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News

2020 Silly Season Updates and Expectations

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

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

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Matt DiBenedetto

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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

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

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

Gavin Baker | NKP

Chris Buescher

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

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

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

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

Tyler Reddick

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

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

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

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

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

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Cole Custer

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

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

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

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

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

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Christopher Bell

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

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

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

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

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

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Daniel Suarez Looks to Carry Momentum from Texas into Phoenix

AVONDALE, Arizona — Daniel Suarez is in the midst of a contract-year at Stewart-Haas Racing, as his agreement expires at the conclusion of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend. After matching a season-high best finish of third last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, the driver from Monterrey, Mexico is looking to build off some momentum as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gets set to do battle at ISM Raceway.

Suarez, who considers the 1.5-mile oval a sort of home track, was in good spirits when talking about his chances this Sunday.

“Texas was a lot of fun and we’re looking to carry that here to Phoenix,” Suarez told POPULAR SPEED. “This is kind of like a home track for me. There are a lot of good people here, lots of fans and it’s always fun to come back.”

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity driver has had a rollercoaster ride of a career when coming to the Valley of the Sun. He notched his career-best finish at Zoomtown U.S.A. in his rookie season in the Spring of 2017 with a seventh. His best effort since then came the in the following Spring, where he finished eighth. Since then, the 27-year old has not fared better than 23rd.

“I think we have a good car – I don’t think we have the best car, but I think I think we have a car that can get a top-five or a top-10,” said Suarez. “Hopefully we can make the right calls and get a top-five.”

When asked about the pressures of performing without a contract for the 2020 season set in stone, the driver of the No. 41 offered up a humorous reply.

“What’s the worst thing that can happen? I go back to Mexico and work on old cars?,” Suarez joked. “We have some work to do. I feel like the team is doing their part, I’m doing my part, we just have to put all the pieces together – that’s the way it works. Sometimes it takes one week, sometimes it takes three months – we’ll keep working. I feel like life is tough, learn your lessons. I just have to find different ways to make things happen off the racetrack. I’m learning a lot so hopefully we can get a win.”

Team-owner Tony Stewart revealed that they are in the process of getting a deal done to extend Suarez’s tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing. The three-time Cup Series champion also assured the media that he is big fan of the driver from Mexico and would like to keep him around for an extended period of time.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

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

Categories
News

Five Legends Named to 2020 NASCAR Hall Of Fame Class

Baker, Gibbs, Labonte, Stewart and Wilson Comprise Hall’s 11th Class

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 22, 2019) – NASCAR announced today the inductees who will comprise the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020. The five-person group – the 11th since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010 – consists of Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and Waddell Wilson. In addition, NASCAR announced that Edsel Ford II earned the 2020 Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. The distinguished group will be honored during the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Jan. 31, 2020.

 

The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel met today in a closed session at the Charlotte Convention Center to debate and vote upon the 20 nominees for the induction class of 2020 and the five nominees for the Landmark Award.

 

The Class of 2020 was determined by votes cast by the Voting Panel, including representatives from NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, track owners from major facilities and historic short tracks, media members, manufacturer representatives, competitors (drivers, owners, crew chiefs), recognized industry leaders, a nationwide fan vote conducted through NASCAR.com and, for the sixth year, the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion (Joey Logano). In all, 57 votes were cast, with two additional Voting Panel members recused from voting as potential nominees for induction (Ricky Rudd and Waddell Wilson). The accounting firm of EY presided over the tabulation of the votes.

 

Voting was as follows: Tony Stewart (88%), Joe Gibbs (72%), Waddell Wilson (72%), Buddy Baker (70%) and Bobby Labonte (67%).

 

The next top vote-getters were Mike Stefanik, Ray Fox and Hershel McGriff.

 

Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart.

 

The five inductees came from a group of 20 nominees that included, in addition to the five inductees chosen: Sam Ard, Neil Bonnett, Red Farmer, Ray Fox, Harry Gant, John Holman, Harry Hyde, Hershel McGriff, Ralph Moody, Marvin Panch, Jim Paschal, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd, Mike Stefanik and Red Vogt.

 

Nominees for the Landmark Award included Edsel Ford II, Alvin Hawkins, Mike Helton, Dr. Joseph Mattioli and Ralph Seagraves.

