Monday, August 25, 2008

Joey Logano Offically A Sprint Cup Driver

It's been a whirlwind season for young Joey Logano.

The Middletown, CT native is a talent that rarely comes along. Regular readers know how highly I think about him. This is a guy that won the East Series title at the age of 17. He followed that up by dominating the ARCA race at Rockingham this May in preparation for his Nationwide Series debut, which came at Dover this May. He would go on to capture poles at Nashville and Kentucky, winning in Kentucky in just his third series start. Logano followed up with consecutive runner-up finishes at Milwaukee and Gateway and top-10 runs at IRP, Watkins Glen, and Michigan. The kid's ready to contend at any level you put him in.

For Gibbs, this meant not going outside of the organization to find a replacement for Tony Stewart in the #20 Home Depot Camry. Why go through that process and deal with possible chemistry issues when the best choice is already there? Logano's been a teammate to both returning drivers next season, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch this year. Hamlin in particular has taken an active role in Logano's development, which will only accelerate the learning curve. Logano may actually be on the same level as most drivers in the COT, since he has been the primary test driver for the cars since their inception. I'm going on record right now and saying that Logano wins in 2009 and qualifies for the Chase. I'm that confident in his ability, not to mention the JGR camp and the quality of the team he will inherit.

As for the rest of 2008, Logano is looking at running 6 Sprint Cup races in the #02 - Richmond, New Hampshire, Kansas, Lowes, Atlanta, Texas, 9 Nationwide races in the #20, as well as the ARCA race at Talladega in order to garner some plate experience before the Daytona 500 this fall.

Here is his ride for 2009, courtesy of Home Depot Racing:

Back To School: What Have I Missed?

Yes, it's that time of year again. I think I need to catch up my thoughts on all the news of the last week or so, not to mention the latest incarnation of "can these guys be rivals?!?"

- NASCAR brought the hammer down on the Gibbs Nationwide teams, suspending 7 guys and stripping the team of owner and driver points. The driver points are meh, they're not running the full year. This does bring the #20 back to earth a bit on the owner side. What is big is the indefinite suspensions of guys. I wonder how many of them will be back with the team... someone could use their "free time" and recruit some Toyota talent.

- Kyle Busch wins Bristol trucks, Brad Keselowski wins Nationwide race. You know, Keselowski has been exceptional this year, his first full year with the #88 team. If JR Motorsports of all teams can't get a sponsor, that would be surprising. He could win the championship this year - and certainly would be a favorite in 2009. Here is some audio from Keselowski himself, courtesy of Nationwide.

- Casey Mears to RCR with Jack Daniels in the #07, Clint Bowyer moves to General Mills and #33. Bowyer is obviously unhappy, anyone who watched the press conference or saw the pictures could see that. I mean really, moving from the badass Jack Daniels car to Cheerios and Hamburger Helper? I'd be upset too. Not to mention the possibility he won't be in the top 35 next season, unless this happens.

- Carl Edwards used the classic bump-and-run on Kyle Busch to win his second straight Sharpie 500. The win made for some interesting fireworks after the race as we're 2 races away from the Chase, and Edwards now has 6 wins to put up against the 8 of Busch. More on this in a bit...

- Two items of note from today, the long-awaited announcement of Joey Logano as the driver for the #20 Home Depot Camry next season with Home Depot returning as sponsor. I'll have much more on that later this week. Also, NASCAR is working out the kinks in regard to the '09 testing policy. So far I like it, which is obviously a minority opinion when it comes to things NASCAR has done in the last several years.

- Kyle Busch vs. Carl Edwards

As opposing to manufactured feuds, this one could be the real deal - maybe. NASCAR and the media tried to make Jeff Gordon/Dale Jr. a rivalry several years ago. It failed, of course, because there wasn't a compelling backstory. So it fizzled out quickly. Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick had a good rivalry back in the Busch Series, as they had numerous run-ins and culminated in the post-race collar-grabbing at Bristol back in 2002. The last great NASCAR Sprint Cup rivalry was Kurt Busch/Jimmy Spencer, a rivalry that was years in the making. Kyle is a natural adversary much like his brother. For a while it might have been Jr., but he couldn't keep up. That left Edwards, the other dominating driver this year, to make something happen - and he did. The move he put on Busch was short-track racing. Busch's reaction was childish, and Edwards didn't put up with it as he spun Busch around on the cool-down lap. It will be interesting to see if this can be a legitimate feud that has staying power, not just a flash in the pan as so many have been before.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Michigan Again Proves To Be House Of Roush

