Friday, September 16, 2016

Custer To Xfinity Series With Stewart Haas In 2017

Stewart-Haas Racing has named Cole Custer as the driver of its NASCAR XFINITY Series team that will debut in 2017.

Custer, who will turn 19 prior to the start of the 2017 season, will pilot the team’s No. 00 entry fulltime and compete for rookie of the year honors. Haas Automation, the largest machine tool manufacturer in North America, will be the primary sponsor.

“Cole Custer has accomplished a lot at a very young age and is well positioned to make the next step to the NASCAR XFINITY Series,” said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition, SHR. “Our goal with our XFINITY Series program is to develop young talent, and that includes behind the wheel. Cole has earned this opportunity and we look forward to working with him.”

Custer currently competes fulltime in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The native of Ladera Ranch, California, has two wins and four poles in 34 career Truck Series starts. And in preparation for his planned advancement to the XFINITY Series, Custer has made three XFINITY Series starts in 2016, scoring two top-10s with a best finish of fourth in May at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

“I’ve really enjoyed the XFINITY Series races I’ve run this year and I’m looking forward to running the full schedule in 2017,” Custer said. “It’s a new challenge, and with the resources of Stewart-Haas Racing, I’m in the best position to learn and succeed. I’m grateful for the chance they’ve given me and I plan to make the most of it.”

When Custer won his first Camping World Truck Series race on Sept. 20, 2014 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, he became the series’ youngest race winner at 16 years, 239 days. It was not the first time Custer had tasted success at an early age. In winning his first career NASCAR K&N Series race on Aug. 2, 2013 at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Custer became the youngest winner in K&N Series history at 15 years, 190 days. And when Custer debuted in late model stock cars in 2012 at age 14, he won three races to become the youngest late model winner, which began with his first career start at I-10 Speedway in Blythe, California. Throughout these firsts, which also includes an ARCA Racing Series victory in August 2015 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Haas Automation has been affiliated with Custer.

“I’ve watched Cole grow up on and off the racetrack,” said Gene Haas, founder and president, Haas Automation. “He’s found success at every level and represented Haas Automation very well. The XFINITY Series is the next step in his career and we’re proud to be a part of it.” 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Gordon's Parents Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide

The father and stepmother of former NASCAR driver Robby Gordon died yesterday in an apparent murder-suicide

Police responded to an Orange, California home owned by Gordon on the 1400 block of North Kennymead Street at approximately 5 p.m. Wednesday, after a family friend requested a welfare check. Inside, they discovered the bodies of 68-year old Robert Gordon and his wife Sharon, 57. A weapon was discovered inside the home and authorities say the deaths appear to be a murder-suicide.

Gordon is a three-time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, most recently winning a pair of road course events at Sonoma and Watkins Glen in 2003, while driving for Richard Childress Racing. In recent seasons, he has raced on the SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road Series, which he also owns.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

COMMENTARY: Newman's Comments Tough To Forgive

Ryan Newman let it all out Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, in the aftermath of a Lap 363 tangle with Tony Stewart that eventually swept up Newman, Stewart, Carl Edwards, David Ragan, Brian Scott, AJ Allmendinger and Dylan Lupton. Moments after exiting Richmond’s Infield Care Center, Newman lambasted Stewart on national TV and radio, even referencing the August 2014 incident that saw Stewart strike and kill driver Kevin Ward, Jr., with his Sprint Car on an upstate New York short track. 

“(Stewart) cut across my line and couldn't control it,” said Newman Saturday night. “I guess he thought he was in a Sprint Car again and didn’t know how to control his anger. It’s just disappointing that you've got somebody old like that that (should retire), the way he drives. It's just ridiculous. I don't think there was any reason, other than him being bipolar and having anger issues. Google Tony Stewart, you'll see all kinds of things he's done. Look it up on YouTube. Quite the guy." 

Under different circumstances, Newman’s comments might be chalked up as simple, “heat of the moment” emotion; the unhappy words of a man who had simultaneously crashed out of an important race, seen his 2016 Chase hopes dashed, likely forfeited a healthy salary bonus for making said Chase and opened the door to increased speculation about his possible departure from Richard Childress Racing at season’s end.

