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Fellows a part of Jeff Gordon legacy

- January 22nd, 2015

When Jeff Gordon announced on Thursday that the 2015 season would be his final one in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series it brought with it a flood of memories of his feats behind the wheel of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
In my mind Gordon, the four time Sprint Cup champion, was singularly responsible for dragging stock car racing kicking and screaming from his Southern U.S. roots into the mainstream of North American major league sports.
Without Gordon taking NASCAR by storm in the mid 1990s as a then 24 year old from California and presenting corporate America with an articulate and charismatic personality there would be no $7 billion dollar broadcasting deals, no multi million dollar driver contracts and no million dollar motorhomes for pampered Sprint Cup stars that are the norm in 2015.
He was the first NASCAR star to transcend the sport to become an international celebrity, hosting Saturday Night Live, guest hosting Regis and Kelly and regular on red carpet events with his super model wife Ingrid Vandebosch.
All of this while winning 92 races, earning 454 top 10s and 77 pole positions making him NASCAR’s winningest active driver and third best in the sport’s history behind only David Pearson and Richard Petty.
He is to NASCAR what Tom Brady is to the National Football League.
And he has a Canadian connection in his 23 year Cup career.
Toronto’s Ron Fellows was a road course rival and Chevrolet teammate to Gordon over much of his stock car career.
The pair battled in 25 Sprint Cup races, the most memorable was in 1999 at Watkins Glen International, when Fellows, driving the No. 87 Bully Hill Vineyards Chevrolet, was on the bumper of Gordon’s No. 24 Chevy over the final half dozen laps around the classic New York road course.
“Jeff was the first Cup driver to take road racing seriously,” Fellows said on Thursday from Daytona International Speedway. “I remember that race vividly.
“I had a great car and I was waiting for him to make a mistake. Time and again I would get up to him and once or twice he wiggled but he was able to get the (No.) 24 back under control.
“He made himself really wide on the final lap and I just missed being able to get by him. But I have so much respect for him. He always raced me hard, but clean.”
At the finish line on that Sunday afternoon Gordon crossed the finish line a mere 0.763 seconds ahead of Fellows.
The two drivers were together again this past week at the Barrett Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., where they were part of a charity event involving selling a one of a kind Corvette.
It was there that Gordon told Fellows – six days before making it public – that he was on the verge of packing in his full time Cup career.
“I wasn’t surprised at (Thursday’s) announcement,” Fellows said. “We had a brief chat about it last Friday. He said that he was getting older and retiring from driving was on his mind.”
Fellows said that the timing of the announcement was perfect, especially given Gordon’s superb 2014 season where he notched four wins and was in a fight for his fifth championship until the final lap at Texas Motor Speedway in the third last race of the season where he wrecked after contact with Brad Keselowski.
“I think he put to rest any talk of him not being on top of his game,” Fellows said. “Every athlete would like to go out on top and that is the way Jeff will go out.”
Gordon did say on Thursday he isn’t about to disappear from NASCAR after the final race this season.
“I plan to stay extremely busy in the years ahead, and there’s always the possibility I’ll compete in selected events, although I currently have no plans to do that,” Gordon said in a Hendrick Motorsports team release. “I don’t foresee a day when I’ll ever step away from racing. I’m a fan of all forms of motorsports, but particularly NASCAR. We have a tremendous product, and I’m passionate about the business and its future success.”

NASCAR eyes Canadian Tire Motorsports Park for Xfinitry Series

- November 15th, 2014

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – NASCAR boss Brian France wasn’t making any promises, but he did say in his state of the series message at Homestead Miami Speedway that Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is on the radar for a Xfinity (Nationwide) race possibly as soon as 2016.
The 3.957 km permanent road course has been part of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the past two seasons with record crowds and highlight reel racing.
Track owners Ron Fellows and Carlo Fidano have made no secret about their desire to build on the Truck series success by hosting a Nationwide – to be renamed the Xfinity series next season – at the Bowmanville circuit.
France said the numbers NASCAR sees in terms of fan interest in Canada is a factor in deciding future race sites for its top three touring series.
“Well, Canada, and you’ve heard me say this, is a very clear (big market) – not only because it’s contiguous with the United States, but more importantly because we have a nice fan base there,” he said. “We’re going to always be looking to see how we can take events, not just on television but to and from at various places, because that’s a fan base that we know is there … it’s very important to us.”

