Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Frontstretch Newsletter: Trent Owens Out as Aric Almirola's Crew Chief

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The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!
Sep. 14, 2016
Volume X, Edition CLX
What to Watch: Wednesday

- Today is penalty day in NASCAR and we have some takers.  First off, Martin Truex, Jr.'s car flunked the laser inspection after Saturday night's race in Richmond. There will also likely be a number of warnings.   We'll have a write-up for you later today at Frontstretch.

Wednesday's TV Schedule can be found here.

Top News
by the Frontstretch Staff

Drew Blickensderfer Named New Crew Chief for Aric Almirola

Tuesday, Richard Petty Motorsports announced that Drew Blickensderfer is the crew chief for Aric Almirola, effective immediately.  Blickensderfer replaces Trent Owens.  Read more

Have news for The Frontstretch? Don't hesitate to let us know; email us at with a promising lead or tip.

Today's Featured Commentary
This Time of Year
Professor of Speed
by Mark Howell
As I sit at my kitchen table writing this, looking at the clock on the wall beside the door, the memory hits me. It was on this day, at this very time, back in 1998, when my mother passed away. My older brother, his wife, and I were there in her hospital room when it happened. I witnessed her passing first hand since I happened to be sitting closest to her, holding her hand, when she took her last breath. That death "rattle" they write about in books and that you hear in movies? It's a real thing:  the body's response to that final moment when any remaining spark of life goes dark.

My brother and I spent the entire night before sitting by the reclining chair where our mother spent her last week; her recliner, which we brought from home to her hospital room, was more comfortable to her than the standard bed. It likely didn't matter too much since Mom was heavily sedated with morphine that final week. She loved sitting in her reclining chair because it was a reminder of home. That reclining chair was the place where, most every Sunday afternoon or Saturday evening, she'd watch whatever NASCAR race was being televised. Even when fighting a hopeless battle against the evils of cancer, Mom insisted on watching NASCAR events.

As professional sports went, NASCAR was the best in her book. 

The events of that week leading up to Mom's passing have become, for the most part, a blur. My mom died back in 1998, so Father Time has been able to erase some of the minutia. What can never be erased by the ravages of time or aging is the fact that my mom was a lifelong, diehard, committed-to-the-end-bitter-end citizen of NASCAR Nation. My mom loved watching racing on television, she loved attending races in person, and she made it a point to visit every driver appearance that ever passed through Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Given that Pocono Raceway was only about forty miles from our front door, she had plenty of opportunities to publicly support her sport.

And her love of stock car racing went above-and-beyond the events at Pocono. My mom enjoyed driving an hour to the north to watch Saturday night short track shows in Owego, New York at what was then called Shangri-La Motor Speedway (later known as Tioga Motorsports Park). Mom, dad, and I would sometimes meet up with relatives at the nearby "Golden Arches Supper Club" (also known as McDonald's) for burgers and bench racing before the night's full schedule of events. It was from the grandstands at Shangri-La that my mom watched soon-to-be Sprint Cup regulars like Jimmy Spencer and Brett Bodine go wheel-to-wheel and nose-to-tail against regional legends like George Kent and future NASCAR Hall of Famers like the late Richie Evans.

The final activity I shared with my mom, just one day before a sig
nificant setback that would result in her final hospitalization, was watching the 1998 Brickyard 400. Mom insisted on being released from the hospital with enough time to get home, make a pot of coffee, and watch the race. Maybe it's appropriate that, on the night before her passing, as she sat comatose in her recliner, my dad and I stole away to the day room in the cancer ward. We tried to retrieve a bit of normal life from amidst the sadness by watching some of the Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 at Richmond. Eventual winner Jeff Burton battled fiercely with runner-up Jeff Gordon in one of those classic Ford versus Chevrolet fights to the finish.
Mom would have been thrilled to see Burton's Roush Racing Ford win the Richmond race, but she was engaged in a fierce battle of her own at the time.

Looking back at the finishing order from that night, I see lots of familiar and rather special names. Our family always had a pretty good connection to the Bodine family, and there – in the race results – are the names of all three brothers. My mom and I met a very young Geoffrey Bodine back in 1971 when he was driving a USAC stock car at Pocono, and I had the chance to work with Brett during his Modified days at Shangri-La, so Mom always kept a close eye on the boys and their kid brother, Todd. Mom's all-time NASCAR favorite was Bill Elliott, who lost an engine that night in Richmond and finished 40th.

From where I sit, I can only wonder about what Mom would make of NASCAR Nation 2016. Not only do we have The Chase for the Championship and all of its feuding, fuming, and assorted idiosyncrasies, but we also have Chase Elliott, Bill's son, running for both Rookie-of-the-Year honors as well as the Sprint Cup title.

Chase was little more than a toddler back in 1998 when my mom cheered for his Hall-of-Fame-bound father. I'm sure her loyalties to the Elliott family would still run deep.
My mom got to see Dale Earnhardt finally win the Daytona 500, but she was gone by the time The Intimidator, himself, passed away at the age of 49. I know the string of fatal accidents that took the lives of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Jr., and Tony Roper in 2000 would have shaken her to the core, as it did all of us who watched these tragic events unfold.
As such, I can say with absolute certainty that Mom would approve wholeheartedly of the safety developments that came from Earnhardt's death in 2001. Her issue, I know, would be the fact that NASCAR waited so long, given the events of 2000, to make so many necessary changes to both race cars and retaining walls.

A change not getting my mom's approval, however, would be the closing of Shangri-La Motor Speedway in 2005. Racing, to her, meant much more than a gravel mining operation.
I think about my mom every fall when Cup cars race at Richmond. Her passing has grown less painful with each season, but her memory never fades. Mom's life was a good one made better through her devotion to NASCAR. The sport added some extra purpose to her life, a purpose she could happily share with the rest of her family.

And if I've learned anything from all those years around my mom the NASCAR fan, it was that a person's life is greatly improved by having a purpose. In my mom's case, that purpose traveled nose-to-tail and door-to-door at better than 170 miles per hour…

Dr. Mark Howell is a Senior Writer for Frontstretch.  He can be reached via e-mail at

as told to Joseph Wolkin

by Amy Henderson

compiled by Aaron Bearden

by Dustin Albino


Q: In 2012, Josef Newgarden was a rookie racing for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in an Angie's List-sponsored entry.  At Sonoma, Newgarden was running well until his day suddenly ended in the Esses.  What happened?

Check back Thursday for the answer, here in the Frontstretch Newsletter!

Tuesday's Answer:

Q:  This weekend, Formula One returns to Singapore.  Over the years, there have been some unusual instances there, such as a man wandering onto the track and causing a safety car last year.  However, the inaugural Grand Prix in 2008 was very controversial.  Why?

A: On lap 14, Nelson Piquet, Jr. spun and hit the wall by himself, bringing out the safety car.  This safety car was very convenient since teammate Fernando Alonso had just pitted.  It put Alonso towards the front after everyone one made a stop.  From there, Alonso raced himself to victory.

Later, after being dropped from the team, Piquet alleged that the Singapore crash was intentional, forced upon him by Renault team management so that Alonso could gain an advantage.  The resulting "Crashgate" scandal that resulted led to the departure of Flavio Briatore from Formula One, originally under an indefinite ban (the ban was overturned by a judge and eventually became something along the line of the NCAA's Show Cause rule).
In The Frontstretch Newsletter:
We'll have any news that breaks in the world of NASCAR, plus a look at NASCAR Southern Speed: The Legend of Darlington in the Critic's Annex.

Toni Montgomery returns with her weekly look at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, Nitro Shots.
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