Newman let loose Saturday
Any of those four factors would be enough to trigger an outburst of anger. But Newman’s comments went well beyond the pale, exorcising demons that appear to date all the way back to the end of the 2013 season, when Newman was unceremoniously released by Stewart Haas Racing in favor of Kevin Harvick. At the time, Stewart said his team was unable to accomodate four drivers, only to reverse course a month later when partner Gene Haas – unbeknownst to Stewart, who was recuperating from a badly broken leg suffered in another Sprint Car crash – offered Kurt Busch a contract to drive a fourth SHR entry.

Close friends with both Newman and Harvick, Stewart found himself in a decidedly awkward position. Newman said he understood, however, saying, "I don't think Tony lied to me at all. I don't think there were any hidden agendas on Tony's behalf. I've had a good relationship with him, and have been open with him, and my communication has been mostly with him (during) my whole relationship at Stewart-Haas Racing.

“I don't have any hard feelings.”

Saturday night, Newman’s comments were decidedly hard; filled with more anger than the on-track circumstances appeared to justify. Stewart responded to those comments with restraint, however, painting the incident as a case of too much contract by a driver (Newman) desperate to make the 2016 Chase.

Friends no more?
“That was the third time he'd driven into me during the night,” Stewart said. “How many times does a guy get a free pass until you've had enough of it? Ryan and I have been good friends. I don't do that to him. But he hit me in (turn) one, he hit me off of two and (the backstretch was) the third time. Three times. That's two more times than I normally let somebody run into me.”

For the record, Newman won four times during his four-year tenue at SHR, with just one Top-10 finish (a 10th) in the championship standings. After replacing Newman, Harvick claimed five wins and the Sprint Cup Series championship in his inaugural season, before finishing a close second to Kyle Busch last year. In his brief time with Stewart Haas, Harvick has 10 wins and has finished in the Top-5 an amazing 51% of the time.

Based strictly on the numbers, Haas’ decision to bring Harvick aboard has been a good one. That doesn’t prevent Newman from holding a grudge, however, even against a man (Stewart) he once called a close friend.

Unfortunately, Newman’s Richmond rant went well beyond persona and all the way to legal.

Despite being cleared of all legal charges in Ward’s tragic death, Stewart still faces a civil suit filed by Ward’s family. The basis of that suit is the contention that Stewart is a loose cannon, unpredictable and incapable of controlling his volcanic temper.

Now, one of Stewart’s fellow competitors – a former employee and close personal friend – has bolstered those allegations, using terms like “bipolar” and “anger issues” that will almost certainly be used against Stewart in a court of law.

In one moment of unbridled pique, Ryan Newman just became the lead witness for the prosecution.

And that, in my opinion, will be difficult to forgive and forget.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

COMMENTARY: Harvick Was Right To Use Bully Pulpit

Stewart Haas Racing’s No. 4 Chevrolet team had a rough night Sunday at Darlington (SC) Raceway.

Driver Kevin Harvick claimed a second-place finish behind winner Martin Truex, Jr. in the Bojangles Southern 500, but only after overcoming the loss of 17 positions on pit road; 12 of them on a single stop when an air gun malfunctioned.

Harvick minced no words in expressing his unhappiness after the race, calling out his over-the-wall crew for what he claimed was a season of shoddy service.

“We had a great car," fumed Harvick in a terse, post-race media session. "The guys in the garage and at the shop continue to do a great job, (but) we continue to give it away on pit road. I'm over being a cheerleader. Those guys get paid a lot of money to perform on pit road and cheerleading hasn't been working. You've got to get after it on pit road and do your job.

"It's been this way for a few years and they've moved some things around, but it just seems like it's just week after week after week,” he explained. “(We) have a couple of good weeks here and there and every once in a while, (we) put together a day. But they just can't put together a whole race on pit road right now.

"We have championship cars and we're just mediocre on pit road.”

Harvick’s comments raised the ire of some NASCAR fans, and also produced a pair of personnel changes for Saturday night’s at Richmond International Raceway. Former Danica Patrick crewman Eric Maycroft will replace front tire changer Tim Sheets on the No. 4 squad, with Matt Holzbaur replacing front tire carrier Todd Drakulich. Sheets and Drakulich will move to Patrick’s No. 10 team.

Harvick's pit crew struggled
Harvick never been known to pull his punches, on or off the race track. Since being named to replace the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. at Richard Childress Racing in 2001, the California native has given his all behind the wheel, while demanding the same effort from his teammates.

