Carl Edwards

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Reliving some of NASCAR’s most dramatic finishes

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The Minnesota Vikings’ win against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday marked the first time in NFL history that a playoff game ended with a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.

NASCAR has had its share of dramatic finishes through the years. While it’s easy to debate which dramatic finishes rank among the all-time best, here’s a look at some of the most dramatic (and surprising) wins in NASCAR.

The first selection comes from what is now the Xfinity Series. It was the 2012 season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. Kurt Busch led with Kyle Busch pushing him as they entered Turn 3. Behind them were Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart, Elliott SadlerRicky Stenhouse Jr., Kasey Kahne, Cole Whitt and Brad Keselowski.

None of them won the race. 

James Buescher, who was 11th in Turn 4 won for his only Xfinity victory in 91 career starts. 

 

Carl Edwards had won the Xfinity race the day at Atlanta but had yet to win in 16 previous Cup starts before he cranked the engine at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 2005. Edwards came from behind to beat Jimmie Johnson at the line in among the closest finishes in NASCAR.

 

Dale Earnhardt’s incredible ride from 18th to first in the final five laps in 2000 at Talladega Superspeedway is memorable for that alone but it also was his 76th and final Cup victory. When the video clip below starts, you don’t even see Earnhardt but he’s there lurking and works his way up the field. With two laps left, announcer Jerry Punch exclaims: “The Intimidator is scraped and beaten on the right side, but he will not be denied! “Mr. Restrictor Plate knows there are two laps to go! Earnhardt drives to the high side of Bobby Labonte. Wow.”

 

As they took the white flag at Watkins Glen International in 2012, Kyle Busch led, Brad Keselowski was second and Marcos Ambrose was third.

What followed was a chaotic final lap that ended with Ambrose winning. It led broadcaster Dale Jarrett to say about the beating, banging and battling: “A year’s worth of excitement in 2.45 miles. Incredible.”

 

Ricky Craven tried to make his move by Kurt Busch with two laps to go at Darlington Raceway in 2003 but slid up and made contact with Busch and lost his momentum. That allowed Busch to dive underneath and take the lead back. Craven persisted. As they came off the final corner, Craven went underneath Busch for a door-slamming drag race to the checkered flag, nipping Busch by 0.002 seconds to win.

Of course, one can’t include such a list without one of the sport’s most famous finishes. Donnie Allison led Cale Yarborough on the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. Yarborough dived low on the backstretch to pass Allison, who blocked. They hit, bounced off each other and hit again before crashing in Turn 3. Richard Petty drove by several seconds later to take the lead and go on to win the event. As Petty celebrated, Allison, Yarborough and Bobby Allison, who had stopped to check on his brother, fought.

 

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Ryan: The craziest twist in the Carl Edwards story, one year later

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Carl Edwards isn’t coming back.

But if he were, where would he go?

This is what has become the astounding part of Edwards’ saga, possibly more stunning than one year ago today when he walked into a conference room at Joe Gibbs Racing to explain why he was walking away from NASCAR.

Many expected he eventually would choose to return to the Cup Series, and he initially left many openings for climbing behind the wheel again (notably at Atlanta Motor Speedway last March).

But as the Columbia, Missouri, native’s comments in local media telegraphed last week, the siren call of staying on his 425-acre farm apparently outweighed racing stock cars.

And there hardly seems a path back to a top-flight ride in NASCAR’s premier series, which was transformed by a 2017 season that devalued the necessity of having a seasoned winner such as Edwards.

None of the top teams has a ride in imminent need of being filled, and any unexpected opening likely would be tabbed for someone much younger than Edwards, 38.

You could name a dozen instances last year – Ryan Blaney’s win at Pocono Raceway, Erik Jones’ anointment as successor to Matt Kenseth, Hendrick Motorsports’ selection of Alex Bowman and William Byron – in which that narrative seemed to have shifted, and it also could be attributed to many reasons – shrinking sponsor dollars, big-ticket driver salaries, engineering trumping experience.

But what if Edwards’ decision actually was the inflection point at which everything began to change?

What if a highly marketable and accomplished star leaving in the prime of his career marked the moment in which The Great Youth Movement of 2017-18 tacitly began?

What if we thought we were watching an ending … that actually was a beginning?

Subscribing to this notion requires connecting some dots with a healthy dose of nuance and a dash of sociology.

Edwards’ retirement didn’t directly trigger a cascading series of reactions that concluded with Byron and Bowman in Cup next year.

But it did plant some seeds and provide an accelerated test case of how a powerhouse team would handle being thrust into a changing of the guard at least a year ahead of schedule.

Aside from an early season blip in 2017, Joe Gibbs Racing hardly missed a beat without Edwards, and the team financially positioned itself well for the future with the byproduct of a major salary dump. Suarez is making a fraction of what Edwards did, a cost savings stretching well into the eight figures.

Though Jones was contractually obligated to join JGR in 2018, making the call for him to replace Kenseth probably became less fraught given the relative smoothness of the sudden transition to Suarez.

