The Frontstretch Newsletter - December 17th, 2007

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Dec 17, 2007, 1:53:44 AM12/17/07
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THE FRONTSTRETCH NEWSLETTER presented by Your Company Could Be Here
Frontstretch.com
The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!
December 17th, 2007
Volume I, Edition CLXII

Editor's Note: We've gotten a few messages that have asked, "What happened to the newsletter?" In case you missed it, we announced on November 21st that the newsletter is scaling back to a weekly version for the offseason. Newsletter editions will appear on the following dates:
 
Friday, December 21st
Friday, December 28th

Monday, January 7th
Monday, January 14th
Monday, January 21st
Monday, January 28th

As for the daily version, we will begin Monday-Friday publication once again on Monday, February 4th. And of course, if news breaks out, we'll break in - to your email inbox with a special edition of the newsletter.

Thanks as always for your continued support.

Sincerely,

Tom Bowles
Managing Editor
Frontstretch.com
 

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Got NASCAR-related questions or comments?

Send them Matt Taliaferro's way at matt.ta...@frontstretch.com; if you're lucky, you'll get your name in print when he does his weekly column answering back to you – the fans that keep Frontstretch afloat.

Today's Top News
Ryan Pemberton Leaves DEI, Moves To Michael Waltrip Racing; Both Organizations Undergo Major Shakeups
By Tom Bowles 

For five years, Ryan Pemberton has fine-tuned race cars under the U.S. Army banner.

He won't be around for a sixth. 

Seeking a change, Pemberton has left the former No. 01 (No. 8 in 2008) team at DEI to become crew chief for David Reutimann over at Michael Waltrip Racing. Announced Friday, he becomes the biggest hire in a major organizational shakeup for the three-car MWR program; expectations will be high for the two this season as they inherit big-money sponsor UPS after the fifth race this season. Reutimann's car number will then switch to No. 44, but the cars and crew surrounding him will stay the same.

Having worked with inexperienced drivers last season – rookies Aric Almirola and Regan Smith replaced Mark Martin for a handful of races in the No. 01 – Pemberton's task won't get any easier. Reutimann failed to qualify on speed nine times last season, and will be faced with that problem all over again as his team finished outside the Top 35 in car owner points. With a best finish of 13th at Richmond, the sophomore-to-be accumulated two top 15 and nine DNFs in 26 starts in '07. 

Clearly, those numbers will need to improve for the team to keep UPS happy next season; but Pemberton looks forward to the challenge. After all, his former team was often without the big-time resources the Hendricks, Roushs, and Gibbs have at their disposal; but he still has a win at Kansas to his name, paired nicely with a runner-up finish at the Daytona 500 with Mark Martin. 

"Michael Waltrip Racing is a team that's growing, and I want to be a part of that," Pemberton said. "I have respect for this team because I know how hard it is to start up an organization from scratch. There's a lot to overcome just to make it to the racetrack when you are developing a new program, especially of the magnitude they did."

Pemberton wasn't the only new hire over at MWR. Paul Andrews replaces Buddy Sisco at the helm of the No. 55 team, responsible for guiding Michael Waltrip back into the limelight after the worst season of his Cup career. Waltrip made just fourteen races last season, failing to qualify for eleven in a row at one point en route to a 43rd place finish in points. Andrews is used to taking on a challenge, though; his resume includes leading the 1992 Cup championship team with owner/driver Alan Kulwicki. 

Finally, the No. 44/00 team which will be driven by Dale Jarrett, Michael McDowell, Josh Wise, and others will be led by crew chief Bill Pappas. A former open-wheel crew chief, Pappas left Juan Pablo Montoya to an Indy 500 victory in 2000 and is stepping into stock car racing for the first time – a surefire sign of how technical racing in NASCAR has become.

"Last season, Michael Waltrip Racing built a foundation and now they are working on the internal pieces," said Pappas. "I am pleased to have been chosen to be a part of this growth." 

In the meantime, Pemberton's role at DEI will be filled by championship-winning crew chief Doug Richert. Most recently employed with Toyota's Team Red Bull, Richert will lead the new No. 01 team driven by rookie Regan Smith in 2008. The veteran Richert has been around the sport for four decades, winning a championship with Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in 1980 and more recently leading Greg Biffle to a runner-up finish in the 2005 Cup Chase with Roush Racing. He'll tutor a driver in Smith who has yet to score a top 20 finish after seven career starts in the series; the best he's been able to muster to date is a 24th at Talladega last Spring.

Finally, Mark Martin will now work with former No. 8 car chief Tony Gibson, who will step up to be the head wrench for him and rookie Aric Almirola. Gibson performed admirably while filling in for Tony Eury, Jr. as Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s crew chief last season; in a six-race stretch while Eury was suspended, he led the team to two top 5 and three top 10 finishes. In all, he has 12 career starts as a crew chief under his belt – merely twice the number of his rookie driver Almirola.

