Friday, August 22, 2014

Fired up Friday - August 22, 2014

My responses to the SiriusXM "Morning Drive" fired-up Friday questions for Friday, August 22, 2014:

#1:  Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will be the Hendrick Motorsports driver to win the 2014 Sprint Cup Championship.  I have thought for a long time that the winner needs three things -- consistency, some wins and most importantly the belief that they CAN win.  Beginning last year, the 88 team demonstrated that they have consistency, and that has continued this year.  This year to date, they have three (3) wins, which will provide a seeding lift going into the Chase.  However, most importantly, the three wins this year have shown Dale that he CAN win, and I believe that he now believes the same.  A fearless mental attitude coupled with Hendrick Motorsports resources and preparation is awful tough to beat.

#2:  Jeff Gordon has won 12% of the Sprint Cup races he's ever entered, and has demonstrated that he can win at that level again this year, by winning 3 of 23 races so far this year (13%.)   If this performance continues, Jeff will need 75 more races to get the 9 more victories he needs to reach 100.   That is perfect, with 13 races left this year and 72 opportunities available over the next two years.  So yes, give Jeff these 85 races and he will amass at least 100 Sprint Cup victories.

#3:  Bristol is a "crown jewel" race on the Sprint Cup calendar, but it belongs in the Chase ONLY if it is an elimination race (i.e. Race #3, #6 or #9) in the Chase.  Weather probably precludes it being #9, so race #3 or #6 is more likely... probably #3.  If it falls in spot number 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 or 8 I don't think the tone and atmosphere of that race is much different than it is now.

In my opinion, the August Bristol race got too tame beginning in 2004 with the advent of the Chase.  The reason being is that it falls too close to the beginning of the Chase -- if a driver is locked-in, they don't care.  If a driver, however, is border-line in or out, they're too conservative so as not to hurt their chances.

Because of this, I say move Bristol into the Chase as race #3 or leave it alone.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Making Some Sense of the Kevin Ward Tragedy

As a passionate NASCAR follower and Tony Stewart fan, I certainly have my opinions about the tragic events that unfolded last Saturday night in upstate New York.  However, I'm going to withhold comment on many of them because I don't want to be guilty of what I've criticized others for doing in the last 48-72 hours, and that's going off on an emotional rant that is void of any lucidity or logic.  I will, however, touch upon what we can reasonably discuss and what we can do as the sport moves forward.

Where do we go from here?  The sport needs to learn from this tragedy and do all that it can to ensure that it doesn't happen again.  I believe that is best done by what some tracks and series have already announced and what others will certainly embrace as well -- prohibit, by rule, drivers exiting their cars while on the race track until safety personnel have arrived.  Obviously, if the car is on fire, spewing hot water or hot oil on a driver, or some other situation where common sense tells him/her that it is more dangerous to remain in the car than to exit it, then by all means, exit it.  Otherwise, stay in your car.  

Police officers advise motorists whom they've stopped for traffic violations to do the same -- stay in the car.  It's safer for both the motorist and the officer.  Sure, there are exceptions, but most of the time, remaining with the vehicle is the best option.

Please understand that I cannot imagine what Mr. Ward's family and friends are going through right now, and that I give every ounce of respect to their wishes for privacy as they go through the grieving process.  I hate that this accident happened and I wish that it hadn't.  With this said however, I also believe that since perhaps the biggest "fix" to this situation is to mandate staying with the car, that Mr. Ward bears responsibility for HIS actions last Saturday night.  Aggressively and quickly exiting his car, and running down the track into traffic on a poorly-lit racetrack at night wearing an all-black fire suit and helmet in front of cars without good visibility were all decisions I'm sure Mr. Ward would like to reconsider.  Sadly, he will not have that opportunity. 


Monday, July 28, 2014

See 'ya... wouldn't want to be 'ya !

Drivers usually will announce a new contract / team change when all the I's have been dotted and T's crossed and the ink has dried. For the last two years, Roush-Fenway Racing has announced their driver lineup for the next season in July. This isn't as much of a "here's who are drivers will be" as it is "here's who WON'T be driving for us next year." In this case, Carl Edwards.

What this tells me is that Jack and the management team at RFR are too focused on these types of details when most teams wait a few more months to do so and are NOT focused on competition and putting themselves in the best position to win.

Supposedly, the RFR driver contracts include the provision that a driver currently under contract can't talk until September if they are making a change. By mandating this (if true,) from an employee and then one-upping (embarrassing) them by issuing a release that doesn't include that driver, it is yet another example of Jack's micro-management business philosophy. If Jack finds the need to micro-manage, then one of two things is true -- either he has the wrong people, or he's an insecure leader himself. 

Good luck, Carl. When you flip off the switches after Homestead, run -- don't walk -- away from RFR as fast as you can.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Cat In The Hat Needs To Catch A New Mouse

The contracts for both Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards with Roush-Fenway Racing (RFR) are set to expire at the end of this season.  Both drivers have acknowledged that preliminary discussions regarding possible extensions have begun, although it is not known (nor should it be) whether one or both drivers are most likely to re-sign with RFR or if they will drive elsewhere beginning in 2015.

Run, drivers.  Don't walk.  Get out of there.  Both of you.

Here's why:

Jack Roush, in my opinion, has a lousy track record of rewarding or reciprocating loyalty when it comes to his employees.  He also tends to exert too much control over what they can see, say or do, which has led to RFR's mediocre on-track performance in 2014.  

