User-agent: * Allow: / CH on Track: February 2011


Friday, February 25, 2011

Michael Waltrip no stranger to NASCAR penalties

NASCAR levied fines against Michael Waltrip's truck team following a bizarre failure of the spoiler on his truck causing many to question the legitimacy of his winning the race--the first official race for the Camping World Truck Series at Daytona.

Michael Waltrip is not a stranger to being fined at Daytona.

In this most recent event, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, Waltrip's last lap maneuver caused him to win the race. His post-race interview was, frankly, weird. Waltrip isn't a very good actor. He claimed he didn't know about the spoiler until he finished the race, but I am not so sure, given his behavior. Something wasn't quite right.

What resulted was clearly no surprise.

There are some conspiracy theorists that would gladly believe Waltrip's race win was intentionally staged. After all, there was plenty of hype surrounding the ten-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death. Waltrip won the 2001 Daytona 500, a race win marred by Earnhardt's death. 

Had Waltrip legitimately won the truck race, to honor Earnhardt's memory, it would have made a beautiful story. Instead, the story is clouded by controversy due to failed parts.

Was the win legitimate?

When Waltrip drove the #15 truck to victory, it was after a portion of the spoiler failed during the final laps of the race. Half of it was virtually non-existent. Only half a spoiler results in half the drag, possibly resulting in faster speeds. Was the spoiler the reason Waltrip was able to cruise past the #2 truck driven by Elliott Sadler on that last pass?

As a result, Waltrip's crew chief Doug Howe was fined $25,000 and put on probation until Dec. 31. Billy Ballew, who owns the Vision Aviation Racing Waltrip drove, was penalized 25 owner points. That doesn't sound like a lot, but under the new points system, it is comparable to 100 points last year. Waltrip did not lose driver points because he is not competing full time in the truck series. 

According to a NASCAR press release, the fines were said to violate three sections of the rule book:

  • 12-1 - actions detrimental to stock car racing;
  • 12-4-J - any determination by NASCAR Officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules;
  • 20B-3.1.2E - rear spoiler did not meet specifications in post-race inspection.

NASCAR officials confiscated the part for inspection and later ruled that it appeared to have failed. They claim none of the pieces were illegal, concluding that it does not appear the part was altered on purpose.

But what are race fans to think since this is like deja vu?

This is not the first time Michael Waltrip has incurred fines at the start of the racing season.

In the opening pages that marked the 2007 season, Michael Waltrip's new racing team failed pre-race inspection prior to the Duel races. At that time, NASCAR found an illegal substance in the engine that would boost the horsepower. They found him to be in violation of three rules:

  • 12-4-A - actions detrimental to stock car racing;
  • 12-4-Q - car, car parts components and/or equipment not conforming to NASCAR rules;
  • 20-15.2C - gasoline must not be blended with alcohols, ethers or other oxygenates.

He was fined 100 driver points; his wife Buffy who owned the car, was fined 100 owner points; his crew chief Larry Hyder was suspended indefinately and fined $100,000. Vice President of competition Bobby Kennedy was suspended indefinitely as well, according to past reports.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ryan Newman's U.S. Army sponsorship questioned

As our country struggles to put its own financial well-being back on track, some legislators question the spending of millions of dollars of public money devoted to the sponsorship of auto racing.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Army, spends $7.4 million to sponsor Ryan Newman. Another $8 million is devoted to recruiting efforts. 

In addition, the U.S. Air Force devotes $1.6 million to A. J. Almendinger's race team. The lion's share of funding, in the amount of $20 million goes to the National Guard team with the sport's most popular driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at the helm.

For now, funding cuts to these race teams have been spared, but this may not be the end of it. In its initial go around recently, the House voted 281-148 to stave off these cuts in military spending. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who proposed the initial amendment to ban Pentagon spending for NASCAR and other venues, has promised this is not the end of it. 

This proposal coupled with unrest about excessive government spending does not bode well for NASCAR's retention of its military sponsors.

Newman's team has other sponsors, and in time, there will likely be more, though businesses are struggling financially as well. Some of NASCAR's long-time sponsors have already begun cutting back.

Even so, having a name and company logo on a race car, particularly a winning race car, in front of millions of fans in the stands and on television is a pretty good use of advertising dollars.

