Ato Boldon, a four-time Olympic medalist and 10-year NBC Sports track and field analyst, will join the NASCAR on NBC broadcast team as a features contributor for this season.
NBC broadcasts the final 20 Cup races of the season, beginning with the July 1 race at Daytona International Speedway. NBC also broadcasts the final 19 Xfinity races of the season, beginning June 30 at Daytona.
Boldon will make his NASCAR on NBC debut July 1 at Daytona.
At Daytona, Boldon will be embedded with the die-hard NASCAR racing community. He will report on what makes NASCAR fans so loyal to their drivers. Boldon will experience the infield firsthand, and will look back at what it was like to race on the packed sand of Daytona Beach where the sport first began.
In addition to his role at Daytona, Boldon will contribute to NASCAR on NBC’s coverage of four additional races during the 2017 season, including Cup Series races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Reporting assignments will include serving as a NASCAR hauler driver, joining Joe Gibbs Racing’s pit crew, and becoming a driver himself, when he takes the wheel of NBC Sports’ on-track car to experience piloting a 750+ horsepower stock car on 20-degree banked turns.
“As an athlete, broadcaster, and lover of speed and adrenaline, I’m eager to experience the fascinating intricacies of NASCAR,” said Boldon. “It’s an amazing opportunity to bring fans even closer to the action, and I hope to bring a perspective that viewers have not previously seen.”
Boldon had his first taste of NASCAR last year during a ride along with NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Boldon’s hot laps around the 1.5 mile oval can be found here.
Boldon, who joined NBC Sports Group in 2007, serves as NBC Sports Group’s lead track and field analyst. Boldon has covered four Olympics for NBC Sports, including the 2016 Rio Olympics, 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, 2012 London Games, and 2008 Beijing Games.
In 1992, Boldon represented Trinidad and Tobago in the 100m and 200m competitions at the Barcelona Olympics. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Boldon won bronze medals in the 100m and 200m events. Four years later, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Boldon won a silver medal in the 100m, and a bronze in the 200m.
Charlotte to treat upper groove with same traction compound Bristol used
The track also plans to use a tire dragging device to help the upper groove.
The move comes just days after the All-Star Race faced criticism for its lack of action and just three lead changes in the 70-lap event. Also, last year’s Coca-Cola 600 saw Martin Truex Jr. lead 392 of 400 laps.
“We talked through this opportunity with the track, teams, drivers and Goodyear,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, in a statement.“There was agreement that this process would enhance the racing we see at Charlotte Motor Speedway and ultimately would make for an exciting Coca-Cola 600.”
Drivers expressed their frustration during and after the All-Star Race about not being able to run multiple lanes. Winner Kyle Busch complained on the radio to his team during the event about how he wished NASCAR would have cleaned the top lane so cars could try to run there.
Ryan Blaney expressed his feelings with the one-lane racing in the corners after the race.
“You can’t pass anywhere,” he said. “It’s not great track conditions, to be honest with you. It’s just on the bottom.”
Said Kurt Busch after the race: “We’re all running qualifying laps, so it’s gonna be tough to pass. We need the outside groove to come in a little bit quicker, but I thought it was a good race for adjustments, restarts, the excitement value from in the seat.”
@jeff_gluck I noticed a stained lower groove during Allstar race. Was informed they applied it there last week. I'll let you ponder that for a moment…
While NASCAR’s best will be taking part in the annual NASCAR Cup All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, there’ll be another all-star type weekend less than 200 miles away.
Starting Friday and running through Sunday, Bristol Motor Speedway will play host to the Short Track U.S. Nationals.
Nearly 500 race cars will take part across six different classes of competition: Super Late Models, Pro Late Models, Late Model Stocks, Modifieds, Street Stocks and Compacts.
The event is being billed as a showcase for many potential future stars of stock car racing. Among those that will also be taking part are Xfinity Series driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., who will compete in his first-ever Super Late Model event.
“I definitely couldn’t pass up this opportunity,” said Wallace, who will pilot the No. 6 (also his number in the Xfinity Series) SLM for FatHead Racing. “Bristol has always been good to us.
“I get to have a little redemption for the Xfinity race (from April, where he crashed and finished a season-worst 33rd), so it’s good to relive what it’s like in late model.”
The Xfinity is off this weekend, which allows Wallace to race this weekend.
During preliminary practice sessions in his Super Late Model, Wallace flew around the .533-mile track at a speed of 121.474 mph at 14.818 seconds, which was faster than the current Xfinity Series elapsed time track of 15.093 seconds set in 2004.
“The speeds are outrageous,” said Wallace. “The grip level is insane. You are driving them in three or four car-lengths deeper and then getting back on the gas five or six car lengths earlier. I’ve just got to man up and lay it all out there.”
