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“They Said What?” NASCAR Pinty’s Series Edition

Sometimes when you stick a microphone in front of a driver’s face, you have no clue what they may say and a couple of times you’ll hear something that surprises you or gives you a bit of a perspective.

Throughout the 2019 NASCAR Pinty’s Series season, I had the opportunity to speak to a bunch of different competitors. During those interviews, there were some quotes that stood out. So it seems only fitting we take a glance back through the year at what was said.

ASHLEY MCCUBBIN

“We wanted to go down a different path. Jason Hathaway (and Ed Hakonson Racing) are an awesome team. They have a great group of guys. Hathaway is a championship driver. With his experience, I was hoping that he would help mentor me and he’s willing to take me under his wing, I look forward to learning from him.”

Brett Taylor on switching from Canada’s Best Racing Team to Ed Hakonson Racing mid-season.

ASHLEY MCCUBBIN

“I think the contact was pretty much as far as he was going to bring it. I think Andrew was driving like a driver with a championship to protect and a championship lead to take this weekend. I think that’s how he was driving and when you have a lot to lose and want to score points, you drive in a way to where his driving was as aggressive as he could do it. It also brought in a good finish, scored good points. So I think overall, he was fair with me.”

Alex Tagliani on battling Andrew Ranger for the win in Toronto.

ASHLEY MCCUBBIN

“The car was really good. 22 Racing gave me an awesome car. I feel bad because it’s solely my fault. I had a good restart on Alex and took the lead. Then after that, I just missed my braking point by a little bit and I lost it. It’s totally my fault, but I’ll take the blame on it and try to go out west and win them both.”

Marc-Antoine Camirand on his mistake late in the race in Toronto, backing the car into the wall while leading.

ASHLEY MCCUBBIN

I really think the series is very, very tough. You can say the top-10 can win any week so it’s fun to go there and you never know where you’re going to finish, but it’ll be a good fight to the end. All of the races are very important. What’s great about the series is we race across Canada, so we race in Toronto, in Quebec City, Nova Scotia, Edmonton and Saskatoon, so it’s awesome.

We have a lot of good fans no matter where we are. I don’t know how many thousands we have at Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsports Park), Toronto, Trois-Riveres – but those are very important in racing in front of big crowds like that. I really like the series, and I think every year the series improves. I know we have a little bit of problem in having drivers at oval tracks, but little by little, I think they’re helping the drivers to find sponsors which is good.

Andrew Ranger on the current state of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series

ASHLEY MCCUBBIN

Well, I think honestly seeing the team with them being competitive week-in-week-out kind of rejuvenated, re-fired up what I had inside. It wasn’t like I didn’t race; I raced the pro late a bunch of races, so not like I was totally out of the seat. Just to have the opportunity to get back in with some sponsorship from Kobota, Choko, and Fast Eddie Racewear it was the right opportunity to get back in.

We talked to some different drivers through the winter time, but I still wanted to do this and I felt it was the right time to get put the band back together and go racing.

Jason Hathaway on why he returned to the series full-time in 2019

ASHLEY MCCUBBIN

“I think that helped starting the season off there and having some seat time at Phoenix in the Gander Outdoor Truck Series. I think that’s really helped my driving and I really think it’s broaden my own horizons a little bit to show what is in the tank that we hadn’t brought out before. Definitely makes you a better driver. Just being in a racecar more and more is good as it helps everything.”

Jason White on running some NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series races before the Pinty’s Series season started.

CANADA’S BEST RACING TEAM

Definitely the speed and having a good clean race throughout, hitting your marks. Going fast as you possibly can, but also while conserving tires. Nobody knows what the new General Tires are going to do and how they’re going to react on a long run. Everybody has just tried them, but nobody has been in the race conditions so it’s kind of an unknown going into the event on new tires. The car feels good on the short run, but we don’t know what it’s going to be 20, 25 laps on the tires.

So it’s just about hitting your marks and putting down consistent laps and at the end of the day, whoever has the best tires and equipment will be the best.

Anthony Simone on the toughest challenge of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park

ASHLEY MCCUBBIN

Well one, I am not getting any younger, and then we also have the plan – T.J. and myself – to market five teams in the future and that’ll be taking some of the younger kids up through, like a Treyten Lapcevich, and moving him up into the Pinty’s Series and upwards. Canada needs someone to run a good, full-funded team to get drivers south and that’s our goal.

Mark Dilley on why he chose 2019 to return to the series full-time

ASHLEY MCCUBBIN

“Super happy with my WeatherTech and Bellemare team. I think we had a tough race. We had engine problems at the beginning of the race. The team didn’t have any control on it, but they diagnosed it pretty quick and they told me it wouldn’t get better or worse, but we’d have to deal with it.

“We fought with it the whole race, but the car was so fast in the technical parts, which was awesome for us. A third for us is like a win this weekend. It’s really positive for the future, because we know we improved a lot, and that means the rest of this season will be more interesting.”

L.P. Dumoulin on his third-place finish in Toronto

Honestly, they’re so different. I feel there’s such a difference between road courses and ovals, it’s almost like which do you prefer – football or soccer? I look at them that way. I would probably say road courses.

Brett Taylor on whether he prefers road courses or ovals

ASHLEY MCCUBBIN

Well, I’ve done a lot and in Canada, this is the only series with the TV deal every weekend, which is good for sponsorship. We are always looking towards possibly going into the United States, and trying to do a couple starts in the Xfinity Series. But at the same time, it’s about the money and sponsorship. I’d prefer to stay here to run in Canada in the Pinty’s Series with a good sponsor, and try to run for the win every race.

Marc Antoine-Camirand

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Jimmie Johnson – The Greatest of All Time?

