HOMESTEAD, Fla. — For Jimmie Johnson, history will have to wait another year.
In spite of all the well deserved hoopla over Johnson and the No. 48 Chevrolet team winning their sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship at Homestead Miami Speedway Sunday night, the big number is seven — as in the record seven championships won by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
While there are fewer and fewer doubters that Johnson will not only match, but pass the two stock car racing icons, it will take another Herculean effort on his and crew chief Chad Knaus’ part.
Among those drivers who compete with him week in and week out over NASCAR’s gruelling 10 month, 38 race schedule, however, there is an inevitability that Johnson will make it to the top of the mountain.
Denny Hamlin, who won Sunday’s EcoBoost 400 at HMS in the No. 11 Toyota and who lost an epic battle with Johnson in the 2010 Chase, said the No. 48 team is just simply the best of any era.
“Unfortunately, we’re racing during the Jimmie Johnson era,” he said. “We’re just unlucky in that sense.
“I think being out there and racing with him, I can say that I think he’s the best that there ever was. He’s racing against competition that is tougher than this sport’s ever seen.
“The guy’s just good.”
Hamlin said he knows why Johnson is as good as he is and why he has won six championships.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but they just don’t make any mistakes,” he said.
Matt Kenseth, who fought Johnson almost to a draw throughout the first eight races of the 2013 Chase, said he gave it all he had in a season he considered his best ever — even better that his own 2003 championship season — and he still came up short.
He said just when he thought maybe he had the opportunity to knock Johnson off this year it went away.
“They just seem to be able to raise the bar,” he said of Johnson and Knaus. “If they don’t have any kind of problem, they’re capable of winning every week.
“If they don’t win, they’re going to run in the top five. Seems like you have to run in the top five every single week (to compete).”
Kenseth admitted it is frustrating knowing he was giving it his best shot and still coming up short over the final 10 races that make up the championship.
“The final 10, I didn’t get more points than Jimmie,” he said. “We still ran good the final 10. We didn’t have any huge disasters. We just didn’t run good enough to beat him.”
Earlier at Homestead, Petty himself said that Johnson will very likely break his and Earnhardt’s record of seven championships.
Richard Childress, who was the team owner of the No. 3 Chevrolet when Earnhardt set his mark went even further saying Johnson was already more than an equal to the Intimidator and The King.
“He’ll go down in history as one of the greatest, if not the greatest,” Childress said. “He’s got many good years ahead of him. I think he’ll set a lot of records before he decides to hang it up.”
Johnson himself often defers to Knaus, his crew chief through the six championships so far, as the prime reason for his success, but that same Knaus knows it is Johnson’s immense athletic ability and talent that has brought the team to where it is today.
“He is an amazing talent, there’s no doubt about it,” Knaus said Sunday night after the championship had been won. “He can do things with a race car that most mortals can’t. Let’s just be straight with it.”
And Rick Hendrick, the team owner who took a chance on Johnson when no one else would a dozen years ago, said the record speaks for itself when assessing where Johnson will stand when history comes to judge.
“I think when you look at Jimmie Johnson, I like to use the (Bill) Parcell’s quote, ‘You are what your record says you are,’” he said.
As for getting to the magic seven championships, Hendrick has no doubt whatsoever.
“This week we’ve been talking about how we could be better next year as an organization,” he said. “I just think it’s the drive that they have.”
Hendrick ended with saying that former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb was wrong to suggest Johnson wasn’t an athlete in the classic sense.
“I heard McNabb say he wasn’t an athlete,” he said. “I’d like to see McNabb come run the Boston Marathon with him or swim the lake out here.
“Guys like that don’t know what they’re talking about. He wouldn’t have been (Associated Press) Athlete of the Year if people didn’t know what kind of unbelievable athlete he is.”
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — For Jimmie Johnson, history will have to wait another year.
As expected by just about everyone, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is on the NASCAR Camping World Truck schedule next season.
