Search This Blog

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In the Rearview Mirror: The Last 7 Days of NASCAR

More scheduling announcements for 2011, driver moves and contract signings, Jeff Gordon and wife have a baby, and Jack returns. As always, it's been an interesting week in the world of NASCAR. Let's take a few minutes to revisit the week and get caught up on all the NASCAR news.

Chicagoland announced on Monday that it would be hosting the opening race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase to the Championship. Chicago is a fast track and will be the only new venue during the 2011 Chase. The Chicago race, historically held in July will open the Chase on September 18, 2011. This move by NASCAR regarding Chicagoland vacates the July date for Kentucky Speedway's foray into Cup Racing next year. The 400-mile night race on July 9, 2011 will be the second part of a double header weekend in Sparta, Kentucky after Nationwide racing on Friday night. In preparation of it's NASCAR Cup Series debut SMI's Bruton Smith has promised to expand seating in the Speedway from it's current 66,000 to 116,000. Looks like it will be a very busy off-season at Kentucky Speedway for construction.

Phoenix International Speedway announced on Thursday that it will again be host to two Cup Series events in 2011. The spring race at PIR will now be held in late February as the second race of the season. High daily temperatures in the area that time of the year hang around 70; this will be a boon to late winter local tourism and is a schedule change that makes sense due to weather limitations at other tracks. This February 27 racing date will have a Sunday afternoon 1 pm start. In addition to the February date, Phoenix also has their regular next-to-last season date in November. Moving Phoenix up in the schedule came at the expense of Fontana. Auto Club Speedway will be hosting just one race in 2011, held the last weekend in March. Fontana has never been one of my favorite tracks so I, for one am not unhappy about this particular schedule change. 

Other later season changes include Martinsville races being pushed back a week. This gives Martinsville the Halloween weekend. Talladega has the Halloween weekend in 2010. Talladega has their spring Cup date listed as April 17, 2011 but no final release has been made on when a fall race will run at Talladega. I am assuming this will be a simple swap between Martinsville and 'Dega meaning the AMP Energy 500 would the afternoon of October 23, 2011. With Chicago taking the first race in the Cup Chase Louden New Hampshire moves a week earlier to the September 25, 2001 date. Louden's June race will be moving to July 17.

The new schedule will improve many aspects of the 2011 season. Schedule changes have brought a new track for the first time since 2003 when Kansas and Chicagoland were added. Adding dates in the middle part of the country will enable more race fans to travel to venues outside of their home states. Changes also will make it easier on teams, media, and fans to travel without having to travel cross-country each week. Grouping some dates in the same part of the country like Phoenix and Las Vegas or Martinsville and Talladega will cut down on gas prices for teams regarding the car haulers. As teams struggle with finances in this economically trying time any improvement from the zig-zag travel patterns will be welcome.

In driver news, Richard Childress racing announced that they will be adding a fourth car to the stable in 2011. RCR tried this in 2009 and it didn't work out so well. After the 2009 season the owner's points and rights for the 07 car were sold to Front Row Motorsports. RCR driver Jeff Burton said this week that "We learned by having 4 teams (in 2009) how not to do it. We did it wrong (in 2009)." RCR has signed driver Paul Menard to drive the fourth car in 2011. Menard has had a average year, currently 23rd in the Points standings in his fourth full year of Cup Series driving and sixth place in his eighth year in the Nationwide Series. RCR said that Menard will be a good fit with the other RCR drivers and that this move is seen as a way to advance both Menard and RCR racing in the Series.

