A story of heart: How Tony Gibson and Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500

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When Kurt Busch crossed the finish line to win the Daytona 500 Sunday, Tony Stewart was sitting on the pit box next to Busch’s crew chief, Tony Gibson.

While Stewart was jumping up and down in celebration of the win, for a split-second, he wondered if Gibson was alright or if maybe he should call paramedics.

“He was comatose,” Stewart said of Gibson. “He doesn’t move. He put his head back. Did he pass out? I had to shake him a bit.

“He just sat there the whole last lap and when I saw the door open, I started jumping because I knew what was coming. He just never flinched until it was over. He just laid his head back like he was getting a suntan.”

Of the 100,000-plus people at Daytona International Speedway and millions more watching on TV as the exciting finish played out, Gibson was arguably the coolest. It was almost as if he was channeling Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman and his trademark line, “What, me worry?”

Nah, not Gibson. He and Busch had this. It would be their fourth Cup win together, but the biggest by far.

When the checkered flag waved – and while Gibson said Stewart “was like a frog jumping up and down” – Gibson just sat there for a few moments, soaking in all the sights and sounds, still not totally convinced that he and his driver had just won The Great American Race.

“You won the 500,” Stewart told Gibson, who responded with a smile, admitting, “I wasn’t sure I did or not.”

Over his long NASCAR career, Gibson had been part of previous Daytona 500 wins with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a team member.

But Sunday was something he never had experienced before: it was the first time he – Tony Gibson, NASCAR’s self-professed “Old Man” – would leave his hometown of Daytona Beach as a Daytona 500-winning crew chief.

Kurt Busch and Tony Gibson have now visited victory lane together four times in the NASCAR Cup Series, including this win at Richmond in 2015. (Getty Images)

It also would bring back tons of memories of his life and all the time he’s logged in and around the “World Center Of Racing.”

“This is where I grew up,” Gibson said. “I was born in Halifax Hospital across the street. My mom retired from here. My dad raced here all his life. To come here and do this is amazing.

“I had two other brothers that raced. Dad had to work night and day and everything he had to make sure we could race and have fun. So my mom and dad are the ones I thought about the very first thing (after Sunday’s win).”

The 52-year-old Gibson has seen and done a lot in his NASCAR life. But never what happened Sunday.

“I’ve been on the road for 33 years in this business in NASCAR, and I’ve put my life and soul into it,” Gibson said. “I’ve won the Daytona 500 before and it’s awesome, but to win it as a crew chief, I can’t describe how it feels, to take your team, put everything together and to make it happen. … It’s just phenomenal as a crew chief. It just means so much to me.

“Growing up, where I’m at today, my wife Beth, she’s been my biggest supporter for the last 26 years, sticking with me when things are bad.  I’m laid up in the hospital (recently with kidney stones), whatever.

“All those emotions just clamp on you at one time. It takes a few minutes for it to sink in. It’s pretty incredible.”

Indeed, not only was Busch’s and Gibson’s achievement incredible, it was one of the best feel-good stories that Daytona has seen in many a 500.

While winning Sunday was one of the greatest accomplishments of Gibson’s life, two other stories came to light after the victory celebration that further illustrates the kind of guy Gibson is and why he’s so beloved in the sport.

First, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. left the soon-to-implode Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2008, Gibson promised Junior that he would do everything he could to keep “his guys” together, that he’d find them jobs somewhere else.”

Indeed, Gibson did, convincing Gene Haas and Tony Stewart, who recently had joined as partners in the then-fledgling Stewart-Haas Racing, to hire most of the former DEI expats – a group that has now been together for more than 13 years.

“I was determined to keep these guys together,” Gibson told NBC’s Marty Snider after Sunday’s race. “That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I’ve done.

“I’m more proud of that, to keep these guys’ jobs when things were really, really bad in the industry. To be able to stay together and come back to win the Daytona 500, I can’t say enough about them.”

Added Stewart, “They all came from DEI and that shows the kind of leadership Tony Gibson has. They’d go to the end of the earth for him.”

Gibson has worked with a number of NASCAR greats, dating back to one of his first jobs as car chief for Alan Kulwicki when he won the 1992 Winston Cup championship.

Along the way, there were many others, some of the biggest names of the sport, including Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR Hall of Famers Bill Elliott and Mark Martin, Stewart, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick.

But it was Busch that gave Gibson the one thing he never had earned in his life: a win in NASCAR’s biggest race in Gibson’s hometown.

Which leads to the second story about the kind of guy Gibson is.

Some other crew chiefs may have been hesitant to work with Busch, given some of the controversy that has occurred in his career – most of it off-track and in his personal life.

