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NASCAR Cup Series

Winning is the Message Byron Looks to Send at Daytona

A long tradition of racing in July at Daytona International Speedway comes to an end Saturday night after the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Last year, we saw Erik Jones capture his first career victory in NASCAR’s top division of racing. It was an emotional celebration for Jones, but this season may mean much more to the winner of this famed race.

The weekend got off to a hot start as drama in final practice on Thursday between William Byron and Brad Keselowski has been the buzz of the weekend. Byron blocked Keselowski and nearly was turned, but he was able to grab control and save his race car.

Although Byron is heading to a backup car, he has shown experience and aggression at the superspeedways. Coming off a top-10 finish at Chicagoland Speedway, he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates come to Daytona with a bit of momentum.

Last weekend, Alex Bowman grabbed his first career win at Chicago. Not only that, all of the Hendrick Motorsports machines finished in the top-11, something we rarely saw the season before.

The speed for Byron is not a surprise at Daytona. The second year driver grabbed the Daytona 500 pole in February, but wrecked out of the “Great American Race.” After the practice incident with Keselowski, Byron felt some displeasure from the former champion.

“It’s practice,” said Byron. “I don’t think that was really necessary to turn us there…I didn’t really expect that, but that’s all right. It wasn’t like I changed four lanes down the backstretch and blocked him. I was just kind of holding my lane, and he just used his run to drive into my left rear.”

Keselowski obviously had another take on the incident as it seemed like he was trying to teach the 21-year-old a superspeedway lesson.

“Just had a big run,” Keselowski said after the incident. “He put me in a position where I had to lift, and I keep telling these guys I’m not lifting. Just trying to send a message. I’m not lifting. I’m tired of getting wrecked at these (superspeedway) tracks. They’re all watching. They know.”

Keselowski clearly sent him a message after Byron had to go to a back up car. But his actions and words after the practice session did not intimidate the Charlotte, North Carolina native. In fact, Byron still feels confident and knows he has a strong team behind his back.

“It doesn’t bother me because I’m driving the car at the end of the day and I still have an opportunity to do that,” Byron said. “My team backs me. And, the confidence that comes from my team to know that they support me is all that I need. So, I think I’ve said this other times. I don’t care to have him as a friend or anything, so I don’t really need other people’s approval. So, I can still have a clean race car to go race on Saturday and hopefully go win the race.”

The Hendrick boys look continue their run as we inch towards the playoffs. They are the only Chevrolet team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to win a race this year and hope to have all their drivers in the post-season. As for Saturday night’s thriller under the lights, they plan on working together to put one of them in victory lane.

“We’re going to work really well together,” Byron said. “All the Chevrolet guys worked well together at Talladega. Unfortunately I wasn’t in on the good side of that. I got wrecked late in the race. But, I feel like this weekend will be a great chance for us to work together and hopefully with where we are in points, we can hopefully go for a win and try to get as many points as possible. But really, we want to win this race.”

Surviving Daytona on Saturday is one of the keys to success at the historic track and after a rocky start to the weekend, Byron plans to end it with his first win and a ticket to the playoffs.

“I honestly feel like we should be contending for the win at the end.”

EMAIL BRANDON AT: brandon.rivero@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MrBrandonRivero

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

Expectations Rising for Three Underrated Drivers in 2019

The new year is finally here and we are a couple months away from getting back to racing with the Daytona 500 just around the corner.

A new season means that we will be seeing some drivers change, as well as shifts in personal within organizations. The upcoming campaign will be unique since the sanctioning body is introducing a new rules package for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars. 

Here are a three drivers that can surprise in 2019 and can take a step forward from 2018.

1. Aric Almirola

The veteran driver from Tampa, Florida debuted for Stewart-Haas Racing last season driving the No. 10 car that Danica Patrick drove for six years. There was always potential with that ride and Almirola showed how good they can be. With an average finish of 12.8 Almirola finished fifth in the playoffs, just one spot away from being part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A win late in the season at Talladega Superspeedway gave Almirola a boost that he needed to finish the year strong. However, some can argue that he could have had a few more in the bag. For example, at Chicagoland Speedway, he led 70 laps but going through tire issues twice during the race stopped him from getting the victory.

“Our car was super-fast, especially out in clean air. It was incredibly fast. We just have to execute; we have to put a whole race together. That’s the difference between being good and being great,” Almirola said after that race.

This upcoming season making the Championship 4 is what should be expected from this team after breaking out in 2018.

2. William Byron

This one might be surprise for some people. Byron is going to enter his second season as a full-time driver in the Cup Series and we have seen how much talent he has as he moved up the ranks. In 2018, you can tell that Byron went through rookie struggles, but at the end of it he has grown from it.

“I mean, a lot, I guess I mean we had a lot of up and downs and its good, you know I’m excited for whatever is to come,” Byron told POPULAR SPEED shortly after finishing the Ford EcoBoost 400 in November.

This upcoming season, there will be a switch in crew chiefs as Chad Knaus will be taking the helm for the No. 24 team. This should really help the young driver develop and gain more experience. In 2018, his best finish was sixth at Pocono where he led 10 laps; with the proper resources and tools that are coming for Byron in 2019, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t expect to make the playoffs.

A debut in the playoffs would be impressive but getting passed the Round of 16 would be even bigger.

3. Ryan Blaney

His name is becoming more known as his popularity grew massively with fans in 2018. After scoring a last lap win at the ROVAL in Charlotte in October, Blaney showed that he needed to be taken serious for title consideration. He fell short of the Championship 4, but he did show us that he is a rising star in the Cup Series.

With an average finish of 9.4, Blaney was able to impress by running consistently up front. The competition within his team had some suggesting that he was behind his two other teammates when it comes to who is better; that shows the strength that Team Penske has. His move to the Captain’s Ship in 2018 is helping him grow especially since he is learning from a pair of veterans.

Blaney is going to enter the 2019 season with more expectations on the line, as people will look for him to score more victories and take the next step in the playoffs. An appearance in the Championship 4 is one goal that should be on the docket. The upcoming campaign may be the year that Blaney takes the next step in becoming an actual championship contender.

A new chapter in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history begins February 17 at Daytona International Speedway and these are three guys that can make a major improvement from 2018.

EMAIL BRYAN AT: Bryn_rivero@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @BryanR_305

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

Old Guys Still Ruling in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quite frankly, it has been the complete opposite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MrBrandonRivero

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

Hendrick Motorsports Flashes Hot New Looks for 2018

Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t given up on 2017, especially not with drivers Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott still in contention for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

But the 12-time Cup championship team definitely has an eye on 2018, when much will change at Hendrick: A new Cup car in the 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1; new drivers in William Byron (24) and Alex Bowman (88) and a totally new look for the team.

Thursday night at the Charlotte Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom, the team did something it had never done before, unveiling the 2018 Daytona 500 paint schemes for all four of its cars in a flashy and impressive roll out featuring lasers, glow sticks and loud music.

No. 9

For 2018, Chase Elliott moves from the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the No. 9, which was Elliott’s number when he won a NASCAR XFINITY Series championship and, of course, was the number used by his father, NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill Elliott.

While Elliott’s car will still feature the familiar gold-on-blue NAPA Auto Parts logo, the new Camaro has a lot of white in its design as well.

No. 24

William Byron won’t turn 20 years old until next month, but he’s about to take over one of the most iconic rides in NASCAR history, the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet that Jeff Gordon won 93 races and four Cup championships with.

And Gordon fans will no doubt love the fact that Byron’s 2018 Camaro ZL1 while prominently feature the Axalta flames similar to those that Gordon carried on his car.

No. 48

One of the most radical departures for the Hendrick squad is the No. 48 2018 Camaro ZL1 that seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will drive. Trimmed out in solid black, the No. 48 will be sponsored by LowesForPROS.com, continuing a partnership that began in Johnson’s rookie season of 2002.

Johnson is going for his record eighth championship this season and already has 83 career race victories, all in the No. 48.

No. 88

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring after the end of the season and he was instrumental in recommending Alex Bowman to take over the No. 88 in 2018.  Bowman was impressive subbing for Earnhardt in 2016, and his performance was enough to land the ride for next season.

Bowman’s No. 88 Camaro ZL1 will be sponsored by longtime Hendrick partner Nationwide and features the insurance company’s blue and white paint scheme.

Categories
Commentary

Do the Math: 5 Fast Facts Behind Hendrick Motorsports Number Swap

In something of a surprise announcement, Hendrick Motorsports has decided to ditch the No. 5 that has raced in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continually since its inception in 1984 as All-Star Racing.

Next year, the Hendrick Cup lineup will look like this:

  • Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88, replacing the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Jimmie Johnson will remain in the No. 48.
  • Rookie William Byron will drive the No. 24.
  • Chase Elliott’s car number will switch to the No. 9.

Here are five fast facts about the number changes for the team in 2017.

The No. 9

Chase Elliott’s father, 1988 NASCAR Premier Series champion Bill Elliott, won 38 of his 44 races driving the No. 9 and Chase carried that number when he won the NASCAR XFINITY Series title in 2014. Five drivers have won a total of 53 Premier Series races in the No. 9. And in a weird bit of irony, the driver who ranks second to Elliott in victories in the No. 9 is outgoing Hendrick driver Kasey Kahne, with 11 wins in that car number, all before he joined Hendrick. Marcos Ambrose (2), Donald Thomas (1) and Herb Thomas (1) also won with that car number

The No. 24

Just 19 years old right now, William Byron will be taking over one of the most iconic car numbers in NASCAR history next season. No pressure, but consider this fact: The No. 24 has competed in 1,437 Premier Series races, with only one driver finding Victory Lane with that number. Jeff Gordon won 93 races in the No. 24, but no one else has ever won with that car number on the side.

