Saturday, January 31, 2015

The NASCAR/Nick Offerman Super Bowl Commercial Kicks Tuchus

Nick Offerman in NASCAR Super Bowl XLIX commercial

There are two NASCAR Super Bowl XLIX commercials floating around the intertubes, a two-plus-minute spot and a cut-down, :30 version. With airtime costing $9 million per minute ($150,000/second!), it's probably safe to assume that NASCAR will air the shorter version during the game, but we think you deserve to see the full-boat version too:

What We See: Both versions feature Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman with his giant, manly man moustache, advocating for saving America's fast-disappearing values by watching NASCAR on the NBC Sports Network (there is no mention of the Fox coverage that starts in February). Visually, it's pretty much all Offerman all the time, but the background vignettes are packed with uniquely American jingoistic icons: star-spangled thong bathing suits, rodeo bull riding, double-neck electric guitars, victory-lane donuts, giant slabs o'beef on the grill, and, oh yeah, beer. Mixed in with all of this is plenty of track action, including a Big Wreck and a scene where Offerman, wearing a now-banned Dale Sr.–style open-face helmet, edges out Kevin Harvick for the checkered flag. The music is fast paced, the copy is clever, and Offerman nails every line, including rhyming "Busches" with "tuchus" while maintaining a straight face.

What We Think: It's no secret that NASCAR is struggling to maintain its popularity. Live-ticket sales have tanked in recent years (some tracks have reduced their seating capacity almost by half since 2008), and TV viewership continued its decline in 2014. Still, there is a considerable base of die-hard and potential viewers—a recent Harris poll shows that auto racing is more popular in the U.S. than either the NHL or NBA. So yes, it's worth NASCAR's investment to promote the series, and the Super Bowl provides a viable target audience.

But is this execution the way to go? For many fans, NASCAR is as much about general entertainment as it is about racing. Parks and Recreation had a long run that started in 2009 and continued through this year's final season, and Offerman's Ron Swanson character was key to the show's popularity. I think he makes a great spokesman for NASCAR, and if winning the hearts and minds of potential viewers is that organization's goal, I think this spot will git 'er done. That said, even before the commercial has hit the airwaves, it has already drawn sharp criticism from people who are gluten-intolerant, and has petitioned NBC to change or drop the spot. So will that hurt the message . . . or underscore it? What's your take?

Rating: Four out of five

Award-winning ad man–cum–auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; this is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad's rating is depicted on a scale of one (terrible) to five (transcendent), but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too. And be sure to read more of Don's advertising critiques here.

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Tony Stewart Just Bought a Dirt-Track Sprint-Car Racing Series—Here’s Why He Did It

Tony Stewart

So, Tony Stewart has purchased the All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Series. Surprised? You shouldn't be. It's just the latest investment in the Tony Stewart Retirement Plan. There's a method to Stewart's dirt-track madness, and grassroots racing is better for it. And it probably won't end with the All Stars.

Consider this: Although the 2015 Chili Bowl midget racing finale didn't take place until Saturday, January 17, Tony Stewart showed up the Monday before. By Tuesday he was making suggestions about preparation of the little indoor dirt track, by Wednesday he was on the radio giving directions to the track crew, and by Friday he was driving the tractor that was turning over the surface with a disc harrow.

"Tony is gonna own this place," said one push-truck driver, and those around him quietly agreed. After all, the two founders of the Chili Bowl, Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards, have been at it since 1987, and both long ago passed the AARP eligibility age.

Stewart already owns Eldora Speedway, bought from legendary founder Earl Baltes, famous for his baleful pet quote, typically issued when looking upon the crowd of his often sold-out track: "If I coulda sold one more hot dog, I might have broke even." Stewart, along with fellow NASCAR personalities Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader, own little Macon Speedway in Illinois. In 2006, he bought into Paducah International Raceway in Kentucky, a beautiful dirt track that was struggling until Stewart and co-owners Schrader and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. stepped in. He owns Custom Works, a company that makes R/C-controlled sprint cars.

