NASCAR: Doubtful Charter Franchise Will Entice New Owners

In an attempt to entice new owners into NASCAR's premier series, Brian France has moved down the path of franchising. Good idea or not?

In an attempt to entice new owners into NASCAR’s premier series, Brian France has moved down the path of franchising. Good idea or not?

Auto racing is an unforgiving passion: If you don’t perform well on the track, you won’t survive over time. Resources are not limitless. It’s an essential lesson in pay for performance and free enterprise at its finest.

Race teams need to have secure marketing partners to fund their operations, and race purse winnings to stay afloat. If a team shutters its race shop, there is not much left to sell to somebody else, given the tailored fabrication equipment, rule-dependent car templates, and the reliance on human talent that heads for the exit. In racing, the best way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one.

Now, NASCAR wants to reinvent that dynamic by establishing what is being referred to as a franchising “charter system”. For an upfront license fee (projected to be several million dollars per full-time car), entitled teams would be guaranteed a spot in each race. As a result, teams unable to secure a charter would be discouraged from participating, given that only a few spots in the show would be earned purely based on qualifying day performance.

Chartered teams also would have a superior ability to sell sponsorship and secure funding. As a result, many see this as a boon for current owners by ensuring they have equity in their race organizations, thereby providing a “guaranteed residual”, or a pay-to-play fee, for anybody to enter the sport.

This development is perplexing, given that a succession planning void looms over the next generation of trailblazers willing to invest capital in NASCAR’s future. At some point, NASCAR will need to replenish the current super team owners at its top Sprint Cup level (i.e., Roger Penske, Jack Roush, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Chip Ganassi, and Joe Gibbs), given these long-time principals have an average age of 70 years.

Owners, such as Roger Penske and Jack Roush have to have some succession plan in place. Their age is a factor that can't be ignored.

Owners, such as Roger Penske and Jack Roush have to have some succession plan in place. Their age is a factor that can’t be ignored.

Historically, the auto racing business has been about performance. Better performing teams get more attractive sponsors. Sponsors bring money to pay big-time drivers. Big-time drivers win races and bring purse money to the team. And the virtuous cycle continues. Pay for performance, clean and simple. Strong performing teams survive, and weak ones fade to the sideline. No different than other small businesses.

Throughout my career, I’ve designed and reviewed executive employment agreements. Nowadays, shareholders are clamoring for executives to be paid for their performance on the street. That said, golden parachute payout protections still persist, ensuring that an executive can realize lucrative severance benefits regardless of performance.

Somehow, the new charter license fee strikes me as having the same unfavored aspect, providing a floor level of profit, in spite of whether the team’s performance justifies that value.

Purportedly, NASCAR is trying to get this deal done prior to the start of its season at Daytona International Speedway in mid-February. Draft contracts have been circulated among the teams, as NASCAR Chairman Brian France looks to put his stamp on yet another landmark initiative.

“We don’t have it finished and it’s still moving around a little bit,” France said during January’s preseason media tour. “The time line is sooner rather than later. This is a complicated plan and structure that will require some time to phase in.”

However, NASCAR is not just brokering a deal with team owners. Team owners are haggling among themselves, in that the layers of ownership are diverse: Tenure vs. youth, multi-car vs. single car organizations, full-time vs. part-time, and wealthy vs. meager resources. With the agreement expected to span five years, which matches the contractual time period NASCAR just signed with all of the speedways that host races, it is critical to get this right.

“Like most things, the devil’s in the details,” according to Rob Kauffman, chairman of the Race Team Alliance, and former principal of now defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, who is spearheading the discussion on behalf of the owners.

As such, it is not a surprise that NASCAR and the teams are reviewing what is rumored to be a 100 page contract. Teams have different interests. One thing is a certainty, in that attorneys are getting paid handsomely, as hundreds of billable hours are being racked up in trying to put this deal together.

However, the trickiest obstacle is one of valuation. What should a full-time NASCAR charter be worth? Should it vary by race team status? And here is the rub: race teams do not control the sport’s primary assets; NASCAR does. Unlike stick and ball franchises, race teams are not granted an exclusive license to operate a geographic territory. They do not collect the fan ticket sales at the track; they do not own the tracks’ rights fees. And these teams surely do not regulate the competitive schedule nor negotiate the national TV broadcast rights, as that is handled in Daytona headquarters by the sanctioning body.

