User-agent: * Allow: / CH on Track: May 2012


Friday, May 18, 2012

Congress may kill NASCAR's military sponsorships

NASCAR may fall victim to the government's effort to whittle its spending. 

The House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the defense authorization bill Thursday that would prohibit military sponsorships in NASCAR and other sporting venues. If the bill is signed into law with the amendment in-tact, it would directly impact NASCAR's most popular driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who relies on the National Guard to partially sponsor his car; Ryan Newman's #39 U.S. Army Car; and Aric Amirola's Air Force sponsorship. All of the armed forces over the years have participated in NASCAR sponsorship.

House Republicans are in budget-slashing mode. 

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, followed his party line when he offered the amendment to ban the pentagon's spending for NASCAR sponsorships. It is ironic that such a proposal would come from a congressman from the south, where NASCAR originated and still holds a high ranking. There is an tendency for NASCAR fans to be the God  and guns crowd, evidenced by the opening prayer before each race, and a preponderance of right-wing politicians who often times make an appearance in front of the camera on race day.

Kingston seems to think NASCAR fans will understand the cost-cutting measure, though he may underestimate their loyalty to the sport. Already Earnhardt, Jr. has invited Kingston to the track to learn more about how sponsorship benefits the military.

Kingston's bill is bi-partisan, and is co-sponsored by Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, who attempted to ban the NASCAR funding last year, but failed. See my previous postRyan Newman's U.S. Army sponsorship questioned.

In 2010, not only were race teams sponsored by the military, but congressional earmarks provided perks to NASCAR track owners. 

Irreparable harm to Ryan Newman.

If the defense cuts remain in-tact, it could complicate what appears to be Ryan Newman's already tenuous sponsorship position at Stewart-Haas Racing. Just last week, the public learned that co-owner Tony Stewart told Newman he was free to pursue other options at the end of this, the final year of his contract, if sponsorship for his race car for 2013 was not settled. Stewart did say he wanted Newman back next year.

I can only hope that Stewart's remarks were based on prior knowledge of the potential loss of the U.S. Army's sponsorship status. I'd hate to think Stewart learned about this funding situation on top of an existing problem. Stewart said at the time that Newman's team had not been fully funded during the three years he has raced for Stewart-Haas Racing. Co-owner Gene Haas of Haas Automation picked up the unfunded races. Stewart-Haas is a fledgeling company co-owned by Stewart, who also performs as a driver, for which he has earned his third championship. Stewart and Newman are personal friends, which has to complicate this situation.

As a Ryan Newman fan, I'm torn

As a Newman fan, it is hard to imagine Newman not driving for Stewart-Haas, should the worst case scenario actually occur. I admit that I had some reservations when Stewart announced the U.S. Army would sponsor Newman's race team. I am a big Newman fan, but I am also a taxpayer whose personal budget is much more precarious than that of the country. This presents a real dilemma for me. I'm sure others feel the same way. I am torn between wanting to see Newman on the track, with the best equipment, winning races. But there is also that ill feeling I get when I think about my tax dollars helping to support  multi-million dollar race teams. As much as I adore Ryan Newman, affording to live must take precedence over my enjoyment of watching Newman race. 

Money is reality

Newman is a racer; motivated by his life-long love of racing. I do not believe money is what drives him, so it is ironic and very sad that money and ultimately the sponsorship of his race team must now take a high profile in his career. It is also sad that money has to play a part of my enjoyment in watching him race. I would hate to see Newman have to settle for a less than superior race team or equipment. He's one of the best and works for one of the best. I cannot imagine what his options are, because he is in such a good place right where he is. Yet, I understand Stewart's position as well. I am just hopeful that one of the gazillion products we see and use every day will pony up to get their name plastered all over the #39 car. Perhaps I will start writing a few letters. 

By the way, it was great to see Bass Pro Shops on Newman's car at Darlington. Could there be a better fit for Ryan Newman than Bass Pro Shops?

