The South and NASCAR are forever tied together.
The back roads and the moonshiners down South is where NASCAR began, so despite its rise to a national presence in the past few decades, it's still a Southern sport at its root and that's how it's perceived by many in this country.
So this recent controversy about the Confederate flag in South Carolina, and NASCAR's take on it, is interesting.
One would think, from a distance, that NASCAR would be that rare group that defends the flag -- claiming its part of the Southern heritage and not to be condemned.
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The word Biblical came up a lot Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
On one hand, the race had a Biblical length; taking five hours to run 138 laps, due to an incredible FOUR red flags and a steady stream of rain showers, which would seem to pop up as soon as the drivers got called back to their cars and hit the track after the last delay.
And secondly, the rain that ended up forcing the race to be ended early, at lap 138, was of BIblical proportions. As the race was officially called, driver rankings were replaced by "SEVERE WEATHER ALERT: TAKE COVER" on the scoring pylon and fans were warned of possible lightning.
DAVE PERICAK, Global Director, Ford Performance – THERE WAS BIG FORD NEWS OUT OF LE MANS FRIDAY WITH THE NEW FORD GT SPORTS CAR PROGRAM, THOSE CARS WILL DEBUT AT THE ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA NEXT YEAR. WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE WHEN THOSE CARS ROLL OFF THE GRID?
“Hopefully some of the best race cars you have ever seen. We are really excited about returning to Le Mans and returning to sports car racing. The EcoBoost powered sports car is going to be over 600 horsepower and will be state of the art in terms of aerodynamics, light-weighting and the powertrain itself. We are very excited. We are going to have one fantastic race car. Everybody keeps asking, ‘Are you guys going to go win?’ and I say that we don’t race to lose. All I can tell you is that when we show up that day we are going to have one heck of a race car and I hope everyone else is ready.”
THERE WAS ALSO NEWS A FEW WEEKS AGO PERTAINING TO YOU AND YOUR ROLE IN THE NASCAR PROGRAM WITH FORD. CAN YOU TOUCH ON WHAT THAT HIERARCHY LOOKS LIKE FOR YOU GOING FORWARD?
“We did a reorganization called Ford Performance and I am the director of Ford Performance. Whether it is performance vehicles inside our company or whether it is racing, it is all underneath me. So you will see me at the race tracks more often. I have been here already quite a bit and engaging with the teams. More importantly what you will see and why Ford Performance is so important, and Brad (Keselowski) can hopefully support me on this, we are taking all our resources inside of Ford and we are reorganizing them in a way we can be more efficient and effective to help our teams perform better on the track. I think Brad has seen the results of us doing this Ford Performance, stepping up our technical supports and then applying it to the team.”
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Much of the focus on the #78 car's recent success has been on driver Martin Truex Jr. He's led the most laps in the past four races, won last week and nearly had a couple more victories.
The team is among the class of the field in Cup this year, and accolades are going to Truex and the Denver-based team that builds all the cars he's doing so well in each week (many of which are brand-new).
Behind the scenes though, there is some interesting drama happening.
Furniture Row general manager Joe Garone has publicly stated, and did so again Friday at Michigan International Speedway.
In a nutshell, Garone was blunt -- saying that Chevy (their manufacturer for a decade) is a great organization but spread thin. They have so many race teams that once the support is all handed out, some teams are left disappointed, including Furniture Row.
“It is it’s about business. We are in a sport that is real expensive. We truly can’t afford to do it. We can do it. When I say we can’t afford to do I mean at the level we want to push it to in order to be able to be in position to win a championship. We need more resources. Chevrolet has been a great partner. We have been together for 10 years now. But they are spread across… they do a great job look at all the championships they have won. But to get to the level we need to get to we need to get a lot more support. We are open and have been looking to try and get that just to push our team forward further.”
He did not say FRR will split with Chevy, but did say they are open to other manufacturers if more support can be offered. After all, the sport is expensive.
That is true; but it's a risky strategy to do this so publicly -- still, it's a strategy that could pay off: With Chevy or someone else.
Garone is not worried about any impact this discussion will have on the 78 team this year as they pursue a title.
“The truth is we didn’t say we were changing. We were just saying that we are looking. It is just something that we need to do across the board including sponsorship. One of the things about the No. 78 car is because it has always had Furniture Row and Denver Mattress on it everybody assumes it is sponsored. It has made it tough to find partners, but again Barney (Visser, team owner) owns those companies. We need to get the word out that we are actively looking for sponsorship to come on board. Not just for the No. 78, but to expand the company into a multi-car team. It is for the long term growth of the team. We will just see what plays out and just keep pushing the button and try to expand this thing.”