So, while the LA Dodgers may have been sold for more than $2 billion, the Guggenheim Baseball Partnership lays claim to the ticket sales, concession fees, and, most importantly, the local TV rights sold to Time Warner Cable that will generate $7 billion in incremental revenue over 25 years. Now that is a source of value that justifies an MLB franchise fee.

Breaking this all down, what NASCAR is attempting to sell through the charter license is equivalent to phantom stock sometimes used by entrepreneurs to provide the illusion of ownership for employees in a start-up. However, phantom stock is just that. You get no voting rights, no control, and no expectation of dividends. In the end, the owners may find that the charter is only worth what NASCAR is willing to buy it back for. Only time will tell if new pioneers are willing to step up and buy an outgoing charter to facilitate the coming ownership succession.

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano

NASCAR: Richmond is Final Chase Race For Broken Hearts

Can Rick and the gang get it's groove back?

Can Rick and the gang get it’s groove back?

With the celebratory homecoming of the BoJangles Southern 500 to Darlington Raceway over the Labor Day weekend now in the rear view mirror, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway for its regular season finale on Saturday under the lights. I have great anticipation for my Virginia visit to the “State for Lovers”. Be forewarned, the last five unclinched spots in the NASCAR Chase playoff grid will be revealed when the checkered flag flies after 400 miles, and passion on pit road may be more than plentiful when the race concludes.

So, my column features the five crucial storylines to watch for during the Federated Auto Parts 400 this weekend.

1) Can Hendrick Motorsports get its groove back?

Likely the most dominant NASCAR team during the past two decades, Hendrick Motorsports had another night to forget under the lights of Darlington. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the highest finishing Hendrick driver, was 8th. With an average running position of 13th during the race, Dale Jr. actually struggled for much of the weekend, but worked out his issues near the end, noting “the (team) did a good job getting the car better all night long…just took us all weekend to get there and we were pretty far off when we got here, really bad.”

For the rest of the Hendrick stable, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson finished 12th, 16th, and 19th, respectively. Only Gordon ran in the top 5 over the course of the Southern 500, until two slow pit stops at the end dropped him back in the pack.

Richmond, Virginia may be for lovers, but a few hearts could be broken.

Richmond, Virginia may be for lovers, but a few hearts could be broken.

Shockingly, over the last six races, Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers have only achieved three top 5’s among them. You have to reach back two months to the Fourth of July weekend to find the last victory by a Hendrick driver (Earnhardt Jr.) at the Daytona Coke Zero 400.

With the Chase kicking off in Chicago in two weeks, the Hendrick Motorsports organization needs to quickly find answers if they intend to stay in the hunt for a 12th Sprint Cup Championship. Not only have the Hendrick cars lacked raw speed during qualifying, but its teams are making costly mistakes on pit road. The pressure of the Chase will only exacerbate the potential for pit road errors. If Hendrick drivers don’t pick up some momentum at Richmond, don’t be surprised if the three qualified Hendrick teams are knocked out in the early Chase rounds.

2) Will Kevin Harvick deliver on his “Closer” moniker?

As driver of the #4 Stewart-Hass Racing Chevy SS, the closer Harvick has been anything but. While he leads the season points and has the most laps led, he has “only” visited Victory Lane twice this year, defying the logic of those impressive running stats. Harvick has been a threat to win everywhere, with fifteen top 3 finishes (a staggering 60% of the regular season). His ten top 2 finishes represent 30 forgone Chase bonus points that have been left on the table, and Harvick is not pleased. Right now, Harvick is tied for 5th seed in the Chase playoff grid with only two wins during the regular season.

At Darlington, a poor final pit stop dropped Harvick from second to sixth. He recovered to finish fifth, but was sorely dismayed, parking his #4 and immediately departing without speaking with the media on pit lane. With the Chase now upon us and the mounting count of second-place finishes outstripping his few wins, Harvick has likely gone from simmer to slow boil.

Can Kevin Harvick play the role of 'Closer' at Richmond

Can Kevin Harvick play the role of ‘Closer’ at Richmond

3) Will Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance of the 2nd half of 2015 keep on rolling?

With Carl Edwards’ victory at Darlington, JGR has won seven of the last ten races. On short tracks like Richmond, they have amassed four victories among the eight races so far this year. As the leading Toyota Racing team, JGR has seriously collaborated and found speed that was missing from their engine program last year.

