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(UPDATE) CALINOFF: How My Spotting Career Came to an Abrupt End

Just one year (and nearly 70 lbs.) ago, my spotting career was defined with a 24-hour, 37,000-foot, ten-mile drive experience that has proven to be one of the best days ever. 

Unplanned. Unexpected. Unbelievable.

It was a race – but much more than a typical race. It was my last. I hung-up the headset and capped-off twenty-five years of doing something I loved.

I wrote about it a few days later, because I needed to let emotions subside. Yeah, it was that big for me.

If you didn’t read it the first time, I hope you do now – because it showed me that a simple text from a buddy could cultivate an amazing memory that overflows with humility.

For those who have already seen it, there’s a very cool update at the end.

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“One and done.”

It’s a widely-used phrase that is somewhat idiomatic, so based on its application, it can mean different things to different people.

For college basketball, it applies to student athletes who play for a year and then head to the pros. Other sports use it to refer to a team that makes it to the playoffs but doesn’t advance.

The term is notable in NASCAR as well, and describes drivers who score a win or have a particularly strong day, then fade into oblivion. The phrase might even define a car owner in lower-tier series if he shows up at Daytona with a bag of money and a shiny fleet of top-notch equipment that subsequently goes to auction after Homestead.

They are one and done.

Once Upon a Time …

My spotting career has far exceeded any of my expectations. It began by merely being in the right place at the right time.

NASCAR Whelan Modified Tour star Reggie Ruggiero — for whom I was doing some public relations work — needed a last-minute spotter for a Friday night show in Winchester, N.H. His son did it regularly, but he felt ill right before the 50-lap feature.

I said to Reggie, “Who else can we get?”

“Nobody,” he said. “Go get a headset.”

We won.

Then we won on Saturday night in Agawam, Mass., and then again the following afternoon in Thompson, Conn. Three days later we raced in Riverhead, N.Y. and finished second. I was really disappointed.

I had unleashed my competitive spirit and winning felt great. The more you win, the more you want to win and the greater it feels.

I decided, after a full season of spotting,  to take a leap. There had come a point when spotting was more than just a fun hobby. It grabbed me enough to try and make a career out of it. It was a long shot for sure.

The thing was, there were thousands of Modifieds and Late Models throughout the country, but only 120 spots on the roof for NASCAR’s top three National Touring Series. 

Dale Jr. Didn’t Understand

I don’t believe I got to NASCAR by accident (that’s a spotter joke), but I know that I certainly didn’t get here by myself. None of us do.

I was encouraged to move south by the late Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s Vice President of Corporate Communications. I had gotten to know him through friends, and he took an interest in my career. He was a good man and a friend. His voice of reason is still in my ear.

As my career progressed, the level of competition increased and the races became harder to win.

First, I worked with long-time friends — Brett Bodine and then Ricky Craven. In the 1999 Coca-Cola 600, Ricky had engine issues in qualifying and missed the race.

I don’t remember exactly how this all unfolded, but I wound up wearing a Budweiser uniform and spotting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his Cup debut. It was a low-key, under-the-radar event that was completely ignored by the media. So there was no pressure.

At the first caution, I asked him if everything sounded okay, and if I needed me to be doing anything differently. He said, “See what you can do about that accent because I don’t think I can learn ‘Yankee’ in the next 500 miles.”

We finished 16th with all of the original sheet metal attached.

Crew Chief, Tony Eury, Sr. came up to me after the race and shook my hand.

“You did a good job,” he said. “I have no idea what you were saying, but we didn’t wreck – so good job.”

They already had a guy in place for 2000, so spotting there wasn’t an option. But it was just as well. It was going to be a gig with immeasurably-high expectations. And they talked funny.

Then the Phone Rang

I got the call. It was Crew Chief Robbie Reiser from Roush Fenway. He asked if I’d like to try out for Kenseth. (That’s Matt Kenseth for those of you who may be new or have never heard of Martinsville Speedway.)

Our first race together was March 12, 2000. It was in Atlanta, the fourth race of the season. We started fourth, and the engine exploded on Lap 199. We came out of there with an impressive 40th-place finish. It wasn’t my fault but, I had it in my head that I was one and done.

For the next five or six races, Matt insisted the engine failure was my fault. That’s when I knew that working with him was going to be fun.

