Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: 2009 NASCAR Off-Weekend Edition

How’s Jimmy Fennig’s Job Security?

Four races into 2009, it’s safe to say that David Ragan’s season has been among NASCAR’s biggest disappointments on the track thus far (sans Mark Martin). The Cup circuit’s most improved driver in 2008 has struggled since a top 10 in the rain-shortened Daytona 500, with no top 10s and a DNF despite having Roush Fenway Racing’s vaunted intermediate package underneath him. Sitting 22nd in points, Ragan’s certainly not where many thought he would be in 2009, but surely a mediocre stretch of four races couldn’t be enough to threaten the job of crew chief Jimmy Fennig? Right?

In a report in ESPN Insider, a rumor was denied that RFR had replaced the entire crew of the No. 6 team following the race weekend at Atlanta. Instead, the organization had professed confidence in the team, led by the same crew chief that won the 2004 Sprint Cup with Kurt Busch at the helm.

So why question Fennig’s job security? It’s simple… if there was nothing for Fennig to worry about, there wouldn’t be rumors of crew replacement this early in the season. More so than probably any owner in the garage, Jack Roush has proven time and time again that he can and will move crew chiefs around – quickly and at will – if he feels something isn’t working. Just ask Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray.

See also
Beyond the Cockpit: David Ragan Talks UPS, Getting Aggressive and Roush's Future

Fennig will be on the No. 6 pit box for Bristol, barring something unforeseen. But if Ragan doesn’t start a push back towards the top 12 in the very near future, we may well see another new face on the UPS war wagon in the next few weeks.

Ricky Carmichael… The Real Deal?

JR Fitzpatrick has been the overachiever of record in the Camping World Truck Series so far in 2009, but right on the young Canadian’s heels is Kevin Harvick Incorporated’s new development project, Ricky Carmichael. The former motocross superstar turned stock car racer was solid, not spectacular, in the Camping World East Series in 2008, but his Truck outings thus far in 2009 have taken even owner Kevin Harvick by surprise.

“He’s kind of sent us in a tailspin, to be honest with you, because he’s done so well,” said Harvick of the rookie’s early season performance. It’s a turn of events that has KHI scrambling to find sponsorship for Carmichael to contest a full schedule (he was originally scheduled to do 14 races in 2009).

Getting Carmichael a full-time shot seems to be a no brainer. Obviously, the AMA convert is still learning stock cars, but the benefits of running for points and across all tracks rather than a select slate are significant in terms of garnering experience for development drivers. And from what Carmichael has done behind the wheel of the No. 4 thus far, it’s hard to find any reason not to run the guy full-time.

But while KHI searches for sponsor dollars and the hype builds for this prospect, it’s important to take a step back. Carmichael has run very well at both Fontana and Atlanta, larger racetracks that while fast, offer wide space to race as well as a chance for KHI’s superior equipment to really shine. The driver has yet to tackle the bullring of Martinsville or the high banks of Dover, tracks that will likely be much more of an adjustment for him rather than those intermediate ovals.

Still, the stage being set here is an interesting one. Will Carmichael continue to defy the expectations of nearly everyone in the motorsports community, including myself, or will Martinsville and some of the rougher venues to follow knock some sense into this rookie? Either way, Carmichael’s looking to be as compelling a story on four wheels as he was on two.

What’s Kvapil to Do?

Travis Kvapil has got to be wondering just what in the world he can do to catch a break in his Cup career. He won the 2003 Truck title, only to lose his ride to Jack Sprague. He made it to Cup in 2005, only to get dumped after one season unceremoniously by Penske Racing. From there, he went to Cal Wells’s besieged PPI Motorsports operation, only to see the team shut down after just one year behind the wheel.

After a stellar run in a Roush Racing truck in 2007 that saw the Wisconsin driver post four wins, Kvapil seemed to have finally found a home at Yates Racing. Patching sponsorship together as the season progressed, Kvapil scored a number of top 10s, a pole at Talladega, and became the team leader in a season that saw the No. 28 take noticeable strides back towards competitiveness.

And yet, less than six months later as we approach Bristol, Kvapil’s tenure with Yates Racing may well be over.

We’ve heard the story of Yates Racing for 2009 a million times already… Paul Menard’s sponsor dollars trumped driver talent and performance in Kvapil’s case. What needs to be pondered is how steadfastly Yates Racing has said that after Bristol, without sponsorship they won’t continue to run the No. 28 – in fact, saying that the team will close for the duration of 2009.

This is coming from the same team that campaigned two cars without full-time sponsorship all of last season. Sure, the economy is tough, but with Menards and Ask.com on board for Bobby Labonte, there’s money in the Yates camp again. So how, exactly, can a team that spent so much out of pocket to keep going last year now justify closing the purse strings to send their “A” driver of only a season ago packing?

It just doesn’t make sense.

All-Star Race Format Changed… Again

No details have been released, but after being much maligned by fans and drivers alike last season, this year’s 25th anniversary edition of the All-Star Race will have another new format, one that will be “exciting for the fans,” according to Lowe’s Motor Speedway President Marcus Smith.

Here’s a Point To Ponder… how can making the All-Star Race entertaining be so difficult? The best drivers in the sport are there, and no points are on the line – with $1 million at stake for the winner. To top all that, the race is supposed to resemble a feature, much like the ones that scores of short tracks across the United States put on every weekend – and put on well.

Honestly, how is this difficult?

See You in Kentucky… In 2010

Here’s a not so fearless projection for you. After lawsuits, countless pleas and Bruton Smith’s purchase of the facility, Kentucky Speedway will have a Sprint Cup race on its docket for 2010.

OK, there’s not much to ponder here. Just put the pieces together: Bruton Smith did not buy Kentucky Speedway to continue their admirable trend of selling out Nationwide Series races, but to bring Cup racing to the Sparta venue. And with Auto Club Speedway having posted an (albeit modest) attendance boost with their first race of the 2009 season, there’s really not an ISC track that is in danger of losing a date on the current Cup slate next year.

On the other hand, after seeing maybe 70,000 fans half-fill the grandstands at Atlanta Motor Speedway despite perfect weather for a large walk-up crowd and a hard marketing push in the weeks prior to the Kobalt Tools 500, Smith and SMI now find themselves in possession of the Cup date that most logically would be up for replacement in 2010. And while Smith stated in Atlanta on March 6 that he has not yet requested that NASCAR look into a schedule realignment for 2010, SMI’s annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission requested just that.

Where there is something to ponder is how Smith is going to get his way and get Kentucky a race. The lawsuit that the track’s previous ownership group filed against ISC and SMI for conspiring to prevent independent tracks from obtaining Cup race dates is still pending, and Brian France has said publicly that NASCAR won’t be racing there until it is resolved. Smith, however, knew this when he bought the facility, yet has done nothing with the track’s former owners to resolve the suit.

So, the question is this: Will Bruton play nice with the previous Kentucky Speedway gang and persuade them to pull out of the courthouses? Or will we see the master of NASCAR chess, the same man who threatened to pull racing from Bristol and to completely abandon Lowe’s Motor Speedway, take it to the Brian in his pursuit of a Kentucky Cup race?

Pop some corn folks, this one could get good.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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