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NASCAR Cup Series

Darrell Wallace Jr. Penalized for Intentional Spin at Texas Motor Speedway

Sometimes it is best to just keep your mouth shut or it can get you into trouble.

Following Darrell Wallace Jr.‘s comments to NBC Sports reporter Dustin Long on Friday at ISM Raceway, the Richard Petty Motorsports driver was penalized 50 points and $50,000. The intentional spin from the AAA Texas 500 was in violation of Section 12.1.a General Procedures, Section 12.8 NASCAR Member Conduct, Section 12.8.1 Member Conduct Guidelines and Section 10.8 In-Race Violations. 

Per the NASCAR rule book, Section 10.8 states that the sanctioning body can impose a penalty for “intentionally causing or attempt to cause a caution period.”

Meanwhile, section 12.1.a of the Rule Book states, “NASCAR membership is a privilege. With that privilege comes certain benefits, responsibilities and obligations. Correct and proper conduct, both on and off the race track, is part of a Member’s responsibilities. A Member’s actions can reflect upon the sport as a whole and on other NASCAR Members. Ideally, NASCAR Members are role models for the many fans who follow this sport, regardless of the type of license a Member may hold, or the specific Series in which a Member may participate. Therefore, NASCAR views a Member’s conduct, both on and off the race track, which might constitute a behavioral Rules violation under this Rule Book with great importance.”

Following contact, Wallace had a tire going flat on his No. 43 entry. Rather than making his way down pit road under green flag conditions, which would have put him multiple laps down, Wallace spun to bring out the caution flag.

Following the spin, NASCAR chose to not penalize Wallace initially, with NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell stating it was a judgment call and they would take a look at it, addressing it with the drivers and teams if they felt necessary. 

However, a penalty was then handed out following Wallace’s comments to Long on Friday.

“If we feel like it’s on purpose and we have enough information to determine that 100% it’s on purpose, we will react,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said. “The reaction today was after a complete admission of guilt, so that’s really what led to the penalty happening today.

“… That was a full admission of something that has been abuzz in the garage and the media. (A warning instead of a penalty) wasn’t an option.”

Long had approached Wallace about the spin due to comments from Kyle Larson to the press on Friday. After saying that “Helen Keller could see Bubba’s spin was on purpose” following the event, he said his team checked the data and could see the spin was on purpose.

“You could definitely see, because we have SMT (SportsMEDIA Technology) where you have the digital car,” he commented. “You could see him like swerving, he turns right and at the same time he turns left and stabs the throttle and spins out. It’s whatever at this point.”

Richard Petty Motorsports released a statement shortly thereafter, stating they will not appeal the penalty.

“We fully understand NASCAR’s position and expectations of its competitors,” said Philippe Lopez, Richard Petty Motorsports’ director of competition. “NASCAR has a difficult job officiating race events and we do not need to make the task more challenging. Wallace will not appeal the penalty, and will direct his immediate focus to this weekend’s event at the ISM Raceway.”

NASCAR is hoping this penalty will deter drivers from purposeful spins in the future.

“We haven’t spoken to the drivers, but this obviously is going to start some dialogue. … We have the ability to react monetarily and points-wise, what we feel is appropriate. I’d say this is pretty substantial and hopefully sends the right message,” Miller expanded. “All we can do is wait and watch and see how we need to react next.

“Hopefully we don’t. Hopefully it cleans itself up.”

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

Bubba Wallace Continues to Provide for Race Fans

It’s no secret that Bubba Wallace has not had the 2019 season he had hoped for in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He currently sits 270 points below the cutoff line with five races remaining before the playoffs and unless he gets a win, a playoff berth seems unlikely.

However, the 25 year old driver is making all the right moves in another area of the sport – the hearts of race fans.

Following Dale Earnhardt Jr’s retirement in 2017, NASCAR found itself with a fresh new face of the sport when Chase Elliott claimed the title of ‘Most Popular Driver’ last season. This newfound accolade may not be so easy to come by for the racing prodigy at the conclusion of the 2019 season, though, as Wallace seems to be making headlines almost every race weekend, not for on-track success, but his ability to connect with fans.