He left RCR in 2013 after not receiving what he believed to be championship-caliber equipment, then backed up his decision by claiming the Sprint Cup Series championship in his first season with Stewart Haas Racing.

Sunday night, Harvick used his Bully Pulpit as a former series champion to expose – and ultimately solve – issues that threatened to cost his team a shot at a second Sprint Cup Series title. While his delivery may have left some observers cold, his point was spot-on.

“Kevin didn’t say anything that wasn’t true,” said SHR pit crew coach Joe Piette, Jr., the following day. “He didn’t say anything we haven’t already said to ourselves.”

Crew chief Rodney Childress concurred, saying, "We've got to do a better job from week to week on pit road." 

This isn’t Youth Tee Ball, where players get as many cuts as they need to bloop a base hit over the infield. This is professional sports – stock car racing at its highest level – where the difference between winning and losing is often measured in thousandths of a second. Over-the-wall crewmen for top NASCAR Sprint Cup teams command six-figure salaries, and for that kind of pay, they are expected to perform, every single time.

Not sometimes. Not most of the time.

Every. Single. Time.

Harvick: "I'm over being a cheerleader."
Passing the finest stock car racers on the planet once or twice is difficult enough. Passing them five or six times in 500 miles -- waging war repeatedly over the same lost pieces of real estate -- is virtually impossible, even for a driver as talented as Kevin Harvick.

Admittedly, calling out your teammates is not an ideal situation. But voicing concern behind the scenes – as Harvick has done for the last 25 weeks -- was clearly not working.

It was time to take more decisive action, before the start of the Chase. Before it was too late.

Harvick’s comments Sunday were no different than a driver saying, “our engine shop needs to find more horsepower,” or “we’re behind on our chassis set-ups.” It was a bold statement of fact; a warts-and-all assessment of a race team with a major competitive chink in its championship armor. And with just a few choice words in the Darlington Media Center, SHR’s problem was addressed, once and for all.

If you’re a starting offensive lineman in the NFL who gets pancaked three times in every quarter, you’re headed straight to the waiver wire.

If you’re a goaltender in the NHL with a 9.66 GAA, you’re headed for the minors.

And if you’re a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver who has crashed out in eight of the last 10 races, you’re headed back to the Late Model Stocks.

Professional athletes are tested every week, and those who come up short soon discover that there’s a long line of talented, hungry youngsters waiting to replace them.

Harvick spent much of the 2015 season attempting to motivate and encourage his pit crew. Sunday, he stopped cheerleading and began lobbying for change.

The next 11 weeks will determine how it all works out.

Chris Gayle To Furniture Row Racing In 2017

Gayle (L) will guide Jones in 2017
Furniture Row Racing has hired Chris Gayle to serve as crew chief for the team’s new, second entry; the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota to be driven by Erik Jones.

Gayle, a 17-time winning crew chief in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, joins Furniture Row Racing after a 14-year career as an engineer and crew chief with Joe Gibbs Racing. He was promoted from engineer to crew chief by the company in 2013.

“We are thrilled to have Chris join our team and work with Erik (Jones) next season,” said Furniture Row Racing president Joe Garone. “His record in the XFINITY Series has been impressive, but more importantly, his record proves that he knows what it takes to win a race. It’s a great fit with Chris coming from Joe Gibbs Racing, with whom we have a technical alliance. This hire has all the makings of a seamless transition for Chris, since he has already worked with Erik and has a thorough understanding of the Toyota affiliation.”

Nine of Gayle’s 17 wins in the XFINITY Series have come this season; seven with Kyle Busch and one each with Denny Hamlin and Sam Hornish Jr. Gayle was also on the pit box when Jones won the 2015 XFINITY race at Chicagoland Speedway.

“I’ve watched Furniture Row Racing from afar and have been impressed with the success they have had with Martin Truex, Jr. in the No. 78 Toyota,” said Gayle. “This is a great opportunity to join a first-class team led by owner Barney Visser, who is deeply committed to provide the necessary resources to be successful in the Cup series. I also want to help Furniture Row Racing grow an already strong relationship with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. I look forward to moving to Denver, it’s an awesome city. My wife Brandi says she is more about mountains than beaches.

