Who is someone not in the NASCAR Hall of Fame that should be in it?
Nate Ryan: Smokey Yunick. Mechanics and crew chiefs were underrepresented in the first few years of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. That mostly has been addressed since then (notably with Ray Evernham’s recent induction), but Yunick’s name has yet to appear on the ballot. He certainly is worthy of candidacy and should be enshrined some day
Dustin Long: Harold Brasington, founder of Darlington Raceway. He was a visionary who created NASCAR’s first big paved track nearly a decade before Daytona emerged and helped change the sport. That’s worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Jerry Bonkowski: Ricky Rudd. He was the longtime iron man of NASCAR, not to mention a winner of 23 races. He’s long overdue to be inducted.
Daniel McFadin: I’m going with two men that deserve to go into the Hall of Fame together: Bob Jenkins and Dr. Jerry Punch. The election of Ken Squier has set the precedent for media members being selected. While Squier was the voice and narrator for a certain generation of NASCAR fans, Jenkins and Punch were more active and omnipresent with their ESPN and ABC coverage from the early ’80s to 2000. Outside the Daytona 500, Coke 600 and races on TNN, if you’re watching a highlight of a NASCAR race from that period, it’s likely being announced and reported on by Jenkins and Punch. Jenkins was even present in NASCAR video games in the late ’90s. For my generation, he was the voice of NASCAR in our formative years.
Who are you most worried about three races into the season?
Nate Ryan: Driving on a one-year deal and needing to produce results quickly, two crashes in three races is a tough start for Kurt Busch. Even though his teammate finished 15th at Las Vegas, AJ Allmendinger’s JTG Daugherty Racing ride has seemed well off the pace since a 10th in the Daytona 500.
Dustin Long:Clint Bowyer. Although it’s early and he’s 11th in points, he’s talked about he and the team needing to be consistent. Haven’t seen it yet. For him to match the success of teammate Kevin Harvick and be a contender to win races, that consistency needs to start happening.
Jerry Bonkowski: How can you not be worried about Jimmie Johnson, who is sitting in 29th place? Sure, he finished 12th at Las Vegas, but he needs a win — or at least a top-five — in the worst way.
Daniel McFadin: Any Chevrolet driver not named Kyle Larson. He was the only Chevy driver to finish in the top 10 in Las Vegas and one of three to finish in the top 15 at Atlanta. Like Toyota teams early last year, Chevy teams seem to be struggling to figure out the new Camaro body so far. Unless you’re the No. 42 team, which is keeping the same pace it had in Homestead in November.
Kyle Larson finished no worse than second in each race of last year’s West Coast swing and he started this tour with a third-place finish. How likely is he to score another top-five finish on West Coast swing.
Nate Ryan: The odds are good. He qualifies so well at Phoenix, and Fontana suits his style superbly.
Dustin Long: Count on it.
Jerry Bonkowski: He loves Phoenix and Fontana. Not only do I see him getting top fives at both places, he’s a good candidate to win both races, as well.
Daniel McFadin: Larson has won the last four races at 2-mile speedways and should be the favorite to win next week at Auto Club Speedway.
Front Row Motorsports adds Michael McDowell, expands technical alliance with Roush Fenway
Front Row Motorsports will field entries for David Ragan and Michael McDowell in 2018 while expanding its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, the team announced Thursday.
McDowell joins the Bob Jenkins-owned team after four years of driving the No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing before being replaced by Kasey Kahne.
The native of Phoenix, Arizona, McDowell replaces Landon Cassill as Ragan’s teammate.
McDowell, 32, has 249 Cup starts since 2008, but only two full-time seasons under his belt. He made one start for Front Row at Watkins Glen in 2013.
“Since I first drove for Bob at Watkins Glen, we’ve kept in touch and have felt like there might be an opportunity to work together again, and the timing worked out perfectly,” McDowell said in a press release. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a teammate, so I’m really looking forward to working with David, whom I’ve become pretty good friends with over the years. As a team now, we go into the season knowing we have five or six races that put us in position to get a win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”
Ragan returns to Front Row for his fifth season. Ragan earned the organization its first Cup victory in 2013 at Talladega. Ragan has two wins, 15 top fives and 39 top-10 finishes in his Cup career.
“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said in a press release. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”
Crew chief assignments have not been finalized. FRM will announce sponsor partners and driver car numbers at a later date.
HOMESTEAD, Florida — With crowded grandstands as the backdrop, Bob Jenkins welcomed viewers to ESPN’s broadcast of the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup finale, proclaiming it “perhaps the biggest race in NASCAR history, at least in the modern era.’’
Richard Petty would run his final Cup race. Six drivers — some from racing’s royalty — entered with at least a mathematical chance to win the championship. A future superstar was set to make his first series start.
For the first time since that memorable fall day in Atlanta, a season finale has the power to match the significance of that 1992 race. Today’s Cup finale from Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC) features a four-man battle for the title and the departure of fan favorites, including the sport’s most popular driver.