Wallace made his debut in the Cup Series in 2017 after powering his way through NASCAR’s Home Tracks program. Since then, he remains the only African-American driver competing in the premier series. As a result, he has become an ambassador for the sanctioning body’s Drive for Diversity program in which young developmental drivers of different nationalities show off their skills through the Home Tracks program.

This is an incredibly large responsibility for any athlete to carry on their shoulders, but the driver from Mobile, Alabama seems to be doing it with ease. As he continues to pave the way for young, hopeful drivers, he also bring along a new legion of race fans accumulated from his outgoing and interactive personality. It also helps that he is driving the famed No. 43 made famous by ‘The King,’ Richard Petty.

In Wallace’s most recent interaction with fans, he took to Twitter sharing a photo of himself in his Petty Blue Chevy Camaro with Petty’s autograph on his arm.

The tweet went viral in many aspects, garnering comments and support from fellow competitors. In just two day, the impressive feat of 43,000 retweets was achieved and the seven-time champion approved of his young driver’s request. Wallace revealed his car owner had been laughing about the idea and further elaborated that Petty would NOT be getting his driver’s autograph tattooed as well, but he would join him when he went for his new ink.

Also, who says rain delays have to be boring? The driver of the No. 43 has revolutionized these boring times with a new unofficial tradition. At the first race at Michigan International Speedway this season, instead of waiting out the weather in his trailer like a majority of his competitors, Wallace grabbed a football and began passing it back and forth to race fans braving the weather in the grandstands.

Since this interactive element was implemented by Wallace in Michigan, he replicated this connection with fans once more at Daytona International Speedway in July. Both times the driver broke out the pigskin, he was joined by special guests such as Corey LaJoie and Daniel Hemric. This is not only a positive way to connect with fans on a personal level when there is a halt in action on the track, but this is a powerful way to boost ratings for the sport when it needs it the most.

While Wallace has established a relationship with fans through social media and events at the track, his outreach to fans extends on an even deeper level. More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression and amidst the competition and fame, it’s sometimes easy to forget that athletes suffer from the same disease; Wallace is no exception.

In a recent interview with USA Today, the 25 year old driver opened up about his battles with depression even while competing in stock car racing. In conjunction with serving as an ambassador for Drive for Diversity, Wallace also bravely admits to struggling with this disease that most everyone can relate to. In a time and head space where you feel isolated in the world, it’s important to note that you are not alone and even athletes competing in NASCAR’s most prestigious series are struggling with the same battles.

Wallace is an easy driver for fans to both sympathize and empathize with. Most athletes elect to mask their emotions, whereas Wallace chooses to embrace a more natural reaction – whatever that may be. In 2018, Wallace finished runner-up in the Daytona 500, earning him the record of highest finishing African-American driver in NASCAR. In a post-race press conference, the African-American driver, understandably broke down in front of reporters after accomplishing the historic feat.

Tears are no stranger for the Alabama-native as he’s even broken down in tougher times. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one on a race weekend, or continued on-track struggles it’s something race fans have seen. While times are tough for Wallace, it’s important for everyone to see that athletes are human and it’s tremendously brave for Wallace to wear his heart on his sleeve and fans see that.

Most recently, at the conclusion of the Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway, Wallace turned heads following a heated altercation on pit road with Daniel Suarez. Both drivers wouldn’t comment on the matter, saying there was no issue, but the video says otherwise. Regardless, it’s nice to once again to see some emotion from drivers in a time where the sport is lacking identity.

The 2019 season has not been a total bust for Wallace. In one of the more popular finishes of the year, the driver of the No. 43 successfully muscled his way into the Monster Energy All Star race after a thrilling battle with Suarez in the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Following the race, a choked up Wallace was all smiles after feeling like he finally caught a break he deserved. After seeing the sheer joy from the 25-year-old driver, you get the sense that a win is coming in the not-so distant future and that once it comes, there will be unfathomable roars from the grandstands.

