by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.May 16, 2009 11:12 pm UTC 9 Comments
I know, I know, I must be crazy to defend one of the most loathed and least respected drivers in the entire Sprint Cup garage. I must be out of my mind to make an argument for the first wheelman to fail one of NASCAR’s drug tests. I must be nuts to think that Jeremy Mayfield is a victim just as much as a villain.
But over the past week or so, reflecting on the former Chase driver’s situation, and owing to my underdog bias, I think the guy’s gotten screwed. He’s even been a victim dating all the way back to his times with the former Evernham Motorsports, where a situation that wasn’t really his fault set most of the garage against him.
Hear me out on this. As journalists, however seriously we take the term, we have to attempt to be fair, even when we may dislike the drivers. As Charlie mentioned in his piece, Marc at Full Throttle has done the best at trying to be objective, but because it seems everybody is so against the poor guy, let me attempt to balance the scale by trying to mount a defense.
Mayfield joined EMS in 2002 to try and boost the team’s performance. He worked his way up the ranks for the next three years, gaining points positions every year and making the first two Chases. He, alongside Bill Elliott and Kasey Kahne, helped turn the team from pretender to contender, and was the first driver on the team to make the Chase.
Remember what happened after the 2005 season, when Ray Evernham switched Mayfield’s Chase-caliber crew to Kahne’s car, and gave Mayfield Kahne’s old crew. Kahne won six races, and Mayfield fell out of the top 35 in owners’ points. Then Mayfield gets fired for making an… accurate observation about Evernham not spending enough time with the Sprint Cup team (yadda yadda).
Look, I understand that airing others’ dirty laundry isn’t the most respectable thing to do, but can you blame the guy for feeling like he got the shaft? When the most important guy on that race team switches your excellent crew to a more marketable driver who goes on to win six races with them, when your new crew can’t even keep you locked into the show every weekend, and when the most knowledgeable guy on the team is spending most of his time elsewhere, you’re not getting the fair shake that you deserve. It’s not like Mayfield suddenly forgot how to drive.
Honestly, if I were a Sprint Cup owner, I’d be more inclined to hire the guy for being honest, but I guess I’m the only one.
Fast forward to now, where it seems like the whole garage is against Mayfield for this positive drug test, based on past judgments of his character. Has he honestly rubbed everyone the wrong way? Yes, he’s a challenging guy, at times, but aren’t many of our favorite drivers? It’s not like everyone in the garage is Terry Labonte and never steps out of line.
Hell, does anyone else think that maybe, if his positive result was because of illegal drugs, that maybe he could’ve turned onto them as a coping mechanism because of the rampant dislike for him in the garage?
If anything, this positive test makes NASCAR’s policy look like Swiss cheese next to other sports, and I think that if Mayfield were to challenge it. Two things really make the policy look stupid: first, Ramsey Poston, NASCAR’s spokesperson, admitted that the sport doesn’t have a definitive list of drugs it tests for, and will not release one to the public; second, Brian France says he sees “no benefit” to releasing the name of the substance. (For the record, Mayfield claims it was Claritin D.)
Now, let’s just assume that Mayfield did test positive for Claritin – a NASCAR sponsor, I might add, with Carl Edwards. First of all, there’s no way that Mayfield would know that a prescription he takes would be illegal if there’s not a solid list. (According to France, a list is given to teams, and it can change “as science changes,” but his comments seem to go against what most folks in the garage believe. Is he trying to protect himself, or is everyone else just naive?) This would also bring into question NASCAR’s decision to suspend him as both owner and driver – because what wrong is present in an owner taking allergy medication? (There are warnings on Claritin about operating machinery, which could justify the driver suspension, but not the owner one.)
Second of all, also assuming that Mayfield’s positive test was for a prescription or over-the-counter medicine, there is plenty of reason for NASCAR to release the name. What if others involved in the sport are taking the same thing? It’ll help them by getting them off the drug immediately. Even if it’s not a legal drug, if it is something recreational, perhaps it’d be the first step in getting Mayfield the help he needs.
NASCAR’s argument that drivers and crew members can discuss their medicines with Dr. David Black is ludicrous. There has to be a list. Every other major professional sport with a drug testing program has a list. Without a list, and by keeping the names of the drugs secret, NASCAR could feasibly suspend whoever they wanted pretty easily, without anyone able to get a word in edgewise. The lack of appeal system is also problematic, unless you consider the B sample test a fair appeal.