In addition, there is always Cabelas or Lowrance, Ranger Boats, Triton Boats, Evinrude, Mercury Marine or a myriad other companies that have to do with fishing and hunting, which Newman enjoys so much. Then there are his other interests, like Iams, Purina, Eukanuba, and other companies that might want to support not just his racing venture, but his other interests as well.

Newman has done plenty to promote his favorite products Perhaps it is time for them all to return the favor.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Could Ryan Newman find himself a free agent again?

Strong effort gives Newman, Army team 7th-plac...

Will Ryan Newman drive for Stewart-Haas Racing next year?

There have been hints that the unthinkable--Ryan with a different race team--could become reality, if permanent sponsorship for Newman's race team isn't found. Tony Stewart has apparently told Ryan that he is free to keep his options open. Newman's contract expires at the end of this season. SB Nation reported that Stewart wants to keep Ryan as his teammate, but that in the three years Newman has been at Stewart-Haas, his races have never been fully funded. Haas Automation, owned by Gene Haas, the team owner, has picked up the races that remained without a sponsor. Various companies have offered sponsorship for a limited number of races, but no one sponsor exists for the entire racing schedule.

I admit--I didn't see this one coming.

The added pressure of uncertainty about next year might explain the underlying frustration affecting the #39 team. It is difficult to say, however, because the #39 team's performance hasn't been up to its usual caliber either. The question then is, did frustration affect the team's performance or did poor performance result in the team's frustration?

There have been 11 races run so far in the 2012 season. With one win, two top 5's and three top 10's, the team's average finish was only 16.5. Of those, one was a DNF (did not finish) when an engine blew at Talladega early into the race.

Newman had a rough start to the season, finishing 21st at Daytona and Phoenix. At Las Vegas though, he finished 4th, followed by a 12th place finish at Bristol and 7th place at California and the win at Martinsville. Since that time though, there have been issues.

Newman was in the position to win at Martinsville, but he pulled it off by capitalizing on mistakes made by Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmy Johnson.

At Texas, Johnson complained that Newman was racing him too hard. See: Still complaining? Give me a break Jimmy Johnson. Newman finished 21st. At Kansas Newman made an unscheduled pit stop to change tires. He was unable to advance further than a 20th place finish. Newman eaked out a 15th place finish at Richmond, despite an ill-handling race car. Engine troubles ended the race for the #39 team early at Talladega. Darlington resulted in a 23rd place finish, thanks in part to a crash late in the race.

It was at Darlington that an incident involving Kurt Busch has brought further frustration to the race team.

Busch crashed his Phoenix Racing Team #51 car late in the race. As part of that incident, Newman checked up to avoid hitting him, causing Newman to get hit from behind, sending his #39 car spinning into the inside wall.

While Newman was on the track, Busch allegedly did a burnout through Newman's pit box, while the crew was still on pit road, which could have compromised the safety of some of the crew members from the #39 team. Following the race, #39 team members went looking for Busch.

As a result of his actions, Busch was fined $50,000 by NASCAR and put on probation, for wreckless driving. One of his crew members was fined $5,000 and put on probation until Dec. 31 for interfering with a cameraman. In the melee that followed, NASCAR fined Newman's gas man Andrew Rueger $5,000. He too was put on probation as was Newman's Crew Chief who according to NASCAR should be responsible for the team's actions.

Again, I'm stunned. I felt that Stewart-Haas Racing, Tony Stewart, and Ryan Newman were an excellent fit.

I just can't help but wonder about the timing of this "sponsorship" issue, which has never been a problem. There was always a non-committal, almost lackadaisical attitude about it.

I can't help but wonder, in revisiting the above story about Jimmy Johnson crying over Newman racing him too hard. When I was researching articles to write about Johnson, I came across one that indicated that Tony Stewart was in a tenable position because Jimmy Johnson has such a good relationship with Rick Hendrick.

Not only was the racing incident at issue, but the fact that Johnson or Gordon didn't win the 200th race for Hendrick; Newman won instead.

Hendrick does supply engines and parts for Stewart-Haas Racing. I dismissed it at the time, but is it possible that the writer knew something the rest of us didn't? I assumed that Stewart would never throw Newman under the bus to keep Hendrick happy. But now I am starting to wonder.