In the much discussed matter of where Kahne and Martin will be for the 2011 season we finally got some answers this week. Kasey Kahne will be driving for Red Bull in 2011. This gives Kasey four manufacturers in four years; Kahne drove a Dodge in 2009, he's in a Ford this year. Next year Kasey will be behind the wheel of a Toyota and then settle into a Chevrolet with Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. Kahne being with Red Bull Racing on a one year contract allows Mark Martin to finish out his Hendrick contract in the number five car for 2011. Brian Vickers' return is still uncertain, he won't know until November if he can get back behind the wheel of a race car in the near future. Scott Speed, currently 27th in Series Points Standings, is not performing as well as Red Bull Racing would like. Due to this uncertainty between the current Red Bull drivers the Red Bull Racing Team is waiting until later in the year before announcing the final 2011 driver lineup.

In another driver change, Kevin Conway has been replaced by Tony Raines in the number 34 Front Row Motorsports entry effective immediately. ExtenZe is quoted as saying they are "100% committed to Kevin Conway" and has removed sponsorship from the car. Tony Raines and the 34 car will be racing without a sponsor this weekend. Conway has been the recipient of the Rookie of the Race Award in all 21 of his Cup Series starts for 2010. This alone makes me wonder what friction between Conway, ExtenZe, and FRM exists to cause this driver change. Conway and ExtenZe are evaluating options for the remainder of the 2010 season.

Jeff Gordon and wife, Ingrid, welcomed their second child on Monday. Baby boy Leo Benjamin joins Jeff and Ingrid's three year-old daughter, Ella Sophia. NASCAR drivers have been quite proliferate this year; Gordon joins Jimmie Johnson, Elliot Sadler, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Carl Edwards on the new dad list. Ryan Newman announced earlier this summer that his wife Krissie is also expecting.

In my opinion, the best news of the week came on Friday when Jack Roush returned to the track at Michigan. Jack was, as we all know, involved in a plane crash when landing at an air show in Wisconsin on July 27th. Jack went from a local hospital to the Mayo Clinic where it was only said that he was being treated for "facial injuries". The seriousness of Jack's injuries came out yesterday when Jack revealed that he was in a back brace due to a fracture in his back, suffered a broken left jaw, had packing still in his nose, and lost his left eye as a result of the accident. Jack is optimistic about his future with one eye, saying that he expects to fly again once his recovery is complete. He also stated that his corrected vision had been 20/15 before the crash and since his right eye is dominant he feels he will still see better than he should. Jack wore large, dark sunglasses at Michigan Speedway but it can be seen that both eyes are blackened and the left is still swollen shut. One thing we can be sure of is that Jack's return to the track gives us all a reason to be thankful. Welcome back, Jack - we missed you!

Qualifying on Friday afternoon showed that maybe Red Bull DOES give you wings - After announcing the 2011 Red Bull deal, Kasey Kahne brought home the pole for the Michigan Carfax 400 on Sunday. Kahne won the pole by just 2 hundredths of a second over second place starter Jimmie Johnson. Clint Bowyer, who had been posting respectable but not great practice times found speed in Qualifications and will start third on Sunday. Tony Stewart will start fourth and Juan Pablo Montoya fifth. Greg Biffle, who had the fastest practice speeds earlier in the day will start sixth. Staring seventh will be Matt Kenseth followed by Kevin Harvick in the eighth starting position. Rounding out the top ten for Sunday's grid are Martin Truex, Jr. and Paul Menard. The top ten starters are separated by less than three tenths of a second in their qualification lap times.

Sunday's Michigan Carfax 400 will be televised on ESPN, starting at 1 pm EST. MRN Radio will also broadcast beginning at Noon EST. Jeff Burton was on top of the leaderboard for practice number one Friday. Saturday's first practice found Greg Biffle on top with the fastest car on the two mile tri-oval. Final practice shows Jimmie Johnson fastest, followed by David Ragan, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, and Greg Biffle finishing out the top five. Who can bring the speed tomorrow in the 200 lap race? Tune in to see who wins, who wrecks, and what feuds may be revisited or born.

Photo Credits
Photo 1: Getty/Nascar Images
Photo 2:
Photo 3: Kim Holland
Photo 3:
Photo 4:

No comments:

Post a Comment