Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt, two of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders, might be searching for a new job after the eighth event of the year.
Swan Racing released a statement on Thursday afternoon that they are unsure whether or not their two Toyota teams will be racing at Richmond next weekend.
“Swan Racing is in the process of reviewing its current situation and the ability to continue to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The team has been unable to secure the kind of sponsorship required to effectively operate the team. As a result, the team management is exploring every available option. We hope to be in position to provide a detailed update in the near future," the team said in an official release.
The team is owned by Brandon Davis, and co-owned by former NFL player, Bill Romanowski as well as entrepreneur, Anthony Marlowe. Marlowe is the listed owner for Whitt's No. 26 vehicle on a weekly basis. Prior to investing in Swan Racing, Marlowe sponsored multiple Sprint Cup Series teams with his company, TMone.
Kligerman joined Swan Racing towards the end of the 2013 season as he prepared to leave Kyle Busch Motorsports' Nationwide Series team which was closing due to a lack of funding. He finished ninth in points with three top-five finishes and 13 top-10s. However, he made the move to compete in the Sprint Cup Series on a full-time basis rather than returning to the Camping World Truck Series or racing for another Nationwide Series organization.
During the off-season, Kligerman stated that his goal was to be a top-25 team on a weekly basis. However, he has started out the season with either accidents or mechanical issues in all but one event (Darlington). He was able to race his way into the Daytona 500 after a stunning practice wreck in which his No. 30 Toyota was sent into the midst of the air, flipping multiple times - landing on his roof.
“I think any rookie campaign will have some struggles. It’s a gruesome and long schedule. The Sprint Cup Series is no walk in the talk. It is the best 43 drivers and teams in the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the most competitive racing series in the world is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, I don’t think anyone can argue that when looking at the lap times and stuff like that. There will be times that a rookie will struggle, but the ability to have a consistency and having the average finish you want for the entire season is the key. As long as we can always go out there, always improving and always looking forward, never taking a step back, we will show the people that we’re here to stay, we’re a force to be reckoned with and we’ll keep making that next step towards victory lane," Kligerman said over the off-season when asked what will happen if he will struggle.
Though he has struggled, he has shown improvements, as had Whitt. Whitt finished a career-best 18th at Fontana, but has four finishes of 31st or worse.
The news comes after the team signed Speed Stick to sponsor Whitt's car for the first four races of the year. However, he has been sponsorless since Fontana. Kligerman, however, brought two companies to the team this year - Lending Tree (Daytona) and Aria Hotels (Las Vegas). He also had SMS Audio on his Toyota Camry at Texas and Darlington, but that company has a minority stake in Swan Racing as it is owned by rapper, 50 Cent.
Possibly, the team might not race at Richmond. If that is the case, this could harm the future of both young drivers. They have each experienced sponsorship woes in the past, but not so early in the year at NASCAR's highest tier.
NASCAR Green has been capturing the attention of race fans for the past five years in hopes of making one of the top spectator sports in the world more sustainable. Well, it has done just that. 75 percent of NASCAR fans are aware of NASCAR Green and its initiatives to make not only the sport, but the world a better place.
Most fans have noticed a different look on the racecars for the past several race weekends - bright green colors on every single one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series vehicles where the driver's names are located on the windshield. A rather different look, it provides fans a different perspective as to why NASCAR is attempting to truly get their fans involved more than any other sport.
"In addition to having the comprehensive set of initiatives that we have, the thing that really struck us in building this platform over the past five years is how incredible over fan impact numbers have been around the NASCAR Green platform,” NASCAR Green Vice President, Dr. Michael Lynch said in an exclusive interview with Speedway Digest on Friday afternoon. “We have numbers such as 75 percent of avid NASCAR fans are aware of NASCAR Green and know that the sport cares about the environment. That’s a very recent number for us. The fact that NASCAR fans are twice as likely as non-fans to keep their households ‘green,’ and we are always looking at ways to improve the environment whether that be from getting fans more active. That’s a 70 percent difference from four to four and a half years ago."
"It actually goes back to one of the hypotheses that we had at the beginning which is – a NASCAR Green platform across the entire stakeholdership of the league had the potential to have a unique impact because of the mental framework and mental model that fans bring to this sport that is actually different from fans of other major sports like Major League Baseball, or football, the NBA, hockey or Premier League Soccer or the World Cup. The thing is – a NASCAR fan is a fan of NASCAR. On average, fans have six favorite drivers that they follow. That being the case, tackling ‘green’ from an overall sport level and having an integrated level from all of our teams and venues and all of our partners as well from broadcasters to manufacturers, really gathers fans around ‘green’ in a way that no other sport has had the opportunity to do because we are different fans from baseball and basketball and hockey because the team has the passion and the focus. In our case, the league level platform has a unique opportunity literally because of the mental framework of fans in the first place."
What NASCAR has done is incredibly rare in the sports world. With such a large fan base, the sanctioning body has turned a sport that has the potential to harm the environment, and has now made it extremely 'green.' NASCAR launched the Race to Green program in 2013 with the hopes of growing their sustainability, and that they have done. Besides joining forces with race teams, NASCAR has encouraged their partners to participate in NASCAR's Green initiative. It is bringing Fortune 500 companies together more than any other sport, and are doing so for an outstanding cause.
Here are some examples of what NASCAR's partners are doing this month:
-Toyota will be pacing the Richmond Sprint Cup Race this month with a Camry Hybrid; Ford had a Ford Fusion Hybrid to pace the Sprint Cup race in Martinsville and a Fusion EcoBoost as backup pace car for the Martinsville race weekend.
-Coca-Cola Recycling will be activating recycling efforts in Texas, Darlington, and Richmond.
-Featherlite Trailers will plant 200 trees for every Featherlite Trailers NSCS driver win during the month of April
-Freightliner will plant 400 trees for every Freightliner NSCS driver win during the Race to Green platform
- 5.11 Tactical will be producing & providing 300 NASCAR Green patches for use on Officials Uniforms during the Green Platform window.
- 3M will be supporting the 2014 Tree Planting efforts.
There are endless amounts of projects going on thanks to NASCAR Green, but the impact is greater than one might believe.
"We categorized where our initiative would really make a difference,” said Lynch, who was previously a professor at Purdue University. “Then, we also realized where we could have the most impact is where we had the initiative to make a change of the environmental impact for the fans that can literally take these things home with them and get involved. We weighed in the initiatives of recycling at tracks, the camp grounds (which is very much like curb side recycling), our emissions reductions initiative, our bio-fuels in the racecars, the renewable energy across the sport and those were all a part of the initial phase. All of that sort of set a foundation to give us the opportunity to do some call-to-action work to have direct fan engagement and participate in the initiative with us by recycling at the track – putting the bottles and cans in the recycling bins. Last year was our first year of the Race to Green initiative where we started from Earth Hour in early March to Arbor Day at the end of April with Earth Day in there as well."
"Last year was the first time we made a call-to-action. With the Arbor Day Foundation, and multiple of our corporate partners, last year it was 19 (partners) and this year it is about 30, you can donate a dollar to plant a tree in an area of natural disaster that caused devastation in the U.S. We forest that area and also, when you plant a tree that lives its full life, it stores about a metric ton of CO₂ which is the amount generated by one of our Sprint Cup cars driving a 500-mile race. We issued that call-to-action last year, and the total from the tree planting was about 189 thousand, and we are replicating that this year with the Virginia Department of Forestry to place a lot of trees each year as well. Now, in later years, for our call-to-action, we will be adding in a contribution to the renewable energy in the U.S. Bringing household products and energy products in the sport will bring energy proficiency management. We will take steps over the next few years to engage fans on what they can do to reduce the amount of environmental impact that they can do in addition to driving a more fuel efficient vehicle that our manufacturers are producing."