As Wallace nears his third complete season in the Cup Series, he has clearly cemented himself as one of the sport’s fan favorites between fan interactions and his display of raw emotion. He has opened himself up to fans in a way that not many athletes opt to do and as a result has reached a broader audience into what many call a dying sport.

Could Bubba Wallace be NASCAR’s saving grace? One thing is certain, he has already amassed a persona which is bound to ensure a career of longevity in the sport for years to come.

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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
Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: Wallace Looks For Change In Performance, Not Who He Is

This is just one man’s opinion, but I think Bubba Wallace gets it.

The 25-year-old driver for Richard Petty Motorsports understands that he’s only in his second full season of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup competition. He has much to learn and must avoid the past mistakes he made.

He understands the need of a good relationship with fellow competitors and the media. And he does not need to change his personality to attain it.

Speaking of personality, Wallace is personable, outgoing and likable. If, as an African-American driver, he’s carrying a banner for diversity, he certainly does not talk like it.

He doesn’t have to.

Unlike the time when pioneer and Hall of Fame driver Wendell Scott raced under a cloud of prejudice and inequality, no one gives a darn that Wallace is black.

At the very least, I have not heard a disparaging word said or written. Of course it is only logical to mention that if Wallace wins a Cup race – which is well within the realm of possibility – he will be the first to do since Scott in 1963.

It would seem that to earn a victory will take some time and improvement. Wallace has made only 40 career Cup starts, 36 of which came last year.

His record shows three top-10 finishes, one of which was a surprising runnerup showing in last year’s Daytona 500.

“Coming into the season last year we were like there is no way in hell that we would finish second in my first Daytona 500 attempt,” Wallace said. “I thought I would go out there and cause ‘the big one’.

“Let’s get through the rest of the week and let’s make it to lap 199 and see if we have a shot. If I make it to 199, hell yeah, I’m going to go for it.”

After the 2018 race Wallace became emotional. He had a reason, of course, but he joked that it might not have been what we thought.

“I shed a little tear for TV ratings trying to get those up, that was all part of the plan,” he said. “It worked out.

“Hell I got a lot of people on my side over that. Got to pump up the waterworks again this year. 

“Other than that, it was just taking in the first race as a rookie and to be able to accomplish it the way we did was pretty cool.”

Wallace is optimistic that the changes at RPM made after the 2018 season will bring more opportunities for him to go for it.

“We will find out how it works out,” Wallace said. “We haven’t even got a race under our belt yet. We have had some personnel changes, people moved around and moved up and so excited about that.

“We have a new crew chief, new car chief and trying to get some new partners on board throughout the season as well. We will continue to keep pressing forward. 

“I looked back. I’ve got a whole list of races where I could do a lot better and see what we can do.”

Not only does Wallace think the personnel changes will have a positive effect, he also reasons that he himself will be improved as a driver because of what he learned.

“I was surprised how much I struggled and let myself struggle,” he said. “It was my rookie year, you know, and I went through it all. 

“I’m not using that as an excuse because I have enough experience to know that some of the mistakes I made could have been fixable, could have been preventable I should say.”

Even if performance does not improve for Wallace, do not expect him to change who he is. Fact is, it does not seem possible.

“A lot of people will portray my personality as me being cocky and arrogant,” he said. “I’m just living life. I’m having fun. 

“At the end of the day I get paid to drive race cars. I just get to drive, nothing else. Everything else comes with it.

“I am not going to change the way I drive, I’m not going to change the way I interact with the media. 

“For me, I’m just going to be me and have fun.”

There’s not a thing wrong with that.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@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: Gander Outdoors 400

While Pocono Raceway has grown a reputation for being a race for fans to take naps, both events at the tricky triangle delivered in 2018. 

From the green flag to the checkered, the speedway was filled with passing throughout the field as drivers battled for position, sometimes going three-wide down the Long Pond straightaway. Combined with pit strategy, and the Gander Outdoors 400 had a bit of everything for fans on Sunday.

For the record, neither event was won by the driver whom dominated it, either. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were the ones to beat in June, but yet Martin Truex Jr. beat them both then. On Sunday, Harvick dominated – but Busch won.