Try Not to Get Emotional and Tear-Up

I’ve written a good bunch of stories over the years, and probably half of them have some tie to Kenseth. You can do that when you own the site.

So, I write about Kenseth because his successes have impacted mine. And, on a different level, he’s an important person in my life. He’s a good friend and a confidant.

When my dad passed away in 2004, he fired-up his plane and took me to Long Island to be with my family the same day. That’s just one example.

The people in my world that I could tell anything, and not be judged, can be counted on five fingers. I’m proud to say that Matt (I can’t wait until he reads this) is right in the middle.

(It took me 10 minutes to finish writing that line because I cracked myself up.)

But you get the point: I’m his biggest fan across the board.

Fast Forward

At the end of 2012, Kenseth felt he needed a change left Roush Fenway for Joe Gibbs Racing. I stayed at RFR for the 2013 season to work with the Cup team for Stenhouse Jr. (That’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for those of you who may be new or have never heard of … well, you get the idea.)

We had eight XFINITY wins and two Championships. Every one of those wins was an ass-kicker. Half of them had the right side destroyed because nobody ran the top like him. We won at Iowa, wrecking in our own oil at the start/finish line. That was the first time I was ever in victory lane without a car. Good stuff!

I didn’t return to RFR after 2013, but I still have many great friends there. They’ve been instrumental in helping grow my businesses through sponsor relationships.

After that, I spotted some K&N and late model races. But it got to the point that if someone would ask me to spot, I’d check the weather. If the chance of rain exceeded three percent, I had a “prior commitment.” I had gotten tired of not winning for a couple of years.

With Kenseth, I knew that every time we showed up at a track, we had a legitimate shot to win. It was the same with Ricky in the XFINITY Series.

Okay, here we go…

A week ago Monday at about 7:30 p.m., Kenseth texted me and asked if I “want to go tomorrow.”

I didn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely!” I replied. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Where are we going?”

“Slinger,” he said. “It’s a quarter mile, so please bring your binoculars.”

The eyesight jokes are never-ending.

I had forgotten that the Slinger Speedway Nationals in Wisconsin were that week. It’s one of the most prestigious races in the Midwest, and he had won it a record six times.

Saying yes was a no-brainer for me. I love that track. Plus, I didn’t have much planned. My car was washed, and I was caught up on laundry.

We got on the plane, and I told him about a decision I made on the way to the airport.

“This is the last race that I’m ever going to spot,” I said. “I mean, like forever. No short-track stuff, no top-tier fill-ins. I’m done.”

His eyes were glued to his phone. He never looked up and said, “Oh, OK.”

I could have said, “Hey, the right wing fell off, the windshield is missing, and Jack just put on his WWII flying goggles,” and gotten the same response. I think he was caught up in that Pokémon Go thing.

Once we were airborne, I said it again.

“I’m done spotting after tonight. This is it for me. I want my last race to be with you.”

I thought my friend might be at least a little moved. Maybe he’d say “That would be great. I’d like that.”

Nope.

“Your last race was with me,” Kenseth said. “You stopped spotting in 2002. I just kept you around and added more mirrors.”

When it comes to jabs and sarcastic insults, there’s nobody better — or quicker.

And, just so you know, he’s one of the most annoying people I have ever met. And I’m not easily annoyed.

In the car ride from the airport to the track I had to take a business call — it was kind of important. Every time I spoke he’d lower his voice three octaves, repeat what I was saying and laugh. It’s a five-mile trip, and I’m riding with an echo. Welcome to 8th grade.

Fast story: We’re at Dover. He’s in the middle of three and four. I’m going to give him the lap count as soon as he exits. He keys the mic and says, “What lap are we on?” I said, “I was just about to tell you. It’s like you read my mind.” He comes back with, “I did. It was like reading a children’s book.” Like I said, better and quicker. There are no less than 100 stories I could tell you. 

In total, I have been part of three Championships — two with Ricky — two Daytona 500s, an All-Star Race and 31 wins in two series with Matt. I figured there was nothing else for me to accomplish, and the likelihood of another chance to spot for him was probably at zero.

So, today would be the day. My final show. The last hurrah. A three-hour farewell tour.

Who Wrote the Script?

