Getty Images

Alon Day reaches yet another milestone as first Israeli to compete in Cup race

Leave a comment

Alon Day likes making NASCAR history – and he’ll do so again Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

After being the first Israeli driver to compete last year in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series, the 25-year-old Day will make his Cup debut in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

“It’s pretty big,” said Day, who will also become the first driver from the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series to drive in a Cup race. “When I was growing up, it was my dream to race in the biggest level in NASCAR.

“I spoke about it during (NASCAR) media day in January and less than six months later, here it is, I’m doing my first Cup race. I’m totally excited. I can’t even explain it.”

Alon Day was part of the NASCAR Next program in 2016.

Day will drive the No. 23 EarthWater Toyota for BK Racing in a deal that came together just over a week ago, days after he won the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series race – he’s competing full-time in that series – on June 11 at the famous Brands Hatch in England.

Day was on his way home to Israel for yet another victory party after the Brands Hatch race when he got a phone call asking him if he’d like to race at Sonoma.

“I jumped on a plane and came over,” Day told NBC Sports.

He’s looking ahead to possibly more races, including the August Cup race at Watkins Glen.

Day’s Cup debut is already making front-page news back in his native land.

“It’s a big thing in Israel because there’s almost no motorsports there,” Day said. “A couple of days ago, my mother opened a newspaper in Israel and my photo and story was on the front page.

“On Sunday, I’m not only doing this for myself, I’m making history for my country and so many people in the Jewish community. Everyone is following me and it’s good to know.”

Day made two starts each in the Xfinity Series and Truck Series last season, ultimately leading to being named Israel’s Athlete of the Year. In his first Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio, he challenged for the lead through much of the race before finishing 13th.

While he understands that Cup racing is the highest – and hardest – NASCAR level in the United States, he’s hoping for a good finish that could lead to additional opportunities.

But come Sunday, he wants to put the notoriety of his Cup debut aside and focus on just one priority.

Day ran in the top 10 and finished 13th in his Xfinity Series debut last August at Mid-Ohio.

“I try not to think about it too much because I want to concentrate and do the best I can and bring the best result I can, like I did in Mid-Ohio,” he said.

Day has never driven a Cup car, let alone raced one prior to this weekend. He got fitted for his seat Thursday and will make his first laps during Friday’s two Cup practice sessions at the road course north of San Francisco.

Other drivers may be intimidated by making their Cup debut, especially never having driven one of the cars in NASCAR’s premiere series.

Not Day. He’s ready to show his stuff and surprise people.

“I know what I’m capable of doing on road courses, and I also know what equipment I drive,” he said. “I don’t try to achieve too much like I’m going to win on Sunday.

“But seeing what I did last year at Mid-Ohio, I fought for the lead. In this kind of car, the driver is the one who makes the difference.”

And while it may intimidate another driver to go head-to-head with the likes of seven-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and others, Day will not let himself get intimidated.

As far as he’s concerned, they’re just other drivers and numbers on race cars – and his job is to try and do better than them.

“It’s like when I came here to race at Mid-Ohio, knowing I’d be racing against big names,” he said. “At the post-race press conference, I sat next to Sam Hornish Jr., who was my childhood hero. I used to play video games as Sam Hornish Jr.

“As soon as the green flag is out and the race starts, I don’t think about names anymore. For me, the cars are just numbers and I’m there to do the best I can.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Indianapolis

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Larson. Only one winner in Brickyard 400 (Jeff Gordon, 27th in 2001) has started in a lower position — but if anyone can rebound after qualifying 25th on a track that’s difficult for passing, it’s the Chip Ganassi Racing driver this season.

Dustin Long

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Even before Daytona earlier this month I had this vision of Earnhardt scoring his win to make the playoffs at this track. We’ll see if I can see the future.

Daniel McFadin

Jamie McMurray reminds everyone what he’s capable of by earning his second victory in the Brickyard 400.

Jerry Bonkowski

Sentimentally, I’d like to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. win this one. But from a realistic standpoint, I’m going with Kevin Harvick to earn his second career Brickyard win.

With Matt Kenseth available, Hendrick Motorsports already was set on Alex Bowman long ago

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Hendrick Motorsports announced Alex Bowman as the driver of its No. 88 Chevrolet last week, but the choice effectively was made long ago.

