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Know Your Nascar 12/23/09

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  • NASCAR Momma
      Merry Christmas to one and all.  Please enjoy your holiday and be safe!   Quote of the Year   There s an unwritten rule in NASCAR: Thou shalt not take on
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 23, 2009


      Merry Christmas to one and all.  Please enjoy your holiday and be safe!


      Quote of the Year


      There's an unwritten rule in NASCAR: Thou shalt not take on Dale Earnhardt Jr.

      --Terry Blount/espn 



      Countdown to Daytona




      Something that is near and dear to my heart:


      Guardians of Animals is raffling a 2009 Shelby GT500KR, along with a trip for two to the Shelby Automobiles factory in Las Vegas and a Barrett-Jackson VIP package valued at $2,000. 


      Raffle tickets are $50 and can be purchased online through Jan. 04, 2010.  Guardians of Animals, based in Charlotte, N.C., is a registered non-profit organization run by volunteers who are deeply dedicated to the welfare of animals. The 501C3 organization’s primary focus is to reduce “puppy mills”, which are places where dogs are used solely for breeding purposes while being kept in small cages & abused.


      We hope the public will join our cause by purchasing a raffle ticket for this Racing to Save Animals Raffle! Guardians of Animals is a 100 percent volunteer organization, which means every dime goes directly to the care, maintenance, health, transporting and investigation of animals.


      To purchase your ticket, click here:  www.racingtosaveanimals.com.




      Bits and Pieces


      ARCA Wraps up Three Day Daytona Test: ARCA wrapped up a three day test at Daytona Int'l Speedway on Sunday afternoon where IZOD IndyCar Driver Danica Patrick took the first step in transitioning to full bodied stock cars. Under the watchful eyes of race fans and national media, Patrick worked with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and the JR Motorsports team in the ARCA Racing Series garage to prepare for her upcoming stock car racing debut in the February 6 Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200. On Sunday afternoon, Patrick posted her weekend best 49.442 second/182.028 mph lap, placing her fifth among 29 drivers who participated in the Sunday afternoon portion of testing. Patrick and her team also spent portions of Sunday making simulated pit stops.
      The three day test drew drivers from the world over, with Venezuela's Milka Duno, India's Narain Karthikeyan and China's Darryl O'Young joining US and Canadian drivers. Most teams used the session to prepare for ARCA's February 6 Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 season opener at Daytona Int'l Speedway (live on SPEED at 4:00pm/et) while others participated primarily to gain superspeedway racing experience in anticipation of future ARCA speedway races. Mikey Kile, who plans to run the full 20-race ARCA Racing Series schedule in 2010, recorded the fastest time of the weekend with a 49.164 second/183.061 mph lap on Saturday afternoon while drafting with Venturini Motorsports teammates Steve Arpin and Alli Owens.
      Owens, a Daytona Beach, Florida native, joined Patrick as one of a record ten females who participated in Daytona testing, recording the fastest time by a female driver this weekend (49.192 seconds/182.957 mph) during Saturday afternoon's draft. Fellow Floridian Patrick Sheltra, who resides in Indiantown, topped the speed charts during the Sunday afternoon portion of testing. Robb Brent, in a Mike Allgaier-owned Dodge, concluded Sunday morning's session leading the speed charts with a 49.250 second/182.741 mph lap. And Patrick Sheltra was fastest Sunday afternoon at 183.016mph. For a complete rundown of Daytona Testing Speeds, visit arcaracing.com. (ARCA/DIS PRs)


      Kellogg's moves from the #5 to #99 UPDATE: Kellogg's will sponsor Carl Edwards next season following a 16-season stint with Hendrick Motorsports [on the #5 and #44 cars]. Kellogg's will be the primary sponsor for two races on the #99 Ford and an associate sponsor for the remainder of the season.(FoxSports)