Jones (That’s Eric, except with a “k”) raced us pretty hard for the last 15 laps. He’s a great driver with an amazing future, but I think his depth perception and peripheral vision might have been temporarily impaired about eight times. Once, he started his turn four exit on the backstretch. That’s what it looked like to me. You can watch Video No. 2 and make an official ruling.

Well, the wind-up of the whole deal is that we won. And we did it in pretty exciting fashion — on the last lap following a subtle “pardon me.”

Nevertheless, it was a great way to go out, and I felt like it put an exclamation point on my spotting career. I couldn’t have written it any better. The craziest part was the timing. Kenseth sent me a casual text, and 24 hours later I was wearing a headset.

Same Old, Same Old

It was so much fun. I mean really, so much fun. Just like old times. I felt like we established a rhythm right away. The phrase “U got it!” was tossed around throughout the race. The origin of that is a story in itself. If you see me, ask me, I’ll tell you.

He criticized my eyesight and did the echo thing again. I jabbed him about his restarts and called him “Joey” a few times. It was an honest mistake.

In victory lane, he said the same thing he’s said every time we won. “Are you getting a tattoo?” If you aren’t familiar with the tradition, I got a commemorative tattoo when we won the Championship, got one for each Daytona 500 and a few more. You can Google “Calinoff tattoo” and you’ll see some stories and images.

What Does it All Mean?

If I had to rank the milestones, here’s the list:

  1. Championship 2003: That’s the biggest prize. It’s what you strive to achieve. It pays a nice bonus.
  2. Daytona 500s in 2009 and 2012: It’s the freakin’ Daytona 500. And jet-dryers burst into flames.
  3. Slinger Nationals 2016.
  4. Everything else.

You see, last week wasn’t just about a race. And it wasn’t just about a win.

It was about making a circle — starting at Point A and ending at Point A. Grassroots beginning, grassroots ending. I had my first big win with Matt and my last big win with Matt.

It was about the circumstances and how a random text put the wax on my spotting career. I don’t believe in coincidences. This is the way it was supposed to be.

I traveled the country 38 weekends for twenty years. I could write this story 50 different ways and still be unable to express the emotion and satisfaction that I experienced on one Tuesday night in Slinger, WI. Moments like that are a premium. Not everyone has the opportunity to bring to a close something they love and do it on their terms.

I am so blessed to have had such a fulfilling career and to do it with great people. The memories I have feel just as good today as they did when they happened.

And then I thought: I could have just as easily been one and done.

 

ABOUT THE VIDEOS:

No. 1Of course.

No. 2These are the final ten laps with Erik Eric Jones at Slinger. There are a couple of cautions in there, and the last restart is a Green-White-Checker. Matt is in the No. 8, and Eric is in the No. 20.  

No. 3As far as videos go, it’s P1 on my list. It has been viewed over 27,000 times, and 26,000 of them are mine. You’ll recognize the content, but not the commentary. Order the Miso Soup – it’s fabulous!  

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it. NASCAR has the best fans in all of professional sports – and I appreciate all of you.

 

Video No.1 

Yes, it’s real.


Video No.2

Video No. 3   (The audio is low. You’ll need to raise the volume)

   

UPDATE

And Then There was This

Roughly ten days after I first published this story, my friendly FedEx guy knocked on my door. He had a three-foot box next to him on the porch. 

The sender was from Wisconsin — which excited me because I was running low on cheese. I prayed for Sharp Cheddar. But it wasn’t to be.

The contents were packed with more bubble-wrap than Denny Hamlin should be wearing when he plays basketball. 

It was the trophy. Probably one of the most coveted in all of midwest Late Model racing. It’s a cool piece. 

Then it hit me. 

We were on the plane, about halfway home. Kenseth starts looking around and we had this exchange:

MATT: “Where did you put the trophy?”

ME: “I didn’t touch the trophy.”

MATT: “I specifically asked you not to forget the trophy.”

ME: “You’re specifically delusional because I never heard you mention the word ‘trophy’.”

MATT: “Yep. Can’t see, can’t hear. Great spotter.”

Then he shook his head and mumbled something under his breath.

ME: “Did you really say it?”

MATT: “Absolutely not.”

ME: “Nice. You made me feel terrible.”

His face lit up.

MATT: “Really!?”

ME: “Absolutely not.”