The White Flag waves for Jimmie Johnson as the seven-time Cup Series Champion is set to make one last turn around the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit as a full-time driver. Even in amassing 83 race wins and matching legends Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for most titles in the sport’s history, the case can be made that the driver of the No. 48 does not garner the credit he deserves amongst race fans.

It’s time to admit that Johnson could very well not only be the greatest driver in NASCAR history, but one of the best athletes across all professional sports. Everyone knows the basic statistical facts about the California-native. It’s now time to put the Team Hendrick driver’s 19-year career successes into context.

Johnson’s stretch of seven included five in a row between 2006 and 2010. No driver – let alone professional franchise in any sport – will ever do that again. All of these titles were won during some of the most unique, transitional eras in NASCAR history.

Each season, Johnson and the No. 48 team were forced to adapt to new car body styles, points systems, playoff formats and schedule configurations. Through all of this, Johnson was still able to win seven championships in an 11-year span.

The now 43-year old driver won titles with three generations of stock cars,  four different body styles and over five unique rules packages. Imagine if the NFL changed the size of its standard football, the air pressure of the ball or the size of the field, four times in the span of one decade. You likely wouldn’t see current dynasties such as Tom Brady and the Patriots matching the likes of Johnson in such an era.

The Team Chevy driver’s first championship season in 2006 was won when NASCAR exclusively ran the small-bodied Generation 4 stock cars, which it began using in 1992.

Johnson’s second title in 2007 was run with a mix of (primarily) these same bodies, along with several races that introduced a new, radically different Generation 5 car. The safety-focused Generation-5 Car of Tomorrow bodies were known for their wide splitters and large wings on the back of the cars. This car model brought upon the most dominant stretch of Johnson’s career and one of the most dominant eras that any driver has had in NASCAR history.

The sport switched to the Car of Tomorrow full-time in 2008, marking Johnson’s third straight championship and his third consecutive year having won it in differing stock car accommodations, spanning two different body styles.

Johnson’s dominance in the Car of Tomorrow led to such a competitive gap in NASCAR’s top series that the sanctioning body was inclined to tweak the Gen-5 stock car, the rules system, the playoff format and the race schedule following the conclusion of the 2010 season that culminated in the driver’s fifth-straight championship.

This body style lasted only three years (2008-10) in the sport’s premier series, in which the No. 48 team won all three Cup Series title. In the three years (108 points races) where NASCAR ran the Car of Tomorrow, Johnson won 20 races and led 5,512 laps, which was five more wins and 1,411 more laps led than any other driver.

Between 2011 and 2012, NASCAR ran a modified version of the Generation 5 stock car that did not include the same splitter and rear-wing cosmetics. While Johnson didn’t add to his title totals in that two-year span, he was able to add an additional seven wins to his resume.

In 2013, NASCAR made the switch to its Generation-6 stock car which had manufacturer-unique body panels and designs that more closely resembled the cars found in local showrooms. On cue, Johnson rang in the new era winning his sixth NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Entering the 2016 season, NASCAR made slight modifications to the car, shortening the rear spoiler by 2.5 inches, adding a 0.25-inch front leading splitter edge and a 33-inch-wide radiator pan. These changes were enforced to lower the downforce of the cars, adding more grip, which would encourage more passing and closer competition.

Sure enough, these changes resulted in the No. 48 driver’s seventh Cup Series championship and his fourth with a different stock car body style.

In addition to conforming to new stock car body styles and aerodynamic packages on an almost yearly basis, NASCAR has also adjusted its playoff format four times throughout Johnson’s reign.

His first title came with the sport’s original “Chase for the Cup” format, which reset the top-10 drivers in the point standings after 26 regular season races for a 10-race playoff-like shootout, that the series has used since 2004.

Beginning in 2007, NASCAR modified this format to include the top 10 drivers in the regular season standings and granted 10 bonus points for each win accumulated during the regular season once the points reset for the final 10 races. This Chase format remained from 2007 through 2010, spanning Johnson’s second, third, fourth and fifth Championships. He was the only driver to win a title under this format.

Between 2011 and 2013, the sport’s sanctioning body changed this format to include the top 10 drivers in the regular season standings, with two wild cards for a total of 12 Chase drivers. Eligible drivers would begin this Chase format with three bonus points for every regular season win accumulated. Johnson won his sixth Championship in 2013, marking the final year of this format.

Beginning in 2014, NASCAR moved to an elimination-style format for its Chase for the Cup, that it still uses to this day. This expanded the playoff field to 16 drivers and rounds were implemented. Every three races during the 10-race playoff, the bottom four drivers in the standings were cut until the field is composed of only four drivers entering the final Championship race. Johnson won his final Cup Series championship in 2016, marking the fourth different playoff format for the No. 48 team to have won a title in.

NASCAR introduced a “Stage Racing” format in 2017 to the 16-driver postseason format, which was renamed from the “Chase for the Cup,” to the “NASCAR Playoffs.” Johnson has yet to win a championship under the stage racing format.

In addition to winning championships under four different postseason formats, the Hendrick Motorsports driver spread his seven championships across four different postseason schedules.

After Johnson won his first three consecutive championships under the same playoff schedule between 2006-08, NASCAR subtracted Atlanta Motor Speedway from the Chase and added Auto Club Speedway from 2009-10. Between September 2007 and February 2010, Johnson won four out of six races at the Fontana, California-based track, prompting NASCAR to remove it from the postseason schedule following the No. 48 team’s fifth-consecutive Cup championship in 2010.

In place of the two-mile track, the playoff schedule was adjusted by leading off the postseason with Chicagoland Speedway – one of only three active tracks that Johnson has not won at.

Nonetheless, the No. 48 team still managed to persevere in 2013.

