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NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Kyle Larson

2016 was a year of firsts for Kyle Larson, as he was able to earn both his first Sprint Cup Series victory and his first Chase berth.

 

Car No.: 42

Crew Chief: Chad Johnston

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Wins: 1

Top-Fives: 10

Top-10s: 15

Points Finish: 9th

2016 Quick Summary: This season was by far the most successful of Kyle Larson’s young Sprint Cup career. He was able to live up to a lot of the expectations people have had for him, like being competitive every week. He had eight more top fives than 2015 and five more top 10s.

Since he was a rookie, people have wondered when Larson would earn his first Cup win. This question was answered at Michigan in August when he held off Chase Elliott on a late-race restart to finally end up in Victory Lane. This win guaranteed him a spot in the Chase, but he was eliminated in the first round. He finished the season ninth in points, which is also a career-high.

2016 Highlight(s): Larson finally got the proverbial monkey off his back at the August Michigan race, coming home with the victory. He led a race-high 41 laps, including the final nine after a late restart where he held off Chase Elliott to get the win.

2016 Lowlight(s): Larson’s worst race of the year came at Fontana, where he finished last after an early wreck. But two finishes outside the top 15 in the first three races of the Chase, including an accident at Dover, led to the California native being eliminated in the first round.

2017 Outlook: Much like his teammate, Jamie McMurray, Larson looks to benefit from Ganassi’s relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, as they will be the only outside team using Hendrick engines. Now that Larson has proven he can get to Victory Lane, the 42 team’s goal in 2017 should be contending for the championship, not just wins.

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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

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Chase Elliott

As expected, Chase Elliott came out this season and put together an impressive rookie campaign, leaving both fans and naysayers pleased.

 

Car No. : 24

Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Wins: 0

Top-Fives: 10

Top-10s: 17

Points Finish: 10

2016 Quick Summary: Elliott proved he was up to the task of replacing Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 car in 2016. Elliott won the pole for the Daytona 500 in February and followed that up with an impressive 10 top-five finishes which includes two runner-up finishes, both coming at Michigan. His season was topped off with his first career Chase berth and Rookie of the Year honors in the Cup Series. Elliott finished 10th in the championship standings.

2016 Highlight(s): Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year, Daytona 500 pole sitter.

2016 Lowlight(s): Elliott’s dream rookie season would end in heartbreak as a 33rd place finish at Charlotte and a 31st place finish at Kansas would end his championship hopes in the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

2017 Outlook: Look for Elliott to rack up his share of wins during the 2017 season as well as make a return trip to the Chase when the first Chase race at Chicagoland rolls around in September. With veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson back on top of the pit box and a full year of Cup experience under his belt, there is no reason not to think Elliott can’t be in contention for the championship in November.

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

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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News

Single Car Effort for RPM in 2017

Following a season with dismal results, Richard Petty Motorsports confirmed late last week they would be scaling back their organization for 2017, focusing on a single-car rather than two.

“At the conclusion of the 2016 season, we evaluated how to best improve our on-track product,” CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports Brian Moffitt released in a statement. “We feel that it’s in the best interest of our partners and for Richard Petty Motorsports to focus our resources on the No. 43 Ford Fusion and Aric (Almirola) in 2017.”

Last season, RPM didn’t have the results they expected with Aric Almirola or Brian Scott. Both drivers failed to place in the top-25 of the final Sprint Cup Series standings, leading only seven laps between them with a top-10 each. While Almirola was locked in for another year at RPM, Scott announced at the end of last season he was retiring to focus on his family.

The finishes weren’t a total surprise, though, as RPM has been in a bit of downward spiral for awhile, as Almirola and Sam Hornish Jr. finished 17th and 26th in the series standings in 2015, with three top-fives and nine top-10s between them.

If the team’s efforts work towards improving the organization, it could bring them closer to where they were in 2014 when Almirola won at Daytona, qualifying them for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Almirola finished 16th in points with seven top-10 finishes.