However, NASCAR's off the track initiative is not the only thing they are doing to make the sport sustainable. Since the launch of NASCAR Green in 2008, the importance of this campaign has grown to unbelievable levels. The most abundant gains, however, have been on the race track.
NASCAR's Sunoco E15 fuel blend has been a leader for innovation. It has brought cleaner gasoline to the sport, and has also brought more partners into NASCAR than imaginable. Over the past several seasons, Kenny Wallace, Mike Bliss, Tayler Malsam, Jeff Burton and Austin Dillon have each been sponsored by American Ethanol and other 'green' friendly companies such as G-Oil or Family Farmers. This initiative has brought great partners to the sport, and what goes into NASCAR's new fuel combination might surprise you if you do not already know.
"It is actually pretty simple,” explained Dr. Lynch, who has been a large part in launching this oil, which is the world's most visible biofuels program. “It is Sunoco Green E15. It is 85 percent high octane unleaded gasoline from Sunoco. Then, it is 15 percent of American grown, American made ethanol produced here in the U.S. from corn grown here in the U.S. Ethanol, being a high-octane bio-fuel, actually increases the octane even further because ethanol has an average octane level of over 105 to 113 which is why we end up with higher horsepower in the cars with this high performance bio-fuel. There is actually a very simple formula to it. It is high-octane, high performance racing gas that Sunoco is creating (and they are truly the world experts at race fuel production), combined with 15 percent of American grown and made ethanol that Sunoco actually produces in their plant in upstate New York.”
But why is this fuel better than using regular racing gasoline? It is actually quite compelling.
"There are a few reasons. One is that by using 15 percent renewable fuel, you end up with a life cycle green house gas reduction of about 20 percent because the ethanol is produced in a state-of-the-art process. It is ‘greener’ from a green-house initiatives standpoint. Then, the performance benefit of it is literally eight to 12 horsepower as a result of having it. The reason of that is, based on a physics and performance standpoint, is that because ethanol’s octane creates a smoother blend which makes a clean burn. There is a lesser chance of irregularity of the pistons. What you get is – a very elegant, powerful motion in addition to lesser greenhouse gas emissions. You get sort of a maximum combo of a greener fuel. It is renewable, so you can grow the 15 percent out of the ground again. And you get added horsepower which translates to the performance of the cars which is something drivers have commented on since the beginning."
With an increase in horsepower has also caused controversy. So much controversy that NASCAR is planning on taking out approximately 75-100 horsepower over the next year or two to reduce speeds. However, Lynch said that a change in horsepower has little to no effect on the environment because of what the cars are producing is still the same.
A reason that this has occurred is because of the addition of Electronic Fuel Injection, otherwise known as EFI. Introduced during the 2011 Daytona 500, EFI has had a giant impact on the sport. Not only has it modernized the Sprint Cup Series, but it has increased the sustainability of the sport. However, it is still not present in the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series or any of the developmental divisions. Instead, the lower tiers of NASCAR use carburetors. Part of the reason is because it will save the lower funded teams plenty of money, helping them survive in the sport.
"Fuel injection is one where, like a lot of new aspects of the racecars, because of the cost implications of launching something new and because of the consciousness that NASCAR has of the sport with, and on behalf of the teams in the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series and the developmental series to cost effectively compete. We need to make sure these folks continue to make a profit in what they are doing. These are all family businesses and they are the life of the sport. When something new like Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) comes in that has a cost component that needs to be managed and worked through with the learning curve over time, it is something that takes a lot to get started in the Cup Series."
"Then, as the learning curve is worked through and the cost is worked through, then it can be implemented into the other series and divisions. In this particular case, there was a bit of a timing issue as well because you might recall that EFI came in not long after we launched Sunoco Green E15 in the 2011 Daytona 500. EFI, when we talk about integrating to new partners, the complexity was being best handled at the Cup Series level from the start. A lot of what EFI is about is it automatically, with fine-penciled precision, dials in an air to fuel mixture that maximizes the efficiency of the engine. That is particularly important when you are dealing with a bio-fuel blend. If you get that air to fuel mixture right, and you get it adjusted to keep it optimized, then that explains why you get more horsepower from the biofuel blend and no hiccups with excellent results. Do they get that program to where it can be implemented in the Nationwide and Truck Series teams without negatively impacting them to make a living? That was really the logic that was going on there because everyone knew it was going to be something that would have technical bumps to go through, so start with the Cup Series teams was the thinking."
