Commentary

In high-stakes game of NASCAR, no one bluffs better than Bruton Smith

Donald Trump has nothing on Bruton Smith. The Speedway Motorsports Inc. mogul is the gold standard for the American capitalist, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: November 27, 2007, 11:05 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Bruton Smith should compete in one of those high-stakes poker tournaments in Las Vegas. No one bluffs better than him.

[+] EnlargeBruton Smith
Rusty Jarrett/Getty ImagesBruton Smith paid $340 million for New Hampshire Motor Speedway -- a bargain by today's standards.

Not only is Smith keeping Lowe's Motor Speedway, he convinced the city of Concord, N.C., to give him $80 million in incentives to do it.

Clearly, the Speedway Motorsports Inc. mogul displayed his power and outmaneuvered city officials after they balked at his plans to build at drag strip at the facility.

Smith had everyone reeling by saying he would build a new speedway somewhere else in the Charlotte area and abandon the Concord track, which happens to be one of the best racing facilities in the country.

The chances of that happening were about as likely as NASCAR moving a Cup date to Iceland, but Smith is quite convincing when working a deal.

He managed to convince Bob Bahre to accept a lower offer for the New Hampshire track, although $340 million in cash is hardly pocket change. But it was about $20 million less than Kentucky Speedway officials were willing to pay Bahre.

Smith has a way of making you see things his way. It's all about leverage and using his financial assets to his advantage.

Donald Trump has nothing on Bruton. The man is the gold standard for an American capitalist. Never bet against him.

Rookie dilemma
As if it wasn't bad enough that a Cup regular won the Busch Series title for the second consecutive year, a Cup regular even won the Busch Rookie of the Year honors.

David Ragan, who raced in all 36 Cup events this season, was the Busch Series' top rookie. Ragan finished fifth in the Busch standings, posting nine top-10s and no victories.

But he also replaced Mark Martin this year in the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, finishing 23rd in the standings. He was the runner-up to Juan Pablo Montoya for ROY honors in Cup.

Here's a thought: How about we say you can't compete as a rookie in two NASCAR series at the same time?

The real Busch Rookie of the Year was Tasmanian racer Marcos Ambrose, who finished eighth in the standings and had six top-10s.

Speaking of Ambrose, he will compete in at least 12 Sprint Cup races next year for Wood Brothers Racing in the No. 21 Ford.

Good for him. He deserves it. The bad part is he wasn't signed to drive the car full-time. And it's sad that the legendary Wood Brothers team gives up on making the Chase before the season starts.

Record truck payout
The Craftsman Truck Series is NASCAR's version of Double-A baseball, but it sure pays better than Double-A.

Ron Hornaday Jr.'s championship year in the No. 33 Chevrolet team brought him $1,137,044 in season earnings, a series record. It's also $500,000 more than he earned with his first truck title in 1996.

Petty making the right moves
Petty Enterprises has a long way to go to return to past glory, but the Pettys are making some key moves that show the organization is headed in the right direction.

The team signed Jeff Meendering, the hottest young prospect in the Cup garage, to take over as crew chief for the No. 43 Dodge and driver Bobby Labonte.

Meendering, 30, was the car chief for Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 Chevy. He was Gordon's crew chief for six races this summer when Steve Letarte was suspended. Gordon posted top-10s in all six events.

Robbie Loomis, the vice president of Petty Enterprises, worked with Meendering when Loomis was Gordon's crew chief. Loomis knows he landed a winner in Meendering.

Hiring a young crew chief was the second major change Petty Enterprises has going for 2008. The operation is moving from the old family shop at Level Cross, N.C., to the heart of NASCAR's team area in Mooresville, N.C.

It was a tough decision to leave home, but a necessary one that will enable the Pettys to hire better personnel.

A Chase spot in 2008 might be a stretch, but finishing in the top 15 in the standings is a realistic goal. Labonte was 18th in 2007, the highest ranking for a Petty Enterprises car in eight years.

Montoya feels Alonso's pain
Been there, done that.

It's a good way to sum up Juan Pablo Montoya's take on Fernando Alonso leaving the McLaren F1 team.

"I understand where Fernando is coming from," Montoya told EFE, a Spanish news agency. "You cannot be where you feel bad. He never felt comfortable with the team, and the arrival of Lewis Hamilton made it worse."

Montoya left McLaren after the 2006 season following two volatile years with the team.

Alonso, a two-time F1 champion, was in his first year at McLaren, but left after a frustrating season. He watched Hamilton have a sensational rookie year and almost win the F1 title.

McLaren is a British team and Hamilton is a young Brit who became enormously popular as the season progressed. Alonso, who is Spanish, didn't get along with Hamilton and gradually became the villain in the eyes of the British fans.

Montoya didn't have to race with Hamilton, but he can relate to Alonso feeling like the bad guy at McLaren.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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