After a record setting 50,000 fans jammed the facility on Labour Day this season for the inaugural Chevrolet Silverado 250 Truck series event, it was a no brainer for NASCAR bosses to renew its contract to race on the 3.957 km Grand Prix road course at the Bowmanville track for the same weekend — Aug. 29-31 — next season.
Track president and general manager Myles Brandt welcomed the news, but admitted he was not worried about being left off the calendar.
“No, we were not surprised, but at the same time you never know about these things,” Brandt said on Friday.
The race this year was a surprise, in that fans began lining up at the track mid-week before the event and on race day the line of cars trying to get to the facility 80 kms east of Toronto stretched five kilometres.
Brandt said he expects an even bigger crowd for next year’s race and has been preparing for just that right from the time the last truck finished the race last month.
“We will be able to accommodate a lot more campers next year,” he said. “We have widened the camping areas with easier access.”
Brandt said he fully expects the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series will once again be a companion race, although that schedule has yet to be released.
“We asked the fans what they wanted,” he said. “And they said they wanted the Canadian Tire Series back and we will have a third series, yet to be announced, on the weekend as well.”
Speculation is that it will be the Canadian Touring Car Championship.
New for the CTMP grounds next year will be a bigger upper paddock area, to give the Truck teams more space, closer to the track itself, to work on their machines.
“We expect paving that new paddock to be begin any day now,” Brandt said.
While Brandt did not announce who the title sponsor would be for the 2014 race, it is expected that Chevrolet would be back with its Silverado brand.
Next on CTMP’s wish list is a NASCAR Nationwide Series race, possibly as soon as the 2015 season.
JOLIET, Ill. — It took just 17 minutes for an angry NASCAR boss Brian France to lay down the law to Sprint Cup drivers, team owners and crew chiefs in a closed door meeting Saturday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway — no more team orders.
France, according to people there, read the riot act saying NASCAR would come down hard — including expulsion from the sport — for any action by teams or individuals that would alter the outcome of any race.
The NASCAR chairman also reportedly read media excerpts to the gathering that denigrated the sport in the week since Michael Waltrip Racing attempted to manipulate the order of finish at Richmond International Raceway so that its No. 56 Toyota driven by Martin Truex Jr. could make the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
And subsequently that Penske Racing and Front Row Racing conspired to earn the Penske No. 22 Ford of Joey Logano a Top 10 finish in the points battle.
Specifically France cited an NBC Nightly News report that referred to the Richmond race as “rigged.”
This is the same network that only a month ago signed a $2.2 billion contract for broadcast rights for the Sprint Cup series starting in 2015.
NASCAR had already come down hard on MWR, fining it a record $300,000, suspending team executive Ty Norris and kicking Truex from the championship, adding Ryan Newman and later adding Jeff Gordon, two drivers who were the direct victims of the shenanigans at Richmond.
In a press conference Saturday after his closed door meeting France said he believes his tough love message got through to the drivers, teams and owners.
“This is what they (the drivers) want,” he said. “They don’t like team rules and they don’t like some of the things that have gone on in the past.”
What France was referring to was the practice by multiple car teams, like MWR, or teams with the same manufacturer like Ford, Chevrolet or Toyota, to help one another out on the track by making passing easier or by blocking a competitor.
He said this sort of action must stop and he laid out what he told the drivers would be the new standard for racing starting Sunday at Chicagoland in the first race of the 10-race Chase.
“At the centre of that meeting was what our expectations were going forward — and those expectations are that a driver and a team give 100 percent effort, their best effort, to complete a race and race as hard as they possibly can,” France said. “That’s what our fans expect, and that’s what the drivers want to do, as well, so that was the centrepiece.”
NASCAR will also limit the number of spotters per team to one, so as to make it harder for teams to negotiate with one another for position during a race and would limit the number of radios used to communicate with drivers.
NASCAR president Mike Helton further clarified the new rules that he said, if contravened, would result in drastic penalties.
“Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event or encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing position of the event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR,” he said.
Helton said that “artificially altered” was defined to mean “actions by any competitor that show or suggest that the competitor did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions.”
And it appeared the message fell on receptive ears.