“A concentrated effort on one team will position us for improvement while giving us adequate time to reestablish our two-car team in 2018,” Moffitt continued. “For the interim, we will lease one of our two charters.”

Notably, the No. 44 charter has been leased to go Go Fas Racing for their No. 32 entry with Matt DiBenedetto.

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

Ron Malec Calls Seventh Title an Amazing Feat

It seems in the past several years, keeping a core group of guys together on a team in NASCAR is something which has been missing – with changes being consistently made in search of stronger chemistry or for lifestyle reasons.

Then there’s the No. 48 team, which has seen Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus paired together as driver-crew chief for the past 15 years. Alongside the pair has been Ron Malec, holding down the role as car chief the entire time.

“I would have to say it’s cause Chad and myself have like personalities, grew up in the same area and have a great work ethic,” Malec told POPULAR SPEED. “Jimmie is the same way, and he’s all about the team. I think that’s different than a lot of drivers in that he focuses on making sure the team is communicating well, and involved in everything. There’s a good balance there, for sure, and it has seemed to work really well over the years.

“It’s pretty amazing that the group of guys can stay together through all the success and everything else. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it, and it makes it that much more enjoyable.”

This past season, their chemistry as a group worked together perfectly as they made history in winning their seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, tying with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the most in series history.

“Obviously it’s an amazing feat to be just part of a great organization,” Malec said. “The success we’ve had and being hands on as part of the championship is pretty amazing. It’s a feeling that I can’t explain. Glad to be apart of it, and it’s an amazing feat when you think about the history in our sport and what we’ve been able to do in a short amount of time.”

The No. 48 team came out of the box quick this season, winning two races in the first five events of the season to qualify themselves for the Chase. However, with struggles through the summer, a lot of people wrote the 48 team off of winning the championship this season. Though as they have done many times before, they were able to turn up the heat during the Chase.

While they started the Chase off with a 12th at Chicagoland Speedway, they backed it up with a solid eighth and seventh in the next two races to make it to round two. They then picked up the win at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Round of 12 opener, automatically advancing them to the third round.

“Being able to score the win at Charlotte was really the turning point in our season, and it really set the tone for the rest of our Chase,” Malec said.

They then won the opening race of the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway, allowing Johnson to move forward to the final round at Homestead-Miami Speedway automatically. Malec notes the timing of their victories in the Chase was a key to the success they had.

“It’s really about victories, and a key was being able to win those victories at the beginning of those rounds, which really allowed us to get our cars prepared really good,” he said. “Winning Martinsville was big and allowed us to focus on Homestead. We didn’t have to focus on every single event – not like we didn’t try in those races, but we could put more focus on the races that were more important.”

After starting at the back, Johnson worked his way to the front of the field and was able to capitalize on a late-race restart to take the lead three to go, leading the rest of the way en route to winning the race and the championship.

While it marks a remarkable accomplishment on its own, it’s one that has a lot of personal meaning for Johnson and Malec together.

The pair met before Johnson even headed to NASCAR on Johnson’s off-road racing days on the SCORE circuit. Their friendship grew through sharing an apartment in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, with Malec beginning to work on Johnson’s American Speed Association (ASA) cars in 1998.

Looking back on those days, Malec says it’s amazing to think of everything they’ve accomplished.

“I don’t think we could even think about that back then,” he said. “To just get an opportunity to work in motorsports at that point was a big deal. We’ve had a lot of success in the sport, and I think we’ve earned it. We’ve shown people and earned a lot of respect from people who probably didn’t know who Jimmie Johnson was in 1998, and it’s just amazing to be apart of.”

Moving forward, it doesn’t appear their slowing down as a focus is already being put forth in the Hendrick Motorsports shop towards going for a record eighth championship in 2017.

“I don’t think it’s out of the question by any means,” he said. “We have a great team, a great driver who is maturing more every day, and our cars getting stronger. Kind of excited about going for eight, and doing the best that we can next year. Like with any season, we’ll see what happens. With the Chase format, anything can happen in those races. So going to approach like any other year – try to win a race during the season to make the Chase and see what happens.”

