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Bump & Run: What drivers in NASCAR history would you like to see race each other?

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1. Over the sport’s history, what two drivers would you have liked to have seen race head-to-head?

Steve Letarte: I think the easy answer is you take all the seven-time champs and line them up. The other two that are a little off the wall that I’d love to see race each other is Kyle Busch and Cale Yarborough. I think they are both hard-nosed, no-nonsense, win-at-all-cost competitors, and I think that would have been a dang good race to watch. I think the big answer that the whole world would like to see but never will, of course, you want to line up all three seven-time champions. You want to take the late ‘60s/early ‘70s Richard Petty to go against the late ‘80s/early ‘90s Dale Earnhardt Sr. to go against the mid-2000’s Jimmie Johnson. That right there would be another great show.

Jeff Burton: Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty. I believe their driving styles are very similar. I would love to see two of the best in our sports’ history in a battle.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: My father and grandfather at a small short track. I’d never seen Ralph race obviously. So seeing him compete would be epic. I’ve always heard what an incredible short track racer Ralph was. I’d love to see these two duke it out on a bullring in equal cars. 

Kyle Petty: I was blessed to grow up in this sport. More blessed to have watched some of the greatest drivers in our sport race each other. Pearson, Petty, Allisons, Baker, Yarborough and Waltrip as I was growing up. Earnhardt, Davey Allison, Jarrett, Kulwicki, Wallace, Martin, Rudd, Richmond, Gant, Labonte as I started my career. Gordon, Burtons, Bobby Labonte, Stewart, Johnson, Harvick, Busch and others as my career was ending. To me three periods in time. Three periods in our sport. I heard stories from my grandfather about the early years (50s) and my father’s stories from the early 60s. I’ve come to believe you can’t take a driver from one era and insert him in another. Great drivers are great drivers no matter when, what or where they drove. I’ve been blessed to see a lot of the GREATEST go head-to-head at some point in my life. So I guess my answer should be … Been there, Done that.

Nate Ryan: Tim Richmond and Curtis Turner. The stories are legend and well told about who they were as personalities, but the display of their on-track talents unfortunately was limited because of careers cut short by death or labor disputes. It would be wonderful to see what made both of them so legendary behind the wheel.

Dustin Long: Tony Stewart vs. Bobby Allison. This would be an epic matchup of two talented racers who could compete in multiple vehicles, wouldn’t give an inch and also were known have a temper in and out of the car. Can you imagine these two racing for the win at a short track in the final laps?

Daniel McFadin: All of my memories of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. competing against each other are from the late 90s when Earnhardt was winning once or twice a year or not at all. I would love to see the Earnhardt from 1987 (11 wins) go head-to-head with the Gordon from 1998 (modern record of 13 wins) in an anything goes match race at Bristol.

Parker KligermanKyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt. I could only imagine what kind of fireworks this would have produced. I’m sure there would be great mutual respect but both had a disdain for second place.

2. What is one track you wish you could have gone to in person to have seen a NASCAR race (or go to one last time)?

Steve Letarte: The place that I have never been that I would have loved to have seen once in my day is Riverside. I’ve seen so many stories. While we go to road courses now, Riverside seems to have this aura about it. There are so many stories that come from it. The track that I could go back to one last time and race, without a doubt, is Martinsville. It’s my favorite race track.

Jeff Burton: I would like for our sport’s biggest series to go to one of the historic NASCAR short tracks. I believe a once-a-year event would bring some new excitement and enthusiasm that all forms of auto racing would benefit from.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Asphalt Bristol was incredible. Nothing compared to it. Even concrete Bristol at its peak of popularity didn’t quite deliver like asphalt Bristol did. That track was unruly and it seemed to bring out the worst in drivers. You couldn’t keep up with the many feuds going on in one single night of racing.  

Kyle Petty: Lakewood Speedway, Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve heard about that place my whole life, from my father and grandfather. They spoke of it as if it was the greatest track they ever went to (until they built Daytona). Raymond Parks, Bill France, Red Byron so much of NASCAR’s early history came out of the Atlanta area. I would have liked to have seen a glimpse of that.

