Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Martin Truex Jr. Better Than His Finish Yet Again

As has happened in several races this season, Martin Truex Jr. settled for a finish at Bristol that didn’t reflect the strength of his car. The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota finished 14th after running as high as second.

And to add salt to the wound, he rebounded twice from loose wheels, both of which occurred when he was running in the top five.

“We had another strong Toyota Camry today, but the finish obviously didn’t match the performance,” Truex Jr said. “We were contending and had a fast car. But that loose wheel near the end of the race spoiled an excellent opportunity.

“Considering what we had to deal with, salvaging a 14th-place finish was not all that bad.”

Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, echoed his driver’s sentiments regarding the strength of the car and team and the final position when the checkered flag flew.

“No question, we were better than our finish,” Pearn said. “Martin did an awesome job all day, and overall it was a good performance weekend. We were also good in qualifying (eighth) and during the practice sessions.”

This pattern of having a good race car and yet not getting the finish he deserved occurred at least two other times in Truex’s season to date. The first, and most hurtful to the team, was the 32nd-place finish in the Auto Club 400 in California.

Truex led 21 laps and ran in the top five for much of the contest until he got tangled up with Joey Logano as the laps were winding down.

“He just ran me over,” Truex said of Logano after that race. “It’s ridiculous. We had a great car all day and (I) hate for my guys we’ve got nothing to show for it.”

Even Logano acknowledged that was the case, apologizing and taking responsibility for ruining Truex’s good day.

“It was completely my fault,” Logano said. “I was going to go on the outside of him and he was going in on the top as well and I just ended up being right on him. I just got a little bit close to him and got him free, so I’m taking the hit on that one.”

While another driver ultimately caused Truex to have a less-than-stellar finish after having a well-performing race car in California, a self-inflicted wound caused a similar result in the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. In that race, Truex paced the field six times for a race-high 141 laps, only to wind up with a sixth-place finish. The major cause was Truex staying out on older tires while leading the pack, only to be swallowed up on the restarts by those with fresher rubber.

“Everybody had new tires,” Truex said. “Pretty big disadvantage, but can’t say enough about the guys for the race car they brought here and the weekend we had. It hurts. It’s happened a few times to me now.

“We had the car to beat, but the best car doesn’t always win.”

Pearn again agreed with his driver, and said they were in a “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation,” when it came to tire strategy.

“You think the clean air is going to pay off more than tires,” Pearn said. “It’s just a tough spot to be in with the lead and having a dominant car. They’re going to do the opposite of whatever you’re going to do.”

Even fellow competitor Dale Earnhardt Jr. felt bad for his former teammate and friend after having such a good car and not achieving the desired finish.

“He had such a dominant car,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “But he’s just got to remember that he’s with such a good program now, he’s in a very good position personally and professionally, and that he’s got such a great crew chief and a great group of guys around him that he’s going to get opportunities like this again.”

While Truex wanted a Bristol finish indicative of the strength of his car, he can take solace in the fact that the 14th-place run was his highest finish at that track since racing with Furniture Row. His other runs with the team were 26th and 20th in 2014, and 29th and 28th in 2015.

Truex can also leave Bristol knowing that his 14th-place run tied his average finish of 14th there when he was with Michael Waltrip Racing from 2009 to 2013. And his 2016 Bristol finish bested his 24th-place average finish when he was with Earnhardt Ganassi in 2009 and his 25th-place average finish when he was with DEI from 2006 to 2008.

He can also take a bit of solace in that even with a top-15 run at Bristol, he gained one position in the point standings, climbing into the tenth spot.

Richmond is another short track that’s had mixed results for Truex, with finishes both reflective — and not so reflective — of the strength of his team. In the fall 2015 race, he finished 32nd, while in the spring race he ran in the top 10. And in 2014, he finished 25th in the fall and 10th in the spring race.

Truex’s best finish at Richmond was May 2008 when he finished fifth for DEI. He will no doubt hope to better that as he continues the short-track segment of the Sprint Cup schedule next weekend.

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

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

Blaney Talks Progress, Elliott and Snapchat

For rookie Ryan Blaney, the season to date has been one of give and take.

Although he scored his fourth top 20 at Martinsville this past weekend, the driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion readily admitted to POPULAR SPEED that he had to do a whole lot of giving just to finish on the lead lap.

“I gave a lot more than I took at Martinsville, for multiple reasons,” Blaney said. “As a rookie I don’t want to be that guy who goes there for his first time and is the aggressor. It probably affected our finish but that’s a learning curve.

“I was pretty courteous and I probably gave a little bit more than I should have, but maybe we’ll put that in our bank and utilize that in the fall.”

Although Blaney felt he had to give a bit to gain the respect from his fellow competitors, he had some good takeaways from the STP 500 after finishing in the 19th spot.

“We had some runs where I thought we were okay and other runs where I thought we were way off,” Blaney said. “I did learn more about what I needed in the [racecar] to be fast there. I’ve struggled over the years at Martinsville in the trucks and still need to improve a lot there.

“It’s not like a typical short track, things about it are very tough. I think experience prevails there more than most other tracks. So I learned some things with the car and more about how to run the track.”

Blaney’s 19th place finish at Martinsville put him into the 15th place in the driver’s standings. And his car owners, the legendary Wood Brothers, now sit 16th in the owners’ point standings.

There has also been some good give and take between Blaney and his Rookie of the Year rival Chase Elliott. In fact, Blaney has 66 points to Elliott’s 70 points in that rookie battle.

“It’s cool to see them running well,” Blaney said of Team 24. “They have been very fast all year, and are tough to beat week in and week out. But we are focused on our own program and trying to improve that as much as possible.”