For the 5th time in the last 9 races at Michigan, a Roush car entered victory lane. This time it was Carl Edwards, who looks every bit as tough as Kyle Busch entering the Chase. Edwards also swept the weekend, taking home Nationwide honors and looking to make a sweeping comeback and ruin Clint Bowyer's year. Getting back to the Sprint Cup side, it's fun as a Roush fan to watch Michigan - a better than average chance of watching a win.

Edwards dominated the day, but it was also a big day for fellow Roush drivers David Ragan, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth. The three drivers took positions 3-4-5 and improved their Chase chances thanks to DNF finishes from Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, and Kasey Kahne. For Ragan in particular, he is the unquestioned underdog in the fight to Richmond. It would be quite the story for him to make the top 12, a year after getting thrown into the fire and taking the criticism, learning the hard way, and stand on the stage as one of the top 12 drivers in the sport. As of now he stands on the outside, but one breakthrough win at California or Richmond could be enough.

Biffle and Kenseth don't look like championship contenders right now, but their performances Sunday did a lot to solidify their standing to at least have a shot at the title. Biffle has been a tad more consistent than Kenseth, who I still maintain is adjusting to having a new voice in his helmet. Chip Bolin has proven himself worthy of the promotion... it just has taken more time than I or most others expected. Only Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson have made every Chase since its inception and I don't expect that to change.

Heading into Bristol, Kenseth and Edwards are the last 2 drivers to have won the August race. Kenseth did so in 2005 and 2006, Edwards last season. I would expect both to be in contention Saturday night along with the usual suspects.

Finally, much like Jack himself Sunday, I didn't mention that other guy... will he be in the 5th car next season? Or will it be surprise?

Stewart-Haas Racing Switches Newman's Number to 39

On his radio show tonight, Tony Stewart announced that Ryan Newman would compete with the #39, allowing Morgan-McClure to take the #4 - if they ever make it to the track again. I commend Tony for being the bigger man, I myself would have told MMM you're not coming back, so I'm taking the number. The #39 holds special value to Newman though, so that's cool that they're both running numbers that mean something to them.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An open letter to Leilani Munter

My messages sent on MySpace received no response (you too can add Leilani as a friend there) so I’m issuing a public response to her first column on the liberal-socialist website the Huffington Post. In this column, she refers to an ESPN story calling her a “tree hugging race-car driver” and describes her vision of racing blending with environmentalism. Her desire is great, and she’s attracted attention for her efforts.

It’s just unfortunate she has misplaced those efforts on global warming schemes that will cost Americans taxpayers, while accomplishing nothing – and making problems worse.

Munter appears to like these carbon offsets and even does a version of it herself. OK… how’s that working out in countries that have them? Well, for starters, the emissions in Europe are rising, and are on track to miss their “goal” of reduction by 2010. On top of that, one of the smartest guys I’ve had the privilege to meet, Christopher C. Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has this to say about US emissions versus European admissions:

U.S. emissions have risen far more slowly than those of its noisiest antagonists. For example, over the past 7 years for which we have data (2000-2006), the annual rate of increase for U.S. CO2 emissions is 0.38%, compared to the EU’s 1.07%. Indeed, over the same period even the smaller EU-15 economy has increased its CO2 emissions in real terms greater than the U.S. by more than 20%.

It’s not only irresponsible, but the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade legislation that Ms. Munter likely supported was shown to cost Americans trillions by 2030, among these a loss of $1.7 trillion in GDP and the cost of permits to reach $100 billion by 2020. No wonder this thing didn’t even get a majority of votes. (Much more on those numbers available at the Heritage Foundation)

The next point I want to address is her support the following: CFL lightbulbs. CFLs, also known as fluorescent bulbs, are great in theory. They’re cheaper than incandescent bulbs, and they last for years. In practice, as with most of these environmental schemes, they can do great damage. CFL bulbs contain Mercury. God help you if you break one of those things, as Mercury fumes can spread throughout your home and damage your health (read this tale to see first-hand). Plus, has anyone even used a CFL bulb? The light they produce is dimmer than incandescents, and they have a buzz to them as well.

Uncomfortable yet? Consider this: the energy bill that passed Congress and signed into law by President Bush will ban incandescents by 2014, so each and every bulb in your house will need to be a CFL… or you’ll be breaking the law.

So in effect, having a higher-quality light in your home will be a federal offense.

I hope this letter finds Leilani Munter well. If not, I hope after reading this, you’ll congratulate her on the new gig, but realize what she is advocating will result in disastrous effects to this country – and it may already be too late in some cases. I'd look forward to a meaningful debate on the issue, should she accept.

Matt Mercer

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Newman Announcement Friday; Logano Going Cup Racing

The puzzle pieces are fitting together quite nicely, now.

The first announcement will be Ryan Newman's Friday, where he'll officially join up with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2009. ESPN mentions Burger King, the Army, and UPS as potential sponsors. My Spidey Sense tells me it'll be one of the first two.

The second one features a report that Joey Logano will enter the Cup race at Richmond, like I said a few months ago. Gibbs has entered an extra car at Richmond in the past, so it made sense. Logano was also added to the Nationwide race at Michigan this weekend in the #18, a race he wasn't originally scheduled to run. That's what happens when you're going Cup racing full-time in 2009.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Reports Of Kyle Busch's Pre-Chase Demise Greatly Exaggerated

The NASCAR media's toughness with Kyle Busch knows no bounds. After his 7th win in Chicagoland, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards responded with wins at Indy and Pocono. All of a sudden, it's like Busch hasn't been the dominant driver of the 2008 season. Experimental setups and unfortunate strategy breaks aside, Busch runs as well as anyone at any track, at any time. This proved true again today at Watkins Glen, where Busch led over half the race to sweep the Sprint Cup road courses for the year and also record a NASCAR record, winning on 3 different road courses in the same year. With the disappearance of Mexico City from the Nationwide schedule, it likely won't happen again for a while, if ever.

Busch won today in much the same way he did at Infineon, using strategy to work his way near the front and once he took the lead, he didn't give it back. Gibbs teammate Tony Stewart ran behind him the last third of the race, but couldn't touch him, and neither could anyone else. A red flag for a massive crash in turn 11 and other cautions couldn't stop Busch from reaching victory lane for the 8th time this year, and his 12th in his young career. The rest of the year shapes up favorably as well, Busch has won at many of the tracks coming later in the year and it's not of the question to see him get close to or break the 13-race win record shared by Richard Petty and Jeff Gordon.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Pencil It In: David Stremme To Drive Penske #12 For 2009

An unnamed source today confirmed with me that David Stremme would take over for Ryan Newman in the #12 car for 2009. Supposedly Stremme has been doing an excellent job as the test driver for Penske, and has earned the promotion. This may become official in the next few weeks.... but you heard it confirmed here first.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Edwards, Fellows Take Weekend Wins

In Montreal, Canadian Ron Fellows won in what was certainly a first in NASCAR racing, a rain-soaked event in which those with the experience rose to the top. Patrick Carpentier finishes runner-up for the second year in a row, and Marcos Ambrose won the bronze. Fellows' victory interview can be found here, courtesy of Nationwide.

On the Cup side, Carl Edwards finally won again, his 4th of the year.

I'll admit to being bored by Pocono, and I fell asleep before the rain delay... I blame a big lunch. All I know is that I hoped we would see clear skies and the green flag again, Kasey Kahne winning 3 times a year is 3 times too much. Thankfully it did and he didn't, as Edwards probably had the fastest car throughout the day and had enough gas to make it to the line first. Kudos to David Ragan on a 5th-place run, and he continues to stay right around that 12th spot to sneak into the Chase.

Finally, a nice lady from NBC alerted me to an upcoming special on General Motors to air on CNBC, titled "Saving General Motors" and it takes an unprecedented look into the company as it fights for survival. For NASCAR fans, Dale Jr. will be appearing in the new 2010 Camero. I look forward to watching and seeing how the explain the problems - and how they're going about fixing them.