NASCAR dominoes falling


Three NASCAR dominoes fell Friday with announcements that Gregg Biffle and Clint Bowyer have signed three-year contract extensions, respectively, with Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

And Casey Mears will leave Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season.

Mears' replacement likely will open another Cup seat, so the dominoes will keep falling.

FREE AGENT NEWMAN, POTENTIAL OWNER STEWART

The biggest free agent in Cup is Ryan Newman, who has told Penske Racing if his Dodge doesn’t pick up the pace he will leave to pursue a job with a championship-contending team.

That could be in a new fourth car at Childress, or with Tony Stewart if Stewart takes over the Haas CNC Racing team.

Stewart’s contract with Joe Gibbs Racing runs through 2009, but rumors and reports are that Stewart and/or Chevrolet are willing to buy out the remainder of his contract so he’s able to move to a team that will offer part or majority ownership. And it would be with Chevrolet.

Stewart, a two-time Cup series champion, has earned the right to control his future provided he fairly compensates Gibbs.

HENDRICK’S REVOLVING DOOR

In only his second season with Hendrick, Mears is being shown the door. It wasn’t Mears’ decision to leave Hendrick and it likely will happen before the end of the season once Hendrick decides who will be in the No. 5 Chevrolet next year.

Mears moved from the team’s No. 25 car — now the 88 driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. — to the 5 when Kyle Busch was booted last year. Busch, a winner of a Sprint Cup-best five victories since joining Joe Gibbs Racing this year, hasn’t suffered from his move.

Mears deserves a similar fate.

GIVE KYLE BUSCH CREDIT

You can’t say his Toyota is why Kyle Busch has won five times in Cup this year. Only one other Toyota has won a race.

And you can’t say it's Joe Gibbs Racing, because only Denny Hamlin (the other Toyota win) has taken the checkered flag this season.

It’s Busch and his team with crew chief Steve Addington who should be taking the bows. Mostly Busch.

OUTSIDE THE LINES

ESPN’s program “Outside the Lines” on Sunday morning will delve into the impact our struggling economy and gas prices are having on NASCAR. The show will air at 6:30 a.m. (PDT) and will include interviews with team owner Doug Yates, track operator Eddie Gossage and driver Kyle Petty, whose family gave up control of its racing enterprise to an equity firm last month.

We’re hoping some race fans are interviewed. The current crunch is hurting them more than most race team owners, who might not be winning races but aren’t losing money.

LATE SELLOUT

At 6 p.m. Friday New Hampshire time, I could have ordered at least two sets of 10 seats together for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Each seat was priced at $80.

A year ago the track, now owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., nearly ended its streak of sellouts that began in 1993. But then owner Bob Bahre announced its 25th consecutive sellout — including its spring and fall races — a few days before the race.

NHRA, POLICE INVESTIGATION

Within a few months of Darrell Russell’s death in a Top Fuel crash in 2004, the NHRA promised it would soon reveal the results of its investigation.

We’re still waiting for that information.

It has widely been accepted that rear tire failure caused the fatal wreck. An out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit filed by Russell’s wife seemed to reinforce the suspicion.

Because the recent death of Scott Kalitta was at an NHRA event in New Jersey, the NHRA released preliminary findings on Friday afternoon because New Jersey State Police began conducting its own investigation almost immediately once it determined Kalitta died at the scene.

The following is the unedited release distributed by NHRA:

GLENDORA, Calif. (June 27, 2008) – While still conducting its investigation into the details of last week’s tragic accident that took the life of driver Scott Kalitta, NHRA announced today some of its initial findings and subsequent steps being taken to continue its efforts to make the sport safer.

The loss of Scott Kalitta, a passionate champion driver and devoted family man, still weighs heavy on the hearts of everyone at NHRA, as we reflect on his many accomplishments and pass along our deepest condolences to his wife Kathy, his sons Corey and Colin, his father Connie, his cousin Doug, the entire Kalitta family and team, and all those he left behind.

It has been determined that a tragic series of events took place that fateful afternoon. An engine explosion near the end of the run resulted in separating most of the car’s body from the chassis. The car’s parachutes did not blossom, and the vehicle continued down the right side of the shut down area at a high rate of speed. It went off the top end of the track, up into the right catch net pole, and hit the television camera boom beyond the end of the sand trap before coming to a rest.

This sequence of events resulted in the passing of the two-time world champion and veteran second-generation driver.

The New Jersey State Police investigation team was on site the same day, working with NHRA officials as both conducted their investigation.

Once it becomes available, NHRA will analyze the State Police report for any additional information on the incident. NHRA also continued its own investigation by bringing mechanical engineer and accident reconstruction expert David McCandless, M.S. M.E., P.E., to the site. McCandless is an independent engineer with more than 15 years of experience in reconstructing vehicular accidents.

McCandless worked with NHRA officials, members of the Kalitta race team, and officers from the New Jersey State Police accident investigation team on site. McCandless examined and analyzed the vehicle, the track and other data, and his investigation is still underway. The Delphi technical team and Ford recovered and are analyzing the “Blue Box” data recorder data and NHRA is using this data and analysis in its investigation.

After its preliminary investigation, NHRA identified several areas to analyze and determine whether changes should be made to build upon the sport’s long standing safety record, given the inherent risks and ever-present dangers associated with race cars traveling a quarter mile at more than 300 mph.

Technical Issues to be Investigated

· Engine failure. NHRA, working with the Kalitta race team, has examined the engine, and will work with the Kalitta team and other teams to analyze what might be done to reduce such incidents in the future.

· Parachute materials. Since the parachutes did not blossom, NHRA will work with parachute manufacturers and suppliers and SFI to analyze parachute mounting techniques and materials. Even though fire does not appear to have prevented the chutes from blossoming in this situation, NHRA also will work with manufacturers and suppliers to identify a parachute material that could be more fire resistant.

· Brakes. Research will be conducted to explore whether there is a way to increase brake efficiency when cars lose downforce due to the loss of the body.

· Shutdown Area. In light of this tragic incident, NHRA is looking into the shutdown area. NHRA has requested data from FIA regarding design and make-up of runoff areas in other forms of motorsports to see if it has any useful application to the unique forces in drag racing. Together with the racing community and outside groups, NHRA will research and analyze catch nets and restraint devices that are used in other applications, including military applications. In addition, NHRA will analyze additional methods that might be developed at the top end of the race track to help arrest runaway vehicles, given the speed, mass and other factors synonymous with NHRA drag racing.

· Speed. NHRA has implemented many initiatives to enhance safety including measures to keep speeds from increasing, personal protective gear, vehicle improvements, and track enhancements such as sand traps, catch nets and concrete barriers the entire length of the drag strip. NHRA is considering whether current speeds should be further limited or reduced to potentially improve safety. To analyze this issue NHRA will develop a task force that also includes members of the racing community to evaluate how to reduce the speed of Top Fuel and Funny Car vehicles.

NHRA will continue to seek and welcome input from race teams on these and other issues in the coming weeks and months ahead. NHRA will release additional information from its ongoing investigation as it becomes available, as well as provide updates on the recently announced initiatives.