By Joe Dunn
This weeks craziness began late last week when the big story breaking Friday was Richard Childress Racing’s parking of NNS driver John Wes Townley. From there it just spiraled into late this week.
Townley wrecked the #21 Zaxby’s Chevrolet during practice at Phoenix International Raceway, and almost immediately after it occurred, it was announced that Clint Bowyer would be replacing Townley ‘as a precaution’. It’s no secret that young Townley has had a rough time since entering the series last year with RAB racing. Multiple crashes led to a reputation that the young driver could not escape, and RAB was struggling to replace wrecked cars.
The economic impact that has affected a lot of NASCAR teams hit RCR as Holiday Inn failed to resign for the 2010 season. Bringing the lucrative sponsorship of Zaxby’s secured the 21 car for young Townley, a deal many in the business scoffed at. It is no secret that Zaxby’s co-founder and CFO is John Wes’ father, so the call by Childress was a bombshell. The announcement from the team indicated that Townley was only being relieved on a temporary basis, but it didn’t take long before Jamie Little of ESPN announced on TV that she had been informed by a team member that Townley was in fact fired. A short time later, ESPN analyst Andy Petree echoed the point that Townley was gone. In short time, a statement from RCR confirmed that Townley was NOT fired, but a meeting with Townley was scheduled for Tuesday to discuss his schedule. It was rumored throughout the NNS garage that an RCR employee was fired for making the comment to Little.
While the media, including myself, was awaiting word on the Townley matter, early Tuesday JR Motorsports announced that Kelly Bires had been released from the NNS 88 car and NSCS regular Jamie McMurray was signed to run nine races in the 88 car. Shortly afterward, Tommy Baldwin Racing announced that Mike Bliss was released and Johnny Sauter would take over as the driver of the NSCS #36 Wave Toyota. Within minutes, Bliss revealed that he had signed a deal to return to Phoenix racing to take over the 09 car.
As writers and reporters scrambled to break these stories, even before all the facts were known, ESPN’s Marty Smith scooped everyone with the biggest news of the year. Smith announced that Hendrick Motorsports had signed Kasey Kahne to a long term contract beginning in 2011. No one had a clue and Rick Hendrick himself reacted with shock that Smith had uncovered the story. Taken so off track by the story, Hendrick still didn’t have all the details of how the transition would take place.
On Tuesday’s ESPN NASCAR Now, Smith was brought in to explain as much as he knew at that point of what was going on. Most of the media had to resort to simply quoting Smith on the facts. SpeedTv’s Race Hub show, had Darrell Waltrip on a phone call who resorted to unfounded speculation, which ended that report quickly and the show never again addressed what was obviously the biggest story of the day.
Finally Wednesday, Hendrick had a teleconference that broadcast live on Sirius Satellite radio, where Rick and Kasey answered as many questions as they could. Kahne is not scheduled to actually be in an HMS car, the #5, until 2012, at which time Hendrick announced that it was his responsibility to find a car/team/sponsor for the 2011 season.
So, with all this news, the Townley story has seemed to slip through the cracks. RCR did announce that Clint Bowyer would be in the NNS #21 car at Texas Motor Speedway, but promised updates on Townley’s status were never delivered.
That’s all for now folks, but keep your ears and eyes open as the Silly season is upon us in full force.