Brandon Davis, majority owner of what is now the essentially defunct Swan Racing. (Photo courtesy Swan Racing)

Too much, too fast, too soon: The sad saga of Swan Racing

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Brandon Davis did all he could to keep Swan Racing afloat. But even a multi-millionaire oil and gas industrialist can only bleed so much money before deciding to throw a red flag on the operation.

When anticipated funding and sponsorship failed to materialize, the two-team Sprint Cup operation sank so fast that Davis had no other choice but to essentially go out of business.

That’s what Davis told NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello in the most revealing and expansive explanation of why the two-car Swan operation failed, and why Davis was forced to sell or merge its two cars with other organizations.

“It went from a lot of fun to a nightmare in a matter of months,” Davis told NASCAR.com. “I’m not going to point my finger in any one direction. It was just the overall thing, probably adding two cars, etc. … There were challenges there.”

After Davis purchased the assets of Inception Motorsports in 2012, he continued to field a one-car operation in 2013 with several different drivers through the course of the season.

However, Davis had bigger aspirations for Swan in 2014.

After taking on minority investors/partners Anthony Marlowe and former NFL great Bill Romanowski, and then securing an investment/sponsorship deal with rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Swan grew to a two-car operation in 2014 with rookies Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt behind the wheel.

As both drivers struggled on the racetrack, so did efforts to attract sponsorship or additional investors. Little success on the racetrack isn’t exactly a great lure for companies to spend their money on. All the while, Davis tried to continue bankrolling the team from his own oil and gas company, Swan Energy (hence the name of the team).

But it quickly became much more of a financial drain than Davis anticipated, essentially twice the amount of what he spent on a one-car operation last season. Everything was doubled from 2013 to 2014, including cars, drivers, expenses, employees and overall costs. And when anticipated sponsorship failed to come through, things went from bad to worse in a hurry.

“It started in Daytona, and things that were supposed to happen didn’t,” Davis told NASCAR.com. “It kind of snowballed from there, I guess, and it kept getting worse, not better.”

While his race operation struggled, Davis’ energy company was experiencing growth and demands that took more of his time.

“From a time perspective, my company has grown a lot, even since January as far as Swan Energy, and my other oil company,” Davis said. “The time necessity, for what I needed to do and the time I needed to spend with the race team and working on it, I just haven’t had.

“So it kind of all came to a head the week before Texas, and that’s when we started trying to figure out what do we need to do to ensure as many people stay employed as possible, and to keep the cars on track.”

To his credit, Davis worked feverishly to find jobs with other teams for as many of his now-former employees as he could.

“My first mission was to make sure everybody had a job,” he said. “That was No. 1, and not just kill it and let them go figure it out for themselves.

“From that, we’re going to let the dust settle, I guess, and see. I don’t know. I can’t tell you (what his racing future – if any – holds).”

Davis turned over ownership of Whitt’s No. 26 Toyota to Marlowe, who merged earlier this week with BK Racing, going from a two- to three-car operation.

Whitt will continue driving the No. 26, competing in Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Meanwhile, Davis sold the No. 30 team – but without Kligerman as the driver — to John Cohen, owner of XxxTreme Motorsports.

With the sale, Kligerman is out of a job, as J.J. Yeley will drive the No. 30 Toyota starting this weekend in Richmond (the car number will switch back to XxxTreme’s former number of 44 starting next week at Talladega).

“Will I be around the track? Yeah, I plan on helping John as much as I can,” Davis said. “I like John, he’s a great guy, and I want to support him as much as I’m able to. So yeah, I’ll be around. As far as Swan having a race car on the track, at this point I have no loose plans, or any plans.”

XxxTreme has attempted to qualify for four races thus far this season, and failed to do so each time.

As for Kligerman, he’ll remain under contract to Davis for the meantime – although he doesn’t have a car to drive. But Davis is also giving the young driver the opportunity to explore any and all other options.

“For me, it just quit being fun,” Davis said of his ultimate decision to close up shop. “I just didn’t enjoy going to the racetrack.

“Whenever I got to the racetrack and didn’t enjoy it, that’s when all the thoughts started racing through my head of — what did I do here, and how do I fix it? … At the end of the day, this one (parceling off the two teams) kept the most people working and had the most cooperation from the other parties.”

When NASCAR.com asked Davis if expanding to two cars proved to be too much, too fast and too soon, his brief answer told the entire tale:

“Yes. Most definitely.”

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Tire woes leave Haas down the grid in Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo comes back onto the track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Tire woes throughout practice and qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix left Haas Formula 1 drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez down the grid ahead of Sunday’s race in Sochi.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas saw his eponymous F1 operation come back down to earth in China two weeks ago when its run of points finishes since debut came to an end.

Grosjean and Gutierrez arrived in Russia hopeful of getting back into the top 10, but both struggled to get temperature into their tires throughout qualifying.

Low temperatures and a green track surface hit all of the teams hard in Sochi, yet Haas seemed more affected than others as Grosjean and Gutierrez qualified 15th and 16th respectively.

“It’s been a complicated weekend so far for us,” Grosjean said. “We’ve been struggling with the grip and the car. It’s difficult to get the tire to work on such a smooth asphalt. We’re progressing, we’re learning and doing the most we can do.

“I still don’t have the feeling I used to have earlier in the season with the car. We really need to analyze that. Then tomorrow’s going to be a long race with a lot of fuel saving. The tires are hard to keep in the window, so it’s going to be challenging for everyone.