      Ford North America Motorsports names new director: Jamie Allison, a 22-year Ford veteran with experience in engineering, product planning and marketing, has been named director, Ford North America Motorsports, effective January 1, 2010. Allison, who most recently has been Ford Performance Group Manager, will replace current director Brian Wolfe, who has been named to a new position in global product development by Derrick Kuzak, group vice president, Ford Global Product Development and Tony Brown, group vice president, Ford Global Purchasing. "I'm excited about the challenge of helping take Ford's racing program forward," said Allison, who has been part of the Ford Racing management team for just over six years. "For a kid who wanted to work for Ford Motor Company, to help carry forward a tradition that Henry Ford himself started is something special. Brian Wolfe really made a great difference in the program in his time as director, opening up so many opportunities to reach out, not just the professional racers, but to the grassroots and sportsman racers as well. He installed a philosophy that we were going to be 'racer-friendly' in all that we do, and we as a team will carry that forward." Allison joined Ford Motor Company in 1987, after graduating from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with an electrical engineering degree. For more information regarding Ford Racing's activities, please visit www.fordracing.com. (Ford)


      Less crashes in 2009: For the second consecutive year, crashes and spins were down in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. Not since 2002 have there been fewer on-track incidents in the sport's top series, according to numbers compiled by USA TODAY. The results are surprising, given that NASCAR made double-file restarts the norm during the second half of the season, a move to spice up competition at the risk of additional mayhem. There were 195 crashes and spins during NASCAR's 36-race season (5.4 per race) compared to 211 (5.9) last year an 8.5% drop and the lowest since 2002 (5.2). A closer look at the facts and figures for crash data from the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season:
      " 83% of drivers who started Cup Series races in 2009 got their cars to the finish line.
      " Accident damage accounted for 97 of the 258 cars (38%) that failed to finish races this season. All but one other non-finisher was the result of mechanical failure. One car was parked.
      " Among drivers who drove all 36 races, Matt Kenseth showed the greatest improvement in avoiding accidents. In 2008 Kenseth was involved in 15 incidents and failed to finish three races due to damage. He logged only four incidents this season and his only two DNFs were due to engine trouble. However, Kenseth missed the Chase for the first time in 2009, even after winning the season's first two races.
      " Not surprisingly, Martinsville Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway, the three shortest tracks on the circuit, recorded the most crashes and spins in 2009.
      "NASCAR's longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, was one of three events to record only one crash or spin this season. The rain-plagued race, typically NASCAR's longest of the season, only went 227 of a scheduled 400 laps (340.5 of a scheduled 600 miles). The others were the LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway and the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway, relatively wide two-mile ovals that mirror one another.
      " According to NASCAR, competition improved. There were 2,272 more green-flag passes in 2009 than there were in 2008 and 38 more green-flag passes for the lead (863-825) this year.
      " Despite an unusually large margin of victory (25.686 seconds) in the second race at Texas Motor Speedway, the average margin of victory in 2009 was 2.003 seconds, closer than the 2.216 margin in 2008.
      " This season, 52% of race qualifiers finished races on the lead lap, up from 48% a year ago.
      " The caution flag came out an average of 8.4 times per race, down from 8.8 times in 2008 and 10.4 in 2005.
      Drivers with the highest total of crashes and spins in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series:
      2009 -- David Stremme
      2008 -- Sam Hornish Jr.*
      2007 -- David Ragan*
      2006 -- J.J. Yeley*
      2005 -- Michael Waltrip
      2004 -- Robby Gordon
      2003 -- Steve Park
      2002 -- Steve Park
      (* = rookie)(compiled from
      USA Today and see the Crash Database there)


      2010 ride for McDowell? Michael McDowell, who started 2009 in the #47 JTG Racing Toyota before bouncing around at the end of the year while looking for a ride [including running some of the 2009 Sprint Cup Series races in the #36 Toyota], reported that he has a deal for 2010. He posted a message on Twitter Thursday morning that, "Got my NNS deal signed and done. Story to come by Jan 1 no more start and park."