NASCAR adopts wait and see attitude on Busch allegations

- November 14th, 2014

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – NASCAR bosses will not suspend Sprint Cup star Kurt Busch – under investigation for alleged domestic abuse – for Sunday’s season finale Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet, has been accused by former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll of grabbing her face and smashing her head against the wall of his motorhome during a September race at Dover International Speedway.
Busch, through his lawyer, has denied the allegations.
But this week U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) demanded that NASCAR ban Busch immediately from racing calling the allegations “horrifying.”.
In a letter to both NASCAR and SHR, Speier demanded action.
“Despite the severity of the criminal allegations against Mr. Busch, I am disappointed to see that NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing have not taken any action. Your response to these serious allegations has been totally inadequate,” she wrote.
On Friday NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said the series will not suspend Busch from Sunday’s race because no charges have been laid against the driver.
“We are watching that case carefully and it is under review by law enforcement and others and they have not made a decision on that regarding Kurt, so until they make some judgments on that investigation, it wouldn’t be right of us to just intervene before they’ve even got an investigation completed,” France said. “So that’s our position. We’ll respect their processes. It’s in their hands.”

Is Keselowski really the bad guy here?

- November 3rd, 2014

FORT WORTH, Tex. – Alright NASCAR fans let the crucifixion of Brad Keselowski begin.
But before we gather the pitchforks and torches let’s take a look at what happened on Sunday evening at Texas Motor Speedway in the first overtime lap of the AAA Texas 500.
Keselowski is starting behind Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon with ostensibly, at that point, two laps to go.
Johnson stays low and Gordon moves up the track to make the pass, but he goes just a bit too wide.
Keselowski, who you must remember here, needs to win to advance to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion finale at Homestead Miami Speedway in two weeks and a second place or a third place at Texas might as well be last place for the No. 2 Ford team.
So Keselowski sees a hole that to him looks like Moses has just parted the Red Sea and he goes for it just as Gordon collects his No. 24 Chevrolet and that hole starts to close.
The No. 2 rubs the side of the No. 24 cutting Gordon’s left rear tire.
At that point Gordon’s hopes of a win in Eddie Gossage’s backyard propelling him to Homestead are done.
And in the race aftermath all hell breaks loose with Keselowski being pummelled by Gordon and several members of the Hendrick Motorsports teams – by the what was that crew member from the No. 5 team doing in the middle of this?
Keselowski, as a result of this and what happened two weeks earlier in a similar melee at Charlotte, comes out the bad guy.
But is he really?
Didn’t Dale Earnhardt in his prime pull off the same things Keselowski is being pilloried for?
I remember Earnhardt doing the exact same thing to Terry Labonte, Darrell Waltrip and others and getting nothing but accolades for being the “Intimidator”.
Keselowski is an aggressive driver, there is no doubt about that, but he is also a student of NASCAR history and can’t figure out why he is the villain in all of this.
Just listen to his impassioned defence of his actions before passing judgement.
Here is what he had to say about his tangle on the track with Gordon.
“I am doing everything I can to win this championship racing at 100 percent and that is something I am not going to be ashamed for,” Keselowski said. “If I was out there wrecking guys to do it, that would be one thing, but a little bit of rubbing is how this sport was created and probably how it should move forward.
“I don’t mind getting raced that way and I don’t mind racing that way.
“I got a little rub there at the end too from the 4 car (Kevin Harvick) and that was just good racing.”
Keselowski, in case anyone has forgotten, came up to NASCAR’s highest level the hard way, fighting to win every lap at tiny track across his native Michigan while his family mortgaged their own future to pave the way for him – there was never anything handed to him.
“The only way for a guy like me to break through is to drive the way I’ve drove over the last four or five years,” he said on Sunday night. “I think last year I got away from being as aggressive as I was in 2012 and this year. I didn’t make the Chase. We won one race. “That’s not acceptable to me. I’m here to win races for Roger Penske and for my team. “That means when there’s a gap, I have to take it. If it requires a tiny bit of rubbing, that’s okay.
“It’s not anything I don’t expect on the other side; it will go both ways.
“That’s okay by me. I’m not trying to dish out something that I couldn’t take myself.”
Keselowski offers up no apologies, no mea culpas, no ‘I won’t do it agains’ because he knows in order for him to win he has to use all of the tools he is given.
We’ll let him have the last word.
“We’ll go through these battles; I’ve gone through them before and come out stronger. “I’ll go through them again and come out stronger, a better race car driver.
“What I’m not going to do is back down. I’m not going to get in the spot where I was in 2013 where, you know, I tried to be exactly what they all wanted me to be, because what they want me to be is a loser, and I’m not here to lose, I’m here to win.
“That means I’m going to have to drive my car, harder, stronger, faster than everybody out there.
“That’s what I feel like I did (on Sunday).”
dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca

NASCAR Stars On Verge Of Chase Elimination

- October 12th, 2014

It is almost a certainty that without a win next week at Talladega six time champion Jimmie Johnson, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski, 2003 champion Matt Kenseth and the sport’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., will be out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
Those four are set for elimination after respective finishes of 17th, 16th, 19th and 20th in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
All but Earnhardt were pretty much authors of their own demise with sub-par performances in the second race of the Chase Contender Round.
Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet looked early on to be a potential winner but a broken shifter, of all things, derailed his night.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this – big stars being dumped – when the tall foreheads at NASCAR’s headquarters dreamed up this new Chase format that starts with 16 drivers and gets whittled down by four after each three race segment leading to one final showdown of four drivers at Homestead Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.
What the Chase has done, however, is make every lap of every race count, witness the altercations on pit road post race where Keselowski lost his mind slamming his No. 2 Ford into Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Tony Steward in apparent retaliation for some bumping prior to the final restart at CMS.
Perhaps the pressure of being soundly out driven by his Team Penske garage mate Joey Logano in this Chase season is starting to get to Keselowski.
In any event it was bad form and the betting is that team owner Roger Penske – he of the starched white shirts – will have a sit down with his errant star to explain his actions were not “the Penske way”.
Hamlin chastised Keselowski, calling him “out of control” and accused him of unseemly behaviour.
“He’s desperate … he’s pissed off everyone,” Hamlin said. “Just disappointing … just acting like a dumbass instead of a champion.”
As for Keselowski he used the old school yard fight excuse for his actions.
“They hit me and I hit them back,” he said. “That isn’t the lesson you want to teach your kids. But this isn’t the schoolyard. This is serious stuff here. We’re all just trying to stand our ground.”
While Keselowski, Johnson, Earnhardt and Kenseth left Charlotte despondent, race winner Kevin Harvick was celebrating getting a free pass into the next Chase round and not having to worry what happens at Talladega – NASCAR’s most dangerous track – next Sunday afternoon.
“I won’t be anorexic and throwing up all week,” Harvick said of not having to deal with the pressure of having to win at Talladega. “This was the night that we needed to win. I don’t want to go to Talladega next week.”
What all this means is that as wild as Talladega can be, most drivers think it will be ten fold worse with so many top stars on the brink of getting shuffled out of contention for the big prize.
“You thought it was going to be wild, but now with the way it’s playing out, and especially those cars that have had bad races, it’s shaping up to be very epic,” Hamlin said. “Until the last lap, you will not know who is going to be in or out.”
The drivers who are in – Logano, who won at Kansas, and Harvick – can relax and really so can Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon who are in the top six headed to Talladega.

POWER PLAY

It is hard to believe considering the glorious history of Mercedes Benz in Formula 1 racing but Sunday’s win in the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi by Lewis Hamilton clinched the German auto giant’s very first Constructor’s title in the world’s top open wheel racing series.
And just to put a cherry on top it also finished second in the race with Nico Rosberg coming from last on the grid after a first lap mishap to follow Hamilton across the finish line.
Without Rosberg’s heroics there wasn’t much to say about the inaugural Russian F-1 outing.
Hamilton was the class of the field and was never once in even emote danger of being challenged.

FINISH LINES

NASCAR will likely issue fines on Tuesday to all involved in the Charlotte fracas but will stay away from deducting points because of the impact in might have on the new Chase system. …
Hamilton dedicated his win to Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, who is still in critical condition after last week’s carsh at Suzuka: “Without a doubt every time I got in the car this weekend, coming here and being here, I was just thinking of him and his family – and keeping him in my prayers each day.”
dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca