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Back together again: The windy road leads Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett to JR Motorsports

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Michael Annett‘s stomach was doing everything but agreeing with him.

“I would take a sip of water and it would come right back up,” Annett recalls.

His digestive system began to rebel four days before the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Aug. 21 event was a big deal for Annett and his long-time sponsor, Pilot/Flying J. The company was using HScott Motorsports’ No. 46 car to advertise the upcoming “Battle at Bristol” college football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech that it was the presenting sponsor for.

No amount of sponsor money – and Annett’s weeklong mantra of “I’ll be better tomorrow” – could rally his stomach to agreeable terms.

“I straight up told my guys, ‘I’ll be selling you guys short if I try to get into this car you worked too hard on preparing for me to go out there and be at 50 percent,’ ” Annett recalls.

When it became clear Annett wouldn’t be fit enough to drive, his “first thought” to replace him was a driver “not too far off my size” who he went way back with.

His once and soon-to-be future teammate, Justin Allgaier.

BREAKING THE ICE

Justin Allgaier’s racing memory of Annett begins on Feb. 9, 2008, in the ARCA season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

That day Allgaier could do nothing but stare at Annett’s rear bumper.

“I remember just reading that Pilot logo for the whole race,” says Allgaier, who won the ARCA championship that year.

The day in Daytona belonged to Annett, who considers his second and final ARCA win to be the height of his racing career, despite three years competing in the Cup Series.

“I still have the DVD of it,” Annett says. “I remember Michael McDowell sitting up there in the booth with (Rick Allen) and saying ‘Michael Annett is going to get too far out, they’re going to get a run.’ That lasted for about 10 laps, they never once gained a foot on me.”

Annett and Allgaier finished 1-2 that day and their careers continued on parallel tracks. Both were Xfinity Series rookies the next year, with Allgaier at Team Penske and Annett with Germain Racing.

“Even back then, he was a great race car driver and (had) relatively little experience compared to the patterns that a lot a drivers come up through our sport,” says Allgaier, who earned four top-fives his rookie year while Annett claimed four top 10s. “Heck, the guy … played semi-professional hockey until he decided to quit and go racing.”

The Midwestern sons, Allgaier from Illinois and Annett from Iowa, didn’t interact that much during their initial Xfinity tenure. But they began forming respect for each other after a last-lap crash at Dover International Speedway in 2010.

The two were jockeying for position just outside the top 10 when Allgaier made contact with Annett exiting Turn 4, sending Annett’s No. 15 car into the outside wall.

“When we came down the backstretch to pull into the garage I pulled right up and nailed him in the door,” says Annett.

Upon exiting his car, Annett did a “WWE butt drop” on the hood of Allgaier’s. Annett then leaned into Allgaier’s window to share his feelings before retreating to the garage.

About 10 minutes later, Allgaier approached to apologize. Annett objected.

“I don’t have to fix it Justin,” Annett told him. “All these guys have to fix it. Go apologize to them.”

“He was man enough, he walked up to the crew chief and apologized to him,” Annett says. “I got a lot of respect for him that day.”

That respect would continue to grow when the duo became teammates in the Cup Series four years later with HScott Motorsports. Allgaier, who earned three Xfinity wins in five full-time seasons, says it took only a “week or two” for him and Annett to establish a connection.

“Even the way we want the car set up is really, really close,” Annett says. “When we see something that’s not being done right, we call a spade a spade and stand up for ourselves. There’s a lot of guys (who) just kind of go with the flow and Justin’s not like that and neither am I.”

For two years Allgaier and Annett ran for HScott Motorsports. Allgaier earned the team’s only top five, in the 2015 spring race at Bristol. Through those two seasons, Allgaier produced an average finish of 26.15, Annett’s average was 34.2.

How does Annett know when he has a good teammate?

“When it’s not my day and it’s theirs’ and they try to make you better still,” Annett says. “They take the time out of their race weekend to make you better. I think that’s one of the best qualities you can have in a teammate.”

This was true even after Allgaier and HScott Motorsports parted ways and Allgaier joined JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in 2016. The trust Annett had in Allgaier paid off when Annett’s stomach went on strike.

BACK TOGETHER AGAIN

Allgaier was experiencing a case of deja vu.

Nine months after his last race at HScott Motorsports, he was once again going through the race-day motions with most of the same names and faces he had for two years.

Allgaier officially took Annett’s place in the No. 46 at Bristol about 20 minutes before the driver’s meeting.

“So many things were normal to me,” Allgaier says. “It was pretty seamless being able to drive the car and plug right in.”

With Annett communicating with the team from home, Allgaier piloted the No. 46 over two days after a rain delay. The relief effort ended with Allgaier being involved in a Lap 359 crash and finishing last. It was his only Cup start of the year. Meanwhile, Annett missed the third start of his three Cup seasons.

Even though they had been teammates for two seasons, Annett says his relationship with Allgaier “blossomed” even more last year.