      Tire testing at Auto Club done: Security at Auto Club Speedway was very tight Tuesday and Wednesday as Goodyear conducted two days of tire testing at the Fontana, CA track. Unlike other tire tests in recent year, the track was off-limits to all (especially the media) from 9:00am until the 4:30pm conclusion. At other tests, drivers often have time for noon interviews, but not this week. One team from each of the four manufacturers participated in the tests. #9-Kasey Kahne was in a RPM Ford for the first time while #12-Brad Keselowski made his first runs in a Penske Racing Dodge. Joe Gibbs Racing's #20-Joey Logano represented Toyota while Richard Childress Racing driver #31-Jeff Burton was in a Chevy. It was difficult to distinguish one model from another as all were in primer gray. Tire testing can be a tedious exercise, but Burton certainly didn't have that attitude. He ran 500 miles on Tuesday and was prepared to run an equal number the following day, a few laps at a time. "We're hoping to help Goodyear get a better tire for Fontana," Burton said. "That's goal No. 1. Hopefully that's something we can learn. We really don't learn much about the race track because Goodyear doesn't want us to change the cars as they are studying the tires. I like testing, it's a real opportunity to learn, a real opportunity to try a lot of stuff. And for the driver, it's an opportunity to also try lots of different things." Since NASCAR implemented its testing ban following the 2008 season, tire tests are the only ones conducted at tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule.(Inland Valley Daily Bulletin)


      Nationwide Series Will Race At Road America

      By Reid Spencer Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

      Less than a week after announcing that the Milwaukee Mile had been dropped from the 2010 Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series schedules, NASCAR found a way to ensure that Wisconsin will continue its 17-year streak of hosting Nationwide races next year.

      The sanctioning body announced Monday the addition of Road America, a 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course near Elkhart Lake, Wis., to the 2010 Nationwide Series schedule. Scheduled for June 19, the Road America race takes the place of the event at the Milwaukee Mile, after the state of Wisconsin was unable to find a satisfactory promoter for the race. NASCAR has made no announcement on the future of the truck race.

      The race will be run the day before the June 20 Sprint Cup road-course race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., giving drivers who participate in both series a long commute (as was the Milwaukee Mile) and back-to-back races on distinctly different road-course venues.

      That doesn’t bother Wisconsin driver Paul Menard.

      “It’s a really great racetrack,” said Menard, a native of Eau Claire. “It’s in a very picturesque setting in the Wisconsin countryside. It has every kind of corner you can imagine. When I was a kid, my dad would take me to Road America. The fans love it there.

      “By the second practice, I’m sure everyone will be up to speed because the drivers are so good in the Nationwide Series. Braking will be the hardest aspect. Strategy will play a big part in this race. I’m really excited about running there.”

      The Nationwide Series hasn’t raced at Road America, but NASCAR has. On Aug. 12, 1956, Tim Flock won the Cup event there in the only other national series NASCAR race held there. To prepare for June’s event, teams will be allowed an extra day of practice on June 17 before official race weekend activities begin the following day.


      Media selects top drivers, races of decade in NASCAR's three national series: With the recently completed 2009 season closing out another decade of NASCAR racing, media members have selected the top drivers and top races of the decade for all three national series as voted upon in a poll on NASCARMedia.com. The listing of drivers and races for the poll was compiled following discussions with the three series directors and other long-time observers in the industry - and also resulted from direct input from NASCAR fans. #48-Jimmie Johnson was selected as the top NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver of the decade, followed by #14-Tony Stewart and #24-Jeff Gordon. Johnson won an unprecedented fourth consecutive series championship in 2009 and posted 47 NASCAR Sprint Cup victories this decade - most of any driver. He is the only driver to earn a spot in the Chases for the NASCAR Sprint Cup all six years of the format's existence. The March 16, 2003 race at Darlington Raceway was voted the top NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. In what is the closest Margin of Victory - .002 seconds - since the advent of electronic scoring in May 1993, Ricky Craven edged Kurt Busch to the finish line in that thriller. The Oct. 14, 2000 race at Talladega Superspeedway, which marked Dale Earnhardt's final career victory, came in second, followed by the March 11, 2001 event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with Kevin Harvick getting his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory in a narrow defeat of Jeff Gordon.(NASCAR PR), see the results for the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series on those pages.


      Allmendinger pleads no contest for DWI: AJ Allmendinger was given a suspended sentence, probation and community service after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of driving while impaired following a traffic stop on Oct. 29, SceneDaily.com reported. The 27-year-old driver was charged by Mooresville police after being pulled over at 1:27 a.m. in North Carolina. He was released after registering .08 on the Intoxilyzer. Allmendinger pleaded no contest in North Carolina District Court on Friday and was given a 60-day suspended sentence, 18 months unsupervised probation and 24 hours of community service, the Web site reported. He was also fined $100 plus court costs and his driving privileges were limited. Allmendinger had been placed on probation by Richard Petty Motorsports and fined $10,000 to be donated to charity.(Associated Press/ESPN.com)


      Congrats: Congratulations to Indy Car driver Ryan Briscoe and ESPN's Nicole Manske. They were married in Hawaii over the weekend.