 

The Class of 2020 Induction Weekend is set for Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, through Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. The official Induction Ceremony will take place on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The Class of 2020 marks the 11th class and a total of 55 legends inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

 

Tickets to Induction Ceremony events begin at $75 per person (plus tax and applicable service fees). Tickets go on sale on Saturday, July 6, 2019, at 10 a.m. ET. Special pre-sales will be available to NASCAR Hall of Fame members Tuesday, June 25 through Friday, July 5. For additional details about the Class of 2020 Induction Weekend events and to learn about becoming a NASCAR Hall of Fame member, visit nascarhall.com.

 

Class of 2020 Inductees:

 

Buddy Baker

At six feet, six inches tall, Buddy Baker was often called the “Gentle Giant,” a nod to her personable nature during a 33-year career. In 1980, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native won the Daytona 500 with an average race speed of 177.602 mph – a track record that still stands. That same year, Baker became the first driver to eclipse the 200-mph mark on a closed course while testing at Talladega Superspeedway. He won 19 races in the Cup series, including a victory in the 1970 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway where he lapped the rest of the field. He also won back-to-back Coca-Cola 600s at Charlotte in 1972-73. After retiring in 1992, Baker made a successful transition to the television booth as a commentator for The Nashville Network and CBS, and later as a radio co-host on Late Shift and Tradin’ Paint for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

 

Joe Gibbs

Joe Gibbs has won throughout his entire life. The three-time Super Bowl champion football coach started Joe Gibbs Racing in 1992 and has led the organization to four Cup Series championships and five Xfinity Series titles. Known as a master motivator, Gibbs’ 164 Cup Series owner wins (through May 22, 2019) rank third all-time. They include three Daytona 500 victories and five Brickyard 400 wins. His Cup Series titles have come with three different drivers: Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002, ’05) and Kyle Busch (2015). Referred to in NASCAR circles has simply “Coach,” Gibbs was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.  

 

Bobby Labonte

The ultimate grinder, Bobby Labonte raced any car he could get behind the wheel of before he got his first break as a full-time Cup Series driver at 28 years old in 1993. His persistence paid off with a career highlighted by 21 trips to Victory Lane and the 2000 Cup Series title. A success in all three of NASCAR’s national series, Labonte was the first of four drivers to win both a Cup and Xfinity Series championship. He is also one of 27 drivers to win a race in all three national series. The Texan showed up on the biggest stages throughout his 2000 Cup championship season, earning two of his four wins in the Brickyard 400 and Southern 500.

 

Tony Stewart

Known as “The People’s Champion” for his blue-collar, hard-nosed style of competition, Stewart immediately showed that he would be a force to be reckoned with in NASCAR – earning three victories in his Rookie of the Year season. The titles soon followed. Stewart won his first Cup championship in 2002 driving for Joe Gibbs Racing and answered that quickly in 2005. His versatility was on display throughout his 17-year NASCAR career. He tallied 49 wins in the Cup Series – winning on every style of track. He won the prestigious Brickyard 400 at his beloved, home-state Indianapolis Motor Speedway twice. In 2009, Stewart became a team owner, partnering with Gene Haas. He won 16 times as a driver/owner including one of the most memorable championship pursuits in history. In 2011, he won five of the 10 Playoff races – including the season finale – to claim his third title by virtue of a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards.

 

Waddell Wilson

A dual threat as an engine builder and crew chief, Waddell Wilson powered and guided cars to some of the biggest victories in NASCAR history. As an engine builder, he supplied the power that helped David Pearson (1968, ’69) and Benny Parsons (1973) to Cup Series titles. Overall, Wilson’s engines helped some of the greatest drivers to ever wheel a car – including NASCAR Hall of Famers Pearson, Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip – to 109 wins and 123 poles. He originally gained acclaim for building the engine Roberts used to win the 1963 Southern 500. Wilson guided three cars to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500 as a crew chief, winning The Great American Race with Buddy Baker (1980) and Cale Yarborough (1983-84). The famed “Grey Ghost” he assembled for Buddy Baker still holds the Daytona 500 record with an average speed of 177.602 MPH.

 

Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR:

 

Edsel Ford II

There are few names as iconic in the sport of auto racing as Edsel Ford II. A member of the Ford Motor Company Board of Directors and longtime executive of the company founded by his great-grandfather Henry Ford, Edsel’s is a familiar face in the racing garage. Ford’s support of NASCAR has been both behind the scenes with the Ford Motor Company but also out in front where he is greeted warmly by the sport’s competitors, executives, team owners and fans at any race track he visits. His leadership at Ford includes time as President and Chief Operating Officer (May, 1991-1998) and a Director of International Speedway Corporation (November, 2007-October, 2015).