But not Gibson. He didn’t judge Busch by what happened in the past. All he was concerned about was Busch’s immense talent and what he would do in the future – and with Gibson atop his pit box.

Even when things got tough, Tony Gibson never gave up in his faith in Kurt Busch. (Getty Images)

“I love him to death,” Gibson said of Busch. “When I took that job on a couple years ago, we sat down and had a come-to-Jesus talk right off the bat. And since Day One we’ve been money.

“We respect one another, I respect what he’s accomplished and he respects what I’ve accomplished. And we mesh good together. I wouldn’t have nobody else driving my race cars than Kurt Busch. There’s nobody better. … He’s going to drive the wheels off it no matter what. You never have to second-guess is he giving you 110 percent?”

After 17 years, Busch finally earned NASCAR’s most prestigious honor to go along with the championship he earned in 2004. He came back to Daytona Beach year after year, with several different crew chiefs, including finishing runner-up three times.

But no one could get Busch the one trophy he and Gibson both craved the most – until Sunday.

Damage from an earlier accident in Sunday’s race and fears that he was about a half-lap short on fuel caused Busch great concern. But with “Old Man” atop the pit box, Busch’s concerns were allayed.

“When you have a crew chief that grows up in the shadows of the grandstands here in Daytona, you know you have the best guy because his heart is in it,” Busch said. “That’s what Daytona is about. You have to give it your heart.”

Sunday, Busch and Gibson both put their hearts into the win. And even though Stewart briefly wondered if something may have happened to Gibson’s heart on the pit box, he wasn’t exactly far off in a way.

After giving more than three decades years to the sport he loves, Gibson’s heart was in the best place it ever could be.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

90-year-old Hershel McGriff to compete in K&N Pro Series West race in Tucson

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Hershel McGriff has won 37 times in the K&N Pro Series West, and he’s getting a shot at one more win at the age of 90.

McGriff will drive for Bill McAnally Racing in the May 5 race at Tucson Speedway.

His first start in the series came in 1954 when he was 26. That year he also won his only four Cup races in 87 career starts.

McGriff will drive the No. 04 South Point Hotel & Casino Toyota Camry.

“Who would turn down a free ride in a K&N car built by Bill McAnally Racing?” McGriff said in a press release.

“Bill said to pick out a track anywhere on the West Coast that has a K&N race and that’s where we’ll race. Tucson’s my home. So, we decided on Tucson, although I haven’t run here that much. It’s going to be fun. I hope I do well, for his sake. I think I can.”

McGriff, born in 1927 when Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States, was chosen as one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998. He holds the mark as the oldest winner in the K&N West series. His last victory came in 1989 at 61.

A NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee, McGriff’s first NASCAR start came in the first Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 1950. He drove his car cross-country from his home in Portland, Oregon, finished ninth, and drove back to Portland.

McGriff last competed full-time in the K&N West series in 2001 when he drove for McAnally.

“I was extremely privileged to be associated with one of the 50 greatest drivers in NASCAR when Hershel drove for us in 2001,” McAnally said in a press release. “It’s great to have him back, as he returns to the series for this event.

May 5 will be a busy night at the track for the McGriff family. His granddaughter, Mariah McGriff, will compete in a Super Late Model division race and Hershel McGriff Jr. will compete in an Outlaw Late Model race.

Gaunt Brothers Racing raises $12,000 in auction for Humboldt Broncos hood

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Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Wednesday it raised $12,000 in an auction for the hood off DJ Kennington’s No. 96 Toyota in last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway

Kennington’s hood featured the logo for the Humboldt Broncos.

The hood honors the 16 people who lost their lives and the 13 who were injured on April 6 when a bus carrying members of the junior-A Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team was struck by a semi-trailer as the team was on its way to a playoff game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, Canada.

The money will be donated to the Humboldt Broncos charity. The winning bid was placed by Kennington’s sponsor, Castrol.

Kennington, who finished 27th in Food City 500, is a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada.

The hood was signed by every member of the No. 96 team.

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Richmond in last three years

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As NASCAR nears the end of its spring short track season, it heads to a course that is often transitional with elements of unrestricted, intermediate speedways tossed in for good measure. Two of the last three races have been run on tracks less than a mile in length, and while they are all very dissimilar in handling characteristics for the drivers, they share at least one important commonality.

Cars are constantly in traffic and a mistake by a driver not in contention for the win can take out the leader – just as it did Ryan Blaney last week at Bristol Motor Speedway. The unpredictable nature of short track racing is part of what makes it a fan favorite, but it can be a challenge to those responsible for handicapping the events.

Last year, only four drivers swept the top 10 in Richmond’s two races. By comparison, the Bristol Motor Speedway bullring had three drivers who swept a track that typically requires rhythm to navigate well. When erratic results creep into the statistics, it pays to take a longer look and three-year averages are one of the most meaningful ways to eliminate peaks and valleys.