The following year, the 10-race circuit was changed again when the “Round of 12” slate included Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, along with Talladega Superspeedway – which remained the same. Johnson went on to conquer this playoff schedule en route to his seventh Cup Series championship in 2016, marking the fourth different playoff reconfiguration he had to adapt to.

Finally, Johnson spread his seven titles across four different points scoring systems.

The first five from 2006-10 were won under the longstanding “Equal Points Per Race” system that the league had used since 1975. His first championship was won when the first place finisher in a given race was awarded a minimum of 180 points.

The following year, NASCAR used this same points system, but elevated the minimum amount of points for a first place finisher to 185. After Johnson won his fifth straight championship in 2010, the sanctioning body did away with the long-standing points format, separating each position on track by exactly one point and awarding the race winner with a minimum of 47 points – capping that total at 48 when the race-winner leads the most laps.

Johnson won his sixth Cup Series championship in 2013 under this format.

Lastly, in 2016 the number of cars permitted in each race was reduced to 40, so the points system was modified to reflect this change, allowing for a maximum point total of 45 for the race winner. Under this format that NASCAR still uses, the Playoff Championship 4 do not earn bonus points in the championship-deciding season finale.

The No. 48 team won its seventh championship under this format, making for the fourth title victory under another different scoring format.

In addition to having to conform to so many different rules packages, the 43-year old has also had to go up against some of the sports all-time greatest stars, adapting to various different generations of Cup Series drivers. From fending off the likes of his mentor, four-time champion, Jeff Gordon, to Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano – Johnson made his reign in one of the most competitive eras in NASCAR history.

Each one of these championship runs had its own unique buzz. Between dueling it out with one of the all-time greats in 2006, to capping off dominant seasons in 2007-10, to having to overcome adversity and assume the underdog role in 2013 and 2016, Johnson has had an incredible run in the Cup series.

The bottom line is that NASCAR literally had to adjust the entire sport multiple times to aid in giving a competitive edge to drivers aside from Johnson and the No. 48 crew. That is simply unheard of across other professional sporting leagues.

No driver in NASCAR history – let alone any other professional sports athlete – has displayed this profound ability to adapt to so many radical, sport-wide changes, while continuing to thrive on an almost yearly basis; all while managing to win a record amount of championships at the sport’s highest level.

It is highly unlikely the sport will ever see another seven-time champion, as well as another driver to win five-consecutive titles.

In addition to his uncontested conformability to any and all circumstances – perhaps above all else – Johnson has always operated himself with the highest of class at all times. Through victory and defeat, the Team Chevy driver has always maintained his signature, humble and accountable demeanor, serving as one of the most graceful ambassadors in NASCAR history.

Johnson’s unparalleled list of achievements, can perhaps partially be attributed to the core values that link him with his long-time primary sponsor, Lowe’s. “Never stop improving,” is the motto coined by the home improvement company that sponsored the No. 48 team for each of Johnson’s first 17 full-time season competing in the Cup Series.

Whether it be in the context of a last place finish, or a fifth consecutive championship, Johnson and the No. 48 team have always been synonymous with this saying “never stop improving.” This mentality is part of what fueled the driver and the team; one of the most powerful dynasties in pro sports history.

The 43-year old driver is set to cap off his full-time racing career after two decades in the sport’s premier level. It’s time to start embracing Jimmie Johnson—his character, his place in the history books, his achievements and acknowledging his title as quite possibly the greatest driver in NASCAR history.

The driver of the No. 48 will have one more shot at becoming the only driver in NASCAR’s history with eight championships – and what a way that would be to go out after 20 seasons, in the year 2020.

While he is still in search of his first win in two seasons and missed the Playoffs for the first time in his full-time career in 2019, you can never really count someone like Jimmie Johnson out.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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Daniel Suarez – “We had to find a big amount of money to keep the ride.”

Through the final months of the 2019 season, several drivers firmed up their plans for what they are doing moving forward into 2020 and beyond. One of those who is still searching for a ride is Daniel Suarez.

Just a couple days before the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Suarez found out that he would be replaced by Cole Custer behind the wheel of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in 2020.

“It was a surprise,” he commented this past weekend. “I was as shocked as you guys are probably right now, just a couple of nights ago. It is what it is. One door closes, another door opens.”

It was well documented through the past couple months that Suarez was working with SHR to renew their contract, with the Mexican “95% sure that we were in” at one point in his comments. Though ultimately, the deal fell short due to a matter of dollars. 

“We needed a few months,” he said. “We had to find a big amount of money to keep the ride for next year. My group of people, friends and a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing went to work and we actually did a pretty good job. We pretty much got the goal but unfortunately part of the money wasn’t on the table at this point. It was going to come a few months later and it wasn’t enough. It was a little unfortunate.”

Suarez said through the process, both Tony Stewart and Brett Frood were pushing for him to return, but “unfortunately things didn’t work out with Haas.”

It marks the second straight season that Suarez is now spending his off-season searching for a ride, after losing his place at Joe Gibbs Racing a year ago. 

“I am pretty strong,” he said. “I have had a lot of sacrifices in my life to be here. Not just when I came here to the US, but even before that. To stay in racing and to do a lot of different things. As many of you know, I don’t come from a race family or from a lot of money or have a lot of contacts or anything like that. I am here because of myself.

“This has been tough. It is not fun to be in this position. I feel like I am strong and it has been a little difficult the last 24-hours. I couldn’t believe it because we did find a big amount of money. This is the position we are in now but I think good things happen to good people and I am sure good things are going to line up for me.”

Since finding out about his release, Suarez has spent time with Stewart, with the past series Cup Champion assuring him that he was trying to help Suarez stay in the family. That could possibly result in him being behind the wheel of an Xfinity car for Stewart-Haas Racing, or one of the Cup seats in Front Row Motorsports’ Fords. 

