Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: A Little Game of NASCAR Connect the Dots

Something about NASCAR’s annual All-Star weekend gets the rumor mill churning every year. Yes, this season has been wackier than usual (I’m vowing to find other adjectives to use besides “silly” this time around) earlier than ever before. But once again – as if on cue – drivers, owners and sponsors seem to give us just a little more fodder near the end of May to whet our appetites.

This year is no exception, and the All-Star weekend left me in the mood to play connect the dots. So, allow me to share this little exercise with you. I guess I should mention that for the next five paragraphs, everything you read is conjecture. Don’t tell your buddy over a beer tonight that you “read today that Tony Stewart is joining JR Motorsports with Martin Truex Jr. as a teammate.” That isn’t what this is all about. With that said…

Do you get the feeling UPS, following its fond farewell that finally witnessed Dale Jarrett drive the truck (which seemed to handle better than DJ’s Camry on Saturday night), threw its hands up in the air and said, “see ya,” to Jack Roush long before Aflac signed on? They’ve got plenty of “cargo” to go around, but after Office Depot’s exclusive negotiating period expired, the shipping giant got burned by the same negotiating period when Aflac wanted to talk. Although UPS would be smart to jump on the David Ragan bandwagon early. Like now.

Stewart to JRM in a Cup ride? Yeah, this one seemed like a real stretch to me, too, until my little game of connect the dots. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he has no interest in switching over his Nationwide team to the Car of Tomorrow setups. Just too expensive. Well, throw in Stewart and his supposed ownership desires, cut the Haas CNC guys in for a share and give Mr. Hendrick, with his resources and support, his stake – and suddenly, this one isn’t too far fetched. Throw in the fact that any competitive team needs two able-bodied drivers and voila! A Stewart/Truex pairing under the JRM banner sounds feasible.

Is that likely to happen? Probably not, but it makes sense to me as I type away. By the way, you know who would make a great sponsor for an organization like that? UPS.

I have to figure that Bobby Labonte’s future at Petty Enterprises rests in the hands of Medallion Financial. Yes, that deafening sound of silence you hear is Bobby’s clinched jaw, and it’s been that way for a month or so, since the General Mills defection. We were led to believe that the Pettys want Labonte back, and Bobby’s said all the right things (when he’s said anything). But a guarantee to stay in the No. 43 till retirement-do-us-part calls for a DJ-esque 401k contract plan. Without Medallion’s money, I don’t see it happening.

And finally – and not necessarily included in my game of connect the dots – what the heck is Chip Ganassi’s next move? The crew chief shuffle isn’t working – just ask Jimmy Elledge. Brian Pattie, grab your glove… you’re in the game, son! What bothers me about that company is they have one of the best drivers in the world in that No. 42 car, yet refuse to build around him at this point. That’s the way I see it, anyway.

Remember that last sentence: it’s simply the way I see it, not the way it’s going to turn out. You never know. Feel free to discuss, but don’t cite this as fact. Cool? Now, on to a few questions that you can cite.

Q: You may have taken up for little Shrub last week, Matt, but the take a bow routine with the entire pit crew that Busch put on before the All-Star Race was an in-your-face shot at the crowd. What a mockery! Yes, he has talent, but no class. It will catch up to him. – Terry G.

A: Here we go with Kyle Busch again. Hey, I thought Busch and the boys had some fun with it. It’s only an exhibition race, after all, so Busch might as well make the most of newfound villainhood. Heck, it beats him walking out on the stage with a sneer and a chip on his shoulder the size of an engine block.

Q: I watched five hours of coverage to see that ending?! This was the worst All-Star Race I can remember. If they can’t stage a better show, why not move it to a track that can? Until then, I may just find something else to do with my Saturday night. – Mike Miller

A: Boy, we’re all in a good mood this week.

First off, yes, the All-Star Race was a tad… uh, how shall I put this… dull. Problem is, the surface is still relatively new, the car is still relatively new and Goodyear – despite two tire tests last month – can’t seem to get a tire compound that provides for exciting side-by-side racing at Charlotte. The track has put on some great All-Star shows in the past, though, and I think it will again in the future. Not every race can be the ’87 Winston, ya know.

See also
Thompson in Turn 5: The 2008 Sprint All-Star Challenge a Dud!

And if NASCAR was to take the All-Star race on the road, I’d vote for Rockingham. No more glorified test sessions for the teams (you listening, coach?)… just a Saturday night feature on a track steeped in history. The teams are still very close, so the vacation they enjoy isn’t totally ruined, and the drivers just love that track. Only problem is the lack of lights.

Q: Richard Childress needs a qualifier for his No. 33 General Mills car next year. It seems Labonte is the natural choice, with his past champion’s provisional. I know that team will be as strong as the other three in a year or two. Can’t RC throw Bobby the money and get him on the Jeff Burton path to career resurrection?  NiteTrain

A: The Labonte inquiries have picked up in the last couple of weeks; and I’m going to be honest, all parties are staying pretty tight-lipped (as mentioned earlier). Yes, Labonte is the obvious pick, but Ryan Newman could qualify an RCR car every week without a PCP. I’ve heard the list is down to those two, but I don’t expect any type of decision, much less an announcement, anytime soon. Your reasoning is spot on, too.

Lastly, I wanted to follow up on a question sent in by Beth Hawkings three weeks ago. Beth asked about the Old School Racing Series that was intending to run a number of events this year. Turns out the plan was shelved until 2009 because of sponsorship issues… but fortunately, there will be a one-off race run at the Music City Motorplex (the old Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway) on July 18. Tentatively, Geoff Bodine, Harry Gant, Dave Marcis and Jack Ingram (among others) will run a 35-lap feature on Friday, which will be followed by the NASCAR Camping World Series 150 on Saturday. The winner will even get a geeee-tar.

That’s one this Nashvillian most definitely will not miss.

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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