Paul Wolfe, crew chief for the No. 2 Penske Ford of reigning champion Brad Keselowski said France’s message made sense.
“I think it got everyone’s attention,” he said. “I think a lot of it is just common sense and it is just to go out there and run 100 percent to your best ability and everything will take care of itself.”
Canadian Bruno Spengler was stripped of his pole position for Sunday’s DTM race at Oschersleben, Germany. Spengler’s team put on a slick tire in the final session that had been used in the third session, which is against DTM rules. He penalized five sports, so he will start fifth in his Schnitzer BMW. Spengler had set a time of one minute, 20.140 seconds in wet conditions. DTM’s other Canadian driver, Robert Wickens, will start 11th in the HWA Mercedes after a qualifying time of 1:21.185. … Sprint Cup regulars Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski battled to win the EnjoyIllinois.com 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Friday night with Busch coming out on top in the No. 51 Toyota Tundra with Keselowski second in the No. 19 Ford 150.
First a confession: I like NASCAR.
I know there are readers out there who are thinking, ‘Oh yeah, and the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.’
But today I am more than somewhat embarrassed by a racing series that I have spent the better part of the last 15 years defending as a legitimate member of the professional sporting fraternity.
When series president Mike Helton stood up before the Charlotte-based NASCAR media Monday night to announce that Michael Waltrip Racing would be fined a historic $300,000, its competition director Ty Norris suspended indefinitely and each of its three drivers — Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer — be docked 50 pre-Chase championship points, my immediate reaction was “Is that all?”
This, after MWR conspired to fix the final race of the regular NASCAR Sprint Cup season at Richmond International Raceway Saturday by staging a deliberate spin to bring out a caution flag that would give Truex a spot in the post-season and deny Ryan Newman a legitimate place in the 12-team Chase for the Championship and compound that by ordering Vickers to pit so Joey Logano could gain a position and therefore oust Jeff Gordon from the post season.
That latter matter was viewed as pay back for Gordon wrecking Bowyer last season at Phoenix.
The effect of the whole thing was to discredit NASCAR and MWR has done it in spades.
Michael Waltrip, the once journeyman driver and ever present television pitchman, has left a stain on a sport he purports to love that may take years to wash out.
It is the same Michael Waltrip, who in his very first Sprint Cup race as a team owner back in 2007 was caught cheating by using a jet fuel additive to increase horsepower in one of his Toyotas.
To make matters worse — if that is even possible — there was Waltrip issuing a media release saying it was all the fault of Norris, that Norris engineered the whole thing with “a split second decision.”
It was enough to make me gag.
Here is a partial transcript of the radio communication between the MWR team and drivers Bowyer and Vickers with nine laps left in Saturday’s Chase deciding race:
Bowyer Spotter Brett Griffin: “(No.) 39 (Ryan Newman) is going to win the race. … Well, that kinda sucks.”
Bowyer crew chief Brian Pattie: “Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it’s hot in there. Itch it.”
Clint Bowyer: “Oh yeah.”
(At that point Bowyer spins out.)
Crew to Vickers: “Yeah, we’re going to pit.”
Vickers: “What? I’ve got to pit? … I don’t understand. Pit right now?”
Crew: “You’ve got to pit this time. We need that one point.”
Crew: “I’ll see you after the race, Brian. I owe you a kiss.”
Does anybody with a single brain cell think this was a “split second decision.”
Helton and NASCAR, based on those two conversations alone should have suspended the entire MWR organization from racing for the rest of the season.
And Michael Waltrip should have been banned for life from NASCAR.
Stock car racing has had to fight the perception that it is the WWE of pro sports for decades and it has withstood all of the criticism of its over the top marketing.
Heck it has thrived because of the intense competition and the real talents of its athletes the likes of the incomparable Jimmie Johnson, the fiery Tony Stewart and the spark plug Brad Keselowski.
In one foul — and I mean stinking foul — swoop, Michael Waltrip has obliterated all of that with his and his team’s shameful antics.