 

About NASCAR

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. (NASCAR) is the sanctioning body for the No. 1 form of motorsports in the United States. NASCAR consists of three national series (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series™, NASCAR Xfinity Series™, and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series™), three regional series, one local grassroots series, three international series and the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA). The International Motor Sports Association™ (IMSA®) governs the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship™, the premier U.S. sports car series. Based in Daytona Beach, Fla., with offices in eight cities across North America, NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races in more than 30 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and Europe. For more information visit www.NASCAR.com and www.IMSA.com, and follow NASCAR on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Snapchat (‘NASCAR’).

 

About the NASCAR Hall of Fame

Conveniently located in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is an interactive, entertainment attraction honoring the history and heritage of NASCAR. The high-tech venue, designed to educate and entertain race fans and non-fans alike, opened May 11, 2010, and includes artifacts, hands-on exhibits, a 278-person state-of-the-art theater, Hall of Honor, Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, NASCAR Hall of Fame Gear Shop and NASCAR Productions-operated broadcast studio. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for summer hours and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for winter hours. On designated Group Hot Pass Tuesdays, the facility is open for scheduled group visits and events only. An attached parking garage is available on Brevard Street. The 5-acre site also includes a privately developed 19-story office tower and 102,000-square-foot expansion to the Charlotte Convention Center, highlighted by a 40,000-square-foot ballroom. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is owned by the City of Charlotte, licensed by NASCAR and operated by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. For more information, visit nascarhall.com.

Categories
Commentary

Richmond Performance Won’t Define Earnhardt Jr.’s Farewell Year

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final season behind the wheel hasn’t played out like many expected.

Following two of the best years of his career before being sidelined due to a concussion in 2016, the No. 88 team eyed a return to championship form in 2017.

However, consistent struggles have now placed the team well outside the Playoff picture.

With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season coming to a close on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, it’s looking unlikely that the Hendrick Motorsports driver will compete for the championship for a final time.

After both Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart were in the mix for the title in their farewell years, many assumed Earnhardt Jr. would follow a similar path and win to make the post-season field.

Instead, it has been an uncharacteristic year for the 42-year-old. Earnhardt Jr. has only scored one top-five and four top-10 finishes through 25 races, both career lows.

With 11 events remaining, he has time to improve; but without a victory at Richmond, he won’t be in the championship conversation.

However the Federated Auto Parts 400 unfolds, it won’t define his exit from the sport as a full-time competitor.

While earning a Playoff spot is a major accomplishment each season, the focus for Earnhardt Jr. is on the bigger picture of bringing his career to a close.

It has been a big relief to finally have an end date and a decision made and knowing that is it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. 

Announcing his retirement in April has allowed this season to be more about enjoying the ride. Despite the struggles, the reaction off-track has been encouraging.

“The reaction from the fans and everything that I’ve experienced from week to week has been really uplifting,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s been a positive, fun experience. You know the results are not great, but I’ve dealt with that in my career in the past.”  

His season has been reminiscent of 2009 and 2010 when he also faced significant struggles and never gained a footing to emerge as a consistent threat. Having been in this position before, it provides a mindset for Earnhardt Jr. to work through.

“I know how to deal with that emotionally and personally, and I know how to work through it,” he said.  “So, that has not been that difficult, to be honest with you.”

Richmond is one of four tracks on the schedule where Earnhardt Jr. has visited Victory Lane three or more times, leaving the door open for a win. He will start tonight’s event from the 21st position.

While unlikely, it’s still possible that he could compete for the title. However, it won’t change his perspective on the season nor deter his approach in the final races.

It has been about more than performance for Earnhardt Jr. this season, and away from the track, it continues to be a successful and appreciative final year.

“So, I’ve really enjoyed it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I think that hopefully, it is enjoyable all the way to the very end.”

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series Social Media

First Tweets of the NASCAR Famous

When I first learned of Twitter in 2009, my first reaction was, “What a ridiculous name that is.” Then I was told that the exercise of broadcasting your message to the masses was called “tweeting.” I nearly bailed because that sounded like TMI. Nevertheless, I gave it a try, went all-in and actually wound up making a business out of it. 