And under Tony Stewart Racing, one of his 12 companies, he owns one entry in the USAC Sprint Car division, one entry in the USAC Silver Crown Series, and two entries in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. In WoO, TSR fields the No. 15 car for six-time and current champion Donny Schatz and the No. 11 sprint car for 20-time series champion Steve Kinser.

Tony Stewart No. 14 Chevrolet at Phoenix International Raceway

Stewart's growing dirt-track empire will keep him plenty busy once he decides to park the No. 14 Chevrolet for good.

Two years ago, we asked Stewart why he bought Kinser's team, knowing The King was preparing to retire from full-time racing in 2014. "Because he's the greatest champion we've ever had in sprint-car racing, and he deserves to go out on his own terms, without worrying about sponsorship and paying the bills." Which is exactly what happened, as Kinser will run only a partial schedule in 2015.

Yes, Tony Stewart races in NASCAR. But he just can't bring himself to abandon his roots in Indiana dirt-track racing.

Which brings us to Stewart's purchase of the All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Series. The series is billed as "one of the oldest traveling sprint-car organizations," and it is, but it remains a distant second to the World of Outlaws, which was founded in 1978 by the late Ted Johnson to try and organize all the traveling sprint-car drivers and teams who migrated, like gypsies, from one unsanctioned event to another.

The WoO, under Johnson's iron hand, promptly became the dominant sprint-car series. The All Stars have continuously battled regional sprint-car series, such as the Renegade series, which Stewart has already eliminated by bringing the Renegades in under the All Star banner.

The WoO has fought off threats before, most notably the USA Sprint Car Series and the National Sprint Tour. But with Tony Stewart behind the All Stars, though, we suspect there is much nervousness at the WoO world headquarters in Concord, North Carolina, also home of the World of Outlaws late-model series.

So what will Tony Stewart do with the All Stars? Will he pull his driver Donny Schatz from the WoO and send him out on the All Stars circuit? Will Steve Kinser reserve his rare appearances for All Stars events?

No. 48 driven by Danny Dietrich competing in the All Star Circuit of Champions series.

No. 48 driven by Danny Dietrich competing in the All Star Circuit of Champions series.

We will know soon. The All Stars season starts at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida, with three shows on February 5–7. Then the series moves a little east to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, to race February 11 and 12.

Or will they? The Bubba Raceway Park date is solid since Stewart and track owner and radio talk-show host Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem are best friends, and Stewart sponsors Bubba's sprint-car-racing son, Tyler. But as for Volusia Speedway Park—it's owned by the World Racing Group, which also owns the World of Outlaws. Do they really want to promote a series that suddenly may become a major rival?

Stewart said at the ongoing NASCAR Media Tour that it will be a while before he returns to the seat of a sprint car, as he's still recovering from the severely broken leg suffered in a sprint-car crash in 2013, as well as from the death of young sprint-car driver Kevin Ward, Jr., killed when he was hit by Stewart's sprint car in 2014.



That Stewart wants to increase his dirt-track racing portfolio surprises no one, although if he was going to buy a series, many of us suspected it might be the American Sprint Car Series, which has pointedly positioned itself one rung down the ladder from the World of Outlaws and has backing from Lucas Oil. ASCS just happens to have been founded by Emmett Hahn of Chili Bowl fame. But let's face it: There's a good chance Tony Stewart isn't through building his dirt castle.

Back to the scene at the Chili Bowl: Stewart had another leg operation a few weeks before the race, and he walks with a limp. Except, some of us noticed, when something happened on the track at the Chili Bowl that required Stewart's immediate attention, and he'd stride off, no limp evident. That's how Stewart feels about dirt-track racing, and why the All Star Circuit of Champions might be in for a big season.

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Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota Recall 2.13 Million Cars for Airbags that Deploy without Warning

Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota are recalling more than two million cars to fix airbags that can suddenly deploy without warning, according to filings posted this morning by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is the second round of recalls for the same problem stemming from late 2012.

