Getty Images

The backstory of why Alex Bowman was in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car Saturday night

1 Comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – During his December test at Darlington Raceway that cleared his return to NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gathered his No. 88 team in the hauler and broke some news.

He wouldn’t be running The Clash, turning over the wheel of his Chevrolet to Alex Bowman as a reward for filling in for him last season.

Unless his team said otherwise.

“I said, ‘They could put (Bowman) in the 5 (the car of Kasey Kahne, who wasn’t eligible Saturday), and if the guys really want me to run (the No. 88), I’ll run it,” Earnhardt said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. “But otherwise I’d just assume let Alex run it. They said, ‘Yeah, I think Alex earned his shot, and he should be able to work with guys that he knows.’ Nothing against the 5 guys, but he hadn’t worked with them any.”

Bowman and Earnhardt both were eligible to run in The Clash – the former by virtue of winning the pole position at Phoenix International Raceway, the latter as a former winner of the event.

But Earnhardt, a NASCAR historian, didn’t feel worthy of him being in the race because he has “such strong feelings about The Clash being strictly for pole winners, and I didn’t feel good about how I was eligible.

“I don’t feel deserving of the opportunity to be in the race, because I think it should be strictly pole winners. So when Alex got it, I’m like, he’s trumped me in how to get into the race to begin with.”

Earnhardt planted the seed for putting Bowman in The Clash minutes after that Phoenix pole.

Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of the 2016 season while recovering from concussion symptoms, was at Phoenix standing with Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt and No. 88 crew chief Greg Ives.

“Your initial emotion is, ‘Man, he deserves it,’ ” Earnhardt said. “We’ve been on this mission to get Alex going and get his career where he wants it to be, and we had some real momentum last year with him getting an opportunity to drive that car. So when he got that pole, I looked at Doug and Greg and was like, ‘Man, you’ve got to put Alex in the car for The Clash,’ and I was kinda judging their reaction. It got a little closer, and they had made the decision that Alex would do it.

“I like the fact he’s in our car with our guys. Anything to give him an opportunity to showcase what he can do and learn is good.”

Bowman drove in 10 races for Earnhardt last season, posting a best finish of sixth at Phoenix (where he led a race-high 194 of 324 laps).

He also learned during the Darlington test that he would be making his Clash debut.

“We joked about it a lot, but it never even crossed my mind that I would be driving the No. 88,” he said. “Greg Ives was talking about Greg Ives Racing bringing a car, or something crazy like that. I just kind of let it go quiet. I didn’t want step on any toes, or ask anybody and have it seem like I was begging for something. I wasn’t really asking.

“Mr. Duchardt said I was going to drive the 88 in the Clash. I said ‘OK, cool.’ So, I am very thankful for the opportunity. Dale’s been so great to me. I wouldn’t be here without him. He is the one that pointed me out when he wasn’t feeling good. I feel like I owe a lot to him, and I am very thankful for him to put me in the car for this race.”

Earnhardt was in the Fox Sports booth Saturday night, and he was in the NBC Sports booth when Bowman raced at Talladega Superspeedway last October.

“(Daytona) and Talladega, more than anywhere else, that adds a lot of pressure,” Bowman said. “He is such a good superspeedway racer. I feel like I do a good job, but I don’t have the experience he has by any means.

“So just trying to do my best and really lean on him for advice when I can.T.J. (Majors) is so good at spotting these races, and these race cars that Hendrick Motorsports brings to these races are so good, I feel like we can be up front all night. But it definitely adds some pressure to have probably the best speedway racer of our time in the booth calling the race.”

Watching Friday’s Clash practice at his house in North Carolina, Earnhardt said he was slightly antsy to “be out there learning something” but added he wouldn’t want to race with another crew chief besides Ives.

“There’s plenty of opportunities to run this week, and I’ll get enough laps,” he said. “I’m not going to be short of laps, but I’m not that upset to not be running the race.

“If there’s a race going on, it feels weird when I don’t run the Xfinity race here. It feels weird, you can’t help but not have some kind of a little part of you wanting to be out there and seeing the guys out there running and maybe your cars are out there running and (thinking), ‘Man, I would have done something different right there.’ It’s hard not to feel that way a little bit.”

Two members of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew suspended 3 races for incident at Indy

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Joe Gibbs Racing has suspended two members of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing pit crew.

