Friday 5: A new way of thinking about NASCAR’s future?

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When examining NASCAR’s future are most people looking in the wrong direction?

There are those who say the schedule — 36 points races, two non-points races and the Daytona qualifying races in a 41-week stretch — is too long.

Maybe it’s not enough.

So said Brad Keselowski earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

While some says less is more for the sport, Keselowski suggests that the Cup schedule should have 50-60 races a year and no weekend off in the summer.

His plan is this:

Cup should race on Sundays and the middle of the week from February to early October (instead of ending the season in November). Keselowski also says that no track should host more than one weekend race. So, a track with two dates would get a weekend date and a midweek date.

One thing he notes is that any midweek race should take no more than three hours, meaning a number of races likely would need to be shortened

Keselowski’s idea is a novel concept and presents a new way of thinking when looking ahead in NASCAR. It’s always good to be forced to look at issues in different ways. But there are many challenges to his plan.

One question is what about the costs to teams. It would be easy to see teams saying such a schedule would cost them too much with the additional travel, expenses of preparing cars and repairing cars for example.

“The race teams will adjust, they’ll figure it out,’’ Keselowski said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Here’s what most people don’t understand. When a car owner complains about money, almost every race team out there has 20 or 30 engineers that don’t build the cars that make good wages and are smart people. What that tells me is they’ve got money and they’re just deciding to allocate it.’’

That might be a harder sell to teams. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing and chairman of the Race Team Alliance spoke during All-Star weekend about cost to teams.

“It’s a joint concern, so it will be a joint solution to come up with how it works,’’ Kauffman said of working with NASCAR. “To get something like that in place will require quite a bit of collaboration.’’

Another concern would be tracks. A reason why there hasn’t been a midweek race yet is because a track executive has not volunteered to be the first.

The challenge with a midweek race is that the track likely won’t draw as many fans. Track officials note that they still have a significant percentage attend their races traveling from a few hours or more away. Not as many of those fans would probably make such a trip in the middle of the week. That could be lost income for the tracks.

Those are just among some of the key issues. It is a tangled web of trying to appease, teams, tracks, media partners, sponsors and fans as NASCAR forges ahead.

While there are many challenges to Keselowski’s plan — making it seem unlikely — that doesn’t mean such thinking should be immediately dismissed. Keselowski could be right in that bold thinking is what the sport needs as it looks ahead.

2. Kyle Busch could have company

While Kyle Busch became the first driver to win at every Cup track he’s competed with his Coca-Cola 600 victory, a couple of other drivers are not far behind.

Kevin Harvick has won at all but two tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Kentucky (0 for 7) and Pocono (0 for 34).

Jimmie Johnson has won at all but three tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Chicagoland (0 for 16), Kentucky (0 for 7) and Watkins Glen (0 for 16).

3. Back in the Day

LeBron James made his eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance Thursday night. The last time he wasn’t in the NBA Finals was 2010.

That season in NASCAR:

Jimmie Johnson was on his way to a fifth consecutive Cup title.

Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Charlotte fall race.

Denny Hamlin won a series-high eight races.

Kevin Conway was Cup Rookie of the Year.

Joey Logano had just turned 20 years old.

Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series title.

Kyle Busch won 13 of the 29 Xfinity races he started.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was Xfinity Rookie of the Year.

Kyle Larson finished 10th in the Chili Bowl Nationals (Cole Whitt was second to winner Kevin Swindell).

William Byron wouldn’t turn 13 until November of that year.

4. France Family Group adds to portfolio

In a recent SEC filing, International Speedway Corp. stated that the France Family Group owns 74.11 percent of the combined voting power of common stock.

The France Family Group owned 73 percent, according to ISC’s 2016 annual report.

The France Family Group owned 72 percent, according to the ISC’s 2015 annual report.

As a comparison, Bruton Smith and son Marcus own 71 percent of Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s common stock. They owned 70 percent, according to SMI’s 2016 annual report.

5. A year later …

There will be much talk this weekend about how Jimmie Johnson has gone a year — it will be a year on June 4 actually — since his last Cup victory, the longest drought of his career.

But something else to ponder: In the last 36 races (a full season’s worth), Toyota has 19 wins, Ford has 12 and Chevrolet has five.

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Kevin Swindell back in Tulsa for Chili Bowl in new role as team owner

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The passion, will and body are all still there. But lingering recovery and rehabilitation make it impossible for Kevin Swindell to climb back into a race car just yet.

Even so, Swindell is back in Tulsa, Oklahoma this week for the 30th Chili Bowl Nationals. But this year, Swindell – who has placed in the top-2 each of the last six years – will not be racing, as he continues to recover from severe lower back and spinal cord injuries suffered in a sprint car race last August in a race at the Knoxville Nationals.

Despite his injuries and recovery, Swindell will be involved in this year’s race in a different capacity, that of team owner. He and partner Bernie Stuebgen have joined forces to campaign the No. 39 car, to be driven by Kevin Thomas Jr.

“I mean, it’s a lot of fun,” Swindell said in a press conference on Monday. “You definitely want to race after being on the podium those six years in row. It’s tough to not even be able to get into a car, but it’s fun to be a part of this however you can be.

“I definitely wanted to do everything I could to be as involved as I could. I was hoping I would heal enough to maybe jump in, but that didn’t happen quick enough. I’m just trying to enjoy it and maybe make somebody else get up there. If I can win as an owner, at least, would be fun.”

Added father Sammy Swindell, who has won the Chili Bowl a record 10 times, “It’s just something they put together and they got here with. It’s different for all of us, it’s a lot different for me, not being able to work with him on our car. I’m glad he could do it and hope he has a good time.”

The younger Swindell has gone through more than four months of physical therapy and rehabilitation to strengthen his back. He’s made great progress, but there’s still a significant journey ahead.

“It just depends on what heals,” he said. “I’ve got a lot back, but I haven’t got enough back yet to do it properly.”

Still, it’s clear by his words and actions that Swindell is itching to get back into a race car, even one that may have some modifications to make it easier on him.

“We’ve got the hand control stuff in my car over there right now,” he said. “But it probably wouldn’t be very good on my back yet if I jumped in and tried to race now.

“But we’ll see where I’m at a few months from now. And if I have to do it with my hands, I’ll try like hell to do it with my hands.”

Swindell has received a great deal of support from not only the sprint car and midget community, but racers of all types and in various series, as well as fans, have been very supportive.

That support has come in a number of ways, including cards, emails and financially to help with the monstrous medical bills Swindell has and will continue to incur.

“It’s huge,” Swindell said. “This whole community really is one big family. They always say it, but until something like this happens, you don’t really see it.

“It’s amazing, the outpouring of everything and stuff that still happens to this day. The therapy and stuff and amount I have to go through is going to take ungodly amounts of hospital bills, so everything has been a huge help and hopefully I’ll be walking around here next year.”

Swindell acknowledges that what happened to him at Knoxville was so far from the norm. Yet at the same time, he’s helping to lead a charge within the sprint and midget world to make cars even safer, particularly for lower back injuries.

“Over the years, they’ve worked a lot on not breaking our neck,” Swindell said. “Nobody really looked at breaking the bottom of your back.

“That was one of the softest crashes of my entire career and it just landed right. It’s kind of a freak deal and you haven’t really seen it at all, but it’s something we’re looking at real hard to try and eliminate and make sure nobody else has to go through us.”

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Kevin Swindell recounts sprint car crash, recovery from injury in blog

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Kevin Swindell remembers everything about the sprint car crash that left him with fractures in his back and spine and the recovery process that came with it.

Swindell, 26, son of legendary sprint car driver Sammy Swindell, wrote about the Aug. 13 wreck at Knoxville Raceway the landed him in a helicopter flying to Des Moines Mercy Hospital for OneDirt.com.

The blog entry is Swindell’s second in as many months.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the blog post, as Swindell remembers “the worst year of my life.”

On what he remembers from the wreck:

“I remember being in the air. I remember landing. And most notably, I remember the instant realization that I couldn’t feel my legs. The idea of being still to not hurt yourself worse in a moment, when all you want (to) do is get the hell out, is excruciating.”

On the helicopter flight to the hospital:

“The guy that took care of me on the helicopter ride did a hell of job with what all he accomplished, while in the air, in preparing me and keeping me as comfortable as possible. He even offered to pull my suit off rather than cut it, to which I answered ‘they make more, cut away.'”

Swindell is still recovering from his injuries, but is enjoying the life he still has.

“I got engaged to my best friend and the girl who hasn’t left my side for more than a few hours since this happened, Jordan. She has been what’s kept the fight in me, when I wasn’t sure I had it. I’ve spent a good bit of time working with some people to hopefully make improvements in how we get drivers out of the car in bad situations. This is something that I hope will keep someone from ending up like me.”

Rico Abreu, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson part of Chili Bowl’s NASCAR list

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Last year Rico Abreu stood on top of his right rear tire and stared into the future after winning the 29th annual Chili Bowl.

That victory contributed to an invitation to join HScott Motorsports in the K&N East series and propelled him into the NASCAR ranks where he won his first race in Columbus, Ohio in July.