While the storylines have been filled with “The Big 3” and you’d expect their names to be mentioned, things weren’t easy for them as they both started from the rear due to failing post-qualifying inspection. These two-day shows for the summer will be interesting in how teams fare as if you fail before qualifying, you just get to go through again and lose practice time. However, in the schedule where there is no pre-tech, a failure means you lose your lap time and start from the tail. Just ask those who started from the back on Sunday. It certainly also fuels the debate how disqualifications should be handled post-race if the winner is found illegal. 

Although starting from the back made it entertaining for the fans in watching both competitors moving up to the front, it didn’t take them long to get there with Harvick ready to set sail. However, contact on pit road with his teammate Aric Almirola on the final round of stops damaged the No. 4 Ford, requiring a second stop for repairs, and restarting 30th for the final run. Give Harvick credit where it’s due, though, as he worked his way back to the front for a fourth-place finish.

The events handed the advantage over to Busch, and he didn’t let go as he led the rest of the way – despite being heavily challenged by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez

On that note, did anybody notice how all four JGR cars and all four Hendrick Motorsports cars were in the top-10 at one point? As we get closer to the playoffs, the cream is rising to the top and we see powerhouse teams making a push to get their drivers into the post-season. Things could get interesting for HMS as three of their drivers sit right on the doorstep together, while Gibbs has locked in all four except Suarez. 

Speaking for HMS, for the first time since October 2017, they had all four cars finish in the top-10. We’ve seen the slow progress of their hardwork to gain back ground courtesy of strong runs from Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman and wondered if they were actually getting back on-track. Welp, the results today certainly give that theory a whole new meaning.

Finally, shout-out to Darrell Wallace Jr. on getting another season at Richard Petty Motorsports as they’ve had some strong runs together. More importantly, thank you for safer barriers as it was extremely satisfying to see him climb out of the No. 43 Chevrolet after slamming the turn one wall due to no brakes. Everybody’s hard work on safety innovations is showing, and that’s a great feeling for all involved.

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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Old Guys Still Ruling in 2018

A few months ago, the conversation of the off-season as the excitement of the young stars rising into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018. Drivers like Alex Bowman, Darrell Wallace Jr., and William Byron were heading into the year with full-time rides, some even replacing icons.

We were preparing to witness a year with a great deal of young talent, and many believed it would be proven on the track.

As the season kicked off at Daytona, it fired off fairly strong for the young guns with 25-year-old Alex Bowman winning the pole for the Daytona 500. Additionally, rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second in the 60th running of “Great American Race.”

Wallace entered the media center following the Daytona 500 with much excitement and even let loose his emotions after a runner-up finish. But since then, Wallace hasn’t placed any better than 20th and has an average finish of 22.8.

The youngsters have become quiet since Daytona, and the veterans have become the spotlight of the season.

Six races in, the veterans have showcased their experience and proved they are still the ones to beat. In fact, 42-year-old Kevin Harvick went on to win the next three events following the Daytona 500 and even some in dominating fashion.

Harvick expressed his feelings on social media this past week after his teammate, 38-year-old Clint Bowyer, won the STP 500 at Martinsville.

https://twitter.com/KevinHarvick/status/978636514031800321

That’s right, no driver under the age of 25 has won a race this season. Many thought that Hendrick Motorsports would be a factor going into the year as they added a few young stars and the new Camaro ZL1.

Quite frankly, it has been the complete opposite.

The fresh young faces at Hendrick Motorsports, Alex Bowman and William Byron, have had an uneasy start to the season. Both drivers combined have only scored one top-10 finish this year, and the new Camaro ZL1 has shown inconsistency throughout the first six races.

Meanwhile, a team with veteran drivers are building toward a having a historic season.

Stewart-Haas Racing has won four of the first six events and is going into the off weekend with a grandfather clock as Clint Bowyer snapped a 190-race winless streak.

Greg Zipadelli, Vice President of Competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, said after the win at Martinsville, “This year as a group they’ve been able to work together, and they’ve been able to work on a lot of little details, and I think it’s shown in the performance to start the year.”