Nate Ryan: Ontario Motor Speedway (with nearby Riverside International Raceway a close second). Before California Speedway opened, I became very familiar with Ontario in researching its history — but all that I’ve seen of the track is a few dirt berms left on the property after it was razed. There were so many positive reviews (and some memorable races despite only a 10-year run) of the 2.5-mile track that was intended to be a replica of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I’d love to have explored Brickyard West in its prime.

Dustin Long: I’ve heard so many stories about North Wilkesboro and what the fans were like there, throwing chicken bones at anybody that dared challenge or damage hometown hero Junior Johnson’s car. Would have enjoyed seeing that once.

Daniel McFadin: I would have liked to have seen a race at Darlington before they swapped the front and backstretch. The overhang on the frontstretch grandstand gave it an iconic look and it would have been cool to sit there for a race back in the day.

Parker Kligerman: Old Bristol. The energy must have been insane, and the train of cars was always a spectacle to me. I’ve always thought, it must have been a huge frustration for the drivers but an awesome show to see in person.

3. What’s one NASCAR race you would have liked to have seen in person?

Steve Letarte: I’ve heard the firsthand story from Tony Gibson so many times, I wish I could have been in Atlanta (1992). So much happened that day. It was the King’s last, Jeff Gordon’s first, Alan Kulwicki’s championship. The King has told me the story when I’ve been up at the Petty Museum and seen the wrecked race car. Jeff Gordon has explained what that day was like being a rookie. Tony Gibson was on Kulwicki’s crew. There are so many famous races, but that’s the one that I would think I would have loved to have seen that battle play out.

Jeff Burton: Hooters 500 in 1992. All of the events of that day were amazing. The battle for the championship, the King running his last race, and Jeff Gordon running his first race was one of the sports biggest days. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 1979 Daytona 500 would be an easy pick. But I’d also like to have seen my dad’s Daytona 500 win and visited him in Victory Lane that day. I was home injured from the Busch race the previous day. Either one of those races rank as the most important in our sports history, so seeing either would have to bring on some amazing emotions. 

Kyle Petty: Any race on the old Daytona Beach Course. Period! Where Men were Men and everyone else just a spectator.

Nate Ryan: The 1979 Daytona 500, to judge whether the atmosphere before, during and shortly after the race foretold that it would be remembered as such a watershed event.

Dustin Long: The 1972 Wilkes 400 at North Wilkesboro when Richard Petty and Bobby Allison traded the lead 10 times in the last 50 laps before Petty won with a last-lap maneuver. The Associated Press report on the race stated that the cars of Petty and Allison, “both immaculately clean and polished at the start … came out of the duel battered and broken, less than a car length apart at the finish.’’

Daniel McFadin: The 2001 Pepsi 400 at Daytona. To be in the crowd for that race and to experience all the pent-up emotions that were released when Dale Jr. won would just be incredible.

Parker Kligerman: 2003 Darlington; that must have been insane to witness in person.

NASCAR America: Matt Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing fit perfectly

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Matt Kenseth assuming the driver duties of the No. 6 may be only a part of his future with Roush Fenway Racing.

“Obviously my driving is not the long-term answer for the 6 car,” Kenseth said to NBC’s Marty Snider during Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “Probably will be for the foreseeable future, but not a long-term answer. So I’m looking forward to seeing who the next guys are. Seeing if I can help Trevor, if I can help Ricky – and see if I can be a part of the company, making it better.”

And it was that last comment that raised the eyebrows of the panelists.

“We’ve heard Jack talk recently in the press about how he’s on a transition out of the company,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “He’s looking for somebody or some kind of group of people to come in and carry this company forward. And this could be the first domino, I guess, in that transition.”

Jeff Burton, who raced for Roush from 1996 through August 2004 knows the passion former drivers for the organization still have.

“I wasn’t surprised that Matt said ‘I’m still a part of Roush Racing,’ because of the way Jack runs that program,” Burton said. “When you’re one of his drivers, you’re one of his drivers. He gives you a lot of rope and it makes you take ownership in that company.”

Kenseth’s value to the organization does not only come from the results he will give them on the track, but rather in how he helps them identify potential issues that need to be fixed. As an 18-year veteran, he is the franchise driver they have been looking for – basically since he left Roush after the 2012 season.

