Categories
XFINITY

Dale Jr. Confident in Allgaier for Xfinity Series Finale

AVONDALE, Arizona — JR Motorsports driver, Justin Allgaier, captured his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win of the season in the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 to secure a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 33-year old led a race-high 85 laps and regained much needed momentum after besting “The Big Three” heavy-weights of Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and reigning series champion, Tyler Reddick, for his second career victory at ISM Raceway.

The Illinois-native may not have as glamorous statistics as his fellow-competitors battling for the 2019 title, but team owner and 15-time Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has the utmost faith in his four-year driver of the No. 7 Chevy Camaro. The 10-year series veteran has successfully raced his way into the playoffs in every full-time season he’s raced in NASCAR’s lower division and Earnhardt feels this experience has aptly prepared him to bring JR Motorsports their third-consecutive championship.

“Obviously, his age and experience is very helpful,” Earnhardt exclusively told POPULAR SPEED following the event at ISM Raceway. “He’s been in a lot of situations that I think he can lean on to maintain his composure and poise in some pretty tough situations.”

In conjunction with experience in the Xfinity Series, the 44-year old team owner believes his driver has been able to capitalize and adapt throughout his career in certain mid-race situations. Earnhardt has had the luxury of watching Allgaier intently over the last two years after stepping down from full-time racing in the Cup Series and turning to broadcasting on NBC.

“Anything sets him apart (from Bell, Custer and Reddick) I think if you watch a lot of the races,” the team owner relayed. “The success that he has is based off of restarts – he’s really aggressive on restarts. He just takes advantage of the guys around him and he did that again today. When he won at Chicago (Speedway) a few year ago, he had a great restart there at the end to take the win away from the other guys. He technically rarely has the best car in the race, but makes up for it on restarts when he gets that opportunity.”

Earnhardt also broke his silence on the possibility of making history by becoming only the second owner in the Xfinity Series to capture three-consecutive titles.

“Anytime you can put your name in the record books for anything, it’s awesome,” the 15-time Most Popular Driver exclaimed. “We feel pretty lucky and blessed to already have a couple of titles and those didn’t come easy, this one won’t either. This is going to be a real, real hard battle down there. I think we’re lacking a little bit of speed compared to that guys, but it’s close. We’re going to need everything we can get and little luck too. That’s how it’s been the last couple of times. I don’t know that we showed up with the best car throughout the day at Homestead, but we were there at the end when it mattered and that’s what you got to do. I’d put Justin up against any of those guy to position us to be in that position at the end.”

Even more impressively – should Allgaier notch JR Motorsports a third championship – the trio of titles would come from three different driver, which has never been done before in the series.

Earnhardt’s driver will without a doubt be the underdog heading to Homestead, but Allgaier is carrying a hefty set of momentum into the Sunshine State after quite possibly the most important win of his career to date. Witness if Earnhardt and Allgaier can eclipse this monumental achievement in the Ford EcoBoost 300 series finale from Homestead-Miami Speedway at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on NBCSN.

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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
XFINITY

JR Motorsports is Chasing History Heading to Phoenix

AVONDALE, Arizona — As the NASCAR Xfinity Series gears up for the semi-final race at ISM Raceway, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. finds himself in a position to achieve something only done once previously in series history. With JR Motorsports currently taking up three spots in the Round of 8 – Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Noah Gragson, a third consecutive title is very possible. 

Allgaier is the lone driver in position to advance to the Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway sitting fourth in the standings, 18 points ahead of Chase Briscoe. Annett finds himself 28 points out of the final spot and Gragson is essentially in a must-win situation sitting in a 47-point hole.

JR Motorsports has won two consecutive championships. The first coming from the current driver of the No. 24 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, William Byron in 2017. The second was with current reigning Xfinity Series Champion is Tyler Reddick – who now races for Richard Childress Racing.

Should Allgaier, Annett or Gragson advance to Miami and win the 2019 Xfinity Series Championship they would eclipse a feat only done once in the series history. BACE Motorsports successfully won three-consecutive championship in NASCAR’s lower division from 1995-97. The first came from Johnny Benson Jr.; Randy LaJoie then drove his way to back-to-back titles from 1996-97.

This will not be an easy task for Annett and Gragson, who both find themselves in essentially a must-win scenario at ISM Raceway.

Annett is in the midst of a career-year driving the No. 1 Chevy Camaro for the 15-year Most Popular Driver recipient, Earnhardt. The driver of the No. 1 captured his first win across all three of NASCAR’s premier series in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. This comes in addition to a season where he has totaled six top-fives and 18 top-10’s with an average finish of 10th through 30 races.