I would not be shocked if, given all of these obvious issues with the drug testing program that still need to be ironed out, Mayfield makes a challenge sometime in the near future.
If Mayfield’s test was a recreational or performance-enhancing substance, well, forget this, I guess. I’m just saying, don’t judge the situation until you know all the facts. It’s why NASCAR needs to release the list, say what Mayfield tested positive for, and insitute an appeal system.
Until then, and until I know for certain that Mayfield was doing anything performance-enhancing or illegal by the name of the drug, consider me the one guy in the garage standing behind Jeremy, Shana, J.J. Yeley, and the Mayfield Motorsports team.
Give ‘em hell, guys.
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.February 12, 2009 10:40 am UTC 9 Comments
Seventeen racers are vying for just four spots in The Great American Race.
The Daytona Seventeen are for the most part are all start up teams with limited or no outside sponsorships. The first Duel on Thursday will have seven drivers looking for the two openings available in the 500. Joe Nemechek, Scott Riggs and Brad Keselowski look to be the favorites to fight for the pair of move ups. Also in that first race are longer shots; Kirk Shelmerdine, Tony Raines, Mike Skinner and Carl Long. The three favorites all have the advantage of owners with some sort of success in that role.
Nemechek has fielded cars in the Cup series before, full time with himself behind the wheel in 1995 and 1996, but many times using ringers at Watkins Glen with sporadic success. Riggs is driving for Tommy Baldwin who has had success not only as a Cup crew chief but also as the founder of a Nationwide team in 2004 that he later sold to Ray Evernham that formed the foundation for Evernham Motorsports. Meanwhile Keseloski will be in the James Finch ride that has one hundred starts on the Cup circuit on a part time basis since Jeff Purvis first jumped into one of his cars in 1990.
The second Duel has ten cars looking to make the 43 car field for Sunday’s race. Again only two will move up. Half of those ten have to be consider as legitimate contenders to make the 500. Regan Smith, Boris Said, AJ Allmendinger, Jeremy Mayfield and Mike Wallace show the most promise. Smith is driving a part time schedule for Front Row Motorsports, an organization that has run through drivers at a prolific rate.
Said will be looking to make the race that seems to allude him. His No Fear Racing team has merged with Rick Clark Motorsports, a minority owner who to the best of recollections has never put a car on a NASCAR track. Said does have a way of being fast at Daytona however. His biggest nemesis over the years has been the weather. Allmendinger is running the fourth car for Richard Petty Racing and has been fast in cars from that stable since he got into them at the end of last year.
Jeremy Mayfield put together his race team in early January and plans on a full season with All Sport energy drink returning to big time auto racing as co-owner and sponsor. Mayfield seems to have gotten the fire back in his belly. Wallace will be in a TRG Chevy. TRG has been successful in sports cars and have been making appearances on the stock car circuits to gain some experience. Wallace is another driver who seems to find ways to make the field if given any kind of decent equipment.
Those with little chance of making the big jump into Sunday’s race are Mike Garvey, Derrike Cope, Kelly Bires, Geoff Bodine and Norm Benning. Bodine’s attempt is interesting because his car is owned by Phil Parsons, but probably lacks the resources to make the race.
photo credits: Icon Sports Media
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.January 11, 2009 11:16 pm UTC 4 Comments
What in the world is going on at Gillett Evernham/Petty Enterprises?
Sadler’s out–Sadler’s in. Allmendinger will replace Sadler in the #19–or he’ll run a partial in the #10. Luckily Dinger hasn’t signed a contract with GEM/P and he is still free to sign to drive someplace that may have a clue. It certainly doesn’t look like the boys at GEM/P do. Rumors abound that Sadler kept his job because the sponsors that have signed on to finance the #19 wanted him in the seat.
If that is what happened, why the hat dance in the first place? Shouldn’t any discussion of who was going to drive that car be so far under wraps that no one outside of George Gillett and Ray Evernham had a clue?
It would see that that is the problem–no one at that organization has a clue. Evernham seems to be the smartest of the bunch. He has been setting himself up for an exit for some time. However it doesn’t seem that Ray has left the company in very good hands. The decisions coming from the once front liner for Dodge are circumspect at best.
When Evernham was given the reigns to bring Dodge back to NASCAR, I was excited at the prospect. When Bill Elliott was named as the lead driver; as a Ford fan, I was devastated, but I still rooted for him and the Dodge team. When Elliott “retired” and Kasey Kahne took over the #9 ride; I still followed with interest the success of that car and the team. But with the bad decisions over the past three seasons you have to wonder if the decision to bring in a struggling Petty Enterprises is just another bad decision; much like the indecision to let Sadler go and then not.
