Let 1 driver share the sensation of racing with you

Should any NASCAR driver hear AJ Allmendinger explain what it’s like to run in the Indianapolis 500 and see the smile that creases his face, it would be a wonder why Kurt Busch might be the only Sprint Cup driver to attempt to run that race.

Busch said Monday that there’s a 70 percent chance he’ll run in this year’s Indianapolis 500. Should he do it, he would become the first driver since Robby Gordon in 2004 to run the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.

Allmendinger ran in the Indy 500 for the first time last year. He started fifth, overcame a poor start, led 23 laps and finished seventh.

Even now, the sensation of running that race remains with Allmendinger.

“When I took the lead, I couldn’t believe how I felt,’’ he said. “I was shaking in the car for five laps. It was hard for me to concentrate.’’

He says adding to the significance of the moment was how he fell so far back in the pack early in the race after starting on the second row.

“I had the world’s worst start ever from the second row,’’ he said. “Running back in 25th and you’re fighting dirty air and you smell the fumes of the gas and everything feels like it’s going by at a thousand miles an hour.

“All of a sudden, you take the lead and it’s like you pull a tear-off and everything is clear. It’s like almost everything becomes quiet because there are no cars around you. You could see the crowd. It’s hard for me to explain. I couldn’t believe for five laps, I was shaking. I was like, “Wow, settle down.’ God, it’s such a surreal feeling. I’ll never forget how that felt. That feeling at that moment was nothing I’ve ever felt before.’’

That, in an essence, is why drivers race. For such feelings they can’t get elsewhere.

 

#NASCAR … Here’s a look at who will take part in Daytona Cup test this week

Here’s a look at who will be participating in the Sprint Cup test Thursday and Friday at Daytona International Speedway (and who will not be testing).

BK Racing — Ryan Truex and Alex Bowman

BKR — Brian Keselowski

Circle Sport — Landon Cassill

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing — Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson

FAS — Reed Sorenson

Germain Racing — Casey Mears

Hendrick — Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth

Leavine Family Racing — Michael McDowell

MWR — Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip and Jeff Burton

NEMCO — Joe Nemechek

Penske Racing — Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano

Phoenix Racing — Justin Allgaier and Bobby Labonte

RCR — Austin Dillon, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman and Brian Scott (No. 33)

RPM — Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose

Roush – Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stewart-Haas Racing — Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Mark Martin (for Tony Stewart)

Swan Racing — Cole Whitt and Parker Kligerman

Tommy Baldwin Racing — Michael Annett

Wood Brothers — Trevor Bayne

Front Row Motorsports — NOT TESTING

Furniture Row Racing — NOT TESTING

JTG Daugherty — NOT TESTING

Phil Parsons Racing — NOT TESTING

 

Not everything that happens in Vegas should stay there. Here’s what you might have missed

The more I hear about Monday’s test at Charlotte (weather permitting), the more I’m looking forward to it.

More than 20 cars are expected. Word is that NASCAR is looking to have the cars run multiple 40-lap “races’’ to get a better sense of how they’ll react with the various changes series officials are considering for next season.

Among the things NASCAR will consider are a tall spoiler, changes to the splitter and some other aero changes. I’ve also heard that NASCAR will take another look at a wicker bill atop the roof. Series officials tried it in October and it didn’t seem to have the desired impact. Another thing NASCAR will look at is slowing the cars slightly. They’ve looked at tapered spacers. They also could get similar results by adjustments to the throttle body.

Many drivers say they’re trying to keep an open mind to the changes. The biggest issue, though, could be weather. The forecast for Monday calls for a 70 percent chance of rain. If that happens, teams will test Tuesday, but the forecast for that day calls for 50 percent chance of rain.

# Kevin Harvick said that the smoke damage from the fire in his home before Thanksgiving was greater than first thought. Harvick said he and his family likely won’t be able to return to their home for four to six months because of the damage.

As for the fire, Harvick said: “The floor joists underneath the fireplace caught on fire, in between the downstairs ceiling and the upstairs floor. We couldn’t really find the fire. It was basically just sitting between the two floors getting bigger and bigger. When we walked downstairs there was probably 3 feet of smoke from top to bottom from one end of the house to another. If you haven’t checked you’re fire alarm lately, go check because it saved our house and all our stuff.’’

