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.March 8, 2011 8:01 am UTC No Comments
The stories that have come from this early season have been all that NASCAR could have hoped for. From twenty-year-old Trevor Bayne winning the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing” to a resurgence by veteran Jeff Gordon the first two weeks were storybookesque.
As week three headed to Sin City and all that Las Vegas has to offer it became apparant that NASCAR may just have pulled out of the malaise that it had been stuck in for the past three years. TV ratings are up for the race broadcasts and more importantly; non-main stream media has again found NASCAR’s personalities interesting.
To add even more excitement to the mix; Robby Gordon and Kevin Conway have a dust-up in the garage over monies owed from each party to the other, resulting in Conway filing a police report against Gordon. Kevin Conway’s sponsor Extenze supposedly owes Gordon money while Gordon supposedly owes Conway money. This is never a good situation unless you are the type that love reality TV. The Conway -Gordon tift is the kind of publicity you can’t buy.
All the jokes about Conway standing up to Gordon aside; Conway never should have let this difference of opinion make it to a police report. Conway’s handling of the altercation says as much about him, his sponsor and his place in the NASCAR community as is inability to drive a race car.
Sorry Kevin–take a couple of your sponsor’s products and man-up.
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler/ON PIT ROW
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.March 7, 2011 1:48 pm UTC 3 Comments
But in 2009, Conway exploded back on the scene by pitching Extenze, a natural male enhancement pill that plastered his face all over TV stations everywhere. He ran for various teams looking for an extra buck that year, before Front Row Motorsports brought him on for the 2010 season.
FRM knew that the 2010 Raybestos Rookie of the Year class was going to be thin in Sprint Cup, and as their sponsorship deals with Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s are mostly tied to team owner Bob Jenkins’ many fast-food franchises with Yum! Brands, they certainly knew they could use the cash and exposure that a brand like Extenze, and by extension a driver like Conway, could generate.
The experiment was, by almost all accounts, a spectacular failure; while Conway’s 14th-place run in the Coke Zero 400 was the team’s best ever at that time, he was out of there by August, his sponsor failing to pony up the cash (Big Daddy’s BBQ Sauce, anyone?). FRM had been switching Conway and teammates David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil between cars all season, ensuring the faltering Conway would remain in the top 35 in owners’ points and thus in the race while forcing the more qualified drivers to either go or go home. The partnership ended in lawsuits, with FRM suing Extenze for those missed sponsorship payments and Conway suing FRM for his salary.
Refuge came in the shops of Robby Gordon Motorsports. Robby Gordon, one of the purest racers the sport has ever seen, had fallen on tough times, his one-car, owner-driver operation continually struggling for results and sponsorship dollars. So Conway got a seven-race gig to finish out his award-winning (cough) season, and Gordon got a cool $690K.
Except, as we all know by now, he didn’t.
The same story played out once again with RGM, although this weekend’s events at Vegas have exacerbated things. While nobody in NASCAR witnessed the incident, Conway, who was driving in the Nationwide Series for NEMCO Motorsports last weekend, apparently stormed into the Sprint Cup garage looking for Gordon and demanding the $27,000 he felt he was owed for winning Rookie of the Year in Gordon’s cars. Gordon took the logical “I’ll pay you when your sponsor pays me” approach to the verbal altercation, which ended with Conway filing a police report.
Wait up. A police report? Isn’t this the sport where Yarborough vs. Allison, Spencer vs. Busch, Gordon vs. Burton have been celebrated by the fan base, never mind handled independently by the men involved? All of those fights were divisive, leaving a fan base to make a difficult choice between the two warring viewpoints. Not so this time.
Robby Gordon may be frequently vilified by NASCAR, accruing at least one penalty every year it seems and being the only driver involved in this altercation to end up on probation, but it’s pretty clear to most of us who’s in the wrong here. This is the second team that Conway’s jobbed with the Extenze backing. It’d be one thing if this was a one-time thing, but there’s a history that’s been established here. If you remember the 360OTC debacle of 2007, it’s clear that pharmaceutical companies have a bad history with lawsuits and NASCAR teams anyway. If he wants to get paid, he should go call up the folks at Biolab Nutraceuticals, Extenze’s manufacturer, and ask them.
