Friday, December 14, 2018

100 Stock Car Racing "What Ifs": Dirt Debates

Nascar has a long and storied history, but it also has a past littered with “What If?” questions.  Join author Mike Mackler as he takes a look back at stock car racing’s 100 most-intriguing hypotheticals in “100 Stock Car Racing ‘What Ifs’”, the book available on Amazon in both Paperback and Kindle formats.  Here’s a preview of one of the one hundred “What If” questions asked throughout the book:

81. What if Nascar Cup never stopped running on dirt?

Nascar's history runs through many dirt
track races
Background: In Nascar’s early days, racing on dirt was a major part of the national touring series (what would eventually become the Nascar Cup Series of today).  Since a majority of drivers had grown up on local dirt-track racing, the mixture of dirt surfaces with asphalt was a natural one at first.

What Actually Happened: In 1972 Nascar moved into its “Modern Era”, eliminating what they saw as downscale aspects of the sport.  Gone were any races that were too short, scheduled on weeknights, or held on dirt tracks.  With the exception of the Truck Series event held at Eldora, Nascar’s national touring series haven’t run on dirt since.

What Could Have Been the Turning Point: What if Nascar kept dirt racing as a link to its past?

What COULD Have Happened: Dirt track racing likely would’ve declined in prominence on the Cup circuit anyways, with tracks beginning to crop up outside of Nascar’s traditional Southern stronghold.
Nascar has returned to dirt track racing...
in the Truck Series

And if THAT Happened…: Assuming that some dirt track races WOULD manage to hold onto their spots on the Cup Series calendar, we could have seen those races become highly-specialized, much like how road course events have now.  We could have seen top-flight teams sending their drivers for outside lessons from dirt track experts, while mid-to-lower-level teams could have hired the equivalency of road course ringers (Dirt Track Desperados?).

What Else Could Have Happened: Keeping dirt tracks on the Cup Series schedule could also have solidified the sprints-to-Nascar feeder system earlier than it did.  While the 90’s saw teams populating their developmental teams with former sprint car aces, dirt trackers would likely have had an easier road to a Cup ride had they known there was at least a few races where they’d be the favorites.

Why It Had to Turn Out The Way It Did: Nascar viewed dirt track racing as not befitting the image of a national sport, and instead left it to a number of smaller but thriving regional and national series.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

100 Stock Car Racing "What Ifs": Wallace's Wreck

Nascar has a long and storied history, but it also has a past littered with “What If?” questions.  Join author Mike Mackler as he takes a look back at stock car racing’s 100 most-intriguing hypotheticals in “100 Stock Car Racing ‘What Ifs’”, the book available on Amazon in both Paperback and Kindle formats.  Here’s a preview of one of the one hundred “What If” questions asked throughout the book:

Rusty's Talladega wreck
84. What if Rusty Wallace won his second championship in 1993?

Background: When Rusty Wallace won the Winston Cup Championship in 1989, he was heralded as a new breed of driver—successful on the track and polished and media-savvy off it.  And when he joined Roger Penske to start a stock car team in 1991, it looked like a second championship was right around the corner for one of Nascar’s brightest stars.

What Actually Happened: After two years of adjusting to his new team, Wallace finished second in points in 1993 and third in 1994.  The 1993 season was an especially cutting year, as Rusty won 10 points-paying races, but was still beaten out for the championship by rival Dale Earnhardt Sr.—the same driver who wrecked Wallace at the finish of the spring Talladega race.

What Could Have Been the Turning Point: What if Earnhardt hadn’t tapped Wallace in 1993, allowing him to avoid his subsequent four-race swoon due to racing with injuries?

What COULD Have Happened: Had Wallace won his second championship in 1993, the most-obvious effect would have been costing Dale Earnhardt one of his seven Cup championships.  Perhaps Wallace would have wound up one of Richard Petty’s favorite modern drivers.
Dale Earnhardt's 1993 championship-
winning car

And if THAT Happened…: After the 1993 season Penske switched from Pontiac to Ford.  Would Penske still have made the move after a championship year?  Well, they did so after winning a championship in a Dodge, so probably yes.  However, Rusty winning a championship in a Pontiac would have improved race fans’ opinion of the “third brand” in Nascar in the 90’s.

What Else Could Have Happened: Despite a stellar career, Wallace is not often thought of as one of Nascar’s truly great, “top-tier” drivers like Petty, Earnhardt, Yarborough, Waltrip, and the like.  Perhaps a second championship would have vaulted him into that conversation, although his lack of results at Daytona (zero wins in any points-paying races in his career there) would have likely still stuck out like a sore thumb.