Of note, Suarez has also spoken with Mark Rushbrook from Ford Performance to discuss possibilities on the table. 

“Tony is a great guy,” Suarez commented. “In the last six months I have learned that he is a very good friend. In the last week I have been talking to him a lot. He was talking to a lot of people and he was pushing very hard for me. Unfortunately the 41 team, and especially the 41, he doesn’t have a lot that he can do with that car because the 41 is not his car. He pushed. I am sure that he pushed as hard as he could, like a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing did. It just didn’t work out.”

Though right now, Suarez is unsure if that is a direction that he wants to take with Stewart. 

“There are a lot of things going through my head right now and I don’t know,” he admitted. “I don’t even know if I want to be here. That is the way it is. I have to get back on my feet and find the best option for myself.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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OBSERVATIONS: Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

While the rest of the contenders faltered under the pressure, Kyle Busch did what he does best en route to his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.

On any given week through the season, the No. 18 M&M’s Camry and that was on display with the top speed in Saturday’s practice. Despite not winning in the 21 races prior to the Ford EcoBoost 400, he also consistently ran up front, as highlighted by 27 top-10 finishes in the 36 events in 2019. However, many had placed him beneath his rivals due to only five top-10’s in the first nine playoff races. 

They all failed to recognize that Busch continuing to put himself in the right position, plus the poise of being in the position previously certainly helped. While you could see his title contenders were using a “win or bust” mentality, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens ran the event just like any other weekend. When he was unable to keep up with Martin Truex Jr. or Kevin Harvick, it was just about giving feedback to continuing making adjustments to find more speed. Combined with a ultra fast pit crew that just did their job as normal and you had a recipe for success. 

In the end, he avoided the drama that found others and came out on top.

Cracking Under the Pressure

Each of Busch’s rivals, meanwhile, did not follow the same mentality and it showed clearly.  

Truex dominated the opening stage, though fell back in the second stage due to the pit crew putting on the tires on the wrong side of the car under a green flag stop. While he was able to make-up the ground in quick fashion to be in position to contend during the third stage, he was never able to make up the lost track position to Busch.

Denny Hamlin appeared to be in a closer position to challenge Busch than Truex was in the final stage despite an okay start. However, Chris Gabehart would elect to put on a big piece of tape, hoping to pick up downforce and speed so they could run down their Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. It would back fire, with the No. 11 Camry overheating, resulting in an unscheduled pit stop, and a finish of 10th.

Harvick’s team simply missed the handling on the No. 4 Ford, and could never contend with the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas over the long haul. Rodney Childers tried a gamble by leaving his driver out on track longer than others in hopes of a caution, but fell short en route to placing sixth.

Somethings are not what they seem……

When a driver wins a championship, you would expect them to get out and let out a big cheer. Just ask the twitter critics.

Some people celebrate in different ways and though Busch did not appear “super excited,” the championship did hit home with him.

“I kind of probably don’t remember much of it already,” he admitted post-race. “But I do remember taking the white flag and crossing underneath that and just‑‑ I had some tears rolling down my eyes for the last lap and was just like, come on, man, we’ve still got to finish this thing, don’t be such a sis. How was my last lap time? I don’t even know. Hopefully it was decent. We had a good lead to the guys behind us. But, overall, just emotions were starting to set in. I probably didn’t know where the hell my mind was at but knew we had won and we had won big and was just kind of being a bit more subdued about it.”

Of the notables, the Busch’s signature bow was missing from the celebration, to which Busch said he simply kind of forgot to do it in the moment. 

“You even forget you win the race,” he added. “As I was doing the victory celebration, doing the lap around with Brexton‑‑ that was really awesome, by the way‑‑ I was coming into Victory Lane, and they were there with the checkered flag, and I was like, oh, yeah. Like you forget you win the race. It’s just that crazy. So yeah, I forgot to do a bow. It’s all good. I think Rowdy Nation will forgive me.”

The celebration was fun to watch for the fans, though, in seeing Busch experience it with his son Brexton and the memories made there. The clip of them riding around the track will probably be replayed a bunch through the next couple weeks.

Lackluster Race

If you put aside the championship drama, the actual race was just – meh. There was no real battles or challenges for positions as everybody seemed to move up or down simply based on the strategy that they were running. You would get exciting battles on the restart, but they’d string out after five laps and then it was just a follow the leader train.

It certainly was lackluster in comparison to the previous two nights with the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series. So perhaps that is why the venue will move next season – but we all know the racing that we witnessed at ISM Raceway last week.

Needless to say, something needs to be done about the Cup package as the consensus from the majority of the races is that the rules package is doing nothing to produce “exciting racing” with the main show falling behind the two junior series. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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eNASCAR Heat Pro League Ends Successful First Season

The first season of the eNASCAR Heat Pro League came to a close Wednesday night in dramatic fashion.

Stewart-Haas Gaming’s drivers, Brandyn Gritton, who competed in the PlayStation 4 races, and Josh Shoemaker, who competed in the Xbox One events came away with the inaugural championship.

It didn’t come without some dramatics though, as Leavine Family Gaming’s driver in the Xbox league, Nick Vroman would jump from third to first on the final lap after then-leader Diego Alvarado, competing for Petty eSports, would stall in front of Shoemaker who running second.

Vroman would get the win and managed to increase LFG’s points to force a tiebreaker between themselves and Stewart-Haas. However, due to Gritton and Vroman leading more laps, they would be crowned champions.

