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Chase Elliott to switch numbers next season, run his father’s No. 9

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Chase Elliott will have a new number next season, running the No. 9 his father Bill excelled with, Hendrick Motorsports announced Tuesday night.

The organization also announced that William Byron will drive the No. 24 that Chase Elliott had raced the past two years.

Elliott drove the No. 9 to the 2014 Xfinity Series title. Bill Elliott scored 38 of his 44 Cup wins and his 1988 championship with the No. 9.

“I wasn’t sure I’d ever drive the ‘9’ again,” said Chase Elliott in a statement. “It’s a huge deal to my family and everyone back home (in Georgia), and I hope all of our fans will be pumped to see it back on the racetrack. There’s a legacy attached to that number, and I want to carry it on. I think it’s awesome that Hendrick Motorsports and NAPA wanted to do this. It’s impossible not to be excited.”

The debut of the No. 9 for Hendrick Motorsports marks the first time in nearly a decade that the organization will field a new number for one of its four full-time teams. The most recent addition was the No. 88, which was added in 2008, for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I know what the ‘9’ means to Chase and his whole family,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “They’ve contributed so much to our sport, and I’m happy we can honor that history by bringing the number back. I think fans will really love seeing it out there. I told Chase we’d only do it if he promised to win a bunch of races, so I’m going to hold him to that.’’

Elliott’s team will remain with him next season.

Byron, who will move to Cup next season, will make his series debut with the number Jeff Gordon had so much success with for Hendrick Motorsports.

Byron, who turns 20 in November, will begin his rookie season at the same age as Gordon when Gordon made his series debut in 1992 at Atlanta.

“Jeff and Jimmie (Johnson) are the drivers I’ve always watched most closely and tried to learn from,” said Byron, 19, who signed with Hendrick Motorsports in August 2016. “I didn’t think I could be more motivated, but when Mr. Hendrick called to tell me (about driving the No. 24), it took things to another level. I have so much respect for all the people who have contributed to the success of the ‘24.’ I know it’s rare to have the chance to be part of something like this. I’m going to make the most of it.”

Said Hendrick: “The ‘fit factor’ is something I’ve always believed in, and that’s what I see with William and our organization. He reminds me a lot of Jeff at that age with regard to being a special talent and having a great head on his shoulders. But William is also his own person with his own career ahead of him. It’s going to be fun to watch him jump in the ‘24’ and show what he’s capable of.”

Bryon’s team will have Kasey Kahne’s pit crew next season.

With the changes, Hendrick Motorsports will withdraw its No. 5 car number from competition. It was the organization’s first car number in 1984 and has run full-time since. Terry Labonte drove the No. 5 to the Cup championship in 1996.

“That was by far the hardest part (of the car number decisions),” Hendrick said in a statement. “The ‘5’ means so much to everyone at Hendrick Motorsports and to a lot of our fans. The memories and the history will always be there, and I won’t rule out bringing it back some day. Never say never.”

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Bump & Run: Favorite throwback paint schemes for Southern 500

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1. What is the Throwback paint scheme you’re looking forward the most to see this weekend at Darlington Raceway?

(Images here)

Nate Ryan: Danica Patrick’s Ford Credit No. 10. It’s a true throwback that pays homage to a champion who always carried himself well in and out of the car. Though most fans probably associate Dale Jarrett with UPS, this is the primary sponsor that evokes the fondest memories of DJ’s career for me.

Dustin Long: Matt DiBenedetto’s car resembles Bobby Allison’s 1988 Miller High Life car, which was one of my favorite cars. Dylan Lupton’s Xfinity car, which resembles Jeff Gordon’s “Rainbow Warrior” paint scheme also looks sharp.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Clint Bowyer‘s Carolina Ford Dealers scheme, which is what Mark Martin drove from 1988-91 in the Xfinity Series. It hits that very specific sweet spot of looking both incredibly tacky in a way only a late 80s/early 90s scheme could while looking awesome at the same time.

Jerry Bonkowski: Nothing looks cooler or more intimidating than a black car. And when it channels the fabled “Midnight” car Rusty Wallace used to drive in the mid-1990s, it’s all the more badass. That’s why I’m picking Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford as the scheme I’m looking forward to the most at Darlington.

2. What’s another underdog win in NASCAR that compares to Jeremy Clements’ victory at Road America?

Nate Ryan: It ranks as the biggest upset since David Gilliland’s 2006 victory at Kentucky Speedway. That win catapulted Gilliland into a Cup ride with Robert Yates Racing. Clements has paid his dues to be deserving of a similar shot with a decent team.

Dustin Long: David Gilliland’s 2006 Xfinity win at Kentucky Speedway in an unsponsored car for a team that went away after that season. 

Daniel McFadin: Greg Sacks winning the 1985 Firecracker 400. He made 263 Cup starts from 1983-2005 with only one full season (1994). In an unsponsored research-and-development car for DiGard, Sacks led 33 laps and beat Bill Elliott by 23.5 seconds for his only Cup victory.

Jerry Bonkowski: A.J. Allmendinger‘s 2013 win at Road America stands out to me. After missing a good chunk of 2012 serving a suspension for violating NASCAR’s Substance Abuse policy, Allmendinger earned his first career Xfinity win driving for Team Penske, which gave him a second chance. Ironically, Allmendinger would make just two Xfinity starts in 2013 for Team Penske, and won both of them (the other coming at Mid-Ohio).

3. There have been 11 different winners* since 2006 in the Southern 500. What kind of odds do you put at there being a 12th different winner this weekend?