“I will raise my hand as one of the people that were very concerned we wouldn’t see a Roush Fenway in four or five years,” Steve Letarte said. “Because, I know they have been trying to get better, but going about it in a way that didn’t excite me. I heard a lot of the same names, a lot of the same people.”

“I was concerned the ingredients were already in the bowl at some point and it didn’t work. When you look at Matt Kenseth, I think he can come in there on a Tuesday and say ‘guys, it’s not motor, it’s aero. Guys, it’s not aero, it’s pit stops.’ He has nothing to prove in his career like the two young drivers do.”

When Kenseth announced his retirement last year, he said he would only return if the opportunity was the right one.

“It’s not just about driving,” Kenseth said. “If it was just about driving, I probably would have been at Daytona. But there’s a lot of other things in the organization. I feel they are definitely on the upswing from where they were two years ago. Even last year, to now. I feel like the cars are running better. I think we’re going to run OK, and I think I can help the organization keep getting stronger.”

Watch the above video for more commentary.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. explores concussion recovery in new book

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A year to the day after announcing he would retire from full-time NASCAR competition, Dale Earnhardt Jr. revealed an upcoming book about his experiences with concussions, notably the one in 2016 that nearly ended his career.

“Racing to the Finish: My Story” is co-written by ESPN’s Ryan McGee and is scheduled to be published Oct. 16. You can pre-order it now.

Earnhardt revealed the book Wednesday on NASCAR America and explained the inspiration behind it.

The 15-time most popular driver missed the final 18 races of the 2016 season after he began experiencing concussion-like symptoms during the July race weekend at Kentucky Speedway. The symptoms stemmed from a wreck at Michigan International Speedway three races earlier.

Many of the details in the book come from a journal Earnhardt began keeping during his first concussion experience in 2012.

“I don’t think nobody outside (wife) Amy and my doctor knows exactly everything that went on, and how bad it was” Earnhardt said. “There’s a couple of reasons I wanted to write this book. My fans ask me all the time about why I retired early from driving when I probably had a couple of more years. I think this will answer all those questions.”

Earnhardt hopes the book will also help those who have gone through similar situations and felt “helpless.”

“There’s some really, really bad moments, very dark moments,” Earnhardt said of his recovery. “There’s some helpless moments. You want to give up. Luckily, I had a really good doctor that I could call at any hour of the night and talk me off this ledge and help me understand that this is going to get better and tell me that you’ve fixed this in someone else.”

Earnhardt was open during his recovery process, posting videos of himself taking part in exercises to show what he was doing to get back to full strength.

“When I was writing all those notes, I didn’t know why I was writing them other than I was scared of what I was feeling and what I was going through,” Earnhardt said. “If something were to happen to me where I couldn’t articulate these experiences, there they would be.”

Even before his 2016 concussion, Earnhardt revealed he would donate his brain to CTE research.

Watch the above video for more.

 

Long: Can Matt Kenseth return Roush Fenway to its glory days?

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blue skies poked through the gray clouds that had hung over the city for most of two days, delivering rain, wind and gloom.

Inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday morning, the forecast also was about to change for one Cup team.

Matt Kenseth is back in NASCAR to help turnaround Roush Fenway Racing.

It’s an interesting challenge for me and not just being a driver,’’ said Kenseth, who has 39 career Cup victories to rank 20th on the all-time list. “I hope I can be much more to the organization, and I’m hoping that there are a lot of different ways I can help in.’’

An organization that once dominated — Roush won 15 races and placed five cars in the top 10 in points in 2005 — has struggled to be competitive and retain drivers.

Kenseth left after the 2012 season. Carl Edwards departed after 2014. Greg Biffle left after 2016 because there wasn’t enough sponsorship to fund a car.

While Wednesday was a day for Roush Fenway Racing to celebrate and look toward the future, there is much work to do for an organization that has one top-10 finish between Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne.

“We have enough resources to fix any number of things but what is very difficult to discern with a young driver lineup like we have is what is most important,’’ Tommy Wheeler, operations director at Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports. “What is going to be the most impactful today to make the car faster?’’

Bayne likely wouldn’t be sharing the No. 6 the rest of the year with Kenseth if his team’s performance hadn’t dipped.

