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News

2020 Silly Season Updates and Expectations

With the NASCAR Cup Series off-season in full effect and the 2019 Awards Banquet in Nashville wrapping up a week ago, we’re already under 60 days away from the Daytona 500. As the 2020 season draws closer, the sport has now seen many of it’s stars swap rides as well as inherit well-established teams to begin their new careers.

Here’s everything you need to know about the most up to date team changes to this point and the newest faces entering NASCAR’s premier series:

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Matt DiBenedetto

Quite possibly the best storyline to come out of 2019 was the breakout of Matt DiBenedetto. The former driver of the No. 95 for Levine Family Racing made headlines in the first race of the season  when he had a legitimate shot to win the Daytona 500. As the year progressed, fans soon came to realize that the 27-year old was no fluke.

The California-native would go on to complete the season with 152 laps led, seven top-10s and three top-fives – which included a second-place finish  to Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While DiBenedetto did not notch the first win of his career in 2019, he certainly turned heads and cemented himself as a fan favorite. In fact, he finished third overall in the Most Popular Driver ballot.

Fast forward to 2020, Paul Menard revealed he would be stepping away from full-time racing, leaving his seat in the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 wide open. When Menard announced he would be giving up his ride, he fully endorsed DiBenedetto as his replacement and sure enough – the California-native will now be driving the No. 21 Ford Mustang for the Penske-affiliated team.

Not only was DiBenedetto the feel good story of 2019, but the signing and how it came about for the 27-year old was also a feel good story.

Team Penske amassed six wins last season and it would not be a surprise to see DiBenedetto capture his first career win in better equipment. One thing is certain, we should see the fan favorite contending for top-10 finishes and maybe even top-fives. However, he is making the jump from Toyota to Ford. Even while fielding a significantly less cars than Ford and Chevrolet in 2019, Toyotas were the class of the field. It will be interesting to see if DiBenedetto can make the transition with ease.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

After seven years of full-time racing for Roush-Fenway Racing, Jack Roush decided to part ways with two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The now former driver of the No. 17 Ford Mustang posted yet another lackluster season driving for ‘The Cat in the Hat.’ When teammate Ryan Newman is 10 years older, racing in the same equipment and making the Playoffs, it’s not a good look.

The Mississippi-native now finds himself racing for JTG Daugherty Racing in the No. 37 car, which was driven by Chris Buescher in 2019. The two drivers posted similar stats last season and in all honestly, this is a true-blue car swap. The only major difference is that the two-time Xfinity Series Champion is making the jump from Ford to Chevrolet, which could put him at a disadvantage.

In 2019, Stenhouse totaled one top-five, three top-10s and led 109 laps, which placed him 23rd in the overall standings. Expect more or less the same from the Mississippi-native in 2020.

Gavin Baker | NKP

Chris Buescher

As documented above, Stenhouse would be taking over driving duties for the No. 37 Chevy Camaro which Buescher piloted in 2019. The 2015 Xfinity Series Champion will now join Newman at Roush-Fenway Racing as he will now take over for the No. 17 Ford Mustang.

The 26-year old driver didn’t have an awful season given his equipment and manufacturer disadvantage last year. While he only led 13 laps en route to four top-10s, this was good enough to place him 20th in the overall Cup Series standings – three spots ahead of his counterpart, Stenhouse.

The Texas-native is inheriting a quality ride and he’ll have a well-established veteran in Newman to lean on for advice. He even showed glimmers of hope in the 2019 season, contending for top-10 finishes regularly towards the end of the year. It would not be out of the question to see Buescher add some more top-fives to his resume and even have a shot at making the Playoffs in 2020.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

Tyler Reddick

Historically, Xfinity Series drivers making the jump to the Cup Series doesn’t pan out until a few years down the road. However, Tyler Reddick is indeed Cup ready.

The 23-year old driver just recorded his second-consecutive title in the Xfinity Series and he already has experience at the sport’s premier level. While the California-native has only run two race at the Cup level, in one of those starts he finished ninth and at Kansas Speedway nonetheless. Not to mention, in the same equipment that he will be racing with in 2020.