JGR’s positive energy was apparent among its drivers’ post-race interviews at Darlington. More importantly, Coach Gibbs has delivered on this year’s investment in adding the #19 piloted by Edwards, who collected his second victory on Saturday. Striking as well is the organization’s pit road success, where JGR drivers consistently gain positions on pit road (assisted by JGR’s “thunder” air guns that allegedly quicken tire changes). Crew members attribute their success to the team’s culture of pushing the envelope to be the fastest on pit road, with the risk tolerance that mishaps will occur when pushing limits. On Saturday, Edward’s victory was supported by gaining two to three positions on each of the last three pit stops, with his crew getting him out in the coveted leader position on the final stop. Remarkably, Edward’s pit crew was so fast, they even playfully renamed the Speedway signage from Darlington to “Carlington” during the team’s celebration on the frontstretch.

4) Will a “Wild Card” winner emerge at Richmond to secure one of the final Chase spots?

The determination of the 16 drivers competing for the Chase Cup has lacked surprise during the second half of the season, with the last nine races seeing repeat winners pad their bonus point standings.

Additionally, the point rankings remain stable with Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, and Clint Bowyer currently holding the final playoff slots. Kasey Kahne and Aric Amirola have a mathematical shot, but candidly, a surprise Richmond winner must emerge to break the stranglehold of these remaining five.

Not surprisingly, Richmond races like a short track where the best typically shine, and none of the last ten races have been won by a driver who does not already have an established position in the Chase grid. So I’m betting that we will see continued dominance from the top Chase drivers, with little suspense. So, if your favorite driver currently holds a seed within the Chase grid, go ahead and make your plans to join the post-race party as the qualifiers will likely remain unchanged.

5) Can NASCAR sustain the positive vibe coming off the Southern 500 into Richmond and the ensuing Chase?

Before the Southern 500 even began at Darlington Raceway, the hashtag “NASCARthrowback” was trending on Twitter, while the NBC race broadcast attracted the sport’s highest Labor Day weekend audience in eight years. By all accounts, the retro theme was a smashing success, fans filled the stands, and the on-track race product delivered on the hype of its low downforce aero specs (tested in anticipation of 2016 implementation), with side by side racing in evidence throughout the field.

So the question remains, can NASCAR build upon the momentum of the recent Bristol and Darlington races, reenergizing the fan base with an entertaining Richmond regular season finale as the prelude to the kick-off of the NASCAR chase playoffs? Unfortunately, with the aero package rules returning to the 2015 specs used in April at Richmond, we may see a repeat of Stewart-Haas Racing dominance. During the April race, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick finished 1-2, with Busch leading 291 of 400 laps.

However, that April race was rain delayed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon. This weekend, the mounting pressure on drivers to secure their final spot in the Chase, combined with the hot weather and changing track conditions into the night, may deliver more excitement to keep the momentum charging forward. If not, there is always the post-race party on the frontstretch with Rutledge Wood and the 16 elite drivers whose championship dreams remain alive.

By Ron Bottano. Follow on Twitter: @rbottano and @motorsportsunplugged

NASCAR’s Allmendinger Wins Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger drove the last stint of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona on Sunday to win. The Penske Sprint Cup driver has had experience in both open wheel and NASCAR. Rick Hendrick says that the #51 Phoenix Racing Chevy is not a satellite car. He would consider selling Finch the best engines now that Kurt Busch is the driver. IndyCar tests with Rubens Barrichello at Sebring this week.

Two Contract Negotiations: One Simple, One Not So Much So

The latest NASCAR Sprint Cup news has provided us with two examples of the types of contract negotiations that can take place between a driver and a team.

And these examples are polar opposites.

According to reports, one wasn’t a negotiation at all. It was a conversation between driver and owner – apparently an amiable one that could have taken place over a couple of cold beers – that resulted in a handshake, maybe a slap or two on the back and a multi-year deal.

We’re told that the other one isn’t so much a situation where the owner and driver are at loggerheads. Rather, they are hunting for the means to continue racing together – and haven’t achieved results. No back-slapping here.

If financial support can’t be found, the driver will likely move on. Word is he already has an offer.

That seems to be the situation with Clint Bowyer, who has yet to agree to a contract extension with Richard Childress Racing. He’s been with Childress since 2005 and has won four races.