      Four-time NASCAR champ Johnson is AP's top athlete

      Associated Press


      There was little recognition outside the racing world when Jimmie Johnson won his first NASCAR championship.
      Same with his second, and again with his third.
      But four straight championships? That's a different story.
      Johnson, the first driver in NASCAR history to win four consecutive titles, earned mainstream recognition Monday when he was honored as the Male Athlete of the Year by members of The Associated Press.
      Johnson received 42 votes from editors at U.S. newspapers which are members of the AP. Tennis star Roger Federer (30 votes) and Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt (29) were the only other athletes with totals in the double digits.
      Although Tiger Woods was named Athlete of the Decade, the golfer received only nine votes for Athlete of the Year. He was tied with NBA star Kobe Bryant and slugger Albert Pujols.
      For Johnson, the first race car driver to be named the AP's Athlete of the Year in its 78-year history, the award is the validation he's been waiting for since he began his historic run in 2006.
      "We'd been wondering the last few years, 'When is this going to hit?"' he said. "It seems like the answer is now. The wave is finally peaking, and we don't know where it's going to take us. The fourth-straight title takes it out of our sport and makes it a point of discussion -- like, 'Wow, a race car driver won this thing."'
      The 34-year-old Californian again schooled the competition, winning four of his seven races this season when the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship began in September. Two-time champion Tony Stewart dominated the "regular season," but it was Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team that turned it up when the stakes were highest.
      In the 10 Chase races, Johnson finished outside the top-10 only once: when he wrecked at Texas with Sam Hornish Jr. three laps into the eighth race. The crash proved Johnson's mettle, as he sat inside his car, helmet on, for more than an hour as crew chief Chad Knaus led a total rebuild of his Chevrolet so that Johnson could return to the track.
      Although the 38th-place finish decimated his cozy lead in the standings, he shrugged off any potential challenge by rolling into Phoenix the next week and leading 238 of the 312 laps en route to a victory that turned the season finale into a low-key Sunday drive for Johnson.
      "I'm pretty sure that dude's Superman," said teammate Mark Martin, who finished second in the standings, 141 points behind Johnson.
      The march into the record books has attracted attention for Johnson far behind NASCAR's insulated garage. HBO Sports' award-winning "24/7" program has tabbed Johnson for a four-episode series that will chronicle his preparation for the 2010 season-opening Daytona 500.
      And he received widespread attention earlier this month when he donated $922,000 in educational grants to 26 schools in California, North Carolina and Oklahoma.
      Now comes the AP honor, which Johnson said reinforces what he's always believed -- that even though he's a race car driver, he's "100 percent" an athlete.
      "I've looked at other sports, particularly baseball, and I've seen plenty of out-of-shape, fat players," said Johnson, who counts among his close friends former NFL player Jason Sehorn, and MLB players Brian and Marcus Giles.
      "So to anyone who wants to go head-to-head with me in athletic ability, let's go. I talked a lot with Jason Sehorn about this, and I don't know how exactly you measure athletic ability, but I know my 5-mile run time will destroy most NFL players."
      As Johnson boasted of his personal best -- 34 minutes, 55 seconds -- his wife, Chandra, yelled "Overachiever!" in the background. It's a bit of a joke between the two since Johnson gave a two-year commitment to a New York City-based trainer he calls "the Chad Knaus of the body."
      His focus can be fanatical, but Johnson still finds time to maintain his work hard/play hard attitude -- and proved it with a raucous South Beach celebration after the season-finale. The bash left him admittedly weary during the next few days, during a round of media appearances. And when the New York City mayor's office designated a "Jimmie Johnson Day" earlier this month, the champion suggested "everyone should have the day off and go have margaritas."
      It's a balance between play and work that he's mastered, and firmly believes he can ride to a fifth title. Johnson recently signed a five-year deal to drive for Hendrick through 2015, and Knaus has predicted the team can keep up its rate of success over the next several years.
      "The cool thing," Johnson said, "is we're not done yet."