In one of the more shocking headlines from 2019, it was announced that Richard Childress Racing would be parting ways with the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet, rookie Daniel Hemric. By no means at all did Hemric have a disappointing debut season, but with such highly touted talent on the rise in NASCAR’s lower divisions there is a strong emphasis on performing now.

Reddick will now take over driving for the No. 8 Camaro at Richard Childress Racing, but rest assured for him, he should have much more lee-way than the driver who came before.

Given the 23-year old’s experience and showcased talent in two of NASCAR’s series, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see Reddick compete for top-10s and maybe even top-fives with a shot at making the Playoffs in 2020. I personally could see him delivering Richard Childress Racing their first win in two years.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Cole Custer

Fans have been treated to many unlikely and divisive moves in the offseason, but this could be the most shocking. It was well documented that Daniel Suarez was seeking a contract extension during the 2019 season. Team-owner Tony Stewart even reiterated that they were “close” to a deal in mid-October.

Just days before the events at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing released a statement citing that Cole Custer would be promoted to the Cup Series and they would be parting ways with Suarez. This now leaves the Mexico-native with no ride currently for 2020 and places Custer in the No. 41 Ford Mustang.

While he was one of the Xfinity Series ‘Big Three’ last year, don’t expect the 21-year old to make immediate waves like Reddick possibly can. The California-native does have limited experience running three race at NASCAR’s premier level, but in 2018 and for Rick Ware Racing.

Custer does have many advantages over Reddick and Christopher Bell as he prepares for his debut season in the Cup Series. Not only will he have teammates Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola to turn to for help, but he’ll also have Stewart to assist as well. Not to mention, Stewart-Haas Racing has been one of the most dominant forces in the sport since it was established in 2011.

It typically takes rookie drivers around two years to settle into NASCAR’s highest division, but it would not be shocking to see Custer start his career off strong. He should be in contention for top-10 finishes and may even snag a top-five here and there. Playoffs could be a possibility, but right now consider it a stretch.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Christopher Bell

The final piece to the Xfinity Series ‘Big Three’ will be inheriting the former ride of DiBenedetto. As revealed, the 27-year old will be taking over driving duties for the No. 21 at Wood Brothers Racing, which now places Bell in the No. 95 at Levine Family Racing.

Bell will without a doubt be faced with the biggest disadvantage of his two counterparts from last season, but this doesn’t mean he can’t have a successful season. Levine Family Racing went from Kasey Kahne (who had a less than stellar season due to health issues) to DiBenedetto who seriously turned heads and made waves in 2019.

The talent is definitely there for the 24-year old, who had a series leading eight wins, 20 top-fives and 21 top-10s in the Xfinity Series last year, but this is the Cup Series. Unlike Custer and Reddick, Bell has no experience at NASCAR’s highest level and it would be incorrect to say that he’ll tear it up like he did in NASCAR’s lower division, especially in the No. 95 car.

It’s again not out of the question to see him have a successful year – look at what DiBenedetto did last season. And should the Oklahoma-native remain at Levine Family Racing through 2021, maybe we could see this small team follow the trend that Furniture Row Racing did with Martin Truex Jr. at the helm.

But for 2020, we should expect to see Bell mostly in contention for top-15 finishes with an occasional top-10 mixed in as the season progresses.

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.

Categories
News

NASCAR Community Offers Help to Hurricane Irma Evacuees

With Hurricane Irma apparently heading for a direct hit on South Florida over the weekend, the NASCAR community is reacting.

Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway are all opening their campgrounds for evacuees fleeing the path of the devastating storm closing in on Florida.

Some specific information:

“With severe weather forecasted to directly affect numerous states throughout the Southeast in the coming days, Bristol Motor Speedway’s campgrounds are open to evacuees of Hurricane Irma,” track officials said in a statementFriday. “Evacuees may call toll free 866.415.4158 for more information. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those in the path of the hurricane.”

Charlotte will open its Rock City Campground off Bruton Smith Boulevard. Evacuees can enter through Entrance Z and will have access to bathhouse facilities on speedway property. “We are happy to open our doors to help those needing a place to seek shelter during this difficult time,” said Greg Walter, the executive vice president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We look forward to showing them the hospitality for which we’re known and they deserve.”