According to Bowyer, he’s still working on a deal with RCR, but the problem is a lack of sponsorship.

“These things take time and you just can’t jump in with both feet,” Bowyer said. “You’ve got to be patient and wait on the sponsorship search to pan out for you.”

Bowyer added that the media asks him every week about his contract status (which is true) and that tends to start rumors.

Such as the substantiated report Bowyer has already been offered a deal from Richard Petty Motorsports.

“That stuff only complicates my situation and confuses all parties involved,” Bowyer said. “I wish I could push the pressure to get a deal done aside that easily, but I certainly have been busy.”

Bowyer added his intentions now are to make the Chase, at which he has a shot. Despite the speculation and uncertainty, he said he’s 100 percent focused on performance.

I think there is a bit more to all of this. There always seems to be. But if it’s fact Childress and Bowyer are in fruitless sponsorship search, so far, in order to stay together, if it can’t be found Bowyer has to make a move.

On the other hand, Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t going anywhere. He and Rick Hendrick recently announced that Earnhardt Jr. had renewed his contract with Hendrick Motorsports for five years. He’ll be one of the team’s drivers through 2017.

A five-year commitment between driver and team is unusual. Most agreements are for a shorter period of time.

And one might think an owner like Hendrick might be more inclined to offer such a lengthy contract to a competitor who has been more productive than Earnhardt Jr. in the last few years.

The 36-year-old driver hasn’t won a race since 2008, his first full season with Hendrick, and that’s also the year he made his only appearance in the Chase.

In 2009, he finished 25th in points and was 21st last season. Hendrick made wholesale changes to the team. People began to suggest that Earnhardt Jr. really wasn’t all that good as a race driver.

And there appeared to be a time when his confidence was shaken.

You might think that, given all this, Hendrick would be less effusive with his contract agreements. To many, he couldn’t be faulted if he tried to replace Earnhardt Jr.

But he obviously has no intentions of doing so. While I believe he surely wants to see Earnhardt Jr. perform better and be more competitive, they alone aren’t the foundations for successful contract negotiations.

“My feelings haven’t changed since the day he first signed with us,” Hendrick said of Earnhardt Jr. “I’m committed as ever to putting him in the best possible situation to be successful and compete for wins and championships.”

We’ve heard that before and now, with a new five-year agreement, we can believe Hendrick means every word of it.

I think the Hendrick-Earnhardt Jr. association is somewhat unique simply because it is not competitively based. I think its bedrock is formed by the personal relationship between driver and owner, and things Earnhardt Jr. brings to the table that are every bit appealing as good performance.

It’s obvious the two have a good relationship. It seems they have few, if any, disagreements and share much with each other that doesn’t have anything to do with a race track.

This is a bit corny, but sometimes it seems Earnhardt Jr. considers Hendrick to be his favorite uncle.

But there is also this: Earnhardt Jr. is a marketing dynamo. Products with his name and likeness on them far outsell those of other drivers.

He commands a legion of loyal fans that, despite his lack of competitiveness, have never left his side. He has been consistently voted NASCAR’s most popular driver and likely will be again.

With such widespread appeal and command of loyalty, Earnhardt Jr. is an advertiser’s dream. No one can better spread the word; no one can reach more people through a personal appearance or television commercial.

Hendrick doesn’t seem to have had any problems securing sponsorship for Earnhardt Jr. and, given that he’s signed him for another five years, apparently Hendrick doesn’t think he’s going to have any difficulty finding money in the future.

When a driver has that sort of clout it’s a very good thing – and can keep him and a team unified.

Ironically, all of this is precisely what Earnhardt Jr.’s father, Dale, had with Childress and RCR. Owner and driver were good friends; the late Earnhardt was immensely popular, considered an icon and, finally, was easily NASCAR’s most marketable figure – and its leading statesman.

Of course, the elder Earnhardt won more races than his son and was a champion seven times. It’s not likely Earnhardt Jr. is going to match his father’s achievements.

Doesn’t seem to matter, does it? He’s going to be gainfully employed with one of NASCAR’s top teams for several more years – perhaps even longer.

No Doubt, Keselowski Shows Signs Of Stardom

We’ve seen this before in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

A young, unheralded driver comes along and accomplishes things not expected him. His achievements are so great and so startling that, in our eyes, he transforms quickly.

Instead of a youngster who someday might be great he becomes a veteran who is now familiar and a proven success.