      NASCAR Spotter TJ Majors: Luckiest Guy in the Garage?

      Farrah Kaye/bleacherreport.com


      When you have worked for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., you think you've reached the top.

      Until the boss gives you your next assignment:

      Spot for Danica Patrick.

      And in between working for the two of them, you've worked for Brad Keselowski, who went head-to-head with the likes of Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.

      You even beat them a few times.

      Not too shabby if you ask me.

      So who is the lucky guy who has worked for them?

      His name is TJ Majors, spotter for Dale Jr.'s No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Kelly Bires' (formerly Brad Keselowski) No. 88 Hellman's Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series, and now Danica Patrick's No. 88 GoDaddy.Com Chevrolet in the ARCA Series.

      Those are some pretty big names.

      So who is TJ Majors?

      Besides being @Tjmajors on Twitter, he was just a guy playing video games on a computer against a rival named “Junior” several years ago.

      At the time TJ—short for Travis James—was living in New York, dreaming of the day he could get behind the wheel of a stock car.

      Instead, “Junior” was impressed with his online racing skills and hired him as a prospective driver.

      As the story goes, “Junior” turned out to be none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr., who even invited TJ to live on his compound in Mooresville, NC.

      TJ drove the No. 17 Late Model Chevrolet for JRM for a short period of time, but in the end, his main duty was to be a spotter for Junior at DEI and Hendrick Motorsports as well as drivers at JRM.

      Every week, he sits on top of the spotter's stand, looking through his binoculars and making deals with the guys next to him.

      Remember the spring 2009 Talladega race?

      There was TJ, standing next to Greg Newman (Ryan Newman's spotter), trying to make a deal for the No. 39 and No. 88 to lock up and go to the checkered flag together.

      The deal was working fine until TJ's Nationwide driver, Junior's protégé, and fellow compound-mate Brad Keselowski locked up with the No. 99 of Carl Edwards to beat his boss to the checkered flag.

      No matter which one of them took the checkered flag, you know the three of them were going to celebrate that night.

      A rousing game of online racing I'm sure!

      Brad moved on to Penske Racing at the end of the 2009 season and will drive the No. 12 Penske Dodge in the NSCS and the No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge in the NNS in 2010.

      Kelly Bires was hired to replace Brad.

      TJ Majors, however, is staying right where he is.

      The guy who once sat behind a computer screen playing racing games, dreaming of a life in NASCAR, now calls the shots for some of the most popular drivers in the world.

      He might not have driven a car and sometimes his job is pretty stressful.

      But overall, I'd say he's pretty lucky.



      Motorsports Authentics Fights to Avoid Bankruptcy

      By Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

      In an all-out effort to avoid bankruptcy, the joint owners of Motorsports Authentics are attempting to reorganize the troubled licensed merchandise company and settle the millions of dollars it owes several NASCAR teams.

      MA’s 50-50 owners, International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc., have been in constant contact with the top teams since the end of the season, with one of NASCAR’s top executives, senior vice president Paul Brooks, acting as a mediator.

      It’s uncertain exactly how much MA owes the teams, but its contracts with the best-selling organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. guarantee each of them close to $3 million annually, industry insiders say. MA, which has lost money in three of its four years in existence, has been paying a portion of those guarantees, about a third to half, based on their merchandise sales.

      Officials from ISC and SMI declined comment, citing the continuing nature of the negotiations. But team officials characterize the talks as frustrating because there remains no clear merchandise plan for the sport and the season-opening Daytona 500 is less than two months away. MA is responsible for most of the sport’s trackside retail activity and much of its licensed merchandise, although that model could change as part of the company’s restructuring.

      Several team officials have cited differences between ISC and SMI for restricting the process.

      “Until MA has its internal differences sorted out, it’s difficult to predict what is going to happen,” said Geoff Smith, president of Roush Fenway Racing. “The two owners have to be able to agree on a course of action. The whole process is moving slower than we’d like, and really until the two owners’ interests are aligned, it’s going to be an awkward situation for the teams.”

      Another team executive characterized talks as “stuck in neutral. There’s not a clear solution, but everybody’s still at the table, still committed to working this out.”