Related articles

Monday, May 7, 2012

Is NASCAR trying to commit suicide?

Talladega Racing not up to snuff!
I've been searching my soul, trying to figure out why I was so annoyed during Sunday's NASCAR race at Talladega.

Talladega has always been one of my favorite tracks, and not in anticipation of the 'big one' either. The racing was always exciting. Not this time! 

At first I thought I was just upset because Ryan Newman had engine troubles early on. Being a die hard Newman fan, my first inclination was to simply believe that Newman's absence on the giant oval was what bugged me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that was only part of it. 

What was really responsible for wrecking (no pun intended) the racing at Talladega was NASCAR. 

I may be in the minority, but I rather enjoyed tandem racing. It was exciting, frenzied. I watched some of the best drivers in the world, knowing there was no way I could ever do that. I always listen to the race scanner to supplement what I don't see on television. So much more goes on--than ever gets shown on the broadcast. And then there are the numerous commercial breaks. The scanner is almost mandatory to follow racing. I love Race Buddy, but why provide something for free when there is money to be made. I'm sure getting us hooked on Race Buddy was just a teaser to entice us to buy NASCAR's Trackview. Don't they make enough money? 

The need for a scanner is especially true for people like me--Newman fans. Fans of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. could just listen to the commentators who seem to fall all over themselves to talk about Junior's progress on the track, even if he's a lap down. Don't they see that kind of bias isn't fair to anyone; but it is especially unfair to Earnhardt. It puts undue pressure on him to perform, which in turn makes it more difficult to perform. 

Tandem racing still exists, no thanks to NASCAR. Their first effort to quash it was to end the communication among the drivers. Why in the name of safety did NASCAR do that? It seems that no matter what, drivers are going to pair up. It is just safer for them if they can talk to one another. Having to use hand signals isn't optimum at 200 mph. Besides, what is the point when drivers can still hook up through their crew chiefs and spotters? When you come right down to it, the same situation exists, but through a third party. Doesn't that compromise safety to add another voice to the mix? 

Tandem racing to me, was the innovation drivers came up with--to speed around the track as fast as possible, to get to the finish line first, which is their job. They do everything they can do to increase their speed around the track, which is probably an unconscious effort to bypass NASCAR's initial Talladega change, the restrictor plate.

Possibly the worst offense was altering the allowable size to the opening on the radiator, restricting the amount of air that gets to cool the engine, already running hot because of the weather and the other changes NASCAR has implemented. Drivers should watch the race track, not their own gauges. 

NASCAR's continual interference results in new rules, changes in existing rules, and policy alterations, all in its effort to control the racing. Why don't they let the drivers control the racing? I bet drivers have very little say if any. 

Debris cautions, competition cautions; scoring loops; start boxes; too fast entering, and exiting; changes in equipment between practice and qualifying, and the latest, a less than perfect restart; commentators have to explain what is going on. Funny, there are times even they don't understand it. 

Remember the boys have it it, and then secret fines when they did? NASCAR seems to be all about rules, infractions, last-minute changes, and so many other things that contribute to changing the face of racing. It has gotten to the point that what occurs on Sunday afternoon is barely recognizable as racing anymore. If I am frustrated, I can only imagine how the drivers feel. But then, they are compensated handsomely to ignore their aggravations. My only recourse is to find something else to do on Sunday afternoon. 

Today, racing is more about strategy, engineering cars that are all the same without getting caught, perfect pit stops, pleasing sponsors, fuel mileage, making favorite drivers look good, and on, and on, and on. How is this racing? 

I've talked to other people--NASCAR fans from back in the day--who tell me they haven't watched a race in years because of how annoying it has become. Commercials are broadcast almost continually--even during green flag racing. How many time have incidents on the track had to be explained through replays because they occurred during a commercial break?

NASCAR is all about the money--we know that. But stop shoving it in our faces and down our throats. Isn't it enough that the cars and drivers 'wear' commercials on their bodies? Do we really have to watch Michael Waltrip shake his butt in the NAPA commercial over and over again during the course of a race. I assure you, once would suffice.

