Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Your Mid-Week NASCAR News

Coming off an exciting race at the Magic Mile, the Chase for the Sprint Cup heads to the Monster Mile this weekend in Dover, Delaware. The high-banked concrete oval has been known to tear up good race cars and put on quite the show. Add that to the intensity created by the Chase and throw in a few double-file restarts and Sunday's race will be one that may have lasting effects on the outcome of the championship hunt. Before we look forward, however, let's take a look back at some of the biggest news this week.

After a controversial entrance into the sport in 2005, Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam both announced they would not be returning to NASCAR as sponsors in 2010. With Jack Daniel's departing from Richard Childress Racing on the No. 07 Chevrolet and Jim Beam gone from the No. 7 of Robby Gordon, the hard liquor companies have both planned an exit from the sport after a brief stint as primary sponsors.

Citing economic conditions, not performance as the reason for the departure, Jack Daniel's vice president and brand director Tim Rutledge thanked RCR and NASCAR for their time in the sport.

"Jack Daniel's has enjoyed a good five-year run with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and NASCAR, and we are pleased with the overall performance of our sponsorship program," Rutledge explained. "We have enjoyed building strong relationships with the people in Richard's organization and throughout NASCAR. While it is difficult for us to end our formal relationship with RCR, the current economic environment has compelled us to reevaluate our spending and we've concluded that other areas in the marketing mix require additional investment."

NASCAR President Mike Helton joined This Week In NASCAR on SPEED earlier this week and, among other things, told the panel and the viewers at home that while times are tough sponsors still want to be involved in NASCAR. However, the departure of Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam are simply part of a larger trend that has seen the departure of other long-time sponsors from the sport such as DeWalt.

In addition to the sponsor news, NASCAR announced a penalty this week to the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team after it was discovered in post-race inspection the left front fender was too low. Out of the Chase and simply running for wins, the team was docked 25 driver and owner points and crew chief Steve Addington was fined $25,000 and placed on probation until December, 31st.

The drama at the Penske Racing shop continues to unfold as the team attempts to balance working towards a championship, while current crew chief Pat Tryson is not allowed at the shop except for team debriefs. Moving on to Michael Waltrip Racing for 2010, Tryson's departure has left this team frustrated and simply at a disadvantage in the Chase. Conflict between Kurt Busch and Tryson was evident this weekend when Tryson called the blue deuce onto pit road much to the disagreement of the driver. Leaving the pit stall, Busch made contact with David Ragan and vocally questioned Tryson's decision to pit. If this team has any hopes of making a serious run at the title, they will have to put their conflicts behind them and work together as much as possible over the next nine weeks.

Your latest NASCAR news to emerge this week was the announcement that NASCAR would continue its testing ban in 2010, while some adjustments have been made. Testing at all NASCAR sanctioned tracks that host a national event will remain, while the ban on testing at regional tracks has been lifted. Teams will be permitted to test at the following facilities next year: Greenville-Pickens Speedway; Tri-County Motor Speedway; South Boston Speedway; Thompson International Speedway; Music City Motorplex; Adirondack International Speedway; Lime Rock Park; Thunder Hill Raceway; All American Speedway; Madera Speedway; Douglas County Speedway; Toyota Speedway at Irwindale; Portland International Raceway; Miller Motorsports Park; Colorado National Speedway.

Now, looking ahead to Dover, this weekend's race is sure to be full of excitement and late-race drama. A favorite amongst drivers and fans alike, Dover is a gruelling track that always puts on a great show. Let's take a look at how the Chase drivers stack up.

Leading the points going into the Chase, veteran Mark Martin got the job done in Loudon by holding off Juan Pablo Montoya and Denny Hamlin to score his fifth win of the year. Always a threat at Dover, Martin has four wins, twenty-one top-5s, twenty-nine top-10s and four poles at the Monster Mile.

Jimmie Johnson's fourth-place run in New Hampshire was enough to keep him in second spot in the standings, thirty-five points behind his ageless teammate. A four-time winner at Dover -along with six top-5s, ten top-10s and one pole - Johnson knows how to get the job done. Earlier this year the three-time defending series champion put on quite the show coming through the field late in the race to overtake Tony Stewart for the win.

Continuing his consistently strong runs, Virginia-native Denny Hamlin enters this weekend third in the standings, also thirty-five marks out of first. Winless at Dover, Hamlin has only one top-5 and two top-10s on the high-banked concrete track. A track he truly struggles at, Hamlin has finished 36th or worse in his last four attempts - something he must change if he wants to remain at the top of the standings.

Showing his aggressiveness last weekend, Juan Pablo Montoya is hungry to make the most out of this championship hunt. The driver of the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet has only one top-10 at Dover and has also struggled as of late in the First State. Montoya scored a DNF in this event last year and could only rally to a 30th place finish earlier this year.

Kurt Busch is typically strong at the Monster Mile, but considering the tensions Tryson's departure has put on this team it would come as no surprise if the No. 2 Dodge struggled again this weekend. Busch has three top-5s and five top-10s at Dover.

Tony Stewart ended the regular season as the points leader, but in a bit of a slump. The owner/driver finished 14th last week in New Hampshire, but is headed to a track he was strong at earlier this year. With two wins, ten top-5s and thirteen top-10s, Stewart should be a factor again this weekend.

At the bottom of the Chase pile sits the No. 9 Dodge of Kasey Kahne. Sitting twelfth in points, 161 marks out of first, Kahne's championship dreams may have went up in smoke when his engine expired just 66 laps into last Sunday's 300-lap event. This team's fate no lies in the hands of the other eleven competitors and the hope that they struggle at least once over the next nine weeks. While some believe the Chase allows for one mulligan - or throwaway race - many are already writing this team off as being out of contention.

This weekend also presents an opportunity for perennial Dover front runners and Chase contenders Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards. Sitting seventh, ninth, tenth and eleventh respectively, a strong run this weekend would jump these teams up the standings and closer to the battle for the title.

With things tightening up and the double-file restarts in place for the first time at Dover, the closing stages of the race are sure to provide excitement for all those in attendance and watching or listening at home.

Be sure to head back to Your NASCAR News blog to find out all the news developments from this weekend and for a review of Sunday's action.

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