# Kevin Harvick had a nice line in his speech toward Richard Childress, saying: “Even though we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, I honestly appreciate you allowing me to be the person I am.’’

# If you missed it, host Jay Mohr was sharp during Friday’s banquet. His monologue took aim at several drivers. A number of those lampooned later told the media they had fun with Mohr’s comments and even a few poked back in their speeches to him.

Kyle Busch came out relatively unscathed and mentioned that to Mohr at one point. Mohr told Busch he had a joke about the Las Vegas native that was axed from the show. Busch tried to get Morh to tell the joke during the show but it didn’t happen.

Here are some of Mohr’s jokes during his monologue:

“It’s great to be back hosting the show again. The last time I was here was seven years ago and Jimmie Johnson, by coincidence was celebrating his first championship and we also were celebrating the birth of Joey Logano.’’

“You cannot have a Sprint Cup chase without Jeff Gordon … apparently,’’

“When the Chase first started, there were 10 drivers and then they expended it to 12 and now 13. There are more people in the Chase than there are Kardashians.’’

“Sadly one driver will no longer be a part of the Chase and that, of course, will be Mark Martin. Mark Martin retired again. Good God, man, make up your mind Mark. Are you in or you out? This guy retires and unretires more times than Brett Favre and Cher combined.

To Matt Kenseth, Mohr said: “Personally, I think you would have won the whole thing if you hadn’t spent so much time in the pits. I don’t know how long that pit stop at Phoenix was exactly, but I’m pretty sure it takes less time to sign up for Obamacare.

“Danica, I hope you are not too uncomfortable tonight — I know you’re not used to being this close to the front.’’

“That’s a wacky relationship when you wreck your boyfriend in a race. Ricky, let me give you a little advice guy to guy, the next time your girlfriend asks you, “Does this firesuit make me look fat,’ just say no.’’

“Ricky (Stenhouse) knows what we all know — sometimes the guy just has to step aside and let the woman lead … just ask Kevin Harvick.’’

“Kevin (Harvick) is moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and he’s getting right to work. He’s already asking Gene Haas if he has a grandson he can fire.’’

“Speaking of Clint Bowyer, how’s that poison oak treating you my brother? I guess I’m not the only bad actor here. Seriously, Clint congratulations on your engagement. You’re going to be great at marriage since you’re already really good at apologizing for things you may or may not have done.’’

“Brad Keselowski is here tonight. Brad Keselowski had just a great, great season. I’m sorry. That one was left over from last year’s show.’’

“Jimmie (Johnson), I think I speak for every driver in the room when I say take a year off. Or do what Jeff Gordon did, win four and then quit.’’

# Even though he’s done it many times, Dale Earnhardt Jr., says it’s never easy to give a speech at the banquet.

“You never get used to going up there,’’ he said. “The most nervous I get during the season is when we go to qualify. For some reason, it’s worse than the races. I think it’s healthy to be nervous. Getting on stage is definitely worse than qualifying. We just don’t do it enough to get comfortable with it.

“Every time you come to the banquet … it’s even bigger and better. You can’t get used to the way things are because they’re always growing and getting better. They’ve got some great entertainers. Dierks (Bentley) is great. I was happy to see John Mellencamp, I never thought I’d see him play so that was a real treat. I was a fan of his growing up.’’

# Rick Hendrick took a moment during his speech to send a message to Tony Stewart, saying: “We miss you buddy. We’re looking for you back at Daytona.’’

# With Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer recently getting engaged, Kurt Busch was asked if he might be next. Busch said: “Engagement is a possibility. Everything in life has its moments when it tells you it is right. Patricia is a very lovely lady and has turned my life in a better direction.’’