“Maybe we can try to be a bit more clever. Let’s do our best, let’s analyse and let’s keep having some interesting data. We’ll see where we are after the race.”

Gutierrez enters Sunday’s race still chasing his first F1 points since the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix, and admitted that Haas needs a few surprises to be in with a chance of reaching the top 10.

“Qualifying was pretty hard. It was difficult to get the tires to work here so it’s been a bit of a challenge,” Gutierrez said.

“I was doing my best, with all the options we have available, to maximize everything but I’m not really satisfied with the result.

“However, we still have a race to do tomorrow. Hopefully a few surprises may come our way that will give us a chance to be up in the points.

“It’s probably not going to be very straightforward, as the pace is not as good as we want it to be, but we will definitely push hard and do our best to get there.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Lowe: Mercedes let Hamilton down

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in the garage during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 technical chief Paddy Lowe says that the team let Lewis Hamilton down after he suffered a power unit failure for the second race weekend in a row during qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton was forced to start last in China two weeks ago after an issue on his power unit prevented him from posting a time during qualifying.

Although he did take part in both Q1 and Q2 on Saturday in Russia, a repeat of the issue on the same power unit meant that Hamilton could not run in Q3.

As a result, Hamilton will start 10th on the grid for the start in Sochi – and only if Mercedes makes no changes to his car.

While teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg was able to sweep to pole position, Hamilton was left to prepare for yet another fightback drive on Sunday.

“Our day has been tainted by a failure which deprived Lewis of a shot at pole – and deprived the fans of what would surely have been a thrilling climax to an immensely close battle between our two drivers,” Lowe said after the session.

“We’ve let Lewis down for the second weekend in a row, so our apologies go to him once again. It’s a cruel twist of fate that, out of eight Mercedes-Benz Power Units on the grid, the problem should befall the same driver twice.

“We’ve been working very hard over the past couple of weeks to understand what happened in China – but unfortunately there is clearly still more work to be done.

“Our focus for the immediate future, however, is on making sure Lewis’ car is in the best possible condition for tomorrow’s race to give him the best chance of making the kind of strong recovery we’ve seen him pull off so many times in the past.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton reprimanded for Russia qualifying misdemeanor

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in the Paddock during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton has been given a reprimand by the FIA stewards for failing to follow the race director’s instructions during qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Ahead of the weekend at the Sochi Autodrom, FIA race director Charlie Whiting had a white bollard placed in the run-off area at Turn 2 to guide drivers where to go if they ran wide at the corner.

The idea was used successfully in Canada last year, and forces drivers to pass through the ‘penalty zone’ that ensures they do not gain an advantage by running wide.

During Q1, Hamilton ran wide at Turn 2 but failed to pass to the left of the bollard. Although he did not gain an advantage or improve his lap time, the stewards still opted to look into his misdemeanor after qualifying.

Late on Saturday, they confirmed that Hamilton had been handed a reprimand for the incident, marking his second of the season. If he racks up one more, he will receive a 10-place grid penalty.

Hamilton ultimately finished 10th in qualifying after an issue on his power unit prevented him from taking part in Q3.

“It’s obviously not a great feeling to be on the sidelines again – but that’s life,” Hamilton said. “I knew there was a problem and that it was probably the same failure that I had in China pretty much straight away. I went out for a second run in Q2 to get a feeler lap and felt the same power loss as last time.

“When it happened in Shanghai it was something we hadn’t seen before and now unfortunately it’s happened again, so we need to understand it. I’ve never been superstitious about these things, though, and I never will be. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll move on and look ahead to the race.”

Hamilton said that Mercedes was yet to decide whether or not it would make any changes to his power unit overnight that may result in him receiving another penalty.

“I don’t know where I’m going to start yet – we’ll wait to see how that unfolds,” Hamilton said.

“But I never give up and I’ll give it all I’ve got to recover whatever I can in the race, like always. It’s not an easy track for overtaking. With the levels of tire degradation and it being so tough to follow here, it’s not going to be easy to make my way forward.

“But there are long straights and we’ve got good pace, so if I can keep the car in one piece I’ll be fighting for decent points I’m sure.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Raikkonen: P4 in Russian GP qualifying ‘better than nothing’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen says that qualifying fourth for the Russian Grand Prix is “better than nothing” after struggling to get to grips with his Ferrari SF16-H car at the Sochi Autodrom.

Raikkonen finished fourth in Saturday’s Q3 session, and will move up to third place on the grid for tomorrow’s race thanks to Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty.

Despite being in a position to lead the Italian marque’s charge against Mercedes and make the most of Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalty, Raikkonen was far from jubilant after qualifying.

The Finn had been set to take third in Q3, only to make a mistake on his final qualifying lap that meant he was unable to improve his time, leaving him P4 at the checkered flag.

“The whole weekend has been tricky: for whatever reason, I struggled all the time to put one decent lap together,” Raikkonen said.

“In qualifying it was a bit better, but I was still fighting with the front end in a few places. It could have been good enough for a second or a third place on the grid, but on my last lap I completely missed the last corner and slid away.

“Obviously I’m a disappointed with what happened, but considering how difficult it has been, this result it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing.

“At least we are in third place at the start, we’ll see what happens tomorrow, I think in the race it’s going to be better.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.