“I thought it was a great way to recap what was a very exciting season,” Colin Smith, President of 704 Games, told POPULAR SPEED. “I think we were able to open up a lot of people’s eyes to the potential and the possibility of e-sports, as it relates to NASCAR, and we could not have asked for a better finish in terms of the event, and the quality of production, and teams we had participating.”

The finale took place in NASCAR Plaza’s Studio 43 in Charlotte and streamed on eNASCAR.com, with NASCAR’s social channels plugging the event. To the league’s credit, this really gave the event a big fight feel which Smith said was by design.

“It’s really important to have a lot of what we’re trying to do is create that type of atmosphere when we do host all of these drivers, and all of the teams on location, and we want to do more of that next year where we have the opportunity to actually create potentially a series of events around the race, themselves,” Smith said.

It was not just the NASCAR team that made the event a big deal, as involvement with the teams gave the league an added bit of legitimacy. On the day of the event, Stewart-Haas Gaming even released a video featuring Stewart-Haas Racing’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers wishing their teammates good luck.

https://twitter.com/StewartHaasGmng/status/1187036203339702274

“It was great to see some of the teams really embrace this and do some fun things with it, which is what we recommended at the very beginning of the year. Don’t treat this like it’s your traditional racing. It’s a game. It’s e-sports. Like have some fun with it,” Smith said.

He also noted he has been “extremely” pleased with team participation and thinks teams are feeling the same way, as he noted that some organizations were able to gain new sponsorship thanks in part to the newly found league. One example of this was Wood Brothers Gaming, who was able to attract a new sponsor for their eteam in Spin earlier this season.

Overall, Smith considers the first season of the league a success.

“Our demos are really strong. Like I said, the participation from the teams, and from NASCAR has been really strong, and the collective power of all those groups coming together, whether it’s brainpower, markets, or muscle, you name it, is pretty convincing. So, I think year one we learned a lot,” Smith said. “I think we’re walking out of year one with our heads held collectively high, but I also think that everyone feels there’s a lot more that we can, and should, be doing as we head into year two.”

On the topic of year two, Smith said there is a lot of things that the league is looking into such as: a bigger driver pool, a more compact schedule, a possible celebrity pro-am race, and most likely a prize pool to reward the drivers for how they compete.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Rocketman Ryan Newman on Path of Revival

Round one of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs comes to a close this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval road course. While we’ve seen drivers such as Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. soar to new heights over the last two races, the argument can be made that the most shocking performance as of late has come from Ryan Newman.

Newman, who many people doubted from the start of the 2019 Playoffs, has essentially been the poster-boy for consistency this season. In fact, the No. 6 team have finished 15th or better in 18 races, including 11 top-10 finishes and two top-fives through 28 events.

As Newman and Roush Fenway Racing begin their first championship campaign since the 2017 season, it’s difficult not to attribute a good portion of Newman’s success to new crew chief, Scott Graves. After sitting atop the pit box of Daniel Suarez for two years at Joe Gibbs Racing, Graves reunited with team owner Jack Roush this season.

Graves previously worked for Roush as both a crew chief and race engineer from 2012-15. In that time, Graves propelled Chris Buescher to a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in 2015. Astonishingly, Graves then made the transition to Joe Gibbs Racing and won a second consecutive Xfinity title with Suarez.

While Graves has compiled quite the resume in NASCAR’s lower division, this on-track success hasn’t quite translated to the Cup Series  — until this year. In Graves’ stint with Joe Gibbs Racing, he was only able to guide the driver from Monterrery, Mexico to four top-fives and 21 top-10 finishes collectively. With the  41-year-old driver, Graves has recorded two top-fives and 11 top-10s.

What makes Newman different from drivers like Buescher and Suarez? Experience. This season marks Newman’s 20th go-around in NASCAR’s premier series and since his first race at Phoenix in 2000, the driver from Indiana has developed quite the reputation – tough as nails and unrelenting. If you ask anyone in the garage area who the toughest driver to pass on track is, it would most likely be a unanimous answer in Newman.

With a mix of veteran knowledge, grit and competitive edge, the pairing of Graves and Newman makes total sense and it’s no surprise the two are feeding off of each other’s successes. Newman matched his season-best finish this season last Saturday at Richmond International Raceway, taking home the fifth-spot.

While indeed trending in the right direction and sitting comfortably above the points cutoff by 26 points, Newman will have his work cut out for him moving forward.

In the inaugural race at the Roval last season, Newman drove himself to a respectable 11th place finish. This would be fine if the drivers currently sitting 13th through 15th in the standing did not have the results they had in the same race. Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch all placed inside of the top-five. However, all three drivers have been wildly inconsistent recently.

This can seem like a daunting task for the Rocketman, but it’s also worth nothing that Aric Almirola and William Byron (who sit 11th and 12th in the standings) placed 19th and 34th at the North Carolina road course last year. Although, all of these finishes should be taken with a grain of salt. The Cup Series has only seen one race at the Roval and there really is no way of predicting who will excel and who will falter. In other words, expect the unexpected — but if anyone can capitalize, it’s Newman.

Assuming Newman can take this 26 point lead to the round of 12, this is where things can get really tricky. Looking ahead to Talladega Superspeedway, Dover International Speedway and Kansas Speedway, the driver of the No. 6 may need to replicate a top-five for the second week in a row to provide momentum.

Of the three upcoming tracks, Newman’s best finish this season came at Talladega with a seventh-place finish. He finished 18th at Dover and 23rd at Kansas – his worst statistical track on the circuit. While his career numbers aren’t terrible at the trio of tracks (a combined 10 wins from 2000-19), his stat line over the last five races at these tracks is not stellar.

