NASCAR’s offseason has officially taken a turn down Weird Avenue

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The NASCAR-related headlines that have popped up particularly in the last week have very little to do with the on-track product itself.

Yes, there has been news of NASCAR’s new pit road technology system (more here from NASCAR.com), which should be fascinating to watch when it is implemented. Yes, there have been sponsor bits and pieces as Joe Gibbs Racing put together with a new FedEx scheme and Sport Clips for four races. And yes, today, we have had a driver signing with Cole Whitt confirmed as third driver at Front Row Motorsports.

But, as Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass pointed out earlier this week, almost no one is talking about driver/crew chief combinations or planning the season ahead.

Without the usual NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona, the news has instead been a tornado of crazy sweeping through the headlines and making national news beyond the specialist motorsport media.

And that is rarely a good thing, because generally speaking that means it’s not talking about the on-track product itself, but rather some tragedy, bizarre headline or twisted bit of news.

Having witnessed the construction in progress at Daytona Rising last week, it’s great to see how far that is coming as Daytona International Speedway enters its new era. But Richard Childress racing Austin Dillon in an “Escalator Duel” screams “we need cars on track.”

Then we have the curious case of Keith Olbermann, never one to hold back an opinion, and now getting himself into NASCAR by way of the bizarre headlines.

A disclaimer first, Olbermann can be brilliant and spot-on in takes – his tribute to the late Stuart Scott earlier this month was a poignant one.

But back to this case. He first incorrectly called Kurt Busch his brother Kyle Busch in the midst of Kurt’s ongoing testimony/legal situation/inadvertent comedic sideshow with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. After issuing a correction tweet, he then attacked NASCAR fans and called this the “something interesting” moment happening in the “simplest of sports.” He later issued video commentaries on, of all things, a shift from Jeff Gordon’s tricycle race to the Busch saga.

Then six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson got involved. Johnson, you may remember, got involved the last time there was a non-NASCAR regular attempting to appear an expert – when Donovan McNabb stirred the hornet’s nest by saying Johnson wasn’t an athlete after Johnson won his sixth Cup title in 2013. Johnson tweeted to Olbermann, and Olbermann, I’m not sure if this was in jest or serious, then replied back with a “And you are who, sir?” snarky answer.

Oy vey.

There’s a reason I don’t write about golf, or hockey, or football on a regular basis – and that’s because I don’t have enough of a grasp on the respective subject to author a piece coherently and with enough informed analysis to make it readable. I’m not sure why it is predominantly stick-and-ball types then feel they must offer an opinion, however misguided it may be, on NASCAR or other forms of motorsport other than to troll. That’s what Mr. Olbermann is doing here, and it shouldn’t be getting the amount of attention it is.

But because we don’t have cars on track and we’re in the dead of winter, it’s a story.

This all of course is secondary to the biggest story of the NASCAR offseason, and one that isn’t even NASCAR-specific other than it does affect one of its driver, in Kurt (not Kyle) Busch.

The Busch/Patricia Driscoll back-and-forth testimony has been fascinating to read, downright bizarre to analyze and utterly chaotic as it’s taken almost all eyes off the forthcoming season. There’s no point re-linking everything you’ve already read here; if you’ve followed the story, you’ve followed the crazy.

Will there be a resolution soon? One would hope. We’re less than a month out from Daytona Speedweeks, with the Sprint Unlimited and duel races upcoming before the Daytona 500 itself.

On the whole though, my hope is for the specialist NASCAR media to take back the storylines during NASCAR media days in Charlotte later this month, and put the focus, words and headlines on where they should be: the on-track product, coming off one of NASCAR’s more interesting seasons in years.

And by that point, the 2014-2015 Offseason on Weird Avenue will hopefully have run its course.

Charlie Kimball joins A.J. Foyt Racing; Tony Kanaan expected back

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A.J. Foyt has hired Charlie Kimball to drive its No. 4 Chevrolet in the 2020 NTT IndyCar season.

Kimball will return to a full-time schedule after seven races last season with Carlin Racing. This will mark his 10th consecutive season of driving in IndyCar. In 141 starts, he has one victory (in 2013 at Mid-Ohio).

“I wouldn’t have survived another partial schedule, and I’m not sure my marriage would have survived,” Kimball said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “It was really tough watching in races when I wasn’t in the car. The consistency allows me to stay in the rhythm.”

A.J. Foyt Racing fielded cars last year for Matheus Leist in the No. 4 and Tony Kanaan in the No. 14. Team president Larry Foyt told reporters that the No. 14 car’s 2020 schedule was “a work in progress and hopefully have some news on that in the next few weeks.”

Asked if Kanaan, who has driven for Foyt since 2018, still will be with the team, Foyt said, “I’m sure he will. We’ve been working together and getting everything buttoned up.”

Here’s the full release from A.J. Foyt Racing:

Veteran IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball joins AJ Foyt Racing as the full-time driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet with backing from his long-time sponsor Novo Nordisk. The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season marks Kimball’s 10th consecutive season in IndyCar and his 12th season of partnership with the global healthcare company.

Kimball, who ran a partial season of seven races in 2019, returns as a full-time driver in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series this year. The No. 4 car will carry a Novo Nordisk branded livery in the following races: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, GMR Grand Prix (Indianapolis), Texas Indy 600 (Ft. Worth), Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway (Madison, Ill.) and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Novo Nordisk will be an associate marketing partner in the remaining 11 races.

“I’m excited and honored to join AJ Foyt Racing and be a part of a team that has such deep roots in history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar,” said Kimball, who lives in Indianapolis. “Continuing the partnership with Novo Nordisk is also special since they have been an integral part of my career since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I’m more motivated than ever to work with the team to succeed at every IndyCar race in 2020. Thank you to AJ Foyt Racing, Novo Nordisk and our other partners for this opportunity.”

Team President Larry Foyt expects the partnership with Novo Nordisk and the addition of Charlie Kimball, an IndyCar Series race winner at Mid-Ohio (2013) and a pole winner at Texas Motor Speedway (2017), to invigorate his No. 4 Texas-based team this season.

“Charlie brings a great deal of experience and skill to the team,” Foyt said. “He is motivated to show what he can do behind the wheel, and his recent experience of helping develop cars will be beneficial as we work to get the 4 car moving up the grid. Novo Nordisk has been a long-time supporter of Charlie and IndyCar. We want to welcome them to AJ Foyt Racing and we look forward to joining them in their effort to increase the awareness of diabetes.”

Kimball has posted six podium (top-3) finishes, and an additional eight top-5s. He has finished in the top-10 (6th through 10th) 41 times and has led 163 laps in 141 races.

“We are proud to continue our long-term partnership with Charlie Kimball and look forward to an exciting 2020 IndyCar season with the legendary AJ Foyt Racing,” said Brian Hilberdink, Senior Vice President, Commercial Diabetes at Novo Nordisk. “For more than a decade, we’ve utilized our involvement in IndyCar to share Charlie’s inspiring journey living with diabetes through the Race with Insulin initiative. Charlie is one of the most active ambassadors in the diabetes community and his passion and commitment to making a difference in the lives of those who are living with diabetes is unwavering. We look forward to continuing this tradition with AJ Foyt Racing, Charlie and the diabetes community throughout the IndyCar season.”

Foyt expects to make further announcements regarding new primary sponsors for the team in the near future.