Bruce Martin
Monday December 8th, 2008

Consider Brad Keselowski "Popular by Association."

Keselowski, who drives for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s NASCAR Nationwide Series team at JR Motorsports, was named the Most Popular Driver in that Series. Earnhardt also won the award for the Sprint Cup Series.

This just underlines how popular Earnhardt is because just by Keselowski being connected with him automatically makes Keselowski a fan favorite. The same was true when Martin Truex, Jr. drove full-time in what was then the Busch Series.

If Earnhardt endorsed Brussels sprouts, they would instantly become the most popular vegetable among NASCAR fans.

"This was a breakout year for Brad, and it's really cool that the fans recognized his talents and personality enough to cast their votes for him [through online voting]," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We'll have fun with this, because we have a lot of fun racing each other when I drive in the Nationwide Series. This is one more thing we can be competitive about."

Keselowski had a stellar season, finishing third in points, the highest-finishing Nationwide regular. He closed the year with two wins (Nashville and Bristol), one pole award, 11 top-fives and 20 top-10s.

"To be voted by the fans to win the Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver award really puts an exclamation point on this season," Keselowski said. "I think back to where I was two years ago, and consider myself so fortunate to be in this position at JR Motorsports. The fans have been extremely supportive of me, and I can't thank them enough for this award and the continued support they show."

As for Earnhardt Jr., he received his sixth consecutive Chex NMPA Most Popular Driver award in New York last Thursday after receiving more than 1 million fan votes. Only Bill Elliott (1991-2000) has more consecutive Most Popular Driver titles. Earnhardt is behind Elliott (16) and Richard Petty (9) for most total awards.

"I've been fortunate enough to win this award now for the sixth time, and I can tell you it never gets old." Earnhardt said. "I've said it many times before that this award is special because it's the voice of the fans.

"I think back to over a year ago when I made the decision to go to Hendrick Motorsports, and my biggest concern was whether the fans would support my decision. They did, and I will always be grateful for that. I appreciate everyone who voted."

The top 10 drivers receiving the most votes in alphabetical order were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and Michael Waltrip.

NASCAR loves to say it's all about competition, but when it comes to this popularity contest, there is no competition at all as Earnhardt is by far the fan's favorite.

With Petty Enterprises discussing a merger with the current Sprint Cup team owned by George Gillett, who also owns the Montreal Canadians, it would create a union with Richard Petty, "The King" of NASCAR racing.

So, rather than call it Gillett Motorsports or even Gillett Petty Motorsports, here's my pick for the new team.

King George Racing.

Just when it appeared that another legendary name was returning to Formula One, the plug was pulled.

Bruno Senna thought he was so close to realizing his long-cherished F1 dream, but that was before Honda announced it was withdrawing for the highest pinnacle of international motorsports immediately. Senna, the nephew of Formula One legend Ayrton Senna, hopes the team finds a buyer who also happens to be impressed by his recent test performance and by the potential pulling power of his name.

"We'll have to look around and see what other options are open to us," Senna said. "These things happen. It's never been easy to get into Formula One -- you just have to keep plugging away and see what turns up."

First and foremost, Senna wants to see his now ex-Honda team continue.

"And I'm not burning any bridges there, but I can't wait forever," Senna said. "On the other hand, the financial situation is tough everywhere at the moment and it is difficult to see where things are heading. So in the circumstances, you have to be very flexible."

This is yet another sign that the global economy is in a tailspin. And if a powerful automaker such as Honda can pull out of F1, the same can happen to the automakers involved in NASCAR. All but Toyota is asking for federal aid to stay in business.

It's a buyer's market for NASCAR Sprint Cup teams when it comes to hiring crew members because so many top mechanics have been laid off and are available. But in Rodney Childers' case, it was a matter of finding a better opportunity.

Michael Waltrip Racing announced that Childers will become the crew chief for David Reutimann and his No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry for the 2009 season.

"This is a great opportunity," said Childers, entering his fifth season as a crew chief on the top level. "When I heard the position was available, I looked into it because I really liked the idea of working with David. We have the same type of personality, and as I see the progress MWR has made, I see it as a place where I could have a long future. Their relationship with Toyota also attracted me because it is easy to see [Toyota's] commitment to NASCAR.

"David really burst onto the scene this past year and has proven that he can do this. He is comfortable and feels like he's as good as anyone on the track and that's really important."

