By Mike Mulhern
Bruton Smith, as he awaited Friday night’s special vote on his planned $60 million NHRA drag strip by the Concord City Council, repeated his point that he is “90 percent” certain to tear down Lowe’s Motor Speedway and build a new NASCAR track somewhere within an 18-mile radius of the Charlotte airport….an area that include a good portion of South Carolina, as well as the current Lowe’s track.
But Smith also hedged a bit and said he may need to apologize to some people in Cabarrus County: “I think I owe all those people an apology. The media has been pretty harsh on those people.
“I’ve never been angry with anybody; it was just a big shock (the initial rezoning move to ban the drag strip). I just thought it was maybe time to go. That’s what started this thing. I thought we’d worn out our welcome. Sometimes that happens.
“We’ll find out in another week or so.”
The council Friday night okayed Smith’s drag strip plans. But it may be too little too late.
“I’m still 90 percent that we will move, and I’ve had some fabulous offers, some serious offers,” Smith said. “I think 15 different proposals. I’m looking at all those big, fat offers.
“Sometimes you move. All sports. Stadiums age out.”
Smith, who owns some of this sport’s top speedways, including Atlanta Motor Speedway, watched Greg Biffle, on a hot streak lately, and Kurt Busch, suffering through a run of hard luck, take the front row last night for Sunday’s Pep Boys 500, both at over 192 mph. Race favorites Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon weren’t far behind.
Dale Jarrett, who just announced he would retire next spring, pulled a surprise by qualifying third. “I think we just took the ‘upset-of-the-year’ away from Appalachian State over Michigan,” Jarrett said. “Since I haven’t finished better than 22nd all year, anything better would be great. I think I have a car capable of running with those guys usually up front. Haven’t seen much of them lately, except when they’re lapping me.”
Qualifying well gives teams a better selection of pits, and as tire-hungry as this asphalt is, drivers plan to hit pit road for new rubber every chance they get.
“First for Atlanta, first for the season,” Biffle said after his run at 192.453 mph, which puts him in next February’s season-opening Daytona Shootout.
But Biffle, as one of Carl Edwards’ teammates, quickly had to face the Edwards’ story, albeit reluctantly: “Carl Edwards? Well, uh….I feel we’ve been throwing stones this week. The moral of the story is Carl was a little bit out of line, and we just need to mend that relationship between Carl and Matt (Kenseth). Carl raced three-wide at Kansas and bumped…..that’s where it all started.
“And I saw it all at Martinsville: Carl got into the corner too hot, and they got together. And they did it again. And it wasn’t like ‘Sorry about that, I’ll give you more room.’ That upset Matt. If you bump a guy, you expect to get bumped back.
“Carl is going to have to work hard about racing around his teammates…and around other drivers too.
“It’s been a recurring thing, and it’s escalating.”
One of the other hot stories at the moment of course is Bruton Smith: Is he bluffing or bullying in his talk about shutting down Lowe’s Motor Speedway?
Has Lowe’s aged out? “I didn’t say that,” Smith replied. “However I have been working on a master plan for a year and a half on what I want to do with the current track, but I’ve pulled the plug on that, because the engineers came in with a $200 million budget.
“So I’ll take that $200 million and add another $150 million and build a new track. It’s simple.
“I don’t mind building tracks. I think I’ve built more speedways than anybody in the world. We’ve got good engineers; we know how to do it.”
The current track, the property and buildings, is tax-valued at $300 million. How much the property might sell for as simple real estate is unclear, but the area is booming. Smith said the land would likely be valued at about $150 million as property for development.
Smith says he has blueprints for a new track, apparently a three-quarter-mile high-banked oval, and could build it within 11 months.
The governors of both North Carolina and South Carolina have been talking extensively with Smith. The governor of South Carolina, for example, “spent five hours talking with me,” Smith said. And he said enough politicians showed up for his Cup race two weeks ago “to hold a meeting of the General Assembly.”
Smith’s threat to move his legendary track and Carl Edwards’ stunning rage attack on teammate Matt Kenseth have overshadowed the Jeff Gordon versus Jimmie Johnson championship battle for the moment.
Edwards, who has apologized, says “Some people are deeply misunderstanding what’s going on here. When I run well, I’m happy. When things don’t go my way, or I feel someone is trying to take something from me, I’m going to stand up for myself.
“The first person who hasn’t made a mistake or been angry and stood up for themselves is welcome to raise their hand and criticize me.
“I was not going to punch Matt. I was just real angry at him and wanted to get rise out of him.
“I got on YouTube and watched and thought ‘Wow, that wasn’t good,’ just like everybody else.”
Indeed, with his angry behavior, Edwards hasn’t found much support among fellow drivers.
Kevin Harvick used the phrase ” ‘roid rage” in describing Edwards anger, considering it similar to a steroid attack. Edwards didn’t like that a bit: “I talked to Kevin, and I think he knows what he said was probably not the smartest thing to say.”
Nevertheless Edwards’ anger was considered unseemly by some of his fellow drivers.
“That crossed the line,” Jeff Burton says. “It shocked me. It disappointed me.