At Atlanta Motor Speedway, those interested in RV or tent camping should enter the facility at Entrance “E” off GA Highway 19/41. The Unreserved Campgrounds will be on the left. From I-75 and GA Highway 20, campers should see signs to AMS and follow Lower Woolsey road to Entrance “H” and the Speedway Credential Building. Make a right into Speedway property and then another immediate right onto Richard Petty Boulevard. Follow Richard Petty Boulevard and turn left into Entrance “G”. The campgrounds will be on the right.

For on-site assistance or directions, visit the ticket office/gift store building. For more information, contact Atlanta Motor Speedway at (770) 946-4211 or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.

Talladega Superspeedway will offer campground space with hot shower and restroom facilities, as well as water hookups on gravel and grassy areas – free to evacuees seeking temporary refuge.

“Our track is committed to helping our friends in Florida and the surrounding states during this time of need,” Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch said. “We hope to provide a sense of relief by offering a place to stay for no charge for evacuees during this time of adversity. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the path of the storm.”

For more information, please contact the Talladega Superspeedway guest services department at (256) 761-4709.

Meanwhile, at Richmond Raceway, site of Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, several drivers including Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth are carrying paint schemes dedicated to victims of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston, and the anticipated damage Irma will cause.

“We saw what happened down in the Houston area and the devastation that is there and also looking in the future the next few days of what Florida looks like could possibly happen there,” said Logano. “Obviously we need all hands on deck. If we are able to help out in any little way we should. It is what we should do as contributing members of our society. We should be thinking with our heart at this point. There are a lot of innocent people getting hit hard by these storms lately.”

We got the Red Cross on there (sponsoring his car), the St. Bernard Project to give money to both of those places, so, yeah, it’s obviously a terrible thing in Texas,” said Kenseth. “Toyota moved their headquarters to Texas here recently, so they’re not real far removed from that. Obviously with another one (hurricane) coming, there’s a lot of people that need a lot of help.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

Throwback Thursday: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sweeps Bristol

This weekend Dale Earnhardt Jr. will compete in his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It will doubtless be a poignant moment for NASCAR’s 14-time Most Popular Driver, who in 2004 electrified the Bristol crowd by becoming the first driver to sweep what is now known as the NASCAR XFINITY Series race and the Cup race at Bristol on the same weekend.

In the 2004 Food City 250, Earnhardt qualified on the pole and dominated the action, passing J.J. Yeley on Lap 186 to take a lead he would never relinquish. Earnhardt held off Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick for the victory, his 20th career win in what was then the Busch Series and his first at Bristol.

The huge crowd showed their approval, something even runner-up Kenseth recognized. “If I wouldn’t have spun the tires (on a late-race restart) I think I would have had a shot at Junior,” said Kenseth. “But it seems like everybody’s happier with this outcome, so that’s alright.”

Then it was on to the main event, the Sharpie 500 race in what was then known as the Nextel Cup Series. Earnhardt qualified just 30thfor the big race, putting his Budweiser-sponsored No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet on the outside of Row 15.

Worse yet, Earnhardt was in a great deal of pain from burns suffered in a terrifying crash earlier that summer at Sonoma Raceway, where Earnhardt’s Chevrolet Corvette American Le Mans Series car crashed and burst into flames.

 “I remember that race because I had been burned in the Corvette that year,” Earnhardt said on his Dale Jr. Download podcast earlier this year. “I had this big open wound on my leg, and I had to wrap it every day. I was trying to get my seatbelt tight and one of the crewmembers came in to help me, and he accidentally punched me right in that wound. It hurt so bad. It bled again, so I had to rewrap it.”

Still, Earnhardt managed to tough it out. On Lap 416, he passed Jeff Burton, who was in just second race driving the No. 30 America Online Chevrolet for Richard Childress. Earnhardt led the final 85 laps to win his fourth race of the season and 13th of his Cup career. He finished 4.39 seconds ahead of Ryan Newman, with Jimmie Johnson third, followed by Burton and Elliott Sadler.