      Most team officials say they’re willing to forgive some of the debt from MA, but they need a clearer understanding of the plan going forward before agreeing to a settlement.

      One scenario has the teams taking a stake in a new die-cast entity that would be spun off by MA, but the details of who would run the company and how the revenue would be shared are complicated, which makes it difficult to generate a unanimous vote from the teams.

      It’s not clear precisely where ISC and SMI differ because team executives won’t divulge negotiation specifics, but the die-cast entity is one of several new scenarios that have emerged, each of which would take MA and NASCAR merchandising in a new direction. Another option is for MA to declare bankruptcy, which is still on the table but considered a last resort.

      MA was created in 2005 from about $245 million worth of acquisitions by ISC and SMI, but its value has decreased below $40 million, based on the most recent earnings reports, and is likely worth even less today.

      “MA has been going through the process of establishing its core competencies and we’re waiting to see what their future looks like,” said John Bickford, general manager of Hendrick-Gordon Licensing, which represents drivers Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin, three of the sport’s top sellers.

      “We understand there are some big decisions that have to be made, but before you can start forgiving debt, you need to know what the plan is.”

      Plagued by declining sales, annual losses and heavy management turnover, a new-look MA would likely stick to what it does best — trackside retail — while spinning off the die-cast car division, according to team and league officials involved in the talks. Stakes in ownership of the die-cast entity could be taken by the teams, or a third party could be brought in to run the company.

      Revenue from the new die-cast entity would be used to repay the teams a settled amount, plus interest.

      Joe Mattes, vice president of licensing and marketing for the sport’s top seller, Dale Earnhardt Jr., said the reorganization of MA is likely the genesis for NASCAR Properties, a centralized licensing agency that would represent each of NASCAR’s team rights, as well as the league’s rights. A unified licensing body would be similar to those like NFL Properties and NBA Properties in other leagues.

      “We’re looking at a reshuffling of the deck,” Mattes said. “We’ve needed something that can be a catalyst to effect positive change and move us as an industry in a better direction.”

      Mattes, Bickford, Roush Fenway’s Smith, DEI’s Jeff Steiner and other executives from the teams have been influential in the process, along with Brooks and Blake Davidson from NASCAR’s licensing division.

      “We’re taking the approach of how do ‘we’ solve it, not how do ‘they’ solve it,” Bickford said.

      MA generated more than $200 million in revenue in 2008, the only year it has turned a profit, but MA’s revenue this year will be a little more than $100 million, industry insiders say. The die-cast division accounts for a little less than half of the company’s revenue.

      Jim Morris has been running MA as the general manager with direction from MA’s board, which includes Roger VanDerSnick and John Saunders from ISC and Marcus Smith and Don Hawk from SMI.

      Michael Smith is a reporter with SportsBusiness Journal.



      Eury happy getting Danica ready

      By David Newton/ESPN.com


      DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Tony Eury Jr. barely had hung up the phone when it registered that he'd just referred to Danica Patrick, the IndyCar Series driver he was charged with introducing to the world of stock cars at JR Motorsports, as "babe."


      "I'm like, 'Dang! I probably shouldn't have called her babe on the second phone call,'" Eury said as he and Patrick began a new adventure with a three-day ARCA Series test at Daytona International Speedway this past weekend.

      He laughed.

      Eury laughs a lot lately, much more than he did six months ago when Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick severed his relationship as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Eury's cousin.

      He has a new lease on life, one far away from the pressures of making NASCAR's most popular driver into a Sprint Cup champion.

      Not that being Patrick's crew chief as she makes the transition from IndyCar to the ARCA and Nationwide Series -- with the hope of one day two or three years from now getting to Cup -- doesn't come with pressure.

      But the expectations are different than they were with Earnhardt, and so is Eury's job description.

      Feeling partially to blame for their split at HMS, Earnhardt made Eury a co-owner of the organization he began with his sister, Kelley. He put Eury in charge of developing the new COT for the Nationwide Series and overseeing the development of Patrick.

      So if Eury wanted to call Patrick "babe," technically he could. He's the boss now.

      Well, to everybody but Tony Eury Sr., JR Motorsports' director of competition, who still holds a trump card as Eury Jr.'s father and understands better than most why his son is so happy these days.