# It was a busy week in Vegas, having arrived Tuesday morning to attend a motorsports marketing forum for a couple of days and then getting into the activities of Champion’s Week. Here’s a few things that stood out:

  1. Marty Smith of ESPN needs to keep hosting the After The Lap program. He did a great job getting drivers to open up and share stories from memorable times in the NASCAR hauler to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s eBay addiction and more. That’s certainly developed into quite a fan event.
  2. NBC has done quite well so far with naming Rick Allen as its lead announcer and Jeff Burton as the driver analyst in the booth. Word is NBC will have a three-man booth and that other person likely will be a crew chief. One guy that I think would be great for it would be Steve Letarte, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief. Of course, Letarte is a little busy with his other job, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Letarte move to TV some day when he’s through with serving as a crew chief.
  3. I like that Brian France says he’s going to be at Monday’s test at Charlotte. I hate that the weather doesn’t look promising. Look, Brian doesn’t need to be at every test or every race – that’s the jobs of Mike Helton and Robin Pemberton – but sometimes it’s just presents a good image to see the sport’s leader more visible. This is a good step.
  4. I’ve said it before but I hope NASCAR is able to bring Jay Mohr back to the banquet to host. No, not every joke was a winner, but he had people laughing (and groaning). Without Mohr, we wouldn’t have seen that shot of Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sitting stone-faced as Mohr told jokes about them. Hey, a lot of drivers said they enjoyed Mohr and took his ribbing for what it was.
  5. There’s no doubt the sport misses Tony Stewart. It’s good to hear him say that his recovery is slightly ahead of schedule. With the way this sport has so many feel-good stories, couldn’t you just see Stewart winning his first Daytona 500 in February in his first points race since suffering his broken leg in August? Could see that happening.
  6. I’m good with much of the changes for the Hall of Fame process. I’m a voter. I like reducing the number of nominees from 25 to 20, although it will make my job more difficult I suspect. I really like how they adjusted the driver eligibility standards, which allows Mark Martin, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte, among others, to become eligible now even if they continue to drive.
  7. Do you realize that Daytona testing is only about a month away? Really. Cup cars test Jan. 9-10. Nationwide tests Jan. 11-12 and Trucks are there Jan. 13-14.

 

NASCAR was wrong not to red flag Nationwide race

The most disappointing thing about the extended caution late in Saturday night’s Nationwide race was that it makes me wonder why the race wasn’t stopped when it became apparent the cleanup was not going smoothly.

A four-car crash left oil on the track with 17 laps left. The race didn’t resume until five laps left. That’s a 12-lap caution. That’s inexcusable. No other caution during the race was longer than five laps.

I talked to Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, about the situation and he told me: “Sometimes you have trouble getting oil up and we had trouble in that one spot. It didn’t look like it was going to be that long. That happens sometimes.

“We probably went one to go (before the green flag) four or five times because we thought it was clean.

I understand his point.

Where I have an issue is after the second or third time they couldn’t get the track cleaned in time to go back to racing.

At that point, someone in NASCAR’s control booth should have said they needed to stop the race and get the track cleaned properly because that goes back to something else Pemberton told me: “The most important thing is to get the track ready for racing.’’

That has to be the goal – get the track clean and ready to race.

Stopping it would have allowed it. By remaining under caution, the field was completing a lap in about every 90-100 seconds. That, obviously, wasn’t enough time to get things done after a few laps. At that point – which would have been after the pit stop cycle – NASCAR should have stopped the field, cleaned the track and left more laps for racing.

It’s a shame it didn’t happen. Hopefully, it’s something everybody learns from and avoids repeating in the future because the sport doesn’t need something like that hanging over Sunday’s Sprint Cup season finale.

 

NASCAR Set to Make Changes to Hall of Fame Process – Here’s a Few Ideas

NASCAR stated Thursday that significant changes are coming to the Hall of Fame selection process and eligibility. Those changes will be announced at Las Vegas in December.

This is a good thing. After five years – a sixth class will be inducted in January – there’s some things that could be adjusted.

NASCAR announced Thursday  that starting with this season, the reigning Sprint Cup champion will have a vote. That’s a good thing. There are currently 54 voters. I’m one of them.

Here are a few thoughts based on my experience in the voting room on some changes that could be good.

# There’s been a debate that the Hall will run out of worthy candidates as the years progress selecting five a year. If there’s a concern among NASCAR officials, then it would make sense that any candidate would have to be on 60 percent of the ballots instead of mandating five a year.

If that was in place, only two people would be inducted in 2014 – Tim Flock, who was on 76 percent of the ballots and Maurice Petty, who was on 67 percent. Dale Jarrett, Jack Ingram and Fireball Roberts were on 56 percent of the ballots or less.