For Annett, he believes his path to Homestead will reside in qualifying.

“Tomorrow is going to be crucial because qualifying at a track like this is at a premium,” Annett said. “This was probably the most beneficial track for group qualifying.”

The 33-year old driver is referring to the transition back to single-car qualifying that was mandated by NASCAR in May. At the start of the 2019 season, many drivers voiced their displeasure with the new group qualifying rule that had just been implemented.

“It’s all about putting the whole weekend together,” Annett further elaborated. “Winning the race is the only way we can go into this. Justin [Allgaier] is so good here and being 28 points behind him, it’s going to be difficult to out-point him.”

The driver of the No. 9 finds himself in the most difficult position of the JRM trio heading into the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at ISM Raceway. It will be an uphill battle for Gragson who sits eight in the standings, but he is no stranger to success at the Arizona-based track.

While the 20-year old driver is still in search of his first win in the Xfinity Series, he almost found victory lane in the Valley of the Sun in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports last season, ultimately finishing second. Gragson has not been able to notch a top-10 at ISM Raceway in the second-tier series, but he does have an 11th place average finishing position in both of NASCAR’s lower divisions.

On the flip side, Allgaier is in a favorable position heading into a track where he’s had immense success. The driver  of the No. 7 Brandt Chevrolet found victory lane in the desert Spring of 2017 after leading 85 of 200 Laps. The 33-year old started on the pole last Spring and has led an additional 145 Laps since his last win in Avondale, Arizona.

He also posts a 9.1 average finish in 18 starts with six top-fives and 11 top-10’s at the track formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway. This is all in addition to a career-high top-10 streak the Riverton, Illinois-product has strung together over the last 15 races.

But the 10-year series veteran is no where near satisfied.

“The crazy thing is – even with the top-10 streak – I still feel like it’s been a terrible year,” Allgaier said. “There’s been so many races that haven’t gone our way, but it’s definitely helped us grow as a team. We’ve done a great job at rebounding and managing the adversity.”

Allgaier acknowledges the fact that the series is being dominated by “The Big Three,” in Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer. However he believes there’s one thing that sets him apart from the young guns – experience.

“I’m the only driver who’s made the Playoffs every year since they started this format,” Allgaier shared. “Those three guys have had a lot of speed this year and they’ve been very good, but we’ve also noticed that when their days don’t go the way they want to go that they’ve had some challenges dealing with that.”

The odds are in the series veteran’s favor and he is going into the final two races with a must-win mentality. Allgaier is aware that these last events will not come without adversity, but also expressed great joy in the fact that the series finale will be ran at this track where he’s had so much success over his career.

Expect to see the trio of JR Motorsports drivers tomorrow with a heavy emphasis on a positive qualifying effort. If NASCAR superstar Dale Jr. wants to achieve the historical feat of three-consecutive Xfinity Series Championships, the road must go through the 1.5-mile track that is ISM Raceway.

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Catching up with NASCAR’s Superspeedway Secret – T.J. Majors

“Door. Bumper. Clear.”

This simple, yet iconic phrase was made famous by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion spotter, T.J. Majors. Majors broke on to the NASCAR scene in 2001 after online racing video games presented him with the friendship of a lifetime.

Unbeknownst to Majors, he was racing with 16-time most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who at the time was not even competing in the then NASCAR Busch Series (now NASCAR Xfinity Series). Over the years, the pair frequently messaged each other and even shared racing setups, forming a strong bond.

The future driver/spotter duo met face-to-face after Earnhardt Jr. traveled to Major’s home state for a testing session at Watkins Glen International. Upon Major’s arrival, the two cyber-friends immediately kicked it off and spent the entire weekend together. Shortly following their time at the New York road course, Earnhardt Jr. persuaded Majors to move to North Carolina with the intent of finding him a job in NASCAR .

The Tar Heel State – with help from his new best friend – granted Majors the opportunity to work with Ken Schrader at MB2 Motorsports.

“It’s kind of been a long, unplanned journey but it’s been interesting,” Majors shared with POPULAR SPEED. “The team needed a spotter one weekend and they asked if I’d go spot. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but I’ve been doing it ever since!”

Earnhardt Jr. and Majors didn’t team up until 2007, when the racing prodigy was in the midst of the final 10 races of his career at Dale Earnhardt Inc. The infamous tandem remained together until the Earnhardt Jr. called it a career in 2017. Through what was a near 10-year professional relationship, Majors and Earnhardt Jr. accomplished nine wins, 74 Top-Fives and 140 Top-10’s.

An impressive stat line with the numbers to back it up, Majors secured himself as one of NASCAR’s most well known and successful spotters in the sport. He revealed that him and Earnhardt Jr. never really sat down and discussed his spotting methods; it all happened organically and the two had an innate understanding for how to improve each other’s profession.

It’s often said that spotters make their money spotting at the high banked tracks of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway; this is especially true for Majors.

Plate racing is notorious for being unpredictable and chaotic. In most cases, this is true; however, Majors has been able to successfully navigate his drivers through just about anything at these high speed enigma tracks.

“One thing I’ve learned as spotting has evolved over the years is that I must do everything I can to keep my car up front (on superspeedways),” Majors shared. “I started giving information to my drivers that became more desirable and useful to them, but I think him (Earnhardt Jr.) being such a great plate racer is what helped me refine my craft as a spotter on plate tracks.”

In Major’s nearly 12-year long career as a spotter in the Cup Series, it’s safe to say that he has made a name for himself as NASCAR’s premier superspeedway spotter. Major’s has spotted 46 plate races and in that span he’s guided his drivers to a combined 833 laps led, four wins, 17 Top-Fives and 23 Top-10s. To put in perspective, that’s a top-10 finish in half the events he’s spotted between Daytona and Talladega.

We’re (spotters) all trying to do the same thing and our objective is to keep the driver safe; that’s the first thing,” Majors said.

Majors knows this all too well, first hand. In his time spotting the driver of the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports, he witnessed his driver succumb to two major concussions which sidelined the 16-time most popular driver for 20 races; this ultimately ended the superstar’s driving career.

Upon Earnhardt Jr’s departure from racing, Majors took his spotting talents to Team Penske with Joey Logano in 2018. The pair  had worked together previously when 2012 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski called on Majors to spot Logano in the then NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (now NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series) race at Rockingham Speedway in 2013. In Majors’ first attempt with Logano, the duo would go on to notch a second place finish.

“I always felt like I would end up with Team Penske,” Majors said. “There were a lot of connections leading up to this and it worked out really well.”

Majors worked with Keselowski when he drove for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Once Keselowski got his big break driving for Team Penske in the Cup Series, Majors remained in contact with his former driver, as well as connected with Team Penske’s President Roger Penske.

After Earnhardt Jr. retired, all signs pointed towards Team Penske as the next chapter in Majors’ NASCAR spotting career. The shop was close to Majors’ North Carolina home, he had many friends working for the Captain and Keselowski was the best man at Majors’ wedding (as was Majors at Keselowski’s wedding).

“Joey made it clear to me that he wanted to work together,” Majors said. “He thought I could help him be more successful and he couldn’t be more right.”

In Major’s first year with Logano, he was fortunate enough to be a part of a championship winning team. Even more staggering is Majors and Logano’s dominant success at superspeedways in their short time working together.

It’s no secret, T.J. is probably the best superspeedway spotter in the business,” Logano shared with POPULAR SPEED. “His understanding of the draft, where and how the runs will build, and then being able to communicate that to me is second to none.”

In five out of six plate races, Logano has not finished worse than fifth with Majors on the spotter’s stand; the only exception came in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona in 2018, when Logano’s day ended early after getting involved in a wreck on Lap 53.

Majors has guided Logano masterfully to one win, five top-fives and five top-10s in just six races between Daytona and Talladega. As a result, Logano currently leads all active Cup Series drivers with an average finish of 9.5 at plate tracks with Majors helping from above. No other driver currently has an average finish inside the top-10 in the same six race span at superspeedways, let alone a single digit average. To find the second highest average finish on superspeedways in six races, you’ll need to drop over two positions to 11.9 which is owned by Roush Fenway Racing driver, Ryan Newman.

But what makes Majors such a desirable asset to his drivers at plate racing tracks?

“T.J.’s passion for the sport is something that makes him really good at his job,” Logano said. “He doesn’t just show up on Friday and start the weekend. He studies race film from previous events, he understands what other drivers are going to do in certain situations and he gives me a sounding board to discuss what I’m seeing when I do film study.”

Majors believes his relationship with Logano has worked out so well due to the communications they share with each other throughout the race.

“Joey wants as much information as you can give, so my spotting-style works out really well with him– he wants even more information than what I gave to Dale,” Majors revealed. “He wants to know where drivers are, what line they’re running, how far back they are; he wants as much info as you can give in every corner of every lap.”

While Majors may be mainly praised for his superspeedway career, Logano may have struck the jackpot with NASCAR’s new rules package. Halfway through the season, we’ve seen common themes almost every race weekend which eerily correlate to plate racing.

