Posted on: February 29, 2012 5:15 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 5:17 pm

Kevin Conway helps solve hit and run case

By Pete Pistone

A tragic hit and run accident outside the Chicago area forever changed the lives of the Lech family.

But in a small way NASCAR driver Kevin Conway has helped the family cope with the grief of losing a loved one by helping identify the man who killed Melissa Lech.

Conway and the Nemco Motorsports team started featuring local missing persons cases on the back of his car in 2011 as a way to connect with NASCAR fans and the local communities supporting the races.

His car featured information about the Lech case when Conway competed at Chicagoland Speedway last September.

It led to David McCarthy to show up at Lech's sister's house in Joliet, Illinois and admit he was responsible for striking and killing the 20-year-old college student.

McCarthy said he had seen reports about the case on local news as well as information surrounding Conway's car during the September Chase opener held at Chicagoland Speedway.

He admitted his guilt and turned himself in as a result and Conway is thrilled his effort could help bring justice.

“We have so many fans around the country, millions of people watching on TV and thousands in attendance,” Conway told The Chicago Sun-Times. “We wanted to use the platform that NASCAR gives us to tie it back into the community.”

Conway did have a chance to meet the Lech family while in Joliet and hopes the arrest can bring closure.

“I’ve lost my sister and my father,” he said. “I know what personal grief is like. To know they will be able to work through it from this point forward.

“It’s kind of mixed emotions — I’m glad this worked but still feel for the Lech family and their loss.”

Conway hopes that other stories will also come from the effort.

“For us to play a small part in solving one of these cases and to help bring closure — it’s humbling, and it’s a great honor to be affiliated with that and to play a role in that,” Conway told the paper.

More NASCAR coverage
Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: February 29, 2012 4:40 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 7:05 pm

NASCAR right to come down hard on Chad Knaus

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(Illegal C-Posts at Daytona were the latest infractions on the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet - Getty)

Chad Knaus
is no stranger to being penalized by NASCAR. 

In fact this latest infraction and punishment would be the third time the Hendrick Motorsports crew chief got in hot water just at Daytona alone. 

Knaus was fined $25,000 and Jimmie Johnson hit with a 25 point penalty in July of 2002 when the 48 Chevy was found to have illegal rear trailing arms which dropped the back of the car lower to the ground. 

In 2006, Knaus was ejected from the track, fined $25,000 and handed a four-race suspension for installing an adjustable rear window to help the aerodynamics. 

Of course there are other examples of the Knaus ingenuity during his NASCAR career including a 2007 incident at Infineon Raceway for a body violation that resulted in a six-race suspension. 

He’s been relatively infraction free of late, at least in the suspension department, but last fall generated a lot of attention at Talladega when he was overheard instructing Johnson to “crack the back” of his car into the wall if he won the race because the rear end was too low to pass post inspection. 

So with that body of work already on his record, it’s no wonder NASCAR came down as hard as it did this time around with a six-race suspension, $100,000 fine and 25-point penalties in the driver and owner departments.

Such a repeat offender was bound to get the book thrown at him at some point.

“It certainly makes you scratch your head,” said NASCAR president Mike Helton when the Daytona inspection infractions were announced two weeks ago. “What we’ve learned over time is to, in the heat of the battle, try to accomplish what we immediately are after, which is to get all the cars inspected and get them on the race track and then sit back and kind of digest it all.

“But you do kind of scratch your head on a name that reoccurs.”

There’s a school of thought that believes Knaus is simply doing his job, trying to find that gray area where the NASCAR rulebook ends and ingenuity takes over.

NASCAR’s history is full of cheating incidents including the very first race the sanctioning body ever ran in 1949 when apparent winner Herbert Westmoreland's 1947 Ford was found to have illegal rear springs in post inspection and the victory was handed to second place Jim Roper.

But in order for the sport to have credibility there has to be a rulebook and NASCAR has to enforce said rules.

Since the advent of the “Car of Tomorrow” in 2007, NASCAR has made it clear the sanctioning body would not tolerate tampering of any kind with the Sprint Cup machine. The biggest and smallest names in the sport have all felt the wrath of NASCAR when the rules were compromised.

NASCAR has had no problem increasing those penalties over the years to get its zero tolerance point across.

"Now if this penalty won't stop it, we have no problems ramping up," Sprint Cup director John Darby said back when Knaus and fellow Hendrick crew chief were penalized in Sonoma. "We can keep going, and we will, until we get the results we're looking for."