 

I called him when I got it. 

He said it was purposely left it behind so that the track could have his name added.

I told him that his touching gesture will make it even more valuable — on eBay.

 

 

 

I wrote this story is in memory of my dad, who encouraged me to do what I love, and love what I do. It’s worked out pretty well.

Lenny Calinoff
Len Calinoff

______________________________________________________________________

TONIGHT

 

 

 

Email Mike at mike@mikecalinoff.com

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson continued to etch his name in the NASCAR history books in 2016 by capturing his seventh Sprint Cup Series Championship, tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most in history.

 

Car No: 48

Crew Chief: Chad Knaus

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Wins: 5

Top-Fives: 11

Top-10s: 16

Points Finish: 1st

2016 Quick Summary: After two quick wins at Atlanta and Fontana, Johnson struggled through much of the regular season, finishing outside the top 10 in 14 of the last 21 races. However, in true champion’s form, Johnson found his stride in the Chase by winning three races including the season finale at Homestead, which secured his seventh championship.

2016 Highlight(s): Won his seventh Cup Series championship and reached the 80 win plateau for his certain to be Hall of Fame career. Crossed Homestead off of his list of tracks where he doesn’t have a victory. 2016 marked the 15th consecutive season where Johnson has scored at least one win.

2016 Lowlight(s): Johnson recorded his first last-place finish of his career at Watkins Glen in August. Johnson endured a stretch of 24 races without a win before winning at Charlotte in October to kick off the Round of 12 in the Chase.

2017 Outlook: Johnson will enter the 2017 season with his eyes set on more history as he looks for his record-setting eighth premier series championship. He is also just five wins shy of passing Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth on the all-time list. All the pieces remain in place for Johnson and the No. 48 to continue to rewrite the record books.

Johnson will win again, make the chase again, and will likely contend for another championship by the time Homestead rolls around.

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Matt Kenseth

Consistency was once again the name of the game for Matt Kenseth during the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The Cambridge, WI native scored two victories and qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the seventh consecutive season.

 

Car No. 20

Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Wins: 2

Top-Fives: 8

Top-10’s: 19

Points Finish: 5th

2016 Quick Summary: Kenseth finished the 2016 campaign with another top five points finish after scoring wins Dover (May) and at Loudon (July). It wasn’t the textbook week after week consistently good to great finishes we are used to seeing from the 2003 premier series champion but more times often than not especially during the Chase, Kenseth found his stride, recording only two finishes outside the top – 20 in the final ten races.

2016 Highlight(s): Kenseth’s win in May at Dover was one of the wildest races during the 2016 season. After a late race stack up that took out a chunk of the field, He was able to hold off Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott over the final 47 laps to score the victory.

2016 Lowlight(s): Kenseth appeared to be on his way to a Championship 4 berth at Phoenix in November after leading 55 of the race’s final 67 laps until a late race restart on lap 317, when he was collected in a wreck with Alex Bowman which ended any hope of a second premier series championship. He would go on to finish 21st.

2017 Outlook: Even though Kenseth enters his 18th season of full-time competition in NASCAR’s top series in 2017 don’t expect the 44-year-old to slow down as he continues the fire that made him a champion and a perennial championship contender in the mid-2000’s. Kenseth just sits two wins shy of 40 premier series wins for his already certain Hall of Fame career. With Jason Ratcliff returning to the top of the pit box and one of the best pit crews in the business at his disposal look for 2017 to be business as usual for Kenseth and the No. 20 team.

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray made the Chase for the second straight year based on points, but he didn’t contend for the championship, nor find himself in Victory Lane in 2016.

 

Car No.: 1

Crew Chief: Matt McCall

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Wins: 0

Top-Fives: 2

Top-10s: 12

Points Finish: 13th

2016 Quick Summary: McMurray had a decidedly quiet 2016 season, with no wins but only three finishes outside the top 30. A steady, consistent approach to the season allowed him to make the Chase for the second year in a row in his second season with crew chief Matt McCall.

Six top-10s in the 10 races before the Chase, including a seventh at Richmond, gave McMurray a cushion in the cutoff race. His only worry was whether Kasey Kahne could pull off the last-minute win and knock him out, but Kahne came up short.

However, a bad finish in the last race of the Round of 16 meant McMurray would once again fail to make it past the first round of the Chase.

