sense of humor and his easygoing nature, becoming the Mr. Rogers of NASCAR -- a warm voice everyone trusted. Even more impressive, and fully on display last weekend in Bristol, Steve was loved and respected by the entire NASCAR community, from the drivers to the team owners to the front office executives. I am devastated by his passing -- he was not only a trusted and gifted colleague, but a mate -- my heart goes out to Karen and Bryson." 

COMMENTARY: Remembering Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes lost his long battle with cancer today at the age of 56.

The end came more quickly than any of us had hoped, and certainly more quickly than we were prepared for. Steve was able to watch Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway – an event named in his honor – but took a turn for the worse late yesterday and passed away today with Karen -- his loving wife of 22 years -- and his 12-year old son Bryson at his bedside.

Steve was a frequent guest on our Sirius XM Speedway show for many years, and was gracious enough to co-host the program along with me during Speedweeks 2015 at Daytona. Illness prevented him from traveling to Daytona Beach for the first time in decades, and he was feeling badly about that. We felt bad, as well, and thought we might all feel better by making Steve a part of our program, if only for a day.

Four hours can be a long pull -- even for a healthy host – and by the end of the program, Steve admitted that his backside was beginning to drag.

“I’m sorry, brother,” he said during a late commercial break. “I’m not a lot of help right now.”

I assured him that his mere presence was making the show better, whether he had anything to say or not.

In addition to being a top-notch guest, Steve was a good friend. He was the kind of person you put on your short-list; the list of people you knew could count on to brighten every day and never let you down.

There are no words to explain what Steve’s family and many friends are experiencing today. None of us were ready for this. We knew that his cancer was both aggressive and deadly. We knew his treatment protocol was not working as well as he and his doctors had hoped. We knew that he had suffered some serious setbacks in the last couple of weeks; blood clots and a bout with pneumonia that made his future anything but certain.

But we also knew that Steve Byrnes was a fighter. We knew of the amazing support system he had in place -- led by Karen and Bryson, who have been absolute rocks throughout this ordeal -- and hoped against hope that our friend would somehow beat the odds and prevail. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Steve Byrnes was tough, but cancer was tougher.

Back on January 14th of this year, Steve joined us on Sirius XM Speedway to update his condition. We hadn’t heard much from him in the weeks following the news that his cancer had returned, but he spoke eloquently about the important lessons learned from his battle with cancer.

Most of those lessons involved family and friends, the importance of holding loved ones close and treasuring every day we are granted on the planet. Those lessons seem all the more poignant today, now that he’s gone.

Steve’s final public words came Sunday night, when he responded to a fan asking via Twitter if he had watched the rain-delayed Bristol race, in its entirety. His response consisted of only four words, but those four words said all that needed to be said.

 “I went the distance,” he wrote.

Yes you did, brother, and you made us all proud. Safe travels, and Godspeed.

Monday, April 20, 2015

COMMENTARY: NASCAR’s Macho Mentality Has Changed… For The Better

Hamlin opted out Sunday
Since its founding in 1948, NASCAR has been a tough sport, populated by tough guys.

In the early days, drivers ran more than 100 races each season, traveling from track to track with little more than the previous night’s winnings to support them and their families, while still keeping the race car rolling. Safety was little more than an afterthought, with injuries and on-track deaths not uncommon. Through it all, though, drivers were forced to persevere, blocking out the pain in an attempt to keep moving money across the table.

With no time to heal, drivers were forced to bind their wounds, patch their cars together and get down the road to the next race, creating a warrior mentality that produced some amazing stories of human perseverance.

The most recognized name in NASCAR, Richard Petty, famously ran a number of races with a broken neck in 1980, keeping his injury hidden from NASCAR officials despite knowing that another wreck would almost certainly kill him.

“Of all the races we ran,” admitted Petty following his retirement, “there were probably 100 of them that I shouldn’t have been in the race car. At least 100 of them.