Which leads us to this week’s BUZZ ON PIT ROW:
If you were a sponsor of one of the GEM/Petty cars; would you be worried about the companies ability to make proper decisions, given the Elliott Sadler mess?
Let us know what you think and we may use your thoughts on this weeks ON PIT ROW radio show. Listen live Tuesdays from 5-7pm ET.
Photo Credit: Icon Sports Media
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.December 29, 2008 7:56 am UTC 7 Comments
Elliott Sadler and Ray Evernham are out at the former Gillett-Evernham Motorsports.
ESPN.com has reported that both Sadler and Evernham have severed ties with the team that Evernham built from the ground up when Chrysler Corporation re-entered NASCAR Cup racing. Evernham was the face and brawn behind Chrysler’s return in 2001. Now it appears that Ray has taken his car owner’s trophy that Bill Elliott won for him at the Brickyard 400, and cleared out his office.
After selling majority ownership to George Gillett, Evernham has been less and less involved in the running of the team that bore his name. Things were so bad at one point that his drivers, Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler called for more of a presence of Evernham at the race track to try and right the listing ship.
Not only has Evernham cleared out his desk; but Sadler has been given the boot as well. Sadler has never lived up to his perceived potential after making the move from Yates Racing to replace Jeremy Mayfield. AJ Allmendinger will drive the #19 in 2009. Dinger had been slated to run the #10 next year, but it appears that funding for that ride may not be materializing. So Sadler could take his higher salary to one of the few remaining open seats in the Cup Series. The #41 is still open at Earnhardt-Ganassi and there are further rumors that the #77 at Penske may open up. Helio Castroneves‘ IRL ride may be open if he can’t thwart pending jail time for tax issues; with Sam Hornish, Jr. returning to the open wheel ranks.
Will the “Back to Basics” credo of Brian France from 2008 eventually result in NASCAR teams returning to a more traditional driver and ownership model?
Let us know what you think and we could use your comments on a future edition of ON PIT ROW, the radio show. Listen live Tuesdays from 5-7pm ET at www.onpitrow.com
photo credit: Icon Sports Media
by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.October 22, 2008 6:55 pm UTC No Comments
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta, Georgia this weekend for the seventh round of its ten-race playoffs. Atlanta is always a crucial stop on the NASCAR schedule, not only because it’s the home track for drivers like Bill Elliott and David Ragan, but because a lot of sponsorship dollars come from the city. Among the current major NASCAR sponsors to call the city home are AT&T, Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, and UPS.
Money may perhaps be the biggest concern in NASCAR nowadays, with many teams struggling to find sponsorship in a failing economy. Longtime sponsors like Texaco/Havoline and AAA have pulled back all motorsports sponsorship for next season, affecting multiple teams around the garage area. Even the manufacturers are struggling – Ford higher-ups admitted to merger talks at one point with General Motors, and Chrysler may merge with GM by the end of the year.
Recently, team merger rumors have been spreading all over the garage. While the sport’s powerhouses – Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, and the like – have been basically immune to these rumors, some of the less prominent teams in the garage area have been subject to this speculation. While plenty of it has been nothing more than whimsy, as much of the silly season is, some of the rumors may inevitably come true.
This week’s Quick Hits are the top five merger rumors that have been floating around the garage area:
5. Yates Racing and Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 26 team: Granted, this one wouldn’t happen until RFR has to cut down to four teams for 2010. However, it would expand Yates to four cars, putting it on par with RFR, Hendrick, and Richard Childress Racing.
Jamie McMurray would be the likely castoff from the Roush stable, as the No. 26 is regularly the team’s lowest-ranking car. Crown Royal is reportedly solidly behind McMurray, so that sponsorship would probably follow him over. Assuming nothing changes from 2009, he would join Paul Menard, Travis Kvapil, and David Gilliland.
This one’s been in the works for a long time, making it a bit more likely than any of the following.
4. Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Bill Davis Racing: Reports state that GEM majority owner George Gillett wants to move his team to Toyota and expand to four cars. Buying a current top 35 team with a strong Truck Series program in BDR would only add to the team’s resources and sponsorship.
Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, and Reed Sorenson are already under contract for next season in Sprint Cup. Counting BDR’s truck drivers, the options for the team’s fourth car would probably be A.J. Allmendinger, Chase Miller, Michael Annett, and Johnny Benson. It’s likely that, given the No. 22’s unsponsored state, they would shut down at least one Truck team and GEM’s Nationwide team, and shift sponsorship dollars to that car.
If Ray Evernham sells his minority interest in the team, as has been suggested recently, this one has a legitimate shot of happening. Evernham remaining part of the team, however, could be a deal breaker. He has a strong relationship with Dodge, and given BDR’s issues with the manufacturer in the past and Dodge’s lack of Truck Series support, that could cause obstacles in the deal.
3. Chip Ganassi Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing: This rumor first appeared in late July. Given CGR’s loss of Texaco Havoline for 2009, and MWR’s loss of UPS for next year as well, it made plenty of sense at the time.
Under the terms of the deal, the combined entity would race Toyotas. Juan Montoya, Michael Waltrip, and David Reutimann would all take their contracts for next season to the new team. J.J. Yeley and Allmendinger would be the top choices for the fourth car, the No. 41, which currently carries the Target sponsorship. Another option would be to cut down to three teams and split Target between Montoya and Reutimann.
Given MWR’s recent alignment with JTG Daugherty Racing and addition of a No. 47 car for Marcos Ambrose, this deal couldn’t happen unless the No. 41 was eliminated altogether.
2. Chip Ganassi Racing and Petty Enterprises: This is one of the more recent rumors, only appearing in late September. Ganassi and Petty would unite to produce a flagship team for Dodge, which would take over lead status with the manufacturer if GEM defects to Toyota.
Montoya would retain his No. 42 with Wrigley’s sponsorship. Chad McCumbee would take over the No. 45 car, which would be renumbered 44, and keep most of that team’s current sponsorship. Kyle Petty and Bryan Clauson would probably each run a limited schedule in a part-time No. 45 car, with Petty carrying Wells Fargo sponsorship. Finally, Target would move over to the No. 43 and partner with Bobby Labonte.
Based on their longtime relationships with Dodge, this one would make some sense. It would keep Montoya in a Dodge, and faced with the potential loss of Kahne, the manufacturer needs all the firepower it can get. It would also allow Petty to remain with his family’s team for a part-time schedule, and provide a team with which Clauson could run a limited schedule in anticipation of moving up full-time eventually.
On a more personal note, however, who else thinks that Target red would mix poorly with Petty blue?
1. Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Petty Enterprises: Given the much-maligned status of both of these teams right now, this rumor was inevitable. The teams have a combined six drivers – Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola, Regan Smith, Labonte, McCumbee, and Petty – and two sponsors – Bass Pro Shops and Wells Fargo – for next season. The Wells Fargo sponsorship is tied to Petty alone, however, leaving his family team in limbo.
Under this deal, it’s unlikely Petty and his personal sponsorship would even factor in. DEI is obligated to Truex and Almirola for next year, and PE has already signed Labonte through 2012. McCumbee is basically a shoo-in for their second car anyway. Despite a near-miss at Talladega and a possible Rookie of the Year Award, Smith would be the other odd man out.
PE general manager Robbie Loomis denies that this deal is even likely, citing the team’s discussions with multiple other organizations. It doesn’t seem likely to merge two organizations of such different makeup anyway. Loomis said that one of the key factors in a potential merger is the growth of the Petty brand name, according to Mike Mulhern of the Winston-Salem Journal.
But it would certainly shake up the sport in more ways than one. For two teams once held in such high regard to plummet this low is unprecedented. Obviously, Petty-Earnhardt merchandise would make a lot of extra coin for the teams, but given the nature of the collectible market as of late, the gimmick would probably go way too far. You’d probably see the superteam asking Robby Gordon and Roger Penske for the rights to the numbers 7 and 77, to play off of Richard’s and Dale’s seven championships apiece.
Even thinking about that promo makes me sick.
It’s sad that the sport has plummeted to this level. It’s sad that our economic issues have affected so many – from teams to sponsors to the fans themselves – in such a negative way. Worst of all, however, it’s sad that we may see at least one of the names of the aforementioned organizations be wiped from the history books of the future – especially if that team has been around since the dawn of NASCAR.
Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson (Sprint Cup) and Benson (Truck Series) for their wins at Martinsville.
by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowOctober 17, 2008 3:22 pm UTC 4 Comments
Watch the newest Monday Morning Crew Chief right here, right now.