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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook — Tony Stewart

Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart’s career came to an end at the conclusion of the 2016 season.

Now, the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing will embrace life beyond racing stock cars and focus on team ownership duties with Gene Haas and continue his career as a dirt track competitor.

Car No.: 14

Crew Chief: Mike Bugarewicz

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Wins: 1

Top-Fives: 5

Top-10s: 8

Points Finish: 15th

2016 Quick Summary: In January, Stewart suffered a burst fracture in a vertebra in his back while dune buggy-ing in Southern California. He sat out the first eight races of the season, including the Daytona 500, which he had never won in his 18-year Cup career.

After Brian Vickers and Ty Dillon shared substitution time in the No. 14, Stewart made his 2016 debut at Richmond International Raceway, where he finished 19th. He wasn’t making much noise on the track in the subsequent races until he won his first race in three years at Sonoma Raceway.

It looked like the vintage “Smoke” was back after the victory in Northern California, and he posted top-five results in four of the next six races. However, he lost steam heading into the Chase and was eliminated after the opening Round of 16.

Stewart made his final Cup start in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. As cars rolled off pit road before the race, race officials and crew members from every team high-fived the 45-year-old racer as he headed onto the track. He saluted the crowd during the warm-up laps by leading the field around before the green flag waved.

2016 Highlight(s): In his swan song season, Stewart had a few memorable moments.

The Sonoma win was arguably the feel-good moment of the season, not just for him — but all of NASCAR. Although he didn’t know it would be the last win of his career, it was evident he savored every second of his celebration in Victory Lane that day, as if it were his last.

Stewart had another sentimental moment in the summer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he and Jeff Gordon went around the 2.5-mile track after the race to salute the fans. The two were rivals throughout their careers, but they showed admiration and respect for each other with their parade lap and then when they climbed out of their cars and embraced on pit road.

“To share that moment with Jeff here at Indianapolis, I don’t know,” Stewart said post race. “I don’t even have the words for it. That is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Stewart also celebrated SHR teammate Kevin Harvick‘s victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in August after he invited him to do a burnout with him after the race.

2016 Lowlight(s): Stewart’s back injury was an immediate setback on his final Cup season, and it prevented him from having one last chance at a Daytona 500 victory. He ended his NASCAR career without a win in “The Great American Race,” which is widely regarded as the most prestigious event in stock car racing.

Also, an early exit from the Chase was not the way he hoped to end his season. He didn’t have a storybook ending like Gordon, who made it to the Championship 4 at Homestead last year, but he didn’t need it (not to say Gordon needed it, either.) But some might argue his lack of Chase advancement was disappointing in his final chance at a fourth title.

2017 Outlook: Stewart won’t be behind the wheel of the No. 14 anymore; that’s for Clint Bowyer, who comes over from the now-defunct HScott Motorsports, to drive in 2017. SHR will switch from Chevrolet to Ford for the upcoming season and Stewart says he’ll still be many of the races throughout the year.

His stock car career is over, but he isn’t retired from racing. He’ll continue to compete in sprint car races at dirt tracks across the country and he owns the famous Eldora Speedway in Ohio. If fans want to see him race, they still can.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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News

Wood Bros, GoFas Will Have 2017 Charters; NASCAR’s System Causing Odd Moves in Silly Season

On Thursday, GoFAS Racing announced Matt DiBenedetto would be its full-time driver in the No. 32 in 2017 and that Wood Brothers Racing is leasing its Charter for the No. 21 with Ryan Blaney.

However, GoFAS will not enter the upcoming season without a Charter; the single-car team is leasing one from Richard Petty Motorsports.

Since RPM’s Brian Scott announced his retirement from NASCAR racing, plans for the No. 44 have not been made.

It appears RPM will shrink to a single-car effort next year with Aric Almirola returning in the No. 43. If the organization wants to run a second car, that entry will have to qualify for points races based on speed.

The ongoing NASCAR Silly Season has been a busy one, and with the influence of the 10-month-old Charter system, business has taken a few strange twists.