At Talladega, Newman has one top-five and three top-10 finishes over the last five races, with an m average finish of 13.6 (ninth-best among active drivers). Dover has been a decent  track for the 41-year-old driver, who’s driven his way to one top-five and one top-10 in the same five race span. As mentioned, Kansas is Newman’s worst statistical track and with no top-fives and no top-10s to speak of in the last five races; it is worth nothing that in 27 races, he’s got one win, three top-fives and seven top-10s.

It very well could be an uphill battle from here for Newman. But one thing is certain – he will fight tooth and nail for every position and this team will not go down without a fight. The Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 team is certainly on a hot streak and they’ll have to continue this stretch if they want to keep their championship hopes alive through the round of 12.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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NASCAR Seeks Broader Audience with New Film and Netflix Show

It’s been well documented that over the last few years NASCAR’s TV ratings have been consistently trending downwards. This could loosely be traced back to when Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon retired in 2015.  Since then, a handful of the sport’s superstars have departed from full-time racing and as a result fans are following.

It now appears NASCAR is seeking help in the form of Hollywood entertainment in hopes of drawing in a greater population of race fans.

Television icon and avid NASCAR fan Kevin James is taking his comedic talents to Netflix in 2020 for the new multi-cam sitcom The Crew. The new sitcom will feature James as an old school crew chief who is resistant to the inevitable advancements of modern day technologies. When the team owner steps down and leaves his daughter in charge, these changes are implemented rapidly – and naturally, the two don’t see eye-to-eye.

The Long Island Native will not only be starring in the show, but he will be teaming up with longtime production partner Jeff Sussman to serve as a co-executive producer. NASCAR will also have a hand in crafting the show with a pair of senior executives also producing alongside James and Sussman – Senior Executive of Digital Operations, Tim Clark and Senior Executive of Entertainment Marketing, Matthew Summers.

The only other name attached to the project is sitcom writer Jeff Lowell, who has worked on hit shows such as Two and a Half Men and The Ranch. There is no word on who will be taking on the pivotal roles of the team owner and his daughter (let the Leah Remini rumors commence).

NASCAR may have hit a home run with this pitch, because the potential for success is seemingly enormous. Netflix has been the most dominant company in terms of streaming and entertainment services since 2013 and their success just keeps growing. It was reported that in the second quarter of 2019, there were 151 million subscribers worldwide using Netflix’s streaming services – that’s A LOT of eyes that will likely be tuning into The Crew. But what’s the allure?

For starters, James is a massive comedic TV icon. James broke onto the scene with the wildly successful show, The King of Queens, which aired for an astounding nine years. Sussman served as the producer for all nine seasons with James, so there is a high probability that the duo can recreate some of their chemistry and television magic with The Crew.

It also helps that James is known to be a huge fan of NASCAR who rarely misses a race. This should bring forth an authentic and passion-driven performance from the actor, in addition to his knowledge of the sport. We also have NASCAR’s ties to the show. With a pair of the sport’s senior executives playing a heavy role in the production of the Netflix comedy, this should ensure that  the sport shown in a truthful light.

Lastly, although no other casting news has been confirmed, it would not be out of the ordinary to see some of James’ friends such as Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade make a cameo on the show. The group of friends are notorious for making appearances in each other’s projects. And don’t count out driver cameos! The film Logan Lucky which premiered in 2017 showcased the (brief) acting talents of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Carl Edwards.

Between James’ and Netflix’s popularity and the infinite possibilities stemming from NASCAR’s involvement, the sky seems like the limit for The Crew. The bottom line is, if the show is done right, NASCAR could be seeing a dramatic increase in viewership over the next few years.

The Crew is slated to premiere on Netflix in 2020 with no official release date.

Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Making the jump from the small-screen to the silver screen, Michael Waltrip‘s documentary, Blink of an Eye, premiered in theaters worldwide this week. The documentary is an adaptation from Waltrip’s critically acclaimed and “New York Times Bestseller” book which examines Waltrip and the late Dale Earnhardt’s friendship.

After snapping a 462 race winless streak in the biggest race of the year, Waltrip’s triumphant euphoria comes to a screeching halt within seconds after finding out seven-time champion, team owner and his best friend, Earnhardt, passed away after getting involved a wreck on the final lap of the same event.

For those who have not read the book and do not know the story, Waltrip is able to articulate his damning range of emotions with ease. Seeing how Waltrip’s story translates from writing to the big screen should be nothing short of spectacular, especially with help from Emmy-award winning director Paul Taublieb at the helm.

With the combination of Waltrip and Taublieb’s storytelling coupled with one of the most heartbreaking stories in sports history, audiences should expect a full-on assault of their emotions in theaters. This is a drastic – and much needed – change in direction for how NASCAR had been previously portrayed by Hollywood.

Blink of an Eye should showcase NASCAR in a devastatingly serious manner. Prior to this we’ve only recently seen the sport shown in a comedic and childish light with films such as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Logan Lucky and Pixar’s Cars trilogy. You would have to turn back the clock 29 years to find the last time NASCAR was shown in a non-comedic light with Days of Thunder.

Not to say there’s anything wrong with the sport being shown in a comedic or youthful light. This is great way to bring in a new generation of viewers and comedy almost always sells (especially in the form of Will Ferrel and John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights). It’s just nice to see the sport being taken seriously instead of one big joke.

People want to watch characters (or athletes) they can relate to. Witnessing and listening to Waltrip’s story through his words offers audiences a raw and honest look into the minds and lives of these athletes and ultimately gives them something they can both sympathize and empathize with.

It will be interesting to see if Waltrip’s documentary can generate enough Oscar’s buzz to be considered a nominee for “Best Documentary” in The 92nd Academy Awards. The story is certainly there and with Taulieb directing, Blink of an Eye could be NASCAR’s broken Cinderella story for the sport.

