Joe Gibbs Racing announces that it has signed driver Martin Truex Jr and crew chief Cole Pern for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Truex will replace Daniel Suarez in the #19 Toyota, with sponsorship to be announced later. Terms of the deal were not released and the move comes after Truex and Pern’s current team, Furniture Row Racing, announced they would be closing at the end of the 2018 season.
Joe Gibbs Racing announces that crew chief Scott Graves has left the organization effective immediately. Graves had been working with driver Daniel Suarez, instead Dave Rogers steps into that role for the six remaining races in 2018. Continue reading “Graves Out As Suarez Crew Chief”
The 2018 edition of NASCAR Silly Season is not disappointing with the number of far fetching rumors that have actually found out to be true. There are still a lot of open seats and plenty of drivers trying to get their plans in line for 2019 and beyond. Here’s a quick look at some of the openings out there and what is rumored to be happening. Continue reading “Silly Season Is Kicking Up A Gear”
DENVER, Colo. – Due to a lack of necessary funding to field a competitive team, Furniture Row Racing has been left with no reasonable option but to cease operations following the completion of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Continue reading “Furniture Row Racing To Close At End Of Season”
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.
When the checkered flag flies in Sunday’s Ford 400 from the Homestead-Miami Speedway, more than just the 2013 season will come to a close. For some drivers it will be the end of tenures with their current teams and for others the end of their careers.
The most prominent driver to be hanging it up at the close of the season is Mark Martin. While the retirement word hasn’t been used, his talk with reporters is one that indicates the driving aspect of his career is over. “It is hard to believe that I’ve lived this dream. I’m so fortunate. I got two chances at it. I got a chance at it and had success and failed, and had to go and start my career all over again and spend several years getting back up on my feet and getting a second opportunity in NASCAR. It is really hard to believe. I am still – deep down inside, I’m still the kid from Arkansas that got the huge thrill the first time I went to Daytona as a spectator to watch the Daytona 500. I wasn’t even a teenager yet. I never dreamed I would be able to do the things that I’ve done and to have the success that I’ve had. It’s been a dream. Living a dream.”
Coming into the race under the radar of his final Sprint Cup Series start is Ken Schrader. The 29 year veteran has been running off and on the past few years, but has said that this will be it. Odds are he still might make a random Camping World Truck Series or appearance in another series, it won’t be the Sprint Cup Series. While not one of the more successful drivers on the track, off the track he’s earned the respect of fans and competitors alike.
Another driver stepping away from the Sprint Cup Series, but could possibly be back in a one off race scenario is Juan Pablo Montoya. After seven years in the Sprint Cup Series, which saw two career wins, Montoya is going back to his roots in the IndyCar Series. He will be driving there for Roger Penske, so coming back for a road course race will always be a rumor. “It’s hard to believe that seven years ago I raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time. This race is special to me in a lot of ways; its home, my family and friends will all be there and it’s the last time I will race with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Target. To be honest with you, it’s bittersweet and I’d like to have a good weekend for Target and the team. Nothing would mean more than a win this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”
While not retiring, just yet anyways, Jeff Burton will be stepping away from the full-time side of things in the Sprint Cup Series for a yet to be determined part-time ride in 2014. He will leave the Richard Childress Racing team after just over 9 years with them. During that time he was able to re-ignite his career with four wins from 2006 to 2008. He has struggled as of late, but that should not be a true reflection of his career. “I’ve been really blessed to do it for as long as I’ve done it to do something that you love and to be able to do it as long as I’ve done it really is a blessing. When I was seven years old I wanted to be a race car driver. I’m 46 and I’m a race car driver. I’ve just been really blessed. The cool thing is I’ve met so many people and experienced so many things that I never would have been able to do. To have a chance to compete for a living is really is a cool thing. You know what your job is and go out and try to do it. Competing to me means something. To be able to do it this long has been really cool.”
After helping Furniture Row Racing become the first single car team to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kurt Busch will be leaving at year’s end to join the Stewart-Haas Racing stable. Busch helped set marks for the teams with top-5s and top-10s, but was never able to get a victory. “This is our last chance to take the Furniture Row Chevrolet to Victory Lane. There’s nothing I want more for these Furniture Row guys who have worked so hard all year to give me a fast race car. Though we have a bunch of top-fives (11) and top-10’s (16) we don’t have that W. A victory would cap off an already successful season for our single-car team. It’s been a great ride with a great bunch of guys and with an outstanding organization led by team owner Barney Visser. Each year when we close out the season at Homestead there is that nostalgic feeling of what happened in 2004 — winning the championship in the first year of the Chase. It was a magical time for me and I am looking from some more magic this weekend in my final ride with the No. 78 flat-black Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet.”
The man he’s replacing at Stewart-Haas Racing will be Ryan Newman. Newman is moving on to the Richard Childress Racing team after five years with SHR. In that time he’s won four races and qualified for the Chase three times. “I really look forward to Homestead. It’s a really fun racetrack for all of us. For us to go down there and end the season on a racetrack that is very raceable is something I’m happy about. They really did a great job the third time around on redesigning that racetrack. It’s a great place to have a championship weekend for all three series. I’ve not had the best record there, but we did finish third in this race last year. I’d like nothing more than to end the season on a high note and end the season on a good note for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Also joining Stewart-Haas Racing is Kevin Harvick, who leaves the Richard Childress Racing team after 13 interesting years. It started off as Harvick being pushed into replacing the late Dale Earnhardt. Through squabbles and tribulations along the way, Harvick and his team were able to win 23 times. They finished in the top-5 in the driver standings five times and find themselves as one of the final three for this year’s title. “Homestead (Miami Speedway) has been a great race track for us, whether it was flat or banked. It’s been a race track where we’ve run well. It would be nice to close out my career at Richard Childress Racing with a win there and go out on the right note. RCR is where I got my start and it’s been a great career so far.”
Unplanned at the start of the year, Martin Truex, Jr. will be moving on from Michael Waltrip Racing after this race. He will go to the Furniture Row Racing team after four years with MWR. “I believe this NAPA team has nothing to prove. All we want to do is end on a high note and this track can certainly be the place that we can win. My guys have worked so hard for me over the last four years and I know they really want to close out our time together with a victory. To be honest, it’s been sad to see it end this way. We had such high expectations for all of us. If you really think about it, this year is only our second full season as a team for this group of guys and that’s impressive. We are really just getting started and moving in the direction that we always wanted to go. This NAPA team is such a great group of guys. It’s just unfortunate that we are not going to realize the full potential of this amazing team. All we want to do is go down swinging at Homestead. We want to use this race as a way to show everyone just how good we are and to thank NAPA Auto Parts for supporting and believing in this team. They deserve another visit to victory lane and it’s our plan to get them there on Sunday.”
While it is the end there is excitement for what the future might hold for all of these drivers. They’ll reflect on the season or career that was, but then get focused for what lies ahead.
In this week’s column I take a look at the most recent Sprint Cup Series winner, Brad Keselowski, along with the three drivers who made their Cup debuts Saturday under the lights. My two cents on the Michael Waltrip Racing situation that came out Monday. And to round things out I will touch on what a wildcard Talladega is to the Chase and a former Talladega winner is back involved in NASCAR. Continue reading “Column: Keselowski, Debuts, Talladega, MWR, and Irvan Returns”