Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What's going on with Mike Skinner?

Something doesn't make sense about the story that Mike Skinner is out at Randy Moss Motorsports, to be replaced with Travis Kvapil.

I know multiple sources are saying that the above scenario is what is playing out, but consider: Front Row Motorsports is planning on Travis Kvapil again running the #34 FRM Ford full time next year. Considering the budgets involved (a low-moderate-budget Cup team, and a Truck team), does it make sense that Kvapil would be flying around the country to run both series? Is Kvapil going to fund the helicopter rides out of pocket? Can the deals be that lucrative to make financial sense?

I'm just wondering aloud here, folks. It just doesn't add up.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Notes from the Flagstand - 12/11/10

Here's hoping Aric Almirola's stint in the JR Motorsports #88 lasts longer than Kelly Bires'...speaking of Aric A. Almirola, I know the American Automobile Assn., currently has a deal with Penske Racing, but wouldn't that be the perfect sponsor for a guy whose initials are "AAA?" Best wishes to "Triple A" and his bride on this, their wedding day!

Will 2011 be the year Dale Earnhardt, Jr., finally breaks out and starts winning again? His father, the great Dale Earnhardt, won a championship when he was 30, but didn't really dominate until his mid-to-late 30s. Junior is now 36, so maybe this is his time.

Scott Speed, as promised, sued Red Bull Racing for $6.5 million. He argues, in essence, that while there was a performance clause, RBR didn't give him equipment that was up to the task. It is odd, at least, that RBR signed an extension shortly before fax-firing the 27-year-old driver. The courts will decide.

And happy birthday to Eric McClure, who turns 32 today!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Scott Speed to sue Red Bull

Scott Speed announced via Twitter today that his lawyer is filing a suit today against Red Bull Racing. The reason was not given, but it's fair to assume it is a breach of contract action.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Now that's racin'!

The 43rd Annual Snowball Derby, the "Daytona 500 of short track racing," ran Sunday, and it was almost certainly the most exciting race of the year. 18-year-old Johanna Long, for whom this race is a "home game," won in overtime, easily pulling away from the field on the final restart when things fell her way after multiple wrecks in front, and leaving her with fresh tires, a good car and a clear track ahead. She did a masterful job avoiding getting caught up in the carnage that occurred right in front of her multiple times.

This should help her in her quest for sponsorship for her family-run Panhandle Motorsports #20 Camping World Truck series entry, or perhaps even bigger things sooner than she may have expected. She and her family would do well, of course, to proceed carefully, as some drivers move up too quickly, and are unable to adjust to the tougher competition. She has proven, though, that she has the raw talent, and is quickly gaining the experience, to succeed against a highly competitive field.

Despite a mere eight cars left on the lead lap at the end of the race, and only another eleven one or two laps down, the Snowball Derby showed short track racing at its best. It lasted over three hours, but was packed with non-stop action. Many times, cars that were a lap down were able to race back on to the lead lap, rather than rely on the "lucky dog" rule. There was lots of passing, and it was clear that all 37 drivers were there for one reason, and one reason only: to win.

While season championships are important to keep long-term fan interest piqued, what the Snowball Derby reminds us is how exciting racing is when there is no one on the track engaging in "points racing," and the only goal is winning. Yes, there were wrecks; yes, there were some bruised egos and tempers flaring...and yes, this is the kind of race that race fans love.

Some commentators and many fans have argued for years that there should be more short tracks on the NASCAR national series' schedules, and certainly the excitement of this race helps make the case that it would be a boon to the popularity of NASCAR racing. But I think this also shows that if winning is paramount, you get action on the track that is unrivaled by any championship run. If NASCAR changes the points system to make wins much more valuable than they currently are, we could see this kind of racing every week.