As far as improvement, Blaney will take that as he acknowledges the season to date has had its share of ups and downs.

“There have been a couple of races I wish we could take back, but it’s a learning process,” Blaney said. “And I think we are getting stronger. I need to be better at putting complete races together as well. It is tough running 500-mile races with the track changing so much. That definitely needs to get better on my end.”

Blaney plans to give it all he has at the upcoming race this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, especially after not finishing either of the two races there last year. In fact, he finished 42nd in the 2015 race after the engine failure and 43rd in the fall race after an accident.

“We had fast cars at Texas last year,” Blaney said. “With a motor problem in the first race and myself making a mistake in the second one, it was tough.

“I’m hoping to rally this year.”

In addition to a Texas rally, Blaney is very much looking forward to experiencing one of the things that he and some of his compadres on the track enjoy most, driving the heck out of their race cars while wearing out their tires.

“Texas is a great track,” Blaney said. “It is rough and wears out the tires, which is what the drivers like.”

“Honestly it is one of my favorite places and the fans are spectacular.”

Blaney’s crew chief Jeremy Bullins is also looking forward to seeing what his driver can give him at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Every week is a new opportunity,” Bullins said. “The reality is we had really fast cars at Texas last year so we look forward to going back.”

“The low-downforce package and tire combination will likely make for more fall-off so having a good-handling car throughout the stages of a run will be important, and maybe even more important than last year,” Bullins continued. “The bumps over the tunnel in turn one are usually somewhere you have to work on making sure your car turns.”

Most of all, Blaney said that he and his No. 21 team are looking forward to taking a well-prepared car to the Texas track to compete in the Duck Commander 500 this weekend.

“It’s nice to consistently race every weekend,” Blaney said. “It’s also nice to have cars close (to being race ready) unloading off the truck. Just fine tuning is what we need to do pretty much (during practice).”

While the anticipation is great for on-track activities in the Lone Star state, Blaney also teased that there might just be some give and take off-track between himself and his partner in social media crime Bubba Wallace.

Fans will remember that Blaney and Wallace had some fun on the “NASCAR Goes West” trip to California impersonating drivers’ style behind the wheel as well as impressions of drivers giving post-race interviews.

Unfortunately, the rookie driver would not share any further details as to what he and Wallace may give to the fans on Snapchat this Texas race weekend.

“You’ll all just have to wait and find out….”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

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

Categories
Trucks

Kaz Grala Has Mixed Emotions for Martinsville Truck Debut

Kaz Grala will make his Camping World Truck Series debut at Martinsville Speedway this weekend in the No. 33 Chevrolet for GMS Racing, and while he is experiencing all of the normal emotions leading up to the Alpha Energy Solutions 250, this is one of the high points in his young career.

“Excited, scared, thrilled, yes I feel all of that right now,” Grala told POPULAR SPEED. “It is a little bit nerve-wracking but it is something that I have been preparing for my whole career.

“It has all led up to this moment. I definitely feel as ready for it as I’ll ever be and I’m really excited to get the weekend started.”

Grala’s debut comes as a result of the various connections he’s already made throughout the NASCAR garage.

“I drive for Ben Kennedy’s K&N team and so last year I was affiliated with Red Horse Racing through Ben,” Grala said. “I did a test at Martinsville for Red Horse with Timothy Peters’ truck. And of course crew chiefing that truck was Marcus Richmond, who this year moved over to GMS Racing to crew chief Johnny Sauter.

“So, he mentioned my name to GMS and they reached out to me to ask if I wanted to drive the truck. And I said ‘of course, absolutely.’”

Since the truck debut deal was announced in February, Grala has been preparing in as many ways as possible to jump into this new seat.

“I definitely have been watching a lot of video, including on track and video of pit stops,” Grala said. “Keep in mind that I’ve never made a hot pit stop before in NASCAR. So, that will be a different situation for me. Thursday morning I’m going to head over to Richard Childress Racing and practice their pit car there. I think that will be pretty valuable for me.

“But without being able to test a whole lot in the Truck Series, I’m really just going off that one test that I did last year at Martinsville with Red Horse. I’m using what I learned there with Timothy Peters then and I think that will be pretty valuable for me this weekend.”

In addition to his inexperience with pit stops, he will also face the challenge of racing on a different tire compound. With his experience being in the K&N Series, Grala has never raced on radial tires before, which is what the top three NASCAR national series use.

But while he may be a bit new to pit stops and radial tires, Grala is counting on some familiar faces on his team and in the garage to help him take maximal advantage of his Truck debut.

“I’ve talked to my teammates Johnny Sauter and Spencer Gallagher a lot,” Grala said. “Grant Enfinger is also going to be at the track working with me all weekend giving me some pointers and watching me pretty closely.

“So, all of that is extremely helpful for me. Really, I’m glad that I’ll have plenty of teammates and people in the pits that I know and that I can talk to for advice.”

While leaning on his compatriots for counsel and support, Grala has decided to set simple goals for himself as he climbs aboard the No. 33 GMS race truck.

“It’s a 250 lap race so I’m really hoping to finish all the laps,” Grala said. “And that is a tall order at Martinsville. I’m also hoping to stay out of the mess. Not too many people can do that so I think we’ll need a little bit of luck and being at the right place at the right time. All we can do is put ourselves as far forward in the field as possible and be careful.

“I’d really love to finish all the laps and if we can do that with minimal damage, I have confidence that we will be right there up front.”

For the 17-year-old driver that started out in a go-kart racing on road courses when he was four years old, there is no doubt that racing at Martinsville is indeed the culmination of his racing career to date.