“I have had the opportunity to work with Erik in the XFINITY Series and there is no doubt in my mind that he has an incredible future in the Cup Series. His talent and maturity are beyond his years and there’s not a better young driver to work with as I begin a new chapter in my career.”

Jones said he looks forward to working with Gayle during his 2017 rookie season.

“I am not only excited to have Chris as my crew chief, but also excited for Chris in a career move that he deserves,” said Jones. “I have worked with Chris and we have a mutual respect for each other. I feel we have an opportunity to have a good year together, and at the same time, build a team from the ground up. Chris has had tremendous success in the XFINITY Series and has shown time after time how to win races. We can’t wait to make our debut in Daytona with the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota."

Gayle and his family – wife Brandi and 19-month-old daughter Cora -- will move to Denver, where he will begin working out of the Furniture Row Racing shop following the 2016 campaign.

A native of Little Rock, Ark., Gayle attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for two years before transferring to the University of North Carolina Charlotte, where he graduated in 2002 with a mechanical engineering degree.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Newman Docked 15 Points For Darlington LIS Violation

Ryan Newman’s job just got a whole lot more difficult.

NASCAR docked the Richard Childress Racing driver 15 championship points today, after his Caterpillar Chevrolet failed the Laser Inspection Station following Sunday night’s Bojangle’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

After the penalty, Newman now trails Jamie McMurray by 22 points in the battle for the final spot in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. While he could still make the Chase on points, he will almost certainly need to win Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway to qualify.

In addition to Newman’s penalty, car owner Richard Childress was docked 15 championship car owner points, with crew chief Luke Lambert fined $25,000. RCR could appeal the penalty, and NASCAR has provisions for expediting such an appeal in order to have a final verdict before Saturday night’s decisive race at Richmond.

In addition to Newman’s penalty, Kyle Larson’s team was also penalized for a Laser Inspection Station violation following Sunday night’s race. NASCAR docked Larson 15 driver points and docked Chip Ganassi 15 owner points, with Chad Johnston fined $22,500 for a P2 penalty. 

Friday, September 02, 2016

Earnhardt’s Injury Gives Bowman A Golden Opportunity

Earnhardt is done for the year
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s 2016 season is over.

Hendrick Motorsports announced today that after being sidelined by concussion symptoms since July 17 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Earnhardt will not return before the end of the 2016 campaign.

“I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” said Earnhardt in a media release today. “To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career. I’m 100-percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me.

Earnhardt -- who is being treated by Dr. Micky Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program as well as Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty – said today that his doctors are “seeing good progress in my test results, and I’m feeling that progress physically. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February. I’m working toward that.”

Former series champion Jeff Gordon and youngster Alex Bowman will continue to share the driving duties in the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet in his absence, with Gordon running this weekend’s Bojangle’s Southern 500 at Darlington (SC) Raceway. He will also compete at Richmond, Dover and Martinsville in coming weeks. Bowman will be behind the wheel in the remaining eight races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami Speedways.

Team owner Rick Hendrick said he supports Earnhardt’s decision, adding, “I know how hard Dale has worked and how frustrating this is for him. He wants to be back, and we want him back, but we want it to be for the long haul. We’ve had incredible support from everyone involved with the team, including all of our sponsors. They’ve put Dale’s health first every step of the way.

“Jeff and Alex will give us a great opportunity over the rest of the season. Jeff is one of the best of all time and knows our system. He brings things to the table that no one else can. Alex is a young driver with a lot of talent, and he will give us a fresh perspective. We know they’re not only capable of running up front and giving us a chance to win, but they’ll help us get better.”

Earnhardt’s withdrawal creates a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Bowman, who has performed admirably in his two previous starts despite being unable to close the deal with an up-front finish. He was solidly in the Top-10 with 30 laps remaining in his initial outing at New Hampshire in July, before a cut left-rear tire dropped him far back in the finishing order. At Michigan two weeks ago, he qualified sixth and climbed as high as fourth before engines issues once again spoiled his day.

Now, with eight races to showcase his ability, Bowman said he feels less pressure.

“We’ll probably have a race where we struggle,” he predicted. “I hope we won’t, but every team misses the set-up from time to time. Knowing that I will be running eight of the final 12 races allows me to relax a little bit and think long-term.”

