An early silly season
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist
It seems like “Silly Season” arrives earlier and gets weirder every year. It used to be that in the waning weeks of the racing season, announcements were made about drivers switching teams.
Now, moves are made mid-season, with drivers losing rides, hopping from team to team, and crew chiefs fired, traded, promoted and demoted, sponsors and paint jobs changing race to race. It’s enough to confuse even the most focused race fan. And just this week two major changes took place in the sport.
First, Ginn Racing merged with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI), effective immediately. So Mark Martin is now a teammate to Dale Earnhardt Jr., the son of his late arch-rival, at least for the rest of the season. Martin will share the 01 car with Aric Almirola, who has jumped over from the Gibbs Racing stable, probably still upset by being replaced in the middle of the Busch race in Milwaukee.
Regan Smith, who had formerly shared the car with Martin, has been demoted to the Ginn Craftsman Truck team. DEI driver Paul Menard will round out the team, which is now at the NASCAR-mandated limit of four cars, but will pick up the points from Sterling Marlin’s No. 14 car, putting him in the magic top 35. The Ginn Racing No. 13 car, formerly piloted by Joe Nemechek and already having sponsor problems, has been mothballed, but Nemechek immediately landed a ride in the No. 08 car and was fast in practice on Saturday morning.
The second big change was announced on Friday, pairing Robert Yates Racing with the Champ Car team of Newman/Haas/Lanigan. I’m not sure exactly what this means, but I suspect that N/H/L is hedging their bets just in case Champ Car folds its tent after this season. The deal was brokered in part by Ford, which has long-term ties with both racing organizations.
The new NASCAR operation will be named Yates/Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, and if they paint all that on the car there won’t be much room left for sponsor logos. The principals did not disclose ownership percentages, but said it would be a “true partnership.”
There is also the possibility that three-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais may become part of the package if his deal with the Toro Rosso Formula 1 team doesn’t work out. With Sam Hornish probably coming into NASCAR with Penske South next year, the exodus from top-level open wheel racing into NASCAR shows signs of becoming a stampede!
If in fact Bourdais elects to go to NASCAR next season, he will be teamed with David Gilliland, who has already re-signed with the team for 2008. The newly-formed Yates/Newman/Haas/Lanigan team plans to continue running the Citifinancial-sponsored Busch series team for Stephen Leicht next year as well.
ESPN kicks off its coverage of Nextel Cup with today’s Brickyard 400 from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It is ESPN’s first Cup race since 2000, and the venerable sports channel is trotting out some whiz-bang new technology for the event.
Taking an often-repeated comment about how the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. could “see the air” in a drafting situation, ESPN has undertaken to show the viewers what the Intimidator allegedly saw. Using a sophisticated computer program, wind tunnel data, and optical tracking technology, the Draft Track special effects package will graphically represent how air flows around single cars and packs of cars as they jockey for position at almost 200 miles per hour. I can’t wait to hear what Rusty Wallace has to say about it.
Finally, here’s an update on a local racing family, the father/son team of Brian and Dallas Colodny. Brian, who some of you may remember from the old Silver State Raceway Limited Sportsman division some years ago, got into road racing and then moved to the ASA Speed Truck Challenge series.
This season he has turned over his truck to 18 year old son Dallas, while Brian rents the occasional ride. Dallas, a Legends veteran, most recently finished seventh at Irwindale Speedway on July 21 after starting 13th. The race was cut short as he was challenging for sixth place. The father/son duo will race next at the Las Vegas “bullring” August 8. The midweek event will feature appearances by NASCAR regulars Kyle Busch and Randy LaJoie.