Category: Views

Bowyer’s Plans Coming Into Focus

What seemed to be a stretch of an idea by Motorsport.com is now being reported by another media outlet. Earlier Claire B Lang of SiriusXM Radio confirms the Motorsport.com report that Clint Bowyer will head to HScott Motorsports (HSM) in 2016 and then move to Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2017.

When Bowyer gets to SHR, he would take over the seat of Tony Stewart, who will hang up his helmet after 18 seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This would be another big blow to NASCAR on the national radar, as this year marks the end of Jeff Gordon’s illustrious career.

Originally the idea seemed crazy that Stewart would ever walk away, but at age 45 (Stewart in 2016) time and circumstances have taken their toll on him. A broken leg in 2013 and then the tragedy in 2014, Stewart has yet to regain the form that has led him to three Sprint Cup Series titles and 48 wins in his career. The last win coming in early 2013, which was done with fuel mileage rather than out pacing the competition. So far this season, Stewart sits 26th in points with only two top-10 finishes in 24 starts.

When looking at what HSM might do for that one season, no matter what, it will be an improvement over what it is currently getting from drivers Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett. Logic would dictate that one of those drivers would be out of a job to make room for Bowyer, rather than expanding for three teams for one season. Allgaier is a favorite of owner Harry Scott, but lacks full sponsorship and is currently 30th in points. Annett has sponsorship, but sitting 35th in points with no top-10 finishes (Allgaier has one) I can’t imagine there’s enough Pilot Travel Centers money to keep him employed at HSM.

The benefit to Bowyer spending a year in the minor leagues, as outlined by Motorsport.com, is with HSM’s Hendrick Motorsports affiliation, he can spend a year getting accustomed to their chassis. While the results haven’t been there for HSM, it is not from lack of effort, and getting a talented driver like Bowyer in there might turn their luck around. Many would point to when Kurt Busch went to HSM’s predecessor, Phoenix Racing, and turned them into a potential contender. While that is an honorable comparison, what Busch did for Furniture Row Racing might be a better parallel.

With the eventual move to SHR, Bowyer will be reunited with his for Richard Childress Racing teammate Kevin Harvick. Looking at that aspect, maybe it is better to go backwards in time, to then be able to go forward.

FOX Wrong on MWR Reporting

It’s weird to think that FOX Sports could be wrong in its reporting about Michael Waltrip Racing. Especially since, you know, the team owner works for FOX Sports. But here we are and apparently there were no Danica Patrick yoga poses to talk about, so instead erroneous reports about MWR’s future with Toyota were to be had. Here’s Toyota’s Andy Graves calling out FOX digital editor Jay Pennell about his reporting.

 

To his credit, Pennell doesn’t dwell on the call out and bounces along as if nothing happened. It’s FOX, so I’m sure nothing will happen until more “news” breaks.

Transitions – Merchandising

Last year I spent the majority of my time during the NASCAR weekend at Watkins Glen International (WGI) focused on my experience as a member of the media and it’s comparison to the fan experience. I have had the opportunity of taking it all in with fresh eyes, with little to no expectations. Since Mike has attended many races at WGI, he has provided insight as to how things “used to be.” Usually I just say okay and move on with the conversation, but this year there have been a few changes that even I have to adjust to. My goal for this weekend is to pause during the chaos, make time to reflect on the changes that effect fans, drivers, and essentially all who attend this weekend’s race.

One of the bigger changes that have taken place at the track this year is the modification of the sale of merchandise. “Back in the good ol’ days,” as Mike would say, NASCAR teams would bring in their haulers full of merchandise, pull them into the middle of the infield, open up and sell to fans. As a fan, you would walk in their pop-up village, find the trailer of your favorite team, and purchase whatever paraphernalia your heart desires. For example, being a Brad Keselowski fan, I would theoretically find the No.2 hauler and behind glass would be all of the 1-64 scale cars a girl could ever wish for, plenty of hoodies and t-shirts for men and women, bumper stickers, car decals, hats, etc. all for a competitive price of the surrounding haulers of different teams.

Nowadays, beginning last week at Pocono, all NASCAR merchandise is arranged in a rather large tent area run by ‘Fanatics.’ Walking through the Fanatics tent you can find anything you could possibly be looking for. Merchandise is organized in a number of ways; such as youth sizes and styles, a ‘Kids Corner,’ by team, by item (i.e. hats). While wandering through, I was absorbing all of the comments I could hear from people. I can promise you I was trying really hard not to blatantly be eaves-dropping, but the way the tent is set up, there is little room for people to look at merchandise and easily maneuver around other shoppers; so overhearing their conversations was not that difficult.

Fanatics_2The tent is strategically set up where each section requires you to walk in to the back, turn around to come back to the center aisle and turn the corner for the next section. You cannot move from section to section except one entrance again. If one staff member stood in every section, I feel they would serve more of the purpose of watching for shoplifting while helping people find the merchandise they are looking for.

These sections allow fans to not only view the items for sale, but to feel them and hold them up for size without having the pressure of asking someone to get it from the back for you. In the hauler, if you asked to view an item there was an awkward, unspoken expectation to then purchase said item. With the tent set up, you can hold it and decide that the back of the hat has the netting that you don’t like, and you can put it down without feeling obligated to buy it just because you made someone do their job.

One of the first things I noticed is that the tent area has gates around it, so you are forced to walk in one entrance and essentially one exit. Standing at the entrance/exit are two “ushers” who greet you and search your bags when you are leaving the area. The shopping experience is much different than the previous set up in that you grab a green ‘re-usable’ Fanatics bag (reminds me of the bags I use when grocery shopping to protect the environment by not using plastic bags, you know the kind) and fill it with all sorts of goodies. There are many staff members in the area to help you; however, I feel this position is more on a volunteer basis. We have had encountered several staff members so far this weekend who have been unable to answer our questions, which is why I believe that partaking as staff is a volunteer situation.

It is pretty awesome that going through the Fanatics tent you can find merchandise for many more drivers than you would have for the haulers. The teams individually fund their merchandise haulers; therefore, lower tiered drivers who may not have as much financial support as other teams would not likely be able to afford to haul merchandise haulers around the country. We all know the power of the Underdog and sometimes we just want to be able to buy a t-shirt to proud display our support, but those shirts can feel like they do not even exist. This set-up allows for those teams to make a portion of profits, which is more than they get from selling nothing. I am sure NASCAR is receiving the largest chunk of change from this new set-up.

For Watkins Glen International, though this is not a life or death situation, it is a shame that there is an area of the infield entitled “Turn Ten Village,” which was the site of the hauler circle of merchandise. From a nostalgic point of view, they have paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Yes, this area has now become a place for parking for buses, food trucks, and golf carts.

The Glen Dog

Move over Martinsville, there’s a new dog in town. That is…The Glen Dog.

Offered at Watkins Glen International for the first time, The Glen Dog, is a Sahlen’s brand hot dog nestled in a pretzel bun, covered in Yancy’s Fancy macaroni and cheese and dusted with Cheez-It crumbles. The premise behind its creation was to rival fellow ISC track Martinsville with having the best hot dog in NASCAR. Martinsville’s dogs are well known, but this dog will give it a run for its money.

That is perfect sponsor placement on the part of the marketing folks at Watkins Glen (all three companies being track sponsors), but the ingredients come together for a delicious tasting dog. It retails for $7 and can be only found at certain food stands around the track, but if you get your hands on this dog, you will not be disappointed.

5 Questions Going Into Watkins Glen

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finds it way to the final road race of the year one of the most exciting races in recent memory. The famed Watkins Glen International track has set the bar for excitement and drama, and this weekend figures to continue that when the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen is run. Continue reading “5 Questions Going Into Watkins Glen”

Kauffman, Bowyer Set For New NASCAR Life

News broke Wednesday that Rob Kauffman, majority owner of Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR), was closing in on purchasing Felix Sabates’ stake in Chip Ganassi Racing. (CGR)This will be a duel commentary post taking a look at Kauffman and driver Clint Bowyer’s potential revitalization.

When Kauffman bought into MWR in October 2007 it was assumed an influx of cash might help the organization get back on its feet, or at least get some traction. The process was slow and painful, but in time they did get there. Clint Bowyer finished second in the standings in 2012 with three victories in the season, just about half of the total in the organization’s history.

Then there was the 2013 Richmond Spingate that nearly crushed the organization and probably planted the bug in Kauffman’s ear about greener pastures elsewhere. The team has been average, at best, the past two seasons. The bright spot of the team is the charismatic and funny Bowyer, but he is in essence wasting away during the prime of his career.