“I really need to say a huge thank you to Mr. Gallagher, GMS Racing, and Allegiant Travel for giving me the opportunity to drive the No. 33 truck,” Grala said. “It’s really huge for me.

“This will be great for learning and I know it will be a lot of fun. We’re going to have a good year together with hopefully more good things will come in the future.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

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

NASCAR Then and Now: Janet Guthrie

As the first female to compete in a NASCAR premier series superspeedway race, Janet Guthrie has secured a place in stock car history. She achieved another milestone in her NASCAR career recently, with her nomination for the prestigious Landmark Award.

Guthrie joins four other nominees, H. Clay Earles, founder of Martinsville Speedway; Raymond Parks, NASCAR’s first champion car owner; Ralph Seagraves, who formed the legendary Winston-NASCAR partnership during his tenure with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company; and Ken Squier, legendary radio and television broadcaster and namesake of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR media excellence.

“Well obviously it’s quite an honor, especially the company I’m in with the other nominees,” Guthrie told POPULAR SPEED. “My understanding is that just one of the nominees will be chosen by a vote of a mixed group of people. I don’t really expect to be chosen, but I’m honored to be named.”

Guthrie’s path to the superspeedway took many interesting twists and turns before she landed behind the wheel of a stock car.

“I was born adventurous and grew up insufficiently socialized. I started flying when I was around 14 years old. I soloed when I was 16, made a parachute jump when I was 16, and had a private pilot’s license at 17,” Guthrie said. “I was a commercial pilot and flight instructor before I got out of college and then I went to work in the aerospace industry as a research and development engineer.

“I had my eye on an AT-6, a WWII training plane stress for 6 G’s positive and 6 G’s negative. You could do all sorts of stuff with it. But I was living and working on Long Island, NY where air traffic was perfectly horrible. There was no place to go and have any fun.”

“So, instead of the airplane, I bought a seven year old Jaguar XK 120 M coupe,” she continued. “That was the big watershed between flying and racing. Then I found out that sports car racing existed and I started running solo competitions.

“And things went on from there.”

Guthrie’s big break in racing actually came in the IndyCar Series, when an owner called out of the clear blue and asked if she wanted to take a shot at the Indianapolis 500.

“My first thought was oh yeah, right, aha, certainly,” Guthrie said. “But it turned out to be true. He was a very experienced team owner who was never heavily funded but ran on passion, just as I had run my racing career up to that point.

“We had a test and that was successful. I took a shot at Indianapolis in 1976 but I was not able to bring his car up to speed. So, on the last day of qualifying at Indianapolis in 1976, AJ Foyt let me take his backup car in practice. Obviously I ran that car fast enough to make the field. But he decided not to let me make a qualifying attempt with it.”

While Guthrie was dealing with her disappointment, consummate NASCAR promoter Humpy Wheeler had been carefully watching from his racetrack in Charlotte, N.C.

“Apparently, Humpy Wheeler had been ticked off because the headlines were about what I was doing in Indianapolis instead of about his race on the same day, the Charlotte 600 mile race,” Guthrie said. “When it looked like I wasn’t going to make the field at Indy, he had everything in place to bring me down there to make a qualifying attempt for the World 600. I did make the field there and qualified right behind Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Bill Elliott. I finished 15th and things went on from there.”

Although Guthrie loved every minute of her time in NASCAR, she often encountered the ‘good ole boys’ philosophy.

“In the early races, during driver introductions, there would be all these shouts of ‘Go back to the kitchen,’” Guthrie said. “But that wasn’t important to me. What was important was what happened on the racetrack. And I had been passionately in love with racing for a long time. That was how I was able to do what I did.”

So, what ended Guthrie’s NASCAR career? Unfortunately, this trailblazing female driver experienced the same thing that too often ends so many other budding racing careers.

“We had no money,” Guthrie said ruefully. “It came down to the lack of sponsorship. I deeply, deeply regret that I wasn’t able to continue.”

Guthrie, now 78 years old with her driving years behind her, continues to share her passion for the sport, as well as keeping her finger on the pulse of other female racers in all series.

“I gave a couple of speeches last year, one of them at Porsche’s new headquarters in Atlanta and one at the new Museum of Speed, just south of Portland, Oregon,” Guthrie said. “I also try to keep track of what the women are doing.

“I just made tentative plans to get together with Sarah Fisher at Indianapolis in May. And I’m so glad that Katherine Legge at the Rolex 24 in February led a large number of laps before she handed over the wheel and her teammate crashed into something. She deserves a spot at Indy and I hope she gets it.”

“Simona de Silvestro deserves a full-time ride as well,” Guthrie continued. “There are a number of women out there who are certainly have the capability. It all depends on who finds the money.

“I used to keep an eye on women in the lower levels of NASCAR more carefully than I do now. Danica Patrick has settled in and she is a capable driver but I don’t see any other women out there at present who have the money to get it done.”

While she keeps an eye on other female racers, Guthrie’s recent nomination for the Landmark Award honor has allowed her to once again take a trip down NASCAR memory lane.

“There was that sixth place finish at Bristol,” Guthrie said. “That remains the best finish by a woman in a top-tier NASCAR race, although I’m now tied with Danica Patrick for that record.

“In my first ever Daytona 500, I was running in eighth, ten laps from the end when I dropped two cylinders, limping around to a 12th place finish. But I still earned the honor of Top Rookie in that race.”

“Finally, there was Atlanta which I think was my third race in 1977,” Guthrie said. “That was when I actually passed David Pearson. My team owner Linda Ferrari said to me 50,000 people stood up and screamed.”

Guthrie has not only fond memories of her time in the sport, but also has one regret.

“I only wish that I had been able to continue racing in NASCAR. I really do feel that had I been able to continue for another full year, I would have won a Cup race in less than the usual average of five years at that time.

