Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: NASCAR Schedule, Driver & Sponsor Changes Aplenty Coming in 2011

The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule was released yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, there were no surprises, and if you’ve read this column the last week or two, you know how I feel about that. So without dragging us back down that dark alley, I’ll just post it so you can copy and paste it to your desktops or something.

|Feb.|12|Budweiser Shootout (Daytona)|
|Feb.|20|Daytona International Speedway (Daytona 500)|
|Feb.|27|Phoenix International Raceway|
|March|6|Las Vegas Motor Speedway|
|March|20|Bristol Motor Speedway|
|March|27|Auto Club Speedway|
|April|3|Martinsville Speedway|
|April|9|Texas Motor Speedway|
|April|17|Talladega Superspeedway|
|April|30|Richmond International Raceway|
|May|7|Darlington Raceway|
|May|15|Dover International Speedway|
|May|21|All-Star Race (Charlotte)|
|May|29|Charlotte Motor Speedway|
|June|5|Kansas Speedway|
|June|12|Pocono Raceway|
|June|19|Michigan International Speedway|
|June|26|Infineon Raceway|
|July|2|Daytona International Speedway|
|July|9|Kentucky Speedway|
|July|17|New Hampshire Motor Speedway|
|July|31|Indianapolis Motor Speedway|
|Aug.|7|Pocono Raceway|
|Aug.|14|Watkins Glen International|
|Aug.|21|Michigan International Speedway|
|Aug.|27|Bristol Motor Speedway|
|Sept.|4|Atlanta Motor Speedway|
|Sept.|10|Richmond International Raceway|
|Sept.|18|Chicagoland Speedway|
|Sept.|25|New Hampshire Motor Speedway|
|Oct.|2|Dover International Speedway|
|Oct.|9|Kansas Speedway|
|Oct.|15|Charlotte Motor Speedway|
|Oct.|23|Talladega Superspeedway|
|Oct.|30|Martinsville Speedway|
|Nov.|6|Texas Motor Speedway|
|Nov.|13|Phoenix International Raceway|
|Nov.|20|Homestead-Miami Speedway|

Thanks for the input this week. As always, it’s a great bunch of emails I get to tackle.

Q: Every time NASCAR makes a change, they lose fans and attendance. What do you think will happen if they ban Cup drivers from Nationwide? I do think Cup drivers should not earn Nationwide points or the money. Some only use it as a means of testing the track anyway. — Sharon Jones

A: I believe it’s a bad idea to ban Cuppers from Nationwide competition completely. If the Cup boys are to be limited in the starts they can make or are deemed ineligible to win the Nationwide title (as NASCAR has hinted may happen), it should naturally thin the herd a bit. There just won’t be the incentive for guys to dip down as much, particularly when cross-country travel is involved.

However, I do think some crossover is good for everyone involved. Sponsors pony up, owners receive money to keep their program running, track promoters get a better gate, drivers have fun and — most important of all — fans are treated to a higher quality product, thus strengthening the series.

Q: Has Jr. and Kelley FINALLY decided on a guy for the No. 88 JRM car? Almirola will bring stability and should win races. Good choice that may turn into a great choice if not as many Cup guys will run NNS next year. Aric could be championship material! We know Jr.’s other car isn’t. — Jacqueline Timmel, Missouri

A: I have to agree with the driver selection. That No. 88 car has seen nine, count ‘em, nine different drivers slide behind the wheel this season. Obviously, this is a team with no championship aspirations, but without driver stability, it’s impossible for it to mature into a title-winning team down the road.

After an agreement to run James Finch’s No. 09 full-time on the Cup circuit fell through earlier this year when Finch lost his Miccosukee sponsorship at the 11th hour, Aric Almirola is turning heads in his Billy Ballew-owned truck. Running second in the standings with two wins in the Truck Series, Almirola garnered more attention with his third-place run for JR Motorsports in the No. 88 at ORP in July.

It’s difficult to predict what the Nationwide Series will look like next season with the aforementioned changes that are expected to limit Cup drivers’ championship eligibility. And I think, at least in part, that’s what prompted the principles at JRM to commit to one driver. Throw Almirola into a Nationwide-only group that will serve as a centerpiece to the series — along with Jason Leffler, Justin Allgaier, Reed Sorenson, Brendan Gaughan, Steve Wallace, Trevor Bayne and maybe Elliott Sadler — and it’ll make for a heckuva battle.

