Race Weekend Central

Vexing Vito: Smith Signs With JR Motorsports & NASCAR Odds ‘N’ Ends

With just four races remaining in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup, signs are starting to point to the No. 48 team resurrecting their horseshoe-up-their-backside luck that manifested itself during five-consecutive tiles earned from 2006-2010. After shortening the Lowe’s Impala by about a foot at Kansas, Johnson and company rebounded to a ninth place finish. While the No. 48 kept pace with the Blue Deuce of Brad Keselowski at seven points, there is one glaring omission that many have seemed to overlook: Chevrolet hasn’t won a race in almost three months.

Their last win as August, 5th at Pocono, and that was partly because it started pouring and Jeff Gordon won a rain-shortened race. Sure, Jeff had a string of seconds and thirds going early in the Chase, but wins are what count as Tony Stewart illustrated last year, winning the title on a tie-breaker. Martinsville is often the great equalizer, and there were four Chevrolets in contention for the win there in April when Clint Bowyer in his rogue Toyota went _Divine Wind_ into Turn One on a Green White Checker restart. The No. 48 team’s antics can’t always be expected to work, as they got luck with both fuel conservation and keeping the rear end from getting knocked out of the car at Kansas.

Like Ricky Bobby so succinctly put things: If you’re not first, you’re last.

Regan Smith has been tabbed to be the next driver at JR Motorsports for 2012, replacing departing driver Danica Patrick as she makes the transition to full-time Cup driver, while Smith takes a step backwards of sorts down to the Nationwide Series. Kind of an interesting selection as it was Smith who when in the No. 78 at Bristol this summer, sent Danica Patrick spinning into the wall as she was working on a Top 20 run in her first Cup race at Bristol.

The addition of Smith, with five full years of Cup experience under his belt should be a great asset to JR Motorsports, who have fielded cars for younger less experienced drivers such as Patrick, rookie Cole Whitt, and Aric Almirola. Don’t forget however it was also Junior’s teams that helped launch the careers of Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr. Smith appears to be taking the Elliott Sadler approach, taking a step back and re-establishing himself and win some races in an effort to attract a top Cup ride when it becomes available. That Hendrick Motorsports affiliation can’t hurt either.

Richard Petty Motorsports has renewed its contract with Ford Motor Company for the 2013 season. Acting as essentially an assembly shop, the No. 43 and No. 9 cars will be sourcing cars from Roush Fenway Racing, and engines supplied by Roush-Yates. The Petty pair can take heart; even The Captain is sourcing engines through Roush next season when Penske Racing drops Dodge in favor of Ford.

Speaking of which, I’m still not entirely sold on this switch. In fact I am opposed to it on a number of levels. Look what Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe have been able to do as essentially a one car operation, with the No. 22 team working on its fourth driver in two years for 2013. Back when the announcement was made, Dodge was preparing to unveil its new 2013 CoT version 2.0, when the bomb was dropped.

Had Dodge been able to secure the services of a few more teams, they’d have the technology transfer and benchmarking they were looking for, as any of the new teams would have brought items of interest over from their previous manufacturers. Hopefully this is rectified quickly, as it just looks weird with three manufactures out there – and even more so when it’s going to be Camaro and Mustang versus Camry in the Nationwide Series.

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