*Did You Notice?…* How the U.S. Army’s departure from NASCAR puts the focus on the No. 88 car manned by the sport’s Most Popular Driver? With the Army’s decision to leave stock car racing, announced Tuesday, that leaves the National Guard, who backs Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as the lone military branch with a major presence in the sport. In the past few seasons, we’ve seen the Coast Guard, the Navy, and the Marines leave the Nationwide Series, all while the U.S. Air Force has seen primary sponsorship reduced to just two Sprint Cup events with the No. 43 and Aric Almirola. Even auxiliary branches of government, like the U.S. Border Patrol, have pulled back and turned their marketing dollars towards other areas.
*Did You Notice?…* The biggest story in NASCAR right now, in my opinion isn’t the Silly Season move of Matt Kenseth but Michael Andretti. One of the most famous last names in open wheel racing has been openly courting Dodge, looking for money and manufacturer support to start a NASCAR Cup team beginning in 2013. While Kenseth is unlikely to land there, just the name raises eyebrows and could attract at least a “B” level free agent (Ryan Newman? Kurt Busch post-rehab?) towards an organization that would come out of the box at least mildly competitive. Even with a single car, there’s no doubt if that “celebrity name” is coming to NASCAR racing they’re not going to settle for running 30th every week.
*Did You Notice?…* No Cup Series champion in the modern era has driven for a different team the _following season?_ That’s a stat Matt Kenseth won’t like to hear, mere hours after informing the world he’ll be leaving his lone Cup home, Roush Fenway Racing, following the 2012 season. Kenseth’s No. 17 team didn’t just win this year’s Daytona 500; they’re leading the Chase for the Cup, armed with an average finish of 7.7 and lead-lap finishes in 15 of 16 events. Winning just a shade less than $4 million, Kenseth has made more money on-track in 2012 than future Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin _combined._
*Did You Notice?…* The timing of Kurt Busch’s Jerry Springer Show “leak” as it pertains to the “decision” to keep his marriage with James Finch together? The second I saw that mockup sponsorship plastered all over the internet, my Intrader Odds for Kurt Busch keeping a ride – at least for now – went from 10 percent to 99.99999. Only the words “lightning strike at Busch’s home,” “Maricopa County arrest” or “President Obama issues Busch ban on motorsports” would have changed my way of thinking.
Why? The key components to that story are that Springer’s “request” for a mockup came at Darlington Raceway in May.
*Did You Notice?…* The problems for Kurt Busch aren’t just happening off the track? No need to go any further on his probation-turned-suspension; you’ve already read 50 articles about it at this point (or hit your brain’s all-too-convenient “ignore” button, reserved for overkill scenarios like these or your least favorite relative). Instead, what I want to bring up is that, during a season where Kurt Busch is trying to keep his career intact, building a foundation with an underdog team, he’s instead developed a habit of bringing his car home in pieces.
*Did You Notice?…* There’s no place that signifies NASCAR’s turn from crashes to consistent green-flag racing than the Monster Mile? I studied the last ten years at Dover and found a fascinating transformation. A track that once chewed up cars and spit them out has instead become the hallmark of the “debris caution” era…
_Catch Tom Saturday on SIRIUS XM Channel 90! He’ll be co-hosting Press Pass with Jim Noble from 11 AM – 2 PM._
*Did You Notice?…* What a difference Mike Ford makes? He’s only been at Richard Petty Motorsports for less than a month, handed the unenviable task of revamping a two-car organization that had earned exactly one top-10 finish, combined through the season’s first nine races. His driver, Aric Almirola, appeared to lack both the confidence and experience to be successful on the Cup level. Even the Petty name was in the news for all the wrong reasons; a confusing battle over the future of Victory Junction Gang Camp gave the impression of a family feud (rightly or wrongly) between King Richard, son Kyle, grandson Austin and daughter-in-law Patti.
*Did You Notice?…* Hendrick Motorsports isn’t running as bad as everybody says? Yes, Jeff Gordon is running like somewhere, someone is sticking pins in a voodoo doll wearing a tiny AARP firesuit. Yes, for the first month Kasey Kahne thought the best way to fit in as the “new guy” was run into walls. And of course, any Jimmie Johnson slump of more than ten races is labeled “instant crisis” by the “casual media” whose NASCAR knowledge extends to little more than the No. 48, Petty, and a guy they once called the Intimidator.
*Did You Notice?…* During a resurgent year for Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports as a whole has fallen behind the curve? That ugly fact is what’s spurring this move to bring on a top-quality crew chief, Mike Ford, more than anything else. Aric Almirola, in nine races, did not have a large quantity of time to work with Greg Erwin in order to show whether or not the pair could be a success; after all, the driver has just 44 career Cup starts to his credit.
But across the way, RPM’s marquee name, Marcos Ambrose, has been struggling just as much as Almirola. Combined, they’re outside the top 20 in points driving for an organization that surged to 15th last season with AJ Allmendinger, seemingly on the verge of making the Chase. That momentum should have been boosted, despite Allmendinger’s departure, by a Ford operation that’s come out of the box swinging in 2012. Consider…
*Did You Notice?…* Parity in the Cup Series only goes so far… and can hurt the sport as well as help it? This season, we’ve seen wins by four different organizations in eight races, with all four manufacturers represented. The sport’s “New York Yankees,” Hendrick Motorsports, is stuck at zero (and the well-documented 199 career trips to the Winner’s Circle) while the victories have come from Roush Fenway Racing (two), Penske Racing (one), Stewart-Haas Racing (three), and Joe Gibbs Racing (two). Overall, if the season ended now, seven different car owners would be represented in the Chase. That sounds pretty decent… right?
*Did You Notice?…* The difference Mark Martin makes with a new team? Yes, Michael Waltrip Racing went through an extensive personnel overhaul and expansion this offseason. But perhaps the best asset they’ve had, in this age of engineering parity is a driver who brings experience, enthusiasm, and that all-important confidence to the table.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the last two times Mark Martin made a move and his first year with a different organization.
*Did You Notice?* … No news is bad news? That’s the theme in NASCAR Nation this week, where some of the quietest off time we’ve ever seen has kept the sport out of the national consciousness. Baseball, with Opening Day festivities and beyond has gripped the headlines, along with the start of the NHL Playoffs and the upcoming push for the NBA’s. Football, too, despite being in its offseason continues to make the rounds atop _SportsCenter_ and keep fans focused on anything but cars going in circles.