The No. 48

The one constant for the Hendrick armada next year is seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who has been paired with crew chief Chad Knaus and sponsor Lowe’s since his rookie season of 2002. Johnson has won 83 races in the No. 48 and is one of only three drivers to win with that number. The others are James Hylton (2) and Bill Norton (1).

The No. 88

Next year, Alex Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88, a car Earnhardt has driven to nine wins since joining Hendrick in 2008. The No. 88 has had a lot of success over the years, with some very famous names posting wins in it. Four drivers already in the NASCAR Hall of Fame have won Cup races in the No. 88: Dale Jarrett won 28 races with the No. 88, Darrell Waltrip won 26, Bobby Allison took eight wins and Buck Baker won three times.

The No. 25

No, Hendrick won’t campaign the No. 25 — a number it used to run — next year, but consider this: In 2018, the only Hendrick driver who will be more than 25 years old is Johnson, who will turn 43 on Sept. 17, 2018. Byron is 19 years old now, Elliott 21 and Bowman 24. It looks like Hendrick will be set for years to come with a seven-time champion and three young guns.

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Trucks

THREE TAKEAWAYS: FORD ECOBOOST 200 at HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

The Final Four squared off Friday night in the season finale Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After 134 laps and a four-way duel for the title, Johnny Sauter and GMS Racing found themselves victorious over their fierce competitors. Like any championship-deciding event, there was triumph and heartbreak. Nevertheless, the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season is in the record books – and preparation for 2017 begins.

Here are three takeaways from the Final Four spectacle.

 

Sauter Wins Championship

While the two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton became a favorite early in the race, his competitors caught up to him and weren’t going down without a fight. With less than 50 laps to go, Sauter and Christopher Bell trailed behind the No. 88 team. Sauter went on to overtake Crafton as the laps ticked down – and never looked back. The veteran rocketed forward and climbed to third before the green flag waved. Sauter drove his truck into Victory Lane, where he hoisted up his first Truck Series championship.

“I was pretty conservative at the beginning of the race. Just trying to take care of (my truck) – not make any stupid mistakes…” Sauter told FS1. “Then about 60 laps to go, I was like ‘Ok. We got something here’…I’m just so proud of these guys. I can’t thank everybody enough. I’m a small part of this deal, and we executed like we needed to tonight.”

 

What Could Have Been

Last week, William Byron lost his chance at the Truck Series title, after the engine to his No. 9 Toyota Tundra expired at Phoenix International Raceway. It was an upset moment in the series as the driver has won six events this year, the most among series regulars. However, Friday night he was back in action and competitive as ever.

Starting on the pole, he stayed within the top-five battling against the Final Four contenders. Near the end of the event, he took the lead once more, with Tyler Reddick lurking behind him. He looked to challenge him for the victory, but to no avail. Byron grabbed his seventh win of the season – a bittersweet ending to his rookie season.

While the driver will not be in the series next year, he has proven his abilities and will certainly bring his competitiveness to the XFINITY Series in 2017 under the JR Motorsports banner.

 

Close but Not Quite

Heading into the event, Bell looked to be a major competitor for the title. However, beginning eighth, the rookie struggled with handling issues early on but managed to remain around the top-10. Later on, a slow pit stop brought the No. 4 team back to 17th. Bell fought back and advanced closer to his title competitors. With less than 50 to go, the 21-year-old scraped the wall but continued without a problem. He resiliently marched to second, battling against Crafton – But then he suddenly began to fade back as the final laps progressed. In the end, the rookie finished eighth.

Bell didn’t have enough for the championship this year, but he and his No. 4 team have proven their strength. They will take this experience and continue on more skilled than before. 2017 will be a new year, and after his on-track performance this season, Bell might just be one of the favorites.

 

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @S_Adair98

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
Trucks

Veterans Unlikely Underdogs in CWTS Chase Field

Even with an influx of young guns dominating the Camping World Truck Series Chase Grid, three mainstays prepare to battle for the championship title.

An exciting CWTS event at Chicagoland Speedway ended with Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters finishing within the top 10, while an early accident relegated Matt Crafton to 27th. However, none of that matters now as all three prepare to chase the series title. NASCAR arranged the Chase field by wins, placing Crafton in second. Sauter earned a fifth-place seeding, while Peters starts the championship battle in eighth.