The sorriest thing about this whole disgusting mess is that Truex, who had no hand in any of this, suffers the worst penalty, being denied a Chase position.
But I am also proud of many of the NASCAR media members, huddled under the Charlotte bubble as they are, for the not accepting Helton and NASCAR’s penalty as right and just.
Nate Ryan, USA Today Sports NASCAR beat reporter, said it best:
“As (Jeff) Gordon, a four-time champion with a lot of clout, tweeted after the decision, ‘At this point all that matters to me is if NASCAR decides to fix this then fix it completely!’
“The fix wasn’t enough Monday.
“Which means the fix will be in again in the future.”
That is what the sad, sorry legacy of MWR’s cheating will be.
A week after bowling over NASCAR bosses with one of the most successful debuts of a Camping World Truck Series in history, the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is being touted as a go to track for the next expansion of the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
In an exclusive interview with The Toronto Sun, Steve O’Donnell, senior vice president of racing operations for NASCAR, and the point man for choosing venues for its three national series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks — said CTMP would be part of any talks concerning a Nationwide date in the near future and the chance of it making the cut would be good.
“I think there is,” O’Donnell told The Sun. “We are always challenged with dates but if there is a date on the calendar that is available (CTMP) is certainly a facility that we would look at.
“It is very important for NASCAR to be in Canada in a big way.”
He said that negotiations are already well underway to bring the Truck series back to CTMP next season. He said that decision was a no brainer.
“We have already started some of that dialogue,” O’Donnell said. “Our philosophy is that when we come to a facility it is not just to race and leave the next year.
“Our plan is to come back year after year if we can.
“We are very hopeful to be back next year. We will have that conversation in the coming weeks but we do anticipate coming back and working things out for next year.”
But it is a Nationwide race — like the one that was a huge success in Montreal for seven consecutive seasons at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve before the promoters ran into financial difficulties — that would be a crowning achievement for CTMP’s co-owners Carlo Fidani and Ron Fellows.
It would also likely draw as many as 75,000 fans to the track.
It is that kind of support that O’Donnell and NASCAR sees as part of any equation to have a Nationwide date at the former Mosport track.
What prompted O’Donnell’s enthusiasm for CTMP was the estimated 50,000 race fans who showed up one week ago for the Chevrolet Silverado 250 Camping World Truck event at the race facility, 80 kms east of Toronto.
“I think you can tell by the fan support that we saw in the Truck race that fans are in support of our series,” he said. “I think we have had great success in the past in Canada so it is important for us to stay with a national series event.”
It doesn’t hurt of course that Fellows, Fidani and CTMP president Myles Brandt have poured their hearts and their wallets into transforming the venue back to a world class race track.
“The work that Ron, Carlo and Myles have done has been tremendous, so for us this is a historic venue and they really made this happen,” O’Donnell said. “Of course Canadian Tire has been great. It has been a win, win for us.
“It is fair to say this is more than we expected. We knew we had a lot of fans in Canada and the Canadian Tire Series itself has had a good following but to see how many fans have shown up from all over is incredible.”
O’Donnell did say for the Nationwide series to come it would require more improvements — like the installation of grandstands — something that is already in the planning stages according to Fellows.
“It is not easy to put on a NASCAR national event,” O’Donnell said. “There is a lot involved so one of the up front conversation we have is to make sure that we want it to be a win for the facility.
“We take a balanced approach but the folks at CTMP certainly over delivered (for the Truck race). And by all accounts this success is going to work out really well for them so they will be able to continue to grow.”
Music, I’m sure, to the ears of the owners and staff at CTMP.
It was a shock finish to qualifying Saturday for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza with Lewis Hamilton, pole sitter of the last four consecutive races, failing to advance to the final round for Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel will start on the pole Sunday for Red Bull. Hamilton blamed himself saying he drove “like an idiot.” … It looks like the IZOD IndyCar Series could loose another star to NASCAR. Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner, and its most popular driver, Tony Kanaan is said to be talks with Joe Gibbs Racing to drive in the Nationwide Series next season after being asked to pay for his ride at KV Racing.