Which is why this potential six-race time out for Knaus makes sense. A multiple time offender as he is, Knaus deserves more scrutiny.

Clearly the fines, penalties and suspensions that have come before haven’t impacted Knaus’ penchant for thinking too far outside of the box.

My guess is even this time around it won’t change that outlook.

But NASCAR is doing the right thing with this unprecedented disciplinary action.

And somewhere down the road when Knaus decides to hang up his crew chief uniform, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a job offer come his way in Daytona Beach.

More NASCAR coverage

Posted on: February 29, 2012 2:43 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 3:10 pm

NASCAR penalizes Jimmie Johnson's team

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(Johnson goes to this weekend's race in Phoenix with a -23 point total in the Sprint Cup standings)

NASCAR has suspended Jimmie Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus six races as part of penalties levied to the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team as a result of rules infractions found at Daytona 500 pre-inspection.

Additionally, Johnson was docked 25 driver points and the team 25 owner points while Knaus was fined $100,000.

Because of his 42nd-place finish in Daytona, Johnson now goes to Phoenix this weekend with negative 23 points.

NASCAR confiscated illegal C-Posts found on the Lowe's Chevrolet during the Feb. 17 inspection.

Johnson and car chief Ron Malec were placed on probation until May 9.

Hendrick Motorsports announced it would appeal the penalty imemdiately.

"Our organization respects NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body governs our sport,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “In this case, though, the system broke down, and we will voice our concerns through the appeal process.”

NASCAR has agreed to defer the suspensions until after the appeal process.

More NASCAR coverage

Posted on: February 29, 2012 1:00 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 1:18 pm

TV reporter suspended for Danica comments

By Pete Pistone

Remember Fox 5 San Diego sports anchor Ross Shimabuku, who implied a sexist slur about Danica Patrick on air last week?

He'll have an early spring break after being suspended for a week without pay by the station.

One of Shimabuku's on air reports last week made it clear he was no fan of Patrick calling "sexy and she knows it."

After cutting to a clip of the NASCAR star lamenting how sexy often seems to be the default description for female athletes, Shimabuku quipped that he had another word to describe her, one that "starts with a 'B'...and it's not 'beautiful.'"

Shimabuku's chaser to the piece was that Patrick "always has a chip on her shoulder, trying to prove something." 

About 24 hours after the video of his report went viral, Shimabuku released a statement of apology which read:

“I truly apologize if I offended anyone by those comments. They were not meant to be an attack on Danica.”

But by then the damage had already been done and managment chose to suspend the anchor.

Stay classy San Diego.

More NASCAR coverage

Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: February 28, 2012 4:50 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 4:50 pm

Daytona 500 delivers huge television audience

Posted by Pete Pistone

From News Release

It took 36 hours to complete from its scheduled start time but fans won’t soon forget the 2012 Daytona 500 and the dramatic events delivered for FOX Sports. For the first time in the race’s 54-year history, rain postponed Sunday's 1:00 PM ET start until 12:00 PM ET Monday with continued showers in the afternoon delaying the green flag until 7:00 PM ET.

  A total audience of over 36.5 million Americans watched last night’s race, according to fast national ratings issued today by Nielsen Media Research, making 2012 Daytona 500 the most-watched in FOX history. The 36.5 million total viewers, a measure of the audience that saw at least a portion of the race, is +22% higher than last year's total audience of 30 million and +22% better than 2010's 29.8 million. Yesterday’s total audience is the second best ever for a Daytona 500 on any network behind 37.0 million viewers in 2006 on NBC.

  FOX won the primetime night among Adults 18-49 and total audience figures, a significant achievement going up against original episodes of popular network programs like ABC’s The Bachelor, CBS’s How I Met Your Mother and NBC’s The Voice, which was -10% lower in the Adults 18-49 demographic last night than it did a week ago. The Daytona 500 on FOX posted a 4.6 and averaged 14.1 million viewers from 8:00 – 11:00 PM ET, making it FOX’s most-watched Monday night in 16 months, dating back to Game 5 of the 2010 World Series. 

  The 2012 Great American Race, which included a fiery crash caused when Juan Pablo Montoya hit a safety truck/track-drying engine and red flagged the race for over two hours, earned an 8.0/14 rating/share and averaged 13.7 million viewers. While down slightly from last year’s Sunday afternoon race that occurred without any significant delays, (-8%, 2011 Daytona 500 - 8.7/20), Monday night’s race was up +4% when compared to the 2010 event (7.7/16), which saw lengthy delays for pothole repairs to the track.