These recalls (which are not related to the Takata airbag inflators that can explode shrapnel) were prompted by a NHTSA investigation from May that looked at a previous 2012 recall of Jeep SUVs. In that instance, front and side-curtain airbags manufactured by supplier TRW were inadvertently deploying due to electrical faults in the airbag circuitry. Chrysler's initial submissions cited 215 reports of faulty deployments and 81 injuries from the airbags, and by May of last year, it had informed NHTSA of an additional six deployments that occurred on vehicles previously repaired with a new wiring harness incorporating an electrical noise filter.

So far through October, Chrysler has reported a further 18 accidental deployments on repaired vehicles—a total of 18 Libertys and six Grand Cherokees—where the noise-filter solution obviously failed. Chrysler admits it still can't figure out what's causing the "electrical overstress" and so it's now replacing the entire airbag control module instead of installing new wiring.

A total of 753,176 Chrysler models, including the 2002–2003 Jeep Liberty, 2002–2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and 2003–2004 Dodge Viper, are included in the U.S. Chrysler said it wasn't aware of any airbag deployments in Vipers, and while there have been at least 81 injuries, there have been no related crashes.

2003 Honda Odyssey

Likewise, Honda is recalling 374,177 cars—specifically, the 2003–2004 Honda Odyssey and 2003 Acura MDX—after learning of an accidental deployment on a 2003 Odyssey in April. So far, Honda has reported eight accidental deployments and no injuries involving vehicles that had received the original wiring fix.

The recall also spreads to include 1,006,849 2003–2004 Toyota Avalon, Corolla, and Matrix models (as well as the Toyota-built Matrix twin, the Pontiac Vibe). However, unlike Chrysler and Honda, Toyota had already begun replacing airbag modules in addition to installing noise filters during its initial January 2013 and later March 2014 recall campaigns. Still, because dealers only replaced modules that threw a faulty code, many more potentially bad modules are still across the million-plus cars just recalled.

2004 Toyota Matrix

Airbag supplier TRW won't have any new control modules ready "until the latter part of 2015," according to NHTSA. In the meantime, Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota owners will be notified to have the noise filter installed, if they haven't already, as an interim fix. All the cars are supposedly safe to drive, although some Jeep owners have witnessed airbags and even the seatbelt pre-tensioners being triggered sometimes before even a warning light appears. If you'd like to know if your vehicle is among those affected, you can use NHTSA's VIN lookup tool to search the database.

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Reader Review: 2015 BMW X3 28i

X3 Exterior

If you've been around the automotive journalism long enough (and by long enough, I mean like three months in total), you'll begin to realize that a lot of press vehicles you drive aren't indicative of what most people actually buy. Most test vehicles have five figures worth of options, with features that at most, an auto journalist will expend 50 words on. Meanwhile, on lots across the country, most dealers probably have one or two very loaded cars which end up being discounted heavily towards the end of the quarter.

My experience of full-optioned press cars had to do with a silver BMW 335i xDrive Gran Turismo at a local auto journalist event. While the base price of the car was $47,775, this car had almost $12,000 in options, or enough to buy an E36 M3 in good condition. "Let's give it the more powerful engine, all-wheel-drive, the dynamic handling package, and the M Sport package" the person in charge of configuring the 3-Series GT must have thought, "at least auto journalists will say it handled very well and forget about the styling." This car even had head-up display and the $650 M Sport brakes.

Even when I was searching for road tests of the X3 online, I good majority were reviews of the powerful xDrive35i version or for the new diesel model. So when I had access to a 2015 X3 xDrive28i for a few days, I leapt at the opportunity to write a review on it, because it was the version most X3 buyers purchased.

Now, this 2015 BMW X3 xDrive28i that I'm writing about is not a vehicle designated for press people. In fact, it belongs to my dad, and while he chose the color combination, I chose most of the options. As a result, I can't blame whoever specs BMW's press vehicles. So the fact it doesn't have the navigation system, which saves me a paragraph describing it? My fault. That it doesn't have heated seats? My lapse. The fact that it doesn't have parking sensors or a rear-view camera? My bad. The fact that I still don't know what the $500 "Enhanced USB/Bluetooth with Smartphone Integration" option does? I really need to get on that.