Front tire changer Chris Taylor and rear tire changer Lee Cunningham will both be suspended for the next three races following a confrontation with Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, after Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The incident happened after Busch and Martin Truex Jr. crashed while battling for the lead on Lap 112 of last weekend’s race.

Joe Gibbs Racing has not issued a statement on the suspensions, but confirmed that Taylor and Cunningham will be replaced by Kip Wolfmeier and John Royer.

Joe Gibbs Racing provides crew members to the No. 78 team, which is why it issued the suspensions and not Furniture Row Racing.

Bank of America 500 ticket buyers to receive commemorative Dale Earnhardt Jr. bobblehead

Photo courtesy Charlotte Motor Speedway
Leave a comment

In addition to their hopes of his winning there, fans attending Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final NASCAR Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will receive something special to remember him by.

CMS officials announced Wednesday that for every two tickets purchased to the Oct. 8 Bank of America 500, fans will receive a commemorative Dale Jr. bobblehead.

It will be the 14-time Most Popular Driver’s final chance at earning his first Cup points-paying win at his home track (he won the 2000 non-points NASCAR All-Star race as a rookie).

“We wanted to do something special to celebrate with our fans all that Dale Jr. means to our sport,” CMS executive vice president Greg Walter said in a media release. “These keepsakes will be a must-have for collectors and avid fans alike, and a tremendous way to commemorate his last home race here in Charlotte.”

Fans that purchase two tickets before Oct. 1 (or while supplies last) will receive a voucher to pick up the commemorative bobblehead during the 500 race weekend.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Water company to sponsor Navy officer/K&N racer Jesse Iwuji

Photos provided by Jesse Iwuji
Leave a comment

As a Lieutenant and Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy, Jesse Iwuji is used to being around water every day.

Iwuji is also a second-year driver in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. And now he’ll be sponsored for the rest of the season by a company that, much like the Navy, specializes in water.

The Perfect Hydration water brand has stepped up to back Iwuji and his Patriot Racing team.

MORE: Ex-NFL star Shawne Merriman, racer Jesse Iwuji team up in NASCAR K&N effort.

After the first eight races of the 14-race K&N Pro Series West Series, Iwuji sits 15th.

He’s hoping the six-race sponsorship will help improve his performance to finish as well as he did in his K&N rookie campaign last season (10th place) – or better.

Iwuji’s best finishes this season are a pair of back-to-back 14th-place showings He also has three other top-20 outings.

“This season so far has been a great test of the durability of our team” Iwui said in a media release. “We’ve managed to bring home clean racecars which allows us to spend more time on trying to improve the cars and the way we race other teams this year in the West.”

Iwuji races this weekend at Iowa Speedway, the only time the K&N Pro Series East and West race on the same track during the season.

Iwuji is 12 points out of 12th place and 55 points out of 10th.

“I’ve raced these tracks, I’m here to compete, and I’m ready to maximize the capabilities of our team,” Iwuji said.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kligerman: Formula E is an Instagram hit, but attending a race is an out-of-focus experience

Andrew Ferraro/LAT Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK — On a rare Sunday off (after a few days in the pits covering one of the oldest and most popular racing series in the world), I decided to spend my day attending one of the world’s newest racing series, Formula E.

If you haven’t heard, it’s an all-electric Formula car series (think F1 with electric cars).

The race was being held in, as the CEO of the new series called it, “The Capital of the World” — New York. Specifically, a picturesque setting near a landing area for cruise ships in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. This fittingly positioned NYC’s famous Manhattan skyline as the backdrop for many pictures of the cars and track.

Formula E is car racing’s first disrupt-the-status-quo tech startup built on a Silicon Valley vibe, social media buzzwords and celebrity endorsements. Like the provincial tech companies of the West Coast, it was born because a couple of people believed there was an insatiable appetite for something that didn’t exist.

Mitch Evans (NZL), Spark-Jaguar, Jaguar I-Type on track in front of the New York skyline during the New York City ePrix. (Photo by Andrew Ferraro/LAT Images)

An eco-friendly, bring-it-to-the-people, electric-car test bed.

And car manufacturers the likes of BMW, Audi, Citroen, Renault, and Jaguar agreed and all joined.

The world’s tabloid hogs have joined, too, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Branson and (in attendance at the Brooklyn event) Michael Douglas, and Chris Hemsworth. The only thing missing amongst the Instagram-friendly metrics are what most racing series tout first — fans.