The use of Twitter in the NASCAR arena spiked at the 2012 Daytona 500 during a red flag, after Juan Montoya ran into a jet dryer causing it to erupt in flames. (There’s a good sarcastic parallel in that sentence about flames and his career… I just don’t have the patience to articulate it.)

Brad Keselowski, from inside his car, tweeted an image of the burning apparatus and it was game-on. 

I watched as Brad’s spotter, Joey Meier, continuously refreshed his Twitter feed. Keselowski’s following began to grow at a rate of around 800 per minute. In just under two hours, he had amassed 100,000 new best friends. Five years later, he’s entertaining 750,000 regularly. His first tweet was kind of dorky, so I chose not to include it. (You’re welcome.

In June of 2012, at Pocono Raceway, NASCAR broke social media ground when they rolled out the “Hashtag NASCAR” program. It was the first time the governing body of a major sport embraced the social platform and it was met with great enthusiasm by fans, competitors, tracks and media. Today, it’s the primary source for realtime race information and breaking news. It has also created a practical opportunity for fans to interact with drivers, crew chiefs, crew members, media and other notable figures in the sport. 

So, I thought it would be fun to look at the first tweets of some high-profile people and entities in the sport. 

Clicking on the tweet will take you to the respective accounts.

 


Although he was late to the Twitter party, Smoke was the first NASCAR driver ever to be re-tweeted by former Vice President and Global Warming enthusiast Al Gore who, by his own account, invented the internet. Without the internet, there would be no Twitter. It’s a big circle. Thanks Al. 👍🏼 🖥

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Yeah, 10:56 is way past Bruton’s bed time. 😔 💤

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This was on an off-week in observance of Easter and April 2nd was Good Friday. Given the time-stamp and the context, it seems as though Clint Bowyer’s spotter was having a Great Friday. 🍺🍸🍷🍾🍹 #Holla

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Gotta love Hamlin. He makes a bold statement out of the gate. Gets right to the point. Doesn’t mince words. Says what he means — means what he says. If only we had hashtags back then….  #spedonpitroad 🚥  #toremyacl 🏀  

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Those five RT’s were Dan Rather, Morley Safer, Steve Kroft, Leslie Stahl and Mike Wallace (No, the other one.) ⏱ 

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This is interesting. The team debuted at Texas in April of 2011 and was originally called Leavine Fenton Racing. It was a partnership with former NASCAR driver Lance Fenton (yeah, neither have I.) 41 days later, following the Coca-Cola 600, Texans Bob and Sharon Leavine assumed Fenton’s share — likely because they never heard of him either. So “Fenton” became “Family” — clearly the best choice for an “F” word.

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Looking out the window, arms folded and foot tapping. 😠

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Carl Edwards. 📵

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HEADLINE: Hamlin Files Lawsuit Against Koch for Plagiarism. Judge Lance Fenton to preside. ⚖

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TRANSLATION: Downloaded the app. Yay! It’s SpeedWeeks and I ain’t got 💩. 

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I’m not really sure what the message is, but how about NASCAR’s very first tweet breaking the 140-character limit rule, huh? …. Well, the PR guy got crushed at the appeal. He was slapped with a three-race suspension, the loss of 25 social media points and encouraged to complete the Road to Twitter Management Program. And the tweet was encumbered.👮🏽  

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Where’s the best place to let people know how to find you on Twitter?…. Twitter!💡

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No clue. But I’ll leave it alone because Kevin could totally kick my ass in a fight. Delana could too. I’m not ruling out Keelan either. 🏋💪🏼 🚑

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Unreal. 🏁

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Email Mike at mike@mikecalinoff.com

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One of the Best. Days. Ever.

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Categories
Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: If Kyle Busch Is A Villain, There’s Nothing Wrong With That

There has been much talk about Kyle Busch ever since his petulant behavior following his close loss in the Coca-Cola 600.

If you didn’t see what happened via television or social media (I’m betting you did) here’s a quick summary: Looking decidedly upset, or frustrated, Busch fidgeted at the microphone, mumbled “congratulations” (that’s what I thought I heard), then dropped the mike and walked away.

He acted like an unhappy child.

Naturally he was taken to task by the fans, media and some fellow competitors like Brad Keselowski. I’m pretty sure he’s not No. 1 on many folks’ hit parade.

However, I agree with Dale Earnhardt Jr. who suggested Busch remain himself and not change just to gain redemption.