 “I’m just really, really, really, really glad that I won tonight, because this is like the Daytona 500,” said Earnhardt. “This is like winning at Charlotte would be. This is like winning in Atlanta. These are the tracks, the historic tracks that have been around for years that are at the top of my list to win at.”

Earnhardt remembered the love his late father had for Bristol. “I come to a lot of races where my dad drove,” he said. “He made this place magical to an Earnhardt fan, and me being one of them. I might not have done it like he did it just now, but it was pretty damned close.”

And the Bristol post-race celebration featured one of those moments in NASCAR lore you just simply can’t make up.

Standing in Victory Lane, Earnhardt said, “This is one of the biggest wins in my career.”

Bill Weber, who was conducting the television interview, asked a simple question: “Why is that?”

Earnhardt shot a huge grin and never missed a beat. “It’s Bristol, baby!” he said.

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Commentary

SCHULTZ: Postponed Sunday Races Should Run on Monday Night

Rain on race day is always an unwelcome sight in NASCAR. For the first time this season, a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event was postponed to Monday as rain washed out Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Rainouts mean fewer fans can attend and a smaller TV audience will tune-in as the races are typically run on the following afternoon.

Scheduling for mid-day Monday has been the long standing precedent for races unable to run on Sunday. However, the impact of an event not running in its preferred time slot is more consequential now than ever before.

During NASCAR’s prime in the early 2000s, catering to peak viewership wasn’t as critical due to a steady following. However, racing when exposure is at its greatest is crucial today to grow the sport.

The potential of a Monday night race played out unexpectedly during the 2012 DAYTONA 500. When rain postponed Sunday’s event, it was rescheduled for Monday afternoon.

However, additional rain on Monday led to a further delay, and the “Great American Race” was pushed to a 7 PM primetime start. A total of 36.5 million people tuned in at some point during the event, making it the second-most watched DAYTONA 500 in history.

While only the season-opening event could attract a Monday night audience of this magnitude, its success shows the potential for moving delayed events to Monday evening again in the future.

Even if running under the lights on Monday is still unable to match the audience of the scheduled Sunday race, it provides a better opportunity for fans who work or attend school to watch the event.

A Monday afternoon running does favor fans attending the race but as NASCAR looks to increase its following, catering to the TV audience might be the best path to take.

Rescheduling Bristol to run under the lights would have provided a perfect opportunity to showcase the best of NASCAR and short track racing to a primetime audience.

The atmosphere, beating and banging, and unpredictability of Bristol are among the characteristics NASCAR wants new fans to be exposed to, and running on Monday night would provide an ideal time to reach people interested in the sport.

Many logistical obstacles may arise trying to run on Monday evening as TV networks often have set primetime lineups and other networks are airing their regular programming. However, it’s worth taking a shot to grow the sport and seeing how it unfolds before not considering it all together.

It’s unlikely that regularly scheduled primetime events will be added to the schedule in the near future. But NASCAR can make the most out of a postponed event and test the viability of weeknight races now by running a rained out Sunday race for Monday night at a track with lights. It has shown great promise before and can again while pleasing fans and attracting new viewers.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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

Stenhouse Honors Clauson With Runner-Up Finish at Bristol

For Ricky Stenhouse Jr., his runner-up performance in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race was in memory of his friend and fallen sprint car driver, Bryan Clauson.

Clauson, who died from injuries on Aug. 7 after a horrific accident in the Belleville Midget Nationals, was honored by Stenhouse in the 500-lap race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday and Sunday.

Stenhouse’s No. 17 Fastenal scheme was designed like Clauson’s 2008 XFINITY Series Fastenal scheme when he drove the No. 40 for Chip Ganassi Racing. He and Kyle Larson also honored Clauson by wearing a replica of his racing helmet, which had Clauson’s “BC” logo on the sides.

“Really good team effort. I really wanted to park in Victory Lane for Bryan and his family, but we just came up one spot short,” Stenhouse said. “We made our car a lot faster throughout the race and came from two laps down to get back on the lead lap. We missed some wrecks and gave it all we had. I thought we were matching the 4 car [race winner Kevin Harvick] there lap-for-lap, but he got away from us and we had to restart sixth there on that last restart, but it was an honor to drive this car.”