Bayne has run in the top 15 in 10.5 percent of the laps run this season (Stenhouse is at 39.9 percent). Bayne’s average finish is 23.9 — compared to 19.5 last year — and he ranks 25th in the series in average running position (23.0).

“Really, when we look at last year, (Bayne’s team) and (Stenhouse’s team) were fairly close in overall performance, the 17 (of Stenhouse) was certainly better and certainly that split got greater this year and that’s just … not the direction we’re wanting to continue down,’’ Wheeler told NBC Sports.

Kenseth understands the challenge he’ll face. After winning races in six of the past seven seasons, the focus is different.

“I don’t think any of us expect to come out and win races,’’ Kenseth said. “That would be great if you could, and I think we expect to eventually. I don’t think that the summer and a part-time schedule that we expect to win, but I do feel like the cars are much more competitive, I feel like they’re on the right track.’’

Wheeler said the work starts now. The team will integrate Kenseth in all that it is doing. Kenseth noted that he’s been watching races more closely and studying notes “the last few weeks” as the deal was put together.

As for why this wasn’t done at the start of the year when Kenseth was available, car owner Jack Roush had a simple answer.

“I still had a little bit of a rawness over the fact that he left me when he did,’’ Roush said. “We had another championship out there, I thought, that we could have had in short order. I missed that, so it took me a little while to get over it.”

With the performance down this year, Roush needed to act quickly.

Mark Martin, who has served in a consultant-type role since the playoffs last year, said what Kenseth can help the team with could make a significant impact for Stenhouse — who had three sponsors extend deals with the team last week.

“I have hopes (of the team winning) because I know the tools are there at the organization, I know the people are there at the organization,’’ Martin said. “Really, what’s preventing them right now is a little bit of enthusiasm and direction to be able to use those tools and spend that time on the part that bears fruit.

“You do that and put that in Ricky Stenhouse’s hands, he’ll get it done. Right now, Ricky is just trying too freaking hard. I think if we could get him in a little faster race car, I would hope that maybe he could tune it down. He’s just driving so hard right now, it’s hard to watch for me. I just feel like we have all the tools, we just still don’t have the cars fast enough inherently.’’

Stenhouse has had to go to a backup car in three of the first nine races because of accidents during practice.

Stenhouse, who made the playoffs last year, will be the team’s only driver eligible for the playoffs since it seems unlikely NASCAR would grant a waiver for Bayne or Kenseth if they’re not running the full season because of a team decision.

For Stenhouse to make the playoffs and be a factor, the organization must be better at the 1.5-mile tracks that play a key role in the Cup season. It’s no coincidence that Kenseth will make his debut May 12 at Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile speedway and be back in the car for the May 19 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile track.

“We’ve got to perform on the mile-and-a half tracks or we’re going to be disappointed with our end-of-the year results,’’ Wheeler told NBC Sports. “Making the playoffs was really our goal last year. Well, now it’s about making the playoffs and making a strong run, validating that we deserve to be there and that we’re going to be competitive on these mile-and-a-half tracks that eat up so much of the schedule.’’

The rest of the driver schedule for the No. 6 car is to be worked out between Bayne, Kenseth and sponsor obligations.

That’s just a small part of the work ahead for Kenseth.

His biggest task is if he can help change Roush Fenway Racing’s fortunes and return the team to sunnier days?

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Ryan Blaney honors father with Southern 500 paint scheme

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Ryan Blaney‘s throwback paint scheme for this season’s Southern 500 is personal.

The Team Penske driver will pay tribute to the NASCAR career of his father, former Cup driver Dave Blaney, in the Sept. 2 race at Darlington Raceway.

The No. 12 Ford will look like the No. 77 Jasper sponsored Ford the elder Blaney drove in the 2003 Cup season.

The car was revealed on NASCAR’s Facebook Live page. 

That year, Dave Blaney earned his first of two career Cup poles and his first of four top fives. The top five came in the spring race at Darlington.

Dave Blaney made 473 Cup starts from 1992 through 2014.

His son, in his first full-time season with Penske, will make his fourth Southern 500 start. His best finish is 13th in 2016.

Ryan Blaney is eighth in the Cup points standings through nine races.

MORE: Matt DiBenedetto pays tribute to Jeff Burton with Darlington scheme