But before I go any further, full disclosure: I attempted to race in this series a couple years ago. It was 2014, and my NASCAR Cup team had folded. It seemed through a friend who was a CMO at an energy company that there might be a way to swing getting into a Formula E car.

It wasn’t to be as it was too new, too foreign, and we quickly got distracted by other opportunities. But ever since, I have kept a keen eye on its development.

Bring on NYC.

I was excited to view the upstart series up close. But after a little too much caffeine in the form of a coffee, a bigger coffee and then an energy drink to get home from New Hampshire. I wouldn’t rest my overly caffeinated body until 2:30 a.m. that day. It was a struggle to awake.

Awaiting me was a media credential. But it was to lay dormant as I decided to bring my girlfriend and conned my best friend into joining us. Mostly because he lives in Brooklyn, and this event has zero parking. The official travel guide tells you, “Not to bring a car.”

Certainly odd for a car race but understandable being in NYC. So I parked at my friend’s apartment, and we Ubered.

The Arrival

As we approached the ride-share dropoff zone, I oddly felt devoid of that half-euphoric, half-anxious feeling of attending a new racing series.

I turned to my friend and Blondie to say I remembered attending my first F1 race in Montreal at 14 years old and being able to hear the cars from 2 miles away. The city was overflowing with Formula One fever.

Antonio Felix da Costa (PRT) and Amlin Andretti, Spark-Andretti, ATEC-02 race during the New York City ePrix in Brooklyn. (Photo by Alastair Staley/LAT Images)

I’ll never forget walking up to the corner just before the hairpin at the Montreal circuit, as practice just had started and an F1 car approached. It sounded like a fire-breathing, human-slaying alien spacecraft was rapidly coming our way, and it was not going to be pleasant.

Suddenly, the sound was all around us in a flash of yellow, an ear-piercing scream and a loud BOOM! The Jordan F1 car of Timo Glock streaked past where I was standing. As he shifted gears, the sound and explosion hit me in the chest so hard, I could barely breathe.

It, to this day, is one of my favorite memories in life.

This event was not going to provide that.

Obviously one of the biggest departures from traditional motor racing is the cars don’t make a lot of sound. That’s part of what allows them to race in The Capital of The World. There are no issues with deafening sound reverberating through NYC’s already overflowing boroughs.

As we told our Uber driver to stop, a few Formula E signs were plastered on the walls around us. He asked, “What is this?” and my friend said, “It’s like a Formula One race.” The Uber driver replied, “Who knew? That is cool.” Not exactly a good sign for the promotion of the event.

Nonetheless, I felt good about being able to buy three tickets if our driver had no idea it was happening.

Except when we went inside, the ticket building was completely empty. We abruptly were told it was sold out and actually had been for months. Even though on Friday, Ticketmaster indicated (for $85, mind you), there were tickets available … odd.

G.H. Mumm champagne was served at the inaugural ePrix Race in Brooklyn. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for G.H. Mumm)

We were told we could have free general admission tickets and maybe could get in with them. And this was something I knew Formula E did in its first season as a way to get people to come. I’ve always thought this was brilliant.

From there we went into the stringent security lines, where I got my first glance at what I will refer to as “the clientele” and not “fans.”

Two young men in front of me were the embodiment of the clientele. Both almost identically dressed in expensive, perfectly pressed, white button-down shirts, light tan belts and navy blue linen chinos.

I must have missed the memo.

One wearing Oliver Peoples glasses (if you ever go to an Oliver Peoples store, they will remind you President Obama wears their glasses) turned to the other as they were going through the security scanner. He remarked, “This certainly isn’t like Monaco,” and his friend nodded. Aside from wanting to punch him square in the face, I knew I was in for an experience only the Europeans can provide.

Fans enjoy a champagne toast during the inaugural ePrix Race in Brooklyn. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for G.H. Mumm)

I call it, “European Exclusionary Events,” where they invite you to spend money to feel superior to the others around you. Hence our free ticket allowed us in, but Mr. Oliver Peoples took a very visible red carpet-lined hard left into the E-Motion club, and we were forced down a route past a port-a-potty.

The Europeans love this sort of thing, because it makes an event feel exclusive – as if you have done something to deserve the first-class version of race attendance.

