Motorsports Column for August 25, 2002
Of course, NASCAR officials ignored a badly jumped start by Tony Stewart on the final restart, allowing him to redeem himself for his antisocial behavior at Indy the week before. His second-place finish at Michigan last week also proved that he has put the incident behind him. However, Stewart has a traveling anger management counselor who will be at every race with him for the rest of the season, just in case.
It looks like Stewart and teammate Bobby Labonte will be in Pontiacs for the rest of the season, even though Joe Gibbs Racing had considered running the 2002 Chevy Monte Carlo in a few of the remaining races this year. However, initial testing indicated that spending the half-million or so dollars to get the Chevy competitive wouldn’t buy much of a performance advantage over the Pontiac. It wouldn’t have helped much for next season anyway, as all the Chevy teams will be dealing with a new body style for 2003. The new Monte has not yet been approved by NASCAR, and it looks like that approval will coincide with a new rule requiring standardized body locations for all makes.
Currently there is no restriction on how far forward or back a Cup car’s body can be located, and teams move bodies forward on superspeedways to reduce drag and backwards on shorter tracks. With the new rule, the body measurement will have to be the same for all tracks, plus or minus a small tolerance.
Although Pontiac has lost the Gibbs team, the manufacturer has picked up Call Wells’ PPI Motorsports team, which is switching from Ford. The Ford folks, who thought they had a handshake deal with Wells for 2003, are a bit miffed. So miffed, in fact, that they put together a deal to keep Ricky Rudd in the Ford fold, telling the Wood Brothers to do whatever it took to get Rudd on board. After all the rumors of Ricky’s departure from Robert Yates to Ganassi Racing, the announcement came as a shock to everyone.
Apparently the deal was put together in about 12 hours, and the end result is that Rudd and Eliott Sadler will switch seats for 2003. Motorcraft will sponsor Rudd’s car next season with Sadler getting Mars candy sponsorship. Ganassi reportedly also has the Havoline sponsorship package, worth 11 to 12 million dollars, in his pocket. A third Ganassi entry with that level of sponsorship is sure to draw interest from any number of drivers. Silly season is far from over.
Hey, Little E fans! How would you like to have your hero’s own driving suit? NabiscoWorld.com has a “Suit up and Win” sweepstakes going on at their website, with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s autographed uniform, valued at $3,500, as the grand prize. Log on to http://www.NabiscoWorld.com to enter. The contest is open to U.S. residents age 13 and over, and the winner will be chosen in early December.
Rockingham Speedway in England will again host the CART circus on Sept. 14. This year there will be a twist as an all-British team is expected to compete. Dubbed “Team St. George,” the group will run an updated 2001 ex-Dale Coyne Racing Lola, with crew provided by British car builder Ray Mallock. Ex-Formula 1 and CART stars Johnny Herbert and Mark Blundell are on the short list to get the ride, but some promising youngsters, including test driver Darren Manning from the BAR Formula 1 team are also being seriously considered. Said Manning, “I’m not worried about lack of track time. After all, it’s only a 20-second lap.”
Locally, Champion Speedway has a big night of racing planned for the Labor Day weekend. Traveler’s RV is the sponsor for the races on Saturday, Aug. 31. Four divisions (Late Models, Sportsmen, Hobby Stocks, and Legends) will each run a 50-lap main.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist