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NASCAR Cup Series

Team Penske Implements Cup Crew Chief Swap

Beginning with the newly titled NASCAR Cup Series and a complete schedule remodeling, the upcoming 2020 season is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and divisive yet. Adding to the plethora of changes coming to NASCAR’s premier series, Team Penske just announced it will be implementing a full crew chief swap amongst it’s three drivers – just one month away from the Daytona 500.

This shakeup in the Penske stable does come as a surprise for series veterans, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, as both drivers have been with their crew chiefs since joining the famed team run by Roger Penske. The two drivers have produced much success over their tenure with their respected pairings of Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon (including championships), but looking more in-depth, the bombshell decision makes sense.

The swap doesn’t particularly target needed results in the No. 2 and No. 22 camps, but in the growth and development of Ryan Blaney. Since entering full-time competition in the Cup Series in 2016, the highly touted racing prodigy has yet to progress into the great potential he brings to the table.

Blaney – who had been paired with Jeremy Bullins in 2012 when he joined Team Penske in the NASCAR Xfinity Series  – has only found victory lane three times in the last three season. It’s not to say the driver of the No. 12 has not had moderate success; he just hasn’t produced as well as some of the other young talents in the Cup Series.

With all of this in mind, the swap should be a win for all drivers involved. Blaney will be inheriting an experienced, championship winning crew chief, as Keselowski and Logano will be gifted with a fresh change in scenery to build off of the successes they’ve had in their time at Team Penske.

Matthew T. Thacker

Brad Keselowski & Jeremy Bullins

Let’s begin with the pairing that makes the most sense – Keselowski and Bullins. Bullins makes the jump from the No. 12 team and will now sit atop the pit box of the 2012 Cup Series Champion. The new duo has a history together (and a successful one). From 2012-14, Bullins was at the helm for the Michigan-native for 47 races in the Xfinity Series and the two found victory 14 times.

Keselowski and Wolfe were one of the most dominant forces in the garage area in terms of wins, but one championship and only one additional title-bid over the last eight seasons is not the most desirable. While it couldn’t have hurt to keep the long-standing duo in-tact, the undeniable talents of the 35 year-old driver blended with the past experience of Bullins should add a little more competitive edge to the No. 2 team.

One driving factor for this new pairing is Keselowski’s inability to put together a full season, as of late. The driver of the No. 2 has yet to advance past the Round of 8 since the sport implemented it’s most recent Playoff format. Out of Bullins’ three wins with Blaney, two of them came during the post season.

While Bullins only has three Cup wins to his resume, since joining the Penske organization in 2012, he’s been the crew chief for 10 different drivers and produced 21 additional wins in that span.

Nigel Kinrade

Joey Logano & Paul Wolfe

This is the swap that should have every team on edge in the Cup Series. The 2018 Series Champion will now team up with 2012 Championship winning crew chief, Paul Wolfe. At age 29, Logano is about to enter his prime as an athlete and he already has 23 wins. Wolfe is the winningest crew chief amongst the three being moved around the  organization with 29 victories in the last nine years.

While the new tandem doesn’t have any experience working together, a champion entering his prime mixed with one of the greatest minds in the sport should bode well for the No. 22 team. Over the last three years, the Connecticut-native drove his way to six wins, one title and 64 top-10s (the most out of the three Penske drivers). In that same span, Wolfe guided Keselowski to nine wins and 40 top-fives (the most out of trio of athletes).

The most compelling argument for this pairing can be found in second half successes for both parties. Historically, Keselowski and Wolfe produced most of their success in the early stages of the season and once making it to the Playoffs, found difficulty in advancing past the Round of 8. Logano on the other hand, typically hits his stride mid-way through the season and is often a contender to make it to the Final 4.

It should also be noted that when Wolfe won the championship in 2012, his driver was 28 years old – just one year younger than the driver he is inheriting. This could be a deadly match in 2020 and beyond, all eyes will be on the No. 22 team to be a contender year-round.

Rusty Jarrett

Ryan Blaney & Todd Gordon

When dealing with the growth and development of any athlete, experience is key. With Gordon making the transition from the No.22 team to the No. 12 team, the 26 year-old will indeed be presented with tons of experience. Gordon has been a presence in NASCAR since 2005 when he began his stint as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series. He made the jump to Team Penske in 2011 when he worked alongside series veterans Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish Jr.

Gordon was able to guide his drivers to 28 NASCAR sanctioned wins and one series title, all with Team Penske. When him and Logano first teamed up in 2013, they found success immediately. In fact, the pair did not have a winless season in their seven year history and in that time compiled the most top-fives and top-10s for Team Penske, in addition to the organization’s most recent championship.

Gordon now finds himself in an all too familiar position while leading the No. 12 team. Much like Logano in 2013, Blaney is a hot, young talent with all eyes on him every week. While he couldn’t do much in the No. 20 car at Joe Gibbs Racing, once Logano signed with Roger Penske and worked alongside Gordon, things started clicking for the driver of the No. 22; now he is consistently one of the best drivers in the field. Mr. Penske and Gordon could be seeking that same magic that came to fruition with Logano.

This crew chief swap should spell success for all teams involved at Team Penske. Whether it be fine-tuning production that has been in the organization, or cracking untapped potential for a young driver, this could be the team to watch for in 2020. Every year, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske are the strongest teams once the season begins at Daytona International Speedway. However, the Ford-led group typically trails off about halfway through the season. Could this be the shakeup that Team Penske needs to compete year-round with Joe Gibbs Racing?

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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 Cup Series

Keselowski and Logano Speak Out on Comments Made by Bubba Wallace

AVONDALE, Arizona — Throughout the weekend of the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway, Bubba Wallace was hounded by the media after accusations of an apparent intentional spin that occurred in the AAA Texas 500 from Texas Motor Speedway.

In a video taken by NASCAR NBC Sports writer, Dustin Long, the driver of the No. 43 – visibly agitated – admitted to intentionally committing the act, but credited his actions to things he learned from Team Penske drivers, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

The drivers of the No.2 and No. 22 Ford Mustangs witnessed the the footage of Wallace’s comments, but we’re puzzled to what incidents he was referring to.

The only incident that came to mind for Logano occurred in the first race in the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway, just two weeks prior.

The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion was driven up the track by Denny Hamlin and sandwiched between the right side of the No. 11 and the outside wall down the front stretch. This led to a flat tire and an untimely spin from Logano, which ultimately resulted in the infamous altercation between the driver of the FedEx Camry and the driver of the Shell/Pennzoil Ford at the conclusion of the First Data 500.

“At Martinsville, I got a flat tire,” Logano told POPULAR SPEED. “I’m trying not to crash, trying not to hit anything or get the quarter panels torn up – trying to live to race another day, basically. That’s kind of the thought at that moment, ‘How do I continue my race?'”

The Connecticut-native didn’t have much to say about the comments made by Wallace, although he seemed to have inferred that he may have aided with the on-track spin to prevent further damage.

While Logano opted a more tight-lipped approach to the situation, Keselowski did not shy away from speaking his mind on the accusations and the state of NASCAR, in certain regards.

” I wish he [Wallace] had given more context, because I’m not exactly sure what he’s talking about.,” Keselowski shared with POPULAR SPEED. “I’m guessing he’s talking about Michigan (International Speedway) when I had a flat tire and somehow kept it off the wall – but, that one was savable, it wasn’t by me. I don’t really have a lot of thoughts on it without understanding what he meant.”

The driver of the Miller Lite Ford seemed to defend Wallace and went on to reference NASCAR’s early lineage in a sense that the sport was literally founded off of criminals – bootleggers running moonshine through the Appalachian foothills during the prohibition-era. Keselowski finds it ironic that the sport has transitioned from hard-nosed competitiveness to a  “squeaky-clean perfect” approach.

“It makes you wonder about the days of Dale [Earnhardt] and all the other guys and what they were able to get away with,” the Michigan-native pondered. “Everyone obviously misses Dale, but then I wonder sometimes – if a guy like Dale was around would he even be accepted today?”

Keselowski admitted that this is not all due in part to NASCAR wanting clean and fair racing. He is fully aware that a vast majority of the sport’s revenue is acquired through sponsorships and naturally, partners prefer more ethical and cleaner methods upon representation.

After Long’s video of Wallace went viral on Twitter, the sport’s sanctioning body swiftly took action and slapped the 25-year old driver with a $50,000 fine and a deduction of 50 points from the No. 43 team.

Although NASCAR’s intent was to send a message, don’t expect these penalties to prevent further incidents like this from occurring in the future. Teams are always fighting tooth and nail to get best finish they can attain and that all begins with preserving the car.

While attempts to save the car won’t be as blatant as Wallace’s actions at Texas (See the video below) – we can almost guarantee that drivers will think twice about admitting to guilt. Sometimes the truth does not set you free.

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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 Cup Series

Playoff Drivers are Feeling the Pressure at ISM Raceway with New Traction Compound

AVONDALE, Arizona — The Arizona sun beams down on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage area. Blue skies collide with the outside wall that stretches across the dormant 1.5 mile ISM Raceway. But this is far from a laid back weekend in the Valley of the Sun.

Cup Series crew members are frantically fine tuning their machines and lining up to go through inspection before hitting the track for what will positively be an intense pressure cooker of a race in Avondale, Arizona. While the premier series will only be partaking in a pair of practice sessions this Friday, there is more on the line now than ever to perform well this weekend.

ISM Raceway has been the sight of the semi-final event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit since 2002. But it was announced that in 2020, the track that underwent a $178 million renovation would be the sight of the Championship race weekend.

Why is this race in specific one that every driver had circled on their calendar for the 2019 season?

The 2020 Championship race will be held on November 8th, exactly one year from today. Not only will track conditions be almost identical to this weekend, but the rules package being applied to the Bluegreen Vacation 500 will be the same next year. On top of that, there is a new PJ1 traction compound being applied to the racing surface, which has the entire garage area in a frenzy – and for good reason.

There was a traction compound applied to the previous race at Texas Motor Speedway and drivers like Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott, found out quickly that slipping up in those grooves could get treacherous.

Playoff drivers expressed a plethora of concerns about how the race will play out on November 10th and expect it to be a challenge for all 312 Laps. Even previous Cup Series Champions Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, who are currently in the Championship 4 by upwards of 20 points, are on edge about the competition around them this Sunday.

“We’ll be watching those Trucks and Xfinity races pretty closely,” Logano said. “I think it’s going to take a little bit for it to come in but it looks to me like it will probably come into play in Turns 1 and 2 – it’s pretty high up there in Turns 3 and 4.”

Logano was one of a handful of Playoff drivers who performed well in the AAA Texas 500 with the new traction compound, notching a fourth-place finish. He sits fourth in the standings 20 points to the good and will need a clean race to advance to Homestead-Miami Speedway for a chance to win back-to-back championships.

Busch has the worst average finish in the Playoffs – next to the driver of the No. 22 – with a 13.38 average through eight races . All eyes will be on the No. 18 M&Ms Camry as Busch is currently riding a two-race win streak at the 1.5-mile track with an impressive 2.8 average finish over the last five events at ISM Raceway.

“Here at Phoenix it’s already very challenging and difficult to pass,” Busch said when asked about the PJ1 compound. “We saw that here in the Spring, but we’ll see how it goes. It’s going to be a hard fought finish this year and next year at the end.”

Martins Truex Jr. locked himself into the series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway after capturing his third short track win of the season in the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago. Normally, Truex could play it safe and focus on the weekend ahead, but the driver of the No. 19 will be far from complacent with a lackluster performance at the track formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway.

“I think it’s on everyone’s mind that this will be the final four race that decides the championship next year, so this race and the Spring race will be very important – especially with the rules package staying the same,” said the 2017 Cup Series Champion. “Everyone’s going to want to get a good head start on next Spring here for sure this weekend.”

The driver from Mayetta, New Jersey was also one of the benefactors of a rewarding finish last weekend at Texas. It should come as no surprise that the championship-caliber driver is one of the few drivers not overly concerned with the traction compound this weekend.

“At some point Sunday we’ll use that traction compound in [Turns] three and four because we typically run a higher line on long green flag runs,” Truex said. “It just depends on if enough guys are running up there and working it in – if that happens it’ll probably get pretty good.”

Playoff drivers below the cutoff line such as Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Hamlin could be pitted with an advantage over drivers like Busch and Logano due to their inherent need to perform well or win for a chance to compete for the 2019 Championship.

Larson was one of the lone drivers in the Cup Series in favor of the PJ1 compound application last weekend and he is feeling confident heading into the Bluegreen Vacations 500 this Sunday.

“I feel like there’s nobody better in our series in terms of searching for lanes and grooves to make your car better,” the driver of the No. 42 said. “If it burns in quick, I think I’ll really benefit from it.”

Talladega Superspeedway winner and racing prodigy, Blaney, revealed that he believes restarts could get even more hectic than normal this Sunday due to the track compound application.

“In the Spring you saw those wild four-five wide racing on restarts, but it’s going to be even more interesting this year especially with the stuff they put down on [Turns] one and two up top,” the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford said. “I think people are going to be using that top lane later in the day and it’s really going to affect restarts.”

The 25-year old started from the pole at ISM Raceway earlier this year and finished third with a legitimate shot to win. Blaney also reiterated that he had been pushed around quite a bit in that race and that he intends to return the favor and be one of the aggressors on those climatic restarts.

Hamlin, who finds himself 20 points below the cutoff line, was deemed one of the 2019 favorites for the Championship after an impeccable season. The 38-year old found trouble at both Martinsville and Texas Motor Speedway, but his chances really took a hit when he accidentally got caught up in the traction compound in the AAA Texas 500.

The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Camry had some strong words about the PJ1 application and even tried taking matters into his own hands following the race at Texas.

“I discussed with NASCAR that you’d have a better show from beginning to end if they didn’t add anything after the Xfinity race,” Hamlin shared. “Those cars did a really good job burning it in and it was actually really good at that time – it would’ve been great to start the Cup race with.”

Hamlin went on to further explain that the traction compound took hundreds of laps to properly develop last week and it was really slick – hence why when he got loose in re-application and crashed. With 312 Laps at a 1.5-mile track, the Cup Series may not have have the luxury of waiting hundreds of laps for the compound to burn in.

The Virginia-native boasts a series-leading average finishing position of 9.2 through 34 of 36 races this season and will need to replicate more of that magic this Sunday to continue his dominant stretch into Miami.

If the prior Playoff Round finales at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway are any indication of what to expect at ISM Raceway, then fans are in for a dramatically intense race at Zoomtown U.S.A. With two only spots available before Championship weekend at Homestead and teams already stressing about the PJ1 traction application, you won’t want to miss the Bluegreen Vacations 500 from ISM Raceway at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC.

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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 Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway

The legitimacy of the champion produced by the playoff system in NASCAR has been, and will be debated for years to come with fans are either side of the fence. However, the post-season is producing what the sanctioning body wanted – drama.

Eyes were focused in on the final laps of the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, with everyone wondering who the eight drivers transferring to the Round of 8 would be. Certainly the late race caution helped up the stakes, but there were plenty of things to watch at the end, from Chase Elliott‘s late-race charge to challenge for the victory, to Brad Keselowski trying to salvage a decent day and losing ground at the end.

Ultimately, Keselowski saw his championships hope end courtesy of a mere three points. Although you could blame the sub-par performance on Sunday, there was also a crash at Talladega Superspeedway and an 11th-place finish at Dover International Speedway. If only he would have finished three spots further up the board any of those times.

Though essentially, Keselowski struggled and handed Elliott a gift – in which he capitalized when necessary. 

Elliott gets another breath of life by transferring. After a stellar first round with the comeback win at the ROVAL, an engine failure at Dover to start this round certainly took some wind out of the sails. Though showing he could contend for the victory on Sunday, combined with statistically having done well at both Martinsville Speedway and ISM Raceway, he could be someone to watch moving forward.

Denny Hamlin will enter the Round of 8 with the most momentum, courtesy of his victory on Sunday after pacing the field much of the second half. Historically known as one of the best at Martinsville and solid statistics through the other two tracks, he could certainly mount a charge for the championship. After all, he has finished four of the six playoff events thus far in the top-five.

Putting aside the drama in the final laps involving the playoffs, the Hollywood Casino 400 was still a great race to watch from the fan’s perspective. Between the aged surface and a new tire compound, drivers were using multiple grooves across the surface to try and gain time on their competitors. This allowed for side-by-side racing throughout the entire duration of the event, including a couple battles for the lead.

If every race could be like what we saw on Sunday, then perhaps other gimmicks would not be necessary for fan excitement.

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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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NASCAR Cup Series

Can Team Penske Recapture Late Season Magic At Darlington?

It is no question that Team Penske is a powerhouse in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, as of late, the organization seems to step behind some of the other top teams in the sport.

Brad Keselowski has not been to victory lane since his win at Kansas Speedway in May and has only had one top-five in the last seven races. His teammate Joey Logano had a win at Michigan International Speedway in June, but has had just three top-10’s and one top-five since including a current run of four straight events with a finish of 13th or worse. Then there is Ryan Blaney, who has yet to see victory lane this year and has only led 12 laps since Talladega Superspeedway in April.

It is not all bad news though, as the team is heading into a stretch of races that could be argued propelled them to their championship last season.

While many will remember the impressive run by Keselowski, who went on a three-race win streak starting with Darlington Raceway, but his two teammates were solid as well.

Logano finished runner-up in the Southern 500 and led laps in the playoff opener at Las Vegas before finishing fourth. Blaney was able to start a five-race streak of top-10 starts, and also scored a top-five in Vegas.

While stats are all fine and good, it is also worth remembering where this team was at a year ago which may bring feeling a sense of déjà vu. Why is this all sounding familiar? It is because of this a very similar position to where they were a year ago.

Team Penske was not the best team in the sport last year; they were again just behind a dominant team like Joe Gibbs Racing. However, after this upcoming three-race stretch, there was no questioning the ability of this team. They were the ones with the championship at the end of the season.

These are three drivers who get good when the pressure of the season begins to heat up.

Team Penske has had a driver in the Championship 4 in four of the last five season, despite not being the most dominant on a weekly basis. This is not anything new, which is important that we keep an eye on this team that is seemingly under the radar.

If they continue to follow the trends from a year ago, expect success from Penske in the upcoming weeks.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Top 5 Throwback Paint Schemes Heading Into Darlington

Following Denny Hamlin‘s bittersweet triumph over Matt DiBenedetto in the exhilarating Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series action comes to a screeching halt and at the perfect time.

For drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer who sit just below the points cutoff for the playoffs, this is the final week without racing for the remainder of the season. With only two races remaining before the Playoffs, these athletes will need every bit of rest and strength as they are thrust into a twelve-week marathon.

According to NBC Sports, the 2019 Bristol night race saw a seven-percent increase from last season in viewership on NBCSN, making it the most successfully televised Saturday Cup Series race on cable in over two years. While the off-week may seem like a cooler for the sport, it can be seen as quite the opposite. When the action resumes for the Cup Series, NASCAR and race fans will be thrown right back into a weekend of intensity and tradition.

After a weekend of excitement and a week of anticipation, the Cup Series ratings should continue to improve as the premier series heads to South Carolina for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Considered one of the sports crowned jewels, the 1.366 mile speedway has always been a highly anticipated weekend. However, since 2015 this has become more than another race weekend; it’s become a celebration and tribute to NASCAR and the legends who paved the way for the sport’s future.

Throwback weekend at ‘The Lady in Black’ is an event where drivers and teams pay homage to drivers from NASCAR’s past. The most popular display of appreciation has come in the form of paint scheme replication. However, we’ve seen everything from hairstyles, fire suits and facial hair being  imitated to near-perfection during the three year span of this tradition.

Here are our Top-5 throwback paint schemes being driven for the Bojangles’ Southern 500:

Photo Courtesy of Darlington Raceway

Brad Keselowski

Ever since the throwback theme began in 2015, Brad Keselowski has consistently had one of the best dressed cars in the garage area for the Southern 500 and this year is no exception. The reigning champion of Darlington is set to run the No. 2 Miller Ford Mustang, a paint scheme made famous by Rusty Wallace who drove the car during his 1996 season.

The No. 2 Mustang features a black base with burnt-yellow numbers and the same color outlining the trim on the car. A subtle red and blue flame design drifts down the side of the car, giving it a very bold look. The design stays true to Wallace’s 1996 Thunderbird, while also staying current with the today’s times.

If the 2012 Cup Series Champion wants to best Wallace’s run with this paint scheme at Darlington, he won’t have to do too much. Wallace started 28th in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 and after getting involved in a wreck on Lap 47, he lost an engine on Lap 102, earning him a 38th place finish.

Keselowski has a great shot at replicating the magic made from last year’s Southern 500. The Michigan-native ranks sixth among active drivers with an average finish of eighth over the last two seasons.

Photo Courtesy of Roush Fenway Racing

Ryan Newman

When you hear mention of the No.6 car, it’s hard not to think of Mark Martin and all the great looking cars he’s driven in his 31-year long career. Ryan Newman will be piloting the same design as Martin’s 1993 Valvoline car. You may remember this paint scheme hitting the track back in 2015 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran it during the inaugural throwback event at Darlington.

Newman and his No. 6 team did a great job in resurrecting this paint scheme with a twist. Martin’s iconic Valvoline Ford Thunderbird featured vibrant reds, blues and whites which corresponded to the sponsor logo. Similarly, Newman’s Oscar Mayer Ford Mustang will feature the same design as Martin, but with Oscar Mayer’s colors of yellow, orange and red. This is a very simple, yet vibrant and clean looking paint scheme.

Martin started fourth in the 1993 Southern 500 and would eventually go on to lead 178 Laps en route to Jack Roush’s first Southern 500 win. With only 14 points keeping Newman safe from Playoff elimination, he is looking forward to a strong run at the 1.366 mile track.

“Darlington is my favorite track on the circuit and the Southern 500 is one of the best events on our schedule,” Newman said in an interview with NASCAR.com. “I can’t wait to come back here and see if we can put this No. 6 back in Victory Lane.”

Photo Courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing

Clint Bowyer

What year is it again? No, you’re not going crazy and that is not Tony Stewart‘s car pictured above. Three of Stewart-Haas Racing’s drivers will dawn the paint schemes of their boss throughout his illustrious career. The car that specifically caught our eye was Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang, which pays tribute to Stewart’s 2011 Championship winning Office Depot Paint scheme.

This infamous red and black paint scheme will be remembered for the time it was driven in 2011 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Stewart won the race and the Cup Series Championship against Carl Edwards in one of the greatest battles of all time. When Stewart ran the Office Depot car in the Showtime Southern 500 in 2011, he led six laps and ended up finishing seventh.

The driver of the No. 14 will need some his boss’ magic when running his paint scheme on Labor Day weekend. Darlington is statistically Bowyer’s worst track and he has only finished inside the Top-10 one time (back in 2007). The driver from Emporia, Kansas is only two points out of a Playoff spot with two races remaining, but he’ll need to muster up a better finish than the 22.77-place average he’s accumulated in the last 13 races at Darlington.

William Byron

William Byron and the No. 24 team are throwing it back to 1990 when Tom Cruise’s hit-racing movie Days of Thunder premiered. Cruise plays the character of Cole Trickle, a young hot-shot NASCAR driver who quickly makes a name for himself with aggressive racing styles and ease. Although it may not be the most accurate portrayal of NASCAR, the film has become a classic amongst the NASCAR community.

Cruise’s racing hit received love in the first running of the throwback weekend at Darlington when Kyle Larson drove the Mello Yellow sponsored car from the film. Kurt Busch actually ran the same car that Byron is running, but this was back in 2013 in the formerly known NASCAR Nationwide Series.

This vibrant neon yellow and lime green car is nearly impossible to miss on the track. The No. 24 will even stay true to the City Chevrolet sponsor featured on Trickle’s car in the film, as Rick Hendrick owns a dealership of the same name. This is one of the Top-5 throwback paint schemes obviously for the look, but also the irony of it all. Not to mention, the announcement video was pretty spot on.

Byron is a young hot-shot driver who is quickly making a name for himself. He may not have flash the heated tempers like Trickle did, but in his sophomore season, the 21-year old driver is poised to be one of NASCAR’s brightest stars. Byron is 73 points in the good for the Playoff, so unless he wrecks out of both upcoming races and drivers of the bubble do well, a Playoff berth seems likely for the young Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Photo Courtesy of Go FAS Racing

Corey LaJoie

Rounding out our Top-5 throwback paint schemes is Corey LaJoie and his tribute to 1999 Cup Series Champion, Dale Jarrett. This is a bit of an odd one because the paint scheme being honored is Jarrett’s Nestle Crunch car, which was run in the then-called Busch Grand National Series.

This is such a special paint scheme and you know that because it gained so much love and attention even being driven in one of NASCAR’s lower divisions. LaJoie’s car stays true, perfectly to the 1999 Champion’s paint scheme as if you did a quick glance you would think the sponsor on the car is Crunch and not Keen Parts!

Jarrett not only drove this car to victory lane once, but twice! He is also hailed as one of the sport’s best drivers at Darlington Raceway, being ranked 10th overall with three wins, 11 Top-5’s, 13 Top-10’s, three poles in 36 races.

“The car looks great and I’ve always been a fan of Dale, so to carry this scheme around Darlington is awesome,” LaJoie said to NASCAR.com. “I think we did a great job keeping the scheme as close to the original as possible while incorporating the KeenParts.com logos into it. I can’t thank Tom and TJ Keen enough for allowing us to run this design – it’s one of my favorite schemes. I might even have to shave myself a mustache, so I don’t do the car a disservice.”

Tune into the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 1 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time to see the sport’s best athletes paying homage to legends who’ve come before them.

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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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News

Late qualifier Brad Keselowski storms to Michigan pole

BROOKLYN, Mich. – The last qualifier in Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series time trials at Michigan International Speedway will be first to the green flag on Sunday afternoon.

The final driver to make an attempt, after shadows started to shroud the track, Brad Keselowski covered the 2.0-mile distance in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford in 37.801 seconds (190.471 mph) to knock Kevin Harvick off the provisional pole for Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Harvick had turned a lap in 37.877 seconds (190.089 mph) before Keselowski made it an all-Ford front row with his blistering circuit. The Busch Pole Award is Keselowski’s second of the season, his second at Michigan and the 16th of his career.

Keselowski grew up in Rochester Hills, Mich., and the pole is the first step toward winning for the first time at his home track.

“The Discount Tire Ford Mustang has been incredible since we unloaded,” Keselowski said. “We were really fast in practice, and then everybody started picking up a bunch toward the end of qualifying, and I got a little nervous.

“But (crew chief) Paul Wolfe and the team did a great job. We picked up just enough to get our second pole here. Hopefully, we can convert it into a win.”

To do so, Keselowski will have to be fast in race trim as well. With Michigan being the last non-impound event for the higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package introduced this season, crew chiefs have considerably more latitude in preparing the cars specifically for qualifying and then making wholesale changes for the race.

“There’s a lot you can do to optimize the car for today (in qualifying) that maybe won’t carry over to Sunday,” Keselowski said. “But still, it’s good to be starting first, and I think we’ve got a lot of knobs to get her tuned in for the race.”

Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron (189.703 mph) and Alex Bowman (189.509 mph) claimed the third and fourth starting spots, respectively. Clint Bowyer and Chase Elliott, last Sunday’s winner at Watkins Glen, will occupy the fifth and sixth positions on the grid.

Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10 in time trials. Denny Hamlin was 14th in the fastest Toyota with a lap at 188.093 mph.

Harvick was pleased with his second-place qualifying effort.

“It was a good day for our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang,” he said. “Track position is really important everywhere we go. Coming to Michigan, it is of the utmost importance, so this is a really good start to the weekend for us.”

Bowyer is 15th in the standings, 12 points ahead of Johnson and Ryan Newman, who are currently tied for the last available spot in the Cup Series Playoffs. Newman qualified 20th, 10 positions behind Johnson.

Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric posted the seventh and 11th fastest laps in qualifying, but their times were disallowed post-inspection because the cars were not running fully functioning alternators, as prescribed by NASCAR rules.

Dillon and Hemric will start from the rear of the field on provisionals.

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Brad Keselowski breaks pole drought with strong run at Magic Mile

LOUDON, N.H. – Starved for a pole position for nearly two years, Brad Keselowski put a decisive end to the qualifying drought on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, edging Kyle Busch for the top starting spot in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Fastest on the first of his two laps in time trials, Keselowski beat Busch by .015 seconds, covering the one-mile distance in 27.927 seconds (136.384 mph). Busch clocked in at 136.311 mph.

The Busch Pole Award was Keselowski’s fourth at the Magic Mile and his first here since the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford set the track qualifying record in 2014 (20.090 seconds at 140.598 mph). After 11 of his 14 previous career pole runs, Keselowski has finished in the top 10, including two victories. His only victory at Loudon, however, came from the seventh starting position (2014).

“This definitely surprised me,” said Keselowski, who last won a pole in the August race at Michigan in 2017. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a pole. We’ve had really good cars but haven’t been able to make the most of it with the driver in qualifying, so it’s nice to get one here in Loudon.”

Track position aside, the primary benefit of winning the pole at New Hampshire may well be the selection of pit stall No. 1, closest to the exit from pit road.

“The first pit stall will be huge for sure,” Keselowski concurred. “This track on pit road has a lot of chaos. I’m not saying you can’t wreck in pit stall No. 1, but it’s a little harder there and it certainly makes life a lot easier for your pit crew. It’s like you’re in the HOV lane (on pit exit).”

Kurt Busch, last Sunday’s winner at Kentucky Speedway, qualified third at 136.238 mph. Erik Jones will start fourth, followed by Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Matt DiBenedetto and two-time Loudon winner Joey Logano.

Jones matched his best effort in time trials this season, having also qualified fourth at both Bristol and Pocono. His No. 20 Toyota showed significant improvement over practice earlier in the day.

“It was kind of a struggle this morning, but actually there (in qualifying) it felt pretty good,” Jones said. “Definitely a lot better than what we had in practice. I missed it a little bit on the lap. It had some more in it. Just didn’t hit it right.

“The Stanley Camry felt good there, so I think that was the first time all day I’ve had a good feel in the car, and if we can kind of transfer that into (Saturday’s practice), that’d be a positive.”

Alex Bowman, who locked himself into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with a victory at Chicagoland Speedway, will start last after failing to complete a lap in time trials because of a broken drive shaft.

“There was a big boom and something broke,” said Bowman, who had begun his first lap before the part failure. “I don’t know. I haven’t looked at the car. Obviously, the drive shaft broke. I don’t know if the gears or the drive shaft went first. It took out a lot of stuff on the way out. There’s oil everywhere. Just part of it.

“I don’t like New Hampshire. I’ve always struggled here. I’m a selfish, biased race car driver, so places I struggle, I don’t like. It’s going to be hot, and certainly we have our work cut out for us starting from the back. But we’ll make it a good day.”

Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman qualified 23rd and 26th, respectively, in backup cars after wrecking in practice.

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Brad Keselowski surges late, survives overtime for Kansas Speedway win

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — At the end of a thrilling victory in Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway, race winner Brad Keselowski’s first thoughts sped to the truck owner who helped further his career.

“I just want to dedicate this win to Mike Mittler,” Keselowski said of the man for whom he drove for two NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races in 2006. “You know, he helped a lot of guys in their career, and I was one of them. He passed away yesterday. It’s just a huge loss to the NASCAR community.

“He was one of those unsung heroes that works in the garage. He gave his whole life to this sport, and there’s so many of those guys and so many of those fans. It hurts to see those guys go away.”

Keselowski’s other emotion was joy. In a two-lap overtime shootout, he beat Alex Bowman to the finish line by .205 seconds, as the race went four laps beyond its scheduled 267. The victory was Keselowski’s third of the season — matching Kyle Busch for most in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — his second at Kansas and the 30th of his career.

With fresher tires, thanks to a pit stop under caution on Lap 241, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford grabbed the lead from Bowman on Lap 261, building momentum down the backstretch and passing the No. 88 Chevrolet to the outside through Turns 3 and 4.

“What a great day. On the (last) restart, I just got a great launch and Alex Bowman — he’s going to win a race. He did a great job today. We had a little bit of fresher tires than he did (to facilitate the lead change before overtime), and we were able to make the move on the outside there and caught everything perfect.

“I’m just so thankful.”

Saturday’s race was the first under the lights with the new higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package NASCAR introduced this year.

“I’m a little biased because I’m parked in Victory Lane, but this was an awesome race today,” Keselowski said. “This rules package is really made for tracks like Kansas Speedway, and I think the fans saw a great one today.”

The runner-up finish was Bowman’s third straight, following second-place runs at Talladega and Dover.

“Just made some bad calls there through lapped traffic and got tied off, had to lift, and then the 2 (Keselowski) was able to drive around us,” Bowman said. “Wish we were standing here with three wins in a row, and things could have gone differently, and that could be the case, but we’ll keep digging next week and try to go get in the All-Star (Race), go win the All-Star and then go try to win the (Coca-Cola) 600.”

Erik Jones ran third, followed by Stage 2 winner Chase Elliott and Clint Bowyer. Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher completed the top 10.

Pole winner Kevin Harvick led a race-high 105 laps and won the first stage, but Harvick brought the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to pit road on Lap 180 with what he thought was a flat right front tire. The unscheduled stop cost Harvick a lap, which he didn’t recover until Lap 244 as the highest-scored lapped car under caution for debris in Turn 2.

Harvick finished 13th behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Aric Almirola.

Kyle Busch was battling with the front-runners after a Lap 245, but contact with Bowyer’s Ford cut a tire on Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, forcing him to pit road and ending his record-tying streak of top-10 finishes to start the season at 11. Busch came home 30th, three laps down.

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

If there was an event to be used as the reason why NASCAR needs to add more short tracks to their schedule, the Food City 500 is that. After weeks of not being quite entertained as we would wish through the beginning of the season, Bristol Motor Speedway kept everyone’s attention all afternoon.

The reconfiguration caused the high line to become the only place for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but that wasn’t quite the case on Sunday. Track officials finally got the right traction compound as throughout the event, competitors were able to run high and low, with different drivers favoring each groove.

The result was constant side-by-side racing from the drop of the green flag, to the checkered flag, for positions throughout the field. It was also beneficial that NASCAR on FOX listened to the fan’s critiques from the past couple of weeks, not spending their time focused on the leader but rather showing each of these battles. 

Additionally, fans found themselves enticed by which driver would be the next to face adversity, whether on-track or pit road, and whether they would be able to fight their way back. The storylines enabled conversation throughout the event, with the right amount of intrigue.

It also helped that a single driver wasn’t able to cruise away from the field, either. While Team Penske was a dominant force with Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, neither of them easily cruised away from everybody. If it seemed that someone was going to be able to gain an advantage, they would catch just enough traffic to hold them up and reel the field right back in.

The race ultimately came down to a strategy call by Adam Stevens to leave Kyle Busch out late on old tires while most of the leaders came down pit road. Busch would then out-battle his older brother Kurt to a surprising victory, considering the damage sustained on a Lap 2 accident and the fact that he was unable to hold the field off on previous restarts while up front. 

The only negative from the day was the amount of fans in the grandstands at the track. You can preach all you want that short tracks should be on the schedule, but you also need to show that you’re willing to support them and that’s by putting butts in the seats. Certainly there’s other factors contributing to the attendance – hotel costs, food costs, weather, though no matter how you approach it, it’s not a good look.

NASCAR also needs to get their act together when it comes to putting cars inline for the restart, as that has become an issue for the third time this season. How hard can it be to put a field of cars two-wide evenly when timing and scoring electronically prints you a perfect order? 

Unfortunately, it cost Brad Keselowski big time as he was forced to serve a pass-through penalty late in the race rather than the top-five he deserved.

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