Tag: Stewart-Haas Racing

The Road Course Ringer Myth

Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

There’s this myth that comes around NASCAR twice a year during the Cup Series schedule. That myth is if you get yourself a “road course ringer,” you’ll have instant success in the race. Well that’s not been the case more often than not and it’s actually surprising to me that this is still a thing.

Working against the road course specialist is how the Cup Series is structured now with 36 charters in play. Because of this guaranteed spot, it’s harder than ever for good and competitive rides to be open and available for someone to jump in once or twice in a given year. Usually the driver of the car is too tied to the sponsor that they cannot step away, or they might be in the thick of the championship battle. Continue reading “The Road Course Ringer Myth”

Who Will NOT Be Filling In For Tony Stewart

News came out earlier this week Tony Stewart was involved in a “non-racing” accident (because that makes it better for us to take? Weird emphasis on “non-racing” on nearly every press release) and will miss significant time after sustaining a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra. This will take a substantial amount of time to heal, thus opening the door for a replacement driver in the #14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

And with any opening in NASCAR, fans go crazy with off the wall suggestions for who should take over. With those in mind, here is a list of drivers who will NOT be driving for Tony Stewart in 2016.

Jeff Gordon: Recently retired and signed up to call races on FOX, Gordon WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Not it’s not really the FOX deal, as they would love for someone to call a race in a race, it’s the fact Gordon owns half of the #48 and part of the #24 cars for Hendrick Motorsports. NASCAR rules prohibit someone from owning part of a team that has four cars to then drive for another organization, never mind the Hendrick to Stewart-Haas connection. This is the same reason why JR Motorsports will never go to Cup nor Kyle Busch Motorsports. That is unless Dale Earnhardt Jr or Kyle Busch drive for their own teams. That aside, there is no way Gordon is selling his stake in Hendrick Motorsports to drive half a year or even just the Daytona 500.

Mark Martin: Martin already has filled in for Stewart before, but he WILL NOT drive for Stewart in 2016. He has retired and has no desire to drive anymore, saying as much on Twitter earlier this week. Poor Martin, he has bombarded with so many fan inquiries I would blame him from never logging on Twitter ever again.

Jeff Burton: Burton, like Martin has filled in for Stewart before. And like Gordon, has a TV deal that he’s currently working on. Like Martin again, he took to Twitter to tell fans he WILL NOT drive for Stewart.

John Hunter Nemechek: Not sure where this originated from, but John Hunter Nemechek WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Nemechek just turned 18 last season, which means he can finally run on large tracks, and I’m pretty sure there’s a large one to start the season. I can’t imagine SHR would want to rotate through a handful of drivers while Stewart recovers. And given Nemechek’s lack of experience, even in the Truck Series, and that is not a winning recipe.

Jeremy Mayfield: Even weirder than the Nemechek push has been the one for Jeremy Mayfield. Sorry folks, but Mayfield WILL NOT drive for Stewart. The driver who is better known for meth and burglary has been a heartwarming story of redemption trying to fight his way back into racing. That said, never mind “meth” and “burglary” being synonymous with his name (right or wrong), he hasn’t driven in the Cup Series since they had the Car of Tomorrow. Too much of a learning curve for him to try and make up for, plus that and still being suspended by NASCAR will hold him back.

Brian Vickers: Vickers is an interesting case because he when given good equipment, he can excel. That being said, Vickers WILL NOT drive for Stewart. One year removed having to stop racing while on blood thinners, not much has been heard from Vickers outside some studio time at NBC. Given his name came up exactly zero times this offseason as a driver who could go into an empty ride, I believe his racing career has come and gone. Add to that the unknown of if he has to step away again due to the blood clots and we’re back to SHR not wanting to flip-flop drivers every week.

Alex Bowman: Alex Bowman finds himself in an odd place in NASCAR, Cup Series owner Tommy Baldwin showed now faith in him and dumped him a week ago for Regan Smith. On the other side, Dale Earnhardt Jr sees potential with Bowman and inked him to five Xfinity Series races this upcoming season. One could argue that Stewart could see something in Bowman that Junior sees, but reality says Bowman WILL NOT drive for Stewart.

Clint Bowyer: While Bowyer will drive for Stewart, as his successor, in 2017, this year he WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Too much was done to get him over to HScott Motorsports for one year to then nix that deal to run him half of this year. If they knew Stewart was out for the full year, maybe, but with sponsors involved this one is a no go.

David Ragan: Ragan WILL NOT drive for Stewart. This isn’t so much because Ragan signed with BK Racing, it’s more because no one seems to want Ragan. He was spurned by Team Penske, Richard Petty Motorsports (twice!), Front Row Motorsports didn’t want him back after he left last year, and no other team had a fleeting interest in Ragan. That said, he does have one big fan who assumes every open seat is Ragan’s…good thing this guy isn’t in the media.