Not only that, Conway overstepped his boundaries by walking into a garage he had no right to be in (by lack of employment, this weekend, and by poor results, any weekend) and demanding money he has no right to until his sponsor pays the bills. It was an immature thing to do, and one that’s probably going to put off any of the few remaining folks who were willing to hire him. Worse, the fact that he felt the need to file a police report after an altercation that he initiated, if you believe what Gordon told Mike Mulhern, suggests he doesn’t have the head to handle the pressure of racing’s highest level anyway.
I’ve always wanted to like Conway. I recall seeing him while on assignment for On Pit Row at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last year, and he seemed like a nice enough guy, the kind of driver who could pitch a product, run decently, and stir up some underdog sentiment with race fans. But after this latest incident, what I would consider a repeat offense given his history with FRM, I can’t. Get the sponsor that you’ve been towing around to pay the bills first. I’m not surprised that somebody edited Conway’s Wikipedia page to add the nickname “Rat.” (Go look it up.)
It’s a stupid situation, one that brings the already-suffering Robby Gordon Motorsports another step closer to extinction, while Conway manages to keep racing with little to no repercussions. It’s not fair and it’s not right, and everybody knows it. Say what you want about Robby Gordon, but if you hired somebody who should have brought your business almost $700,000, defaulted on it, and then stormed up to you looking for any money at all, you’d have a right to be as angry as he is.
And a word of advice to Joe Nemechek: Watch your back, dude. Get those checks up front. I don’t think you’re gonna get paid.
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 @onpitrowJanuary 24, 2011 9:09 pm UTC 2 Comments
I have been roughly shaken from my serene, off-season sleep. Whomever did the shaking is to blame for this.
Welcome to the 2011 NASCAR Blogging Season. I have to ask.
What, exactly, does Kevin Conway bring to the, eh, “table” for ExtenZe Racing?
I mean….I don’t actually want to see it or anything. But one has to wonder.
ExtenZe Racing has been a good friend of the show and Kevin seems a fine guy. He is the 2010 NASCAR Rookie of the Year and it’s not his fault that nobody challenged him for that honor.
But even before he had that ROY in his bag, he was hung with some hefty sponsor dough. Dumped by Front Row Motorsports mid season, he picked up Robby Gordon Racing for awhile. Robby was easy. But it didn’t last.
Now Kevin and ExtenZe are all over the Nemco Motorsports car for Daytona. Kevin gets to run the Bud Shootout and will have to qualify to race in the Daytona 500. I hope he does.
But eventually, ExtenZe needs to be a sponsor for the Wood Brothers. That is a match.
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler – OnPitRow.com
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 @onpitrowMarch 4, 2010 11:54 pm UTC 2 Comments
Where there aint any blow
Cause my fin sinks so low
I gotta go where it’s warm”
Sorry, but I needed that. February was long leaving and March 2010 has been a major strain. Buffett usually helps me.
Him, baseball and Margaritas.
And the line in that song about “fins sinking low” seems to fit right now. And not just for me.
The NASCAR Shark Fin has been trimmed to negligible height since the Great White sized rudders used at Daytona.
I thought I might have to find another post title idea. But it turns out, I’m too lazy. Shark Fin Soup stays.
If you haven’t stopped by the On Pit Row Facebook Fan Page on Tuesdays during the On Pit Row radio program, you are missing some pretty good stuff. This is a plug – sure – but we do have a blast. And live “Tweeting” during the live radio is dangerous.
Steve and I were debating whether “Jeff Gordon and Steve Latarte gambled too much on a two tire stop at the end of the race?”
We agreed that Latarte had blown the call. But when I wrote the update for the Fan Page and Twitter it came out…
“Steve and I agree that Steve Latarte blew..”
Not what I intended…. Actually it was alot funnier than what I intended.
We had Kevin Conway, driver of the ExtenZe Racing Ford Fusion for Front Row Motorsports on the show. Kevin is the current favorite for 2010 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, and a funny guy in his own right.
While answering one of our questions, Conway smoothly worked this into his answer…
“with the ExtenZe racing team, we try to do everything big…..”
Nice work Kevin. You’ll go far in this NASCAR gig with sponsor stumping like that.