2016 Highlight(s): McMurray’s best finish of the season came at the May Talladega race. Despite being involved in two accidents during the event, including the 21-car wreck on lap 162, he was able to battle back for a fourth-place finish. His other top five of the season came in the finale at Homestead, where he finished fifth.

2016 Lowlight(s): McMurray’s worst finish came at a very inopportune time. In the cutoff race of the Round of 16 at Dover, the No. 1 team suffered a blown engine and finished last, ending any chance of advancing to the next round of the Chase.

He also had the dubious honor, along with Kahne, of not leading a single lap during the season.

2017 Outlook: The relationship between McMurray and McCall seems to be working, as the pair has not missed the Chase yet. He also has a great teammate in Kyle Larson, who continues to improve each year. With Stewart-Haas Racing moving to Ford and HScott Motorsports suspending operations, Chip Ganassi Racing will be the only team with Hendrick support. If all these relationships continue to improve, look for McMurray to be competing for top-fives and wins next year, rather than just top-10s.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KaseyMcNerney

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Austin Dillon

After a solid rookie season, Austin Dillon came back for his sophomore year and was able to contend for a couple race wins en route to finishing 14th in points.

 

Car No.:  3  

Crew Chief: Richard “Slugger” Labbe

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Wins: 0           

Top-Fives: 4

Top-10s: 13

Points Finish: 14th           

2016 Quick Summary: Dillon had by definition what could be a breakout season after a disappointing 2015 campaign. Through consistency and some timely finishes he qualified for his first ever Chase for the Sprint Cup and finished 14th in the final championship standings. Although he ended up without a win, Dillon showed that he will be a factor once the premier series unloads at Daytona in February.

2016 Highlight(s): Finished a seasonbest third at Talladega in May. Earned two Coors Light pole awards: Fontana (March) and Texas (November).

2016 Lowlight(s): Narrowly missed the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup after a 32nd place finish at Charlotte in October. Finishes of 37th and 39th respectively at Texas and Phoenix in November resulted in Dillon not finishing out the season as strongly as he would’ve hoped.

2017 Outlook: The outlook for Dillon in 2017 is bright with Slugger Labbe returning for another season on top of the pit box and a Richard Childress Racing team that continues to improve each week. Dillon was one of the Cup Series most improved drivers in 2016 and look for him to carry that momentum to victory lane for the first time in NASCAR’s premier series next season.

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

HScott Motorsports Will Not Compete in NASCAR in 2017

After months of speculation, Harry Scott, owner of HScott Motorsports officially announced on Monday that the team would not compete during the 2017 NASCAR season.

In a deal finalized last week, the No. 15 charter used for Clint Bowyer, which was owned by HScott Motorsports, has been sold to Premium Motorsports. The charter that was leased for the No. 46 car and Michael Annett was sold by Premium Motorsport to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car that will be driven by Erik Jones next season.

Bowyer will be moving to the No. 14 Ford and StewartHaas Racing this upcoming season while Annett will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series.

Scott released a statement regarding the decision not to field a team next season.

“One thing I learned about NASCAR is that it is a ‘people business.’ I will forever be grateful to the men and women who worked tirelessly to make HScott Racing successful. This includes our dedicated employees, sponsors and partners. We were fortunate to have the support of world-class sponsors like Brandt, DC Solar, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Pilot Flying J, and 5 hour ENERGY. Our racing program would not have been possible without the assistance of Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports, and Chevrolet.

“I love this sport and being part of it. I invested in NASCAR because I truly believe it represents the best racing competition in the world and the best people in all sports.”

“Looking back, I will always be especially proud of the unprecedented success of our NASCAR K&N Series teams, including four consecutive championships and for the lifelong friendships that were forged over the last seven years. My hope is that we were able to develop drivers that will thrive at the highest levels for years to come.”

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Earnhardt Captures 14th Consecutive Most Popular Driver Award

In an announcement shocking absolutely no one, Dale Earnhardt Jr. captured his 14th consecutive National Motorsports Press Association Most Popular Driver award during Friday night’s NASCAR awards banquet in Las Vegas.

Earnhardt’s 14-year run as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver is the longest streak since the award was first presented in 1953. Bill Elliott is the current all-time record holder with 16 MPD awards.

“That’s pretty cool,” Earnhardt said to open his acceptance speech.

Earnhardt said this year’s award was special because the fans stuck by him during a year in which we missed half the season with a concussion.

“This year was a difficult year for us and our team,” Earnhardt said. “You think you know just how incredible the NASCAR fans are and how supportive they are. You see them support the drivers through victories and through defeat. But when you go through recovery from an injury or maybe the loss of a loved one or something like that, you really get to the core of what’s great about our fan base.”

“I want to thank the fans for all the support and all the well-wishes,” he said. “It really motivated me to get healthy, and it also motivated me to come back.

“I’m looking forward to next year.”

Earnhardt’s 2016 season came to an end after the race at Kentucky Speedway in July; he earned five top fives, and six top 10’s in 18 starts with four runner-up finishes.

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

Sponsorship Search Hindered by Series Mistakes

The sun set on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the service provider ending the partnership after 13 years. Their relationship brought copious amounts of success on and off the track; in addition to the on-track product evolving over the years, Sprint differentiated itself as a sponsor by implementing unique programs like Miss Sprint Cup.

When Sprint announced their 2016 departure at the end of the 2014 season, NASCAR knew finding a company to fill their shoes would be difficult. However, they most likely didn’t expect to struggle this much; the season ended over a week ago, and there was nothing confirmed for 2017 – till now.  It was announced on December 1st in Las Vegas that Monster Energy will take over Sprint’s role. No length or cost of the deal was mentioned.

It is no surprise this reveal is coming late in the year, but the sanctioning body was flustered negotiations took longer than expected. That has been their state of mind the entire season – confused.

In the final few months of the 2016 season, NASCAR made a series of mistakes that left a bad taste in the fans’ and drivers’ mouths. From inconsistencies with officiating to simply boneheaded decisions, the sport lost the benefit of the doubt many gave them for years.

The October race at Martinsville Speedway – a Chase event the entire sport circles on their calendars – fell flat when a caution flew in the middle of green flag pit stops. The result was a 29-lap caution period to figure out the running order. A red flag would have halted the racecars and made it easier to decipher who ended up where versus where they were supposed to be. Instead, NASCAR killed an entire afternoon’s worth of momentum in a split second.

NASCAR also can’t ignore their other mistakes, such as inconsistency in penalties. Out of the blue, they started calling drivers out for “pulling up to pit,” which is where the drivers pull ahead of the pace car while on pit road. Martin Truex, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson received that penalty at Phoenix International Raceway, causing both drivers to question the rule’s validity.

That mindset extended into Championship Weekend when a controversial caution flag flew late in the race. The field lined up with 10 laps remaining, creating tension and aggression that cost Carl Edwards another shot at the title. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver – who is usually neutral on various issues in the sport – called out the sanctioning body after his wreck, questioning if the caution needed to come out for Dylan Lupton’s mechanical issues.

These instances happened during the final two months of competition – when the finalists for the sponsorship were chosen. Drivers denouncing the sport and its officiating isn’t conducive in closing deals and most likely impacted negotiations. NASCAR will address the difficulty of finding a company to represent the premier series – but they fail to acknowledge their actions’ effect on that process.

Although the sport made strides while with Sprint, there have been some flops as well. This new entitlement deal is a chance to reframe the series and rebuild their credibility. To do this, though, they have to admit they lost their credibility in the first place.

By the time the sun rises at Daytona International Speedway, they might have it figured out.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

RAPID REACTION: Logano Scores Victory as Two Contenders Go Up in Smoke

Talladega Superspeedway never disappoints – and the Hellmann’s 500 Sunday afternoon was no exception. As the Round of 12 concluded, unexpected problems struck several playoff contenders. Some were able to rebound from their adversity, while others suffered issues too big to overcome. Nevertheless, the Chase is unforgiving, and four drivers were cut from their championships hopes.

From the Bottom to the Top

From the drop of the green flag, it was apparent Penske Racing driver Joey Logano had a strong car. However, less than 50 laps into the race, the driver suffered a significant error during a green flag pit stop. The jack became jammed into the side of his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford as he darted from his pit stall. The team was hit with a penalty for removing equipment outside of the stall and forced to come back and remove it. Fortunately, a caution came out a lap later for Martin Truex Jr. blowing a motor, allowing him to remain on the lead lap.