Let's look at possible outcomes:
A: Chevy recognizes their success and offers more support:
-- This is, I believe, the outcome Furniture Row wants to see. By publicly saying they need more support, then showing they can be successful on track, the FRR team gains suitors from outside. If Chevy wants to keep them, they will have to step up. Logic would dictate that this should happen; but budgets are tricky and Chevy might not be able to do as much as FRR wants.
B: Furniture Row leaves Chevy for another car make next year:
-- If Chevy won't step up, this is the most likely outcome. I can see Toyota as the most likely manufacturer to step up and court the Furniture Row team; They need some more stars in their lineup and Truex is talented and has a name. Ford is a longshot, as they need to get their current house in order before adding teams. It's not so great lately at the Blue Oval, though Team Penske is a bright spot most weeks.
C: FRR can't find a better deal and begrudgingly stick with Chevy and current level of support:
-- This is the worst possible scenario, and the team will do everything it can to avoid this. Both sides will have hurt feelings and not work very well together in this scenario, and 2016 would most likely be a rough season for Truex and the 78 team.
What will happen?
I say option A is most likely and the public announcement of this exploration of car makes will pay off for Furniture Row. But I wouldn't bet my house on it. If Chevy won't step up to the plate (or can't afford to do that), it's probably going to be the #78 Toyota next season.
They've stepped up in the past to get top drivers and this would be another example of their willingness to pay to get top talent and teams.
Matt Myftiu can be reached on Twitter @MattMyftiu. Follow AutoTechReviews on Twitter @AutoTechReview or at the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/autotechreviews
Here are highlights from Carl Edward's time with the media Friday at Michigan International Speedway:
Was there any testing done at Darlington that could indicate a rules package change?
“Everybody in this sport, the drivers, NASCAR, the owners – everyone wants it to be the best possible racing it can be. I know everybody is working towards that. I don’t know all the details of what’s going on, but I think we’re going to have better and better racing coming. I’m excited to find out exactly what it is.”
Does it seem odd to be racing at Michigan not driving for Jack Roush?
“It is a little strange to come here to this race and not be driving for Jack Roush because we put so much emphasis on this event for so many years. I really feel like I’ve made some friends up in this area and there’s always been a lot of pride driving for Jack here. I can tell you this, to win this race would be really special for me now just because I know from the other side how much everyone prepares – Jack and the other teams because for the domestic car manufacturers, this is their backyard. They bring their best stuff. For me to win in a Toyota would be really special here.”
THE MODERATOR: Martin, you're in the midst of a career year. Talk about how much this victory meant to you.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Well, it's really hard to put it into words just what it meant. You know, I think honestly this whole season has been just so much fun for us as a team and as a group. To really ‑‑ after kind of what we went through last year, learning each other, learning more what not to do than anything and then really bringing it into this season, it's just been a pleasure to work with the team. It's been a lot of fun. Honestly it's the most fun I've had in racing in a long, long time, and just so thankful for the opportunity to drive for Barney and everybody there.
The win was kind of an exclamation point on really the start of the our season, but we've had a lot to be happy about, a lot to be excited about, and honestly just looking forward to the rest of the season and seeing what we can do now that the pressure is off and we can go to work on getting ready for the last 10.
Here are highlights from Joey Logano's media session this morning at Michigan International Speedway:
TALK A LITTLE ABOUT THIS WEEKEND AND HOW YOU FEEL YOUR CAR WILL BE HERE
“We will know how the car is in a little bit. You never know until you get on the race track. Michigan, the last few years with Team Penske has probably been my best race track so I am always excited to come here. For Team Penske, Roger Penske, this is their backyard and we really want to win for them and obviously for Ford. The manufacturers really take a lot of pride in winning at this race track. We put our best foot forward for this one and try to give it everything we’ve got. It has been a fun race the last few years and watching this race track widen out and the way the strategy works throughout it, it is fast too. It will be interesting to see what this new rules package does here entering the corners with the less drag and if we have less power it will be interesting to see where that all plays out and how the race will play out.”
Here's a news flash for NASCAR fans, and it's one they won't like.
15 of the remaining 22 Cup series races -- yes, the main attraction -- will be on cable; the next two on Fox Sports 1, and 13 of the final 20 on NBC Sports Network.
You'll get seven races on regular NBC, but five of those come in the Chase. Only two races in the NBC portion of the year prior to the Chase will be on the mothership network; the remaining 8 are on NBCSN -- so essentially you'll miss the whole summer of racing if you don't have NBCSN.
I don't think there are sufficient words I can string together to explain what a horrible decision this march toward primarily cable showings is by NASCAR and the networks that televise its racing.