In seasons past, such drivers had names like Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Tim Richmond, Davey Allison and, yes, Jeff Gordon.

And now there’s Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski was thought of by many – a great many – as a developmental driver, one who, with the proper experience and nurturing, might become a driver worthy of the ride he has at Penske Racing.

As far as “developmental” goes, Keselowski seems to have gone well past that.

In his last four races, the 27-year-old driver from Rochester Hills, Mich., has won twice, finished second once and third another time.

What is mind boggling is that he has achieved this enviable streak of success while driving on a broken left ankle, which he suffered in a wreck at Road Atlanta just before the Pocono race in early August – which he won.

His rise into the competitive stratosphere continued Saturday night when he won the Irwin Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway to earn his third victory of the season – second among all competitors – and almost certainly earned at least a “wildcard” entry into the Chase.

Keselowski, who won a fuel mileage race in Kansas in June, has shot to 11th in points, just 21 points behind struggling Tony Stewart and, with his victories, is No. 1 among “wildcard” contenders.

The other driver who ranks among the top 20 who has a victory is Denny Hamlin, who is 13th in points, finished seventh at Bristol and has endured a mediocre season.

Keselowski was steady throughout the Bristol race and made his winning move as the laps wound down.

Under caution on lap 413, Keselowski pitted and came out in second place alongside Martin Truex Jr., who pitted for two tires only.

Keselowski got a jump on the restart and passed Truex Jr. on lap 421 and pulled away.

“Man, I used to watch guys like Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart win this race,” said an enthusiastic Keselowski. “This is a race of champions. Some pay more and some have more prestige, but this is the coolest one of all.”

Before Pocono, Keselowski ranked 21st in points with the lone victory at Kansas – out of Chase consideration.

But over the course of the next four races, he has climbed 10 positions in the standings and evolved into the hottest driver of the Cup circuit – something virtually no one expected.

“We’re just a team that starts to click and believe in each other,” Keselowski explained. “We’ve just made good adjustments to our car over the last few months.”

A 27-year-old driver from Rochester Hills, Mich., and a member of a racing family, Keselowski began NASCAR competition in the Camping World Truck Series in 2008, the same year he ran a couple of Sprint Cup races for Rick Hendrick.

He won at Talladega in 2009 in a wild finish with Carl Edwards while driving for James Finch, thereby giving the journeyman team owner is first Cup victory.

But most considered Keselowski’s victory at the 2.66-mile Alabama track, known for unusual finishes, nothing more than a fluke.

Roger Penske put Keselowski to work in 2010. The driver won the Nationwide Series title and competed in 36 Cup events. It took him 32 races to get his first top-10 finish, but he did earn his first career pole position at New Hampshire.

As mentioned, Keselowski was viewed as Penske’s developmental driver, a subordinate to veteran Kurt Busch, the 2004 champion.

Now, perhaps, the perception has changed. Keselowski is presently out-performing Busch, who, nevertheless, has a win and is comfortably among the top 10 in points with an eighth-place.

Busch appears destined to make the Chase, which means the odds are good both Penske cars will be in NASCAR’s “playoff.”

Stewart finished 28th at Bristol and is in danger of failing to make the Chase. If he loses his lead over Keselowski or Clint Bowyer (who, at 12th, is only a single point out of 11th), he’s out.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ninth in points, 18 ahead of Stewart with two races remaining before the Chase begins. While it’s still not certain if he’ll qualify, his position in certainly more secure than Stewart’s.

With a couple weeks to go, the Chase scenario remains uncertain. The only drivers who are assured starting positions are Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, who rank from first to fourth, respectively, in points.

Where he was once considered a long shot to make the Chase field, Keselowski is now a long shot only to NOT make it.

His accomplishments over the last month have indicated to many that he has the potential to become NASCAR’s next superstar – especially since he’s performed so well and courageously under circumstances that might have forced other competitors to the sideline.

Although he’s shown signs that it will happen, we don’t yet know if Keselowski will indeed become another Allison or Gordon.

All we do know is that the potential is certainly there. Keselowski has indeed shown us that – and in no small measure.

Earnhardt and Montoya: Can They Make It?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Juan Pablo Montoya have the same problem. They get no respect and they’re both in danger of missing the Chase. Eranhardt is sliding back and Montoya is stuck. Will a crew chief change help Montoya? Will Letarte and Jr.start making progress?