I’ve been lucky because the way these new roll-packages are going, racing has kind of went in that direction of superspeedway racing,” Majors said. “We’re racing closer together, so you’re giving more information– like a plate race– at more tracks.”

Logano shared the same sentiments saying, “With the new aero rules, we’ve seen the draft– especially on restarts– be critical through the first half of the season and that’s been an opportunity for us to gain track position.”

This season, Logano has finished fourth in both races at Daytona and Talladega, so it should come as no surprise that the No. 22 team is considered favorites to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona this weekend.

Can the reigning Cup Series champion continue his dominant success on superspeedways this weekend? Never count out a driver who has T.J. Majors looking out on the rooftop.

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
XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: GoBowling.com 250

The playoffs are officially here, as the NASCAR XFINITY Series kicked off their post-season action in style at Richmond Raceway on Friday night.

The 0.75-mile oval in Virginia has been called the perfect short track for a couple years, and that showed during the GoBowling.com 250 under the lights. From the drop of the green flag to the checkered, there were battles throughout the field with drivers able to battle side-by-side without touching each other. The aging of the surface also helped the excitement, with comers and goers over the course of the run as the tires began to fade away. 

Christopher Bell made the most of the short run at the end, working his way from third on the restart with just under 40 laps to go to take the lead, holding off a late challenge from Daniel Hemric on an ensuing restart to score the victory. The victory allows the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to lock himself automatically into the second round of the playoffs.

Through the first half of the season, it seemed Bell was putting himself in a position to contend for the championship. However, the late momentum for Justin Allgaier, and a string road courses which aren’t the rookie’s strong suit caused many to forget about the potential shown. Thankfully not having to worry about the Charlotte roval next weekend, the rest of the playoffs could play into Bell’s wheelhouse.

Bell wasn’t the only driver who led laps, though, as different contenders emerged throughout the night. Hemric won the first stage, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. victorious in the second. You also had Matt Tifft factoring himself into the equation – possibly set to play a bigger role if the flat tire hadn’t happened under the yellow flag, along with Ross Chastain trying to write another chapter in his Cinderella story.

Just imagine the scene if Earnhardt Jr. had won in his lone NASCAR start of the 2018 campaign. He led a bunch of laps and looked to have the car to beat, however the final run did not see the No. 88 Chevrolet fit his handling as he faded back to fourth. The smile in seeing him back behind the wheel was affectionate for everybody watching, and the promise of another race next year should allow the hype to continue.

The embrace post-race between him and Elliott Sadler post-race was also special as the best friends realized this would be their last time competing on the track together. The emotions on Sadler’s face was easily seen as he made his final start his home track, once again missing out on visiting victory lane. 

JR Motorsports wasn’t all smiles, though. Allgaier entered the playoffs with a ton of momentum following back-to-back wins, but contact while four-wide ended his night early. Thankfully, those points he collected from the five victories and stage wins will allow him to be seeded third, still 22 points above the cut-off line. His mulligan is used, though, so the next two weeks will need to see things go back the way they were previously. 

Chastain is set to return to his previous ride beginning next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway as he ends his three-race span driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. He did what he wanted in the process – showcasing that he can get the job done if in the right equipment as evident with last week’s win and a runner-up this week. While worry was expressed post-race in seeing that potential recognized in the future due to funding, one can only hope that it works out and the Watermelon farmer gets the ride he deserves next season.

Lastly, is the No. 60 car cursed for Roush Fenway Racing? They’re currently at 11 DNF’s this season with a crash in all of the events except for two. 

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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Foxwoods Resort Casino 301

It may have taken three fours to get started, but the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 delivered at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon.

The end of the event came down to a classic battle between two of the best this season in Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick – Busch leading, and Harvick wanting what he had. It’s always said that one of the elements of stock car racing is bumpers as they’re made for bumping, and that’s what happened. A couple nudges in a row from the No. 4 Ford into the No. 18 saw a trade for the lead, sending Harvick to victory lane for the sixth time this season.

As Harvick said post-race, “I had to do what I had to win. I didn’t want to wreck him – I just didn’t want to waste time behind him.” The bump was enough to get the position, but it didn’t cause damage to either car and Busch came across the finish line second.

Now when Busch finishes second, you know he isn’t going to be happy and that showed. However, he kept in perspective by saying, “With a faster car, I’m not sure he had to do it. With how you race, you get raced.” In other words, the playoffs with these two battling against each other head-to-toe are going to be exciting.

Of course, you can’t forget about Martin Truex Jr. and he made that known with a fourth-place finish despite struggling part of the day. 