Q: Hello Matt. We’ve often wondered – what do all the members of the many crews do between races? Do they all reside in the same general area, like near the shops that the cars are worked on? Do they have set practice days? Thank you, — Jean and Frank, So Cal. fans of Frontstretch and those that make it most interesting

A: Thanks guys. A lot of them do a lot of different things. Most of the “over the wall” guys for the bigger teams are hired only to service the car during pit stops on Sunday. They’re typically flown in on race morning. Engineers and mechanics do the heavy lifting during practice sessions, prepping and tuning until it’s time to race on Sunday.

The mechanics and engineers have jobs back at the race shops, but it’s different with the pit crew guys, depending on the team they work for. Some have what you and I would consider day jobs, while the bigger teams’ pit crews spend their days training in the weight room and in simulated pit-stop practice sessions.

Most, if not all, live right around the Charlotte area.

Q: What are the odds Dale Jr. makes the Chase still? Do you see a scenario he makes it at the three tracks coming up that he is really good at? I’m ready for the overrated Jr. comments in the comment section below. — Red Dye No. 8

A: “I just want to go home,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after Sunday’s race at Michigan: “[The car] wasn’t good. We were junk all day… we weren’t good.”

Sound like a Chase contender to you? And don’t let what other fans think and say about your driver, whether it’s Junior, Jimmie or Tony Raines, get you down. Stick to your guns.

Q: Kevin Harvick is part of the Coke family of drivers. So with Bud coming, does he have to leave that? — Paul F., Philly

A: Yep. Beer Pong at Kevin’s!

Q: USA Today ran a story in which Budweiser and Texas Motor Speedway are changing their strategies to attract a younger demo (the 21-34 year olds). I understand Texas rolling out skimply-clad models to sell its product, but why is Bud leaving a 30-year-old driver for Harvick, who will be 35 when the season starts in 2011? I’m not a diehard Harvick fan, but I do like his style and where the team is going. Just can’t understand Budweiser’s logic. Thanks Matt! — Joey, Monteagle, Tenn.

A: Bud’s logic is simple: Winning still trumps all. And perception doesn’t hurt, either. Harvick and RCR are moving in the right direction and, from what I understand, were impressed with Kevin’s willingness to “play the game” in victory lane at the Bud Shootout.

See also
Voice of Vito: What a Difference a Year Makes for Budweiser... & Kevin Harvick, Too

I really like the Harvick/RCR/Budweiser combination. RCR certainly fits the bill as an organization, having that rough ‘n’ tumble, buttoned-downed feel. Harvick, while in no way a Dale Jr.-type partier, has a take-no-crap charm about him that will represent the colors well. Nothing against Kasey Kahne, but Harvick is a much more natural fit.

I’ve always been fascinated with driver/sponsor pairings and how the image created permeated with the fans. The Earnhardt Sr./Wrangler partnership was dead-on, as was Tim Richmond/Old Mil, Rusty Wallace/Miller Lite and Harry Gant/Skoal. Truex/Bass Pro, Bowyer/Jack Daniel’s and Junior/Bud are a few more contemporary examples.

On the flip side are partners that never felt right. Did Geoff Bodine really chew Levi Garrett? Smoke and Old Spice? Ricky Rudd and Tide?

Of course, there are also combos that lasted so long they’ve just become ingrained in our subconscious. Petty/STP, Gordon/DuPont, Johnson/Lowe’s, Kenseth/DeWalt (I’m still not used to the purple), Montoya/Target dating back to his Indy days.

And with Silly Season comes the imagery of driver/sponsor pairings to come. How do you feel about Brad Keselowski in the Blue Deuce or Kurt Busch in Shell-Pennzoil gear? Are you used to Truex and NAPA yet? Or Logano, and not Stewart, in the Home Depot ride?

Good stuff. Sorry to stray, Joey, but some high-octane fuel for thought for you there. Thanks for sticking around to the end. Catch ya on the other side of Bristol.

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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share this article

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com