“I really, really enjoyed NASCAR Cup racing. It was tremendous fun and I loved every minute of it.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

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

Categories
Commentary

NASCAR Then and Now: Kerry Earnhardt

His last name is one of the most recognized in NASCAR and he comes from a racing pedigree like no other. And while Kerry Earnhardt may have made the choice to step away from racing, his life is now full with family, friends and his newest business ventures.

“When you’re racing, you’re always at the track, with sponsors and in the media center,” Earnhardt told POPULAR SPEED. “So, you have very little time for family. Now that I’m not racing, me and my wife Rene’ have taken on several business ventures, including one with Shumacher Homes, America’s largest custom home builders.

“We’ve started with designing 24 new homes, all of which are based on what we like and what fits our lifestyle in the outdoors.”

The Earnhardt’s not only design the homes but also are collaborating on home furnishings as well through their partnership with the New Buck Corporation.

“Rene’ and I created the Earnhardt Collection brand based off our family’s love of the outdoors,” Earnhardt said. “And it means a lot to work with both Schumacher Homes and New Buck Corporation, which are family owned and operated companies.”

In addition to designing and furnishing homes, Earnhardt is also taking to the airways through a podcast on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Dirty Mo Radio network.

“Dale Jr. has a podcast, which Kelley, my sister, and him have been doing for a while,” Earnhardt said. “We’re going to start this year hosting a show that’s going to be all about hunting, fishing, kayaking, snowboarding, skiing and whatever else we can think of to do outdoors.”

“We’ll have a great co-host with Hank Parker Jr., a long-time friend of the family,” Earnhardt continued. “His dad raced with my dad quite a bit and he’s a great outdoorsman. Hank Jr and I also raced on the NASCAR circuit and share the same passion for the outdoors.

“So, I thought he would be a great partner for this type of podcast show.”

HomeOfYear_BlueRidge_Rotation2

Earnhardt also has designs on a new television show, which he hopes will come to fruition by next year. It’s a project Earnhardt has been working on for six years that will feature hunting and some fishing.

From designing homes, furniture and developing radio and television programming, Earnhardt credits his entrepreneurial drive and spirit to his wife, as well as his late father, who was a true businessman on and off the track.

“My wife, we were dating at the time, and she learned from my dad too as far as business sense,” he said. “She’s pretty intelligent in business and I just have the desire, dreams and things I’d like to see. We work together well.”

While Earnhardt has his fingers in many business pots since leaving the seat of a racecar, he also is committed to taking time for his family. He is particularly involved with his twelve year old daughter and her competitive passion.

“My daughter competes in various rodeos,” Earnhardt said. “She’s an all-around cowgirl, which means she competes in roping calves, tying goats, barrel racing and pole bending.  So, we do that every weekend right now.

“I like being at the rodeo. Not knowing much about the kind of horse power competition, I figured the best way to learn was be a part of it so I’m the Vice President of the Jr Southern Rodeo Association, which is the oldest Jr. rodeo organization east of the Mississippi.

“We have a great group of parents that volunteer that work the rodeos.  I get the fun job of sorting the livestock like the bulls, steers, calves and get them in order for the riders to ride or rope.”

But with the last name of Earnhardt, there are still ties to the racing world that cannot be broken, even without being in the race car.

“When I walked away from racing, I walked away,” Earnhardt said. “I do sometimes get an itch to get back to the track and catch up with a lot of the old people that I worked around. Those guys are what I miss.”

Earnhardt will have the opportunity to be back at the track to catch up with his buddies and also support his son Jeffrey, who is in the seat of the Go FAS Racing’s No. 32 Ford for twenty races of the 2016 season.

1JDP8863

“We have plans to be at several of Jeffrey’s races,” Earnhardt said. “I want to get as many as I can. We support him 100% and we’re there for him if he asks any questions or needs anybody to help him with what to do or not to do.”

While Earnhardt may not have an itch to get back racing at this time in his life, he has fond memories of his time on the track and is also committed to carrying on the legacy left by his father in the sport that his family has cherished for years.

“We’ve had several highlights from my racing career but the one that stands out most for me was my first win at Pocono in an ARCA car,” Earnhardt said. “I was driving for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Dad was there. It was a special thing to have that moment with him.

“I worried because everybody talked about how difficult that track was. We went up and tested, me and Dale Jr. He had his Cup car and I had the ARCA car and we spent two days testing there. He helped me a lot with pointers and shifting. It didn’t take long and we caught on pretty quick and we pretty much had it made the whole race.

“Those were good memories.”

“And as much as I can, I always try to carry on Dad’s legacy,” Earnhardt continued. “I always looked up to my dad in life and he helped me a lot of times to figure out how to handle situations and how to deal with things as they come up.

“I still think back on those times and I still think about him every day. We just talk about his memory at every opportunity.”

So what does Earnhardt want his fans, past and present, to know about his life at this point in time?

“I enjoyed my time in racing and all that,” Earnhardt said. “When dad passed away and things changed as much as they having in racing, I just didn’t have the passion for it. I just didn’t have the desire to do it anymore.

“We’re enjoying our family and being with the kids as much as we can and being involved in their lives but more important, we are just doing all the things that we love right now.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

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

Categories
Commentary

Where Have All the Jeff Gordon Fans Gone?

With their favorite driver’s farewell tour complete and the 2016 season now underway, just where have all those @JeffGordonWeb fans gone? Have they moved on to other drivers or are they stuck in continual mourning for the man they idolized?

For many Gordon fans, letting go has proven to be an almost impossible task. And while each fan has their own individual struggles, there seem to be three common themes among the Gordon faithful.