Allgaier joined Annett in Iowa for the charity golf tournament he hosts every year, which provided Allgaier a chance to see a side of Annett he had never seen before. The Allgaier family was even a regular presence at HScott Motorsports’ weekly beach volleyball game.

The bond the drivers forged paid dividends for Annett late last year when his racing future was in doubt with the fate of HScott Motorsports in question.

During a conversation one night, Allgaier recommended Annett reach out to JR Motorsports, the team he was pursuing an Xfinity title with.

“I look at the last 365 days and I’m beyond fortunate enough to have that opportunity and that would fit you perfectly,” Allgaier told Annett.

At the time, Allgaier was “pretty sure” nothing would come of it. But on Nov. 4, Annett was revealed as the fourth full-time driver for JR Motorsports.

After eight seasons in NASCAR driving for small teams that struggled to be competitive, Annett finds himself in the best position of his career. He joins the organization that won the 2014 Xfinity title and put two cars, including Allgaier’s, in the championship race last year.

“I’ve changed teams probably more than I would ever want to,” Annett says. “It’s probably been by far the easiest transition and everybody that’s part of our team has fit in really well at JRM.”

Nine years after he was stuck behind his teammate’s bumper at Daytona, Allgaier hopes they’ll be able to chase each other to the championship race with their teammates, veteran Elliott Sadler and rookie William Byron.

“If I didn’t think he had the talent, I wouldn’t have even tried to get him over to our shop,” Allgaier says.

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Truex has solved puzzle of Martinsville, now wants a win there

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There was a point where Martin Truex Jr. wouldn’t have been blamed if he wanted to change his first name every time he raced at Martinsville Speedway.

He absolutely hated the place more often than loved it because the half-mile paperclip shaped track rarely showed him any love.

In Truex’s first 18 NASCAR Cup races at Martinsville, he had an average finish of 23.1 (and an average start of 18.1).

During that 18-race stretch, which began in 2006 and ran through 2014, Truex finished 20th or worse 11 times.

But somewhere, somehow, some way, a switch was thrown in 2015 and suddenly Martinsville has become one of Truex’s better tracks.

In his last four starts there, he’s finished sixth (in both 2015 races), 18th (last spring) and seventh (last fall). That most recent appearance also included his first pole at Martinsville.

Truex’s average finish in those four races is 9.25, while his average start in the same number of races is 5.5.

Is it any wonder that a track Truex once dreaded to go to has now become one he’s looking forward to returning to this weekend for Sunday’s STP 500. He’s hoping the next step there is a win.

“From my standpoint Martinsville has gone from a puzzle to a place where I continue to feel more comfortable,” Truex said in media release. “We’ve had some good runs there recently and this weekend will be a good test to see where we stand with our short track program.

“We know we can get it done at the intermediate and superspeedway tracks.”

Truex comes into this weekend ranked third in the NASCAR Cup standings. He won at Las Vegas, was fourth this past Sunday at Fontana and eighth at Atlanta. His worst finishes thus far in 2017 have been 13th at Daytona and 11th at Phoenix.

That’s an impressive season average finish to date of 7.4 (and an average start of 13.2).

Truex also is tied for most stage wins (with Kevin Harvick) with three and his eight playoff bonus points leads the Cup Series. He also ranks second in laps led with 225.

Still, Truex isn’t satisfied with what he’s done thus far.

“We’ve had a pretty good run so far,” he said. “However there’s still plenty of room for improvement. We might be a tick off here and there but overall not a bad start to the season.”

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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 72: Jeff Gluck on the Kyle Busch-Joey Logano video at Vegas

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Longtime NASCAR reporter Jeff Gluck joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss his viral video of the Kyle BuschJoey Logano confrontation and his foray into self-service journalism.

Gluck, who started his own website (www.jeffgluck.com, which has a revenue model based on reader donations) to cover racing in January, captured Busch’s march through the pits at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and subsequent swing at Logano after the Cup drivers were involved in a last-lap crash.

For several years, Gluck’s postrace routine has been to canvas the garage and pit area for incidents such as this, but he had no inkling that he would capture this moment.

He was headed toward the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski (who lost the lead in the closing laps because of a mechanical failure) when he spotted Busch.

“I see this yellow blur out of the corner of my eye, not walking super fast, but walking faster in the same direction I was,” Gluck said on the podcast. “And I turned around and thought, “Kyle! Why is he going this way? The care center is not this way? Oh he’s mad at somebody.’

“But I didn’t know who or why. So, the bottom line is when you see Kyle Busch angrily walking down pit road, you take your phone out.”

Gluck lingered in the pits and talked to Logano and briefly contemplated waiting on Busch outside the care center before deciding to upload the video, pronto.

“There was a huge moment of hesitation,” he said. “I stood there for about 30 seconds and was a little shocked.

“Judging by the Twitter mentions, I realized it wasn’t on TV. I should probably post this right away.”

The video quickly garnered more than 1 million views on YouTube and spread around the world (emails seeking approval of use arrived from Denmark).

