Race Weekend Central

Vexing Vito: Petty’s Saving Grace?

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Marcos Ambrose winning the Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen could not have come at a better time for Richard Petty Motorsports. After spending the better part of the summer dealing with Dodge and trying to secure a deal for 2013, they were caught off guard a bit by the brand’s announcement that they were bailing at the end of this season.

Without a manufacturer in place for 2013, that has put the team who has been on unstable ground for the last three seasons in another pickle. The delay in commiting has as Richard Petty put it, “shuffled them around.” Winning, however, has a way of smoothing things over.

“I seen some of the Ford people there today,” said Petty. “I told them, `Me and Marcos won the race.’ I had the contract in my pocket. I was going to let them sign it right there. I don’t think it went over too good.”

Further irony can be found in the final lap, with who was battling for the win; the lone Dodge team of Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing, versus RPM’s Marcos Ambrose. It still makes no sense to me – at all – why Penske is leaving Dodge to sign with Ford. Brad Keselowski has won as many races as all of the Ford teams have won this year (three), and that is with one teammate who’s dropping prescription greenies, and another who is just getting his Nationwide legs under him.

Wouldn’t Dodge have moved heaven and Earth to retain the services of The Captain and his basket of which all of their eggs resided?

Ford has some relatively deep pockets at this time, and they’re sure to include RPM in the fold. After all, it was RPM who helped solve Roush Fenway’s fudged up front-end geometry in 2010, allowing them to get in a position to challenge for the championship in 2011. Ford has been with Marcos Ambrose for a decade now, and with their new global approach to car building and marketing, they’re surely not going to let him get away.

The well has gone a bit dry however. Matt Kenseth won this year’s Daytona 500 getting a big shove from teammate Greg Biffle on a late restart, while Biffle flat out dominated Texas in the spring. Ever since then, there hasn’t been a whole lot to brag about for the Blue Oval. Carl Edwards has a new crew chief, Matt Kenseth’s strong runs have been ruined as of late with late-race accidents, while the flagship No. 6 still lays dormant somewhere in Livonia, and half the Roush fleet has Ford sponsorship.

Should the youngest Daytona 500 winner in history _still_ be struggling to find something to slap on the quarter panels?

Wild prediction? Dodge takes 2013 off, gets it ducks in a row, lets the bugs get worked out of the upcoming body change, and returns in 2014 with Andretti Autosport and Richard Petty Motorsports– the two most storied names in American motorsports – as their teams. The Charger and Challenger are both slated to remain in production through 2016, so the cars and marketing will still be relevant.

Take heart Mopar fans – it’s not a waiving of the white flag; just an operational pause.

Kyle Busch Motorsports announced yesterday that Jason Leffler would be out of the No. 18 truck starting at Michigan this weekend. Kurt Busch will take his place, as this announcement was released by Kyle Busch and KBM:

“How things have played out this season are not Jason’s fault — we’ve had some bad luck and a few other misfortunate happenings — but when it comes down to it, the No. 18 team has not performed to the standards we’ve become accustomed to and we owe it to our manufacturer and our sponsors to produce better results,” KBM owner Kyle Busch said. “Beginning to make these changes now, instead of waiting until the end of the season, it will allow us to evaluate where our program stands as we begin working towards becoming a championship-contending team once again in 2013. Jason represented KBM and all of our sponsors very well and we wish him the best of luck.”

Misfortunate? The only thing misfortunate is whoever is being allowed to write these press releases. I read this and all I can hear is Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush “impressionations.” Apparently, somebody popped all the F7 keys off the keyboards at KBM as well as the “Lefturn” name plate lettering on Leffler’s rigs.

One final thought on Watkins Glen and road courses in general. Recalling the final few laps at Sonoma this year, followed by the last lap at the Glen, it is high time we add more road courses to the schedule and include one in the Chase. The argument against it is not compelling and makes no sense. “We shouldn’t let a road course race make up the championship…it only makes up two races a year.” Oh and plate racing with it’s roll-of-the-dice/maybe-I’ll-dodge-the-200mph-20-car-pile-up is fair?

Come to think of it, road courses actually _were_ a part of the championship story for over five decades before The Chase decided who the champion was. And doesn’t the Chase diminish the importance of the first 26 races anyway? Besides, how much cooler would Watkins Glen or Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin look in early fall instead of say Kansas. Sorry Midwest, but orange trees beats a dust bowl every time. Besides, the deer crossing the track would act as impromptu chicanes, placing a premium on car control and situational awareness.

Let’s face it: we aren’t building any new short tracks and what does everybody love? Short track racing. Road Courses are the new short track, bring a new element to the game, and seeing the cars fly over curbing and slide around is a far cry from the slotcar six-second interval parade we’ve seen at virtually every speedway race this season. You can’t bang fenders at 205mph going into a turn and expect things to turn out okay. You can however slide through an oil slick and drift through dirt at 70mph, and bang bumpers, and still have a shot at the win.

Road courses: Stig tested; Vito approved.

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