Their impressive performance currently has all four of their drivers in the top-12 in points. But will this trend continue for the rest of the season?

The Cup Series schedule is lengthy, and it’s still early, but we shouldn’t rule out the young guns just yet. They’ve earned a spot in NASCAR’s premier series so they’re obviously talented and it will be thrilling to watch them try to break out and beat the “old guys.”

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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: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Like a typical intermediate track, a spread-out field and track position being critical became everything in the Pennzoil 400 on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as most of the good passing came on restarts. Needless to say, you did not miss much if you failed to watch.

At the top of the leaderboard, Kevin Harvick paced 214 of the 267 laps en route to a dominating victory for the second week in a row. Just like last week, nobody had anything for him. Now going to Phoenix Raceway, where he has won eight times, visions of a repeat of Martin Truex Jr.‘s performance have resurfaced.

There is irony in Harvick’s performance, though, as it was believed the Fords were behind the Toyotas at the end of last season. However, the beginning of the year shows a different story. If you look behind the No. 4 Ford, the competition is even with each manufacture featuring a couple representatives in the top-10 consistently. So far, things are on course.

The unfortunate factor is three of the drivers who needed a turn around, both William Byron and Darrell Wallace Jr. placed outside of the top-20 once again. Jimmie Johnson began his turnaround, scoring a 12th-place finish after having to start last due to failing technical inspection three times. His success doesn’t mean Hendrick Motorsports is out of the woods yet, as he was the only driver from the organization in the top-15. 

The race also didn’t feature much drama either, as there were only a couple incidents of significance. Jamie McMurray blew a right front tire, followed by Kurt Busch getting loose, and collecting Chase Elliott. For both Busch and Elliott, it marks their second wreck in three races this season. Although most people tend to not look at the points standings until a couple months into the year, it’s certainly not helping either of their cases. The good news is they both have ran up front, and if they can put it together one week and snag a win, these troubles will be all forgotten. 

Denny Hamlin also wrote another page in his favorite book, speeding on pit road en route to finishing 17th. Hopefully it’s not the beginning of a complete re-write as a year ago, he managed to get caught 11 times. 

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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

Three Drivers Needing A Change in Fortune in Las Vegas

We may be only two races into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, but there are already drivers falling further behind than expected after the Daytona 500 and the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. 

Getting into a slump is easy to escape thanks to the playoff format, as a victory turns everything around immediately. But continuing to stay in the back half of the field for some of the drivers could prove costly as the year goes forward.

With that in mind, here are four drivers who need to have some success this weekend in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Matthew T. Thacker NKP

Jimmie Johnson did not start the season well, wrecking out of the Daytona 500, before a mid-race spin relegated him to a 27th-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Currently ranked 35th in the standings is not a characteristic trait of the seven-time Cup Series Champion. 

Looking back through the years, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has never started out a title run with back-to-back poor finishes to begin a season. While he’s crashed out at Daytona many times, he was usually always able to turn around his luck in the second event. Coupled with this has to be the frustration that he is currently in the midst of the longest winless streak of his career, dating back to June 2017. 

Johnson also didn’t enter the year with much momentum, as he placed outside of the top-10 in the last six races to close out last season. Combined with Hendrick Motorsports’ performance being questionable all around except for Chase Elliott, and concerns ran high as to whether this year would see a turnaround. 

There is hope, though, as his teammate William Byron was in the top-five speeds for the pre-season NASCAR test at Las Vegas, and Johnson has won there previously on four different occasions. In his six most recent starts, he has also picked up four top-six finishes, highlighted by a runner-up in 2012.

Speaking of Byron, he also makes the shortlist entering his rookie campaign. He wrecked out at Daytona as well and struggled much of the event at Atlanta en route to placing 18th. While the finish should put a damper on attitude, it marked a positive for both driver and crew chief Darian Grubb, with praise from the lather in how they improved throughout the weekend. The most significant thing being the youngster’s ability to learn how to use the in-car trackbar adjuster to his advantage moving forward.