“It probably surprised Carl too. But this is an emotional sport. And when you care about it, things happen sometimes that you wish wouldn’t have happened. It is a product of the pressure of the chase.”
Part of the fallout is that drivers are coming forward with several complaints about Edwards. Like Elliott Sadler: “I have had problems with Edwards. I had problems at Richmond a couple years ago when he spun me out in the Busch race and he didn’t like some of the things I said in the paper, I guess. He confronted me at the driver’s meeting the next day pretty much in the same manner he did with Kenseth.
“He seems to have a lot of problems with a lot of different people. Hitting Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. after the race in Michigan, attacking him in victory lane…and then attacking Matt. Carl Edwards can do amazing things with a racecar, but sometimes he can’t control his attitude, he just can’t control his emotions.
“But that’s not my fight. I don’t have a dog in it.”
Kurt Busch, once a member of the Roush family, says “I really don’t keep up with who’s in whose face….but Carl doesn’t seem to be getting along with his teammates.
“I’ve seen it all along with him. You see that flashy smile, but he seems to have something under his breath for you.
“Jack has always let the drivers decide how to sort out their differences, and that probably isn’t the best thing.
“When you get too many roosters in the hen house, you can have a problem.
“Of course I live in the fans’ eyes as ‘Gee, you’re really a nice guy. I thought you’d be a (expletive deleted).’
“So we’ll see how Carl does the next few weeks.”
Perhaps without Mark Martin and Burton around now to lead by example, car owner Jack Roush may have his hands full keeping his five teams running harmoniously.
“The human spirit is alive and well,” Roush said of Edwards’ emotional outburst. “I’ve been engaged all week trying to understand what the reasons were and what the frustration was behind the conflict between Carl and Matt, and I think we have the measure of it. Certainly Carl realizes he wasn’t a friend to Matt. And Matt is anxious to have Carl get some relief from the dilemma he finds himself in.
“We’re working our way through the aftermath of the conflict that was regrettable. In the future we’ll be able to avoid that confrontation.”
Edwards, who can clinch the Busch series championship today in Memphis, says “Hopefully this will be old news here after a week or two.”
Carl Edwards’ road-rage confrontation with teammate Matt Kenseth at Martinsville post-race has become a major to-do in the NASCAR world, though NASCAR officials are brushing it off as just squabbling. And Bruton Smith, who owns most of the NASCAR tour tracks that the France family doesn’t, says he’s glad stock car racing execs aren’t meddling.
“I think you’ll see ‘a softer side’ to NASCAR,” Smith says. “That’s important.
“If, say, Jeff Gordon gets out of his car and goes over and shoves another driver, don’t give him a fine. Give him a plaque to hang on his wall.
“That’s what I mean by ‘a softer side.’”
“Carl and I haven’t talked since last week,” Kenseth says. “He called me and left a message Monday. So, no, I didn’t call him back.”
“If he doesn’t want to, that’s his prerogative,” Edwards says.
“Really I don’t see a big reason to,” Kenseth said, “….or that anything is going to get solved.
“It’s one of them things I don’t know how to fix. He can tell me whatever he wants. Actions speak louder than words.
“So we’ll carry on and be professionals.”
Kenseth himself is taking the high road, and he says the two Jack Roush teams are doing just fine, even if the drivers aren’t.
“It’s disappointing,” Kenseth says of the run-in. “It’s disappointing for your sponsors, for his sponsors. I imagine by Monday or Tuesday it was probably embarrassing to him.
“When you have a conflict, it’s never just one person’s fault. So when you’re a part of that you feel bad about it.
“But some of the things said about our not talking the last six months, none of that is true. We’ve worked fine together. I can think of several instances where he’s come to talk to me or I’ve talked to him.
“It’s maybe blown a little out of proportion.
“I honestly didn’t realize we had a big problem. I just saw what you guys saw: There was no provoking. I don’t really know what honestly provoked all that.
“He’s probably got more stuff to work through than I do. I don’t feel I’ve been a big cause of his problems.
“He did his interviews, talked to Jeff Burton, talked to a bunch of people, and he was happy. Then he came over and acted like that without being provoked, and I thought that was a little strange. I was just standing there minding my own business when he came up.
“I guess over the last year we’ve maybe been a little less friends. There were a couple of things that happened – some things he said that turned me off, and I did talk to him about them. But I thought we got all over that.
“But our personalities are just a lot different. I didn’t think there has been anything festering.
“There must be something that’s been festering with him, and he’s ready to blow about. But I don’t really know exactly what that would be.
“I don’t hang out with him that much, but I was a little surprised to see what I saw.
“But yet that’s a side I see of him every once in a while…that’s opposite as he looks in interviews.
“The key word is respect. If you do the right thing, most times people are going to do the right thing back to you.
“It helps if you get an apology. But anybody can call and say the words.
“You can run into people, then walk up next week and say ‘Hey, man, I’m really sorry.’ And then you can run into them again next week and say ‘Hey, man, I’m really sorry.’ Pretty soon you say ‘Okay, he doesn’t mean that.’