The first is the length of time they have been following the now retired driver of the No. 24. Related to that is also a generational factor of following in the footsteps of their parents’ Gordon fandom.

“I’ve been a Hendrick Motorsport fan since I was a little girl,” Julie Huchingson said. “When Jeff came into the NASCAR scene, I chose him as my driver and continued following him to his last race.”

“I have been pulling for Jeff ever since I could remember,” Steven Alderson said. “I was so young at the time watching the races with my parents. I remember my parents always talking about him and that was another reason I wanted to follow him.

“I remember having a bicycle when I was 4 years old painted just like his car. I used to pretend I was him riding up and down the driveway. And like him, I sure did win a lot of races!”

A second strong attachment is that famous Rainbow Warrior paint scheme. In fact, Gordon fans remember that scheme with a fondness that matches no other car designs in the garage currently or even those on the new No. 24 race car.

“What made me choose Jeff Gordon to follow was that I always liked his paint schemes,” Brent Wright said. “Rainbow Warrior is my favorite scheme, along with his car with flames.”

In fact, many fans have so much invested in their Gordon die-casts over the years, that is another more practical reason they are having trouble saying farewell to their driver.

“I have a lot of money invested in my room with all the different die casts and his paint schemes,” Jan Foster said. “That’s 23 years of memorabilia. I don’t know if I can ever do that again with another driver.”

Sheer emotional attachment has also crippled many to the point where they are not only unable to choose a new driver, but has also impacted their following of the 2016 NASCAR racing season.

“I have not chosen another driver to follow,” Linda Caracciola said. “For now, I’m just a fan of the sport though I have to admit it’s different this year.

“Normally I’m counting down to the Daytona 500 and by now I’m usually chomping at the bit to get back to racing but knowing Jeff won’t be piloting the 24, the level of enthusiasm for me isn’t what it once was.”

Although there are many Gordon fans who have remained committed to their driver in spite of his retirement, there are others who have been able move on, choosing new drivers for whom to cheer.

Not surprising, many of these fans have stayed within the Hendrick Motorsports fold, transferring their loyalty to not only the new driver of the No. 24, who just so happens to be the pole sitter for the Daytona 500, but also Gordon’s teammates.

“I kind of knew Chase Elliott was going to be my new favorite driver,” Brent Wright said. “I went with Chase because I have so much respect for Jeff, the entire 24 team and Hendrick Motorsports.

“Chase is a talented young driver who has a chance to have a long career like Jeff did. I think Chase and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) will work really well together once they get that chemistry going.”

“I didn’t think I would pick another driver but I did,” Anne Lowery said. “I told Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the NASCAR banquet that I picked him as my new driver. He said awesome, that is great to hear, and then my husband and I got our picture with him.”

Another popular new driver pick is Kyle Larson, who embodies many of the same characteristics of their idol.

“I like Kyle Larson very much,” Huchingson said. “I’ve been keeping my eye on him, watching him come up through the ranks from his dirt Sprint Car days. Kyle is very similar to Jeff, not just the way he has come up through the NASCAR scene but his driving style too. It doesn’t hurt that Jeff is probably Kyle’s biggest fan.”

“I too feel like Kyle Larson has the potential to be a future star,” Alderson said. “He is going to be around a long time and I can follow him throughout his career.”

Whether or not they have chosen a new driver, Gordon fans are still in the mix and making themselves heard. In fact, every single one of them has pledged to continue to be his fan, particularly as he transitions to the broadcasting booth.

“I think Jeff being in the broadcast booth is cool,” Wright said. “It will be interesting to see him adapt and call races going forward for the rest of his career.”

“He will do an excellent job,” Jan Foster said. “And I hope that I might still run into him at a track somewhere this race season.”

So, where oh where have all those Gordon fans gone? Well, actually nowhere, as to a fan, they have pledged their allegiance to him whether on and off the track.

“I’m a Gordon forever fan,” Foster said.

“And I too will be a JG fan forever as well,” Lowery said. “Jeff will always be involved in NASCAR and I will always be his number one fan.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

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

Categories
Commentary

NASCAR Then and Now: Jerry Nadeau

Thirteen years ago, Jerry Nadeau’s life changed forever.

During a practice session at Richmond International Raceway, he crashed hard into the wall, driver’s side first. That crash left Nadeau with a traumatic brain injury, immobility on his left side, a collapsed lung and broken ribs.

“That whole day was pretty much wiped out in my brain,” Nadeau said. “I remember when I woke up slowly twenty-one days later. That was the end of my life in racing.”

The crash not only ended Nadeau’s career, but also had great implications for his personal life.

“A lot of tough things happened,” Nadeau said. “I got divorced, had to sell my house and had to start over again. Then I lost my father who I was very, very close to from cancer.”

Nadeau learned that his father was ill just when he was trying to make a bit of a comeback in his racing career.

“I was in Sebring doing some testing, it was going well and I felt like I never left racing,” Nadeau said. “I got a phone call and some doctor told me that my dad had thyroid cancer. I was told he would have no more than three months to live.

“I was with him for a month in the hospital and then back home with hospice. He lasted another month. So, that was tough.”

While Nadeau admits his road has been up and down, he has had some successes recently both on and off the track.

“I’ve got a great wife,” Nadeau said. “I have a little girl who is eight months old. I also have a thirteen year old Natalie from my first marriage. So, I have two girls and that’s really interesting.”

Nadeau has also been keeping his hand in racing in a way that might be somewhat surprising to his fans.

“I love driving and I don’t think I can get that out of me,” Nadeau said. “I got asked to go to Japan a month ago and I did some driving at Fuji Speedway, an old Formula One race track.