The percentage might have to be adjusted when one looks at the 2013 Class. None made it on 60 percent of the ballots. Herb Thomas and Leonard Wood were on 57 percent of the ballots with Rusty Wallace on 52 percent of the ballots.

# It’s time to add a veterans committee to ensure some people make the Hall of Fame. The support for Raymond Parks, the first champion car owner and noted for his financial support of NASCAR in the early days, seems to have waned. There was a bit of support for him a few years ago but that time seems to have passed. He might not make the Hall of Fame unless a veterans committee is allowed to select, say, one per year. He isn’t the only one who might find it hard to make the Hall unless something like this is set up.

# A good change would be one to the requirements for drivers. One requirement is that driver has to have been retired for three years. With some HoF candidates racing sporadically – Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte, for example – it delays their opportunity to be nominated. This rule should be changed so that a driver is eligible three years after their last full-time season. Such a change would make Elliott eligible immediately since his last season running the full schedule was 2003. Labonte also would immediately available since his last full season was 2004.

# A radical way of doing it would be to class nominees by decades and ensure that you have someone from the sport’s early days but also have someone fans more are more familiar with. I’ll admit, it has some merit, but I think I would need more convincing that this is the right thing.

Brad Keselowski has some interesting thoughts on NASCAR rivalries – do you agree?

This Chase between Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson has become known as much as for how they get along as for anything on the track.

Maybe that’s a good thing. One could argue that there’s enough hatred in the world already, why not truly have a friendly competition? Of course, in theory it sounds great, but many people like to see some spice in their championship battles.

This Chase isn’t going to come close to 2011 with Tony Stewart’s ribbing of Carl Edwards during their title race. Instead, in this Chase we’ve had Johnson’s daughter getting Play-doh for Kenseth’s children at Martinsville and Johnson and Kenseth texting each other.

Truthfully, it’s not in either driver’s personalities to be boisterous and demonstrative. For them to try, it would be fake and people would see through that.

Reigning champion Brad Keselowski was asked about this friendly Chase after his Nationwide win at Saturday at Texas and had an interesting theory about why the rivalries are not as heated in the Cup series.

Here’s what he said:

“There are two different perspectives and it comes back to who is paying the bills. In this sport right now the business model is sponsors. With that business model you would be a fool to alienate half of the fan base over a rivalry because half the fan base pays your bills and pays your sponsors’ bills, so, indirectly, they pay your bills.

“In today’s sport you can’t feud. You can’t really have a rivalry with a popular driver because what happens is their fans nag on your fans and vice versa and get on social media and tell the sponsors how you are a big A-hole and they won’t buy the product. Then you don’t have a sponsor. Or you lose value. If that happens, your team can’t compete. With that being said, and with sponsors paying so much of the direct bill to cover the sport, I think it is unrealistic to expect anything different.”

So who do you think about what Keselowski said? What do you think of this friendly rivalry for the title between Kenseth and Johnson?

 

Austin Dillon says Kevin Harvick apologizes for Martinsville comments

Austin Dillon said Kevin Harvick reached out to him and apologized Friday morning for comments he made last weekend at Martinsville Speedway about the Dillon brothers after an incident in the Truck race with Ty Dillon.

Austin Dillon didn’t publicly speak about the incident until a few days later on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“I did that interview and I posted it on my Twitter for everybody to see … because I felt I answered that question as good as I possibly could,’’ Dillon said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “It was honest and it was from the heart. As soon as (Harvick) saw it, he messaged me and asked me to come talk to him when I go tot the track. We had a conversation in the motorhome. I think w’re both better for it at this point of time. He apologized and it was nice.’’

Dillon was asked if he worried other drivers questioned his family ties with helping him move through NASCAR’s ranks.

“No because I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m here to do one thing and that is to make RCR proud and my family and go out there and try to win it all each and every week. As far as a distraction, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve heard it my entire carer from bandoleros on up through and been able to get to this point somehow. It fuels you a little bit. It’s not a distraction at all. I’ve handled it before and we’ll move on.’’

When I asked Harvick after qualifying Friday why it was important to talk to Dillon, Harvick said nothing and walked away.