It’s no secret some wondered whether Byron moved up to the Cup Series a little too early in his career. He has only been racing full-size stock cars for five years, with just one season of NASCAR XFINITY Series competition under his belt before the upgrade. That one year, though, saw him win the championship with four wins and 22 top-10’s in 33 races. 

Being able to adapt on the fly and get better quickly will be crucial to progress throughout the year. But if Byron is unable to, he may fall victim to the too much pressure too early in his career, and be out of the ranks before he can hit his stride.

Barry Cantrell NKP

Darrell Wallace Jr. knows that experience all too well, having been up and down the NASCAR ladder in his short career to date, with funding being a question at times. He started off his 2018 season well with a runner-up in the Daytona 500. However, last weekend at Atlanta did not go as anticipated as he ran into the back of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. when he couldn’t see in the smoke of Trevor Bayne‘s engine failure, handing him a 32nd-place finish.

With his Facebook show “Behind the Wall,” combined with the media notoriety from the emotions in the media center at Daytona post-race, Wallace has caught a lot of mainstream attention and is quickly building his fan base. Though without results to back it up, he may sink back into the questionable hole he became familiar with when sponsorship ran out last year in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. 

He’s proven that he can do a decent job on the intermediate tracks in the Cup Series, scoring a couple solid top-20’s while running four events last year for Richard Petty Motorsports as he filled in for Aric Almirola. If he can find that consistency and allow the results to level off, he can settle in and start to find his groove, while finding that balance in popularity.

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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

Victories for Dillon, Harvick Bringing Together the Past and Present

The 2018 season marks the dawn of a new era for NASCAR. Following the departure of three superstars in three consecutive years, the sport’s landscape has changed, and the focus now shifts to the future.

However, maintaining a connection to the past remains vital, and the first two races of 2018 have established this precedent.

The victories for Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick in the DAYTONA 500 and Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, respectively, not only led to a celebration of their feats but of Dale Earnhardt’s legacy.

Dillon’s accomplishment came 20 years after Earnhardt’s only victory in the “Great American Race,” returning the No. 3 car to one of its most frequented places – the winner’s circle at Daytona International Speedway. 

“This is so awesome to take the No. 3 car back to Victory Lane 20 years ago,” Dillon said. “This one is for Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and all those Sr. fans.”

Harvick followed it up at Atlanta Motor Speedway by capturing his first win at the track since his 2001 triumph when he competed for Earnhardt’s team three weeks after the legend’s death.

“That was the first win in my career and to be able to do that and pay tribute to Dale was pretty cool,” Harvick said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to do that.”

Those wins replicated two iconic moments in NASCAR history and proved necessary in a time when the sport looks to re-energize itself.

The focus has primarily been on the wave of young talent coming onto the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series scene and shaping the future for those competitors.

However, their presence doesn’t mean the spotlight will solely be on what’s ahead. With many younger drivers piloting cars synonymous with racing history, their success will pay homage to the past.

Dillon has performed best so far with two victories in the No. 3 car but now rookies William Byron in the No. 24 and Darrell Wallace Jr. in the No. 43, as well as Chase Elliott in the No. 9, have similar opportunities to restore the prestige of their legendary rides.

This won’t come at the expense of the veteran drivers either as they continue to cement their spots in the history books with hopes a youthful driver will one day climb behind the wheel and continue their legacy.

NASCAR has been continuously searching for a way to unite the past and present as it looks to return to its glory days, and an avenue to work towards this has emerged.

While the 2018 season is only two races old, the success of today’s stars matching the triumphs of the previous generation is a surefire way to maintain a connection to the past and lead the sport into the future.

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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

Marketing of Youth Important to NASCAR’s Future – Despite Criticism

With five big-name drivers stepping away from NASCAR over the past three years, there has been an emphasis put on keeping fans attracted, as well as trying to draw new faces. After all, who are the fans who cheered for those five competitors going to turn to now?

At the same time as veterans make their way out of the sport, a new generation of racers has arrived looking to leave their mark, ranging from Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, to Erik Jones and Christopher Bell.

As part of trying to keep fans interested, combined with possibly attracting more millennials, NASCAR has been doing more marketing efforts with their younger drivers. Many can be seen in advertisements, combined with doing events and television appearances.