In Case You Missed It
News From The Week That Was
by Tom Bowles


It's Official : Hornish, Busch Cars Swap Owner Points At Penske
After months of speculation, NASCAR approved a 2007 owner points switch between two of Roger Penske's cars for 2008 – the No. 77 and the No. 2. Sam Hornish, Jr. and the brand-new No. 77 team now receive an oh-so-crucial qualifying exemption for the first five races next season, when the IRL vet will be a full-time rookie on the Sprint Cup circuit. As for Busch, he'll now have to qualify on speed during that same stretch with the No. 2 car; but with the Past Champion's Provisional, he's locked into the field no matter what happens.  

With Busch, Dale Jarrett, and Bill Elliott all planning to run the first five races next season, the champion's provisional will likely leave just seven open spots for grabs for teams outside the Top 35 in owner points - instead of the usual eight.

Riley – D'Hondt Motorsports Dissolved
After much fanfare, the partnership between Bill Riley and former Yates Racing general manager Eddie D'Hondt is no more. The two announced goals to form an ambitious Cup and Busch program back in August, 2006, aligning themselves with Toyota. But sponsorship never materialized, and the team only made one Nextel Cup race throughout its existence; Marc Goossens finished 38
th last June at Infineon Raceway. The Busch program appeared in better shape, with veteran David Green driving a handful of races; however, he and development driver Bobby Santos never could drudge up the financial support to go with them. In half-a-dozen events, their highest finish was 11th with Green at Nashville.

While that team has dissolved, Eddie D'Hondt supposedly still plans to remain in the ownership business – he hopes to run some Busch and ARCA races in 2008 under the D'Hondt Motorsports banner. 

Busch, Truck Rookie Of The Years Released
One year after the Danny O'Quinn debacle, Willie Allen is learning a difficult reality – trophies don't mean anything these days if you can't bring any money to the table.

Allen – the 2007 Craftsman Truck Series Rookie Of The Year – was released from his ride this week as driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Racing truck. Allen outlasted Tim Sauter and Joey Clanton in the rookie competition this season, putting together one top 10 finish in 25 starts with an unsponsored truck – but without the financial backing to put some decals on that car, Allen lost out to '08 rookie Shelby Howard, someone who is supposedly bringing major sponsorship money with him to the No. 13. 

"I have a letter exercising ThorSport's option on my contract for 2008, so I don't know how this could happen," said Allen, who had recently announced his return to that ride for the coming season. "I hope that we can put something together with a team in one of NASCAR's top three divisions very soon."

Meanwhile, O'Quinn – the 2006 Rookie Of The Year in Busch who lost his ride under similar circumstances – was officially given the pink slip today by Jack Roush. Roush had reduced O'Quinn to a part-time schedule in 2007 after sponsorship for his No. 50 car never materialized; in fact, O'Quinn wound up running seven races for another team, the No. 56 of Mac Hill Motorsports. Now, he's free to pursue sponsorship opportunities with Mac Hill for 2008; meanwhile, Roush will field two full-time Busch cars for Cup stars David Ragan and defending champ Carl Edwards, along with part-time efforts for Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray.

Did You Notice?
Offseason Edition
by Tom Bowles

Did You Notice …
That no matter what Race of Champions event you set up, it's impossible to leave it biased towards a particular breed of drivers? The knock on IROC was always that the cars there were too NASCAR-focused, therefore providing an advantage to those drivers with a stock car racing background.

Well, apparently after years of stock car drivers making a mockery of championship races over here … what goes around comes around. The Race of Champions Nation's Cup – set in England over the weekend – featured Nextel Cup champ Jimmie Johnson competing against Germany's Michael Schumacher in a one-on-one race. The problem? The cars they competed in were rally-style vehicles; and the recently-retired Schumacher has had plenty of time to putz around with them. Not so for Johnson - and his lack of experience shined through when he got smoked by the German F-1 champ. 

Turns out Schumacher's team would beat the American duo of Johnson and X-Games legend Travis Pastrana – as well as everyone else to capture the coveted Nation's Cup. But does it really matter? I mean, if you put Schumacher in a stock car you'd better believe he'd get his butt kicked similar to what happened this weekend; no matter how talented you are, a lack of experience will always bite you when you're competing against the best in a specialized field.

The way I look at it, with IROC gone I don't know if a Race of Champions is really necessary anymore. It's like trying to make football, baseball, and basketball athletes compete against each other – each type of competition will give an advantage to one of them based on how they have to play their sport. It's the same with these racing All-Star events – just because each person has "racer" next to their name doesn't mean they have the same collection of strengths and weaknesses. 

Sorry to rant … but I really could do without that whole thing.