If the plan comes to fruition, Kauffman buying into Chip Ganassi Racing, that could be the best thing that ever happened to not only Kauffman or Bowyer, but the sponsors that could be loyal to them and the Ganassi organization. Currently CGR has veteran Jamie McMurray who has quietly been having a solid season in the #1 car and second year man Kyle Larson, who is down in points, but has a very high ceiling given his talent. Pairing Bowyer with those two drivers will help make Bowyer a better driver, rather than comparing notes with a rotating door of drivers that he’s dealt with for most of his time at MWR.

The Ganassi team is on the cusp of getting over the preverbal hump, already having alliances with Hendrick Motorsports, and I would presume Kauffman would bring money to the table for the team to not only expand to three cars, but also invest into more R&D projects.

Not to mention how perfect of a match it could be for Kauffman and his road racing background to be paired with one of the best road racing owners in the business. That could open avenues in other areas of motorsports for the pair, something Kauffman tried to do with Waltrip, but again, he’s Waltrip and he likes to goo things up.

My only hope with Waltrip still owning a team was maybe one day he’d be forced off the airways to either concentrate on his team, or remove the obvious conflict of interest he has each week, but it seems that Kauffman will remove that question from Waltrip. So while I like the move for Kauffman and Bowyer, I dislike it because we’re almost guaranteed more Waltrip on TV. Oh…boy.

Waltrip Setting Stage To Exit NASCAR Ownership

News broke Wednesday that Rob Kauffman, majority owner of Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR), was closing in on purchasing Felix Sabates’ stake in Chip Ganassi Racing. This will be a duel commentary post taking a look at Waltrip in this piece and how ownership has gone for the goofy pitchman.

While all parties are mum on the situation, it is amazing that Waltrip had not been run out of ownership sooner given what his history has been in the position. Waltrip founded his team on the foundation of being a Toyota flag ship for their entry into NASCAR in 2007. It didn’t take long for the goofy pitchman’s luster to start wearing off. At the season opening Daytona 500, the team was found to have used jet fuel in their cars to get an advantage. NASCAR did not look kindly on this infraction handing out suspensions, monetary and points fines, and stripping the teams of their qualifying times. What a great first impression for Toyota into a sport that already had fans annoyed with a non-American company entering into it.

The season would not continue any less smooth as the teams of Waltrip (#55), Dale Jarrett (#44), and David Reutimann (#00) routinely missed races. Reutimann missing 10, Jarrett missing 12, and Waltrip’s team missing 17. This kind of performance ran Jarrett out of the sport after five races in 2008 (planned in advance of the season, but you have to wonder how forced his hand was after 2007), but more importantly left Waltrip on the brink of bankruptcy once sponsors began jettisoning the team.

Enter Kauffman, who brought a boat load of cash to the organization, enough to become majority owner of the team baring Waltrip’s name. The next season was slightly better with Waltrip and Reutimann starting all the races, but the team nearly destroy Michael McDowell’s career before it started by pushing him into the #00 car. By 2009, the #44 team folder with Reutimann returning to the 00 and Waltrip took his last run for a full season in the #55.

The team turned around and hit its stride during this time period with Reutimann collecting wins in 2009 and 2010. The team added Martin Truex Jr into the mix in 2011, then in true Waltrip fashion, unceremoniously tossed Reutimann (a loyal Waltrip guy) to the curb so late in 2011 he could not find a ride and never fully recovered. That opened the door for Clint Bowyer to join the team for 2012 and they were rewarded with three wins from his team and a 2nd place finish in the points.

Just when things looked their brightest in 2013, Waltrip done Waltrip’d himself again. Truex won at Sonoma, fill in Brian Vickers won at New Hampshire, and the team was poised to have Truex and Bowyer in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. During the Richmond race, final regular season race, Bowyer got directions to cause a caution to the benefit of Truex to make the Chase. NASCAR figured out the charade and kicked Truex out of the Chase. That resulted in sponsor NAPA, having been with Waltrip since 2001, leaving the organization (and almost NASCAR) and Truex was left without a ride.

Both last season and this season the team has been average at best, running mid to late 20’s each weekend. This past week saw Toyota be non-committal when asked about MWR’s future, along with longtime supporter Aaron’s on if they would return to the #55 next season.

For Waltrip, he’s a goofy pitchman whose antics helped keep sponsors happy while his performance was in the toilet, but that act I believe has finally worn off. While he’ll still have his gig as FOX Sports talking head, with Kauffman leaving (with Clint Bowyer), it’s hard to believe he has the finances to continue, much less the desire to keep his team afloat.