Parker Kligerman: Kligerman WILL NOT drive for Stewart. No talk of him doing it, just trying to justify using his image for the article. While he did work as a backup plan if Kurt Busch was late coming back to the Daytona 500, Kligerman has hitched his wagon on the NBC train while dabbling in the Truck Series. With no Cup experience, he would be very far down the list. He ran for Swan Racing, which everyone has since forgot about.

Ryan Ellis: Bwahahahaha.

Ty Dillon: Dillon’s name has gotten a lot of steam as a replacement, but he WILL NOT drive for Stewart…in the Daytona 500. He already has a deal with Leavine Circle Family Sport Racing (whoops, Leavine Family Circle Sport Racing…or is it Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing?) to run the 500 with Cheerios as a sponsor. You could argue they could move primary driver Michael McDowell to that ride and let Dillon go, but I don’t see that happening. After Daytona, however, I could see him being a good substitute for Stewart. And it’ll be fun to see him paired with Kevin Harvick as a teammate.

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.

Question Marks Heading Into Atlanta Over Replacement Drivers

The season opening Daytona 500 is over, but there will be many questions to answer in the coming days for the next event on the schedule. Ironically it involves both of the Busch brothers and polar opposite reasons.

The elder, Kurt, has been indefinitely suspended by NASCAR because of the findings of a local Delaware court to issue a restraining order to keep himself away from his ex-girlfriend. Busch appealed the initial suspension by NASCAR, but the appeals panel upheld the decision and for now Kurt will be in limbo waiting to see when NASCAR might let him back into the sport.

To cover on Sunday, the Stewart-Haas Racing team tabbed Regan Smith. Smith did good job finishing 16th. For Atlanta and beyond, the team has been mum on who might take the reins. This isn’t their first rodeo in dealing with a driver being out, they had to make arraignments prior for Tony Stewart the last two years. My guess is since the Xfinity Series schedule matches up with the Sprint Cup Series schedule, they will have Smith continue to drive for them until Busch is brought back. A wildcard here might be Jeff Burton, who filled in for Stewart last season, and is available until the second half of the season when his new television contract kicks in when NBC takes over.

I like the idea of the team, with its strong Hendrick Motorsports ties, putting in Chase Elliott to make his Sprint Cup Series debut at Atlanta next weekend. It would the perfect setting for Elliott, who grew up down the road in Dawsonville, Georgia, to get his first race under his belt.

For the younger brother Kyle, he is out indefinitely after suffering a compound fracture of his right leg and a broken left ankle. No time table has been announced, but taking in both those injuries, I suspect he will be out of commission for about two months minimum. Thinking back to when Tony Stewart broke his leg in August of 2013, he was out the final three months of the season. He was not even back in a racecar until February of 2014, so that time table for Busch might be even longer.

Who might replace Busch is an interesting question. The team had Matt Crafton fill in on Sunday, with Crafton finishing 18th in his series debut. With gaps in the Truck schedule, he could be a worthy fill in. Looking at the drivers in house for Joe Gibbs Racing you have Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez who could fit the bill. The only question I have with both is being rookies to even the Xfinity Series, would Gibbs rely on them to carry the 18 team with Busch on the sidelines.

A wildcard in this might be Michael McDowell, who’s running for Leavine Family Racing, but they are not expected to attempt all the races. He could possibly pop in when LFR is not planning on running. Anyone who is picked would need Toyota ties, in my opinion, which is why Crafton lined up very well for the team on such short notice.

I would expect both teams to try and line up one driver to take on the schedule instead of picking drivers each week. Who exactly they go with, we’ll have to wait and see what is announced for Atlanta and beyond.

NASCAR Making Right Call With Stewart Exemption

Ever since the tragic events that took place early in August at the Canandaigua (NY) Motorsports Park, public opinion has been split on Tony Stewart. Once again, after NASCAR’s announcement Friday that Stewart has been granted an exemption for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, opinion was split. This means if Stewart wins this weekend at Atlanta or next weekend at Richmond, he would be able to run for the championship.

Many drivers and owners applauded NASCAR for the move, some media members and fans then lauded NASCAR for the move. When NASCAR announced prior to the season that exemptions could be allowed the idea was to prevent drivers with injuries from risking further damage by racing. That drivers would not be forced to drive with broken ankles like Brad Keselowski did, cover up a concussion, like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did, or this year allowed Denny Hamlin not to run Fontana with a piece of metal in his eye.

What was not accounted for when the rule was made up was the idea that a driver could be involved in an incident in a non-NASCAR sanctioned event that could result in the death of another driver. There was no playbook for what happened to Tony Stewart, and hopefully we will never have to deal with this type of a situation again.

