November 15, 2011
Drivers fighting for jobs at Homestead
By Dean McNulty, QMI Agency
The battle for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is pretty cut and dry.
You have Carl Edwards in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford with a three-point lead over Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet.
It will be those two who will get — and deservedly so — the lion’s share of the spotlight over the next five days until the checkered flag falls Sunday afternoon to end it all at Homestead Miami Speedway.
But there is another fight going on a little further back in the standings that is just as intense.
It is the contest to finish 13th through 15th.
A top-15 finish in NASCAR’s top loop is a monster bargaining chip when it comes to negotiating a new contract for any of those drivers.
And in an era where former Chase drivers like David Reutimann and Brain Vickers are out there looking for a ride for 2012, that kind of credential becomes invaluable, especially when seeking a job with a top level team.
The $5 million contracts for drivers that only five or six years ago were commonplace in the Sprint Cup garage just aren’t there anymore for drivers not with the Top 20 teams.
Going into Homestead Clint Bowyer (who will switch to Michael Waltrip Racing next season in place of Reutimann), Kasey Kahne (who goes from Red Bull Racing to Hendrick Motorsports next season in place of Mark Martin), Greg Biffle (who will stay at Roush Fenway Racing) and A.J. Allmendinger (who is expected to remain in the Richard Petty Motorsports Ford) are all within 25 points of one another.
Lurking in the next group behind them are Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Ragan and Jeff Burton.
All of them want to keep the big paycheques coming so Sunday’s Ford 400 will be just as important to them as it will be for Edwards and Stewart.
WICKENS PASSES TEST
Robert Wickens showed on Tuesday that he is, or should be, next in line for a Formula One seat.
The 22-year-old Canadian was third fastest on the first day of the “Young Driver Test” at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit in a Lotus Renault GP R31.
Wickens has a fastest lap of one minute, 42.217 seconds around the 5.554 km Yas track in the F1 Lotus Renault.
To put that in perspective it was less than two seconds off of the track record of 1:40.279 set by double world champion Sebastian Vettel.
More importantly Wickens was just a tick over one second off of Bruno Senna’s qualifying mark of 1:41:079 at the same Abu Dhabi track on Saturday in the same Lotus Renault.
“I knew we’d be setting competitive lap times,” Wickens said. “I’d targeted a top-three finish for the day and although I’d have liked to have cracked the 1:41s mark, I’m still satisfied with my performance.
“I just kept my head down and enjoyed the experience of working through the day with Lotus Renault GP.”
Wickens, a reserve driver for Marussia Virgin Racing this season after winning the Formula Renault 3.5 Series championship, will be back on the Yas circuit on Thursday for the final day of tests.
NASCAR has fined JR Motorsports crew chief Tony Eury Jr. $10,000 and placed him on probation through Mar. 28 for an improperly attached weight found on Danica Patrick’s No. 7 Chevrolet during the Nationwide Series Wypall 200 Saturday at Phoenix ... While Tony Stewart could wind up NASCAR champion at Homestead he has yet to sign crew chief Darian Grubb to a new contract for next season ... General Motors unveiled its Corvette Daytona Prototype on Tuesday. The iconic American sports car will make its racing debut at the 50th anniversary of the GRAND-AM Road Racing Series Rolex 24 at Daytona in January ... WWE Hall of Famer Sgt. Slaughter will be the Grand Marshal for Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series championship race, the Ford 300, at Homestead-Miami Speedway.