For the majority of the race, though, it didn’t appear as it’d be one of these dominant three winning. Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammates actually led the way as Kurt Busch led from the pole, followed by Aric Almirola holding serve; both of them saw their chances of winning slip away virtue of errors on pit road. 

The fifth-place finisher was Chase Elliott, which surprised many based on the lack of performance by Hendrick Motorsports for the majority of the year and the fact that Elliott has dubbed New Hampshire a frustrating place during rain delay interviews. It showed in his post-race interview when he said, “I was surprised with how we ran out there. I hope it wasn’t dumb luck.”

The top-five, combined with a runner-up in the first stage and win in the second was certainly necessary for the sophomore as he sits just two spots above the cut-off line for the playoffs. He now sits in a comfortable position with a 95-point gap over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

Erik Jones is currently 14th in the standings, 74 points to the good. The battle is really now between Alex Bowman and Stenhouse, as only 28 points separate them. Of course, that all could change if another driver scores a victory that is on the outside and we know how possible that is, especially with Watkins Glen still remaining.

With discussion increasing about the playoffs, it is nice to see the action on the track matching that. The finish was certainly exciting, but we also had an event to match that as there were battles around the Magic Mile throughout the entire day. The bonus was watching NBCSN actually show those, rather than just focus on the top-five and sole leader at times.

The television coverage has certainly been refreshing with NBCSN so far as compared to the slip-ups discussed throughout the first half of the season by Fox Sports, this squad is hitting it out of the park thus far.

They were handed a three-hour rain delay, yet managed to keep the fans entertained the entire time with a variety of interviews and features. Also, shout-out to having a well-timed break once the checkered flag flew at the end of the stage, but being back in time to show the entire pit cycle under caution. That was one of the reasons why stage racing was brought in by the sanctioning body to begin with. 

The commentary by Steve LeTarte, Jeff Burton, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was also very refreshing, in hearing them discuss different lines, driver approaches, and strategies. However, I will admit that having Rick Allen on pit road made the transitions from racing to commercial and vise versa, as well as highlighting the position being battled for was missing. On that note, Earnhardt Jr. did an interesting job on those advertisements. 

That said, there is always room for improvement moving forward. How do you go to commercial with less than 10 laps left in a stage? But if that’s the only complaint from the day, then I say that we got a great afternoon of racing. Maybe Pocono Raceway will deliver for a change next weekend.

By the way, why does it matter what the broadcasters wear in the booth during the race?

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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS…… Tony Eury Jr.

After stepping away from NASCAR for the past four years, Tony Eury Jr. will be back on the pit box for the Daytona 500, calling the shots for Danica Patrick.

Before heading down to Speedweeks, the longtime crew chief talked about working with her, as well as his involvement in the short track racing scene.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts going into Daytona?

TONY EURY JR: I’m looking forward to it. It’s good to be back in Daytona and it’s good to be back with Danica (Patrick) and GoDaddy. Just looking forward to the race. We have to really pay attention, and be careful. We have basically one bullet so we have to make sure we get through the Duels and first couple of practices here without any incidents, and then concentrate on Sunday and just trying to be there at the end.

This is kind of a unique situation with the scheduling where it’s a totally different set-up plan where NASCAR used to mandate what rear springs, what rear shocks – now it’s ground zero rules, anything goes, so you have to basically re-do your whole set-up. So you basically only have two hours to make it right for qualifying and you’re impounded to the Duels, so we just want to go into conservative mode and make sure we know where the car is at. Then we have four hours after the Duels to get the car tuned up for the 500.

PS: Having been away from NASCAR for awhile now, what is it about this deal that brought you back?

EURY: Basically, friendship. We mean a lot to each other and had a lot of success together. I’ve been away from the Cup Series and XFINITY Series for four years, but I’ve also during that time started a chassis company with Fury Race Cars, where I’ve been bringing up young kids through the ranks to get them up there. I’ve still been crew chiefing – just a different capacity, keeping up with things going on in the sport all the way down through it. We’ve had some good kids come through our program. William Byron was probably our first one. We’ve got Zane Smith, Christian Eckes who won the Snowball Derby with us two years ago – we’ve had some really extremely good kids come through our program.

When Danica called and asked me to do this deal, I just told her that I’d be glad and honored to, just for GoDaddy and her, just for the appreciation that I had for what we were together when she first came in the shop. For her to be going out and for me to associate with that deal and GoDaddy, it’s a really cool deal and good storyline. I look forward to it, and you can never turn down a chance to come to Daytona.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

PS: When you guys started working together when she came into the sport, what were your initial impressions?