      "He went in to Hendrick thinking he was going to magnify what we did at DEI, but going to Hendrick it didn't happen and it cut his feet out from under him, sort of," said the elder Eury, who teamed with his son to help Earnhardt collect 17 of his 18 Cup wins at Dale Earnhardt Inc. before both moved to HMS two years ago.

      "He was pretty beat up when they took him off of that car."

      Hendrick moved Eury to research and development, but that wasn't really what Eury wanted to do. He actually wasn't sure what he wanted to do until three other Cup organizations tried to hire him as a crew chief, including one in particular that Eury Sr. said "really beat the heck out of him trying to come there."

      That's when Earnhardt stepped in with the ownership proposition, which coincidently happened about the same time JRM was courting Patrick.

      Eury took about four weeks to think about his options. He spent quality time with his family and realized a 13-race Nationwide Series schedule with Patrick for two seasons beat the heck out of the grind of a 36-race schedule in Cup.

      "I'll be honest with you, there would be weekends I wouldn't even turn the [Cup] race on," Eury said of his time away from the track. "That was a sign to me you've pretty much had enough of that. Go to where you enjoy, where you will be happy."

      Some might say Eury went from one circus to another, because the intense fanfare around Patrick is a lot like it was around Earnhardt when Junior came into Cup.

      "I don't know if it's really throwing him back in the fire," Earnhardt said. "Our company needed him. … He didn't have to do it. I just wanted him to be happy … I wanted to give him that opportunity to grow, you know, take on a little different challenge."

      Patrick is a challenge. Eury Jr. almost had to learn a different language to translate the terminology she uses in IndyCar to stock-car lingo. She says understeering and oversteering instead of tight and loose. She talks about making adjustments from the left front to the right rear instead of the left rear to the right front.

      For a country boy like Eury, that's a lot to decipher.

      "I'm trying to do [it] where she doesn't have to change her thinking when she's running her IndyCar," Eury said.

      Getting used to a female driver, particularly one as health conscious as Patrick, presents other challenges. Earnhardt never turned down Krispy Kreme doughnuts because he was watching his figure for a swimsuit photo shoot.

      Patrick recently did and a surprised Eury responded by saying, "You're missing the best thing in your life!"

      Eury eventually convinced her to try one the day after the photo shoot. He and the rest of the crew actually sent over eight dozen. Team building, one might call it.

      "She said, 'That was the craziest thing I ever ate. There's got to be drugs in them as good as they are,'" Eury said with a smile and look of accomplishment. "She said from now on that's all she's going to eat."

      That might be a bit overstated. Reminded of the doughnut story after a breakfast of cereal and a granola bar Friday, Patrick said, "I can't believe how skinny all these NASCAR drivers are."

      "Babe" comment aside, Eury also talks differently to Patrick. They don't argue and yell over the in-car radio as he and Earnhardt did, although Eury is prepared for the day when Patrick gets upset with him.

      Patrick actually soaks up everything Eury says like a student would a first-grade teacher. Earnhardt often acted like the rebellious high school senior who knew everything.

      Yes, life is different for Eury now. He has to not only watch what he says but apparently what he eats.

      But he's loving life. Asked how much happier he is heading into Christmas than he was a year ago, he said without hesitation, "Ten times."

      "I'll be honest with you, everything about this makes me happy," Eury added. "It's been like the old days. I'm building ARCA cars, setting up cars. I'm doing everything I used to do and love instead of sitting in front of a computer."

      That makes Earnhardt happy. Part of his misery the second half of last season came from knowing the heartache he caused one of the most important people in his life.

      "It's just a great opportunity for him to sort of change direction and see if he can't find a job that he enjoys," Earnhardt said with a chuckle, taking a shot at himself. "He has a lot to offer."

      Patrick seems to think so. Eury even has her using the Southern expression "y'all" and getting used to the idea of playing video games to improve her driving skills.

      She's getting Eury, whose idea of style is a pair of blue jeans and a work shirt, used to seeing four-inch stilettos in the garage.

      "The first day I met her she had them heels on," said Eury, shaking his head. "We told her to hop in the car and she dropped four inches when she took them off. The first car we ever put her in she disappeared from under the door top.