Heading into the event, Logano was already in jeopardy of being cut in the playoffs – tied with Austin Dillon for the final transfer spot in eighth. He and his team knew they not only needed to survive the treacherous track, but also score a solid finish. They excelled in both. Logano drafted through the pack and as the laps came to a close, he soon found himself in the lead. After a caution placed the event in overtime, the driver held on to the lead and grabbed his second victory at the 2.5-mile track.

 

Farewell to Four

As aforementioned, Talladega served as the final battleground of the Contender Round – and when the checkered flag flew, four were eliminated from the playoffs.

Brad Keselowski, like his teammate, knew he needed a stellar finish to advance to the next round. Luckily, Talladega is known to be one of his best tracks. While the driver led a race-high 90 laps, engine issues struck on Lap 146, abruptly ending the team’s impressive performance.

Martin Truex Jr. also suffered from similar problems. As mentioned previously, the engine in his No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota blew up on Lap 42, ending his day prematurely.

Chase Elliott was cut from the playoffs after finishing 12th. The rookie started from the fourth position and led nine laps. However, his car faded during the second half and ended the team’s first championship run.

Finally, Austin Dillon’s championship hopes ended in the result of a tiebreaker with Denny Hamlin. As the two jockeyed for position on the track, they found themselves within a few points of each other. When the event concluded, they were tied. The rules set the playoff tiebreaker to be the best finish within the round. The event happened to be Hamlin’s best as he beat Kurt Busch by inches at the line and score a third-place finish – which was what he needed to advance. Notably, Dillon’s best finish of the Round of 12 was sixth last week at Kansas.

 

Tension but No Turmoil

As the laps ticked down, the well-known stress of the door-to-door pack racing returned. Talladega is known to be a time-bomb for carnage – culminating in the last laps, as driver patience thins. However, while there were two cautions within the final ten laps, the event Sunday did not feature an overwhelming multi-car accident.

However, the ending was still exhilarating – watching a pack of professionals battle for position in the closing moments. It was proof while wrecks are a staple to restrictor plate racing, they are not necessary for the end of a great race.

 

Toyota Prominent in Round of 8

As the Round of 8 begins, the playoff field is becoming more competitive – and the championship is just around the corner. However, one can’t help but notice Toyota comprises half of the eight contenders, which continues the trend of Toyota’s newfound dominance in the series this year. The team still owns the most manufacturer wins of the season, and now the entirety of Joe Gibbs Racing is still in championship contention.

As a result, this increases the odds one of their drivers will be a part of the championship-deciding round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, perhaps two of them. Regardless, one cannot deny the impressive performance from the foreign manufacturer in 2016.

 

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Keselowski’s Chase Hopes Go Away in Smoke

Engine issues are a part of the sport in NASCAR.

Almost every team will face at least one throughout the year and prove to be a major blow to a team’s chance at success, more times than not.

Just ask Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski, who entered the day needing a solid performance following his troubles in Kansas last weekend, looked to be in good shape during Sunday’s Hellmann’s 500. He had qualified second and remained in the front for the majority of his time on the track

“We had a fast Miller Lite Ford and that kind of ended our day. It was a lot of fun to be leading at Talladega.” Keselowski said post-race. “We were doing the best we could to make a show of it and have some fun and lead some laps and just happy and proud to have a fast car.”

The 32-year-old, who’s been dominant at restrictor plate tracks before, showed strength this weekend. He led a race-high 90 laps and seemed to be able to do whatever it took to stay out front and be on pace to make the next round of the Chase.

Then on Lap 144, his day turned into a bad one in the blink of an eye. Moments after getting a piece of debris off his grill for the second time during the race, his engine expired. It’d end his day and cease his championship aspirations.

“I’m pretty confident I lost a rod or something in the lower end. That’s just the way it goes.” Keselowski said. “I don’t know. I’m not an engine guy, but the car was really strong, and we definitely kept finding debris. I thought I got it cooled off and only got it slightly over, but I don’t know.”

The 2012 Sprint Cup Series Champion settled for a 38th place finish.

With four races remaining and officially out of championship contention, Keselowski’s goals are simple for the remainder of the season.

“Win more races.”

 

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.