Representatives from the U.S. Army have said as much. They have no qualms about the investment they make in NASCAR, stating that a third of 150,000 leads for new recruits originated from NASCAR. Their word may not be enough however, especially given this climate of slashing programs. Undoubtedly when NASCAR funding goes up against education and medical care cuts, it appears the handwriting is on the wall.

Rep. McCollum claims this discussion is over. 

Stewart-Haas Racing must continue to seek additional sponsorship for the #39 car, just in case the government insists on cutting funding. As a Ryan Newman fan, I don't want to see the #39 team suffer in any way for any reason. Newman has great potential, as evidenced by his Army strong spirit in this year's Daytona 500. He fought back to finish the race, despite heavy damage to his mangled race car. 

Driver dedication and ability is not all it takes to win races. It also takes good equipment. That costs money, so there has to be good financial commitments. I'm just not sure that will include public money for much longer.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ryan Newman shows grit at Daytona

There is no question that restrictor plate racing isn't a favorite of the #39 team. Ryan Newman has had more than his share of challenges on restrictor plate tracks like Daytona. 

Prior to Sunday's opening 2011 season race, Newman's crew chief Tony Gibson commented to Scene Daily about his expectations. 

"If we can come out of there with a solid top-20 finish, then we know our mile-and-a-half program has been good; our short–track program has been good,” Gibson said. “The rest of our season is great. It’s just the darn restrictor-plate races that we can’t seem to get through.

“We finally finished one [plate] race, and that was the last Talladega race. Up until then, we had not finished a restrictor-plate race in almost two years. You just can’t give up those points, because there are 12 other guys [in Chase contention] that aren’t going to have those problems. When we made the Chase in 2009, we had a problem at Daytona, we wrecked, but we didn’t’ have those problems from there on out.

“For us, it’s all about coming out of Daytona with a decent finish. If we can start our season out good, the rest of the season will be fine.”

While Newman's finish was slightly short of the team's expectations, his was a decent finish, given the circumstances. 

Even some bad luck at the end can't take away from Newman's stellar performance in the first 186 laps of the 200-lap race. Newman's car was fast, both in and out of the draft. He led laps. 

In fact, he led 37 laps, the highest number of anyone in the field. 

Newman finished in 22nd place Sunday, eaking out 24 points. 

What was more important than race stats, Newman showed his grit. After the first wreck he got caught up in, Newman came back to make his way up to the 10th position. Then another wreck causing heavy damage to the #39 car. Gibson announced they were done because the radiator was involved. 

"Just put some water in it and let me get back out there," Newman said as he coaxed his car to the finish.

Newman and Stewart-Haas Racing can be proud of what Newman accomplished in the 53rd running of the Daytona 500. 

Newman's performance in the Budweiser Shootout was also worth noting. There too, he was oh-so-close to taking the checkered flag with leading laps and a 3rd place finish. 

Now, it is on to Phoenix, the track that scored Newman's most recent win. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Safety measures are not causing fans to leave NASCAR.

The idea that steps toward ensuring safety following the death of Dale Earnhardt 10 years ago is responsible for the recent loss of fans in the grandstands and on television, is preposterous.

I heard that allegation on Good Morning America Sunday, complete with a comment from Brad Keselowski to back it up. I could hardly believe my ears.

This is disturbing on two main levels.

First, it would be hideous to think that people's enjoyment of racing is geared toward the potential death of a driver.

Mayhem is still a part of racing. Drivers still take risks. Accidents may add to the appeal of the sport, but when the driver walks away unscathed, that is the thrill. While people cavalierly admit they enjoy racing because of the danger, it is certainly not because anyone wants to see a drivers' life in jeopardy.

The other reason that more and better safety measures deterring fan interest is preposterous is because there are plenty of reasons to dislike what NASCAR has become.

Fans are turned off because of too many arbitrary rules, too many television commercials, an emphasis to put on a show rather than race in competition, the high cost of tickets, the endless emphasis on dollars over racing, a lack of diversity in the sport, distance from its stock-car racing legacy.

Making racing safer is one of the things NASCAR has done right.

Wherever this idea originated, put it to rest now. Safety has not deterred fans.

Monday, February 14, 2011

More Ryan Newman media bashing

Ryan Newman is not arrogant! Why the media bashing? 