But Americans do not. Sure we have courtside seats in basketball, but the guy who got a ticket from his company raffle can be sitting right behind Kim Kardashian. American events are put on to make everyone feel inclusive. Formula E missed that memo.

But I digress.

As we entered the general admission area known as “E-Village,” it was not overflowing but definitely not sparse. Scattered throughout were a few informational and promotional booths from car manufacturers and racing simulators. Par for the course at a race.

And here I bumped into a friend who lives in Brooklyn. He knew nothing about racing but had brought his wife and twin babies in a stroller. It was free and a block from their place, and the electric racing ensured their babies would be OK with the sound.

It definitely wasn’t something that would happen at a NASCAR race. I thought that was very cool.

The Race

The schedule listed a 1 p.m. start, and as 1 p.m. came, everyone in the E-Village excitedly was listening for a signal or sign that the race had started. And then suddenly at 1:05 a group of cars rounded the hairpin adjacent to the E-Village. There was no warning (not even a race announcer) and the only reason you knew was the chirping of the tires and smashing of bodywork.

Surely, they must have forgotten to turn up the race announcer. But as the laps continued, it became clear they had not put any speakers in the E-Village area. So here we were with what seemed a couple thousand people desperately wondering what the hell was going on.

The start of the New York City ePrix in Brooklyn. (Photo by Steven Tee/LAT Images)

This was incredibly perplexing because the whole selling point as an attendee of Formula E was that it was quiet enough to foster conversation. And to be able to hear the announcers so well they even could play team radios over the loudspeakers, so you could be immersed in the race.

Guess it didn’t apply to the free tickets and the people the series desperately should be trying to impress.

I became Formula E’s best friend as I informed people left and right about the rules and who was leading the damn race. At the other end of the E-Village was a nice lounge area with a big screen TV sponsored by VISA but with no volume. So once again, I was the on-the-ground Formula E informant, letting people know why they were pitting and what the energy percentage meant.

But the best part occurred as the race came to a close, as you only knew it was over because of the fans in the frontstretch grandstand that rose to give the winner a standing ovation. As the cars made their cooldown lap, a fan turned to me and said, “I think this is when they go pit and change cars.” To which I replied, “Uhh, no. It’s over. That was the winner.”

But then as the cars continued to trickle through the corner on the cooldown lap, another person asked, “Why are they going so slow?!?”

Winner Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing, Spark-Citroen, Virgin DSV-02, celebrates on the podium with Felix Rosenqvist (SWE), Mahindra Racing, Spark-Mahindra, Mahindra M3ELECTRO, and Nick Heidfeld (GER), Mahindra Racing, Spark-Mahindra, Mahindra M3ELECTRO after the New York City ePrix. (Photo by Sam Bloxham/LAT Images)

It was clear with no info whatsoever, these attendees might be there until Tuesday wondering what happened to the race.

Why was it like this?

I stood at one of the exit gates to survey the crowd as the attendees and clientele left the grandstands. I begged the event for a redeeming quality, something to make me want to come back, but to no avail.

It suddenly became clear as I looked at photos of the massive but mostly unfilled E-motion VIP club for Instagram “influencers” — celebrities, media, and marketing chiefs.

Was it that this event was not for you or me? That the series wasn’t aiming to impress a race fan such as myself? (A race fan who loved this form of racing so much, I responded “open wheel cars with little to no downforce and 1000 horsepower engines on city street tracks” when asked 10 years ago what my perfect race series would be.)

Everyone attending with me began to refuse to call it a race event and started using words such as “promotional display” and “a massive advertisement.”

It became clear that Formula E is for the sponsors, the car manufacturers and the series to have media outlets talking about how they have a presence in the future of the world.

So the CMOs, marketing managers and executives in linens and sports coats can walk into boardrooms with PowerPoint slides of their logos being called “eco-friendly” in the media. And use social media buzzwords such impressions, engagement and KPI (key performance indicator) while showing their logos with Instagram “influencers” drinking champagne and being eco-friendly.

Formula E is an event that has a purpose but to entertain you would be a stretch. It’s much like in school when the teacher tells you you’re watching a movie, and it turns out to be an instructional video. It’s a relief you’re watching a movie, but you still need to learn.

This is Formula E.

You’re provided a race and a damn good one at that. But it’s clear, the truth is it’s for show and not the kind that entertains.