Nate Ryan: About 10-1. There are four drivers who are serious threats, and each already has a victory this season — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick. Matt Kenseth has the best chance of the winless candidates.

Dustin Long: 75-1 that there will be a different winner than there has been since 2006. Darlington isn’t a track everyone has an even chance at. The winner will be someone who has won at Darlington since 2006.

Daniel McFadin: Seeing as how five of those 11 drivers are no longer competing in Cup or are retired, I think there are good odds. But Kyle Busch (2008) and Martin Truex Jr. (2016) should be favorites. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I think it goes 12-for-12 Sunday, with the most likely suspects to win being those who are most in dire need of a win to make the NASCAR Cup playoffs: Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Erik Jones. And don’t count out Kurt Busch, who has never won at the Track Too Tough To Tame.

* Previous winners at Darlington

2006 — Greg Biffle

2007 — Jeff Gordon

2008 — Kyle Busch

2009 — Mark Martin

2010 — Denny Hamlin

2011 — Regan Smith

2012 — Jimmie Johnson

2013 — Matt Kenseth

2014 — Kevin Harvick

2015 — Carl Edwards

2016 — Martin Truex Jr.

NASCAR America: Southern 500 flashback: Bill Elliott wins the ‘Winston Million’

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One of the most famous Southern 500 in NASCAR history was Bill Elliott’s win in the 1985 edition of the race.

Elliott’s win clinched his win of the “Winston Million” after he also won the Daytona 500 and the Winston 500 at Talladega.

In the above video relive the race that would put Elliott and NASCAR on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Watch NASCAR America this week for more flashbacks to the Southern 500 from the 1980s before this week’s edition on Sept. 3 on NBCSN.

Kyle Busch going for fourth Cup pole in a row today at Michigan

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Kyle Busch will look to become the first driver since 2004 to win four consecutive poles for a Cup race when qualifying takes place today at 5:05 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Busch won the pole at Indianapolis, Pocono and Watkins Glen the past three weekends. Busch has started on the pole in six of the last 10 Cup races.

The last driver to win four poles in a row was Ryan Newman in 2004.

The record for most consecutive poles is five. It has been done three times in NASCAR’s history.

The last driver to win five consecutive poles was Bill Elliott in 1985. He won poles at Pocono, Daytona, Pocono, Talladega and Michigan (there was no qualifying for the Michigan race between Pocono and Daytona that season).

Cale Yarborough won five consecutive poles in 1980. He won poles at Nashville, Dover, Charlotte, College Station, Texas, and Riverside, California.

Bobby Allison won five consecutive poles in 1972. He won poles at Nashville, Darlington, Richmond, Dover and Martinsville.

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Kevin Harvick: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lack of success played ‘big part’ in stunted ‘growth of NASCAR’

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Kevin Harvick believes the popularity of 14-time most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has played “a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR” in recent years.

Harvick’s comments came Tuesday night on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours” when the topic of fan attendance during Earnhardt’s farewell season was raised.

“I’ve been totally shocked by the vibe of Dale’s last year,” Harvick said. “I really thought it was going to be tons of fans showing up to the race track, buying crazy amounts of souvenirs and the souvenir sales aren’t up for the sales that he has in his last year so far. The crowds really haven’t changed. In my opinion, it’s been from his lack of performance. He hasn’t performed well in the race car.”

Earnhardt has failed to finish better than 12th in the last six races. Through 22 races he has only one top five (Texas). He also has nine finishes of 30th or worse.

But it’s Earnhardt’s overall record that drove Harvick’s comments about the health of the sport.

“It’s a funny situation when you talk about his last year and what you thought it would be,” Harvick said. “It’s the strangest situation that we have. In my opinion, this is where I think some of the growth in our sport has not reached the levels that it should’ve because our most popular driver hasn’t been our most successful driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the most popular driver (award) for however many years (14) in a row … But he hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver.”

Earnhardt’s reign as NASCAR’s most popular driver began in 2003, a season after Bill Elliott won the award for the 16th and final time. In Earnhardt’s Cup career, he has 26 wins and no championships. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he has nine wins but none since 2015.

Harvick believes the popularity of an athlete should be directly tied to their success, citing LeBron James and Steph Curry in the NBA and Peyton Manning in the NFL. Harvick said it is “confusing” how that doesn’t seem to matter in NASCAR.

“(Earnhardt) hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver,” Harvick said. “For me I believe Dale Jr. has had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR because he’s got these legions of fans, this huge outreach of being able to reach these places none of us have the possibility to reach. But he’s won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn’t been able to reach outside of that. I know those aren’t the most popular comments but those are real life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver said Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt’s teammate who has won seven championships, should be the most popular driver.

“It’s really confusing to me,” Harvick said. “In my opinion Jimmie Johnson should be our most popular guy because he’s won seven championships. You look at the souvenir sheet every week and he’s (ranked) three, four, five coming off a championship year of what he sells in souvenirs. That part to me is a little bit confusing.”

While Harvick said Earnhardt “deserves that fanfare” he is receiving in his final Cup season, he followed that up by saying: “Imagine how popular he would be if he had won two or three championships?

“His dad was popular because he became Dale Earnhardt because of the fact he won seven championships and he was out there grinding every week. That hasn’t happened.”

Dale Earnhardt Sr. only won Most Popular Driver once, in 2001 after he was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Elliott’s 16 Most Popular Awards came despite only one championship but 44 wins in his Cup career. Only four of those wins came in his last nine seasons as a full-time driver.

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