Did You Notice … That since Ginn Racing merged with DEI, it's like the former Ginn program has become subservient to the wants and needs of the larger company? Some influence Bobby Ginn is having over there; no one's even heard a peep from him other than those secret settlements he gave former drivers Sterling Marlin, Joe Nemechek, and reportedly more crew members who suffered financial injustice at the result of this "merger." After such a strong year working together with Mark Martin – and the love Martin showed for Pemberton – you have to wonder whether Pemberton's recent departure was the result of frustration over DEI draining everything Ginn had to offer down the tubes … in favor of their own system. That's a shame, because I was really looking forward to seeing what Martin could do with such a savvy crew chief in their second season together.

Did You Notice …
Well, I didn't want to keep bringing this up … but there's still thirteen Cup cars that haven't announced primary sponsors for all 36 Cup events: the No. 00 of Michael Waltrip Racing (David Reutimann/TBD); the No. 01 of DEI (Regan Smith); the No. 4 of Morgan McClure Motorsports (Driver TBD); the No. 7 owned and driven by Robby Gordon; the No. 10 of Gillett Evernham Motorsports (Patrick Carpentier); the No. 21 of the Wood Brothers (Marcos Ambrose/TBD); the No. 27 of Bill Davis Racing (Jacques Villeneuve); the No. 28 of Yates Racing (Travis Kvapil); the No. 38 of Yates Racing (David Gilliland); the No. 40 of Chip Ganassi Racing (Dario Franchitti); the No. 49 of BAM Racing (John Andretti); the No. 66 of Haas CNC Racing (Jeremy Mayfield); and the No. 70 of Haas CNC Racing (Scott Riggs). 

Yup, that's right; one quarter of the field has no primary sponsorship announced. No one else is concerned about this? Really? I know some announcements are being held back; but I'd bet a trillion dollars not all of these cars have decals when we get to Daytona. It's just too much money – and sponsor space – left blank.

Did You Notice …
The July race at New Hampshire will go an extra lap? They're calling it the Lenox Industrial Tools 301; and apparently, they really will go 301 laps instead of 300. I guess the track wanted to do something unique before the teams go racing in Las Vegas instead in 2009…

TODAY ON THE FRONTSTRETCH:

Driver Review : Matt Kenseth

By Tony Lumbis              

Driver Review : Bobby Labonte

By Cami Starr 

Note: See This Week On The Frontstretch For All The Info You Need…

FRONTSTRETCH TRIVIA
Q. All 36 races were once again won by multi-car teams in 2007 - led by Hendrick Motorsports, who collected 18 trophies on the year. When's the last time a single-car team broke through and took a Nextel Cup win?

(answer Monday)


Last Monday's Trivia Answer
:  This driver became the all-time leader in Restrictor Plate track wins in 2007. Who was he and who did he displace from the top spot?

With his win at Talladega this Fall, Jeff Gordon scored his 12th restrictor-plate victory – breaking a tie with Dale Earnhardt for the most in N ASCAR history.

This Week On The Frontstretch:
Our Frontstretch Driver Reviews continue – check out the list below!
David Starr stops by to give a post-mortem review on a successful season in Trucks – and a little preview for what life will be like in a new ride for 2008.

2007 Driver Reviews – This Week:

Monday, December 17th
Matt Kenseth (Tony Lumbis)
Bobby Labonte (Cami Starr)
 

Tuesday, December 18th
Terry Labonte (Kathy Grindle)
Kevin LePage (Kim DeHaven)
Sterling Marlin (Kathy Grindle)
 

Wednesday, December 19th
Mark Martin (Vito Pugliese)
Jeremy Mayfield (TBD)

Thursday, December 20th
Jamie McMurray (Cami Starr)
Casey Mears (Amy Henderson)

Friday, December 21st

Paul Menard (Kathy Grindle)
Juan Pablo Montoya (Toni Montgomery)

Coming this offseason on the Frontstretch
:
Driver Reviews – Going On NOW!
by the Frontstretch Staff
Beginning December 3rd, report cards and information on the ups and down for each Nextel Cup driver in 2007, as well as a preview of how they all might do in 2008.

Fanning The Flames
By Matt Taliaferro

Matt Taliaferro will still answer questions and comments by you, NASCAR's loyal fans, with several offseason editions! Don't forget to email him with what you have to say at matt.ta...@frontstretch.com.
2008 Season Preview
by the Frontstretch Staff

As December fades to January and the spotlight turns to the 2008 Sprint Cup season, keep it right here as your Frontstretch faithful have all the angles covered. Whether it's the upcoming rookie race or the future of Hendrick's dominance, we have the answers you seek – and the questions that need to be raised to the NASCAR brass. 

Feedback on the newsletter? Would you like to advertise with us? Reach us at edi...@frontstretch.com.
 
The next edition of the newsletter will run on Friday, December 21st.

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