“You did it because that was your job,” he said. “It’s the competitive spirit. No matter how bad you were hurt, you didn’t want to get out of the car. We were so cocky, we weren’t going to admit that we couldn’t do the job.”
Petty was far from alone.

Tough guy Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd walked away from a gyrating, eggbeater of a crash during the 1994 Busch Clash at Daytona International Speedway that saw his car flip six times through the infield grass. Two days later, with Daytona 500 qualifying on the agenda, Rudd’s eyes were swollen nearly shut.

“I could hardly open my eyes,” recalled Rudd. “They were like little slits (and) I knew I had to fix it. While the guys were changing the spark plugs, I went and got a roll of duct tape. I didn't have Band-Aids. I would have used Band-Aids, but I didn't have any. I duct taped it; took all the extra skin, taped it to my eyelid, taped that up to my forehead, put my helmet on and went on."

Amazing as it sounds, Rudd’s swollen eyes were not the worst of his predicament. 

"I don't know if it was an inner-ear distortion problem, trauma to my inner ear or whatever, but my balance mechanism went kind of haywire. Everything would go dark when I went into the corner. I never told anyone I was uncomfortable. I went around there wide-open but I never told them I was really uncomfortable in the car. I just focused on the back bumper of the guy in front of me, and followed that.”

The Daytona incident is not the only example of Rudd’s tough-guy status. In 1998 at Martinsville Speedway, the Virginia native dominated the NAPA Auto Care 500, despite running without power steering while battling an exhaust leak that allowed fumes to enter his car on a 100-degree day. Rudd persevered to claim the checkered flag then passed out cold in Victory Lane.

Stewart has also raced hurt
Tony Stewart has also done his share of sheet time in the aftermath of crashes. A pair of wrecks on consecutive days at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2006 left the former series champion with a broken right shoulder blade. With the circuit set to compete at the high-banked Dover International Speedway the following week, there was little doubt that Stewart would need relief. Ironically, he turned to Rudd, who kept the team’s championship hopes alive with a 25th-place finish.

More recently, Stewart missed the final 15 races of the 2013 campaign after suffering a compound fracture of his lower-right leg in an Iowa Sprint Car crash.

“From a driver’s standpoint, from a selfish standpoint, you don’t want to get out of the car,” said Stewart. “You want to be selfish because you WANT to be in the car.”

In 1990, Darrell Waltrip broke his left femur in a grinding, seven-car practice crash prior to the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. He underwent more than 10 hours of surgery to repair and stabilize the break, with surgeons attaching an 18-inch long steel plate to piece together his shattered-in-three-places femur. Waltrip also suffered a concussion, fractured left elbow and broken ribs in the crash; raising the total of injuries sufficient to remove him from competition to four.

DW headed  for the Crash House
Despite that laundry list of trauma, however, Waltrip started the next week’s event at Pocono Raceway.

“Three days after the surgery, I’m telling the doctor, `I’ve got to get out of here,’” recalled Waltrip. “`I’ve got to go to Pocono! I’m 10th in points.’ He looked at me like I had lost my mind.”

Waltrip was fitted with a special brace to stabilize his surgically repaired femur, allowing him to be lifted – with great pain -- into and out of his car by crewmembers. He started the next Pocono race, immediately giving way to relief driver Jimmy Horton before finally admitting defeat and skipping a number of events in order to allow himself to heal.

Doctors said the former NASCAR Cup Series champion would be sidelined for a year. He was back in the car in 90 days.

Terry Labonte sustained a comparatively minor neck injury in the same Daytona crash, but drove the next day, finished fourth. Veteran Dave Marcis suffered a hairline fracture of the left leg, but like Waltrip, started the race before turning his car over to J.D. McDuffie en route to a 20th-place finish.
"Stupidest thing I ever did."
“(Starting the Pocono race) was a setback, both mentally and physically,” said Waltrip. “Getting in and out of the car was tough. I went to the shop so (crew chief) Jeff Hammond and the boys could practice stuffing me down in there and getting me back out. It was just a dumb thing to do. It was the stupidest thing I ever did.