I am not suggesting Busch throw temper tantrums. But if he can’t help himself because of his competitive personality, well, he can have at it.

To me, there is a good reason for this:

NASCAR needs a villain. It needs a competitor whose personality, sassy mouth, razor-thin temper or undisciplined driving style draws the ire of the fans.

They band together in their dislike for him and – this is important – follow his every move at every race. He brings attention to NASCAR that goes beyond its fans. Believe me, that is something the sanctioning body needs right now.

Villains have been part of NASCAR since it’s founding. Today some of them rank among the greatest stock car drivers in history and are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

The legendary Curtis Turner showed a car no mercy. He didn’t know much about finesse. Consequently, when it came to his rivals on the track if he could not pass them he would just as soon run over them.

That’s not a good way to attract friends but Turner did not care.

In the 1970s the undisputed villain was Darrell Waltrip. He worked at it. When he came into the sport he knew there were only two ways to gain attention: Win and be a smart aleck.

Because of his quick wit Waltrip was a media darling. But many fans thought he was just too cocky and too “mouthy.”

It’s fair to say many competitors thought the same.

In one of his many feuds Waltrip fell at odds with Cale Yarborough. The two were swept up in a multicar accident in the 1977 Southern 500 at Darlington.

Driver D.K. Ulrich, involved in the incident, asked Yarborough why he hit him.

“I didn’t hit you,” Yarborough answered. “Ol’ Jaws hit you. He knocked you into the wall. It was uncalled for.”

Waltrip was known as “Jaws” for the rest of his career.

A couple of weeks later Yarborough won at Martinsville on a hot, humid day.

Exhausted, Yarborough declared the race, at 500 laps, was too long and needed to be cut.

“I will not shorten my races,” track owner H. Clay Earles heatedly said.

Waltrip pounced. He emerged the winner a week later at North Wilkesboro, another half-mile track.

In victory lane he pronounced the presence of the “Cale Scale,” an imaginary device that measured a race’s degree of difficulty

“This race was only a one and a half or two,” Waltrip said. “I wish we had another 100 laps. I guess Cale is getting too old.”

And so it went. Waltrip continued to toss barbs and fans continued to dislike him. When he was introduced there were plenty of boos.

Dale Earnhardt was a sensation at the start of his career but soon after his overly aggressive driving style became the target of competitor and fan criticism.

Earnhardt didn’t seem to care.

He got the nickname “The Intimidator.”

 For many it was not a term of respect.

Much later the seemingly unprofessional, body-slam style of Ernie Irvan raised the ire of competitors and fans, who named him “Swervin’ Irvan.”

He even apologized for his mistakes in a drivers meeting at Talladega.

It took so long for Rusty Wallace to regain the fans’ favor after his victory in the 1989 The Winston, in which he spun Waltrip on the last lap. He wondered if all he would hear for the rest of his career was irate booing.

Do you really have to be reminded about Tony Stewart? He flunked Anger Management 101. To my knowledge he is the only driver in NASCAR history to be fined by his sponsor for misbehavior.

Kyle’s brother Kurt was known for his surliness and short temper as much as his driving skill.

There are others, of course, but here is the point: These drivers polarized fans, but at the same time, they enhanced their enjoyment of the sport if for no other reason than to see if they would get their comeuppance.

They were the subjects of much attention, week in and week out. Their outbursts, behavior or on-track shenanigans made headlines. The rivalries they established made fans argue among themselves – but at the same time it kept them riveted to all that was going on.

And you don’t have to be told how much the media delighted in it all.

Villainy aside, it must be pointed out that all of the drivers mentioned were winners and several were champions. That means that it didn’t matter how much they antagonized competitors and fans, they could back it up with accomplishments.

Kyle Busch already has achieved much. His skills are obvious and many admire him for them.But to many that doesn’t matter. He’s their man to dislike – so far.

I believe that comes from Busch being himself. He may change. That is certainly his right and perfectly acceptable.

But if he remains the Kyle Bush he is he will likely fulfill the role NASCAR desperately needs: the villain.

And there is not a thing wrong with that.

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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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Pace Predictions Exceeded On Wild Pole Day

In what will be the final month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Dallara DW12 chassis in its present form, Sunday’s Pole Day for the 101st Indianapolis 500 saw many unique moments.

