Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Weekly Fan Q & A: What Happens To ‘Dinger Now?

_Editor’s Note: Tom Bowles is “filling in” for John Potts this week in a bit of a teamwork effort. Tom’s stuff will appear first, this morning followed up by the usual Potts’ Shots walk down memory lane a little later in the day._

As I write this introductory sentence, AJ Allmendinger is less than 24 hours removed from the conclusion to his career with Penske Racing. So let’s not waste any time getting to what all of you, including *James Stenton* from _Manassas, VA_ are asking this Thursday:

*So what does AJ do now? Who’s going to sign him for 2013, if anyone? And will we ever know what he tested positive for?*

James, it’s a little early to place AJ with somebody else. But what I can tell you is on the NASCAR side, based on the Road To Recovery program’s timeline the earliest we’ll see him eligible for competition is February’s 2013 Daytona 500. In between will be a rough summer and fall, filled with the sport’s step-by-step rehabilitation and personal transition as the driver also goes through a divorce.

But here’s the light at the end of the tunnel: for this man who’s hit rock bottom, there’s some sort of freedom gained when you get to the point there’s nothing to lose. If I’m AJ, the best thing possible would be to sit down and come clean with someone about what happened. Until then, all that will happen in the world of Facebook and Twitter is rumor, innuendo and gossip that keeps the story spinning outside his control. Isn’t honesty always the best policy? If ‘Dinger goes one-on-one, with an interviewer of his choice and explains the situation that leaves him well on his way to regaining PR control and rebuilding public perception.

As for NASCAR? I do agree with most experts that a comeback in stock cars would be difficult, if not impossible considering the current sponsorship environment. Matt Kenseth, the Sprint Cup point leader up until last week has struggled to get a sponsor for all 36 events. I don’t know that there’s a multi-million dollar corporation out there willing to back a winless 31-year-old coming off drug rehab. Sorry; harsh yet true. Penske’s decision, while a necessity also will carry weight with plenty of experienced Fortune 500 companies that have been around the business of racing.

But that doesn’t mean all is lost. When I think of ‘Dinger, I think of Shane Hmiel and his ability to make a successful comeback in another form of racing: Sprint Cars. AJ could easily make the same type of push, jumping back to his roots of open-wheel and pairing up with a top-level organization for 2013. The way IndyCar is looking for fresh faces, especially Americans with potential he’d be the perfect comeback story to help woo a little publicity their way.

Will it happen? Hard to say right now; I think, for the foreseeable future we’re on AJ’s time clock. How much of the truth we’ll find out will depend on if and when his representation allows the driver to open up (and so far, Tara Ragan has kept him pretty tight-lipped in response to the questions that really matter.)

*Tammy Roehmer* from Erie, PA had a comeback question of a different sort.

*I missed the racing at Lucas Oil last weekend. I thought it was ridiculous that got moved to the big track. Do you think NASCAR will reconsider for 2013?*

Yes and no. I know that’s a little bit of doublespeak so let me explain: the chances of Saturday’s Indy race jumping back to LOR for 2013 are zero. Nilch. Nada. Just look at the numbers: Nationwide attendance for the weekend, compared to 2011 increased 11 percent. Reports had Indianapolis Motor Speedway profiting an additional $1 to $2 million from the move, based largely on the fact TV money covers their expenses. Add the allure of big-time sponsors connecting to Indy, executives understanding the words “Indy 500 place” but not “little short track off the beaten path” and you’ve got a winner, probably for as long as NASCAR races at IMS. Sports is a business after all, and the bottom line certainly adds up even though the competition doesn’t.

But before you go weeping into a pillow (or punching a wall, whatever works for you) just hold on. The Truck Series is desperately looking to expand their schedule for 2013, jumping back up to 25 races and there are rumors Lucas Oil could be a strong candidate there. I also heard a wild rumor about a Trucks / Nationwide companion weekend, held just before the Brickyard 400 but that seems highly unlikely to me just because Nationwide would run two weeks in one month at the same city. So bank on Trucks instead, not the perfect compromise but better than what we had in 2012, better than nothing at all.

I’ll stop at three this week with *Jimmy Sanders,* from _Wilmington, NC_ checking in on one of the “wild card” contenders:

*Everyone is talking about Jeff Gordon needing to win as a “wild card.” But what do you think about one of the road course guys sneaking in? Do Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya still have a chance?*

Sure they have a chance! Of getting some lovely parting gifts for missing the cut. Montoya’s team is running so badly, they’ve earned one top-10 finish in sixteen races and look nowhere near capable of winning anywhere, even at a place he’s done so before (Watkins Glen). While an upset there helps, putting him inside the top 20 in points, one-win Kyle Busch is way too far ahead to be caught. That means Montoya would have to win a second time, at a place he never has (an oval track) in order to overcome the deficit. Not gonna happen.

