Nate Ryan

NASCAR’s New Kids are in the spotlight (without knowing the songs)

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FORT WORTH, Texas – Call it NASCAR’s hottest boy brand.

Never one to shy from stoking the embers of a controversy, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage unfurled his 10-foot-high take on the generational divide in the Cup Series that has become one of the defining stories of the season.

“The New Kids On The Track” were introduced Friday via a banner hanging from the broadcast tower adjacent to victory lane at Texas. Per Gossage (who had told NBC Sports in a February story that he was kicking around such a branding idea), NASCAR’s new Magnificent Seven of the Under 30 set are Daniel Suarez, Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman and William Byron.

A much smaller sign alongside highlighted a recent tweet by Kevin Harvick on the advanced age of race winners in 2018.

Harvick also took note of the fact that the combined career win total in Cup for the New Kids on the Track … is one.

“It’s a cool promotion if you like good marketing,” Harvick said. “But if you like winners, you go for the old guys.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was smiling, but it was another reminder of the undercurrent of tension running through a storyline that dates to January when Kyle Busch expressed his annoyance of a NASCAR marketing push for youth.

This week on the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Brad Keselowski said it was natural for veterans to be jealous of their younger peers because many (such as Busch and Keselowski) lacked the exposure and visibility at the same age despite producing much better results than the new wave of Millennials.

“I love every one of those kids on that poster,” Harvick said. “I think they’re all great for our sport, and I’m not taking personal digs at them. I’m trying to have as much fun with it as I told them they should have fun with it, too.

“That’s really what it’s about. It’s the dad and kid sitting in the grandstands from two different generations. Mom and daughter sitting in the grandstands from two different generations. They root for the young guys, you root for the old guys, and that’s great for our sport, it really is. It makes it fun to be able to have that banter back and forth. So yeah, most of those guys probably don’t even know who New Kids on the Block are. I would venture to say that.”

Uh oh, oh oh oh.

Harvick, a 42-year-old who was on the cusp of high school when the New Kids on the Block became America’s breakthrough boy band of the late 1980s, was right.

In an informal and incomplete poll, only Ryan Blaney was able to lay claim to knowledge of the New Kids, though he didn’t know any songs and sometimes is confused about the lineup.

    “I get them and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch mixed up ((Mark Wahlberg’s brother, Donnie, was in NKOTB),” Blaney said. “I thought (the banner) was pretty funny. I saw a picture of it last night. I thought that was pretty neat. Eddie has always done really well at making things fun and light. It’s just cool to be a part of that group.”

Erik Jones, who will turn 22 next month, was at least savvy enough to learn that he was born after the group went defunct in 1995 (at least before the inevitable cash-grab reunion tour a few years ago).

“They asked me what New Kids on the Block I was and I was like ‘Man, I’ve got to be honest with you, I have no idea,’ “ he said. “I saw that (banner) though. It’s cool. It made me laugh. I liked the (Harvick) sign they put next to it better. At first I thought Harvick actually put it there. I was like that, that’s pretty funny, but then I realized the track did it.”

No hard feelings, though, many of the younger drivers say.

“We haven’t had a young crop of guys all enter the sport at once in probably 15 years now,” Jones said. “When you see this many young guys coming at once, obviously I think NASCAR’s done a good job trying to promote us and give us an advantage early on to get our names out there and get some more fans and get some more exposure and you know we all appreciate it.

“We’re willing to take advantage of those events and I think Blaney said it well. I think we’re just more willing to take some of these opportunities that they’re not willing to. You know a lot of them have families and want to spend as much time at home as they can and for us to take a trip to wherever or spend some extra time somewhere isn’t as big of a deal. I think we’re just more willing right now to take advantage of some of those opportunities.”

Texas will be taking advantage of the promotion this weekend as Gossage said a mashup of the young drivers and the New Kids song “Hangin’ Tough” will air often on Big Hoss, the track’s enormous backstretch videoboard.

Daniel Suarez, who was happy the banner made him feel young and had no knowledge of the New Kids, believes there is some latent jealousy among older drivers.

“I think a little bit,” he said. “What I think is all the veteran drivers are very strong and have a very strong fan base and obviously a lot of support. They have pretty much the path already made. I feel like for young drivers, sometimes we need that extra push to start making that path and building that fan base. There’s nothing wrong to have extra support.

“Kevin, Kyle, any of veteran drivers when they were young in middle 20s, am sure they had good exposure to build brand and fan base. That’s what I think, but maybe that’s part of racing, too. Everyone is competitive, not just on the racetrack but sometimes out of the racetrack.”

Said Blaney: “I’ve said it all along, it’s just really fortunate to be involved in not only in NASCAR but involved in this younger driver group with some of those guys. I don’t really look at age. I don’t care if you’re 18 years old or 50 years old, we’re just competitors. I think it was a pretty neat thing that Gossage did.”

Well, mostly.

“I like how (the banner portrays him) throwing up the peace sign, too,” Blaney said. “I’ve never done that in my life.”

Ryan: The curious lack of strategic gambling was the pits at Richmond

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Sometimes, the best option to win a race isn’t outrunning the competition but outmaneuvering them.

Never is that more applicable than with a late-race caution on a short track.

Which made the final pit stop sequence of Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway even more inexplicable.

When the yellow flag waved with a scheduled 10 laps remaining, all 16 cars on the lead lap pitted for four tires.

Why didn’t a crew chief gamble on keeping his car on track? Or at least taking two tires?

Generally, the tried-and-true axiom for any late caution at a short track is to do the opposite of those in the lead or near it – even in instances of the high tire wear evident Saturday at Richmond.

Sometimes, the strategy gets taken to the extreme.

In the April 18, 2004 at Martinsville Speedway, a caution flew with 85 laps remaining. Leader Jimmie Johnson stayed on track … and the 14 lead-lap cars behind him all pitted. On tires that fell off quickly, Johnson still managed to keep the lead for another 40 laps and hung on for a fourth-place finish. Crew chief Chad Knaus said two days later that he was “floored” that even the cars outside the top 10 stopped (expecting that at least a few might risk staying out and hanging on for a top 10).

Stunned would be an understandable reaction to Richmond, too, especially given the circumstances. When the race restarted, there were six green-flags left. As it turned out, because of a caution on the next lap, just four of the final 12 laps were contested under green.

Why not elect to remain on track or try a swifter two-tire stop rather than stay behind the top contenders?

For three drivers – Austin Dillon, David Ragan and Matt DiBenedetto – the strategy play wasn’t much of a choice. They took a wavearound 20 laps earlier and probably couldn’t risk the extra distance on tires.

But for every other driver who was trailing as eventual race winner Kyle Busch entered the pits on Lap 391 – a list that comprised, in running order, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez – rolling the dice was a legitimate option.

Ten of those 13 drivers don’t have a win, which is the easiest way to qualify for a playoff berth. While you can make the case for “every point matters,” if you were running outside the top 10 and had an opportunity to steal a victory, why pass it up?

Yes, worn tires would have factored into the call (it was roughly halfway through a typical green-flag run), and they highly increased the likelihood of spinning the tires and stacking up the restart.

That could have ruined the results for many other teams that then would have become the victim of circumstances beyond their control.

But who cares?

You are supposed to make life more difficult for competitors during a race, whether it’s by banging fenders or battling wits. There is no sense of entitlement or fair play that the front-running cars somehow “deserve” a clean restart to decide the race.

There also is strength in numbers. If the back half of the lead-lap cars had pitted, it would have been extremely difficult for the previous front-runners to regain many spots over barely three and a half laps of green on the 0.75-mile oval.

It certainly would have presented a show to watch unfold in a race that was relatively tame (though there was consistent passing for first and no runaway leader).

But fans were deprived of a potential slam-bang finish. Instead, we got another example of the garage groupthink that can be so pervasive, it comes at the detriment of competitive ingenuity.

When the 16-driver playoff field likely is set in September without some of those teams, none will point to Richmond as the race that cost them a championship bid because they won’t know for sure if it did.

Which is why at least a few of them should have tried to find out Saturday.


According to multiple media estimates, the crowd for Saturday night’s race was around 40,000. That would be up about 10,000 from the previous year on Sunday afternoon, which marked the second consecutive scheduled daytime start for Richmond’s spring race.

In moving both of its races back under the lights this season, track officials proclaimed that Saturday night racing was its “brand,” and the modest attendance uptick might affirm that.

However, does a track that once had a 112,000-seat capacity and sold out 33 consecutive races from 1992-2008 have its swagger back a little bit with the move?

Yes, there is that ongoing $30 million infield renovation that produced some positive vibes, and maybe encouraging signs have emerged from aligning with a renowned pro wrestling promoter in hopes of goosing promotions and ticket sales.

But with a (greatly reduced) capacity of more than 50,000, there probably were still at least 10,000 empty seats Saturday night. It was a good step forward but much work remains to be done in a market that always has been is a cornerstone for race fans.


Though it appeared to be triggered by Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Ford scarping the wall, the final caution Saturday was sourced to “debris,” marking only the second debris yellow of the season and the first since the season-opening Daytona 500.

Last season, there were nine debris yellows through the first nine races.

This is the lowest total for debris yellows through nine races since at least 1990 (the first season in which caution reasons were listed for every race on Racing-Reference.info). There were four seasons (1990, ’91, ’92 and ’95) with three debris cautions through the first nine races.

As Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott noted postrace (and many others have said), last year’s implementation of stages came with a tacit understanding that the scheduled yellows would effectively serve as “planned” debris cautions.

NASCAR deserves credit for sticking to the pledge of letting races play out naturally, avoiding the quick-trigger temptation to bunch the field on restarts and draw the justified ire of its teams.


No one ever will confuse a seven-time champion with a wily starting pitcher, but Jimmie Johnson has been grinding out races this season with the efficacy of a journeyman trying to win without his best stuff every fifth day.

Bristol (third) and Richmond (sixth) are the first time Johnson has earned back-to-back top 10s since Dover and Charlotte last October, which isn’t exactly remarkable for a driver who has finished in the top 10 in 344 of 588 starts (58.5 percent). But it’s been admirable to watch the way in which the Hendrick Motorsports driver has adjusted to patiently gritting it out and making the most of what he is given.

During their heyday, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus could win on any Sunday because of their No. 48 Chevrolet’s speed. That they seem to be recalibrating their approaches is as impressive on some levels as their dominance.

“We’re taking steps forward,” Johnson said. “I’d love to take a jump forward, but we’re definitely taking steps forward.”

Maybe Johnson (whose quest to return to greatness was the subject of a well-done Associated Press story last week) should begin tweeting quotes from Jim Bouton instead of Babe Ruth.


So where are the Hendrick Chevrolets a quarter of the way into the Camaro era?

Elliott had said it would be reasonable to evaluate the team this season after Martinsville Speedway (when the West Coast Swing was over). Three races later, the No. 9 driver said he was “realistic” after finishing second at Richmond (where he mostly ran in the top 15 but benefited from some late breaks).

“I think we’ve been getting better, for sure, over the course of the past handful of weeks,” he said. “I thought (Bristol) was really probably our best effort as a company.

“I think we have to continue to be realistic with ourselves.  We can’t look at the results tonight and think we’re right there, because in reality I think we still have some work to do.  I think anybody amongst our team would say the same thing. I’m not knocking anyone, anybody on my team or whoever, but we all know we need to do better.  I think we just have to be realistic with ourselves.”

Talladega Superspeedway won’t reveal much next week, but the May stretch of Dover International Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway will be a critical test of how far Hendrick needs to go over the summer to be ready for a playoff push.


After coming up agonizingly short of a breakthrough victory at Richmond, Martin Truex Jr. at least can erase some of the sting at Talladega. The defending series champion has yet to win a restrictor plate race in 52 starts, which still falls short of his 0-for-75 record on short tracks.

According to Racing Insights, Truex (16 victories) ranks second behind Greg Biffle (19) for most wins without a short-track triumph. (Sterling Marlin is third with 10).

Truex said last year he needed to race “more like a jerk” to end his plate drought. With short tracks, it might be as simple as catching some good luck if the last two visits to Richmond are an indication.

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota extend relationship

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Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota have extended their relationship, NBC Sports has confirmed.

No details on the agreement were made available. RacinBoys.com first reported the extension.

The news of the extension comes with JGR’s Kyle Busch in the midst of a three-race win streak, the most recent coming last Saturday in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

JGR’s Cup driver roster includes Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones.

JGR has been partnered with Toyota since 2008 when it switched from Chevrolet.

Since then JGR has one Cup championship (Busch, 2015) and 93 wins in Cup. It also has two Xfinity championships. In that time, Toyota has won the Cup manufacturer’s championship twice (2016, 2017) and the Xfinity manufacturer’s title four times.

Key wins for JGR with Toyota include the Daytona 500 (Hamlin, 2016), the Brickyard 400 (Kyle Busch, twice), the Southern 500 (five times) and Coke 600 (Carl Edwards, 2015).

Since its inception in 1992, JGR has driven under the banners of Chevrolet (1992-96), Pontiac (1997-2002), Chevrolet (2000-07) and Toyota.

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Denny Hamlin will co-own Little Big Burger restaurant in North Carolina

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Denny Hamlin is getting into the burger business.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was announced Monday as being a partner in the ownership of a Little Big Burger store in Cornelius, North Carolina, not far from where he lives.

Originating in Portland, Oregon, in 2010, LBB is fast-casual restaurant concept offering cooked-to-order burgers. Hamlin’s restaurant will be one of 14 LBB locations, with 11 in Oregon.

LBB is a subsidiary of Chanticleer Holdings, Inc., which operates 55 restaurants worldwide. The agreement with Hamlin includes the option for nine potential future locations.

“I’m looking forward to opening my first Little Big Burger right down the street from where I live,” said Hamlin in a press release. “I’m a huge fan of Little Big Burger.  The burgers and fries are as good as you can get. I have been impressed with the management team Chanticleer has assembled with Little Big Burger, and I therefore can’t be more excited about being able to further expand this concept to the Charlotte, North Carolina market.”

Hamlin is the latest Cup driver to get involved in a restaurant.

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is a partner in Southbound, a Southern California-style taco shop in Charlotte that opened last fall.

NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. owns multiple Whiskey River bar locations, including in downtown Charlotte and in a few North Carolina airports.

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WATCH: ISM Raceway’s scoring pylon meets its maker

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The $178 million renovation of ISM Raceway has claimed its latest victim.

Over the weekend, the project that began in February of last year toppled the scoring pylon that stood in the desolate remains of the track’s infield.

The pylon’s removal follows the destruction of the old media center a couple of weeks ago and the tearing down of the Petty grandstands on the frontstretch.

The project, which will see the start-finish line moved to the dog leg on what was the backstretch, is set to be complete by the NASCAR playoff weekend in November.

You can watch the demolition of the scoring pylon below in a video accompanied by the “Returns a King” track from the score for the film 300.