From all-out pace to white-knuckle moments near the SAFER barriers, several notable occurrences were laid down in both the consolation phase and the Firestone Fast Nine that followed. Among them were bizarre speed postings.

In the battle for the tenth position, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay recovered from a discouraging effort on Saturday to post at the time, the fastest four-lap attempt since Helio Castroneves’ 231.725 MPH output in 2003. With no one showing the ability to reach the high 231 range, the 2014 Indy 500 champion displayed the potential to be the first fast qualifier not to win the pole since Kenny Brack did so in 2005.

Although the sight was outstanding, the nine finalists for the Verizon P1 Award had many aces yet to put down. Defending Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi bested his Andretti teammate with a run just under 231.5 MPH. While the NAPA Auto Parts Honda pilot was stout, even the second-year IndyCar star had to do at least a double take when Chip Ganassi Racing entrant Scott Dixon took to the 2.5-mile oval.

Despite facing ever-increasing track temperatures and wind gusts, the Iceman managed to break into realms that had not even been considered for two decades. The two-time Indy pole-sitter ripped off an opening stanza at an unbelievable 232.595 MPH, the fastest single pass since 1996. He even pulled off three encore laps to average 232.164 MPH, also unheard of numbers dating back two decades. With the New Zealander all but assured his third $100,000 pole-winning payout, Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato and owner-driver Ed Carpenter took their shots.

While both performers put up one 232 MPH lap, neither could maintain the close margins that the Kiwi did. Still, with 2017 time trials at the Brickyard concluded, here are some notable facts from this remarkable day.

-The front row of Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, and Alexander Rossi is the second-fastest front row in race history. Only the 1996 qualified top-three of Scott Brayton, Tony Stewart, and Davy Jones was faster (Brayton was tragically killed in a practice a week after Pole Day, and Stewart started from P1 on race day).

-Dixon’s 232.164 MPH pole time is the third-fastest top spot earning run in history. Only Roberto Guerrero in 1992 (232.482) and Scott Brayton in 1996 (233.718) were quicker.

-Six of the 33 starters for the 101st edition of this event posted a four-lap run over 231 MPH, that is the most since the edition mentioned above when nine drivers eclipsed this barrier.

-Fifteen qualifiers posted 230 MPH averages, while four others also ran at least one lap over 230 on Pole Day, both are month of May records.

-Dixon’s P1 effort also puts him second behind Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves among active Indy 500 drivers in total top starting spots claimed. The Brazilian has four, while Rick Mears leads the list all-time with six.

-With the tremendous speed explosion, the outer walls managed to snatch multiple drivers on Sunday. Despite the warning shot fired followed Sebastien Bourdais’ massive shunt in turn two during pre-qualifying, at least seven hit or brushed the barriers on Sunday, yet all were able to complete their attempts in full.

Following Sunday’s closest surge to Arie Luyendyk’s track record runs, the anticipation toward 2018 and the new car designs may be at an all-time summit.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

Dave Rogers Taking Personal Leave

In a surprising turn of events, Joe Gibbs Racing announced on Wednesday evening that veteran crew chief Dave Rogers would be taking a personal leave of absence for an indefinite period.

Rogers, who was currently serving as crew chief for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie and 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series Champion Daniel Suarez came to JGR in 2005. He worked with Jason Leffler that season before moving to the XFINITY Series and crew chiefing for Denny Hamlin in 2006. He also spent time with Aric Almirola, Tony Stewart, and JJ Yeley while in the NXS.

Rogers’ big break came in 2009 when he was named the crew chief for Kyle Busch and the No. 18 MENCS team. During his tenure with Busch, they combined to win 13 races and finished fourth in the championship standings in 2013.

Last season, Rogers worked with Carl Edwards and the No. 19 team, winning three times and finishing fourth in points.

Suarez will have a familiar face on top of the pit box this weekend at Martinsville with Scott Graves taking over as crew chief of the No. 19 team.

Graves and Suarez combined to win three times during last season’s championship run. He also oversaw Chris Buescher‘s title in the NXS in 2015 while at Roush Fenway Racing. Graves was currently serving as crew chief for JGR’s No.18 entry in NASCAR’s second-tier series.

JGR has not provided any other details concerning Rogers’ leave and will name a replacement crew chief for their No.18 team in the NXS next week.

EMAIL JUSTIN at justin.tucker@popularspeed.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

BOWYER: “We’re Getting Closer”

FONTANA, Calif. — Clint Bowyer earned his first top five in more than a year and a half with a third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday.