Jerry Nadeau

“I gave rides in a Lexus LF8, which is a sporty, fast car. It was me and a couple of other good drivers from IMSA and IndyCar and we were doing 180 mph giving rides. That was my first time ever doing a ride and drive program and I f***ing loved it.”

His racing fix also included attending one of dirt track racing’s most competitive events.

“I went this year to one of the greatest weekends in racing, the Chili Bowl,” Nadeau said. “It was amazing and really fun. I reconnected a little bit and saw a couple of people I knew from the past. It was just great to be back.”

Nadeau has also kept his driving skills sharp in a unique way, by helping young drivers handle the challenges of being newbies behind the wheel.

“I do work for an organization called B.R.A.K.E.S.,” Nadeau said. “It’s a driving company where we help teenagers learn to drive.”

B.R.A.K.E.S., which stands for ‘Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe’, was started by drag racer Doug Herbert after his two boys were killed in a car accident.

“It’s a four-hour driving clinic and the students get to learn how to drive cars,” Nadeau said. “We put them in precarious scenarios, with skid pads and wheel drop zones, so they really get to learn. It’s really well-run and I think every teen should go through it before they get out on the road.”

In addition to his work on the track and with teen drivers, Nadeau has also been focused on reaching out to others who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“People don’t realize that when you have a brain injury, it messes a lot with your computer,” Nadeau said. “Your body is a computer and when you have a brain injury, it hurts that computer.

“I feel for anybody and everybody who has had this kind of injury. It would be cool if I could unzip my body and have you jump in it and tell me what you think. Everyone looks at me and they say that I look like nothing ever happened. But they have no clue unless they could feel and sense what I do.”

While Nadeau is keeping busy with personal and professional pursuits, he also wanted to give a ‘shout out’ to all his former fans, as well as sharing a few pearls of wisdom about his life and life in general.

“For me, right now, it’s all about family and kids,” Nadeau said.  “Like so many people, I’m still on the fence on where I want to go and what I want to do.

“I appreciate all of my former fans. But I need them to know that I’m now trying to move on and get on with my new life as it is today. I want everyone to know that you just have to keep going and marching forward, no matter what You all have to know that there will be something on the horizon that will hopefully inspire you.

“That is what I’m trying to hold onto at this point in my life.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

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

Categories
Commentary

Gordon May Face Unexpected Challenges in Career Transition

Anyone who has ever changed careers will admit there is excitement and anticipation, as well as challenges to be faced in learning a new craft.

And while there is no doubt @JeffGordonWeb will master his transition from four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion to television  analyst for FOX Sports, he may face some interesting challenges along the way.

Being the astute professional he is, Gordon has already acknowledged some of the more ‘expected’ shifts to which he must adjust as he prepares to commentate on his first race of the 2016 season, the Daytona 500.

Others include:

Preparation Practicalities

One of Gordon’s first tests will be mastering the differences in approaching a race as a driver versus calling  a race from the booth, which he recently acknowledged as a major switch.

“Typically, this time of year, I would be in meetings with the team, talking about race cars, testing, upcoming races, and new processes that maybe we were going to be going through,” Gordon said. “Let’s say, for instance, the new digital dash. I’d be getting acquainted with that.

“Right now, what I’m more focused on is, what are the storylines? What kind of conversations are going to take place? What expectations are out there on the track? Who’s the big storylines?”

In other words, Gordon’s pre-season will now move from a micro approach to much more of macro view of the sport as he evolves from an individual focus to finding the stories involving all drivers, as well as the sport in general.

Differences in Data Gathering

In his past world as a driver, Gordon would be immersed in analyses with his crew chief, engineers and team members. As a sports broadcaster, however, Gordon will have to find new sources for what he will discuss and how he will monitor the pulse of the teams, sanctioning body and the fans.

“It’s paying more attention to what’s happening on social media, listening to Sirius NASCAR radio — just really trying to gather as much of that information as possible from the fan and the media’s perspective,” Gordon admitted, “more so than from within the team.”

This change in compiling and collecting information is not only significant but may be even more time consuming and involved than Gordon ever imagined possible.

New Chemistry Creation

While Gordon has been accustomed to creating significant relationships with his crew chief, spotter and team, he will have to focus on creating a new kind of chemistry with his fellow broadcasters.

One of the biggest challenges will be learning the cadence of the race calls and even the timing of when to speak so as not to step on the toes of others with whom he is sharing the stage.

“You have to transition back away from it, whether to allow Mike (Joy) or DW (Darrell Waltrip) to give their thoughts, to go to pit road, to Larry Mac (Larry McReynolds), whatever,” Gordon said of his television partners. “Having someone in your ear while you’re trying to finish a thought and make it seamless will be challenging.”

Verbose to Concise

Curbing his tendency to be a bit loquacious and learning to be more succinct might be one of the biggest challenges for Gordon. The driver turned analyst will instead have to master the snappy answers that capture the moments on the track simply and quickly.

“You don’t have a lot of time to get your thoughts out there,” Gordon said. “The Cup races will be longer, but between what’s happening on track or the next break coming up, there’s a small window of opportunity to discuss a topic.”

In addition to these expected considerations, there are other realignments Gordon will have to make that may be a bit more unexpected. Yet mastering them is equally important if he is to flourish in his new role.

Some examples of those types of more challenging transitions include the following:

Political Correctness vs. Potentially Critical

For the majority of Gordon’s career, he’s been known for his political correctness. So, it will be a most interesting transition to go from having to be politically correct, supporting the sanctioning body, his team and sponsors, to actually looking at those types of calls with a more discriminating eye.

Gordon even alluded to that possibility in his banquet speech, where he talked about not missing debris cautions. Handling those types of calls from the booth, especially when the type of debris is in question, will be a potential conundrum for the new race reporter.

