Winding Down

As the end of the season approaches I once again have to clean off my desk if for no other reason to see if the desk is still under this pile of paper, Post-It notes, empty Red Bull cans, Chinese delivery menus, non-functional pens and half read copies of Winston Cup Scene.

Silly Season Review

There’s been a lot of announcements of driver and crew chief swaps as of late, but there’s still a good many unanswered questions left with only two weeks left in the season. They include:

Bill Elliott- Is he going to retire at the end of the season? Will he back part time in 2004? Will he run the full 2004 schedule? Elliott is holding his cards close to his vest, but on his official website there is a note that there will be no year-end gathering this year, but fans should save their frequent flier miles for a very special event at the end of next season.

If Elliott does retire there are rumors that Kasey Kahne might take his place, though he is under contract to Ford and they’re making noise that it would be very expensive for Dodge to lure him away.

Who will drive the 30 car?- About all we really know is that it won’t be Steve Park. It was rumored Jeremy Mayfield was heading for this ride but he re-upped with Ray Evernham. There were rumors that Greg Biffle could be headed to RCR, but Biffle’s latest comments seem to indicate that he’ll be sticking with Roush and he has a year left on his contract anyway.

Further complicating this decision is an apparent difference of opinions between Richard Childress and team sponsor AOL. Childress would like to put a proven driver who can win races right out of the box in the car, while AOL would like a younger more marketable driver. Those two goals aren’t mutually exclusive but they do narrow the field.

Who will drive the 1 car?- Apparently the team really likes John Andretti and he’s really improved the atmosphere around the shop. But the results just aren’t there as of this point anyway. Further complicating matters is the fact Pennzoil will be leaving the team at the end of this season and a new sponsor is going to want to have some say in who drives their car. It’s one of those “the chicken or the egg?” deals right now.

What will become of Johnny Benson and Steve Park- We know Benson won’t be back in the 10 car next year, but there’s been no announcements as to where he might end up. Benson would seem a good match for the 43 car and I’ve heard Childress would like to see him in the 30, though at 40 years of age he’s not the young gun on AOL’s wish list. If Cal Wells can land sponsorship for a second Cup team that could definitely be an option for Benson. Benson seems to be a sponsor’s dream, articulate, well-regarded and rarely embroiled in controversy of any type. It would be a shame to see him out of Cup.

Steve Park’s situation is even more precarious as rumors continue to dog him he hasn’t recovered 100% from his crash during the Darlington Busch race a couple years ago. If Cal Wells does land a second sponsor that could be a dream opportunity for Park. After all Wells took a chance on Ricky Craven back when there were doubts he’d recovered from a head injury as well.

What’s going on with the 99?- The 99 team is still searching for a sponsor and Jeff Burton hasn’t been lighting the world ablaze this season. Burton seems to remain committed to Roush Racing and Roush Racing to Jeff Burton but in this era where the sponsor has so much say in who runs their rolling billboard, anything can happen. Certainly if Burton were to enter the marketplace he’d quickly be grabbed up by another team owner.

What’s up with the 4 team?- It appears likely that Kodak will end their long term association with the 4 team at the end of the season. Who will sponsor the 4 car? Who will drive it? What make of car will they field. Will they even be back?

How about the 7 team?- It’s been announced that Sirius won’t be back in 2004. Ironically that announcement was made during the turmoil after the Spencer-Busch altercation at Michigan, though before the full facts had come to light. Hitting Kurt Busch and getting suspended made Jimmy Spencer more popular than anything he’s ever done on the track. For an edgy sponsor, he’d be a perfect match.

What about Kenny Schrader?- Will he be back in the 49 car? Will the 49 car be back? Will Schrader end up driving his truck full time in that series?

Who will drive the 43 car?- The team that once dominated the sport has fallen on hard times. Jeff Green seemed to have the inside track on landing this ride prior to failing to qualify a couple weeks ago. Benson is also a possibility here.

Will Banquet Chicken release Bobby Labonte’s kids unharmed?- We can only guess that Banquet Chicken kidnapped Bobby Labonte’s children to blackmail him into doing that incredibly stupid re-sealable chicken nugget package commercial and degrading himself to the level of third grade theater. Will the Labonte children be released before the holidays or held hostage until a sequel is filmed?