Stenhouse’s second-place result ties the best finish of his career, which also came at Bristol in 2014. He qualified 25th and fell as deep as 30th during the race, but late cautions and wrecks helped the No. 17 get back on the lead lap and score his third top five of 2016.

“We just struggled all weekend. It was a tough weekend from an emotional side and out here driving this race car and getting it fast, but thanks to all the hard work from my guys we were able to salvage a really good finish,” Stenhouse said.

On Wednesday Kokomo Speedway, one of Clauson’s favorite tracks is hosting a remembrance event to celebrate Clauson’s life. Stenhouse will be present along with Clauson’s other friends and family.

“We’re really looking forward to getting there Wednesday, and again, just being with all the racing family that we were able to always be around. I know Bryan was watching and wanting us to win tonight, and we gave it all we had,” Stenhouse said.

Sunday’s race, which began on Saturday, was halted until Sunday due to torrential rain. But with the weather delay, it gave Stenhouse extra time to be with Clauson’s relatives who were at the track during the weekend.

“Bryan’s family came and just hung out all day on Saturday throughout the day around the motor home, and I was like, well, rain delays are good for some things,” Stenhouse said. “We all got to hang out together and spend some more time together, and that definitely has been helping us a lot the last couple weeks.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Buescher Attacks Bristol En Route to Top-Five

Just three weeks after his tremendous and unexpected win at Pocono, Chris Buescher has just increased his chances of securing a spot in this year’s Chase.

The rookie now sits 13 points ahead of 30th in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after scoring a top-five finish in Sunday’s rain-delayed Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Starting in 12th, the driver of the No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Food for Front Row Motorsports was running just within the top-20 during most of the first half of the race.

However, after avoiding the multi-car crash at Lap 358, Buescher fought his way up the pack and close to the lead where he stayed for the remainder of the race.

“This thing was good from the start of the weekend,” Buescher said. “We kept working our way up towards the end and got to the top five, and almost got one there at the end.”

Even as the steady rain began to pour on the track and the final 50 or so laps were delayed, Buescher says he and his team were “fortunate” to have the time to make the adjustments necessary to finish well.

“Once we started adjusting on it, we definitely started heading in the right direction,” he explained. “Our Ford was awesome on long runs. We’d fire off about two or three laps it would take to get rolling, and it was tough for those couple, and then we were able to move around.”
Once the cars came back on the track, the 23-year-old said he hardly looked in the rearview mirror, instead focusing on what was ahead of him.

Though he may have lost the opportunity to pass Austin Dillon and garner more points during the final few laps, Buescher said his car was nonetheless competitive.

“We weren’t quite a winning car, but we were every bit of a top-5 car and should have been a little bit better there at the end,” he added. “Could have been a little bit better there at the end. We’ve got to be aware of it, but we’re still going to be aggressive with our racing style.”

Buescher and his team now have only three races remaining before the 16-team Chase field is locked in. He says the plan of attack  is to run as competitively they were at Bristol, if not more.

“We’re not here just to lay over and be conservative. We’re going out for good finishes to stretch that points to be comfortable at Richmond,” he added. “That’s Chase eligibility in one race out of the four we had to do it. Now we have to hold onto it.”

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

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XFINITY

Gaulding Rallies for 13th in XFINITY Debut

Gray Gaulding made his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut in the Food City 300 on Friday night and after a late-race spin, he rallied for a 13th place finish.

Gaulding signed with Roush Fenway Racing earlier this season to drive the No. 60 Ford in a two-race deal at Bristol Motor Speedway in August and Richmond International Raceway in September.

He qualified 21st at the high-banked half mile and settled into the top 20 for most of the night. On Lap 193, he had a left rear tire go down, and the car spun on the exit of Turn 2, backing into the outside wall to bring out the fourth caution of the race.