Another amazing innovation which NASCAR has created is the Air Titan. Everyone knows how dreary it can be to wait in the rain at a race track. After all, we all want to see a race - that's the whole point of going to the track. After the long, drawn out process of using the jet dryers, NASCAR Green has helped create the most state-of-the-art track drying process there is.
NASCAR is different from most other forms of motorsports since the cars do not race in the rain. Well, they do every now and then, but that is extremely rare and must be at a road course. The Air Titan has shaved more than enough time to get races in on the same day, saving fans another night at a hotel, or missing a day of work and/or school. However, there is a lot more that goes into the Air Titan than one can imagine.
"Well, you can imagine that anything where precision applies, a sheet of heated air, there are a bunch of different things that you can do with that – whether it is on the racing surface or otherwise. The focus of the R&D team and the focus on the rollout of it are to get the tracks dried faster and get back to racing sooner and get races in on the same day or evening. The fans in particular make a huge investment to come out to the track to see a race. If they don’t get to see a race that same day, that is a huge impact, and NASCAR knows that. The Air Titan, the original and 2.0 versions were designed to deliver to the families and fans that come to the track to maximize the opportunity to know that they are going to go to the track and know they are going to see that race. As you may imagine, when you are leaning in with mother nature like that, that is a tough challenge. That is where our team really focuses to define how to get the tracks dry as fast as possible and refining the implementation of this system of exactly how it is used and whatever fine tuning is needed to be done to any part of it. Anything that can be done to shave five to 10 percent off of the margin of the time is a huge impact for everybody. It requires the full focus of the team. The complications of the Air Titan right now are just not as important as making sure that the actual track drying process is completely optimized with every opportunity we use it to put the cars back on the track."
Wait, but there is a lot more. There are plenty of physics and mathematical equations which the NASCAR Research and Development team must conduct in order to truly define what is needed to dry a track as quickly as possible.
"It was along the lines of practicing the best products along with a lot of R&D development. It went all the way back to the concept of this team, before the version one came along, there was an enormous amount of conceptual work done to figure it out like ‘what is a track surface?’ And it actually is a very complex surface area at a microscopic level. How does water behave on the surface? It is really hard to understand this in terms of a physics and math standpoint. How does water evaporate exactly? How do you maximize the speed of having water evaporate? Because in the end, that’s what we are trying to do. You have a complex surface area. There are millions and billions of little craters in there where water can go, or little channels that they can go down. How do you tackle all of that with a machine that can be built cost effectively, that can be used straight forwardly to be transported to 38 locations a year, will have a reasonable amount of maintenance throughout the year and that will be as ‘green’ as possible," Lynch said as he elaborated on what the Air Titan does better than the jet dryers.
"You can imagine the white board sketching that goes on. Dozens of experts were tabbed with the enormous amount of prototypes that we were testing. The versions of the development of the one we are using now made us have to go back to the beginning and ask – ‘what is the track surface? How does water behave on it? How can you tackle it?’ Then, in order to get to that point, we had to create a machine to spread water out as much as possible to let it evaporate as quickly as possible into the air. What are the ways that you can speed that up and have that optimized to run an entire solution package? It is the same kind of logic that goes into building any kind of system. 3M engineers will give you the same way that they develop products for 3M that are very much the same type of any complex equipment that any complex solution company makes something work. Getting from here to Mars creates some of the renewable energy that uses amazingly complex systems. A lot of those engineers would walk you through the same process that I just walked through here that our R&D team goes through in Concord, NC."