I get frustrated and annoyed when I read articles, like this one, attached. 

First, the writer, Joe Menzer of, attacks Ryan Newman, insinuating that he is arrogant because Newman has a degree in engineering. He says he talks down to questioners. Then he turns around and says there is no better source for an answer to his question than Newman.

How rude!

Perhaps Joe Menzer doesn't have a sense of humor. 

I've listened to Ryan's interviews for years, when the press bothers to ask something of him, that is. I have long complained that Newman is interviewed far less than other drivers. 

There are two things about Ryan Newman. 

First, he is smart, but he doesn't hold that over anyone's head. He tries to be helpful. I've been a reporter too. Generally, when you ask the question, you already know the answer. 

Newman is the kind of person others can learn from. He shares his knowledge with whoever cares enough to ask.

Secondly, Newman has a sense of humor. 

Admittedly, his isn't the kind of humor that just anyone gets. Personally, I think he's very funny. Many of Newman's jokes are over people's head. Perhaps that is what Menzer meant. 

At any rate, I didn't appreciate the negative comments atop a very positive story that proves Newman's smarts.

Wrecks ... and effects

Accidents to be expected, but keeping cars stuck to track of utmost importance

By Joe Menzer, NASCAR.COM
February 14, 2011 12:04 PM, EST

Leave it to Ryan Newman to cut to the core of the issue.
Always quick to remind everyone that he earned an engineering degree (Vehicle Structure Engineering, to be precise) from Purdue University, Newman sometimes has a way of talking down to questioners. He just can't help himself, forgetting that said questioners wouldn't be asking him questions in the first place if they knew as much as he did.


If the cars get airborne at 140, we'd better not cross 139 -- so I don't know what that number is. I don't know if there is a true number out there, but if we were doing 212 and the cars were safe and we could keep them on the ground, then that's fine with me.

But on the topic of what's happening at Daytona International Speedway right now, there really is no better source and there were no wiser words spoken by anyone else in the aftermath of last Saturday night's Bud Shootout victory for Kurt Busch. Working almost exclusively in two-car drafts much of the night -- as expected -- but for much longer stretches and at much higher speeds than anyone anticipated, Busch's No. 22 Dodge edged Newman's No. 39 Chevrolet and others at the finish line in the non-points event that officially kicked off the 2011 Sprint Cup season.

For safety reasons, and also because going faster could affect insurance policies some tracks have in place, NASCAR has long strived to keep top speeds below 200 miles per hour. Last Saturday night at Daytona, however, cars were clocked going as fast as 206 mph.

That raised a legitimate question. How fast is too fast?
Newman was ready with a legitimate answer.

"One ninety-five [mph] versus 206.5, I don't know that you could feel it," he said. "But I've always said the most important thing is we keep the race cars on the race track. So whatever we've worked on with our liftoff speed, if the car is going backwards, sideways, whatever else to keep the cars down, that's what NASCAR needs to focus on for making the race safe.
"If the cars get airborne at 140, we'd better not cross 139 -- so I don't know what that number is. I don't know if there is a true number out there, but if we were doing 212 and the cars were safe and we could keep them on the ground, then that's fine with me."
NASCAR's response

It didn't take NASCAR long to respond to Saturday's high-speed action. They mandated subtle technical changes to the cars on Sunday that most of us neither fully understand nor care about.

Once again, Newman was right about that. Most fans and media don't want to hear a whole lot about all the technical mumbo-jumbo that make these cars go fast -- or about all the technical mumbo-jumbo that is supposed to slow them down when they go too fast. They just want to see a good show. They also want to see a show that is safe without seeming so, one that pushes the boundaries just to the edge of real danger somehow without crossing it.

It's one of the complex appeals of racing, and the one that is the most difficult to attain. It is the proverbial fine line, and NASCAR walks it every day of every season.

Asked about why a two-car draft suddenly is working so well on the newly repaved Daytona track following Saturday's Shootout, Newman deadpanned to the assembled media: "You want the technical answer? Sometimes you guys don't want that, so I'm asking."

Then, as everyone chuckled, he added: "I can make some stuff up and you might believe me."

He went on to politely explain why the two-car draft works, and how. Try to stay with him for it.