      "But she's been a lot of fun, takes things real easy, jokes around."

      That's something you didn't hear Eury say often the last few years with Earnhardt.

      Of course, you never heard him call his driver "babe" before, either.



      Can rivalries exist anymore in NASCAR?

      Dustin Long/hamptonroads.com


      The rivalries of today are not and never will be like the rivalries of years past. That’s a simple fact. If you think they can be, then you need to wake up. It’s not going to happen. The sport has changed too much. You’re not going to see Petty-Allison duel like they did years ago when they drove and beyond. Their rivalry continued after they were retired and wasn’t until years later they became friends.

      You aren’t going to see that type of rivalry or even Petty-Pearson because you don’t see a couple of guys dominate on a regular basis and run 1-2 so often. Petty-Pearson ran 1-2 63 times. They battled often. Nowadays, those battling for wins changes.

       Plus back then, there was more at stack for the drivers. Lose a race and that’s money lost. With limited sponsorship and little TV money, purse funds were what drivers and teams relied on to run. Today, a driver loses a spot or two, yes, it’s money out of their pocket but they don’t feel it as much. Back then it was money for the dinner table. Now, it’s money for jet fuel.

      Granted, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski gave fans something to talk about in the Nationwide series this past season. They had numerous run-ins and when Keselowski spun Hamlin at Phoenix, Hamlin had had enough and said he would wreck Keselowski the following weekend in the season finale at Homestead. True to his word, Hamlin did just that.

      Will it go any further? A new year starts a new chapter. Yes, Hamlin will continue to race Keselowski like Keselowski races him but if Keselowski backs off a bit, then Hamlin likely will give him some room and the fireworks will end.

      And what about that Juan Pablo Montoya-Tony Stewart incident at Homestead where both wrecked each other – first Stewart’s move put Montoya into the wall and after repairs Montoya went out and wrecked Stewart. A rivalry among these guys would be tremendous for fans. Both are vocal, not afraid to share their opinion and good. So what happened a couple of weeks later in Las Vegas for the Banquet? They got along. At one time, as Stewart talked to the media, Montoya came up to him and straightened Stewart’s tie and they laughed. This came after Montoya had said he had talked to Stewart the day before at an event at Vegas and they laughed about the big deal everyone was making of the Homestead incident. Not much of a rivalry there.

      Now, let’s be clear. When they get on the track, it will be serious business. Again, they know you race a driver how he races you. Stewart knew he had one coming at Homestead after Montoya returned. Now, they’ll race each other hard but going beyond that, it’s hard to see. Tony has said in the past how he doesn’t try to get too controversial because then he has to spend the next few days dealing with the mess. Tony still will speak up when he feels he needs to but he’s not going to fan the flames of a rivalry because he doesn’t want such things to consume between races when he has more to do as a car owner these days.

      So, can you see rivalries? Yes. There are some although most of them are likely hidden from you. They’re between mid-pack drivers or a frontrunner and some midpack guy who always seems to be in his way. They’re more annoyances than rivalries (although some of the annoyed drivers might disagree).

      Yes, it would be something for the sport if there were two top-running drivers who hated each other so much that that even had a picture of each other on their dashboard to further fuel them. With more cars in the mix for wins then 25 years ago or more (when rivalries still played a key role in the sport), it’s hard to see the same guys running for wins week after week. Plus, that’s a lot of work to hate each other so intensely. And will a sponsor want a driver to be involved in something like this? It might not match the company’s reputation. Just imagine if Dale Earnhardt Sr. had been sponsored by someone other than Wrangler and GM Goodwrench. It’s not hard to imagine some other sponsors wanting Earnhardt to pull back on his aggressiveness. Fortunately for the sport, he didn’t have those sponsors and gave fans what they wanted. Who is there now to do that?

       Denny Hamlin recently discussed rivalries in light of his feud/rivalry with Keselowski this season. Here’s some of what he said:

      “Who wants to see boxing match or something with guys that are best friends?’’ Hamlin said. “The rivalries are what made this sport years and years ago. The guys that, “Hey, he took him out last week, we gotta watch.’ That’s what I grew up on on short-track racing. I would live for the weeks where the week before

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