Childers has been involved in some form of racing since he was 12-years-old, whether it has been behind the wheel or atop a pit box. From 1999 to 2002, he raced in several series, including the NASCAR Slim Jim All Pro Series and Hooters Pro Cup Series. In 2000 he made his first and only Nationwide Series start at Myrtle Beach.

More recently, Childers served as a crew chief for the past three seasons with Gillett Evernham with Elliott Sadler (2008) and Scott Riggs (2006-2007). He was Riggs' crew chief in 2005 with MB2 Motorsports.

Now, Childers will begin a new chapter at MWR with Reutimann, whose paths have actually crossed a time or two on the track as well as in the garage.

There's another Zipadelli in the NASCAR garage area with Greg Zipadelli holding the title of Big Z now that his younger brother, Scott, has been hired at the Braun Racing Nationwide Series team. "Little Z" will call the shots for the No. 38 driven by Jason Leffler.

Zipadelli first came onto the NASCAR scene in 1999, starting out as a general mechanic at Innovative Motorsports. He quickly made a name for himself and within two years made the move to Evernham Motorsports.

In 2002, Zipadelli joined his older brother, Greg, at Joe Gibbs Racing, where he watched Greg lead Tony Stewart to his first championship. Inspired by being a part of a highly successful organization, the younger Zipadelli moved into the role of plate setup manager for the No. 18 car, driven by 2000 champion Bobby Labonte. Additionally, he served as the chassis setup specialist and was later promoted to car chief for the team. In five seasons with the No. 18 team, Zipadelli and his crew saw Victory Lane three times and sat on the Bud Pole Position for nine events.

Realizing that he was ready to further challenge his abilities and leadership skills, Zipadelli returned to the Nationwide Series and joined JTG Racing as crew chief of the No. 47 team, first with driver Jon Wood and then newcomer Kelly Bires. In two years, Zipadelli proved to have the knack as he helped Wood and Bires to numerous impressive finishes.

Now, Zipadelli looks upon a new challenge with Braun Racing, where he will work with a new driver, a new car manufacturer and a new crew.

With Porsche leaving the American Le Mans Series, apparently heading to IndyCar when the new four-cylinder inline turbocharged engine begins competition in 2011, Penske Racing is moving its sports car effort to the rival Rolex Grand American Series for 2009.

The No. 7 Penske Porsche Riley Daytona Prototype continues one of the most successful and enduring partnerships in all of motorsports. Porsche's history with Penske Racing dates back to 1972, and since the relationship started, the two organizations have shared more than 35 wins and five championships.

Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, Porsche factory racers and multiple sports car series champions, will be the primary drivers of the No. 7 Penske Porsche Riley Daytona Prototype. Bernhard and Dumas, co-driving for Penske Racing and Porsche since 2006, have shared 14 wins and two driver championships.

"What was with that salad they served us tonight? I would think NASCAR would be more of a buffet." -- Comedian John Pinette at the NASCAR Awards Banquet.

"I didn't think I would be going first tonight, but when the Chase started, we had some problems. I guess I still have some lessons to learn but Jimmie, you remember Chicago? That was awesome! Awesome! And thanks to the fans for letting me know in their own different way that they are pulling for me. They have a different way of letting me know that I'm No. 1." -- Kyle Busch accepting 10th place at the NASCAR Sprint Cup banquet.

"Yes, even you guys, Goodyear, I appreciate all that you do." -- Tony Stewart, who has been highly critical of Goodyear Racing Tire during the 2008 season.

"I think my campaign, "Time for Change," didn't work out this year. It worked out for some people but not for me." -- Greg Biffle accepting third place at the NASCAR Awards Banquet.

"Sports Illustrated called Jimmie Johnson 'Tom Brady in a Firesuit.' Well, I don't think Tom Brady won three titles in a row." -- Team owner Rick Hendrick.

"I've got the racing spirit back. Hey, Rick. Would you like to have a 70-year-old champion? Just give me a call," -- Cale Yarborough.

"I want to thank the NASCAR officials, including Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton, John Darby and all the other nice people that talked to me in the back of the NASCAR hauler." -- Carl Edwards at the NASCAR Banquet, referring to the numerous times he was summoned to the back of the NASCAR hauler, otherwise known as the "Principal's Office."

A continuation of the offseason, which, of course, means more football.

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