  Ratings for the 2012 Daytona 500 grew gradually through the first two and a half hours, climbing to an 8.2/12 (14.2 million viewers) in the 9:30 half-hour when the Montoya wreck occurred. Ratings grew further at 10:00 PM, peaking at an 8.8/13 (15.1 million viewers.) When the epic race concluded, Matt Kenseth emerged as the winner, capturing his second Daytona 500 victory in four years. 

  Top-rated markets for the Daytona 500 include: Greensboro (18.1/27), Jacksonville (18.1/27), Charlotte (16.7/26), Greenville (16.7/26), Dayton (16.1/25), and Orlando (16.0/26). Markets seeing the biggest growth from last year include: New Orleans (+46%, 7.3 vs. 5.0), Salt Lake City (+33%, 8.1 vs. 6.1), Ft. Myers (+30%, 15.5 vs. 11.9), San Antonio (+17%, 7.5 vs. 6.4) and Tampa (+17%, 12.5 vs. 10.7).

Daytona Speedweeks

Posted on: February 28, 2012 4:25 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 4:46 pm

NASCAR and Daytona up to the weekend's tests

By Pete Pistone

NASCAR and its host racetracks need to plan for just about anything every weekend of the racing season. 

But what was thrown at both the sanctioning body and Daytona International Speedway over the weekend had to be unimaginable for even those with the most fertile imaginations.

For the first time in its 54 year history, the Daytona 500 fell victim to Mother Nature’s wrath and was rained out. The postponement meant the biggest race on the NASCAR calendar was forced to move to the next clear day and Daytona had to be ready for the challenge. 

Getting ahead of the next day’s weather obstacles, which included another long day of rain before the skies finally cleared, and announcing the race would try for a 7 p.m. ET green flag proved to be a perfect call by NASCAR and the track. 

“The last thing we wanted to do was have our fans wait through another long day of rain delays and jet dryer activity, so we felt like this gives them some clarity so they can come up with their plans, and hopefully that means stay at home, stay at their hotel, rest, whatever it is they need to do and they can come out and enjoy the event this evening,” said speedway president Joie Chitwood III when making the announcement early Monday morning.  

But making sure the speedway was ready to accommodate whatever size crowd did show up for the rescheduled event provided another challenge for the track. 

“For us, we have to staff and be prepared that we're going to have a lot of folks show up,” Chitwood said.  “The last thing I would want to do is be understaffed, have a lot of folks show up and we can't take care of them properly.  We have to be prepared most of them are going to show up.” 

From the looks of the grandstands and infield Monday night most of those folks did show up and although some regular traffic issues were reported, overall the track passed the test with flying colors. 

But the tests didn’t end with rain and crowd control. An even more unexpected challenge arose when Juan Pablo Montoya collided with a jet dryer on track and sparked a fiery blaze that engulfed the entire third turn. 

Montoya’s impact erupted an inferno as more than 200 gallons of jet fuel burned wildly up the track surface and over the wall. 

Almost immediately safety crews were on the scene to battle the blaze and rescue both Montoya, who climbed from his car, and the jet dryer driver (Duane Barnes, a Michigan International Speedway employee brought to help with the 500) from the frightening scene. 

Track workers used heavy equipment to try to remove the burned truck without damaging the racing surface and after a two-hour red flag repairs were made and the race resumed.

And once again NASCAR and the speedway responded to another bizarre set of circumstances with flying colors.

“I'm very proud of the team in terms of what we were able to do,” said Chitwood.  “Obviously the last 48 hours were very challenging in terms of rain delays and trying to complete the 500 miles.  But what the team did today in terms of responding to a burning jet dryer on the racetrack, I think is phenomenal, and the fact that we got to finish the race under green is a heck of an accomplishment.  The team was prepared.  The expertise was there.  The training was there.  The teamwork with NASCAR was there.”

However after the parade of weird and wild events, NASCAR officials are no doubt wondering what could possibly top the happenings of Speedweeks 2012.

But they’re probably thinking hard about it.

“Well, you know, things do cross your mind, but you would think after 65 years and running all the races that NASCAR has run over the past six and a half decades that you've seen about everything, and a lot of what you've seen gives us the experience that causes us to have the safety summit and the training programs and everything,” said NASCAR president Mike Helton.