HScott Motorsports is leaving NASCAR’s top division. The team had two Charters in 2016 — one of which was leased and returned to Premium Motorsports and then sold to Furniture Row Racing for its new No. 77, which rookie Erik Jones will drive. The other was purchased by Premium for 2017.

The two drivers that raced for HSM in 2016 are not without a ride for 2017, though. Clint Bowyer is taking over Tony Stewart‘s No. 14 at Stewart-Haas Racing and Michael Annett will pilot the No. 5 for JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series.

Roush Fenway Racing leased its No. 16 Charter to JTG Daugherty Racing for a second full-time entry. Greg Biffle announced he would not return to RFR for 2017 and Chris Buescher, who is under contract with RFR, will leave the Ford team Front Row Motorsports and pilot the No. 37 Chevrolet — a second JTG car.

Both Biffle and FRM’s No. 34, which Buescher drove to victory in a rain-shortened Pocono race and made the Chase, have an unknown status right now regarding 2017.

Leavine Family Racing leased Circle Sport Racing’s Charter for the No. 95 in 2016 and it has been since returned to CSR. Supposedly, CSR will run the No. 33 again full-time, but there has been nothing announced. There’s been speculation Casey Mears could take over the ride after Germain Racing announced he would not return despite him and sponsor Geico signing a contract extension through 2018. The No. 13 will be run by rookie Ty Dillon, and Geico will return next year.

LFR bought Tommy Baldwin Racing’s Charter before the Homestead-Miami Speedway race in November and the No. 95 will use it to guarantee a spot in every race next year. TBR will not run a full-time schedule in 2017 and Regan Smith, who drove the team’s No. 7 in 2016, has not announced plans for the upcoming season.

When the Charter system was created in February, it was awarded to 36 teams that attempted every race since the start of 2013. The Wood Brothers team didn’t qualify for a Charter as it ran a part-time schedule from 2009-2015 and it sparked a bit of outrage among fans since it is NASCAR’s oldest and one of the most winningest teams.

Now, the famed No. 21 will be guaranteed into all 36 points events with Blaney embarking on his sophomore season in the car. And DiBenedetto will have the same security as his new team leased RPM’s No. 44 Charter.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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News

DiBenedetto to Join Go FAS Racing in 2017

Go FAS Racing announced today that Matt DiBenedetto will drive the No. 32 Ford Fusion in all 36 NASCAR Premier Series events during the 2017 season.

DiBenedetto comes to the team after spending the last two seasons behind the wheel of BK Racing’s No.83 Toyota. In 68 career starts at NASCAR’s top level, he has a careerbest finish of sixth coming at Bristol Motor Speedway this past April.

“I am very excited to join Go Fas Racing for the 2017 season. We have a great group of people that I am very excited to work with this season. I am thankful for the opportunity and I look forward to representing the team and sponsors to the best of my ability,” said DiBenedetto.

2017 will be the first year since the team’s inception in 2014 that they will only have to focus on one driver for all 36 races instead of having multiple drivers behind the wheel.

“Mason and I couldn’t be happier to have Matt joining us here at GFR. This will be our first season in the Premier Series with one driver running the complete season for us. We believe Matt’s driving ability and a fleet of newer race equipment purchased this off season will elevate our program to new levels in 2017,” said Team Owner Archie St.Hilaire.

Can-Am/Kappa, Keen Parts, Visone RV, Really Cheap Floors and more familiar faces will yet again don the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford. GFR also is pleased to announce there will be new additions to its 2017 sponsorship lineup that will be released at a later date.

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

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

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook — Chris Buescher

Hot off of a XFINITY Series Championship in 2015, Chris Buescher shocked the NASCAR world by making the Chase and winning a race in 2016. He will look to do the same in 2017 with his new team, JTG Daugherty Racing.

 

Car No.:  34

Crew Chief: Bob Osborne

Team: Front Row Motorsports

Wins: 1

Top-Fives: 2

Top-10s: 2

Points Finish: 16th

2016 Quick Summary: For the first 20 races of the 2016 season, Buescher had a forgettable rookie season. He had only captured three top-20’s, and he had just as many finishes 30th or worse as he did 29th or better. His most memorable moment at that point was his wild ride at Talladega, where he had one of the most violent crashes of the season.