“This is a lot of parallel to what ’92 was,’’ said Bill Elliott, who won the race that day in Atlanta but lost the championship by 10 points to Alan Kulwicki. “I still look back (to that race) as a big deal.’’
Petty said today’s race is “like a changing of the guard. You got so many different facets here.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 14-time and assuredly soon-to-be the 15-time most popular driver, will run his final Cup race.
“I’m having a hard time trying to put my emotions and thoughts into words,’’ Earnhardt said Friday. “Usually I’m pretty decent at it.’’
Danica Patrick, a pioneering driver who introduced many young girls to the sport, announced Friday in an emotional press conference that this will be her final full-time season as a driver. She plans to run only the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 next year.
“I feel like this is where my life should be headed,’’ she said.
Former champion Matt Kenseth, is set to depart the sport after this season. Whether he’ll return is uncertain. He’s left that possibility open but has no ride for next year and concedes he might not race in Cup again.
Busch, Harvick and Keselowski each seek a second title and would join seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson as the only active multi-time champions. Truex, whose team has endured heartbreak and tragedy throughout the season, seeks his first series title.
“I know it’s a big mark,’’ Keselowski said of becoming a two-time series champ. “There’s only 15 drivers in the sport that have won multiple championships, and we’re 60‑some years into the sport now.
“So if you think about it, there’s only been 15 multiple champions, and two of them are ‑ or at least one of them’s active now, and (Gordon and Tony Stewart haven’t) had a chance to get in the Hall of Fame, but it’s pretty much a certainty that those drivers will be in the Hall of Fame. Multiple championship drivers always will be. And it’s a chance to really make myself a Hall of Fame driver. That’s not something that anyone takes for granted.’’
That 1992 Atlanta race featured eight Hall of Famers: Petty, Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin and that list will grow in the coming years with Gordon and likely Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki.
“I think the sport has evolved very well,’’ Elliott said.
One can only imagine what they might say of Sunday’s race 25 years from now.
However, do you remember what happened 20 years ago this week?
An Andretti won at Daytona.
Thirty years after Mario Andretti won his only Daytona 500, his nephew John Andretti put his name in the history books by winning the 1997 Firecr … I mean, the Pepsi … wait, the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola.
You know what I mean.
On July 5, 1997, the 34-year-old Andretti won his first Cup race, what was then the Pepsi 400.
That weekend Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were exterminating space bugs in theaters in Men in Black. In music, the top song was “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy … I mean P. Diddy. No, it’s Sean Combs. Yeah, that’s it.
You know what I mean.
When ESPN began its broadcast of the race, Andretti was third on the grid. He was next to Gordon and behind the Richard Childress Racing front row of Mike Skinner and Dale Earnhardt. The latter was in the midst of his first winless season since 1981.
To get the audience up to speed, ESPN featured a series of four musical montages to recap the season to date.
The songs of choice are in included in the below Spotify playlist.
In none of the storylines set up by those montages was Andretti’s name mentioned.
He drove the No. 98 RCA Ford owned by Cale Yarborough, who himself won at Daytona nine times in his racing career. Andretti was in his fourth full year of Cup racing and was three years removed from being the first driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coke 600 in the same day.
As the field came to the green, Andretti was 27th in the points and had only one top-10 finish through 15 races, a fourth-place finish at Talladega.
By Lap 3, Andretti was in the lead after having led only 20 laps the whole season – 19 at Talladega and one at Pocono.
On Lap 12, announcer Bob Jenkins made first mention of Andretti seeking his first Cup win. The son of Mario Andretti’s twin brother, Aldo, John Andretti made his first NASCAR start in October 1993 at North Wilkesboro Speedway driving for Tex Powell.
By July 1997, the cousin to Michael Andretti had only earned four top fives in 109 starts.
Here’s an observation on restrictor-plate racing in the mid-1990s – it was better.
This isn’t intended to be a typical “the racing then was better” statement.
In the years since tandem drafting was banned, restrictor-plate racing has largely become a large pack of cars where moves must be cherry picked at the right time and nothing can change for laps on end.
But in 1997, 10 years into the plate era, the field wasn’t bunched together, almost held against its will. While still close in proximity, drivers had room to maneuver in a slightly strung out snake, with no clearly defined lines. A driver could make something happen more easily without the risk of starting the “Big One.”
Instead of keeping your eyes on the screen waiting for chaos to break out, you were left waiting to see who made a push toward the front.
And when something bad did happen, chances were half the field wasn’t taken out … probably.
This was the case on Lap 33, when Jimmy Spencer got turned on the backstretch and only Chad Little and Mike Skinner were caught in it.
It resulted in the first pit stops of the day and a near scare for Andretti as he left the pits and Gordon nearly took him out at the pit exit.
He restarted second behind Bill Elliott and had the lead back by the time the field got to Turn 4.
Andretti’s previous career best for laps led was 41 in the 1995 Southern 500. In this race, he led 80 of the first 89 laps.
All the videos in the post are from a YouTube video that is the raw satellite feed from the ESPN broadcast, which means you don’t see the commercials.