Rick Hendrick (L) has turned to Bowman
Currently entrenched in a battle of his own to make the 2016 Chase, Jamie McMurray knows what it’s like to be handed such an opportunity. The Missouri native replaced Sterling Marlin in Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 Coors Light Dodge after the series point-leader suffered a fractured vertebra at Kansas Speedway in 2003, and drove the car to Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway in only his second start.

"There's no better position to be put in, because you are in a car capable of winning,” recalled McMurray of that day. "It lets you show guys that you can run up front, if you have the right equipment.”

McMurray said Bowman has “done a really good job” in his two HMS starts this season. “To jump in and do as well as he has, (he’s) done an awesome job. He's going to get a future opportunity, because he's shown he is capable of it."

So while Bowman attempts to make the most of his relief role, Earnhardt will now focus solely on regaining his lost health, while simultaneously setting a new standard for professional athletes dealing with concussions.

"I'm sad to see he won't be in the car,” said Elliott Sadler, who leads the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings in a car fielded by Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports team. “As a race driver, you want to be in your race car competing.

“But on the flip side of that, I am happy and proud of him taking a step back and making sure he gets everything in line, so he will be 100 percent when the 2017 season starts. For him to be as open about it as he has been, I'm very proud of him of him for that. Not many drivers would do that. He is definitely leading by example."

Earnhardt Pulls The Plug On 2016 Season

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s 2016 season is officially over.

Hendrick Motorsports announced today that after being sidelined by concussion symptoms since July 17 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Earnhardt will not return before the end of the season.

“I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” said Earnhardt in a team release today. “To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career. I’m 100-percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me.

Earnhardt -- who is being treated by Dr. Micky Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, as well as Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty – said today that his doctors are “seeing good progress in my test results, and I’m feeling that progress physically. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February. I’m working toward that.”

Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman will continue to share the driving duties in the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet in his absence Earnhardt’s car, with Gordon driving in this weekend’s Bojangle’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He will also compete at Richmond, Dover and Martinsville. Bowman will be behind the wheel in eight races, at Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami Speedways.

Team owner Rick Hendrick said he supports the decision, adding, “I know how hard Dale has worked and how frustrating this is for him. He wants to be back, and we want him back, but we want it to be for the long haul. We’ve had incredible support from everyone involved with the team, including all of our sponsors. They’ve put Dale’s health first every step of the way.

“Jeff and Alex will give us a great opportunity over the rest of the season. Jeff is one of the best of all time and knows our system. He brings things to the table that no one else can. Alex is a young driver with a lot of talent, and he will give us a fresh perspective. We know they’re not only capable of running up front and giving us a chance to win, but they’ll help us get better.”

Monday, August 29, 2016

Larson's Win Scrambles Chase Field

Kyle Larson grabbed the brass ring Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, winning the Pure Michigan 400 and securing a guaranteed spot in the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver came to Michigan’s Irish Hills with his back to the proverbial wall, after losing a whopping 59 points to the Chase cutoff in the previous two weeks. A 29th-place finish on the Watkins Glen road course and a 24th the following week at Bristol put Larson on the hot seat, with many railbirds pointing to Michigan as his last realistic chance to earn a berth in the 2016 Chase.

Sunday’s win – his first in 99 career Sprint Cup Series starts -- secured that coveted playoff berth, making the Target Chevrolet driver the 13th different winner of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season.

“I was teared-up the last few laps,” admitted Larson in Victory Lane. “I could just feel it. This was finally going to be it.”

"This means a lot for me and it means a lot for Kyle," said crew chief Chad Johnston afterward. "We didn't start out this year the way we wanted, but we've found speed throughout the year and the kid's got a ton of talent. I think you'll see more to come from Kyle Larson."

In addition to punching his ticket to the Chase, Larson’s Michigan victory also left a maximum of just three Chase spots available for non-winners, based on points. When Larson jumped off the hot seat Sunday afternoon, at least four other drivers saw their Chase hopes pushed to the brink.

Michigan runner-up Chase Elliott is now 14th on the Chase grid, after losing five spots in the last eight weeks. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t (frustrated),” admitted Elliott, who was in position to win Sunday’s race after a stellar final pit stop, only to surrender the lead to Larson when the green flag flew with just eight laps remaining.

“If I wasn’t, that would mean I didn’t care. I just have to try to take the positives out of it.”