“We had Alex in the back of mind for whatever opportunity we had,” team owner Rick Hendrick said during a news conference Sunday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It wasn’t much of a decision at all. Alex was the guy.”

Hendrick confirmed Bowman signed a multiyear contract last October that runs through 2019 and hardly considered any other options – including impending free agent — Matt Kenseth to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“We were very, very careful not to guarantee (Bowman) anything other than if opportunities arose, he would have a shot,” Hendrick said. “I can’t make all the decisions. The sponsors have to be involved. But in my mind, Alex was going to get the next (ride).”

When Kenseth revealed two weeks ago that he wouldn’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing, Earnhardt was confident his friend would find a ride for 2018.

But with Hendrick having solidified its lineup for next season with Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Bowman and perhaps Kasey Kahne (Hendrick plans to run four Chevrolets next year but left open the possibility that William Byron could drive the No. 5 – “we’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”), the options for Kenseth remaining in Cup seem limited.

“I love Matt Kenseth,” Hendrick said. “He is a tremendous talent. He and I have actually talked about this in the past. Sometimes things just don’t line up at the right time.”

Everything has seemed to line up well for Bowman, who drove the No. 88 in 10 races last year while Earnhardt recovered from a concussion. He also has tested for the team in its driving simulator and wheelforce transducer car (which gathers critical setup data).

“A lot of guys have the talent, they just need that one critical break, if they stay committed and keep pushing, eventually that opportunity might come along,” Earnhardt said. “(Bowman) gets that opportunity because of his commitment to his career and the gamble on himself he made a long time ago.

“He works hard and has been a key investment for Chevrolet, incredibly helpful for the company and race team. It’s very tedious work. He’s been a team player knowing if he put forth this effort, he possibly could get this opportunity.”

Hendrick said he knew little about Bowman before Earnhardt personally vouched for him. Bowman validated the recommendation by winning the pole at Phoenix International Raceway last November and leading 194 laps.

“The word for Alex is he deserved it,” Hendrick said. “He deserves a shot. He stepped into the most pressure point. I don’t think there’d be a situation on pit road of having the pressure of sitting in Dale Earnhardt’s car and to perform like he did and then the contributions he’s made to our company to help our guys.”

Rick Hendrick: ‘The plan is to run 4 cars’ next year

Getty Images
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Car owner Rick Hendrick says “the plan” is to run four Cup cars next year even as questions have been raised about the company cutting back to three cars.

Questions have been raised with because the need of sponsorship for the No. 5 team next season. Both Great Clips and Farmer’s Bank Insurance are not returning after this season. Those companies are scheduled to sponsor the car in 22 races this year.

Hendrick said Sunday that “the plan is to run four cars” next year.

The comment was well-received. Jim Campbell, who oversees Chevrolet’s motorsports program, liked a tweet that had Hendrick’s comment about remaining four cars.

Hendrick also was asked Sunday about the status of the No. 5 car driven by Kasey Kahne but said only “that’s for another day” during a press conference with Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Nationwide’s Jim McCoy.

Kahne has a contract through next season yet questions have been raised if he’ll be back. If not, an option could be for William Byron, who won Saturday’s Xfintiy race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to move from JR Motorsports into that spot. The 19-year-old Byron, a rookie in the Xfinity Series, has won three of the last five races.

Asked about Byron moving into a Cup car next year, Hendrick said: “We’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”

 and on Facebook

Jimmie Johnson to start in the rear after gear change

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Jimmie Johnson‘s bid for a record-tying fifth Brickyard 400 will have to begin at the back of the 40-car field.

Johnson qualified fourth Saturday but stated on Twitter that he’ll have to go to the rear of the field because they had to change the rear gear.

Although track position is pivotal at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because passing is difficult, optimists can view Johnson’s woes as a good sign. He has scored two of his three wins this season – Texas and Dover – after starting in the rear.

Also starting at the rear today is Cole Whitt (rear gear change) and Joey Gase (engine change). Whitt qualified 34th. Gase qualified 38th.

Today’s race is on NBC. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET with Countdown to Green.

 

 and on Facebook