A couple of other notes on this race: Chase Elliott, the 15-year-old son of 1988 Cup champion Bill Elliott, ran a strong race, but most notably showed maturity far beyond his youth, in how he dealt with the disappointment of a destroyed race car after he was bumped in a turn by Landon Cassill late in the race. Landon Cassill, in turn, also showed a lot of maturity and class in not blaming Johanna Long for bumping him when racing for the lead with less than five laps to go. He still managed a fourth-place finish. David Stremme finished 13th, while David Ragan was involved in a wreck that ended his day prematurely, causing him to finish a disappointing 27th. Incidentally...Johanna Long is not the first woman to win the Derby; Tammy Jo Kirk won it in 1994. Neither is she the youngest: Steve Wallace won it at age 17 in 2004.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday Notes from the Flagstand - 12/4/10

Why is the Snowball Derby not on SPEED? Could we not survive with a couple less episodes of "Two Guys Garage" or "My Classic Car?" Notables running the Derby this year include David Stremme, Johanna Long, David Ragan and Landon Cassill.

If Richard Petty Motorsports is going to retain its name during the ownership change, are we now going to refer to "Old RPM" and "New RPM?"

Is it just me, or did anyone else sense an awkward silence when Narain Karthikeyan was presented his Most Popular Driver award for the Camping World Truck Series? Narain seems a nice-enough guy, but something is awry when a part-time driver from another continent wins the popularity contest. Who will win next year, Nelson Piquet, Jr.? How about 50% fan vote, 50% survey, NASCAR?

With the Silver State Winternationals running at the same time, in the same city, as the NASCAR banquets, it's too bad NASCAR couldn't have had an event where some drivers visited with the kids. To be fair, the switch from Primm, Nev., to Las Vegas for the quarter midget event happened at the last minute...regardless, it'd be nice if NASCAR took a proactive approach to promoting and supporting the next generation of racers.

Wondering if next year will be a level playing field at last in the Nationwide series, or if Joe Gibbs' cars will continue to dominate...if the latter, NASCAR is going to have to step in and make horsepower adjustments, and sooner rather than later.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to make NASCAR a truly national sport

It's silly season, so everyone is out with their ideas of how to "fix" NASCAR. It may or may not be "broken," but that is not going to stop those of us with crazy ideas from offering them.

There is certainly some evidence that the popularity of NASCAR, specifically Sprint Cup, is suffering when compared to other sports. That could be for a lot of reasons, and others have variously proposed changing the Chase to the Sprint Cup, implementing an elimination-style system, getting rid of the Chase, giving more points for wins, moving to an entirely different point system and dropping the top-35 rule for qualifying.

But these are all essentially tweaks, and don't address one fundamental weakness the sport has compared with other sports.

What is it that drives team loyalty in stick-and-ball sports more than anything else? I argue that it is regional affinity. Generally speaking, you root for the team that is in your town. Sure, there are exceptions, and people move around, often taking their team loyalty with them, but generally, this is major factor.

We don't have that in NASCAR. Yes, there are drivers that come from pretty much every part of the country, but once they enter the top series, they resettle near their team's shop.

With few exceptions, those shops are all in North Carolina.

That means that if you're in North Carolina, you'll see plenty of driver appearances, events, etc., and if you don't, you'll see very few.

It also means that media view the sport as a traveling road show, based in North Carolina. Which is pretty much true. The coverage, then, will take a back seat to local sports teams. This affects the sport's popularity and fan intensity. Yes, the races themselves are in different parts of the country, but who roots for a venue, rather than a team? Also, there are only one or two races at each venue each year. Teams, however, are racing every week.

I think you can see where this is going. What I am proposing...and I am under no misconception that this is not a radical a decentralization of race teams. Over the course of a decade, NASCAR should implement a program associating particular teams with particular regions of the country. Each team's main shops would be required to be located somewhere within its assigned region. Teams could perhaps request a region...I'm not sure how the mechanics of that would work.

I think this would bring several benefits. Firstly, it would drive more localized coverage of the sport, and the local team. Secondly, it would naturally lead to more driver availability, appearances and events in all parts of the country.

As a case study, look at Furniture Row Racing. They are in the Denver area, and the Denver media cover them as a local team, giving them and NASCAR more exposure than they would otherwise get.

Nationwide and Truck shops could stay clustered in North Carolina, at least for the time being.

Would it work? Well, we won't know unless we try. Would it be a burden to the teams? Yes, but I argue the potential benefits are huge, and this should at least be considered as a possible future direction of the sport.