Players who have not already joined the NASCAR America Fantasy league can still do so at nascar.com/nbcsportsfantasy, and then share your team using #NASCARAmericaFantasy.

1. Joey Logano (4.83)
Last year’s Toyota Owners 400 was pivotal for Logano. His victory was deemed encumbered by NASCAR and Logano was not allowed to use it to qualify for the playoffs. He finished second in the fall Richmond event , however, and this could be the week he returns to Victory Lane.

2. Denny Hamlin (7.17)
Hamlin finished 22nd in the spring 2015 Richmond race, but he has been an incredibly good value ever since. He finished sixth in the next two races, won the fall 2016 Federated Auto Parts 400 and swept the top five last year.

3. Jimmie Johnson (7.50)
Last week was the first real sign that Johnson’s season is turning around. He came from the back of the grid after making an unapproved tire change, but once he got to the leaders, he looked like the Johnson that once dominated races. It might be time to trust him again.

4. Kyle Busch (7.60 in five starts)
Busch has not scored a top-five at Richmond in three races, but his back-to-back runner-up finishes in fall 2015 and spring 2016 give him a great average. The fact that he enters the Toyota Owners 400 with back-to-back wins and a six-race streak of top-three finishes this year certainly improves his odds.

5. Kurt Busch (7.67)
Busch ticks off both boxes that fantasy players are most concerned with. He has been consistent and strong at Richmond with six top 10s in his last seven races and a win in spring 2015. Last fall, he added another top five to his Richmond record.

5. Kevin Harvick (7.67)
Harvick has been an all or nothing driver at Richmond in recent years with five top fives compared to two results outside the top 10. His most recent of three wins came in spring 2013.

7. Brad Keselowski (8.83)
Expanding the parameters a little for Keselowski reveals he has a Richmond victory in 2014 along with three other top fives in his last eight starts. He has finished worse than 11th only once in that span and makes a great utility fantasy pick this week.

8. Kyle Larson (9.33)
In four years at Richmond, Larson has been consistently better in the fall with a second-place finish in 2016 and his victory last year. He has not yet cracked the top 10 in the spring race, but could fare better now that it is going to be run under the lights.

9. Daniel Suarez (9.50 in two starts)
Now that he has survived 500 laps at Bristol, Suarez knows that his thumb will not be a problem and is prepared to earn a third top 15 in three starts there.

10. Jamie McMurray (10.00)
The one word that always comes to mind with McMurray is consistency. At Richmond, he has not finished worse than 16th in his last nine attempts there. His bad luck from 2018 has to dissipate soon and there is really no telling when or where that will happen.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Matt Kenseth swept the pole last year at Richmond and the new driver of the No. 20 is no stranger to speed. Erik Jones’ first career pole came on the short track of Bristol last August, so he knows how to get around short tracks.

Segment Winners: Play the odds this week. Harvick has the most segment wins in 2018 (four), while Keselowski has earned the most segment points (100). Kyle Busch is no slouch either with 98 segment points and two wins. Whichever of these three qualify best should be the segment one pick; toss a coin for segment two.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

Timothy Peters set for Cup debut at Talladega with Ricky Benton Racing

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It’s never too late to be a rookie.

Timothy Peters, 37, will make his Cup debut next weekend in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Peters will race with rookie stripes in the No. 92 Ford owned by Ricky Benton Racing. It will be the second Cup race for the team after the Daytona 500 in February. David Gilliland finished 14th in the race.

Peters will be sponsored by Advance Auto Parts.
“This is just a dream come true for me,” said Peters in a press release. “I am humbled and so appreciative for the opportunity that Ricky, Advance Auto Parts , the entire Black’s Tire family, BB&T and Highland Construction have given me to make my first Cup start.”
Peters has eight starts and two wins at Talladega in the Camping World Truck Series.

Before this year, both Peters’ and Benton’s NASCAR fortunes were mostly confined to the Truck Series.

Peters has 239 starts and 10 wins in the series since 2005. He also has eight starts in the Xfinity Series. Peters has been without a full-time ride since Red Horse Racing shut down after five races in 2017.

Benton has fielded the No. 92 in 80 Truck races since 2010.

The two teamed up for the March Truck race at Martinsville Speedway. Peters, who won at the track in 2009, started 16th and finished seventh. It was the 12th top 10 for the team.

“Timothy is an incredibly talented driver and proved to be a great fit with our guys at Martinsville,” Benton said in a press release. “He and (crew chief) Mike (Hester) worked great together, communicated well and made some great adjustments as that race progressed.
“I have no doubt that it will carry over to Talladega in the Cup car.”