Behind Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray now own the final two spots in the 2016 Chase. McMurray holds a 27-point edge over Ryan Newman, whose 17th-place showing at MIS dropped him out of Chase eligibility for the first time since Dover in mid-May. The Richard Childress Racing driver has a knack for playing the “Winless Chase Qualifier” card, falling just a car length short of an unprecedented Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead Miami Speedway two years ago, without the benefit of a single checkered flag.

Now, however, Newman is even more of an underdog. With rumors swirling of a post-season departure from RCR in favor of youngster Ty Dillon, the “Rocket Man” needs to recoup half a race-worth of lost championship points in the final two starts of the regular season at Darlington and Richmond.

That’s a tough row to hoe, even for a driver used to making the Chase through the back door.

For Newman, McMurray, Dillon and Elliott, the next 14 days provide absolutely no room for error. One mistake, one botched restart, one mechanical failure will bring an unceremonious end to their 2016 championship hopes.

And another first-time winner at either Darlington or Richmond will throw an already tumultuous Chase grid into absolute turmoil.

There are sleepless nights ahead in the Elliott, Dillon, McMurray and Newman households.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Junior Sidelined For At Least Two More Weeks

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet SS for Hendrick Motorsports, has not been cleared by physicians to compete in at least the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events, as he continues to recover from a concussion.

Earnhardt, who will miss the races at Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 28) and Darlington Raceway (Sept. 4), underwent further evaluation today at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

“We know how hard Dale is working to get back,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “He’s following what the doctors are saying, to the letter, and doing exactly what he needs to do. Everyone wants to see him in a race car, but his health is first and foremost. We’re behind him.”

Alex Bowman, who drove the No. 88 Chevrolet in Earnhardt’s absence July 17 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, will be the team’s substitute driver this weekend at Michigan. He has four career Sprint Cup starts at the track.

Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon will return to the No. 88 team at Darlington, where his seven wins lead all active drivers. Gordon has driven the last four races for Earnhardt -- at Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen and Bristol.

JGL Racing Unveils Davey Allison Throwback Car

JGL Racing is the latest team to join the “Throwback Party” during Bojangles Southern 500 Weekend at Darlington Raceway, unveiling a special tribute to legendary driver Davey Allison and his historic rookie season of 1987.

Dakoda Armstrong will pilot the No. 28 "Davey Allison Tribute" Toyota in next Saturday’s VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 on Saturday. In addition to Allison’s familiar colors, a special Davey Allison Tribute logo will adorn the hood of the No. 28 Toyota, with season-long sponsor Winfield displayed on the upper rear quarter panels.

"It is with great pleasure that we pay tribute to one of the legends of our sport," said James Whitener, owner of JGL Racing. "We had so much success with our throwback scheme last year and we are looking for this years to be even better.  I am a fan of this sport as well as a team owner and being able to run the 1987 Rookie of the Year paint scheme of Davey Allison is super special for all of us at JGL Racing.  We look forward to representing Davey and his legacy in a first class and professional manner."

The 1987 season was a special one for Allison and his Harry Ranier-led team. After losing the Hardee’s sponsorship from the previous season, Ranier negotiated a deal with Texaco's Havoline motor oil brand, signing the deal during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway. On qualifying day, Allison signaled that he was in Winston Cup to stay, qualifying the Texaco-Havoline Thunderbird second for the 1987 Daytona 500; the first rookie ever to start on the front row for NASCAR's most prestigious event.   

The pole was the first of five he garnered during his rookie campaign, along with two wins, nine Top-5 and 10 Top-10 finishes.

"Robbie, Krista and I are honored that Davey's 1987 Rookie Paint Scheme will be a part of such a special weekend of throwbacks at Darlington,” said Liz Allison, Davey’s widow. "Having the No. 28 on the track in the XFINITY Series with JGL Racing and Dakoda behind the wheel means so much to our family. This paint scheme is what fans remember most of all of Davey's cars. We are truly grateful to have Davey remembered in this way."

One Main Returns With Sadler In 2017, After All

Just days after announcing that they would withdraw from the sport at season’s end, OneMain has reversed course, signing a multi-year extension to continue its sponsorship of Elliott Sadler and the No. 1 JR Motorsports race team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

JRM General Manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller confirmed today that OneMain will receive primary branding on Sadler’s No. 1 Chevrolet for 20 races in 2017, marking the seventh year of their partnership with Sadler, the current Xfinity Series points leader.