Unlike Last Year’s Start, The Numbers Improve For Dale Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. got a lot of positive media attention prior to the Auto Club 400 and for a very good reason.
As the Sprint Cup season moved to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Earnhardt Jr. was ninth in points with finishes of 11th, eighth and 10th in three of four races.

It was abundantly clear that Earnhardt Jr. was off to a good start, although, to be frank, it wasn’t much better than in the one in 2010 – and more on that later.

However, whenever Earnhardt Jr. gives at least a hint of restoring his lost competitiveness, it’s always duly noticed.

And it’s understood why. His last victory came on June 15, 2008. He missed the Chase that year and again in 2009. The past two seasons have been the worst of his career.

This year Earnhardt Jr.’s start cooled a bit after he finished12th in the Auto Club 400 and fell to 12th in points. And he’s now gone 98 races without a victory.

However, before the green flag fell for the Auto Club 400 many speculated that Earnhardt Jr.’s confidence was on the upswing and that, perhaps, he might believe again that good things could happen at long last.

Asked if his Rick Hendrick-owned team was capable of top-10 finishes every week, Earnhardt answered in the affirmative.

“We’re capable of that,” he said. “We’re good enough for that. You should come to the race track and expect to run around the guys who are in that position.

“I feel like we’re legitimate, yes sir.”

What has been most often credited for Earnhardt’s competitive turnaround, this early in the season, is the team-wide personnel swap Hendrick made at the end of last season.

That brought Steve Letarte, formerly Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, to Earnhardt Jr.

It appears the chemistry between Letarte and Earnhardt Jr. is brewing nicely.

Hendrick noted that every driver feels a loss of confidence at some point, but, very often, it’s restored with the support of the crew chief.

Hendrick added he thought the Earnhardt Jr.-Letarte combination was the best in the garage area.

That’s certainly up for debate. But Earnhardt Jr. apparently feels the arrangement is working.

“Steve and I have a lot in common and our personalities make it where it seems like it’s easy for us to have a conversation,” he said.

Earnhardt Jr. added he hangs around the hauler much more because he enjoys talking with Letarte.

“Just sitting around long enough, eventually something is going to pop up and I want to be there for that conversation,” he said. “I don’t want him texting me on the phone while I’m on the bus going, ‘Hey, I think I know what we can do.’

“I want to be there so that I can understand it and talk about it.”

Now, I could be very wrong, but last year I don’t recall Earnhardt Jr. offering any quote that remotely suggested he wanted to hang around the hauler and talk to his crew chief.

While Earnhardt Jr. has had a good start, it must be said that it is much the same as it was in 2010.

After the first five races of that year Earnhardt Jr. also had two top-10 runs, including a second at Daytona, and was an even higher eighth in points.

He has two top-10s through five events this year – again – and is 12th in points, obviously lower than a season ago.

The numbers tell us that after five races, he’s worse off now than he was a year ago – really.

But there’s a very big difference. It’s one that should not be ignored.

Last season Earnhardt Jr., with his Daytona run, found himself second in points after one race. He steadily slipped from there and fell out of the top 10 after race No. 8. Thereafter, as a contender, he was merely an afterthought.

This year he was 24th in points after Daytona, where he was involved in an accident. But, unlike 2010, he has steadily risen in points from the first race of the season until the slip at Fontana.

In other words, Earnhardt Jr.’s season began to fade from the start in 2010. It has done quite the opposite, for the most part, in 2011. It’s a much different trend.

Credit Letarte, the resulting boost in Earnhardt Jr.’s confidence, or anything else you wish.

Earnhardt Jr.’s season, so far, is obviously headed in a different direction. It’s something with which he, and his Hendrick team, has been unaccustomed in past years.

We will see where it goes from here.


Johnson, Schumacher: A Tale of Two Champions

Sprint Cup driver Jimmie Johnson and Formula One driver, Michael Schumacher have a lot in common. Multiple championships and a mastery over placing themselves at the center. Michele Rahal of The Motorsports Channel and suggests that both have a method.


Kasey Kahne is Underrated

Kasey Kahne doesn’t deserve to be put on a “Top Ten Most Overrated NASCAR Drivers’ list. A driver can have all the talent in the world, if the teams don’t perform, the driver shouldn’t take the fall. Michele Rahal of The Motorsports Channel and challenges them.

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