Then came race No. 21, a Monday race at Pocono Raceway.

It was in the middle of a cycle of green-flag pit stops and Buescher found himself leading for the first time in NASCAR’s top series. Then a caution would come out, which changed the 24-year-old’s season entirely. A dense fog had forced NASCAR to stop the race. The fog wouldn’t lighten up, and since the race was passed halfway, the race would be called, handing the rookie his first win.

In the races that would follow, he and his team would capture a top-five in Bristol and a top-20 in his first start at Darlington, which would be enough to get him into the top-30 in points and into the Chase.

However, after subpar performances in the first round, Buescher would receive an early elimination from NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. The rest of the year would feature more finishes outside the top-15, and he’d finish the season 16th in the final point standings.

2016 Highlight(s): Buescher’s first win at Pocono will serve as a day that he won’t soon forget. Another highlight would be he and Front Row Motorsports’ impressive drive to get in the top-30, allowing both to make their first Chase.

2016 Lowlight(s): What goes up, must come down. After their impressive drive to make the Chase, Buescher, and FRM’s momentum stalled out in the Chase, resulting in an early elimination.

2017 Outlook: In an interesting twist of fate, Buescher moves to JTG Daugherty Racing in 2017, to drive the No. 37 Chevrolet.

For the most part, JTG had a forgettable 2016 but did see improvement towards the end of the year, as they scored four top-10’s in the final ten races with driver A.J. Allmendinger. If they can continue to make those improvements while expanding to a two-car team, and if Buescher can adapt well to his new team, the two may be able to put together a Chase run.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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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Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: The Tale Of a Christmas Parade With a NASCAR Champion

It was something I could have never anticipated. I had scheduled an interview with 1980 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt during the post season.

Earnhardt was kind enough to grant the interview but only if I left Roanoke – where I was with the Roanoke Times – and come to his home in Doolie, N.C., on the shores of Lake Norman.

“Come on down and we’ll make a party out of it,” Earnhardt said. “We’ll cook out and you can stay overnight at my house.”

Fine, I replied. I asked him if he thought he could spare enough time for an interview.

At first he was unresponsive. It was like he was searching for an answer.

After a couple of moments he replied in somewhat somber tones, “Yes we’ll find the time. You have no idea of how this championship has changed me and my life.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. But I would find out.

I went to North Carolina, met Earnhardt at his house and almost immediately we drove to the home of the late Joe Whitlock, Earnhardt’s PR man.

Whitlock was a master of his profession. He also knew how to have a good time. When Earnhardt and I arrived at his home it was already crowded with friends and associates, among them my buddy Tom Higgins of the Charlotte Observer.

While there I wished I had brought a notebook and pencil (no digital recorders back then). I would have been able to record many hilarious anecdotes and tall tales.

Also while there, I got the shock of my life.

“Waid,” Earnhardt said, “you are going to drive me in the Concord Christmas Parade tomorrow.”

“Say what?” I stammered.

Earnhardt went on to explain that as the 1980 champion whose hometown was Kannapolis, N.C. – adjacent to Concord – he was a natural choice to be the parade’s Grand Marshal.

dale-1“Means I have come pretty far, doesn’t it?” he said.

I said I would be happy to drive the Grand Marshal’s car in the parade.

Before we went to Concord, however, Earnhardt suggested we do the interview at his house.

He was at ease. The words flowed out of him. He talked about his love of racing, nurtured by his father, NASCAR champion Ralph Earnhardt.

He talked about his hardships. He wanted to race but he married at an early age. That meant he had to work. Finding jobs was not easy for him, especially since he didn’t have a high school degree.

He took jobs from one end of North Carolina to the other. All the while he raced – in anything he could get his hands on.

He was never sure if he would be able to race for a living.

“I got my break with Rod Osterlund,” Earnhardt said of the California businessman and fledgling team owner. “He appreciated my potential. He literally took me in. That house I live in at the lake? It’s his. He gave it to me.”