“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Elliott Sadler and JR Motorsports,” said OneMain Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Hurzeler. “After further evaluation of the program, we felt this relationship was a perfect fit for our company. Elliott has been an outstanding ambassador for OneMain and we look forward to our continued success with Elliott and JRM, on and off the track.” 

The announcement virtually finalizes JR Motorsports’ driver line-up for 2017. The team will compete for a championship with three full-time entries for Sadler, Justin Allgaier and William Byron, with a fourth “All-Star Car” fielded in approximately six events next season.

“Elliott and OneMain are integral pieces to the make-up of our company,” said Earnhardt Miller. “Elliott’s talent speaks for itself, but what’s more, his experience and leadership is completely necessary for our younger guys. He brings a professionalism and charisma that permeates our entire organization, and I think he brings it to OneMain as well.  I’m glad they have decided to come back with their sponsorship.  We’ve got many things to accomplish together.”

Sadler has undergone a resurgence in his first year at JR Motorsports. He currently leads the NXS point standings and is preparing to compete in the first-ever NXS Chase format. This year Sadler has one win (Talladega), seven Top-5 and a series-leading 19 Top-10 finishes in 22 starts. He has been an NXS regular since 2011, with a pair of runner-up finishes in the championship point standings (2011-12).

“This is a dream come true for me,” said Sadler, 41, from Emporia, Virginia. “OneMain is a great partner and we're fortunate to have this stability moving forward to compete for race wins and championships for years to come. I'm as energized as I've ever been."

Monday, August 22, 2016

COMMENTARY: On A Soggy Weekend, A Phoenix Rises From The Ashes

On a weekend filled with story lines and plot twists, perhaps the biggest story of the annual Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway was the racing surface itself.

In an effort to recapture the competitive fervor of the “old” Bristol, NASCAR and track officials took a page out of the NHRA Drag Racing play book, laying down an 18-inch strip of resin-based traction enhancer in the lower groove of the legendary Tennessee oval. They then dragged tires to lay down rubber in the challenging low lane, further increasing grip and traction.

Drag racers have long utilized traction-boosting compounds and the aptly named “Tire Dragon” in an effort to glue their fire-breathing, nitromethane guzzling, 10,000-horsepower dragsters to the race track. It works for the straight liners, and last weekend, the unprecedented approach worked for NASCAR, producing a dramatic uptick in two and three-wide racing, despite torrential rain storms that repeatedly attempted to wash the track clean.

Once a guaranteed sellout, Bristol’s “Last Great Coliseum” had fallen out of favor with NASCAR fans in recent years, following a 2007 reconfiguration that changed the face of NASCAR’s wildest short track. Once a contentious, hot-tempered venue that featured almost as much action after the checkered flag as before it, Bristol was transformed into a genteel joint where helmets were used only as protection, rather than as projectiles.

A 2012 decision to grind away some of the track’s progressive banking backfired, as well, reducing Thunder Valley – in the minds of many -- to just another NASCAR track. Tickets that were once contested in divorce settlements and left to family members in wills suddenly became easy to come by, with empty seats all too common.

Something had to be done, and fast.

“We evaluated after the (April) Food City 500,” admitted BMS general manager Jerry Caldwell last week. “Following that evaluation and some internal conversations which involved Marcus Smith and Bruton Smith, we all said, `Let’s give it a shot and see what happens.’

“We polished the lower groove in the turns and coming out on the straightaways,” he said. “We also applied a substance that helps rubber stick to the track. And then we brought in a tire machine… to get rubber down and give drivers some grip… so they can hang with that upper groove.”

Wednesday night’s Camping World Truck Series race was the best seen at Bristol in half a decade – maybe ever – and raised expectations for the remainder of the weekend. An additional application of traction aid prior to Friday’s Xfinity Series run paid similar dividends, and a third coat in advance of Saturday night’s main event also yielded impressive results, despite repeated hosedowns from Mother Nature.

Bristol’s pumped-up lower groove generated a substantial increase in the kind of full-contact “rooting and gouging” that made Thunder Valley a can’t-miss stop on the Sprint Cup Series for so many seasons. On a weekend otherwise characterized by torrential rain, Bristol rose like a Phoenix from the ashes, giving the people what they want and raising the optimism bar, sky high.