Bowyer, 37, last had a top five at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2015 with Michael Waltrip Racing. After the team had shut down, he signed a one-year deal with HScott Motorsports for 2016, which, like MWR, no longer competes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and had only three top 10s all year.

But now with Stewart-Haas Racing in team co-owner Tony Stewart’s former ride, he is resurrecting his career and has finished in the top 15 four times in the first five races of 2017.

“Having this crew behind you, this organization, the teamwork, it’s amazing just to be a part of it and part of my career,” Bowyer said. “Thank you to Gene Haas and Tony Stewart for giving me this opportunity. It means a lot to work with this team and have a lot of fun with [Mike Bugarewicz, crew chief] and all these guys.”

He also added his finish in the Auto Club 400 was a “momentum builder.” He was essentially the only SHR driver to have a good day as none of his teammates finished in the top 10.

“Obviously, we’re getting closer,” he added. “This is a good track for me. I wanted to win that damn thing, but to come home with a wild finish and everything that it was, we’ll take it.”

Bowyer earned 12 Stage points in the race and now sits 11th in the playoff standings. He’s failed to make NASCAR’s postseason twice since his runner-up finish in the 2012 championship with MWR.

The season is still young, but he’s smiling as much as ever and rightfully so — he’s with a team that won the Cup title in 2011 with Stewart behind the wheel.

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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Commentary

Could 2017 Match Historic 1967 as One of Motorsport’s Greatest Years?

Fans that have watched auto racing all their life and have been alive long enough to remember might say 1967 was the most memorable year in motorsports history.

It was the year “The King” Richard Petty won 27 races and his second of seven championships in the NASCAR Grand National Series. That season, the sport consisted of 49 points events, meaning he won 55 percent of the races.

Racing legend Mario Andretti made his presence known in stock car racing by winning the Daytona 500 in the No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford. He started 12th and led 112 laps that day, and his victory is still considered one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history.

19-22 January, 2009, Concord, North Carolina USA Mario Andretti (c)2009, Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock
Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock

“At that point, I had not won Indy [500, won it in 1969] yet,” Andretti once said. “I was competitive with a couple of poles but had not won at Indy. So arguably the Daytona 500 win at that time was the biggest event of my career at that time and particularly satisfying to do it somewhere where it wasn’t my specialty.

“Can you imagine the same thing as if one of their drivers — Richard Petty or David Pearson -— had come to Indy and won the Indy 500? It had a special sound to it, and it still does, actually.”

“Super Tex” A.J. Foyt won his third of four career Indianapolis 500s in 1967. He also won the iconic sports car event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in France co-driving with Dan Gurney just two weeks later. Foyt went on to win his fifth USAC Champ Car Series title at season’s end.

Now, let’s jump ahead 50 years. Think about what the racing world is like today. It’s a lot different, wouldn’t you say?

2017 NASCAR Cup - Clash at Daytona Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 19 February 2017 Denny Hamlin, FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Daniel Suarez, ARRIS Toyota Camry, Kyle Busch, M&M's Toyota Camry and Matt Kenseth, Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry World Copyright: {Nigel Kinrade}/NKP
Nigel Kinrade / NKP

Today, NASCAR has three national series with its top division sponsored by the increasingly popular Monster Energy drink. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which it is now called, begins its 36-race season with its most historic race, the Daytona 500, often referred to as “The Great American Race.” Races are also divided into three stages and the final 10 events of the year make up the elimination-style NASCAR playoffs, which started in 2014.

Open-wheel racing has evolved exponentially over the years too. Both the Verizon IndyCar Series and Formula 1 have become exceptionally safer. In the 2013 Ron Howard film Rush, three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda says, “Twenty-five drivers start every season in Formula 1, and each year two of us die.”

Although the film took place in 1976, Lauda’s statement emphasizes the danger of being a racecar driver of more than 40 years ago. Deaths of both drivers and spectators were not as unusual as they are today.

In the last six years, two IndyCar drivers have died from accident-related injuries. The 2011 Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who lost his life in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the same year he won the 500, and Justin Wilson, who was struck in the head by a flying piece of debris from Sage Karam’s wrecked car at Pocono Raceway in 2015.