If the documentary can indeed earn a nomination at the Academy Awards, it could have potential to draw an even broader audience from the cinema community. This could then spark a NASCAR trend in Hollywood and with that the possibilities are infinite.

The popular trend in the film industry is currently reboots and sequels. Whose to say we can’t get a Talladega Nights or Days of Thunder sequel? After all, Tom Cruise is returning for a Top Gun reboot – a film which premiered 33 years ago. So why couldn’t he return as an older and wiser Cole Trickle?

Personally, I’d love to see Waltrip’s story told in a more cinematic way, much like the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s Rush.

What are your thoughts on NASCAR’s outreach through television and cinema? Would you like to see reboots, sequels or certain stories told through the big screen?

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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Review of NASCAR Heat 4

Gamers rejoice, as there’s something brand new for you to enjoy. NASCAR Heat 4 is the latest installment of the NASCAR’s video game franchise, with Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart serving as cover stars for the standard edition, and Hall of Famer, Jeff Gordon appearing on the “Gold” edition of the game.

After receiving its fair share of criticism for NASCAR Heat 3, 704games, the game developers, had a lot of eyes of them when it came to their newest product, myself included. You see, I actually skipped the third version after being disappointed with the second one, and honestly went back to playing the EA Sports games from a decade ago, that I believe were and still are better.

So, heading into this game, my lone question was simple – is it any good?

To answer that, I dived in and spent a long time just digesting it and seeing what it really had to offer.

First thing, I ran a simple quick race, and immediately I was impressed. Not only were the graphics the best I’ve seen from a NASCAR game, but it also ran super smooth no bugs, no lag, nothing like that.

It was also cool to see the little additions that they threw in like in-race storylines, where before the race it would tell you who has been fast in practice, and if anybody had to go to rear of the field for failed inspections or practice related accidents. That’s something I’ve never seen in a NASCAR game before.

Another note about just running a race is how the track changes; for example, if you are running a night race, it will get gradually darker as the event goes on.

So, aside from all the extra stuff, how was the actual race gameplay?

It was a lot of fun and probably one of the more challenging games I’ve played; hard races were challenging hard unlike most NASCAR games and, easy races still forced you to work for it.

Another nice thing about the gameplay was the settings, as not only could you set it to whatever skill level you wanted, you could also set up if you wanted a more compressed field or spread out. You could also set how the opposing cars would handle, and how the opposing cars would respond. Again, something I had never seen a NASCAR game before.

The biggest thing I wanted to see was career mode.

In my opinion, the best career mode came in NASCAR Thunder 2004, where you had to save money and slowly establish your team from the ground up while being careful about spending, and in NASCAR Chase For The Cup, where you could work your way up the NASCAR ladder. For those curious, NASCAR Heat 2 was probably the worst career mode I played, just because it lacked any features that these games that over a decade old had, and it was just boring.

Those three games were where I set the bar for NASCAR Heat 4, and in all honesty, it greatly exceeded the bar, and is the best career mode I’ve ever played. It has everything I loved about the 2004 and 2005 games wrapped up ever so nicely.

You have to work your way up from dirt, which is the hardest series in the game, all the way up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Once you’ve saved up enough money, you can create a team, buy cars, hire people, and have a lot of room for customization.

Now, let’s talk about customization because it has been a problem for 704games.

This game was the exact improvement I wanted to see, from more design options for your various rides to being able to customize your driver’s appearance and fire suit (again, something I don’t remember being possible in any other NASCAR game).

I will say though, that the paint booth still isn’t exactly where I’d to see, whereas games like NASCAR 15 you had not only all the freedom in the world for customization of cars but could also run various paint schemes in your career mode, something that is still impossible in this game.

So, all in all, what was my final thoughts of the gamw?

I believe that this is not only this best NASCAR game that has been out in a long time. I believe it is truly a really fun, really good game, that I would highly recommend to not only fans of the sport, but to anybody that likes video games, it is that good.

If you are reading this and have been previously been turned away by the most recent NASCAR games because they were bad, I highly encourage that you give this game a shot.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Stadium Super Trucks Experience Successful, Exciting Return to Toronto

TORONTO, Ontario — When the schedule of events came out for the 2019 Honda Indy Toronto, there was one series that caught a lot of attention – the SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks. After all, they hadn’t been north of the border since 2016.

Just seven years in existence, Robby Gordon‘s series has already grown it’s reputation for it’s high-flying, aggressive, close quarters racing no matter the track they are on. As a result, fans came out all three days to watch the action, with one fan making the trip from Nova Scotia for the sole reason of seeing the trucks.

“It’s great to be back in Toronto,” Gordon told POPULAR SPEED. “The fans here are just amazing. To be able to work with Kevin and Kim again with their promotion group and the guys that promote this race. They should be very proud of the Honda Indy Toronto this weekend. Unbelievable crowd. The racing was good, exciting, and we’re ecstatic in the tracks.”

Gordon’s thoughts were echoed through the grid of drivers, as Toronto has produced some exciting racing in the past. Both events in the last trip to Toronto in 2016 saw Matt Brabham and Sheldon Creed go back and forth both days, with a photo finish on the Sunday.

“It was awesome,” Brabham said post-race. “This weekend has been fantastic. It’s so great to be back. I think every seat in the grandstands was full and as soon as our race ended, they were all empty as they were down looking at our trucks. Toronto puts such good racing on for all of us, and creates some great battles – like 2016 with Sheldon and I finishing side-by-side at the start-finish line. So obviously, the fans are glad that we are back. I’m having a good time, and enjoying it.”

For both events, even with weather threatening on Saturday, each of the grandstands were full. Fans then also took the opportunity to line the fences by the jumps, getting as close as they could to the action through turns eight and nine. 

