BRISTOL, Tenn. — Harrison Burton has been to NASCAR’s Victory Lane before. But that was when his dad, NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton, raced.
Saturday, Harrison Burton was in Victory Lane after winning his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race. Both his mom and dad were there to celebrate his first NASCAR win.
The 16-year-old Burton dominated Saturday’s rain-shortened Zombie Auto 125 at Bristol Motor Speedway, earning praise from current and former NASCAR competitors.
“One of my favorite races I can recall of my dad winning was here at Bristol,’’ Harrison Burton said of his father’s victory in 2008. “Me and my sister were jumping up and down when he won. I was really, really excited to win, and I’m sure he was excited to watch me win.
“It was really cool for me and him both to share a moment like that together. Obviously, my mom, as well, who has traveled the country with me while my dad was racing.’’
So what was the family celebration like this time?
“I didn’t say much,’’ Harrison Burton, a sophomore in high school, said. “I was just kind of laughing and smiling. I gave my mom a big hug and my dad a big hug as well. I think I lifted my mom off the ground. We were just pretty excited.’’
“Me and my crew chief were kind of talking like we wanted to run the whole race and win it that way,’’ Harrison Burton said. “We were confident enough to where we felt like our car was good enough that we could win the race. I felt like it would have been kind of cool to cross the line under dry conditions and do it that way. (But) I’ll take it. I was pretty happy when it started raining to be honest. I never wanted it to rain so bad in my life.’’
Harrison Burton leads the series standings with 129 points. He’s followed by Baize (114 points), Todd Gilliland (113), Ronnie Bassett Jr. (111) and Garcia (105).
The race will shown on NBCSN at 11 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 27.
Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5:30 to 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Carolyn Manno hosts from Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte join us from Burton’s Garage.
Here’s what’s on today’s show:
* The World’s Fastest Half Mile looms ahead this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. With high banks, an enhanced bottom groove and potential weather issues, there will be plenty in store. Jeff Burton, with over 18,000 laps of Cup Series experience at Bristol, and Steve Letarte break down the biggest challenges drivers will face.
* After winning the season-opening Daytona 500, Kurt Busch and the No. 41 team have had trouble keeping pace. We’ll hear from crew chief Tony Gibson on why his team has faltered, and what they need to do to be contenders again.
* Ryan Blaney picked up his first two stage wins of the season in Texas, but has yet to finish off a race victory in the Cup Series. Will Bristol bring a breakthrough for him and the Wood Brothers? Marty Snider chats with the rapidly rising young star.
* Next up on NASCAR America’s My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows list is a trip to the Bayou and the great state of Louisiana. The Pelican state has a strong cultural history marked by its musical and culinary delights – as well as racing. Today, we’re just outside the state capital at the Baton Rouge Raceway.
Last year, NASCAR put a stop to teams swerving wildly on cooldown laps after qualifying and races. The maneuvers were an attempt by drivers to get the rear of their cars properly aligned before inspection.
Swerving is back in the spotlight after comments Dale Earnhardt Jr. made over his radio and then to the media after Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. Tuesday night on NASCAR America, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton discussed the topic in the video above.
Earnhardt radioed his team that he saw the Team Penske cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano “swerving” and “downshifting hard” after the checkered flag.
After telling reporters that the Penske cars had been the “class of the field,” Earnhardt said “we need to figure out what they are doing and see if we can’t make it better.”
This isn’t the first time Keselowski has been a part of the discussion regarding body manipulation. In 2012, it was Keselowski radioing his team during the Brickyard 400 about his amazement at how much skew was visible in the Hendrick Motorsports’ cars.
What does all this talk about swerving mean?
“What (Earnhardt) was saying was that he was seeing them downshifting really hard, when you downshift, that would move the rear end and try to get it back into place,” analyst Jeff Burton said on NASCAR America. “That doesn’t mean, per say, that they were cheating. They could be doing it for insurance. They may be right on that edge of where they could be in the rule and they’re afraid as things move around in the race, they could be illegal after the race. …
“I think it was Junior’s way to vent a little bit to his team, ‘Hey, those guys are doing something maybe we need to be doing. Then saying it publicly, that was probably a shot across the bow, saying this is something NASCAR should look at.”
NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell was asked about Earnhardt’s comments Tuesday by NBC Sports.
“We are constantly looking at what goes on,” O’Donnell said. “I think our inspection process has been the same in terms of this year, and we’ve had to write some penalties, so we’re staying on the teams and know that rear skew is an area that we want to continue to monitor.”
Watch the video above for the rest of the discussion and to see Keselowski’s comments about the Hendrick cars after a 2012 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Kasey Kahne‘s reaction to them.
NASCAR America at 5:30 p.m. ET: All-Star race format reveal, Scan All: Texas
Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs for 90 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
The show breaks down the reveal of this year’s All-Star Race format and continues the “50 States in 50 Shows” with a look at the state of Illinois.
Carolyn Manno hosts with Dale Jarrett in Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton joins them from Burton’s Garage.
Here’s what’s on the show today:
· NASCAR announced a new format to next month’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It will be a salute to the classic 1992 thriller known as “One Hot Night,” when the event was run at night for the first time. It will also feature a twist provided by Goodyear. Dave Burns talks with Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch from the format’s announcement.
· Jimmie Johnson taking his first win of the season was just part of the excitement this past weekend in the Lone Star State. We’ll listen in to all of the action as we Scan All: Texas.
· NASCAR America’s My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows travels to Illinois. The home state of Danica Patrick actually held the first auto race in U.S. history in 1895. It is also home of the Kankakee County Speedway, which is entering its 67th season of providing great dirt-racing action.
My NASCAR memories start to come into focus around 1996, a year before I attended my first race at Texas Motor Speedway as a 6-year-old. Even now, most of my NASCAR recollections prior to 2001 get fuzzier by the day.
But boy, did I love NASCAR in the 1990s.
The names, the races, the paint schemes. It’s embedded in my DNA as deep as the Top Gun soundtrack.
But was it really that great? That’s the question I hope to answer with this series, while learning more about the sport.
Why start with the 1995 Goody’s 500? With having covered the STP 500, I’ve had Martinsville on the brain for the last two weeks. The half-mile track is one of five Earnhardt claimed more than five wins at, and the 1995 race was the last one.
Also, the NASCAR of 1995 and 2017 have a couple things in common. Both seasons follow one where a driver won their seventh championship (Dale Earnhardt vs. Jimmie Johnson) and they’re the coming-out parties for the sport’s “youth” (Jeff Gordon vs. Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, etc.).
Before we start, here’s a fun fact: There were two Goody’s 500s in 1995. The pain reliever also sponsored the Aug. 26 race at Bristol Motor Speedway (aka Dale Earnhardt vs. Terry Labonte, Part 1). Goody’s first sponsored the fall Martinsville race in 1983 and continues in 2017.
Setting the Stage
When the Winston Cup Series rolled into Martinsville on the weekend of Sept. 24, 1995, Bill Clinton was in his third year as president of the United States.
The air was filled with the sounds of Tim McGraw’s “I Like it, I Love It,” which was enjoying its third of five weeks as the No. 1 country song. Brad Pitt was asking Morgan Freeman “What’s in the box?” in David Fincher’s second film, Seven.
The Goody’s 500 was the 26th of 31 points races on the Cup schedule. Jeff Gordon, in his third full year on the circuit, had been in the points lead since the July 9 race at New Hampshire, 10 races prior.
Dale Earnhardt’s reign of terror was in its twilight. Despite three wins (North Wilkesboro, Sonoma and Indianapolis), he trailed Gordon by 309 points after the No. 24 won the previous week at Dover, his seventh win of the year.
On the afternoon of Sept. 24, the two defining names of NASCAR in the 1990s were on the front row after rain canceled qualifying. Gordon’s “pole” was his ninth of the year. At the time, Earnhardt had five career wins on the short track. Gordon had none.
With ESPN airing the race, Bob Jenkins had the call along with Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett.
What’s Different – Part 1
In 2017, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing over car counts. After the Daytona 500, only one race has reached the field maximum of 40 entries. Just a few years ago, the maximum amount was 43 cars.
But in the mid-’90s, short tracks had their own rules. A full field was 36 cars. For this race, six entries went home.
ESPN’s contributions to auto racing and how it’s presented on TV are immense. But in 1995, the practice of constant on-screen graphics depicting race position was still in its infancy. Here during the opening laps, Jenkins explained to viewers that new contraption up in the left-hand corner.