EURY: When I first met her, she was very determined. She’s a very good racecar driver. It’s like I told a lot of people – I would put her up against anybody in the garage, as far as one-on-one lap and driver feedback. She can give you the information that you need. The problem was IndyCar is totally 180 degrees different from NASCAR, where the closing rates, the position to pass – everything is totally backwards. So that was our biggest challenge in trying to get her accustom that when you go to pass somebody, you have to four foot off their back bumper, whereas IndyCar it’s five car lengths back. That was probably our biggest obstacle.

She’s gotten better over the years, but compared to a kid coming out of Late Models and that’s all he drove his whole life, that’s an easier transition. She’s done well. She’s had shining points throughout her career to where she’s looked good. She’s just learned more and more, but I think that was the biggest obstacle when she got into the sport.

PS: You mentioned Fury Race Cars and the success you’ve had with that. How did it come about?

EURY: Well, I had a friend that used to work for me and he works for a spring company now and he decided that he wanted to build modifieds. He needed some help building a modified, and we established a company over the last four years. Now we’ve changed it over to Fury because he moved back north. He’s got an LFR brand of modifieds; we still build the modifieds for it. Then I design my own super late models.

We’ve got probably a 140 super late models across the country. Like week, I was in Bakersfield, California for a big race with some customers. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do because no matter what, I love building cars that go fast. So it’s at the top level or entry level, it’s a lot of fun to me.

PS: Putting Fury on the map, how important was it for you guys to win the Snowball Derby in 2016 with Christian to get the name out there?

EURY: I mean, that was a huge win – there’s no doubt about it. Let’s face it – if you’re going to sell chassis, you need to win races. So that win really turned a corner for us, got some more people involved, wanting to be part of the program. We’ve got Harrison Burton in the program right now. We’ve won four races this year, and won three of them so far. So I think we have some pretty good stats to back-up what our chassis are all about now. It’s a lot of fun to me. I’m just having a blast with that part of the deal, and I told Danica that if she gets bored and wants to run one of these on a weekend, we can do that to.

PS: Now the latest thing with Fury is you guys are going to be expanding up into Canada. What will it be like for you guys getting involved in the APC Auto Parts United Late Models of Ontario Series?

EURY: I’m looking forward to that. That’s car has actually gone to the powder coat, so I’ve got some stuff going in that direction. I’m really excited. I’ve got a couple Canadians with my chassis – Cassius Clark has one. But to get into that series, it’s just going to help expand, give us another marketplace to get into.

We’ve also got a track day road course car that we’re working on right now. There’s a lot of activity around that we’re really pumped up about. I’m just trying to finish up the last little bit so we can get into production. But that day, we’ve taken it to the track several times and it’s an awesome piece.

TYLER BARRICK | NKP

PS:  Jumping back to NASCAR side, you’ve won a bunch of races through the years. What’s been the most memorable?

EURY: I would say down here at the (Daytona) 500 (in 2004 with Dale Earnhardt Jr.), because we were so close so many times. Like the two years prior, we had dominant cars and won everything down here but the 500. So to come down here the next year and win that race was great. Our streak at Talladega (2001-2003) was pretty awesome. The (2001) Pepsi 400 was the most emotional –that and the Wrangler car (XFINITY Series at Daytona, 2010). I think that really got me because it meant so much because one was right after Big E (Dale Earnhardt)’s death, and the other, the No. 3 Wrangler car, was in his memory. So coming down here and winning that race, that was a full blown effort – there was only one thing that was going to happen, and that was winning that race. Anything else would’ve been a failure. I would say the Wrangler car was my most emotional win that I’ve ever had in my career, because it meant so much to me just to do something for Big E.

PS: We saw the stage racing play out last year. What are your thoughts on that adjustment with the rules?

EURY: I liked the stage racing. The only downside is you can take out some strategy that someone could start out at the beginning of the race if they’re not having a good day to start with. The best part about it is you could have the best car all day, and something happen at the end, and you’ve got nothing to show for it – but now with the stage racing and points given out, it actually means something at the end of the year. So it gives you the ability to show that you had a dominant car for most of the year, despite a couple things happening.

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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Pole Allows Bowman to Emerge from Earnhardt Jr.’s Shadow

In the first event of the post-Dale Earnhardt Jr. era, the No. 88 car remained in the spotlight as its new driver Alex Bowman piloted it to the DAYTONA 500 pole position.

Speed from this team should come as no surprise since Earnhardt Jr. started first in half of the restrictor plate races in 2017 and Hendrick Motorsports has now won four consecutive poles in the “Great American Race.”