Although the strategy may look good on paper, it has caused a bit of frustration in the garage, as Kyle Busch says the focus on youth has become “bothersome.”

“We’ve paid our dues, and our sponsors have and everything else, and all you’re doing is advertising all these younger guys for fans to figure out and pick up on and choose as their favorite driver,” Busch said. “I think it’s stupid. But I don’t know, I’m not the marketing genius that’s behind this deal. You know, I just do what I can do, and my part of it is what my part is.”

Busch went on to say that part of this is probably because younger drivers are willing to do more of these events than the older drivers, as “we say no a lot more because we’ve been there, done that, have families, things like that, and want to spend as much time as we can at home.”

Other drivers don’t see it the same way, though.

Matthew T. Thacker NKP

“I think it’s all relative,” William Byron said. “When new guys come in, and it’s a kind of fresh thing to talk about, but we’re ultimately going to have to prove ourselves on the racetrack and do the things that we’re capable of. I think that’s going to show over time, and hopefully a couple of us young guys can win some more races.”

Jamie McMurray stated that “some seek attention more than others,” and since he isn’t one of those, he is fine with the norm. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick said the comments sounded “like the child that is whining for some attention.” Darrell Wallace Jr. added that the comments were “so dumb and so stupid.”

Blaney went as far to say that the comments upset him, saying that Busch “doesn’t like doing a lot of stuff, so that is why they don’t ask him to do a lot of stuff.”

“I would rather do something meaningful to the sport than to go sit on my couch,” he continued. “I don’t feel like I am doing anything then and feel I could be more useful somewhere else. I say no now and then. The only times I say no really is when I have my job to do –
if it will interfere with things like that. If it is just me, I try to take personal days too, but that is for vacation. Very rarely do I say no to things just to sit on my couch. I can do that at night, and I can do that when I retire.”

Brett Moist NKP

Wallace further expanded on the comments, stating that trying to get some of the well-established drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to do certain appearances is like pulling teething.

“It’s one of those things where I look at how is it going to promote my brand, promote the sport, promote the youth movement, and if I’m promoting the sport, that means I’m promoting everybody in this room, right?” Wallace added. “We’re all part of the sport together.  So it’s actually like you’re welcome for doing the dirty work.  And I wouldn’t call it dirty work because some of it’s fun.  We get to go to LA and hang out and be on Nickelodeon and doing all this stuff, and we like doing that.  I don’t have the M&M’s sponsor to carry me full‑time.  I have 13 races, so I have to put myself out there.  I have to sell myself.  And if NASCAR is going to do that and I don’t have to pay for it, hell yeah, sign me up.”

While some frustrations and mixed views have amounted, the reasoning for the latest advertising strategy is easy to understand.

If you’re trying to attract teenagers and those in their 20s, what better way than to use someone they can relate to? Furthermore, if you draw that younger age group and make them a fan, then you have them for the next several years as someone to line your pockets.

Also, by getting a fan – young or old – attracted to a more youthful driver who you assume will be involved in NASCAR for 10 to 20 years from now, you can build a bond. Just look through the years with those who continue to be Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans to this day.

As Denny Hamlin said, “It’s hard to bank and try to grow your sport off of someone that’s not going to be there in the next few years.”

He went on to add that’s why a lot of fans tend to graduate towards drivers in their first couple of years, because fan bases are grown mostly during that time, rather than the later stages.

Nigel Kinrade NKP

“I think the young guys are very lucky now that they’re coming in the sport, it’s as other drivers are leaving, so those experienced drivers have their fan base that then they want to pull for somebody else,” Hamlin said. “Most likely it’s not going to be someone that raced against their favorite driver; it’s going to be someone new that comes in. So that’s where all the fans go is to the new guys for that reason. They’re picking someone from the start just like they picked their driver that retired from the start.”

That’s why Blaney has always been one of the drivers willing to step up and do events, including recent appearances in Cars 3, Logan Lucky, and NBC’s show Taken. The Team Penske driver said he’s always been open to these opportinities because “it helps the sport, and helps yourself.”