“Obviously it was ugly. But it gave you guys something to talk about all week. Everybody was #### of talking about Jimmie and Jeff driving away in the points thing. So this spiced everything up.”
Jeff Burton, once Kenseth’s teammate at Jack Roush’s, says he’s learned “you can’t not be honest with each other. But there’s an appropriate time and place…and there has to be a willingness to be productive.
“You can’t let emotion get in the way of working things out.
“If Kevin Harvick has a problem with me, he comes directly to me and we work it out. I learned that from Mark Martin.
“And I learned that working with Matt—that you can work through any problem as long as everybody has good intentions.
“But when it gets in the public, you can’t fix it. It’s way harder.”
Jimmie Johnson, though typically mild-mannered, concedes he too has been angry enough during a race to want to punch somebody out: “Oh, yes, last year at Talladega I wanted to kill Brian Vickers.
“And Casey Mears probably wanted to punch me after I crashed him at Talladega while he was trying to get into the pits.”
But each time Johnson has managed to keep his cool.
THE NASCAR NOTEBOOK
NASCAR officials are 0-for-2 this week, with the decision by Charles Strang – who, as the ‘National Stock Car Racing Commissioner,’ appointed by NASCAR, is the final judge in any appeal – rescinding penalties against Robert Yates’ Busch team for questionable shocks used in the August Montreal race.
Strang said “the results of the inspection process are not adequate to prove culpability on the part of the appellant or his associates.”
NASCAR had penalized Yates and driver Stephen Leicht 25 points and fined crew chief Charles Barraclough $5,000.
Chip Ganassi has quickly picked up Steve Hmiel to be his new manager of competition. Hmiel was for the past several years director of competition at Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Ganassi, who broke a long winless streak when Juan Pablo Montoya won at Sonoma in June, says he wants more “strength in upper management.
“I thought we had some momentum earlier in the year. We peaked and we’ve plateaued. We have to make the next step, because we’re still getting beat by teams I don’t think we should be getting beat by.”
Hmiel says he likes Ganassi’s at-track presence: “There is a lot of comfort in having a boss standing right there watching what is going on. I’m sure there will be times I’ll be uncomfortable with that. But he knows what he is doing, and he is on-site.
“He has brought in some interesting drivers (the latest, Dario Franchitti). They are going to pay off.
“It’s about talking to each other, not talking about each other.”
Jacques Villeneuve has now apparently completed a buy-in of Bill Davis’ High Point-based Toyota operation, according to sources close to the team, and Villeneuve will have at least a majority interest in the operation, perhaps even full-ownership. Last Sunday when asked about the report of a planned Villeneuve buy-in, Davis said he was not then in position to make an specific answer but did say he was considering a number of options.
It is unclear what a purchase price might be. It is also unclear just why Villeneuve, who lives in Montreal, would want to buy a NASCAR team, or if Villeneuve might move the team from High Point, where Davis has operated out of for more than 15 years.
Jimmie Johnson and car owner Rick Hendrick announced yesterday they would donate to the American Red Cross whatever money they win in Sunday’s 500, and Lowe’s – the team’s sponsor – and track owners Bruton Smith and the France are all expected to match that.
“This is really impacting a lot of people, and this is a way we can give back to people in need,” Johnson said. “We need to get involved.
“Hopefully we can raise over $1 million.”
“I talked to Jim France today, and he agreed to match what we’re doing,” Smith said. “I have a lot of businesses in California and some of my employees have lost their homes.”
Ray Evernham says he realizes he’s taking a risk hiring Patrick Carpentier for a Cup ride next season, as teammate with Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler. And he’s putting the French-Canadian on the NASCAR hot seat early, giving him a car for the Nextel Cup tour’s final two events, at Phoenix and Homestead, replacing Scott Riggs.
“There is just something about Patrick that impressed us,” Evernham says. “He impressed us so much we took him testing, and he did well.
“We feel he is a good racer. We’re hoping because of his Canadian presence that it helps create sponsorship.
“We really looked into his records when he drove open-wheel cars. He has a pretty good record on the ovals; we hired him as a road racer but he is pretty fast on the ovals.
“He fit with our team, he just clicked with the guys.
“I know it is a risk, but when you look out there, you can either hire guys knowing their performance level or you can take a chance. That is the one thing I like about (new partner) Mr. (George) Gillett—- that he is like ‘Hey, let’s take a chance.’
“We’re going to work real hard to give Patrick what he needs. We are going to try to get him in a car more and more this year; we’re trying to get him into some races. We’re trying to surround him with veteran people.
“We have a lot of great plans. The neat thing about it is we have a guy that really, really appreciates the opportunity. He is a home run with the media; the announcement they did in Canada was just phenomenal.
“Patrick has brought a little spark to the organization, and we’re happy.
“He is not intimidated by it, but he knows what he has got to do. He is focusing on the right things.
“That is what I like about him. I’ve always said good drivers are smart. Patrick knows he has a huge challenge, but he is not going to let it intimidate him. He has that inner confidence he is going to get it done, and I like that.”