While NASCAR is seemingly happy with the development of the Air Titan 2.0, there is plenty more that they want to do in the future. Anything and everything that can make the Air Titan cleaner and faster is on the table. Obviously, it will not always work just like what happened at Texas, but it certainly increases the chance of getting a race in on the same day if there is inclement weather in the area.
The greatest part of this initiative is how hard everyone is working to get the job done. It does not matter if companies are competing against each other in the marketplace - they just want the world to be a better place.
“Sprint consistently is encouraging fans to recycle their used phones with recycling at the tracks. I know Mike touched on Coca-Cola recycling. Safety-Kleen recycles all of the race used oil. We have a lot of partners consistently working each race weekend with the sport," added Brad Klein, Manager of Business Communications for NASCAR.
So, how can fans help out? Well, it is quite simple. Participate at the track and at home. NASCAR Green has plenty to look forward to in the future, and you will certainly see that as time rolls on. For now, however, show support of NASCAR's partners such as Safety-Kleen with their at-the-track oil recycling, Sprint's used phone recycling, track initiatives of planting trees, the work of Toyota to help show why hybrid cars are supportive of sustainability efforts and dozens of other activities and projects which NASCAR has started.
After seven races, the young NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is now well underway. The level of competition has proven to have been dramatically improved from a 2013 season in which NASCAR received much criticism for a lack of passing.
This year, there has been only one race which has had fewer passes for the top position compared to last year, and that race was Las Vegas with one less pass for the lead this year. Clearly, NASCAR's new aero package is working well. However, NASCAR wants parity, and they have that. But something is missing, and that is the reward for consistency - something that helped a driver win championships until this season.
Last season, there were seven winners throughout the first 10 races. However, it was not so much easier for a driver to dominate a race, but a car simply had a lot more speed at the front of the pack over racing for position which was a part of why there was a lack of passing.
Jeff Gordon, the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, currently leads the points standings. It is the first time that Gordon has been atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings since the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 - 174 races ago.
NASCAR plans on awarding victories once the Chase for the Sprint Cup starts in September. However, just for the sake of an argument - what the heck happens if Gordon has a giant points lead with limited finishes outside of the top-10, but he has no wins? He would make the Chase, yes, but he would be put back a drop because he wouldn't have any bonus points from wins.
Fortunately, NASCAR's new championship format will actually benefit Gordon, or any other driver that is high in points, if they were not to have any wins at the time of the Chase cutoff at Richmond.
What NASCAR has done is actually great for the sport. A playoff based system that is being compared to the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, or several other major sport's playoff formats for that matter, has entered NASCAR. If a driver finishes very well (without winning) during the multiple elimination rounds - a driver can win the championship.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Gordon's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, would have edged out their partner in crime, Jimmie Johnson, last season if this new system were in place. NASCAR has aimed for awarding drivers for wins, and that they are doing, but consistency still plays a factor. However, as long as a driver such as Gordon continues to run up front, they will get a win.
Through the first seven races this season, Gordon has five top-10 finishes, and no finish worse than 13th at Auto Club Speedway. He is showing everyone that even though NASCAR wants drivers to have wins to get into the Chase, there will likely be a handful of slots open to drivers that do not have wins. Having the points lead, or being within the top-10 at Richmond without a win should lock a driver into the Chase.
By then, most of the top-10 in points should have wins. However, there will be a few exceptions to that such as in 2013 where Clint Bowyer, Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Gordon did not have any wins come Richmond, but were high enough in points to continue on - competing for the championship in NASCAR's version of the playoffs.
Gordon has been extremely close to winning a race this year. He finished runner-up to Joey Logano at Texas due to a risky move by his crew chief, Alan Gustafson, and has led 67 laps to begin the year. Although there is room for improvement (as there always is in any sport), Gordon is extremely close to scoring his 89th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.
Michael Waltrip is known for his humorous character. However, he has notably taken his one-of-a-kind personality to help develop Michael Waltrip Racing from a marketing standpoint.
