Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Ol' Smoke is smokin' at Charlotte...but watch out for them Fords

  Tony Stewart: a third NASCAR championship brewing? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Ol' Smoke, Tony Stewart, hasn't won many poles over his career: 12 to be precise. Well, 13 now, with his run Thursday night, winning the top spot for Saturday night's Bank of America 500, at 191.959 mph.

   In fact Stewart's last pole was over a year ago.
   So it may be a bit too early to count out Stewart in this year's Sprint Cup title chase, though Stewart hasn't really had all that great a year.
   However a warning sign from Thursday qualifying – four Fords in the top-five, including title contenders Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.
   The big story here, though, appears to be the sluggish U.S. economy, which continues to be a drag on NASCAR racing -- a sizeable number of stock car crewmen here are saying they expect to be unemployed at the end of the season.
   Major car owners Richard Childress and Jack Roush, two of the sport's Big Four team owners, say they both plan to cut back to three Sprint Cup teams for next season.
   And car owner Joe Gibbs, another of the Big Four, announced Friday that Dollar General ( NYSE: DG ) (http://yhoo.it/qwyvx7 ) will be buying sponsorship of 12 Cup weekends in 2012 from Home Depot for driver Joey Logano. While that appears to be a step up for Dollar General, currently a sponsor on NASCAR's Nationwide tour, it also appears to be a step back for Home Depot, one of the sport's strongest and most loyal sponsors over the years. Home Depot, since losing Tony Stewart, has pretty much played second-fiddle to five-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson, sponsored by rival Lowe's.
   And there is even more uncertainty for other NASCAR team owners, particularly on the Nationwide side.
   On top of that, NASCAR is continuing with more testing for its planned changeover next season from carburetors to fuel injection – an expensive change for team owners, and an added expense that is not only not expected to improve competition but rather be, in effect, a costly PR/marketing gambit that many backmarker teams might not be able to play.
   While a switch to fuel injection might be logical – in a stronger economy – in today's world of vanishing sponsorships and pink-slipped crewmen, the added expense may be a further drag on the sport.
   And then there is the planned changeover to a new model stock car for 2013….a changeover that might be more logical coming in 2012 in order to spark more interest in the sport, where interest has been lagging the past two years or so.
   Plus, there is the still murky future of NASCAR's Nationwide series, where sponsors are already few and far between, and where expenses far outweigh purses and sponsorship. NASCAR, though it's the middle of October, still has not announced the 2012 Nationwide calendar.
    Saturday night's 500 – Round five of the 10-race playoffs – could further separate title contenders.
    Despite Stewart's run Thursday, the title chase seems boiling down to Jimmie Johnson versus Kevin Harvick versus Carl Edwards. Johnson has long been a strong runner here, but Harvick, though he won on gas mileage in May, says he doesn't really like this track that much, and Edwards concedes he's never really run well here.
   "This has been one of my tougher tracks," Edwards says. "But this year I feel like we turned a corner here, with our All-Star win and our run in the 600. 
   "I hope this is the race we can turn it around and win a points race here.  That would be huge."
   While Edwards has been strong throughout the season, he has only won once, back in March.
    The engine changeover to fuel injection will not only be costly for the units themselves – about $25,000 to $30,000 apiece, with each team needing at least five – but the units will forced teams to hire new engine men to handle the new deluge of data from the computers units.
   "I think it's going to take a different engine tuner….you've got to be very up on computers," Childress frets. "There's a lot of stuff that you've got to do with computers on fuel injection."
    At least 200 different engine parameters can be tweaked in the fuel injection systems. That may be a engineman's delight, but as Childress says "the cost is going to be there."
    Childress, who is losing driver Clint Bowyer to the Michael Waltrip team at the end of the season, pointed to Bowyer's salary demands as a stumbling block in their negotiations.
   "We knew what our financial model was, and Clint knew where he needed to be…and we just couldn't ever come together to make it work," Childress said. "We had the car completely sponsored…but it just didn't really work out. And I'm very sad that it didn't, because I really like Clint. He's going to be a great driver.
     "Never say never -- hopefully he will be back some day."
    While neither Childress nor Bowyer has talked any specifics, according to sources familiar with the situation the potential sponsor, 5-Hour Energy, was willing to put up $13 million a year in sponsorship, but Bowyer – handling the sponsorship dealings himself – wanted some $7 million in salary. And Childress was, according to sources, unable to field a competitive team for just $5 million.
   So Childress says he's planning on running just three full-time Sprint Cup teams next season.
   "Who knows what may come up between now and then?" Childress says, however. "I've had offers to race with drivers….and had another full sponsorship with a driver. I just want to make sure it's the right move when we make it.
    "So we're still as of right now, we're three Cup teams."
    But Childress insists "we feel pretty good about where RCR is with the sponsors we have over the next two or three years. Couldn't be happier with a lot of things on the front sponsorship-wise, employee-wise, and the direction that we are going."
    The days of a company providing a full-season sponsorship may be history, though, Childress says. "You're going to have to be able to sell off with one or two, maybe three.
    "It makes it a little tougher adjusting the races, because everybody would want Daytona or Indianapolis."

   Childress and Roush both might be in stronger positions to make sponsorship deals if they could win the championship.
   Childress is banking on Harvick.
   Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all but been eliminated, and Harvick says "you've put four guys pretty far behind…so that's probably never going to happen that they're going to catch the guys up front, even if one or two of them have trouble, because there's still a third that probably won't.
    "That's why I keep preaching to the team that we can't make mistakes -- because when you make that mistake, there is going to be somebody that doesn't.
   "Big mistakes – I'm talking about finishing 25th through 35th -- those are the ones that kill you.
   "The chase has been a fight for us so far. We haven't had everything go exactly how we would have laid it out. We've overcome some pretty big hurdles.
    "But the results haven't been deadly.
    "Right now I still say it's us against ourselves.
     "We just need to keep protecting the things that we are doing, and not shoot ourselves in the foot."


     And Trevor Bayne? The Daytona 500 winner starts this 500 in Row 5. But what will he be doing in 2012? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Concerning the fuel

Concerning the fuel injection. I know that the Australian V8 Supercars are fuel injected Fords and Holdens (GM). Can what Ford and GM has learned there be transferred to their cup cars?

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com