“People say, `Why did you do it?’ I did it because they (NASCAR) let me do it. That was a time when I needed someone to save me from myself and say, `We’re not going to allow you to do that.’

“Doctors speculated that my career might be over,” recalled Waltrip. “I lost a sponsorship deal because they said they didn’t want a driver with a broken leg. So I know how these drivers feel. They feel pressure from their teams and sponsors. They feel like they’re letting people down if they’re not there in the car, keeping themselves up in points and in the running to make the Chase.

“If I had it to do again, I would say, `No, I don’t think that will work,’” he admitted. “When you’re hurt, you’re hurt, and you’ve got to admit it. The smart money is to stay home, get yourself healed up and then go back to work.

Modern-day NASCAR drivers have finally begun to embrace that mentality; some more grudgingly than others. NASCAR has also done its part, instituting new rules requiring drivers to be examined and cleared by a medical liaison after each and every crash. The sanctioning body recently began administering offseason neurocognitive baseline testing to its athletes, as well, establishing healthy parameters to use when examining drivers in the aftermath of a crash.

Junior helped change the discussion
Those new protocols were instituted after the sport’s Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffered a pair of concussions within a month at Kansas and Talladega in 2012. Earnhardt described his Kansas test crash as "the hardest hit I've ever had," and after a subsequent wreck just four weeks later at Talladega, he knew instantly that something was not right.

Earnhardt already knew a thing or two about playing hurt. In 2004, he suffered significant burns to his back, neck and thigh in a sports car crash at Infineon Raceway, but insisted on starting the next few NASCAR races before giving way to relief drivers.

“I was lucky to even be allowed to be in there (to start the races),” recalled Earnhardt of his 2004 injuries. “It took a long, long, long time to heal. The burn on top of my left leg was a big, open wound. There was no skin … it was all muscle. It was bleeding and I had to change the bandages every four hours or so.”

Older, wiser and perhaps more secure concerning his place in sport, the third-generation driver did things differently in 2012. Ignoring decades of tough-guy “rub a little dirt on it” mentality, he consulted doctors after the Talladega crash and actually heeded their advice, doing what few of his predecessors had ever done before; removing himself from the race car for two events in the heart of the championship Chase.

“It almost cost me my career,” says Earnhardt of his concussion scare. “It almost cost me my happiness."

Yesterday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin chose not to return following a lengthy red-flag stoppage for rain, complaining of muscle spasms and pain in his upper back and neck. He was replaced by youngster Erik Jones, who did yeoman work before being swept up in a late incident and finishing 26th, six laps down.

In another era, Hamlin might have faced the same pressure to continue – despite the possible risk – that Petty, Waltrip and Rudd experienced in their day. In another era, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver might have yielded to the “Macho Man” mentality that prompted decades of drivers to risk life and limb in the pursuit of a few championship points.

Sunday, however, Hamlin was allowed – and even encouraged – to make a better choice.

That’s a step in the right direction.

Almirola Set To Double Dip At Richmond

Aric Almirola and Smithfield Foods will team up with Biagi DenBeste Racing for Friday night’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Richmond International Raceway. Almirola will pilot the No. 98 Smithfield Ford in his third NXS race this season at Smithfield's home track. He is scheduled to race five more XFINITY races in the No. 98 Biagi DenBeste Racing Ford.

Almirola raced the No. 98 Ford at Daytona International Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this year, where he scored two Top-11 finishes. Almirola has five career starts at Richmond in the NXS and an average finish of 16.4, with a highest finish of seventh.

"I'm really excited to run the XFINITY race in Richmond," said Almirola. "It's a hometown race for Smithfield, so we'll have a lot of people cheering us on. It's also a night race which always has added excitement. I've had some success there in the past, so hopefully, we'll be fueled by bacon all the way to the Winner's Circle."

Located just down the road from Richmond, Smithfield considers Richmond International Raceway its "home track." Founded in Smithfield, Virginia in 1936, the company is a leading provider of high-quality pork products such as ham, bacon, ribs, sausage, and pork chops. The Virginia-based company will also adorn the hood of the No. 43 Ford with Almirola in Saturday night's Sprint Cup Series race.