“But you do think about, oh, my gosh, if that can happen, what-else-can-happen-type thing.  That gives you pause to sit and try to figure out what might else could happen so that you can be as ready for it as you can.”

Thankfully NASCAR and Daytona were ready this weekend. 

Daytona Speedweeks

Posted on: February 28, 2012 12:36 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 2:06 pm

Tweeting in race won't cost Brad Keselowski

By Pete Pistone

Brad Keselowski
has embraced social media in a huge way. And his celebrated tweeting during Monday night's rain-delayed Daytona 500 won't land him in any hot water with NASCAR.

Keselowski took the unprecedented step of live tweeting from his car during the race providing his legion of followers, which reportedly grew by 65,000 during the race, with updates as things unfolded.

He tweeted up a storm during the nearly two hour red flag for Juan Pablo Montoya's fiery crash with a jet dryer on track before finally signing off when NASCAR had things ready to roll.

"Time to get back racing, thank you for following!," Keselowski wrote when the green was near.

There was speculation Keselowski may have unwittingly violated a NASCAR rule by bringing a recording device inside the cockpit of his car, something that is forbidden by the sanctioning body.

Some competitors pointed out that although Keselowski's interaction with fans brought a unique aspect to the night's proceedings, it wasn't exactly by the books.

"Yeah, I heard he was in trouble for having a recording device in his car," said Dale Earnhardt Jr. "But I think that's how Brad is, man. That's what he makes and what he enjoys.  I thought it was pretty funny."

However on Monday the sanctioning body issued a statement saying Keselowski did nothing to warrant any discipline.

"Nothing we've seen from Brad violates any current rules pertaining to the use of social media during races," read the NASCAR statement. "As such, he won't be penalized. We encourage our drivers to use social media to express themselves as long as they do so without risking their safety or that of others."

So the good news is perhaps this won't be the last time Keselowski or any driver brings along their cellphone for the ride.

Here's a snapshot of Keselowski's timeline during Monday night's red-flag delay:

Daytona Speedweeks

Posted on: February 28, 2012 12:10 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 12:18 pm

Daytona a rough debut for many drivers

By Pete Pistone

(Patrick and Busch got wadded up early in Monday night's Daytona 500 - Getty Images)

Monday's "Great American Race" was anything but great for a number of drivers making their Sprint Cup debuts with new race teams.

Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch, A.J. Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne made up one quartet that opened the season with disappointing results.

Patrick was swept up into her third crash of Speedweeks when she got clipped by Jimmie Johnson in the lap two melee that broke out on the frontstretch. She was credited with a finish in position 38even after coming back on track later with a severely damaged car to make some extra laps.

“Any lap that I turn is progression, that’s for sure,” Patrick said. “That’s why I was so proud of everyone working so hard. They were working hard to get me back on the track. Was there much to gain as far as position? No. What there was to gain was for me to get the experience of running out there. We ran in packs for a while. The car is a little bent up. Honestly, it didn’t feel perfect. So as it got later and later in the race, I didn’t want to have an influence on it. I didn’t want something to happen to it or break and shoot across the track."

Busch was also swept up in that early race altercation and like Patrick soldiered on later with a battered Phoenix Racing Chevrolet trying to make at least a statement for his new organization.

"It was important to not get a DNF for this team to show how much we're all in this together," said Busch. "Not what we wanted for sure but still proud of the effort."

Allmendinger capped a rough Speedweeks that included a crash with his teammate Brad Keselowski earlier in the week with a tough official debut for Penske Racing. Allmendinger's problems took place on pit road in one of the race's many bizarre twists.

“A tire fell off a car that was struggling in front of us on pit road, he stopped – and I ran into him,” a disappointed Allmendinger said.  “Our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger ran well and it was fast, but we have a 34th-place finish to show for it.  It (stinks) because the guys did a good job.  It was a just a frustrating night for us, but we’ll bounce back strong at Phoenix.”

Kahne is also hoping to have a better weekend in Phoenix, where he won last year for Red Bull Racing, than he did in Daytona. He too had issues on pit road when he sustain damage in an incident that was compounded when Kahne got involved in one of the two late race multi-car accidents.

"Disappointed for sure," said Kahne after finishing in position 29. "Still excited about this team though but ready to head to Phoenix."

Daytona Speedweeks
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com