Another aspect of moving into a more critically-focused role will be Gordon’s possibility of having to negatively comment on his former team, one with whom he still maintains a significant relationship, or his former teammates, including a driver like Jimmie Johnson in whom he has a continuing financial interest.

There will no doubt be thoughts swirling in Gordon’s head and perhaps even some pauses in his analysis when his allegiances to those on and off the track conflict with his fidelity in providing the most objective commentary about the race events.

Brotherhood to Outside the Inner Circle

In NASCAR, there are 43 drivers that comprise the fellowship of the Cup Series. And for twenty-plus years, Gordon has been a part of that tightly knit brotherhood that stands together even as they compete at the elite level.

While he may not realize it yet, Gordon has left that inner circle and is now in fact at least one step, if not more, removed from that exclusive group of drivers. And even more difficult, he is officially a part of the media corps, a group that those occupying the seat of a race car are wary of and even at times avoid.

Change in Fandom

While Gordon was not the most popular driver at the beginning of his career, especially as he traded paint with Dale Earnhardt, he grew his fan base over the years to one of the biggest. And in his last year before hanging up the steering wheel, Gordon was even beloved as evidenced by the admiration shown by the fans as he took his final bow at each track on the circuit.

The adoration Gordon may have to become accustomed to, however, may not last as he positions himself in front of the microphone. In fact, depending on the types of calls he makes, he may even receive some push back from the fans.

The shift from being revered to potentially criticized may indeed be one of the major transitions he has not anticipated as he enters this new world of television entertainment.

Whatever the challenges thrown Gordon’s way, be they expected or unanticipated, he espouses the fact he is absolutely ready for them and cannot wait to begin this new chapter in his life. And he will no doubt attack his career change in the same way he did since he was a tike just learning to fight his way to Victory Lane.

“I’m competitive,” Gordon said. “I’m competitive with myself, so I get to still be a part of not only a competitive sport but push myself to be better and have those challenges and goals as I’m in the booth and being a part of the broadcast.

“That’s certainly going to be a learning experience for me and a challenge also. But it allows me to still be involved in the sport that I’m passionate about and love. I just get to be a part of it from a different perspective.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

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

Categories
Trucks

Kevin Manion Expected to Take KBM To New Heights

Kyle Busch Motorsports has finalized their 2016 driver – crew chief lineups, which includes the returns of Ryan ‘Rudy’ Fugle and Jerry Baxter. Their newest crew chief addition of Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion, however, may just take the powerhouse Truck Series team to new heights in 2016.

Manion brings a wealth of experience, including stints on the box in the XFINITY Series, as well as the Sprint Cup Series. He was most successful in the XFINITY Series, where he crew chiefed for both @DaleJr and @MartinTruex_Jr from 2004 to 2007.  In 74 races with those drivers combined, Manion took 15 trips to Victory Lane, finished in the top-five 36 times, top-10 53 times, and scored nine poles.

Manion most recently called the shots in the Cup Series, with drivers from John Andretti in 2003, Truex Jr. from 2004 to 2009, Jamie McMurray from 2010 to 2013, Michael Annett in 2014, and both Alex Bowman and Sam Hornish Jr. in 2015.

In Manion’s twelve years in the series, he scored five wins, 27 top-fives, 65 top-10s, and 10 poles. He also won two of the most prestigious races, the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, with McMurray in 2010.

Just like his team owner, @KyleBusch, Manion is a racer at heart. He was born in Boylston, Massachusetts and cut his teeth in the NASCAR Winston Modified Series. His first job was at the age of fourteen, making sure the racecar was clean, in addition to doing some basic mechanical work.

Manion then was promoted to the role of tire changer and worked his way up to being a crew chief in the late 1990s for Chris Woods, who was running late models at the time.

In 1993, Manion became the crew chief for Sheba Racing and worked on a Modified car for Jeff Fuller and Steve Park. That year, Park just missed the championship by a mere three points.

While Manion has many years of experience under his belt, in his new role at @KBMteam he will be shepherding two talented drivers, Daniel Suarez and Cody Coughlin.

Manion will also be working with two seasoned KBM crew chiefs. One of them is Fugle, who has crew chiefed for KBM for three years. Fugle will be on the box for William Byron, who is the reigning 2015 K&N Pro Series East champion.

Like Manion, Fugle has had success in his own right with driver Erik Jones. @erik_jones made a name for himself last year with three victories, five poles, 11 top-five finishes and 20 top-10 finishes. The pair of Fugle and Jones helped KBM claim its fourth Truck Series Owner’s Championship in 2015, which was a record breaking achievement.

Fugle’s accomplishments also include guiding Jones to the Truck Series championship as the youngest ever in the series. He also helped Jones be the first driver ever to score Rookie of the Year honors and the title in the same year.

Fugle grew up in New York and prior to coming to KBM, held crew chief positions both in the Truck and XFINITY Series with Germain Racing.

The other crew chief with whom Manion and Fugle will work is Jerry Baxter, who is returning for his fourth season. This veteran crew chief will be paired with driver Christopher Bell.

Baxter is also accomplished and proven, having worked with multiple drivers in 2015 including Daniel Suarez, Matt Tifft, Kyle Busch, and Bell. This one crew chief amidst the team of four drivers scored two wins, 10 top-fives, and 14 top-10 finishes.

Baxter, a California native, came to KBM in 2013 and crew chiefed for Darrell Wallace Jr. That driver and crew chief combination finished third in the Truck Series point standings in 2014. In their two years together, they posted five wins, three poles, 14 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes.

Last year, Baxter was recognized for his excellence with induction into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame.