Experience is critical in racing, and these three have it; the trio holds 36 full-time CWTS season between them, with 34 victories as added bonuses. Their stats impress, but it will take more to overthrow the youngsters; with their independent organizations and advanced age, these three are suddenly the underdogs.

The Chase format – and tracks within that format –favor young drivers; New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, and Martinsville Speedway require aggressive racing, something this young crop does very well. William Byron and Christopher Bell‘s driving styles are nearly identical to team owner Kyle Busch’s. John Hunter Nemechek is kind of tough, too – ask Cole Custer for some clarification. They are all willing to take necessary risks and put their trucks where the veterans wouldn’t dare.

Although that is true, the three elder statesmen are some of the toughest in NASCAR competition. You won’t see Sauter ease up for a competitor, whether it be the second lap or the 202nd. Crafton and Peters aren’t complacent, either. With their extensive résumés comes a low tolerance for uncalculated moves. Their equipment may not include Sprint Cup Series-affiliated engines, yet they still compete for victories on a regular basis. That shows not only their teams’ strength but also the individual drivers’ ability to wheel their truck through the field.

Battling older drivers sounds easy – until you realize they’re all tough as nails and will probably put you in the wall for the win. That will most likely happen on more than one occasion during the final seven races; victories are crucial to advancing in this championship format and offer a sense of security. Talladega and Martinsville could quickly derail someone’s title run with their unpredictable nature. Good thing Crafton, Sauter, and Peters run well at these venues. The No. 88 can find victory lane at Martinsville or Texas Motor Speedway. Sauter mirrors the same strengths. Peters is a force everywhere, but Talladega is circled on his calendar. Add in the fact he hasn’t won in 2016, and you have a driver with a gnawing hunger. The most foreboding tracks are where these three flourish – and that helps their Chase chances.

Crafton, Sauter, and Peters represent the older, independent crowd; ThorSport Racing, GMS Racing, and Red Horse Racing lack Cup Series ties, a rarity in the championship field. Their Chase presence is noteworthy, yes, but can it be fruitful with a bunch of college-aged kids breathing down their necks? The young crowd’s aggression combats the veterans’ experience, but the No. 88, No. 21, and No. 17 will rise to the front in no time. They can be just as fierce and hungry for wins.

Although it may be easy to pick a young gun for the championship, there’s no question that Crafton, Sauter, and Peters won’t make it easy for him.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

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
Trucks

Truck Race Draws Mixed Emotions from Drivers

SPARTA, Ky – The Buckle Your Truck 225, for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, did not disappoint when it came to racing Thursday night with three drivers competing for the win on the final lap.

Although, if you ask some of the drivers they may have a different opinion.

The prevalent topic of the weekend is the repaving of Kentucky Speedway and what kind of racing it is going to bring to the table.

Drivers were concerned about widening out the bottom groove, so there could be more side by side racing. One of those drivers was Kyle Busch. He stated he was able to make some passes in the second groove.

“The second groove is a little edgy. It wasn’t as bad as I expected [it] to be. We will just have to see how it goes for the rest of the weekend.” 

Busch made these comments after his night ended early on lap 58 when he spun out and crashed into the wall.

Parker Kligerman substituting for the injured John Wes Townley, came home 19th  and gave the track a 5-star rating.  

“I thought it was great. It is one of the coolest race tracks. It is going to age really cool. I love unique race tracks, and that is what this track is.”

When you’re the race winner, there’s not too much to complain about and William Byron gave some positive feedback about the repaving. He also credited that his win came down to strategy.

“It is so hooked up; you are on the track. If you make one little mistake, it is easy for the next guy to get a side draft off of you,” said Byron, “The key for us was to be able to make quick work of traffic.”

Ben Rhodes, a Louisville, Ky. native had high hopes prior to the race.

“I cannot put into words how much a win would mean to me. I kind of feel like Dale Jr. with all the support,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “It was a limited race as far as passing goes. The groove widens out as the race went on, but it was still hard to pass. We just couldn’t get past people to get that track position.”

A win would of have been priceless at his home track, but he settled for a 13th place finish.

BKR driver, Tyler Reddick brought home a tenth-place finish. His biggest demon was gaining track position.

“Unfortunately, the racing was somewhat like we thought it was going to be. Our group tried really hard to get us some track position. Unfortunately it didn’t play out tonight.” Reddick said.

Eighth-place finisher, defending Series Champion, Matt Crafton came home with an 8th place finish, and was less than impressed with the repaving.

“It’s a shame they dug up this race track. All in all, we survived and got out of here with an average finish at best,” he said, “we knew passing wasn’t going to be anything; it was all about track position.”

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race was the first taste of what fans and drivers can expect for the weekend — and while drivers had differing views, you can never argue with an exciting finish.

Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.

EMAIL EMILY AT emily.spink@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.