In other news- Phoenix has become the latest track to announce that they will be adding the SAFER barrier system (often mistakenly called “soft walls”) to the track. The announcement comes in the aftermath of a pair of hard hits (Jimmy Spencer and Steve Park) during last weekend’s race. My question is why aren’t any other tracks making similar announcements? Right now there are four tracks on the Cup circuit that have the SAFER barrier installed around the perimeter of the track, New Hampshire, Homestead, Indianapolis, and Richmond. Talladega also has the SAFER barrier installed but only along a limited section of the inside wall.

Other News from Around the World of Racing-

The California wildfires forced CART to cancel their season finale at Fontana last weekend. 34.4million dollars in losses during the third quarter of 2003 may force CART to cancel the 2004 season.

John Force, who had won ten consecutive NHRA funny car titles up until this year, will have to sit out the 2004 season finale because of a bizarre injury. Force was moving a crystal trophy he’d been awarded somewhere over the years and when he set it down the trophy shattered in his hands causing severe lacerations. Doctors advised Force he would we unable to drive for an indefinite period though Force seemed more concerned he will also be unable to sign autographs for the fans until his hands heal. He may not be the 2004 AA/FC champion, but Force remains the face and voice of NHRA racing.

And I’ll close this week on an unusual personal note. I’ve never been involved in a campaign like this before, and I won’t be making a habit of it, but I feel a strong compulsion to be a part of this effort. Please help if your heart guides you to and you are able to:

Dear Friends,
Another racing season comes to an end in less than two weeks time. Soon enough all of us will be preparing for the holiday season that lies ahead. A group of us on the Racing One message board, our families and friends have decided to undertake what we’re calling Racing For the Human Race in an attempt to help a poor family. We invite anyone interested to participate.

The charity we’ve chosen is Food For the Poor, the fourth largest international relief charitable organization in the US. They are a 100% legitimate operation accredited in all 50 states and their operating expenses are just 5.6% of the money they take in which is extraordinarily low. Forbes magazine gave them a grade of 94 out of a possible 100 points. You can see their webstite at www.foodforthepoor.org
We’ve chosen an ambitious project you can read about here: http://www.foodforthepoor.com/giftcatalog/startinlife.cfm
Obviously that’s a lot of money, but we’re talking housing a family, feeding them for a year, providing them with clothing, some basic furnishings and enabling their children to attend school and hopefully break the cycle of poverty they are trapped in. Conditions in these areas are grim. Children are dying of malnutrition and disease. They sleep out in the rain or in makeshift shelters around rat infested dumps where families pick through the trash looking for scraps of food daily. And all this is going on an hour’s flight out of Miami.
We’re asking anyone who can to contribute $20, a good deal of money. We realize that not everyone can afford that amount. If you can send ten dollars, great. If you can spare five dollars that’s great too. Even if you want to skip your morning cup of coffee at a convenience store tomorrow and send a buck that will help. What good can a dollar do? $100 dollars buys 1000 pounds of rice and beans, so your dollar will provide forty meals for people who otherwise will go hungry. If you are unable to give, we ask for your prayers or good thoughts this project be allowed to succeed. If you have friends or family members who might be willing to contribute, please ask them.

We want to make clear this is not a scam. We ask specifically that you don’t send cash but rather a check or money order. You will receive your check back with Food For the Poor’s deposit information to a bank in Florida, and your contribution is fully tax deductible. If there’s enough demand I will try to set up something where you can contribute by credit card at the Food for the Poor site with the donation earmarked towards Racing For The Human Race. Again, under pains of Hell or legal action I want to stress not a dime of your money will go to anyone involved with this project but rather to desperately poor people trapped in nearly hopeless circumstances.

If we fail to reach our admittedly lofty goal all donated money will go to Food For the Poor with a specific request it be spent to alleviate hunger where ever the need is greatest.

If you wish to contribute please send your check or money order made out to Food For the Poor (no cash, please) to:

Racing For the Human Race
1316 West Chester Pike PMB 153
West Chester PA, 19382

Matt can be reached at mcmatt@comcast.net

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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