Over the past few years, MWR has teamed up with partners such as Five-Hour Energy, Aaron's and NAPA to create some interesting TV-spots. This year, with Brian Vickers driving the No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota on a full-time basis, the organization is working with Aaron's on a brand new commercial.
Vickers is not known for his television skills like Waltrip. However, over the years, Vickers has done multiple commercials, albeit not as outstanding as Waltrip's which have gained notoriety amongst his peers.
This commercial features Vickers in a bathtub - yes a bathtub. Then Waltrip, his boss and two-time Daytona 500 champion, shoves his way through a crowd of teenage girls - showcasing his comical point-of-view. It might be far fetched, but what commercial with Waltrip has not been one that catches the eye of race fans? He even teamed up with Mark Martin over the past two years for some commercials with Aaron's.
The commercial is a part of Aaron's “Own the Life You Want” campaign. This campaign puts a greater emphasis on how “Aaron’s makes owning easy through lease ownership, so you can own the life you want.” Vickers earned his first top-five finish of the 2014 season at the Texas Motor Speedway this past weekend, and continues to improve in his return to full-time racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
They started off the season by taking home a win in the biggest race of the season. They followed that up with a second place finish in Phoenix and then a sixth place finish at Las Vegas. Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the rest of the Lowes No. 48 team have already begun to prove that they are going to be the team to beat, and we are only heading into the fourth race of the season.
After barely missing out on his 6th championship last season, everyone in the racing industry knew that Johnson, Knaus and their crew were going to be fighting harder than ever to not let that happen again. With Johnson’s recent luck at Super Speedways, it was quite a shock to see him win the Daytona 500; his first with Crew Chief Knaus. He had the highest running average out on the track: 5.0. The only one who came close to that was pole sitter Danica Patrick. After a disappointing end in Homestead-Miami in 2012, it didn’t come as a surprise to see the No.48 team well ahead of everyone else in the new Gen.6 car.
During Daytona Winter Testing and even Speedweeks, Johnson was the only car to NOT run in the draft. He had absolutely no drafting practice in the new car until he took to the track for the Duels (he wrecked out early in the Sprint Unlimited). Many drivers and fans thought he was foolish for not getting out there and testing the limits of the new car, but for Johnson, his reasoning was simple: he didn’t want to ruin a great racecar. This is why he and Knaus are 5-Time Champions.
Johnson went from a win in Daytona to a runner-up finish in Phoenix. He chased race winner Carl Edwards for the final 70 laps but just couldn’t close the deal. Johnson also partnered with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. and drove the No. 5 Great Clips Chevy for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series race. It was his first Nationwide Series start since 2011. The reasoning behind this decision was simple: more track time. Since its reconfiguration, Johnson hasn’t performed as well as he would like to at Phoenix. He finished 12th in the Nationwide race and all of that extra track time ultimately paid off. Look for Johnson to make a run for the win when they return in November.
Las Vegas was no different. Although he didn’t finish in the top-5, Johnson still had an impressive showing in Sin City. Johnson led 66 laps during the Kobalt Tools 400 and looked like he might just take his Kobalt sponsored Chevy to Victory Lane once again. Johnson didn’t fall out of the top-5 until the closing laps of the race after a few late cautions caused him to fall just outside the top-5. Matt Kenseth went on to win followed closely by Hendrick teammate Kasey Kahne: Johnson finished 6th.
Can Jimmie Johnson’s top-10 streak continue at Bristol this weekend? It’s definitely possible, but not entirely likely. Bristol ranks in the bottom four tracks for Johnson in NASCAR’s driver rating system but he has performed well there lately. His last win was in 2010 and he has recorded a few top-10 finishes since. While Bristol might be a bit of a challenge for the No. 48 team, don’t look for Johnson to be slowing down at all. He is more than ready for that 6-pack of Championships and if his season ends anything like it’s starting, I can see him holding up that shiny Sprint Cup Series trophy in Homestead-Miami.