Latarte and Gordon stumbled and Johnson and Knaus were there to shoot the cripple as they say in billiards. Don’t make mistakes if you want to win a Cup race in the J J era.
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.January 17, 2010 4:08 pm UTC No Comments
Front Row Motorsports recently announced Kevin Conway as the full-time driver of one of its two cars, a Ford which will likely carry sponsorship from male enhancement pill Extenze. This announcement made Conway the first rookie candidate for the 2010 season.
Days later, former Nationwide Series owner Dusty Whitney announced that he had purchased a fleet of Dodges from Richard Petty Motorsports, now a Ford team, and would be fielding a car for former Truck Series driver Terry Cook for the full 36-race schedule. Cook, who had been competing in the trucks since 1996, will also compete for the award.
But looking at the press release, Whitney’s quote appears to hint at a start-and-park program for the Truck Series veteran. “Terry did a fantastic job qualifying the #91 Nationwide Car last season and we are hoping for the same qualifying success in our #46 Sprint Cup Car,” Whitney said. This explicit mention of qualifying success suggests that the team will probably pull into the garage after a handful of laps every weekend.
This leaves Conway as the only legitimate candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2010, the first time this has happened since 1996, when Johnny Benson won almost by default. And even then, Conway hasn’t done much with his career – and without his Extenze sponsorship, he wouldn’t even be there.
Granted, rookie classes have always fluctuated from year to year. Consider the influx of open-wheel stars gunning for the award in 2008, compared to 2009, where only Joey Logano and Scott Speed duked it out.
But it appears that the failures of the young guns in the then-Busch Series in 2004 and 2005 may be to blame for the recent shortage – not just the one-year stand of IndyCar and Formula One rookies.
In that time period, Cup drivers were running fewer Busch races, allowing the Cup teams to attempt to develop and groom young talent for future Cup rides. Hendrick Motorsports had Blake Feese and Boston Reid; Roush Racing employed Todd Kluever and Danny O’Quinn Jr.; a slew of “Hungry Drivers” piloted the Evernham Motorsports car. Teams like FitzBradshaw Racing and Brewco Motorsports were developing drivers instead of just hiring Busch Series lifers.
Then something strange and unprecedented happened.
All of these drivers failed.
O’Quinn pops up from time to time in Nationwide races, but most of the drivers have moved on. Joel Kauffman’s career is over. Tracy Hines is back to USAC. Paul Wolfe is now a crew chief.
Worse, most of these drivers were fully funded by major companies. These failures helped instill a fear of committing to young talent in sponsors looking to join the series. Combine that with the oft-cited state of the American economy, and the sport is in trouble.
Fewer and fewer young drivers receive lucrative sponsorship contracts every year, even with the big teams, because these companies would rather only run a Nationwide race or two every year with Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Mark Martin than twenty with Kelly Bires or Brendan Gaughan.
So the owners found another way out: bringing in open-wheel talent that didn’t have rides for 2008. With the modest success of Juan Montoya at Ganassi Racing in 2007, it seemed like everybody with even a sliver of open wheel success was called over to make the jump. Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier, Michael McDowell, Dario Franchitti, and Jacques Villeneuve all got the call.
None of them won the award, and two years removed, only Hornish still has a solid ride in Cup.
Unfortunately, because race teams are independent contractors, NASCAR can’t step in and try to make these sponsors commit to young talent and the future growth of the sport, instead of the same old talent. If NASCAR attempts to regulate double-dipping in Cup and Nationwide, the timing might kill the feeder series. The teams themselves may or may not try to sell these young drivers to prospective backers, but they can only do so much.
The only stroke of luck for NASCAR right now is that the rookie classes of the early and mid 2000s were so deep, and that many of those drivers will remain in the series for another 10 to 15 years. Between 2001 and 2005, eight future Chase drivers, among them three future champions, joined the series. The 2006 rookie class was the deepest since 1994 in terms of talent, producing three Chase drivers and a few more Cup regulars, and 2007 wasn’t too shabby either, with all eligible candidates still in the series.
But unless teams and sponsors are willing to re-invest in the youth of the sport, we may see the same names and faces again and again, year after year, and the least accomplished rookie classes in Cup history.