Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Saudi Prince Wants His Little Petty Blue Corvette … Urrr, Fusion

Eight weeks to go and the storylines are just now heating up.

And with that, let’s hit some from the week that was.

Q: OK, I thought I’d seen it all, but a NASCAR team partnering with a Saudi prince? Even worse, a NASCAR team named Richard Petty Motorsports partnering with a Saudi prince? What is this sport coming to and where can I get off??? – Jack Johnson, San Antonio, Texas

A: I honestly have no idea Jack. I do know that things look to be a mess over at Richard Petty Motorsports right now. I mean, Kasey Kahne – the organization’s crown jewel – can’t honestly say who’s calling the shots.

Anyway, this is one of those scenarios we couldn’t have dreamed up, but feared, when “investors” and not “racing guys” started buying ownership in the sport. While George and Foster Gillett claim this is not a major change in ownership, I say just give it some time.

As the facts start to straighten out about Gillett and Tom Hicks’s talks with Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud, it appears what this boils down to is the investors looking for a little financial relief from another investor.

According to the London Times, Gillett and Hicks worked with the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia in July to refinance their debt – debt mainly incurred from the Liverpool Football Club, of which they are co-owners. While the debt was reduced, the Times reports that the deal was structured so as to allow Gillett and Hicks more time to find a buyer.

So who’s in the market? Enter Prince Faisal, whose investment in the enterprise – Gillett also owns RPM, of course – would inject equity, thus relieving its massive exposure to debt. That infusion could also cost Gillett and Hicks a large share of the controlling interest in the companies, if not half or possibly outright control.

Notice I use the words “would” and “could.” That’s because the parties are in discussions; nothing has been signed or agreed upon. In fact, the Times reported on Tuesday that Gillett had been in discussions with representatives of an unidentified Indian man – another possible investor – last Sunday.

What remains obvious is that Gillett’s creditors are demanding he obtain financial relief and therefore it’s only a matter of time before someone joins him as a stakeholder in some capacity.

So where does that leave us, the fender-loving Yanks on the other side of the pond? Well, it’s hard to say for sure as nothing has been agreed upon, but you have to figure Yates Racing is suddenly a bit weary of its handshake agreement with RPM, although the King himself says things are proceeding. Paul and John Menard have to weigh their options once again as well and they have been leery of RPM from the start. And poor Kahne… jeez, kid, run for your life! We know you want to anyway.

In the end, my assessment would be that any Middle Eastern, European or Asian investors’ interest (aside from financial and marketing) in George Gillett’s sports holdings would be more focused on the Liverpool Football Club than the Matchbox racing series over in America. I just don’t see this affecting RPM or its day-to-day operations much, if at all. All the while, NASCAR CEO Brian France has to be drooling at the thought of another international figure taking a stake in one of the companies that comprise his band of contractors.

Q: I have a question that seems it should have an easy answer, but one that really needs an explanation: If all Hendrick cars are supposed to share the same information regarding setups, engines, tires, etc; why do the Nos. 5, 24 and 48 all win races and the No. 88 doesn’t even qualify up front?

Hopefully someone has an explanation that I can live with. Thank you. – Lorraine

A: Because Junior isn’t a great qualifier. Sorry, I’ll get serious.

It’s not because they aren’t sharing, Lorraine. In fact (and this would be disputed if you asked a Hendrick principle), emphasis was made on getting Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the top of the totem pole last year, his first with the team. Then once the Chase starts, it’s every man for himself. The same can be said for Mark Martin’s team this year.

No, the note-sharing is across the board; the No. 88 team is given the same info and resources as the rest, it’s just not taking advantage of them or something is getting lost in translation. What’s wrong? Heck, if I could answer that, I’d have a corner office on Papa Joe Boulevard making a lot more cabbage than I am now.

I think Junior’s confidence is just shaken to the core. It’s the mother of all slumps. It’s frustration run amok. It’s a think-bad-thoughts-and-bad-things-will-happen scenario. This is a guy who’s finished in the top five in points on three occasions. He’s got 18 career points-paying wins – that’s the same number as Matt Kenseth and more than Kyle Busch (albeit not for long), Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman. The dude’s not a bad driver, things just aren’t working where he’s at right now. And if Mr. Hendrick and Earnhardt Jr. himself can’t figure it out, I’m not sure who can.

But I bet they get things straight before it’s all said and done.

Q: After watching Logano’s wreck at Dover I wondered what the new dimensions in the driver’s compartment are in the CoT. Thanks Matt! – Brandon Wynne, Mich.

A: The dimensions are not new to the CoT, just different from the old spoilered cars. That said, the roof is 2.5 inches taller than the previous car, the cockpit is four inches wider and the driver’s seat/cocoon is four inches closer to the center of the car.

See also
Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Mr. Logano's Wild Ride Means Top-Rookie Honors for Scott Speed

For the record, NASCAR also mandated energy-absorbing foam between the rollcage and the sheetmetal door panels, installed a double-frame rail on the driver’s side of the cockpit with steel plating and infused an enclosed steel containment tunnel for the driveshaft.

And with that in mind, we’ll finish up with this one:

Q: They’re at it again! Joey Logano had a terrible crash at Dover and managed to walk away, shaken and stirred, but unhurt, thank goodness. Immediately the media gave all the credit to the CoT. It just amazes me how they can ignore the fact that many drivers survived many terrible crashes for many years without the CoT.

They ignore the SAFER barrier and the HANS device as contributing factors. I guess they’re that desperate to make fans love the CoT? Also, as we’ve been told over the years, a rolling crash like that dissipates impact greatly, unlike the sudden stops that claimed Kenny Irwin, Adam Petty and Dale Earnhardt. I’m not saying is ain’t better, but really! – Sal

A: Let it not be said that NASCAR didn’t build a safe car. Let it also not be said that the sole reason NASCAR built a safe car was for safety. Sure, safety was part of it and that’s great, but economics and an ability to police the teams more effectively were also on the docket.

That said, there is a lot of CoT love going around the media these days.

Also, follow Matt on Twitter.

About the author

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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