As for the things I am proud of, it's the Deep Sea Blue exterior color and Oyster color interior. (A quick note on the Oyster leather: it's surprisingly easy to stain, so be careful when wearing jeans or leaving a pen on the seat.) This one also has the Premium Package with a massive moonroof and keyless entry, the xenon lights, and the Harman/Kardon sound system. And all of it was available at an MSRP south of $50K.

Before reading the rest of the review, you might think, "He must have recommended this car to his dad if he's writing about it! This is totally going to be a love story about the X3!" Believe it or not, I recommended the Jeep Grand Cherokee Ecodiesel, as a very well-equipped one came in easily under $50,000, got good fuel mileage, and I thought it handled very well for its size. But my dad drove it and dismissed it as too big.

Other cars considered were Lexus RX (too soccer mom-ish), Toyota 4Runner (too truck-ish), Toyota Highlander (this is for replacing the minivan). The Mercedes GLK, Audi Q5, and Range Rover Evoque were dismissed as my dad is a BMW person. (For background, the man kept an E39 530i running for 13 years, which is two more than the 1990 Accord he had.) I don't think he drove any of those alternatives, and neither have I, so I won't definitively say the X3 is the best out of all those alternatives.

First, I'll focus on the interior, which is about the same size as the interior of the first-generation X5. It's a pleasant place with chrome accents and wood trim in the right places. The Oyster interior helps considerably too. The cupholders are usable, which is important when coming from a car in which both cupholders (if you can call them those) are broken. The panoramic moonroof that's part of the Premium package was great for the scenic photos when driving down Highway 1. In fact, the X3 managed to easily fit five adults and their luggage for a weekend. Moreover, the Harmon/Kardon sound system is a pretty good upgrade from the normal sound system.

However, if you're over 6"3', more than 200 pounds, and might need a third seat, don't consider the X3. Otherwise, when sitting in the driver's seat, your head will hit the ceiling and you'll probably find the seat not wide enough. Additionally, while I wrote in the last paragraph that the X3 could seat 3 full-size adults, just make sure the cumulative weight doesn't exceed 500 pounds. And if you're a family of four who takes their dog with them on road trips, the X3 is not your car.

Though the options list is long, there's surprisingly (for a BMW) a lot of standard features. The storage package, which includes cargo nets, a collapsible cargo box, and a reversible mat, is standard. So is the automatic climate control. Even the ambient lighting that I praised is standard. The tailgate and side mirrors are power-operated. However, the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel is not power-operated, which coming from the 530i, was a disappointment.

Whenever I discuss the exterior, I generally don't focus too much on styling. But the X3 was facelifted for the 2015 model year, with most of the differences being on the front clip, with the headlights that connect to the grille. BMW offers two appearance packages: the xLine package and the M Sport body kit. Personally, I don't like the look of the M Sport package (or sport packages in general), while the xLine has the silver trim bits for the faux off-roader look, which I don't mind. There are also turn signals on the side mirrors. One thing I did like was the exterior lighting beneath the door handles when getting into the car. BMW got the ambient lighting very, very right. Also, the X3 comes with the foot sensor as standard

Regarding performance, I didn't push the X3 to its limits because a) it belongs to my dad and not BMW of North America, and b) it has less than 1400 miles on the odometer so the drivetrain still needed to be broken in. It has a 2.0-liter inline-four with a twin-scroll turbo that makes about 240 hp. According the BMW website, it can go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, which is quicker than the 530i it's replacing. On the highway, I never found myself complaining about lack of power, even when it was fully loaded with five people. If you need something faster, the xDrive35i with 300 horsepower is about $5,000 more.

I briefly played with the different powertrain modes, which were: Comfort, Sport, and Eco Pro. Eco Pro makes the X3 rear-drive only and ensures the transmission is in the highest gear possible for the best mileage. I found myself using it in high traffic situations, where quick throttle response wasn't needed. Sport mode sharpened up throttle response, but I found myself never using it and suspect most owners won't either. Usually I drove the X3 in its default mode, Comfort, in which I didn't need to press the throttle closer to the floor and when all-wheel-drive was on.