In 2014, Jules Bianchi died after an accident in the F1 Japanese Grand Prix — the European sport’s most recent death. It’s still three lives too many when you include the two IndyCar drivers, but racecars have been redesigned countless times to enhance safety for each competitor.

In NASCAR, following the death of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the sanctioning body mandated the use of the Hutchens system, which was the head and neck restraint system required until the end of the 2004 season.

jimmie HANS
Rainier Ehrhardt / NASCAR via Getty Images

In January 2005, NASCAR mandated the use of the HANS Device, which most drivers were already using, as the required safety system because it felt the Hutchens didn’t meet minimum safety standards.

The 2017 racing season is still just beginning, but many storylines could make this year another one for the history books.

The new three-stage format NASCAR created during the offseason made its debut at the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson embarks on his quest for a record-breaking eighth championship after winning No. 7 in 2016. And the “Monster” era of NASCAR began with a “Monster” win by 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch, who is sponsored by the drink, in the “Great American Race.”

2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup - Daytona 500 Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 26 February 2017 Kurt Busch celebrates his Daytona 500 Victory World Copyright: Rusty Jarrett/NKP
Rusty Jarrett / NKP

“The more I run this race, the more I’ve learned to throw caution to the wind and let it rip,” Busch, who had previously finished runner-up three times, said. “The performance of the [Stewart-Haas Racing] team has been incredible. My rearview mirror fell off with 30 to go, and I knew I had to drive defensively. I couldn’t even see the cars behind me, just heard my spotter in my ear, once we made that pass.

“It’s just unbelievable to have all this teamwork to get us in victory lane.”

Busch’s victory not only was a triumph for him but also for Tony Gibson, who won the race for the first time as a crew chief, and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, who ran the race 17 times in his racing career but never won it.

Now being retired from NASCAR racing and having won the 500 as a team owner, Stewart jokingly said, “If I knew all I had to do was retire to get it done, I would have retired a long time ago.”

In IndyCar, Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud will defend his 2016 title and look to become the first repeat titlist since Dario Franchitti, who claimed three consecutive championships from 2009 to 2011, and the first Penske driver to repeat since Gil de Ferran, who accomplished the feat in 2001.

Lisa Davidson wrote a POPULAR SPEED story about Pagenaud’s approach to the 2017 season in which he says he’ll be in more of an “attack” mode than a defensive one.

“… I would say I really understood better what it all meant last year [his championship year],” Pagenaud said. “It’s about defending. Everything is back to zero. The counts are all back to zero. It’s all reset.

“Now it’s time to attack, attack a new championship, attack a new year. Last year, if I was so successful, it’s because we attacked and we didn’t look in the mirrors. The goal is to do the same thing, not defend, but attack a new season coming up.”

Pagenaud finished second in the season-opener in St. Petersburg behind fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, who won the race after starting from the back.

Across the pond in F1, a retirement announcement heard around the world shocked the entire auto racing industry. The most recent World Champion Nico Rosberg decided that 2016 would be his final season in the pinnacle of motorsports and left the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team. It ended a rivalry — which had the potential to match the likes of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the late 1980s or Lauda and James Hunt in the mid-1970s — with teammate Lewis Hamilton.

skysports.com
Skysports.com

Hamilton, now paired with Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, will look to be the fifth driver in F1 history to win a fourth title. He’s 32 years old and already has 53 career wins, 104 podiums, and 61 poles. By the end of his career, whenever that is, he’ll likely be considered one of the sport’s greatest, if he isn’t already.

During preseason testing, Hamilton said rather interesting comments about the Scuderia Ferrari team, which last won the championship with Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. Hamilton said, “I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing. They are very close, if not faster.

“It’s difficult right now to say who is quicker.”

If what Hamilton said proves to be true, it will be an intense competition for this year’s championship. Mercedes cars won all but two races in 2016, and Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen won none.

Red Bull Racing won the other two races, once with 19-year-old Max Verstappen in his Red Bull debut at the Grand Prix of Spain after Hamilton and Rosberg wrecked each other on the first lap, and the other at the Malaysia Grand Prix with Daniel Ricciardo after Hamilton suffered a catastrophic engine failure while leading.

The 2017 IndyCar and F1’s campaigns are just getting underway, and there will surely be plenty to pay attention to as their season’s progress. If there’s one thing that holds true about racing, it’s that the unpredictability factor is always predictable.

So my question to you, whether you were around in 1967 or not, can 2017 be just as memorable 50 years from now?

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.