Ditto for Ambrose, the Glen’s defending champ but whose point position (18th) and career oval wins (zero) put him in the same spot. Still looking for a true sleeper to root for in this mess? How about free agent-to-be Joey Logano, 17th in the standings and headed to a track this weekend in Pocono where he won in June. Then, the next week he’s turning right, an underrated road course racer who took the pole at Sonoma in 2011 and was fifth at the Glen last year. Everyone is focused on Gordon or maybe Carl Edwards making improbable comebacks; you’re right about that, Jimmy. So how crazy would it be if the guy who’s losing a ride for 2013 trumps them both and Kyle Busch in the process? That’s one heck of a trio to leave on the outside looking in.

John’s Turn!

Connie Moore asks, *“When are we going to know where Matt Kenseth is going? Roush knows, so what’s the problem?”*

Well, Connie, Matt is apparently going to Joe Gibbs Racing, and as some of my colleagues here have noted, it’s probably the worst kept secret in the garage right now.

Sure, Roush knows, but it seems that there are limitations in Kenseth’s present contract that keep any announcement from being made until that contract has expired.

Once again taking up the subject of the Nationwide race moving from IRP to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it appeared that NASCAR and I were both wrong. They wanted to do it to make more money, and if they did it’s only because they increased the sanction fee.

I figured they’d make more money because they had hit their limit of 40,000 or so seats at what is now Lucas Oil Raceway. From what I hear, also wrong.

A friend of mine in the TV industry who is in a position to know told me that the PAID attendance for that race on Saturday was around 14,000.

Jeff Belskis, the IMS president was interviewed on Sunday and stuttered before saying they had “…about 40,000.” This allowed my old friend Steve Stubbs and I to invoke an old favorite saying, that about 26,000 of them were apparently cleverly disguised as empty seats.

My comment that the series had overgrown the short track may have been true in theory, but it appears they’ve already undergrown IMS.

A lot of comments this week about the fouled up start and restart on that Nationwide race. Actually, the start and restart weren’t fouled up as much as NASCAR’s officiating. Kyle Busch is allowed to “jump” the original start on Kasey Kahne when Kasey spins his tires, no penalty. Elliott Sadler gets pushed out in front of Brad Keselowski on a restart (when maybe Brad spun his tires, too} and now all of a sudden the penalty is invoked.

As one of my colleagues – I think it was Bryan Davis Keith – said, the only thing consistent about NASCAR’s officiating is their inconsistency.

The dull nature of stock cars prompted a discussion between the aforementioned good friend, Steve Stubbs, and I about what might be done to spice things up a bit.

He suggested a revision that I have touched on before, one that will NEVER have a chance of taking place, but it’s nice to think about and fun to toss the idea out.

First, Stubbs notes that we never saw a bad Bluegrass 300 at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville or a bad ASA Midwest 300 at Salem.

Both of those races were run in what was known at the time as “Monza” format, in three 100-lap legs. For you newbies, that was in reference to the “Race of Two Worlds” on the big banked oval at Monza, Italy, where the Indianapolis roadsters competed, and it was run in stages.

At Salem, we had the odd qualifiers in one 100-lapper and even qualifiers in the second. Kind of like the Daytona qualifying race format, except that NOBODY was locked into the last 100.

The Louisville race was even more interesting. First 100 started straight up according to qualifying. Second 100 inverted according to the finish of the first. Third 100 straight up according to the finish of the second. One point awarded per finishing position, the best possible being a 3. Lowest point total wins. In the event of a tie, qualifying position is the tie-breaker.

I was thinking a lot along these lines, but I’m gonna give Stubbs credit for most of this. I think it would work for just about any event, and I’m surprised nobody has done it.

First, if they want to start 43 cars in the first 100-miler, fine, and line them up according to qualifying times. Cut it down to the top 32 in the second one (inverted, naturally) and all of those left running in the last 100.

My suggestion would be to increase the fuel cell capacity so they could go 100 miles without stopping. As Steve says, at Indianapolis more than half the people can’t see the pit stops anyway.

He suggests that they not allow pit stops under green, requiring a “splash and go,” and no tire changing except for a tire failure.

As I said, it’ll never happen. It makes too much sense for a good show.

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