The race broadcast went to its first commercial on Lap 14 of 500. When it came back, Jenkins read ads for Ford, AC Delco and NASCAR’s 1994 season-in-review VHS tape. This tape can now be bought on eBay for $13, plus shipping and handling. As with any 22-year-old advertisement I see, I’m always tempted to call the toll-free number.
So I did.
It was disconnected.
On Lap 32, the first caution came out due to rain. Earnhardt had a commanding lead over Rusty Wallace, who had won the last three Martinsville races.
I’m all for bringing out the tarps to stay dry when there’s a little moisture, but this is ridiculous. I’ve seen enough movies to know Richard Childress Racing is hiding an alien or an ancient artifact under there somewhere. My money is on an alien.
During the caution, everyone’s favorite pit road reporter, Dr. Jerry Punch, interviewed Childress. Andy Petree was Earnhardt’s crew chief at the time, but it already was known he wouldn’t be back the following year. Punch asked multiple questions about who would lead the No. 3 team (David Smith, Earnhardt’s longtime jack man, would get the job, and 1996 would be his only season as a Cup crew chief). An owner giving a midrace update on a crew chief search would be weird in 2017.
The race went back to green on Lap 51 with Earnhardt still in the lead. He lost it for the first time when Wallace passed him with 438 to go.
What’s Different – Part 2
In the 22 years since this race, NASCAR has developed a quicker trigger finger when it comes to throwing cautions. The following accident, just shy of Lap 80, would undoubtedly cause a caution in 2017. In 1995? Move along, nothing to see here.
As a result, everyone pitted. On top are 1995 pit stop times. Below, Martinsville pit times from 2016.
The next significant caution occurred on Lap 232. Every once in a while, Martinsville will catch you off guard. Such as this instance when Ted Musgrave went for a ride ON the backstretch wall courtesy of Robert Pressley. The broadcast showed a replay just as Musgrave went sprinting down pit road to confront Pressley at his car.
Remember what I said earlier about NASCAR throwing cautions? With 102 laps left in the race, Mike Wallace caused a fog drift to form when he spun exiting Turn 4. Jenkins, Parsons and Jarrett sounded just as baffled as I that it didn’t warrant a caution. Not that it mattered. Within three laps, there would be a caution involving Elton Sawyer’s No. 27 Hooters car and the No. 8 of Jeff Burton right in front of the leaders. Rusty Wallace lost a bunch of spots while avoiding a collision with Sawyer.
With 38 laps left, Earnhardt assumed the lead for the fifth time. Given the outcome, the following moment sent a jolt through me. Lake Speed, driving the No. 9 Spam car, spun in Turn 4. As Speed came down the track to get going, Earnhardt’s car flashed into view, seemingly avoiding hitting the No. 9 just in time.
During the resulting caution, the battered No. 2 of Rusty Wallace stayed out while the rest of the leaders pitted. In 1995, double file restarts among lead lap cars still were 14 years away. Earnhardt restarted behind Wallace, while the lapped car of John Andretti was the first car on the inside.
There would be one more restart with 20 to go after an accident with Dale Jarrett and Derrike Cope (the latter is the only driver in this race still competing in the Cup series in 2017).
Eleven laps later, “The Intimidator” made his presence known. The No. 3 forced Wallace to make a mistake entering Turn 3.
Nine laps later, Earnhardt took the checkered flag with ease. It was his sixth and final win at Martinsville.
Though Earnhardt significantly narrowed the points margin over the next five weeks and won the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the championship belonged to Gordon. Earnhardt missed out on an eighth title by 34 points.
Heilig-Meyers – Sponsor of Mike Wallace’s No. 90 Ford: Heilig-Meyers was a furniture company founded in 1913 in Goldsboro, North Carolina, by Lithuanian immigrants, W. A. Heilig and J. M. Meyers.
The company was the primary sponsor of Cup series entries driven by Bobby Hillin, Jr., Wallace and Dick Trickle from 1993 – 1998.
In August 2000, after becoming one the largest furniture retailers in the United States, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. All of its stores were closed by the end of the year, except for its RoomStore branches, which would be liquidated in 2012.