While this will provide Bowman an advantage to start Sunday’s race, more importantly, it establishes a platform for him to become known as more than just Earnhardt Jr.’s successor.

Much of the conversation surrounding the 24-year-old during the opening weekend of Speedweeks focused on his position as Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement, not his rise to HMS.

Little was mentioned of Bowman’s only other DAYTONA 500 start in 2014 with BK Racing and his climb from the underfunded ranks of the sport to one of the top organizations.

Few drivers have ever been able to advance their careers this way and while Bowman began his time behind the wheel of less competitive cars, it allowed him to make the necessary growth to succeed today.

“Honestly, I think I’m better because of the things that I had to go through,” Bowman said. “I got to make a lot of mistakes without anybody watching. Just never give up.”

He failed to qualify for this race in 2015 and now three seasons later, he will lead the field to the green flag, a feat even Bowman himself still can’t believe.

“Yeah, I mean, I never ‑‑ I mean, if you talked to me in 2015 and told me that in 2018 I was going to be driving the 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports, I would have called you nuts,” Bowman said.

Bowman’s unorthodox – but successful – path to a full-time ride for one of the sport’s top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series organizations is an incredible achievement in itself and should be the focus after accomplishing the most significant feat of his career so far by taking the pole.

“You know, everything happens for a reason,” Bowman said. “My career had a lot of ups and downs, and I’ve been able to lean on my past experiences a lot to make me better and to better prepare myself for this job.”

The week of coverage ahead will be important for Bowman to begin establishing his name and telling his story as the new driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet.

While his connection to Earnhardt Jr. will always be present and essential to where he is today, this pole award is the first opportunity to emerge from the shadow of the 15-time most popular driver and begin writing the next chapter of his career.

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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

5 BIGGEST STORYLINES OF 2017: Retirement

From the Daytona 500 in February to the last checkered flag of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, the world of left turns – with an occasional right – keeps everybody on the edge of their seats. While the on-track action keeps eyes peeled on the asphalt, the discussion, and headlines generated away from the competition result in plenty of water cooler talk.

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season was no exception, as there were lots to talk about right from the beginning. As we close a chapter on another year, POPULAR SPEED is going to reflect upon the five most significant storylines in a series of articles.

The first of those touches upon one filled with emotion – retirement. 

Over the past couple of years, fans have walked many of their favorites walk away from the sport. In 2015, Jeff Gordon hung up the helmet, while Tony Stewart walked away from NASCAR competition in 2016. This past season was no different, with three more big names calling it quits.

After missing most of the second half of the 2016 campaign healing from a concussion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to the track this year. But in April, he announced that the 2017 season would be his last full-time campaign. The announcement was significant, considering the third-generation racer has been considered the leader for the sport, winning the Most Popular Driver Award the past 15 straight years.

The good news for fans in helping the adjustment period is that Earnhardt has stated he will run at least one NASCAR XFINITY Series event next season and will be in the broadcast booth for the second half of 2018 with NBC. At least during a time of trying to see where their loyalty rests in the sport – whether remaining a fan and tuned in, or finding another driver to cheer for, they will still get to connect to their leader of JR Nation. 

In November, Matt Kenseth revealed he would be stepping away from the sport as he was unable to find a ride for 2018 after being let go from Joe Gibbs Racing in replace of Erik Jones. It is sad that a guy who can still get the job done, as evident by his win at Phoenix Raceway, is being forced out of the seat over youth and dollars. It once again brings up the conversation that fans have debated for the past couple years now of how much talent versus money plays into the equation. 

Lastly, Danica Patrick dropped the last domino when she stated at the season finale that the 2017 campaign is her last full-time, and she will run the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in 2018 before retiring. Arguably, she has not had the best statistics as compared to other drivers. However, her impact on the sport goes beyond that.

Each week, little girls look up to her as a role model to possibly enter the sport themselves one day. How much will that affect these ladies moving forward? Talented female drivers are coming up through the ranks, such as Natalie Decker with a full-time ARCA deal for Venturini Motorsports, but is that enough to continue the diversity movement that Patrick helped build upon? 

With three of the most prominent names stepping away – five in the past three years, some have begged the question – what happens now with the sport? 

This period isn’t the first time drivers of this magnitude have walked away from NASCAR in groups, with each of those retirements sparking a new era. The sport survived when Richard Petty hung up the helmet, and when Dale Earnhardt died. So can it do so once again? Absolutely.

There are plenty of veterans still behind the wheel, continuing to add to their career numbers with personalities to carry us forward. Competitors like Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. are just to name a few. 