Go back to Mark Martin.  By all accounts, an excellent driver and loyal employee for many years.  Let's be honest - he put an awful lot of money in Jack's pocket over the years.  Mark's accomplishments are many.  But, when it came time to slow down and Mark expressed his desire to run only a part-time schedule, one sure would have thought Jack would have found a way to make it happen.  He didn't, so Mark went elsewhere.

The last time Carl's contract was up, RFR put on the full-court press to retain him when many in the garage area already had him leaving and going to Joe Gibbs' Racing.  It has been said that Ford was the catalyst in this deal, bringing additional and significant resources to the table to make it happen.  Two problems - first, why didn't RFR get this done on their own if Carl was that important to them and two, did RFR not realize how such a focus on one driver might sit with others.  Did anyone check with Matt Kenseth?

Matt Kenseth was also a loyal RFR driver for many years, but to punctuate the animosity he must have felt with Carl's last contract negotiation, he too left RFR after the 2012 season and has enjoyed success elsewhere.

So he's lost (either by design or his own hubris,) two of the Cup Series' top-name drivers in Martin and Kenseth in recent years.  Both drivers deserved better from him and RFR President Steve Newmark because of what those drivers have given to the organization during their careers.

Mr. Roush's arrogance and need to be in control is highlighted in a drop-in currently being aired on Sirius NASCAR Radio during re-joins to their programming.  Jack exclaims that "drivers aren't always aware of what the team is doing to optimize their deal."  This too is a serious problem -- why does he feel and require that his drivers are kept in the dark over such strategies and engineering accomplishments?  The fact that he seems to pride himself on his drivers not knowing everything that's going on is troubling - very troubling.

With Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and now Trevor Bayne under contract for full-time Cup Series' rides for 2015 and beyond, it's clear that younger is the future at RFR.  That's fine - but it is also indicative of the fact that it's time for Carl and Greg to leave and showcase their skills elsewhere.

So run, drivers.  You've done plenty for Jack.  What has he done for you?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

13th driver added to '13 Chase on Sept 13... good luck for someone !

"You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car, etc...."

Those words were spoken by talk-show hostess Oprah Winfrey in September of 2004 as she gave every member of her studio audience a new car on one episode.

Fast forward to NASCAR's Chase for the Cup, 2013 edition:

"You get a spot, and you get a spot, and you get a spot, etc...."

Oh well... I guess when Hendrick Motorsports calls NASCAR brass, the phone rings just a little bit louder.



Friday, September 13, 2013

The best is yet to come

I think the last ten races of 2013 have the potential to be some of this year's best yet, for a different reason -- the caliber of drivers who are NOT in the Chase.

That's right -- the caliber of drivers who are not in the Chase.

Any of the 12 drivers eligible for the Championship can win on any given weekend, and that's the reason they're in the Chase in the first place.  We know that they'll be "all in" each week to bring home a victory. 

However, this year probably yields the highest number of former Chase competitors and/or Chase contenders with something to prove:

Denny Hamlin:  Give him back the four races and the associated points he missed earlier this year due to injuries suffered at California, and he might just well be in the Top 12.  He has the same Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) equipment as do Kenseth and Kyle Busch, so we know that he can get the job done.  When you don't have anything to lose, look out.

Brad Keselowski:  For Brad, it all depends on which direction his momentum goes.  If he reverts back to the mid-summer slump that took him out of Chase contention, he'll be around, but wont' accomplish too much.  If, however, he has a Richmond-esque string of races, he will certainly look like the same BK that won last year's Championship.

Martin Truex, Jr.:  He's pissed.  He delivered gutsy, aggressive and workman-like performances the last two weeks at Atlanta and Richmond to drive his way into the Chase only to be penalized along with the rest of his Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) teammates and lose his spot within it.  To add insult to injury, he did nothing wrong.  He didn't (allegedly) spin his car intentionally to bring out a yellow-flag or collude within his own or other teams to manipulate the finishing order.  All he did was race.  Look for more of this, and look out.

Jeff Gordon:   He's really pissed.  He has every reason to be.  The actions of MWR and the suspicions about Penske Racing (PRS) and driver David Gilliland also in collusion to manipulate the finish cost him a spot in the Chase.  He feels he deserves to be in, and I don't disagree.  A man on a mission is a man possessed, and Jeff still has it.  Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) equipment doesn't hurt, either.

Also of note -- our last two series champions (Keselowski and Stewart) are not in the Chase this year.  IF (and that's a big "if") Jimmie Johnson continues his struggles, the men who have captured the last seven titles won't be around this year and we'll have our first Champion since 2004 who isn't named Stewart, Johnson or Keselowski.

Let's get back on the track and have at it, boys !!


Note:  Since this was originally written, NASCAR has added Jeff Gordon as a 13th Chase driver.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Oh my !

Today's entry will focus on the alleged collusion between David Gilliland (#38) and Joey Logano (#22) and how I think it is different from the actions taken by Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR.)

Quite simply, I view the 38/22 situation as two teams getting together and making a deal that was acceptable to both of them.  This happens ALL the time.  The only two teams involved, and the only two finishing positions affected were those of the 38 and 22.  As long as this was acceptable to both, what's the problem?

There's a LOT of "this is our situation, can 'ya help us out" talk among teams and spotters each race, why would we expect this to be any different ?

MWR's actions were done independently and affected others outside of that team.  That, in my opinion, is what made NASCAR deem those actions over-the-line and worthy of the penalties announced on Monday evening.

NASCAR has already taken a very unprecedented step this week by reacting to MWR's Richmond actions which have altered the Chase lineup after we thought it had been set on Saturday evening.  I don't think it wants to do so again.