Why It Had to Turn Out The Way It Did: Dale Earnhardt knew how to get his car to the front, be it through sheer driving skill or brute force of his fender.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

100 Stock Car Racing "What Ifs": Mikey's Mishegoss

Nascar has a long and storied history, but it also has a past littered with “What If?” questions.  Join author Mike Mackler as he takes a look back at stock car racing’s 100 most-intriguing hypotheticals in “100 Stock Car Racing ‘What Ifs’”, the book available on Amazon in both Paperback and Kindle formats.  Here’s a preview of one of the one hundred “What If” questions asked throughout the book:

55. What if Michael Waltrip Racing never got caught or punished for what they did at Richmond?

Guess it seemed like a good idea at the time
Background: The 2013 Chase Cutoff Race, the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond, was one of the most-confusing in Nascar history.  While Nascar had wanted to create drama with its Chase “playoff” format, they instead created controversy that would throw the legitimacy of the sport into question.

What Actually Happened: In attempts to lock certain drivers into the Chase, Michael Waltrip Racing drivers Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers were given team orders—to spin and to pit, respectively—in order to lock teammate Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase.  After damning radio chatter was revealed, Truex was effectively penalized out of the Chase.  Truex’s sponsor Napa would leave the team, and MWR would eventually go out of business. 

What Could Have Been the Turning Point: What if MWR had been “slick” enough in their communication and strategy to not get caught?
Things did NOT end well for Michael
Waltrip's race team

What COULD Have Happened: Jeff Gordon would never have been the 13th driver in a 12 driver Chase, of course.  Furthermore, there may have been less focus placed on Team Penske’s alleged inducements to Front Row Motorsports to have driver David Gililand slow on the track to allow Penske’s Joey Logano to lock himself into the Chase as well.

And if THAT Happened…: MWR might still be around today.  Napa was a founding partner of the team, and up until these events seemed to be as intertwined with Michael Waltrip as Lowe’s had been with Jimmie Johnson.  Additionally, who knows what direction Chase Elliott’s career would have taken without Napa’s considerable sponsorship support.

What Else Could Have Happened: Would Martin Truex Jr. ever have become a Cup Series champion?  Ironically it took his career nearly ending (due to his release from MWR) to have him wind up with a then-midlevel Furniture Row Racing in 2014.  Three years later FRR was a championship team, something MWR may have never become.

Why It Had to Turn Out The Way It Did: Nascar didn’t like a team stinking up their show, and while they punished MWR for what was essentially cheating, it could be argued that they were punished even harsher for getting caught.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Spade Racing’s 2018-19 Silly Season Preview—Q&A

Next year Ford switches to the Mustang body style in Cup
Last year’s “Silly Season”—the period when drivers change teams, sponsors, and careers—was arguably the most-impactful in the sport’s recent history with Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring, Matt Kenseth (eventually) going to a partial schedule, and super-teams such as Hendrick Motorsports making wholesale changes.  This offseason isn’t much different—we’re only a dozen or so days out from Homestead and there’s already some major changes in the pipeline, and that doesn’t include Cole Whitt’s retirement.  Here’s where we stand so far:

What happened to Furniture Row Racing?  The little team that could shut down merely a year after winning the drivers’ championship with Martin Truex Jr.  In short, the impending loss of sponsor 5-Hour Energy, combined with Joe Gibbs Racing reportedly looking to increase the cost of its alliance, saw driver Truex leave FRR, leading to owner Barney Visser simply shutting the team down.

Wait, so where is Martin Truex Jr. going?  The pride of New Jersey will be driving the #19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, with sponsor Bass Pro Shops and crew chief Cole Pearn in tow.  The move keeps him in the Toyota/TRD fold and in top-flight equipment.

Carlos Slim Domit--who'd have pegged
him as a major Silly Season factor?
So what about Daniel Suarez?  And Arris?  Daniel Suarez, former driver of the #19 JGR Toyota, is now a free-agent.  While originally rumored to go to the #95 Leavine Family Racing team (more on them later), he’s now heavily rumored to wind up at Stewart-Haas Racing in the 41 car.  As for Arris, Carlos Slim Domit—billionaire telecommunications magnate and the broker of the sponsorship between Arris and Suarez—has said they plan to continue supporting Suarez for the near future.  It remains to be seen if Arris will split sponsorship between JGR and Suarez’s new team, if one of Slim’s companies will sponsor Suarez while Arris will split off to sponsor Truex, if Arris/Slim will negotiate a buyout, or if this will somehow become even MORE confusing.  Arris is widely rumored to be signed to JGR through 2019.

Wait—Suarez is going to the #41?  Yep, that looks like the plan.

So what about Kurt Busch?  In a near repeat of last year’s Silly Season drama, Kurt Busch is again a free-agent.  Kurt’s valuable not only for his winning ways but for his Monster Energy sponsorship, which is specifically attached to him.

So where is Kurt driving in 2019?  All signs point to Kurt Busch driving the #1 car for Ganassi Racing next year.  What remains to be seen is how Monster will be worked into the team’s sponsorship plan—if they’re replacing someone or if they’ll simply bump a sponsor like McDonalds or Cessna to the 42 car.