Surely, other teams noticed as well. Groupthink is a weekly pursuit in a Cup garage built around mimicry, but its tentacles also can extend to teams’ front offices, where prospects have soured for accomplished veterans.

Imagine if Edwards wanted to return now and placed an imaginary help wanted notice (the same way he once advertised himself for rides in trade publications). It would read something like this:

Veteran star from the Midwest. A long record of winning results at Roush Fenway Racing and JGR. Consistent championship contender.

Sound familiar?

The reasons that Kenseth couldn’t find a ride for 2018 are the same that would be facing Edwards, who might offer a more camera-friendly persona but actually has less impressive on-track credentials.

This is the current reality of Cup for stars who once could command high salaries: Be ready to accept a steep pay cut with a smile.

It’s why it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Edwards returns, particularly when considering his objective of reconnecting with his roots seemingly has been realized.

“I’m an all-or-nothing person, sometimes to my detriment,” he told the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. “It’s taken about a year to actually wind down. I’m just now becoming the friend and person I should be to a lot of people that I basically didn’t spend a lot of time with for a long time. It’s an amazing opportunity, and I’ve really been enjoying it.”

Good for Edwards, who is an analytical and meticulous personality so well known for his planning, many peers have joked about him being a survivalist “prepper.”

Maybe our shock at his abrupt exit was misguided.

Edwards might have foreseen a bigger surprise was in store.

Doug Richert leaves BK Racing after seven seasons as crew chief, R&D director

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After seven seasons with BK Racing as a crew chief and Director of Research and Development, Doug Richert has left the organization.

Richert’s wife, Robin, made the announcement on Facebook. Neither Richert, 57, nor his wife said what he would do next.

Richert, was crew chief for 21 races in 2017 for a rotating group of drivers that included Joey Gase, Gray Gaulding, Corey LaJoie, Stephen Leicht, Brett Moffitt and Ryan Sieg.

Richert first came to NASCAR in 1977 as a then-17-year-old. Three years later in 1980, at 20 years old, he served as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt’s first of what would eventually become a record-tying (along with Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson) seven NASCAR Cup championships.

Richert also led Greg Biffle to a runner-up crown to Tony Stewart in the 2005 NASCAR Cup championship.

On the NASCAR Cup level, Richert has served as crew chief for 560 races, being part of 13 wins, 66 top-5s, 119 top-10s and 5 poles. Three wins were with Earnhardt, while 10 were with Biffle.

Richert also spent 46 races as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series with one win (Biffle), six top-5s, 15 top-10s and 1 pole

He also spent 64 races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as a crew chief, being part of 12 wins (8 with Ron Hornaday Jr., 3 with Carl Edwards and 1 with Mike Skinner), 35 top-5s, 45 top-10s and 7 poles.

During his NASCAR career, Richert worked for a number of team owners including Rod Osterlund, Richard Childress, Jack Roush, Dale Earnhardt, Robert Yates, Joe Gibbs and Junior Johnson.

Friday 5: Questions about the upcoming Cup season

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Many places often celebrate Friday at 5 where the weekend begins. Although there’s no NASCAR Cup action this weekend, fans can still enjoy Friday 5 with a (fun) look at the upcoming season with these five questions.

1. What is the new driver/crew chief combination that is most intriguing?

Among the new driver/crew chief combinations this year:

Billy Scott with Kurt Busch at Stewart-Haas Racing

John Klausmeier with Aric Almirola at SHR

Matt Borland with Ty Dillon at Germain Racing

Greg Erwin with Paul Menard at the Wood Brothers

Travis Mack with Kasey Kahne at Leavine Family Racing

Greg Ives with Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports

Darian Grubb with William Byron at Hendrick Motorsports

The one that intrigues the most is the Grubb/Byron pairing. Grubb won a championship with Tony Stewart in 2011, led Denny Hamlin to the title race in Homestead in 2014, worked with Carl Edwards in 2015 and won the 2006 Daytona 500 with Jimmie Johnson while serving as interim crew chief with Chad Knaus suspended.

Grubb has never worked with a rookie.

Byron is more than a rookie. The 20-year-old is viewed by many to be the future of Hendrick Motorsports. Grubb will play a key role in molding Byron and that’s an important responsibility. How Byron handles the highs and lows of the season will rest with Grubb. This will be worth watching closely.

2. How will Fords compete with the other manufacturers this season?

Chevrolet brings out the Camaro ZL1 this season. Toyota won 16 races with the updated Toyota Camry last year. Ford will have the oldest model among the three.

Brad Keselowski raised issues about Toyota’s success last year and NASCAR not keeping the manufactures closer. He sounded a warning about the 2018 season moments after the 2017 season finished in Homestead

“When that (Toyota) car rolled out at Daytona, and I think we all got to see it for the first time, I think there (were) two reactions: One, we couldn’t believe NASCAR approved it; and two, we were impressed by the design team over there,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think anyone ever had a shot this year the second that thing got put on the racetrack and approved. It kind of felt like Formula 1, where you had one car that made it through the gates heads and tails above everyone, and your hands are tied because you’re not allowed to do anything to the cars in those categories that NASCAR approves to really catch up.