"The front car gets the clean air, the motor," he explained. "The back car takes the air off the front car's spoiler. Even though he gets the air taken out of his motor, he's still pushing the car in front of him and he's getting that help. If there was that third car, he basically doesn't have the air in the column to help propel him forward, so the front car has got the biggest motor, the second car is just helping push along -- and the way the drag works out, even going through the corners you can just barely feel the car behind you kind of tap you sometimes. It's right there."

See, that wasn't too bad. Most of us even understand it.
But doing it at 206 mph is too fast, and NASCAR was right to react to it by making some changes that they hope will slow things down just a little for this Sunday's Daytona 500. As romantic as running above that 200 mph line is -- Kurt Busch called it "fun as hell" and many fans are enamored with it -- it's flirting with disaster.

Smart to slow down
Defending Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray said prior to Sunday's announcement of changes that he expected them and "there's not going to be anybody upset because it's not going to make the racing any different if you make the runs you get at 199 or 206. You can't feel a difference, and it's not going to change anything for anyone."

It might, however, make just enough of a difference if someone gets turned sideways in the wrong place. Saturday night's race featured a field of 24 that included mostly the best and most experienced stock-car drivers in the business. Sunday's Daytona 500 will feature a full field of 43 cars and some drivers who are unfamiliar with the full scope of the biggest event in NASCAR, not to mention without much of a clue about the nuances of properly executing this new two-car draft.
That means there could be a wreck at the highest of speeds if someone bobbles down a straightaway -- as opposed to Saturday's only melees coming at lower speeds in the corners when, for one reason or another, the bump drafting in the two-car trains got off-kilter and sent some cars spinning off into the night.

Spinning off into the night is OK and expected. Flying through the air in recent years during races at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway has become all too expected, but is, as Newman and others have long argued, unacceptable.

"Ultimately the cars have to stay on the ground for it to be safe," Newman said. "We're going to have crashes, we're going to bounce off the safety barriers, guys are going to blow tires. It's racing. But the car staying on the ground is what is the most important thing."

Maybe there never will be a way to completely ensure that cars going at high speeds and getting hit inadvertently from behind or the side will stay on the ground at these race tracks. But one thing is for sure: until someone thinks they've solved that problem, having the cars go faster and faster wouldn't be smart. More importantly, it wouldn't be safer.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
The End

Sunday, February 13, 2011

NASCAR's first race of 2011 did not disappoint

NASCAR's first Sprint Cup race of the season at Daytona--the Budweiser Shootout--was at times heart-stopping. 

I admit I may be less than objective when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing my favorite driver at the front of the field at the end of the race. It was good to see Ryan Newman's #39 WIX Chevrolet out in front and ever so close to winning the race. A third place finish at Daytona is almost as good.

Congratulations Kurt Busch for the win.

While I'm not sure I would like a season filled with tandem-racing at breakneck speeds, this style of racing is unique to Daytona. This was the first race of its kind--with only 75 laps--so it is difficult to fully determine its appeal. A true assessment will likely become obvious after Thursday's Duels and Sunday's Daytona 500.

The negatives: An individual driver must depend on someone else because no one car is as fast as when another is pushing it. I believe this harkens back to NASCAR's strict mandate that all cars must be created equal. I would much prefer the old days when a team could devise and institute its own advantages without the prying eyes of a sanctioning body ready to pounce on violations. In addition to a fast race car, I believe overall racing success should include strategy and full utilization of technological advancements.

Racing is an individual sport, whether it be a single driver or a single team. This type of racing compromises that concept. Since no single car is as fast as it is with a buddy pushing, this type of racing negates that individuality. I believe that jeopardizes the purity of the competition based on the individual prowess of the driver and his team.

The positives: Speeds of 206 mph make for a pretty exciting spectacle. The concentration and focus needed by drivers to drive in this fashion tests these athletes as much as any racing competition.

An emphasis is placed on teamwork through the drivers' reliance on his spotter.

This style of racing is far superior to watching cars line up in 40-car packs,  driving around in circles until the last few laps when all hell breaks loose.

In conclusion, I did enjoy Saturday's Bud Shootout, but then it was the first actual cup race of the 2011 season. They probably could have driven backwards and I would have enjoyed it.

I look forward to Thursday, and especially to Sunday. I'm hoping for a good season for Newman and his #39 team.