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David Reutimann wins the Richmond 400 pole....but as teams and carmakers look toward NASCAR 2012, more questions than answers so far, especially for Jack Roush and Richard Childress

  David Reutimann: He's not in the playoffs....'So I'm just in it for me,' he says after winning the pole Friday for Saturday night's Richmond 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Jack Roush, who finally got his full flight certification papers and medical clearance back two weeks ago, spent Thursday fishing, after flying up to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

   Jack Roush doesn't fish.
   Jack Roush just races. And flies.
   But 3M execs invited him to take a day off and splash around. So he did.
   It was a little over a year ago that Roush had that bad crash. But now he's got full papers again and flying.
   Friday, though, he was back here at the track -- sweating out sponsorships and teams and the championship playoffs and trying to line up things for the 2012 season.
   It's been a season of both success and turmoil for the Roush operation. Now, on the eve of the chase, Roush has Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth as two of the five most prominent drivers in the running for the NASCAR championship


Carl Edwards (L) and Jack Roush (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    One of the hot stories here at Richmond International Speedway is Kevin Harvick's surprising decision to shut down Kevin Harvick Inc., his highly successful Truck and Nationwide operation. Whether Harvick simply got tired of the hassles of running KHI – at a point in NASCAR history where even some of the sport's biggest players are operating at a deficit – or what the trigger really was for shuttering KHI, his move has provoked a lot of questions and issues about this sport:
  Has NASCAR racing simply become too big and expensive for its own good, for example?
  Roush is certainly in the thick of all this debate, sweating out all the shuffling.
   He signed a new sponsorship contract with 3M earlier this year.
   But then he had to wrangle contract talks with Edwards for months and months before finally signing him to a new contract….and sponsorship is still up in the air for that team.
   And Roush just lost major sponsor UPS, which has been in NASCAR for more than 10 years but now has decided to move most of its money into college sports instead. And that leaves David Ragan's situation up in the air.
   Roush also just lost major sponsor Diageo, which has put Kenseth's team on edge.
   And Roush is now awaiting word from sponsor Aflac about its own plans for 2012.
   But Roush has added sponsor Fastenal ( http://yhoo.it/evoMIN ) to Edwards' Cup lineup.

  It's a 9/11 race weekend for NASCAR, on the 10th anniversary, and Ryan Newman (R) lays a wreath at the Pentagon (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   And over on the Richard Petty Motorsports side of this Ford Motor Company operation, Chevy driver Clint Bowyer, apparently no longer in the running to stay with car owner Richard Childress, is shopping himself for a ride with the Roush-backed operation. And Roush says he's listening….though not yet buying into the offer.
   Part of the NASCAR story this weekend is not just the Sprint Cup side of the economic picture, but also the Truck and Nationwide sides. Like other parts of the American economy, the NASCAR sponsorship situation is a bit ragged at the moment.
   The Truck tour, again, appears to be struggling. The purses aren't big enough to support top teams. So Kyle Busch is dominating….though the word in the garage is that Busch may eventually succumb to the sheer weariness of this owner-driver thing that just struck Harvick.
   Detroit and Toyota seem to be key players in the Truck and Nationwide picture. 
   Dodge has a 2012 NASCAR game plan: one Truck team, with Brad Keselowski; two Nationwide teams; and at least two, probably three Cup teams.
   But the Chevy game plan and Ford game plan and Toyota game plans still appear up in the air.
   Chevy officials begged off direct questions about their Truck, Nationwide and Cup lineups for 2012.
   And Roush says he's still trying to lineup enough sponsorship to field four Cup teams, though the answer – four or just three – may not come until after the season.
   Chevy's Richard Childress too is looking for enough sponsorship for all four Cup teams. And he's all but given Bowyer his release….which some sense might be an opening for Austin Dillon, Childress' grandson, to make some steps up to Cup.

     The cat in the hat: Jack Roush, with a lot on his plate at the moment -- how many 2012 sponsors, how many 2012 teams....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Trucks, though, do not appear to be part of Ford's NASCAR plans. Ford made the call to withdraw from Trucks two years ago, citing increased expenses and blaming Dodge and Toyota for subsidizing teams, raising the price of sponsorship.
    "Ford made the decision a few years ago that the Truck series was overpriced for what the manufacturers got out of it," Roush said.
    "What Toyota and Dodge did when they came in (to Trucks) was to basically make it a manufacturers' series, by underwriting the sponsorships for the teams they were backing. And without the manufacturer's piece of it, the sponsorship money was not sufficient to support a team.
    "That's the sad state of it, when manufacturers buy their way in, like Dodge did and Toyota did – there will be consequences. That's one of the things that affecting this.
    "But there is still great interest in my case and Ford's case in the Nationwide series – to have the Mustang out there as a racing image. We enjoy Ford's support, though I won't say for how many teams."
   However, in a significant move, Roush's Edwards, who has been one of the major faces of the Nationwide series for several years now, will not be running the full Nationwide tour next season. Roush says Edwards will definitely not be running any Nationwide races which are not 'companion' events on Cup weekends.
    Roush says the number of Nationwide races Edwards will run depends on what sponsorship Roush can also line up for his current Nationwide drivers Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse. This season Roush himself has had to foot the bills for some of Bayne's and Stenhouse's Nationwide races, with white-painted unsponsored cars.
   "We've had a significant shortage of sponsorship for Ricky and Trevor this year," Roush concedes.
   "So we've got to decide, based on the depth of sponsorships for my Cup teams for next year – which is still up in the air. We don't have all the sponsorships we need to support four teams.  So we're looking at what is feasible and what is reasonable and what gives us a viable plan…and I may not know that until December."