With two solid crew chiefs re-upping with the team, as well as the addition of Manion with his years of experience in the two highest series, there is no doubt KBM will again be a formidable force. And with this trio, there is even greater pressure to have the team soar to new heights.

Team owner Kyle Busch acknowledged his expectations that his new crew chief lineup will move the company even further ahead of the competition.

“The goal at KBM is to have all three of our teams competing for wins and top fives every race and consistently be among the battle for the Owner’s Championship,” Busch said. “Rudy, Jerry and the group of crew members that they have assembled on their respective teams, and everyone in the shop have accomplished those goals the past few seasons and the third team made strides through all of last season.

“With the addition of Bono — a guy who is a true racer and a proven winner at NASCAR’s highest level — as the leader of that group of guys, I’m confident that their performance level will be much improved this season.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

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

Categories
Commentary

NASCAR Then and Now: Andy Santerre

For any NASCAR Home Track fan, the name Andy Santerre is a familiar one. From 2002 to 2005, Santerre not only won four consecutive Busch North Series championships, but became the record holder for most series championships.

Following that accomplishment, Santerre continued his racing career in a different capacity, stepping out of the car and into race team management with long-time friends Steve and Peg Griswold. Santerre’s team, with driver Sean Caisse, finished second that year in the Busch East championship.

Then in 2007, Santerre expanded to a two-car team with driver @JEarnhardt1, who finished fifth in the point standings that year. He’s also mentored other up and coming drivers, including Richard Childress’ grandson @austindillon3, as well as several Drive for Diversity drivers at @RevRacin where he was competition director for two years.

In 2012, in what would be his final year in racing, Santerre worked for Shige Hattori at Hattori Racing Enterprises.

But that year, an offer from his old friends, the Griswold’s, changed his life. They offered him the chance to not only return to his beloved home state of Maine, but also spend time with his family, wife Sue and daughters Sara and Sami.

“The offer I had to move back to Maine as property manager for Steve and Peg Griswold was something I couldn’t turn down. It was a tough decision because Shige Hattori had been so good to us,” Santerre said. 

“But Steve Griswold called and he was a good friend that we had raced for. He made us an offer where the timing was right and it was a good chance for us to try to get back to Maine and a normal life. It was all timing.

“I chose the job and being home with the kids. When I was involved in racing, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them. So, I’m trying to make up for the lost time with them now. And it’s been good. The last two years, I’ve been home every night and it’s a pretty good deal.”

Although Santerre is perfectly content with his new, ‘normal’ life as he calls it, he still keeps his hand in the racing world.

“I do dabble a little bit still in racing with some friends at a local track in Bangor, Maine,” Santerre said. “I help a friend of mine who has a super late model car and races at Speedway 95, which is kind of my home track. I try to provide some technical advice and some things to try.

“I go to a handful of races every year, like at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, which is a NASCAR track. That is my favorite track as well. I keep an eye on what’s going on with NASCAR. I don’t watch every race but I usually know what’s going on.”

For Santerre, his connections to racing are the friendships he has developed over the years. And he particularly enjoys staying in touch with his former racing boss.

“I have so many friends in racing and I’ve built up a lot of relationships over the year that no matter where I live, I’ll stay in contact with the people that want me to,” Santerre said. “I still help Shige Hattori, a race owner that I actually worked for. He still calls me a lot and he’s always looking for advice.

“So, I try to help him what I can from a thousand miles away. It’s good to know that the last person I worked for still counts on me to help out when I can.”

Just as it was when Santerre was racing, juggling driving, crew chiefing, team managing, and mentoring, he is currently a jack of all trades in his new role as property manager. He is currently taking care of three different properties.

“One is a big business complex, about thirty acres. Last summer we built a pavilion and had four concerts to kick off the summer,” Santerre said. “So, I take care of the grounds and buildings where the concerts are. Right now, we’re getting ready for the winter and we’re putting in an outdoor skating arena.

“The building has a roof but the sides are open. It will be a place where families and kids can go to rent ice skates. We’re hoping to have three months of ice skating and that will keep me busy. I’ll have a lot to do to take care of the property and the arena. So, that’s exciting to get up and running for the winter. I also do a lot of carpentry work.

“Anything that is complicated, I’ll hire someone. But I’m pretty much the go to guy for the company. It’s pretty cool.”

The new job does at least have one similarity to Santerre’s old racing gigs. Just as in the past when his wife worked with his race team on logistics and public relations, Santerre still gets to work every day with the woman he married nineteen years ago.

“I’m located in the shop, which is in the same complex where the corporate office is,” Santerre said. “And that’s where Sue works. I work one hundred yards from my wife and her window faces mine. She handles a lot of the financial stuff and when I need bills paid, I go through her. So, she keeps an eye on me all the time.”

The greatest advantage of Santerre’s new life, he admits, is participating in the competitive sport of raising two active daughters. His oldest daughter Sara is involved with the color guard and was recently elected to Student Council.

His youngest daughter Sami is an outstanding soccer player, in fact one of the star players on the team. In one of their recent games, the team won by a score of four to nothing, with Sami kicking all four of her team’s goals.

From enjoying his newfound time with family to having a job with more regular hours, Santerre is at peace and has found his new home after racing. He does, however, still feel the need for some speed in his life.

“I try to get my adrenalin rush from snowmobiling. That is a lot like racing. You put your helmet on and it’s pretty quiet,” Santerre said. “And there is no speed limit. And then I also bought a Camaro that I take the kids out in the summer. It’s a convertible with a V8 and a six speed transmission. So, I get to shift gears and that reminds me of what I used to get to do.

“And that’s about as close as I want to get to the racing world right now.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

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