If NASCAR wonders why the stands aren't always full and television ratings aren't what they would like them to be, perhaps the best solution for NASCAR would be to take a hands off approach. Otherwise, NASCAR might have to list itself on its own cause of death.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Seeking opinion: Jeremy Mayfield innocent or guilty

One of the saddest stories in NASCAR is that of former driver Jeremy Mayfield.

At one time, Mayfield had it all. He was a golden boy who brought home six-figure paychecks each week. Today, he not only has lost his job, but his home has been foreclosed upon. He could even lose his freedom as he faces new drug charges.
Jeremy Mayfield
Jeremy Mayfield (Photo credit: nascar20guy)

It is all about illegal drugs. It is about NASCAR. It is about the justice system which is seemingly skewed in favor of those who can afford to win. It is about the secrecy, lawyers, confidentiality, and clout. It means that the general public should not take sides without knowing all the facts. And the facts are purposefully kept from the public, a practice I abhor.

There are clearly two sides to this story; neither of which is probably completely true. This is a case that reconciles my belief that truth is in the eye of the beholder. It illustrates another of my long subscribed beliefs; in our system of justice, there are no winners. Everybody who participates loses something.

There are times that we may never really learn the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sometimes it comes out in the end; but often times the truth is never fully revealed.

Prior to May 2009, Jeremy Mayfield was a NASCAR driver; he won races. He was suspended by NASCAR indefinitely that year for failing a drug test. NASCAR claimed Mayfield was a methamphetamine user. Headlines screamed across the country about Mayfield's alleged substance abuse. NASCAR did away with him, allegedly, to protect the the other drivers, and of course the purity of the sport. Many other factors led up to this final action.

Yet Mayfield alleges that the drug test he failed was due to over-the-counter medication he was taking that  produced a false test result. He sued NASCAR to get his job back and to set the record straight. He lost because he signed a waiver that precluded his ability to sue the sanctioning body. So, he planned to appeal.

In the latest twist, Mayfield has decided not to pursue the appeal. He says he didn't use illegal drugs. His wife Shana, remains by his side and continues to proclaim her husband's innocence.

Since the initial complaint, a series of other incidents have occurred; none of which put Mayfield in a positive light, while NASCAR came out of it smelling like a rose. Going back to my theory about no winners in the legal system, I can't help but be suspicious of such a one-sided outcome.

Either Jeremy Mayfield is a drug-crazed maniac that deserves to be removed from society much the way he was removed from the race track, or he is a victim--much like a government whistle-blower--someone who take on the most powerful and become a hero in the process.

Both scenarios could have merit. Let's face it, Mayfield was clearly the little guy--the David against Goliath. NASCAR is a fiefdom that rarely, if ever admits when it makes a mistake. Rarely does the media side with David. It is so much easier to take information from Goliath.

Even I have questioned some of NASCAR's actions, such as its imposing secret fines, its seemingly unfair rulings, inconsistent treatment of certain drivers, overall bias in race coverage, to name a few.

NASCAR is obsessed with its image and anything that negatively affects its bottom line, no matter what. NASCAR uses all its resources to head off bad publicity. Conversely, outlandish accusations made against NASCAR often come from eccentric fans who have little or no credibility, inspired by a less-than-desired outcome for their favorite driver in a given race.

But, imagine, what if NASCAR made a mistake in accusing Mayfield three years ago? What if all this time Mayfield has simply been trying to clear his name? Perhaps he thought he was doing the right thing, but NASCAR merely saw him as a threat to their brand. Is Mayfield a drug user and abuser or is he a victim of a powerful controlling force.

I admit--I have no answers--just questions. I'm not qualified to even take a side here because there is just too much speculation. I suppose time will tell, although I reiterate--time will likely not tell all.

This is just one example of why secrecy is so harmful. It leaves room--no it encourages--speculation. It hurts both sides.

I'd love to hear what others have to say about this case. Feel free to comment. Is Jeremy Mayfield innocent or guilty? What part has NASCAR played in Mayfield's troubles?