“As to what will happen for 2018, you know, I don’t know. I would assume that Chevrolet will be allowed to design a car the same way that Toyota was for this one, but Ford doesn’t have any current plans for that. If that’s the case, we’re going to take a drubbing next year, so we’ll have to see.”

That’s the challenge Fords could face this season. Ford won 10 races last year, but only two of the final 19 races last year. Will that trend continue this season?

3. There were three first-time Cup winners in 2017. Will that number be equaled this season?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon each scored their first career Cup victory last season.

Among the drivers seeking their first career Cup win this season: Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Ty Dillon and Darrell Wallace Jr. Those drivers represent Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Germain Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports.

It would seem a good bet that Elliott and at least one other driver on that list scores their first career Cup win this year. It’s possible there could be three first-time winners again.

4. For fun, who is your way-too-early final four picks at Homestead?

Let’s go with Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch.

5. For fun, in the way-too-early category, how many drivers who didn’t make the playoffs last year make it this year?

Let’s go with three. Thinking Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman.

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Darian Grubb ‘absolutely impressed’ with William Byron in short time together

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There’s still 45 days left until the Daytona 500, yet Darian Grubb is already “absolutely impressed” with William Byron despite not having been to a track with him yet.

Grubb, 42, was named the crew chief of Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet in November. When the green flag drops on the season in February, it will be the Grubb’s first as a crew chief for a rookie driver.

Grubb appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” Thursday to discuss how his Hendrick Motorsports’ team has prepared to help the 20-year-old reigning Xfinity Series champion in his first foray into Cup racing.

“He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve met so far, to be able at that age, have that kind of focus in what he’s trying to do,” Grubb said. “He knows what his goals are and what he wants to accomplish. He’s been a phenomenal talent on the race track, and now from what I’ve seen behind the scenes here in the shop and working with the crew guys and getting to know people, he’s doing everything it’s going to take to make sure he has that performance.”

Byron enters 2018 having won 11 NASCAR races in the last two years – seven victories in the Camping World Truck Series and four in his Xfinity title campaign.

He’s paired with Grubb, who has 23 Cup wins in 295 races as a crew chief, including the 2006 Daytona 500 as an interim crew chief for Jimmie Johnson. Grubb won the 2011 championship as crew chief for Tony Stewart.

Grubb returns full-time to a crew chief role for the first time since 2015 with Carl Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing. In 2016, he rejoined Hendrick as the vehicle production director. Last August, he was promoted to director of competition systems. In September, he was made the interim crew chief for Kasey Kahne for the final nine races of the year.

Kahne’s No. 5 team has now transformed into the new No. 24 team.

“I’m really excited about getting (Byron) on the race track and kind of let him refocus his efforts towards the track instead of having to do all the preparation and making sure he’s ready and … let him actually enjoy the fruits of that labor,” Grubb said.

That work includes frequent visits to the General Motors simulator located near Charlotte. That mode of preparation is not foreign to Byron, whose racing origins are in iRacing, an online simulator game.

“He’s able to actually take our setups and our race car, our aero performance, suspension settings and all these other things and go testing,” Grubb said. “We can go test there just like we can at a race track. Obviously the feel is not exactly the same, but we are learning some things as we go through.

“He spent enough time in there with the Xfinity program with JR Motorsports and our chassis and everything that we’re very familiar already with his style and what he’s doing. We’re thinking we can apply a lot of these things at the race track.”

While Grubb and his team may be familiar with Byron’s style, they have no “preconceived notions” about what he likes in a Cup car. The fact that Chevrolet is introducing its Camaro model to Cup and there are new ride height rules make deducing that even harder.

“There’s not a lot really that transfers over (from last year),” Grubb told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Everything is kind of fresh and new … We’re kind of putting together in our own heads what we think is best and how we’re going to handle the new ride height rules and the performance of the race car on track. For us, it’s more about we do have a new body, we’ve got to check for fender clearances and the travel of the race car and all those things. Then can we do pit stops once we do that? How do we manage getting tires out of the fenders and everything with the car being so low.”

Byron has five restrictor-plate starts and one win in the last two years. But he’ll arrive at Daytona with new spotter in Tab Boyd.

Boyd joins Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 24 team after previously spotting for Joey Logano.

The pair is already working on their chemistry. Grubb said Byron plans to be on the spotter’s stand with Boyd to watch the Feb. 11 Advance Auto Parts Clash since Byron is not in that exhibition race.

“They’re already going to sit down and review video and just kind of see how those scenarios of runs develop,” Grubb said. “It’s different from what he’s run in Xfinity cars from what we’re going to have in a Cup car. It’s a lot to learn and the more you pick up in the data and what you can see and what you think you can learn, then you can go out there and practice and try to apply those scenarios.”