Clint Bowyer: Moving from a Richard Childress Chevy to a Jack Roush-Richard Petty Ford? May have to wait till December to find out (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   So does David Ragan have a ride with Roush in 2012?
   "David won Daytona in July…but UPS is, for the most part, backing away from team sponsorships," Roush says, hedging.
   The UPS move from NASCAR to college sports would appear a decidedly demographic-oriented move, for whatever reason.
   "I don't have a clear vision of what their decision was," Roush says.
   "But I think they get a lot out of their 'official' category in NASCAR (which provides another promotional venue). However that is one of the difficulties for the teams – when NASCAR competes, with all its tools, against the teams for sponsorships."
    UPS will apparently remain in NASCAR as an 'official' sponsor. Roush has 'lost' other sponsors, like AAA and Diageo's Crown Royal, to NASCAR.
    "That's not a happy state, but it's a fact of life," Roush said. "So we have to be vigilant to find new sponsors to off-set those that NASCAR takes as 'official' sponsors."
   And Aflac?
   "We have conversations on-going with Aflac," Roush says. "My understanding is they intend to participate in some level.
   "Last year they took responsibility for all the (Cup) races, and then looked to us for helping in 'selling' them off.
   "This year we have a 22-race sponsorship with Fastenal for Carl. So we still have 16 races to place, and we certainly hope that Aflac will continue to be involved with us, to continue the momentum we've built together."
   And Clint Bowyer?
   "Clint is out there with support from a sponsor, shopping around. And we are certainly taking a look at that," Roush says.



Tony Stewart. Not in a good mood. And if he doesn't make the playoffs......(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   Tony Stewart was not in a good mood Friday when he had his weekly meet-and-greet with the media.
   In fact Stewart was in a rather bad mood.
   And he made no attempt to hide it, ripping reporters for asking what he considered dumb questions.
   Welcome to 'Tony's World.'
   Stand up and take your medicine.
   Tony Stewart of course is no stranger to 'moody.'
   But this time he put on quite a show for a national television audience here Friday afternoon, in a display of petulance that the NASCAR media has learned over the years to accept.
   Tony: Pressure to make the chase here, in the last race of the regular season?
   "We have to finish 18th or better…same thing as you've known all week," Stewart snapped, during the session, between practice sessions. At the time he was only 30th fastest on the grid.
   Well, that would seem like a bit of pressure.
   "The pressure is all of the media standing here," Stewart replied. "We're doing the same thing we always do every week.
    "It's you guys asking us the same questions for eight straight weeks in a row that is annoying.
    "That's where the pressure is coming in…because we're answering the same thing that we answered for the last seven straight weeks.
    "That is where it gets annoying after a while and gets to be very monotonous."
     Okay, what line of question would Stewart prefer to address?
    "I don't know. I don't do your job. Come up with something original," he replied.
    But this is a big weekend, isn't it? Stewart either makes the chase here in Saturday's Richmond 400 or he doesn't.
    "All right, here's the thing -- All I care about is what I am doing this week. I'm not worried about what's going to make your article this week," Stewart says.
    "If it doesn't make my race car go fast, I really don't care about it right now. Got a lot of things going on."
    Fair enough, but…..
    "So ask me a question that's original this week," Stewart came right back.
    But isn't the question still the same, because Stewart is still on the hot seat for the playoffs?
    "Okay, then go back the last seven weeks and get the same answer I used the last seven weeks. I'm doing exactly the same thing I've been doing."
    Okay, how about the issue of hiring a new competition director? That spot has been open since Stewart fired Bobby Hutchens in June. (Some stats here: in the year's first 13 races, with Hutchens running things, Stewart led 276 laps and averaged a 14.38 finish, and he was eighth in the standings; in the 12 races without Hutchens, Stewart has led 64 laps and averaged a 14.66 finish, and he is 10th in the standings.)
     This was a question that Stewart liked.
     "You definitely don't want to wait until the end of the season (to hire a new competition director)," Stewart said.
    "See, this is original. This is somebody that is a good journalist, because they actually know how to ask something original.
    "It is a good question. It is nice to have that occasionally."
     The kicker to this: the subject of Tony Stewart's tantrum: a nationally renowned journalist for the Associated Press.
     No reaction yet from Stewart's sponsors....


   Captain America? Nope, just Kyle Busch, with a special patriotic color scheme (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)





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