Yes, it’s only one weekend.

And yes, it remains to be seen whether a full-blown return to glory is in the offing at Thunder Valley.

But if the events of last weekend are any indication, it appears that Bristol’s unfortunate “chardonnay era” may be over, replaced by the old school, shot-and-a-beer mentality that previously made a weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway the most anticipated event in all of NASCAR.  

Other competitively challenged tracks would do well to get Jerry Caldwell on the horn this morning, inquiring as to where they might acquire an 18-wheeled tanker or two, filled with that magical mystery liquid that brought Bristol’s bottom groove back from the dead.

And while we’re at it, can we borrow that tire machine?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cheap Trick To Headline New Hampshire Pre-Race Show

Newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Cheap Trick will headline the New Hampshire Motor Speedway frontstretch stage prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, Sept. 25. Cheap Trick will perform a 45-minute pre-race concert at 11 a.m. prior to the New England 300, the second race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. 

“It goes without saying that I can’t wait for the green flag to fly on September 25, but I am also incredibly excited to host Cheap Trick, one of the most iconic bands in American rock history, perform on our pre-race stage,” said David McGrath, executive vice president and general manager of NHMS. “Having Cheap Trick perform is a great addition to an exciting weekend of racing and entertainment for our fans and a great way to kick off our Chase race.”

The band is expected to play some of its biggest hits on Sept. 25, including “Surrender”, “I Want You to Want Me”, “Dream Police”, and “The Flame.”

The concert is free for anyone who has purchased a ticket to the New England 300. For stage-front access, Pre-Race Pit Passes are available for fans looking to rev up their race-day experience.

Ranked 25th on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock, Cheap Trick has more than 5,000 performances under their belts, with more than 20 million records sold. Their songs have been featured on 29 movie soundtracks and they have won 40 gold and platinum recording awards. 

The Hall of Fame band is made of four musicians: Robin Zander (vocals, rhythm guitar), Rick Nielsen (lead guitar), Tom Petersson (bass guitar) and Daxx Nielsen (drums). Cheap Trick was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Friday, April 8.

Now through Sept. 6, New Hampshire Motor Speedway will select three different winners for once-in-a-lifetime experiences at the New England 300 on Sept. 25, 2016. Winners will be selected from current New England 300 ticket holders at the time of the drawing, so the sooner you buy, the more chances you’ll have to win. Anyone that has already purchased tickets will be automatically entered each week. Tickets start as low as $35.

To see Cheap Trick perform and for more details and ticket information on events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, or to purchase tickets to the September New England 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend, please stop by our ticket office, visit the speedway website at, or call the Ticket Hotline at (603) 783-4931.

AmeriCarna LIVE Car Show Returns Nov. 26

On Saturday, Nov. 26, more than 3,000 car lovers are expected to attend the fourth annual AmeriCarna LIVE Car Show presented by MSC Industrial Supply Co. and in Davidson, NC. The event will raise funds to benefit IGNITE, the Autism Society of North Carolina’s community center for young adults with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.

Former NASCAR championship crew chief Ray Evernham, star of the “AmeriCarna” television series on Velocity, will host AmeriCarna LIVE, along with MSC Industrial Supply Co. and The event will feature celebrity cars as well as classic, custom, and collector cars on the Ingersoll Rand North American Headquarters and Corporate Center.

A special display of cars from Ray Evernham’s television series AmeriCarna will be on hand, along with cars from the personal collections of NASCAR’s biggest stars -- like Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chevy Impala shown at right.

The show is open to the public for $5 per person and kids under 10 are free. Car owners can pre-register their vehicles before Nov. 1 for $25 or register after that or at the gate on event day for $30. Go to to register your car. A variety of food vendors will be available.

All proceeds from AmeriCarna LIVE will be donated to the Evernham Family Racing for a Reason Foundation and go to support the IGNITE Community Center in Davidson, N.C. for young adults with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. 

The event will be located at Ingersoll Rand’s North American Headquarters and Corporate Center on 800 Beaty Street in Davidson, NC; 28036, located on the edge of Lake Davidson adjacent to Lake Norman. Parking is available on the Ingersoll Rand campus. Gates open for car entrants at 7 a.m. and for spectators at 10 a.m.