Beyond those, we have a young crop of drivers are beginning to establish themselves on-track, while drawing fans to them with their personalities through social media and appearances.

The next biggest storyline discussed in the series touches upon that, with the youth movement of the sport. 

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

 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Takes Home Most Popular Driver Award

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished off the year like many believed he would, hoisting the NMPA Most Popular Driver Award at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series banquet.

It marks the 15th time the 43-year-old has won the award, and the 15th consecutive time. Only one driver has received the prize more times (Bill Elliott – 16) with Earnhardt being one of eight drivers to win it on multiple occasions.  

“When I started winning this award it was all about the popularity of a driver,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “But now as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized this award represents the sport’s accessibility. We touted our accessibility to the fans as something that sets us apart from other sports; it makes us unique and it’s something we take a lot of pride in. The trophy itself is representative of that access. I’ve learned over the years it’s not really just a popularity award or about one individual. It’s really about the fan base that puts the effort in to not only vote for the award but to cheer for that driver and support him week in and week out.”

While on stage to accept the award, Earnhardt was also presented the Bill France Award of Excellence.

“The Bill France Award of Excellence is not given out every year,” France said on stage at the awards ceremony. “It’s for the ultimate achievement and contribution to the sport they love—NASCAR. Sometimes it’s on the track. Sometimes it’s off the track. And every once in a while, it’s both. Tonight, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the recipient of the Bill France Award of Excellence.”

The award was a surprise for Earnhardt, who stated it meant a lot to him personally. 

“They really dig in there and hit your feelings,” Earnhardt said. “It’s an incredible feeling for someone to know that you’re worth that acknowledgement. I’m grateful that the sport feels that way and it inspires you to continue to be an asset and represent the sport well and continue to help it grow. It makes you want to earn that recognition.”

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

Categories
Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: Retired Earnhardt Jr.’s Legacy Is Simple: Himself

At Homestead when Dale Earnhardt Jr. parked his Chevrolet and enjoyed a beer-chugging sendoff with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates and others, many people thought it was the end of an era.

An “era” might be overly descriptive, but don’t tell the “Junior Nation” that.

Because NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver – he will be for the 15th time this year – and the son of a racing icon whom no one has forgotten or will forget, was through as a full-time competitor.

He will move on to new adventures, the most public of which will likely be his role as a television analyst. He will be busy with his team, JR Motorsports, occasional racing and other as yet unpublicized endeavors.

Earnhardt Jr. had already won two Busch Series championships before his father perished in a wreck at Daytona in 2001. By that time the son was well on his way to the assumption of his father’s mantle.

But the death of the elder Earnhardt created a void in NASCAR, if for no other reason than the sport lost the man who represented almost everything fans love about stock car racing – achievement from humble beginnings, a warrior’s courage and skill, willingness to give no quarter or ask for none and blessed with common sense and leadership qualities.

Fans turned to Earnhardt Jr. to help fill that void. Their thinking was that if they could support the father they would do the same for the son.

Earnhardt Jr. gave them their reward. He didn’t do it by being the “Intimidator” his father was. He didn’t do it by achieving a high number of victories. He didn’t do it by winning a championship. He never won a Monster Series NASCAR Cup title.

Instead, he did it by simply being himself. As a competitor he was able and talented. But as a man he was smart, affable and humble.

His personality was such that fans and media alike were attracted to him. As far as the press was concerned his opinions were as valued as his father’s.

Fans appreciated Earnhardt Jr. and supported him if for no other reason than while he was a more than capable driver, he was also a “nice guy” with whom they couldn’t find fault.

I believe Earnhardt Jr.’s legacy is simply himself.

So the question arises, how does NASCAR find, and promote, another Earnhardt Jr.?

It should not bother. It can’t. But it should hang on to the fans it has, which include those who aligned themselves with Earnhardt Jr.

How it does that is NASCAR’s dilemma.

But it doesn’t have to worry about its next most popular driver. There will be one.

There has been since the days of Richard Petty evolved into those of Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt Jr.

Will it be current champ Martin Truex Jr. or young Chase Elliott, Bill’s son who is also a Hendrick prodigy and seemingly on the verge of success?

Or will it be someone we don’t even suspect?

Heaven knows there will be ample opportunity for a newcomer, given the departures of Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Gordon and others over the past few years.

When a new driver ascends to the level achieved by Earnhardt Jr. – assuming that one does – that will be good for the sport.

But what is also good for the sport is the fact that Earnhardt Jr. will still be a part of it.

I’m thinking we’ll see a lot of him and hear a lot from him.

He’ll continue to be himself.

And that is exactly what his fans want.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

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