I’m not sold that Stewart could have raced immediately afterwards at Watkins Glen, but it would have been possible he could have returned to his car soon than a three week absence. In a sign of respect for the parents of Kevin Ward, Jr. and getting his head right after what happened, Stewart sat out three races.

With that in mind, NASCAR made the correct call in allowing Stewart the exemption. The odds of Stewart coming in and capturing the necessary wins are slim, but plausible. I don’t believe he will do it, and it would have been interesting to see how NASCAR handled the situation if Stewart was already locked into the Chase.

The most important part is Stewart is at the track and he can begin to move forward with his life. As Stewart told media on Friday, “I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.” That is very true and once those cars fire up and roll out for the pace laps tonight, for once in three weeks life will be normal for Stewart.

Furniture Row Racing Trying To Get Blaney?

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With how silly season has been going, anything might be possible, especially when you start talking about the Furniture Row Racing team. Their season within the season has had more twists and turns than a road course.

First they acted a bit too late in trying to re-sign current driver Kurt Busch. With Busch the team has made the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in their history. Loose conversation didn’t lead anywhere and Busch jumped at the opportunity to sign with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2014.

The driver Busch is replacing, Ryan Newman, was the next talked about candidate for the ride. The all of a sudden it was announced that Richard Childress Racing (whom has a technical alliance with FRR) was parting ways with driver Jeff Burton. That opened the door for Newman to go to RCR for the 2014 season.

With less chairs available and somehow less drivers, Juan Pablo Montoya was the next hot rumor. The two sides began talking and Montoya even went out to visit the Furniture Row shop. Within a week Montoya had signed with Penske Racing. Not for NASCAR, but for IndyCar.

Now Furniture Row is at a cross roads, what’s available is a mix of older veterans and younger unproven talent. Sure a veteran can get them through this year or next season, but then they’ll be right back where they currently are. If they go with a young talent, they might not be in the Chase or compete for a win for a couple of years, but you’d have that potential there.

Whether they want him or not, but Sam Hornish, Jr. has been trying to sell himself to the team. Hornish has been in the thick of the Nationwide Series points battle all season long and is trying to prove he deserves another chance in the Sprint Cup Series. The problem with the 34-year old driver is he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire when he’s been in the Sprint Cup Series. 130 starts have yielded three top-5 finishes and nine top-10 finishes.

Rumor has it that they are interested in a Penske driver, just not Hornish. Ryan Blaney is a driver whose name has been kicked around as of late. Currently he drives full-time in the Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski Racing and part-time for Penske in the Nationwide Series. The 19-year old driver has two Truck wins and has shown potential. It’s just a question of if he’s prepared for the jump right to the Cup Series or if Penske will let him walk.

Newman Rocketing To Break A Record At Atlanta

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Coming into this weekend’s AdvoCare 500 Ryan Newman is looking past the awkwardness of this past week and onto breaking a record he holds with a friend. Newman and Buddy Baker are tied atop the all-time lead for poles with seven apiece.

“Buddy Baker has been a good friend and mentor to me since I got my opportunity to race stock cars with Penske Racing back in 2000. He was someone I had admired and, when I got to know him, we had a lot in common and really enjoyed each other. I still talk to him pretty frequently – we both have a lot of stories about each other, which we won’t get into – and we have fun. A lot of people have heard me tell the stories about how and what Buddy taught me, but it’s something that’s pretty cool and has been really important to my career. Buddy and I would go to racetracks and we would take our rental car out on the tracks at tests and drive around the racetracks forward and backward. Driving the tracks backward gave me a different perspective of the entry and exit points of each corner. What Buddy did was teach me how to approach those areas on the racetrack when I was driving the track the right way. Atlanta was a track that he helped me with a lot. Back when I tied him for the pole record, I think he joked that he shouldn’t have taught me quite so well,” explained Newman.

He continued discussing the impact that Baker had on his career. “To be honest, though, Buddy probably helped me more than I realized at the time because he never told me what to do – he told me what not to do. He would never tell me when I was doing something right, but he always told me what I was doing wrong because he wanted me to learn from my mistakes. He was an amazing teacher and I count myself very lucky to have Buddy as a friend and mentor. Teaching me the things not to do rather than the things to do made a big difference and a big impact. If I could not make some of those same mistakes he did that cost him a shot at a victory and to make an addition to his resume, those were things that were going to help my resume.”

Bottom line is pole or no pole, they need to be up front when the checkered flag flies on Sunday. “I think we’ll be good in Atlanta.  It’s obviously very important for us to have a strong finish this weekend to keep climbing in the point standings. We need to focus on having good, strong runs in these next two races. If we can do that, then we’ll have a chance to compete for the championship.”

The action gets underway for the AdvoCare 500 Sunday night at 7:30. All the action from the Atlanta Motor Speedway can be seen on ESPN.