"We're thrilled to have added exposure at our home track, Richmond International Raceway," said Dennis Pittman, Smithfield Senior Director of Corporate Communications. "We're looking forward to a shot at Victory Lane two nights in a row. We'll have a lot of guests at the track this weekend and can't wait for them to experience all the excitement."

Friday, April 17, 2015

COMMENTARY: What The National Motorsports Appeals Panel's Ruling Means, And What It Doesn't

There were no clear-cut winners in Thursday's National Motorsports Appeals Panel hearing involving Richard Childress Racing.
RCR was sanctioned by NASCAR for allegedly altering tires on the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet driven by Ryan Newman at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Cal. last month. Crew chief Luke Lambert bore the brunt of those sanctions, sustaining a $125,000 fine, a six-race suspension and being placed on NASCAR probation through the end of the calendar year. Tire technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen received six-race suspensions and probation through December 31, while Newman and team owner Richard Childress forfeited 75 driver and owner points, respectively.

Yesterday’s ruling reduced the point and financial penalties, however, because the NASCAR rule book includes “no written explanation of what constitutes a post-race inspection.”

In a nutshell, here’s why the panel ruled the way it did.

Lambert’s $125,000 penalty was actually two fines in one; a $75,000 sanction for committing a P5 infraction and an additional $50,000 for an infraction discovered in post-race inspection. Childress and Newman’s 75-point penalties were similar; 50 points for a P5 rules violation and an additional 25 points for failing a post-race inspection.

Lambert, Newman: Penalties reduced
Sources say that in testimony heard by the panel yesterday, NASCAR admitted confiscating Newman’s tires during the running of the Auto Club 500 on March 22, rather than after the race. RCR’s appeal centered on the premise that a mid-race tire confiscation does not constitute a true “post-race inspection,” despite the fact that the tires underwent a third-party examination in the days following the event.

That lack of specificity was enough for Appeals Panel members John Capels, Hunter Nickell and Dale Pinilis to rescind all penalties related to post-race discovery.

The remaining sanctions -- a $75,000 fine for Lambert and 50-point penalties for both Childress and Newman – still fall within the range of sanctions mandated by NASCAR for a P5 rules violation; albeit at the lowest end of the scale.

“I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to present our facts to the Appeals Panel, and I appreciate their consideration of those facts in making the decision to reduce the fine and reduce the points penalty,” said Lambert after yesterday’s decision was rendered. “However, I am disappointed in the decision not to completely overturn the penalty based on the facts that we presented today.”

In a written statement, Childress said his team is examining its options and has not decided whether to make a final appeal to the sport’s Chief Appellate Officer. NASCAR has declined to comment on the decision, citing RCR’s right to file that additional appeal.

While yesterday’s decision may have reduced the penalties assessed to Richard Childress Racing, it did not exonerate them of wrongdoing. To the contrary, after viewing evidence presented by both the race team and NASCAR, the Appeals Panel confirmed that a P5 rules violation was indeed committed.

We don’t yet know how RCR altered its tires, and we won’t until a final appeal is either heard or declined. But yesterday’s Appeals Panel ruling gives a clear indication that Richard Childress Racing did violate NASCAR’s “Holy Trinity” by tampering with tires, engines or fuel.   