“I just think it is really important to have not only young drivers but all NASCAR drivers trying to be pushing to get to new demographics of the world to get interested in our sport,” he added. “Whether it is young fans or new fans that don’t pay attention to it who aren’t young. That is everybody, not just young drivers that will make people appeal to the sport. I think everybody should be more open to helping the sport out because that is how it is going to survive. I am trying to do the best I can at it, and a lot of other drivers are helping too, just trying to get more and more every day.”

Over the past couple of years, a lot of questions have been asked regarding the driver turnover, and what happens to fans. Some have said that they are going to continue watching without a favorite driver, perhaps just tuning in since Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. will be in the broadcast booth. However, others have said that they will choose, or have already decided a new competitor to follow and cheer for each weekend.

The sport has withstood driver turnover before, so one has to wonder why we’re overly concerned now. It’s just another phase, and like every other one, it’ll probably go smoother than predicted. At least heading into 2018, there is some comfort looking at the line-up that remains, filled with familiar faces that have been around for 15 or more years, joined by youth that wants to leave their mark on the sport.

“I do think we’re at a point now where the driver pool that we have now is probably going to be the pool two and three years from now,” Hamlin said. “I don’t think you’ll see much turnover here in the next two to three years, so you’re going to see ‑‑ this is going to be the field for a little while, I believe.”

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

5 BIGGEST STORYLINES OF 2017: Youth Movement

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 touched upon was retirement, but our second brings hope for the future – youth movement.

As fans have watched some of their superstars walk away and begin to search for a new favorite driver, the series is offering them plenty of options with youth stepping up to the plate at every given turn. These drivers have been able to captivate fans by having success on-track, but also showcasing themselves on social media with sharing a side of themselves.

Although there’s concern surrounding who could lead the sport forward, one would have to believe we’re in good hands right now with this crop. It’s just a matter of patience in waiting for their personalities to shine.

2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Erik Jones proved that he would be around for years to come, scoring 14 top-10 finishes over the course of the year. Most memorable was his battle against Kyle Busch on the high banks of Bristol, showing that he could go toe-to-toe with the best. Now shifting from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing, comfort and a stable home could bring more success.

Ryan Blaney broke through for his first career victory at Pocono Raceway, on top of making the playoffs with 14 top-10’s. Inconsistency at times brought concerns for the sophomore, though, but that could be based on equipment driving for the single-car Wood Brothers Racing team. Now set to become the third driver at Team Penske alongside Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, getting dependable cars on a weekly basis should allow further growth. He’s also been able to grow himself a fan base, through his Glass Case of Emotion podcast.

Barry Cantrell NKP

Despite just completing his fourth year of Cup competition, Kyle Larson‘s age tends to have him considered as one of the youngsters on the grid. His success has been unmatched, scoring four victories in 2017 en route to placing eighth in the year-end standings in his breakout campaign. As he solidifies himself as a championship contender, while staying connected with his dirt roots, he could quickly rise above the others.

Another fourth-year driver Austin Dillon made his impact known as he scored his first career Cup victory at Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Outside of the win, though, he struggled with only four top-10’s, something that may need to grow if he is to find the level of recognition seen by others mentioned here.

When Darrell Wallace Jr. did not have a ride, fans rallied behind him with support to try and get him behind the wheel of something in one of NASCAR’s top series. His success in the NASCAR XFINITY Series allotted him an opportunity with Richard Petty Motorsports, which he turned into three top-20’s in four starts. As a result, he is set to run the full 2018 campaign now for RPM, which will further support his popularity as he continues to bring in a diverse group of fans. 

Chase Elliott became the definition of ‘what if?’ in 2017 as there were numerous times a single moment would have landed him in victory lane – from leading on a late-race restart at Michigan, to leading with 10 laps to go at Phoenix. He scored five runner-ups for a total of 21 top-10’s while making the playoffs for a second straight campaign. He also proved he could garner fan attention, as evident by the loud cheers received at Martinsville Speedway.

The next biggest storyline discussed in the series touches upon that as a rivalry was sparked on a chilly Sunday evening.

 

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