NASCAR & Auto Racing

Now Bruton Smith's NASCAR track needs to play some catch-up

Some observations and notes on NASCAR, motorsports and more from the Observer's beat writer:

MY TWO CENTS

Speaking of standards ...

Bruton Smith has indeed set the bar high with the zMax Dragway @ Concord.

I haven't been to many drag strips that host National Hot Rod Association events, but people who have been to most of them say the $60 million showplace that hosted the Carolina Nationals last weekend is by far the best facility that now exists.

I don't know if other drag strip owners will feel the pressure to step up their facilities as a result of what Smith has built here, and as far as race fans around here are concerned I don't suppose that really matters.

What does matter, though, is that Smith has now set a standard for an NHRA facility that he, himself, needs to match with his NASCAR facility across the highway.

I've said this before, but Lowe's Motor Speedway is a like a stately old hotel in the historic district of some big city (Charlotte doesn't believe in history, so imagine someplace else). Back in the day, she was something to behold. But now, the old girl is beginning to show her age.

The drag strip here is the best. OK, fine. But if this is going to be the "epicenter" of motorsports, shouldn't the oval track be the best of its kind, too?

Smith has talked about making $200 million worth of improvements in at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but that's turning into one of those political footballs the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. seems to like to kick around these days.

The fact is that Smith's tracks at Texas and Las Vegas are easily more modern facilities than the place here that ought to be SMI's premiere oval the same way the new drag strip is the best of best.

OBSERVATIONS

Red Bull makes the right move

The best move made in NASCAR this week was made by Red Bull Racing, which signed Jay Frye to a multiyear contract extension that will keep him as vice president and general manager of its Sprint Cup team.

There was talk that Tony Stewart wanted to hire Frye to run Stewart Haas Racing, but Red Bull locked down the man who has helped that organization improve steadily since he came on board in January. The next thing Red Bull needs to do is stop letting A.J. Allmendinger twist in the wind in regard to his status for 2009.

The smart thing to do would be to sign him for at least one more year, but if the team isn't going to bring him back then it needs to make that call so Allmendinger has a fair shot to do something else.

OK, put the conclusion down and back away slowly

I trust everyone in NASCAR is enjoying National Overreaction and Jump to Wild Conclusion Week.

Greg Biffle won at New Hampshire and Kyle Busch didn't, so all of a sudden everything that has happened since February is moot and only what happened on Sunday has any bearing on what might happen the next nine weeks.

I am not saying that Biffle won't be in the title hunt and that Busch's bad race doesn't mean he's got a hole to dig out of.

But I am saying that one race does not a Chase make.

NOTES

Dodge says - again - it's not leaving Cup

Mike Delanhanty, the senior manager of Dodge's motorsports program, this week once again tried to shoot down rumors that the manufacturer plans to pull out of Sprint Cup racing.

"I don't know how many times we have to keep saying it, but we are committed," Delahanty said. "We have long-term contracts in place ... with Gillett Evernham, Penske Racing, Petty (Enterprises) and Chip Ganassi Racing. We're committed to the sport. We're committed to these guys.

"I don't know how many times we have to repeat it."

Delahanty also said reports that Gillett Evernham Motorsports might leave Dodge for Toyota as part of a merger with Bill David Racing is "pure speculation."

"Dodge and Gillett Evernham have a long history that dates to our return to Sprint Cup racing," he said. "Dodge and GEM have a long-term contract in place. We plan to continue as partners in NASCAR. We're aware and have had discussion about GEM's interest in adding a fourth car, but there's never been discussion about running anything but a Dodge."

Racing academy plans open houses

The first boarding school in North America offering a combination of academics and training in motorsports plans to open in 2009 in southern Virginia and has scheduled a pair of open houses for prospective students and their families.

The Academy of Motorsports will use the facilities of the Carlisle School in Martinsville, Va., for academic lessons in the morning, then have four afternoons of motorsports training with simulators and cars at tracks like Martinsville Speedway, South Boston Speedway and Virginia International Raceway. The school is for students in grades 9 through 12.

"The academy seeks to promote their knowledge of all aspects of the industry," said Simon-Owen Williams, the headmaster at Carlisle School. "The program offers a comprehensive array of specialty training in engineering, the pure sciences, leadership, health and wellness, dealing with the media and understanding the motorsports industry and how it operates. In short, it aims to cover everything that you will need to have to be ahead of the competition by the time you have graduated high school."

The open houses are scheduled for Oct. 4 and Nov. 29. The academy also is accepting applications. For information about The Academy or the open houses, visit http://www.theacademyofmotorsports.org/ or call Lisa Lyle at (276) 632-7288 (extension 237).

Briefly

Tickets for the American 200, the season's final race for the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series on Nov. 1 at Rockingham Speedway, are on sale now. Tickets begin at $25. Call the ticket office at (910) 205-8800 or go to www.rockinghamspeedway.com for more information.

Ricky Carmichael, widely regarded as the most successful motocross racer in American Motorcyclist Association history, will take another step in his stock car racing career when he drives a Kevin Harvick Inc.-owned car in the Automobile Racing Club of America event at Talladega on Oct. 3.

Tickets for next year's Southern 500 at Darlington go on sale Saturday. Nationwide Series cars will race at Darlington on May 8 with the Cup race scheduled for the next evening. Tickets can be purchased by calling the ticket office at (866) 459-RACE or online at www.darlingtonraceway.com/tickets/.

Steve Engel, who was injured when his Pro Modified drag racer crashed during a run during the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, died Sunday at a hospital there. He had six broken vertebrae that required two surgeries to repair and was thought to be heading toward a full recovery. The Ohio native was 49.

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