For those of you contemplating the diesel version of the 2015 X3 (the xDrive28d model), I considered that one too. In fact, I even put a deposit on one until we were informed that Hawaii (no joke!) was allocated the last X3 diesel build slots for a 2014 delivery. However, since the diesel is $1,500 more expensive and the price of premium gas has gone down significantly, the normal xDrive28i is a viable alternative. Also, my dad test drove the diesel X3 (while I was in the back seat playing with the air vents) and found the power deficit noticeable compared to the normal version and noisy at lower speeds.

Ultimately, if you have $50,000 to spend on a luxury five-passenger crossover, you can't go wrong with the X3. When we were buying the X3 at the end of last year, it became easier to find a 7-Series in a dealer's inventory in Northern California than any version of the X3. It was even easier to find an Audi S4 than an X3. They're that popular. So BMW must be doing something right with the X3 (or they're exporting more abroad for higher profits, or the X4 took up a good portion of the assembly line) that people are snapping them up left and right.

In the end, I understand why. The xDrive28i is surprisingly well-priced as long as you don't go overboard with the options.  It handles nicely, can accelerate quickly, has a pleasant interior, has four years of free maintenance, and can take a lot of cargo. My dad, and not me, made an excellent decision, and neither of us have any regrets. Except for the "Enhanced USB/Bluetooth with Smartphone Integration" option. I still haven't figured that one out.

DSC_0174 DSC_0175 DSC_0177 DSC_0179 DSC_0184 IMG_20150130_201148 X3 Exterior X3 front X3 Rear

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end, once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. He still prefers the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel.

The post Reader Review: 2015 BMW X3 28i appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

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Chart Of The Day: Cars vs. Light Trucks Over The Last Decade

Car sales vs light truck sales chart 2014After selling in virtually identical numbers in 2013, light truck sales in the United States overtook car sales in 2014 for the first time since 2011.

Light trucks, a category which encompasses everything from pickups and body-on-frame SUVs to minivans and commercial vans to SUVs and very car-like crossovers, accounted for 52% of U.S. new vehicle volume in 2014, up from 49.9% in 2013.

Passenger cars, a far more restrictive vehicle classification, achieved less than 2% year-over-year growth in the U.S. in 2014 even as the industry as a whole improved by 6%. Over the last decade, however, car volume was only twice superior to that of the 2014 level. Those two years, 2005 and 2006, also happened to be years in which light trucks outsold passenger cars. That trend came to an end in 2008, a twelve-month period which began a three-year span in which passenger cars would be the dominant force.

The light truck increase in 2014 can be divided into four groups. Pickup truck sales jumped nearly 7%. Commercial van sales rose 14%. Minivan volume was up slightly less than 5%. SUVs and crossovers overachieved with a 12% improvement to more than 5M units.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

The post Chart Of The Day: Cars vs. Light Trucks Over The Last Decade appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Flashback Friday: You Can Buy LL Cool J’s “Pink Cookies” BMW 8-series

Looking for a cool car that ladies will love? One with a provenance that includes perhaps rap's most convoluted sexual analogy? Feast your eyes on LL Cool J's 1991 BMW 850i, yours for a mere $14,000.

Yes, LL's sleek big-body coupe is on the market in Illinois. Sharp-eyed fans who remember the 1990s will recognize it as the vehicular star of the "Pink Cookies In a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings" music video, wherein Mr. Cool J explains from the driver's seat that "the act of making love is pink cookies in a plastic bag, getting crushed by buildings." Right.

LL Cool J

A lot has changed since 1993. LL successfully pivoted from sex-thirsty BMW driver to NCIS Special Agent. And that V-12 Bimmer racked up 73,000 miles, losing those '90s-tastic Momo Quasar wheels for a more subdued, less chrome-y set of deep-dishes.

LL Cool J's

The price to own an early 90's automotive powerhouse once driven by an icon of rap isn't so bad, and you can unleash its 292 horsepower, 332 lb-ft of torque, and, per our original test, 6.3-second sprint to 60 mph on someone whom your momma told you to knock out. Just save a little extra for stereo upgrades—this Bimmer may have sweet V-12 sounds, but it's missing LL's boomin' system.

A version of this story originally appeared on

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2015 BMW X6 M – First Drive Review

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