Hmm…but if Kurt winds up in the 1 car, what happens to Jamie McMurray?  Jamie Mac seems likely to have driven his last season as a full-time driver.  It has been widely reported that Chip Ganassi has offered Jamie a “farewell” ride in a third car for the Daytona 500, then a management role with the company.
Will Jamie Mac wave goodbye to racing
at the 2019 Daytona 500?

But why?  Jamie McMurray was, and is, a good driver with sponsorship appeal.  Problem is that it seems like his major sponsors (Cessna, McDonalds, Gear Wrench, etc.) were all through Ganassi, making a driver will outside sponsorship very appealing.  Also, having to be compared to teammate Kyle Larson doesn’t help matters.

OK, ok—so what’s this about the 95 car?  The only manufacturer change announced so far has the 95 Leavine Family Racing team switching from an RCR/Chevy alliance to a JGR/Toyota alliance, hiring Matt DiBenedetto as their driver.

So Kasey Kahne is done?  Yep.  Health issues forced him out of the 95 car and he has announced the end of his stock car racing career, although he plans to continue racing sprint cars.

But wasn’t Christopher Bell supposed to take over the 95?  We all thought that, didn’t we?  With the 95-to-Toyota story heating up people immediately put Daniel Suarez there for the last year of the Arris/JGR deal.  Then, once it became apparent that Suarez was likely done at JGR, people tabbed Xfinity wunderkind Christopher Bell for the ride, similar to how Erik Jones ran a year for FRR before coming to JGR.  However, Toyota—who has backed Bell’s efforts for years—has reportedly made it known that they want him to get another year of Xfinity experience under his belt (although some races in a 2nd LVR car in Cup aren’t out of the question).
While Jimmie Johnson's new look hasn't
been unveiled yet, there's a good chance
that the color plum will be involved

Alright, alright—I know Jimmie Johnson had a bad year in 2018—what changes are Hendrick Motorsports making for 2019?  Longtime crew chief Chad Knaus will move over to the 24 team and crew chief for William Byron.  Kevin Meendering will take over crew chiefing for the 48 Ally car.

Hold on—“Ally”?  What’s that?  Oh, you didn’t hear?  Ally Financial (an online bank) is taking over for Lowe’s as the 48 car’s sponsor.

LOWE’S IS GONE?  WHY?  HOW?!?  First of all, calm down!  Lowe’s announced earlier this year that they wouldn’t be returning to Nascar in 2019.  As for why, it seems like a combination of having accomplished their marketing goals and having a recent rough go of it from a financial standpoint.  And from the “How” standpoint, Ally is the successor company to the old GMAC/ditech brand that sponsoring HMS cars in the past.  Ally will be sponsoring all 36 races on the 48 for the next two years.

Any OTHER changes with Hendrick Motorsports I should know about?  Not with the team itself, although they’ll be supplying engines to JTG-D (aka The Kroger Cars) next year.

JTG-D—any changes there?  AJ Allmendinger is out of the 47 car.  Ryan Preece is in.  And no, The Dinger doesn’t have anything set up for 2019.

Hmm, any changes at RCR?  Yep—Daniel Hemric is moving up to Cup in the #31 RCR car.
"Who's Your Driver?" is a Virginia marketing
campaign to promote designating a driver, but
it worked out pretty well for this pic

So what happens to Ryan Newman?  Newman will take over the 6 car at Roush Fenway Racing (full-time, by the way).

So what happens to Trevor Bayne?  Bayne may or may not have the Advocare sponsorship with him.  If he does, he could wind up in Xfinity next year (with JR Motorsports a frequently rumored landing place).  If not, he could be the dreaded “Odd Man Out”.

So what happens to Matt Kenseth?  It sounds like, barring the need for a substitute driver or a massive deal incumbent upon Kenseth driving, he’s driven his last race and will settle into a management role at RFR.

Boy, that’s a lot to digest—anything ELSE I should be made aware of?  Not much, other than Ford switching its Cup car body to the Mustang.

But Chevy’s switch to the Camaro was disastrous last year.  If Ford falls flat on its face, would it be a simple case of not having the aero package right, or would it be karmic retribution for essentially giving up on the American passenger car market?  Yes.
The most-recent announcement in this piece

OK then—what about the teams you HAVEN’T mentioned?  No changes are expected with the Penske/Wood Bros. alliance cars.  The unmentioned cars of SHR (4, 10 & 14), JGR (11*, 18 & 20), HMS (9 & 88) and RCR/Germain/RPM (3, 13 & 43) aren’t expected to have any major changes.  Front Row Motorsports is adding Matt Tifft to the fold, taking over the old BK Racing charter in the renumbered 36 Ford, joining Michael McDowell and David Ragan.  And the other small teams aren’t likely to firm up their plans until January. (*—Denny Hamlin will have a new crew chief).

So what’s the next “domino” to fall?  It looks like Daniel Suarez and Kurt Busch announcing their plans will likely firm up the remaining two available top-flight rides (the 41 & 1, respectively).  Then again, you never know what will happen in Silly Season.