Last Friday, Abreu became the latest of six current NASCAR drivers to toss his name into contention to defend his title in the 30th running of the Chili Bowl, according to a press release from the track.

Abreu will join fellow NASCAR drivers Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson as they head back from the Winter Heat series held at Cocopah Speedway in Somerton, Arizona. This year’s Chili Bowl will begin on January 12th, three days after the five-day Winter Heat series wraps up.

Located near Yuma, Arizona, Cocopah is a natural place to race during the winter, but the Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma takes a little more preparation. This 1/4th-mile oval is constructed inside the Tulsa Expo Center and last year had one of the most expensive tractor operators of all time contributing to its creation.

Long-time Chili Bowl participant Tony Stewart essentially traded in his sprint car and instead spent the weekend aboard an earth-moving machine.

Stewart was the winner of the 2007 edition of the Chili Bowl and is part of an 11-year streak of NASCAR-related winners of this race. Former developmental drivers Tracy Hines, Tim McCreadie, Kevin Swindell, Sammy Swindell, and Bryan Clauson have won recent editions of the Chili Bowl. Hines started the streak in 2005. Damion Gardner won in 2008 and while he does not have any NASCAR starts, his car was owned by Jason Leffler that year.

Stewart also won in 2002.

The odds are good that a NASCAR connection will find its way into the A-Main again this year. Joining Abreu, Kahne, and Larson will be current NASCAR drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier, and Alex Bowman.

Even with that stout lineup of stock car stars, it will not be an easy path to the finale: More than 200 drivers are currently entered to take a bite out of the Chili Bowl.

Follow: @FantasyRace

Kevin Swindell ready to help others after his own devastating accident

(Photo courtesy Kevin Swindell official Facebook page)
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Nearly four months after suffering serious back injuries in a sprint car wreck, Kevin Swindell is letting his legion of fans know he’s doing well and continues his bid to come back from his injuries.

Swindell, 26, son of legendary sprint car driver Sammy Swindell, gives a first-person account of his journey from the incident to his current condition today in the first of several planned blog entries on OneDirt.com.

The younger Swindell was originally injured on Aug. 13 in a sprint car race in Knoxville, Iowa. His car was collected in a multi-vehicle wreck, flipped several times and hit a retaining wall before coming to rest on its wheels.

Swindell suffered several fractures in his back and spinal cord and underwent two surgeries over the following eight days at nearby Des Moines Mercy Hospital before being released.

Here are some rather poignant excerpts from Swindell’s first blog entry, courtesy of OneDirt.com:

“You could say I’m semi-paralyzed from the waist down. I can voluntarily kick both legs outward to a straight position. I can also lock out my knees enough to stand with a walker. I haven’t gotten any movement back in my ankles or feet to this point, but the doctors and therapists say that the upper leg comes back before the lower.

“Right now I go to therapy for two hours, three days a week. I also just added an extra hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays to try and get as much as I can.

“I spend 30 minutes or so standing with the help of my therapist. They place electrode pads on each muscle group of my legs. This helps them contract to strengthen them. It also serves as a method to try to activate the nerves, which could encourage them to wake them.

“They then harness me upright in a structure that helps hold some of my body weight over a treadmill, while someone on each side helps me move my legs for an hour or so.”

While dealing with his adversity, Swindell,, who also has 30 Xfinity Series start and one Sprint Cup start on his racing resume, is still maintaining a good spirit.

“I can’t say this doesn’t suck, because it does,” he wrote. “Though with the help of my fiancé, family, and a lot of great friends there hasn’t been much that I haven’t been able to do just three and a half months after breaking my back in two places and going through 16 hours of surgery.

“Therapy has now become the closest thing to a job I’ve basically ever had. When I was driving for my dad I had to be at the shop at certain time every day to work on my stuff.”

In addition to therapy, Swindell tries to keep his hand in racing by operating a thriving t-shirt production business.

He’ll will make a rare public appearance this weekend at the PRI motorsports industry trade show in Indianapolis. It will be another form of good therapy for him.

“I’m really looking forward to PRI,” he said. “I’m hoping to spend some time meeting with people to discuss how we can prevent what happened to me from happening to others.

“We’ve spent a lot of time worrying about our necks in Sprint Cars. It’s time to think about our lower back and realize that the driver is truly the only thing there is to give when a car lands flat on the frame the way I did.

“I had every piece of equipment to the newest standards you can get. From a HANS device connected to the best Arai helmet to a full containment Butlerbuilt seat with an insert under me I had everything. Yet one of the softest flips I’ve probably ever taken is the only one that’s ever hurt me.

“I don’t regret any portion of that night. I just hope that we can learn from it and move things forward to try and prevent it from happening to anyone else.”

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