NASCAR returns with issues

Feb 1, 2005 2:12 PM

Hard to believe, but NASCAR is back.

It seems like only a few weeks ago that Las Vegan Kurt Busch was raising the championship trophy. That is why these guys are the hardest working men in sports. They don’t get seven months off like football, or four months like baseball and basketball.

No, they get a few weeks off, then it’s back to the garage. The drivers are testing at Daytona, Las Vegas, and then prepare for Speed Weeks. Of all the sports, they are the closest that can actually relate to a real working man’s schedule.

This week there are a record number of participants for the test sessions here. While many say they use the Vegas track as critical data for later flat track races, most know that it’s just another excuse to be in town and squeeze out a few extra days of R & R before the season begins in Daytona.

The Nextel Cup drivers, including all 10 that were in the chase for the championship last season, will be testing Monday and Tuesday. The Busch teams will be testing Wednesday and Thursday.

While the sport was idle for a few weeks, there still was plenty going on within most of the organizations. One of the stories has to do with Las Vegas native Brendan Gaughan, the charismatic son of Coast Resorts President, Michael Gaughan. NASCAR has been very pleased with the way Brendan handles himself in all aspects of the sport.

You’d think that the Penske South racing organization would have thought the same, but they expected too much from him while giving him a lemon to drive, then deciding to not extend his deal. Brendan graciously left, didn’t burn any bridges, and went on with his racing career, which brought him back to Las Vegas and the Orleans Racing garage.

Rather than accept a ride with another car that wasn’t top flight, he could go back to his own garage and turn the Craftsman Truck series team around. After going on a championship run in the trucks during the 2003 season, the team took a huge step backwards in 2004. The engine program was not the same and the overall attitude of the team was too loose. Gaughan brought some fire to the team and was hoping to run 18 races this season, while Steve Park would run the whole year in the No. 62 truck.

Just as everything seemed to come together for 2005, the Cup series came calling again. Cal Wells, who owns the No. 32 Tide Chevy driven by Bobby Hamilton Jr, was looking for another young driver to drive a second car. The dilemma here is that Dodge is very high on Gaughan. They believe that under the right situation that Gaughan can sell lots of Dodges to the NASCAR fan. They have gone out of their way in many respects to make sure the only NASCAR Garage outside of Charlotte was successful driving their product.

We are sure to find out something this week regarding Gaughan. I’m not quite sure the Cal Wells team would be his best move. While there have been plenty of rumors about Dodge possibly putting him behind the wheel of a Ganassi or Evernham Dodge in 2006, the plan I would like to see happen has no basis, but is just a thought.

Coast Resorts and Boyd Gaming merged. Both companies have invested a certain amount of their marketing money towards the NASCAR market over the last seven years. Sam’s Town sponsors the Las Vegas Busch race and even sponsors the Memphis Busch race. Coast Resorts have been putting a quality team on the track at all levels. With the two companies and resources together, a great team could emerge. What better spokesman could Las Vegas and Boyd Gaming have than Brendan? It’s a longshot at best, but one that’s in our thoughts.

Another rumor has Gaughan in a sponsorship deal with Nike for the Cup series. Gaughan has ties to Nike through his basketball days as a player at Georgetown, while Allen Iverson was there. There is also the connection with Gaughan and former Georgetown Coach John Thompson, who remains a business partner and friend of the family. Thompson was one of the first coaches to have a deal with Nike, while building his basketball powerhouse. Details should be available later this week.

Notes for Daytona

Las Vegan Kyle Busch starts his Nextel Cup career for Hendrick Motorsports and is the leading candidate to win Rookie of the Year.

”¡ Dale Jarrett was fastest overall in a two-week test session at Daytona, while Jeff Gordon was the most consistently fastest. Meanwhile, the restrictor plate dynasty of DEI struggled, with some saying that Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr were sandbagging.

”¡ Gut feeling says we may have a changing of the guard in plate dominance led by Hendrick Motorsports.

”¡ Childress Racing has a new look, with Robby Gordon gone. Everyone’s buddy, Jeff Burton, takes over the No. 31 team. Dave Blaney takes over the No. 30 car (now 07) for new sponsor Jack Daniels

”¡ We welcome the sponsorship dollars of hard liquor to NASCAR. Crown Royal, Jack Daniels, and whatever other liquor brand can now be part of the NASCAR. Between the cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and beer ads on the cars all these years, it appeared to be a bit hypocritical to keep out the hard stuff and their money out.

”¡ Fed Ex gets into the game as well with a sponsorship deal. Joe Gibbs and the No. 11 car will be driven by Jason Leffler.

”¡ Expect 10 Cup drivers to participate in the Daytona Speed Weeks Rolex 24. Las Vegas will be represented by Kurt Busch and Paul Tracy. Dario Franchitti, Buddy Rice, Sebastian Bourdais, Cristiano da Matta, Matt Kenseth, Terry Labonte, Tony Stewart, Casey Mears, and Greg Biffle will be some of the recognizable names in this event, but none bigger than 80 year old Paul Newman.

”¡ Most of the Las Vegas Sports Books have their posted odds to win the Daytona 500. Some early value may be found with the Childress cars and the Yates team of Jarrett (25-1) and Elliott Sadler (18-1). Early long shots to look at are Scott Riggs (75-1), Joe Nemechek (40-1), and Dave Blaney (80-1).