“As far as racing, this is a beautiful race track for us,” Gordon said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s tight, but it’s wide, and makes really great racing. We have to put our jumps in unique areas because we want to put our jumps where the fans are. That way we can have everybody where they can see them as they like to see them fly.”

While it was a bummer to see the event cut short on Saturday by a couple of laps due to weather, the series stepped up in giving back to the fans by keeping the trucks out in the rain to allow everybody to use their tents as shelter. They also added three laps to Sunday’s event in an effort to make up for the shortage.

There were no sad faces in having extra laps on-track, as the trucks produced side-by-side racing through both days. With the field packed together, there was some rubbing at times, but for the most part, everybody kept it clean – except for the hood coming off of Jeff Hoffman’s truck.

“The competition is just getting tighter and everybody is getting faster, and it’s harder to pass,” Gordon commented. “We do that full inversion where you start at the back and you work your way through. So for us, it’s makes exciting racing, but it’s very hard to get from the back to the front clean. But that’s what the fans want. They want to see passes, not see us follow the leader.”

While there was close racing in both races, series points leader Matt Brabham came out on top with the overall victory. He kicked off the weekend by being the top qualifier, backed up with a pair of runner-ups. 

“It was awesome,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “That’s what we come here to do for the weekend. That’s the goal – to get the overall win. You get the most championship points and the prize money, and that’s the big goal. So obviously I started last in both races and the last race, I was right there and almost got the win but it wasn’t meant to be. Gavin (Harlein) just did a good job.”

Cole Potts scored the victory in the first event, followed by a third-place on Sunday to come away with second-place overall for the weekend. He believes he had something for the top-two in race two to possibly come away with the weekend double, by was focused on taking care of his equipment. 

“Once you get the tires hot, they get super sensitive,” he commented. “Matty and Gavin were willing to risk it a little more, so congrats to them. but great track, had a lot of fun out there.”

Although Gavin Harlien came away with the win on Sunday, he would ultimately place fourth overall. 

“The competition is definitely getting better as the races go on,” Harlien said. “I’m definitely not used to starting all the way up front in fifth-place, so going through the field like that and getting the lead early was definitely a change. I don’t have a problem starting all the way in the back. I kind of like seeing what everyone was doing, and letting them wreck each other and make mistakes, picking them off one-by-one.

“But I was really calm behind Bill Hynes, Casey Mears – he’s a legend but he’s still new to game, but I still kind of took a while to pass them. So the competition is really good in SST; everybody is always nose to tail. I was fortunate to get the lead early.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Reviewing the Hurley Haywood Documentary

If you are a long-time sportscar fan, you have heard of Hurley Haywood. After all, he was able to be victorious multiple times in the 24 Hours of Daytona, before winning the 24 Hours of LeMan. For that reason, it is no surprise that Derek Dodge and Patrick Dempsey collaborated together with a team to tell his story. 

Those involved with the project got it right, by showcasing the prestige of Daytona through the partnership between Dempsey, Wright Motorsports, Brumos Porsche, and Haywood as they intertwined the story throughout. It allowed the viewer to get a look behind the scenes the preparations for the race, while getting to know Haywood through the stories and how he helped the team that weekend.

As a result, it also gave the connection to the younger generation of fans who may not be aware of Haywood’s success and connection to the sport’s history. It allowed everyone involved to keep the content fresh, and show how racing is in some ways still the same today despite how much technology has changed. This was displayed in Haywood’s ability to offer advice to Dempsey and others on the race team, just like Peter Gregg helped manage him in the first few stages of his career. As a result, it offers another way for fans young and old watching together to relate. 

There are also the discussions, whether in today’s age or before, in how to make it at the top of Motorsports, you need to sacrifice everything while making sure to chase perfection at every step. Haywood makes sure to tell the viewer it all, from the highs of success, to the lows including the friendship breakdown between himself and Gregg. 

Whether you were a fan of Haywood, or you are becoming aware of who he is, the movie has something to offer everyone. Haywood shared stories that had never been told before, dating back to when he was growing up. Through everything, there’s nothing held back as he makes sure to tell the viewer it all, from the highs of success, to the lows including the friendship breakdown between himself and Gregg. 

Ultimately, the differing perspectives offered from Gregg’s story, to Haywood’s, to even how Dempsey has lived his life from actor to racer, display the ability to march to your own drum – but also known as racers for their accomplishments. 

The biggest thing with the movie, though, is it goes beyond a simple documentary in speaking of a driver. The story telling brings forth a whole new dimension that non-racing fans can get behind, with the candidness from everyone involved on other subjects like the LGBT community, mental health, and suicide.

The movie branches into many different aspects about Hurley and being gay, including not mixing “business with pleasure” due to how being gay was viewed at the height of his career, to possibly how the stereotypes have changed since then. It also asks the important questions, like “If Haywood came out and said he was gay, would his career been over back then?”

Everything is able to come off well, and with an impact, thanks to the candidness by Haywood, and others with their interviews and sharing their inner most thoughts with the world to see. There were certain comments that will catch your eye, such as Steve Hill “never being acknowledged as Hurley’s partner, and that’s a shame,” simply due to the fact that “being gay was not accepted as it is today” at that time. 

“The moments I was most disappointed was when he won the race,” Haywood’s partner Hill revealed. “I knew if I was a woman, his wife, I would’ve been carried out there on the car.”

While certainly a tribute to a great career, the piece will go beyond that in how it makes you think about these topics. As Haywood told POPULAR SPEED, “All of the feedback that I get from people that have seen the film is that each person takes something a little different from it, and applies to their own lives and family. I think that’s really a testimony to the strength and power of a film that’s well done.”

For fans interested in the documentary, they can learn more at http://www.hurleyhaywood.com

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.