EARLY SILLY SEASON, MAD DRIVERS, PLATE RACING

             Dale Wilkerson                                                                April 2010

Silly Season: It seems to happen earlier each year. One team swoops in and snags a top driver from another, rumors are a-foot that other drivers will move, sponsors will change teams, new teams may be formed, and some changes might happen before next year.

Rick Hendrick has taken a page from the Jack Rosch playbook again by stretching the number of teams one owner can have. NASCAR says four teams per owner but let’s face it, Stewart-Haas Racing is a Hendrick Team. When this team was first started by Gene Haas it was called a satellite Hendrick team that was getting cars and engines from the Hendrick folks. With Tony Stewart buying in, the team was able to garner more sponsorship dollars, and with Ryan Newman as a teammate, both cars had proven-race winners behind the wheel.

So now everyone is speculating on where Kasey Khane will be next year, since Hendrick has his ‘four’ cars promised to Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, Mark Martin, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Many people are speculating that Mark Martin will leave the #5 Chevy and become the third driver at Stewart-Haas. First, let Mark stay in the five until he is ready to retire. Second, can Hendrick get sponsorship for Stewart-Haas to field a third car next year? And third, is Stewart-Haas the only option on the table for Kahne or Martin?

Hendrick was sending cars and engines to James Finch during the 2009 season for Brad Keselowski.  The car that Bad Brad won with at Talladega last year was a Hendrick car. With history there, Hendrick might send some good equipment down southbound I-85 to Phoenix Racing again.

Another rumor bouncing around the past few years has been that JR Motorsports would make the move to Sprint Cup. If this is happening under the radar, Dale Junior could get his wish to be driving from his on garage. If that happens, look for the famed Hendrick #25 to return to the track with Kahne or Martin at the controls. And if Junior gets to fire up his own team, what sponsor could he snag you ask? Well, Budweiser is on the table.

Rumors are floating that Michael Waltrip Racing is courting Budweiser but if Dale Junior calls them and says, I have a team do you want to race some more, the Clydesdales will be there faster than John Force in the quarter mile.

Lost in all of the Hendrick conversation is what will happen with Richard Petty Motorsports. The loss of Kasey Kahne will make it tough to land a big sponsor and with the connection to Rosch, it seems these cars will always be behind in horsepower.

When the Rosch-Yates Engine merger happened, the Rosch cars sped up while the Yates cars slowed. See, on the Ford side of NASCAR, there is now just one engine builder. The Chevy guys have Hendrick and the Earnhardt Childress Racing engines to contend with each week. With two groups working to make more Chevy horsepower, all of the Hendrick powered cars along with the cars of Richard Childress and Chip Ganassi have benefitted from needing to outrun not just the Ford, Dodge, and Toyota teams, but the other Chevy teams as well.

Toyota also has two groups that build race engines, the TRD factory engine department and the folks with Joe Gibbs. Dodge only has one engine builder in Sprint Cup currently and I would say the Roger Penske has those guys working hard every day to make more horsepower and durability. With eight to ten Ford teams having one group building the engines, Ford racing may continue to suffer.

Ford teams will improve when one team owner wakes up and says my team deserves better, I will start my own engine department.

With the teams rolling into to Talladega this week, it is not the best time to have teammates upset with each other. Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon had a little run-in at Texas that left Johnson a little steamed. Then in the Nationwide race, Kevin Harvick made contact with his Sprint Cup teammate Clint Bowyer resulting in a cut tire that destroyed Bowyer’s car. If these guys are still steaming this weekend, we could see one teammate hang another one out to dry instead of working together in the draft to perhaps score a win for the team.

Talladega will test the spoilers to the maximum level this weekend. The wings were blamed for the recent blow-over crashes at Daytona, Atlanta, and Talladega. From drivers to team owners to broadcasters, everyone thinks the spoilers will keep the cars on the ground and we will never see another blow-over crash, everyone that is but me and a few more folks that can remember racing prior to the advent of the winged COT cars. The problem has been air getting under the rear of the car along with the blade of the rear spoiler or wing and working in reverse, turning these ground rockets into kites without a string momentarily before a violent crash landing followed by numerous flips in most instances.

I hope I am wrong about the spoilers. I truly hope the spoilers are the best thing for racing since the four-barrel carburetor. I don’t want to see a car flip, but history has shown us that when these cars get turned around, whether they have a spoiler or a wing on the rear deck lid, they will take flight. The fin on the left side of the car is supposed to keep the cars on the ground, but when one gets turned around at Talladega, I will be holding my breath hoping it does not take off.