Parrott On RCR Fill-In Role: “I’m Not Looking To Get Anyone’s Job”

Veteran Todd Parrott will replace Luke Lambert atop the pit box for Ryan Newman and the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, as Lambert begins serving a six-week suspension for altering tires at Auto Club Speedway last month. But while RCR’s XFINITY Series competition director has plenty of experience as a Sprint Cup Series crew chief, Parrott said he has no interest in returning to the position full-time.
“I’m not out to get Luke Lambert’s job or any of these guys,” said Parrott today. “I’m just here to fill in and do the job they have asked me to do. Then I’m going to go back to doing the jobs that I am doing.” 
“I have been here since December with RCR… so working with all these guys on the Cup teams -- all the engineering department, all the aero department and that stuff -- I’m very familiar with what is going on here. You guys know my history. I have a lot of years in the Cup garage (and) hopefully it shows the depth of RCR, while Luke is going through his deal with the suspension.”
Parrott said he expects no major surprises this weekend, saying, “I’ve been coming to Bristol for a long time. It’s one of my favorite tracks. I won here with Dale Jarrett a long time ago (and) I’ve had successful cars.  The race is fast and a lot of things happen; pitting for two tires, four tires, staying out. All of those things are going to come into effect, things that I’m going to have to brush up on in the next couple of days. 
We have a great supporting cast here with Grant Hutchens and Ryan Baldi filling in for Phil (Surgen).  There is a lot of depth here at RCR (and) I’m just going to step in and do the best job I can. Hopefully, we have a little success.”
Parrott said he gave the No. 31 team an impromptu pep talk during last week’s test at Kansas Speedway, telling them, “‘I’m not sure what is going to happen. But if (Lambert’s suspension) does happen and I get the call to go to Bristol and work with you guys, is there anything you need from me? What do you want? What do you like?’ 
“I got a good feel for that group and what they need. It’s a great bunch of guys, it really is. To do the things they did last year (and) finish second in the points, (there are) a lot of good people at RCR. I’m very comfortable with what I’m doing and I’m excited for the chance.”
He said his team will not be distracted by Lambert’s suspension.
“It’s been tough, because there has been a lot of focus, a lot of media attention on them and their team. But I feel like the mood of the team is really good. We have to go out and do our jobs and come out of here with a good, solid finish. That is what we came to do.  I’m going to do everything in my power and (use) what I know with all my racing history and try to do that.”
Parrott said he expects to be in frequent contact with Lambert throughout the weekend, adding, “I know there will be some communication of some sort, but we haven’t really worked on that yet. I’m taking it one day at a time. When I walked through the gate today, my goal was to win the pole with Ryan Newman and the No. 31 Caterpillar team. That is my goal today. I will take tomorrow when tomorrow gets here.”
 He stressed, however, that he has no desire to return to the ranks of full-time Sprint Cup Series crew chief.
“I will do it for six or seven races,” he said. “With Ryan Newman? I mean, come on. (It’s) Ryan Newman and RCR. It’s a great opportunity for myself. Ryan is an awesome talent in this sport and one heck of a race car driver.  I’m excited for the opportunity."

Ross Kenseth To Drive For Joe Gibbs Racing

Joe Gibbs Racing announced today that Ross Kenseth – son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth -- will make his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut in the No. 20 Toyota Camry at Chicagoland Speedway on June 20.  Dollar General will sponsor Kenseth in his first NASCAR National Series career start.
“This is an exciting time for us,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, “We’ve got several young, talented drivers in our stable, and now we have the chance to add Ross Kenseth to that list. Ross has been working hard and showing that he is ready for this next step. We’re excited that he will be doing that in the No. 20 car with our partner Dollar General.” 
Dollar General joined JGR in 2012 and has been a part of 14 visits to Victory Lane between the NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series.   
“We’re excited to expand our partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing and return to the XFINITY Series with Ross as he makes his series debut,” said Rick Dreiling, Dollar General’s chairman and chief executive officer, We’ve been fortunate to work with great drivers over the years and have success across all three of NASCAR’s top series. We know Ross will do a great job and represent the Dollar General brand well.”  
“I am really thankful for the opportunity JGR and Dollar General have given me and I am excited to make my first XFINITY Series start,” said Kenseth, “I couldn't have asked to be in a better situation. Having Dollar General support me for my first start means a lot to me. JGR and Dollar General are used to running up front and competing for wins, and hopefully I can catch on quickly.” 
In addition to his XFINITY debut, 21-year-old Kenseth will also compete in a limited ARCA and Super Late Model racing schedule this season.