“Hey guys, I don’t know if you can get a shot of him, but Cale Yarborough is on top of the RCA truck in the garage and he’s so excited. He’s taking on the radio, he’s driving the race car. He’s cracking the guys up in the pit. He’s saying, ‘John, John, go help the 3, help that 4, help that 3, help that 4.’ They’re just dying. They said he’s jumping up and down on top of the truck.”
ESPN never got a shot of him.
Yarborough had reason to be excited. A 83-time Cup winner as a driver, Yarborough was a car owner from 1987 – when he drove for himself – to 1999. He fielded cars for Dale Jarrett, Dick Trickle, Derrike Cope and Jeremy Mayfield. Andretti replaced Mayfield with eight races left in the 1996 season.
In 371 races, Andretti’s win would be the only visit to victory lane for Yarborough as an owner.
“And I was just as happy walking in there as I was when I was driving in there,” Yarborough said.
With 43 laps to go, Andretti pulled off a maneuver that would be declared illegal in today’s NASCAR. Going down the backstretch, Andretti dove his No. 98 Ford down below the dotted white line to get by Rusty Wallace into fifth.
This was similar to the move Gordon made on Bill Elliott six months earlier on the frontstretch that eventually led to him winning the Daytona 500.
Speaking of Gordon.
The 1995 Cup champion was on his way to his second title that season. He would do it on the back of 10 wins, which matched his total from 1996. From 1995-97, the “Rainbow Warriors” won 27 times and they would add a modern record 13 in 1998.
By July 1997, many in the grandstands were sick of it.
So, when Gordon smacked the backstretch wall on Lap 125, they let their pleasure be known as the No. 24 limped to pits.
If you want to party like it’s 1997, you have my permission to crank this up while you sip a cold Pepsi or a Coca-Cola depending on your sponsor obligations.
When the race went green with 30 to go, Andretti was second. A lap later he had to take the lapped cars of Bill Elliott and Spencer three-wide to make a clear path to Mark Martin.
Now Andretti was experiencing déjà vu. Earlier in the year, Andretti finished fourth to Martin in the caution free Winston 500 at Talladega, a race he had the pole for and led 19 laps of early on. That day, no one could get out of line to take a shot at Martin in the closing laps.
“I got behind Mark and thought, ‘Not like Talladega again,’” Andretti said later, according to the Associated Press. “Luckily for me Bill Elliott pushed me through. I guess I owe Bill a check for this.”
The drafting help from Elliott came on Lap 137 after coordination between the two team’s spotters.
By the time there was 13 laps to go, The Intimidator was stalking his prey in the form of Andretti. Earnhardt was running in second, followed by Dale Jarrett and Martin.
The end of the race was heating up when the final caution of the race waved for a five-car crash in Turns 1 and 2 with four to go.
As the field raced back to the flag – which was still a thing at this point – ESPN cameras caught the No. 98 crew mildly celebrating, thinking the race was over.
They were wrong.
The wreck was cleaned in time for a final lap, with the green and white flag being displayed together.
When they waved, Andretti had a rear-view mirror full of a certain black car.
As Andretti celebrated his win, Ward Burton was put on a stretcher. He was taken to the hospital to be tested for a concussion, but results were negative.
Also negative were driver reactions to how the race ended.
“That wasn’t a shootout,” Earnhardt said. “That was a slugfest, a wreckfest. They know better than to do that.”
Said Kyle Petty, “What they just had is a recipe for somebody getting hurt real bad. NASCAR got what they wanted, the fans didn’t get anything because they saw some of their favorites get taken out on the last lap. And the same guy that was leading the race before the restart still won. Why didn’t we just end it under caution?”
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO: John Andretti
When it came to NASCAR, Andretti wasn’t a one-hit wonder.
He won once more in 393 Cup starts. Two years later, while in his second stint in the No. 43 for Petty Enterprises, Andretti found victory lane at Martinsville Speedway after leading only the final four laps.
His last full-time season came in 2002.
From 2003-10 Andretti competed sporadically in Cup while competing in one full Xfinity campaign in 2006.
His final NASCAR start came in the 2010 Daytona 500, where he finished 38th for Front Row Motorsports after a crash.
From 2007-11, he made 10 starts in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The final four, which included three attempts at the Indianapolis 500, were in a No. 43 Honda co-owned by Andretti Autosport and Richard Petty Motorsports.
On Twitter, the team said Jenkins thought the car had long ago been scrapped at the “crusher.” But the No. 34 Ford Ragan drove to a surprise win at Talladega Superspeedway has been rebuilt by the team. Ragan, who is returning to FRM after driving for the team from 2012 – 2015, was on hand to make the presentation.
On May 5, 2013, Ragan led a FRM sweep of the top two spots with teammate David Gilliland finishing second. Ragan took the lead going into Turn 3 on the final lap with a push from Gilliland after a restart with two laps to go.
It was Ragan’s second Cup Series win and the first for Jenkins, who has been an owner in NASCAR’s Premier Series since 2005.
Chris Buescher gave the team its second Cup win earlier this year when he won the August Pocono race, which was shortened due to fog.