“Thor from Denmark,” Gluck said with a laugh. “(He) said, ‘Hi, your great video has made it all the way to Denmark. We have much interest in this! Can we play it on our local sports broadcast? He of all people doubled back to me a couple of times to make sure there were no rights issues.”

Other topics discussed:

–The aftermath of the video and the decisions he made on distribution.

–The progress of his eponymous site through its first two months.

–Why he thinks there was such an overwhelming reaction to his site (he attributes some of it to the 2016 election cycle).

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ‘Driven to Give Gloves’ program returns beginning at Martinsville

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For the second season in a row, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Dale Jr. Foundation will take part in a “Driven to Give Gloves” program to benefit the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and four Patient Champions.

Nationwide has been a primary sponsor of Earnhardt in the NASCAR Cup Series since September 2014.

Earnhardt will wear four different colored versions of his skeleton-themed racing gloves throughout the season, beginning this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. After four month-long cycles with the gloves, they’ll be auctioned off to raise money for the work done by the researchers and physicians at the hospital.

“The Driven to Give Gloves Program is a great way to showcase our partnership with Nationwide and to support Nationwide Children’s Hospital,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a press release. “This program is really a unique opportunity for us to work with Nationwide while also fulfilling the mission of The Dale Jr. Foundation, which is to help children in need. I am proud to be a part of this and proud to raise money and awareness for Nationwide Children’s Hospital and all the incredible things they are doing for kids.”

At the end of each month, Earnhardt will sign the gloves for auction at his foundation’s eBay store with all of the proceeds going to benefit care and research. The Driven to Give Gloves program has raised more than $100,000 since 2014.

Here are the races each set of gloves will be worn at and the research field and patient they will recognize.

· April – (Martinsville, Texas, Bristol and Richmond) – Blue Gloves (Autism) 10-year-old Tristen Cooper: Tristen was diagnosed with Autism as a toddler and first went to Nationwide Children’s Hospital for eye surgeries. Soon thereafter, Tristen was being followed by the Hospital’s Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Recently Tristen has also become a patient of Nationwide Children’s Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction, Gastroenterology, and Interventional Radiology. He loves monster trucks and NASCAR and is quite the baseball player, winning a silver medal in the baseball throw at the 2016 Special Olympics Summer Games in Columbus.

· June – (Dover, Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma) – Red Gloves (Safety Awareness Month) 5-year-old Ailee Gilliland: After sustaining facial burns at the age of 2, Ailee was taken to the Burn Unit at Nationwide Children’s Hospital for treatment. She spent a week in the unit and returned for another soon after. In the three years since, Ailee has spent thousands of hours going to outpatient appointments and occupational therapy. She has undergone three plastic surgeries. Today, Ailee is a typical 5-year-old who loves princesses, gymnastics and school. She is a happy, fun-loving girl who can make anyone smile with her silly outgoing personality.
· July – (Daytona, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Indianapolis and Pocono II) – Pink Gloves (Therapeutic Recreation Awareness) 10-year-old Maddie Delaney: When Maddie was just 2, she underwent a six-hour spinal surgery to release the built-up tension in her legs caused by cerebral palsy. She spent almost an entire month on the inpatient rehabilitation floor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. But, through it all, Maddie never gave up and maintained a positive, upbeat attitude. Her enthusiasm for life is contagious and she inevitably brightens the day of everyone she meets. Maddie is currently pursuing her black belt in Tae Kwon Do, will soon start horseback riding lessons, and enjoys swimming, singing and acting.

· November – (Texas II, Phoenix II and Homestead-Miami) – Gray Gloves (Diabetes) 10-year-old John Roger Curry:
At the age of 2, John Roger, who goes by J.R., was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He started out with four shots and at least 10 finger pokes a day – that’s 1,460 shots and 3,650 finger pokes in a year. In the beginning, he had a really rough time adjusting to his condition. But, eventually, he got used to the process and became accustomed to the needles. Recently, J.R. switched to a pump, which gives him a lot more freedom and his parents are able to monitor the readings. J.R. doesn’t let his diabetes stop him from doing what he loves. He plays soccer, baseball, basketball and is even a race car driver.

Looking at top 10 race start totals among active, full-time NASCAR Cup drivers

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Last Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his 600th career start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, finishing 16th in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

That achievement made Earnhardt just the second active driver to the reach the mark, following Matt Kenseth, who has 619 starts after the Auto Club 400.

How do those numbers compare to the rest of their competitors? Who is the next driver that will reach a big start mark?

Here’s a look at the top 10 active full-time Cup drivers when it comes to starts in NASCAR’s premier series:

Matt Kenseth – 619 starts

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 600 starts

Kurt Busch – 581 starts (would make 600th start on Aug. 19 in the Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway)

Kevin Harvick – 579 starts (would make 600th start on Sept. 9 in Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway)

Ryan Newman – 553 starts

Jimmie Johnson – 548 starts

Jamie McMurray – 515 starts

Kasey Kahne – 473 starts

Kyle Busch – 431 starts

Martin Truex Jr. – 410 starts