“We could have had a top-10 finish if not for that cut tire,” Gaulding said. “We had a good car, and I learned a lot in my first XFINITY race. We can’t wait to go to Richmond and do it again.”

Gaulding, the 18-year-old from Colonial Heights, Va., has 13 career Camping World Truck Series starts, including four in 2015. His best career finish in a national series race is fourth, which came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 250.

In 2013, he competed in both the K&N Pro Series East and West and became the youngest winner in series history when he won the season finale at Phoenix International Raceway at 15 years old.

After the race at Bristol, Gaulding tweeted:

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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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Jr. Ruled Out For the Glen, Bristol; Gordon to Continue Fill-in Role

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s absence from the Sprint Cup Series will be prolonged another two race weekends, and Jeff Gordon will continue the role as the No. 88 Chevrolet’s substitute driver at Watkins Glen International and Bristol Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt Jr. is still experiencing gaze stabilization and balance issues and has not been cleared by doctors to compete. Last Saturday, NASCAR’s most popular driver tweeted, “No change lately” regarding his concussion symptoms and the only thing he can do is be patient waiting for the symptoms to disappear.

The Hendrick Motorsports racer has been out of the car since the New Hampshire 301 in mid-July. JR Motorsports part-timer Alex Bowman filled in for Earnhardt Jr. at the mile-long track and finished 26th.

The last two weeks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway, Gordon has piloted the No. 88 to finishes of 13th and 27th, respectively. When the green flag waves in Watkins Glen, it will mark the 800th career start for the four-time champion.

“We have a break in the schedule after Watkins Glen, so the extra week of recovery time will certainly be a benefit,” Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, said. “Dale will be back when he’s ready, and we’re looking forward to that happening, but the priority continues to be his health and well-being. We’ll keep our focus on that and let the doctors guide us.”

Earnhardt Jr. has slipped to 20th in the points standings since his last race at Kentucky Speedway. If he should return to racing after Bristol, it would be at Michigan International Speedway, where he wrecked and developed the concussion symptoms in June.

Gordon has had tremendous success in his career at the Glen and Bristol. The former No. 24 driver has four career wins at the New York road course (tied for the most with Tony Stewart) and five at the high-banked half mile.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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Photos

PHOTO GALLERY: Bristol

A look at the XFINITY and Sprint Cup Series in action at Bristol Motor Speedway, courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography.

Categories
Development Journalists

RFR Solid at Bristol and Making Progress

All three Roush Fenway Racing cars battled for much-needed solid finishes in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. In the closing laps, RFR drivers Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Greg Biffle all had good track position, running in the top 10.

Bayne finished fifth for his first top five since winning the 2011 Daytona 500. After being stuck in the bottom lane on late restarts, Biffle and Stenhouse Jr. got shuffled back to 12th and 16th place finishes, respectively.

“Every restart we were on the bottom,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “I thought we had a top-five car there at the end with speed, but we just couldn’t break out.”

Biffle said the advantage on restarts was in the top lane.

“We were up in sixth, and those last two restarts we started on the bottom and that just killed us,” Biffle said. “But I will say that all day long I started on the top. Those last two were the only ones where I didn’t, and that’s just luck. You’re not gonna get the top every time and the last two I didn’t get it.”

Bayne had the preferred top lane for the final three restarts, and it pushed the No. 6 AdvoCare Ford to its fifth-place result.

“We had a really good race car,” Bayne said. “That’s what paid off. You can’t come back if you don’t have good race cars and we’ve got that now.”

Last August at Bristol, RFR’s best finish among the trio was Bayne’s 15th-place showing. Stenhouse Jr. and Biffle finished 21st and 25th respectively, so Sunday’s race marked an improvement in the team’s overall performance at the half-mile track.

This season is shaping up better than 2015 as well. RFR cars compiled a total of only four top-five finishes in 36 races last year, and Biffle was the only driver with an average finish in the top 20. Through the first eight races of 2016 though, the organization has two top fives and two drivers have improved their average overall showing: Bayne’s average is up from 25.8 in 2015 to 19.6 this year, and Stenhouse Jr.’s average has improved from 24.3 in 2015 to 18.8.

John Haverlin is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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