Osterlund’s faith in Earnhardt was rewarded. In 1979 Earnhardt won his first race and was named Rookie of the Year.

Then, in 1980, he won the championship. It was a whirlwind of achievement and Earnhardt remains the only driver to win rookie honors and a title in successive seasons.

“It almost overwhelms you,” Earnhardt said. “I mean, this is what I’ve always wanted to do. But now I’m the champion. And that means I can’t just race for myself.

“I’ve got responsibilities to NASCAR and the other teams and drivers. I am supposed to be a leader now. I mean it really changes your life.”

I never expected such profound sentiments.

After he changed into jeans, a shirt and vest – all supplied by his new sponsor Wrangler – Earnhardt and I traveled to the parade staging area in Concord.

We met Higgins there. He was going to sit in the back seat and be the bartender. Earnhardt was partial to Jack Daniels and Sun Drop.

Earnhardt was natural and at ease. He chatted with many folks who were part of the parade, including a group of ladies from the local bank who were to ride on a float. They couldn’t take their eyes off him. They were charmed.

To negotiate the parade route was simple. It was directly on Concord’s historic Union Street and all I had to do was to drive slowly and make sure I didn’t overtake the vehicle ahead of me.

dale-3Earnhardt sat atop our Grand Prix, smiled and waved to the crowd.

Repeatedly kids would dash up to our car to shake Earnhardt’s hand or ask for an autograph. I always stopped the car.

“Dammit, Waid, don’t stop,” Earnhardt said. “You keep doing that and we’ll never get through this.”

I did as I was told.

When the parade was over he thanked me. He wanted me to come back to his house but I said I had to get back to Roanoke and my family.

And I had to organize my thoughts. I knew that if I did it properly, I could provide a great story.

My thoughts always returned to something that happened during the parade. I had stopped so that a youngster could shake Earnhardt’s hand.

The kid said: “Dale Earnhardt! Dale Earnhardt! You really got it made, don’t you?”

It took a while, but yes, he had it made.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook — Kasey Kahne

For a second consecutive season, Kasey Kahne didn’t win a race and failed to make the Chase. He’s been the weak link of Hendrick Motorsports the last two years, and he will look to end his 83-race winless streak in 2017.

Car No.: 5

Crew Chief: Keith Rodden

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Wins: 0

Top-Fives: 3

Top-10s: 13

Points Finish: 17th

2016 Quick Summary: In his first four years with HMS, Kahne won five races. But 2015 was among one of the worst years of his NASCAR career after posting only 10 top 10s and three top fives.

Kahne looked to improve this season, but it really wasn’t different. For the first time in his career, he didn’t lead a lap throughout an entire 36-race schedule. However, he showed signs of rejuvenation by scoring seven top 10s in the final 12 races of 2016.

2016 Highlight(s): Kahne’s best result came at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October, where he finished third. This race was one of the 10 Chase races and Charlotte has been a good place for the 36-year-old, who has four career victories at the track. It was also in the midst of his rejuvenation, as mentioned above.

2016 Lowlight(s): The Enumclaw, Wash. native didn’t really have one particular race that was dreadful, although he did have one minor run-in with Danica Patrick at Auto Club Speedway. The entire season was generally uneventful, and it was easy to forget he was even on the track at times.

Kahne was hidden behind the storylines created by his HMS teammates throughout the season, such as Chase Elliott’s rookie success in the No. 24, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion, Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman replacing Earnhardt for half the season, and Jimmie Johnson’s seventh championship.

The No. 5 was virtually invisible all year.

2017 Outlook: The last win Kahne had was at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2014. He’s long overdue, so he needs to visit Victory Lane and put his career back on track.

So what must he do to win again?

Continue to build on the momentum from the end of 2016. It helps to lead laps as well. He completed the most laps of any driver this season, but it won’t serve him too well if he isn’t in first place for any of them. Kahne is under contract with HMS through 2018, so he doesn’t need to press the panic button, yet.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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