Also slated to compete is NASCAR Next driver Noah Gragson, who will drive the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Toyota Tundra in the Truck Series race at Charlotte on Friday and then come to Bristol to race a Super Late Model in Saturday’s and Sunday’s events).
“Right now they (Super Late Models) are turning 14.65 second lap times. They are three or four tenths faster than the last practice of the Cup race.”
“It feels like you are in a flying saucer around this place. You are going so fast. Your eyes can barely keep up with how fast you are going and looking at the track. This place is so cool and fast. It’s such a blast to drive here.”
The five sanctioning bodies that will be represented are CRA (Super Late Models, Pro Late Models, Street Stock), CARS Tour (Super Late Models, Late Model Stock), Southern Super Series (Super Late Model), National Short Track Alliance (Modifieds), VORES Compact Touring Series (Compacts).
RICHMOND, Va. – When it comes to the ongoing debate about what makes a NASCAR short-track race great, let’s concede the obvious.
The loudest voices on the subject also are those whose should matter least.
“A driver is going to like whatever he’s best at,” Brad Keselowski told a small group of reporters Friday at Richmond International Raceway. “That’s why you can’t ask an active driver, because an active driver is going to tell you if he’s good at running the top, that’s where the race needs to be. If he’s good at running the bottom and with the bump and run, that’s where the race needs to be.
“We always will give the selfish answer. I think it’s probably one of those questions that maybe current drivers shouldn’t answer out of respect to their answers being selfish. In reality, we need the answer that drives the sport and creates the most compelling action. That should be the guiding light before a driver’s preference.”
A two-time winner at Bristol Motor Speedway (but none since the 0.533-mile oval was altered in 2012 in an attempt at re-establishing the bottom lane that actually created a preferred high line), Keselowski naturally prefers the low lane and the bump-and-run maneuvers that helped drive the track’s growth to a 160,000-seat colossus.
But many of his peers had opposing views on what defines a great short track. Points leader Kyle Larson doggedly worked in the high line during practice (attempting to negate the VHT applied to force drivers to the bottom) and incessantly lobbied before and after the race that the better Bristol was high and low.
Listen fans, it doesn't get much better racing than that! That was some solid stuff all day. Time to start appreciating side by side racing!
“I would say more people probably agreed with me by the end of the race,” Larson said. “You still had your older race fans that enjoyed the single-file racing around the bottom, but I know all the drivers enjoy when we can move around and find different lines on the racetrack because at least from our seat — maybe it doesn’t translate to TV as well — the racing is way better that way.
“And I thought Bristol last week was awesome. … There’s no other track on our circuit that has that exciting and intensive racing. I watched the race again last night and I thought it was amazing. Hopefully they don’t try and do anything more to make us go around the bottom because Bristol is awesome.”
OK, but what about the bump and run?
Larson, a longtime dirt racer who admittedly has a different perspective on the “rubbing is racing” philosophy, makes a few good points why it can’t work the same way anymore.
“The pace of our races nowadays have to be way faster than what they were running in the early 2000’s or whenever the best racing at Bristol was,” Larson said. “And, too, our bumpers line up. So, it’s not easy to do the bump and run. People do hit somebody in front of them, and the guy in front of him barely moves. Before the bumpers lined-up, you could get into somebody, pick them up, and move them.
“So, the bump and run is kind of gone away a little bit just the way I think our style of our bodies are, as well as I think we have more grip now days than they probably had back then. … I don’t think you’re going to get all the way back to how they all like it.”
If that truly is the case, then here’s a brief requiem for the bump and run to remember exactly why it’s so beloved … through five moments at Bristol.
And that is what should give anyone pause about proclaiming that Sunday’s race should be the only path forward.
Quick, name the most indelible moment you remember from Martinsville Speedway this season?
The “purists” will point to the battle for the lead between Keselowski and Busch.
But the realists will point to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bumping aside Busch at the end of the race’s second stage as the highlight with the most traction in national media.
It also drew some of the loudest cheers during that race at Martinsville a few weeks ago.
Don’t forget about those voices. As Keselowski notes, they still matter most.
With the perceived success of Bristol being treated with a VHT-style compound for the second consecutive race, it’s natural to ask whether it should be tried at other tracks – such as Richmond.
When owned by the Sawyer family, RIR actually was treated from 1988-2002 with a sealer that drivers loved, but the surface has remained untouched since a 2004 repave.
With Richmond producing divergent results in recent races – some are wildly competitive, others aren’t – there are mixed feelings on whether the 0.75-mile oval needs some help.
“If you ask the drivers, this is the perfect racetrack,” said Denny Hamlin, a hometown favorite who has attended races here since childhood. “To the fans, sometimes it’s not, because (the cars) do get strung out.
“I think the reason the drivers and teams like it best is because they hit their setup, they can just dominate a race here. It’s not always the best thing for TV, but it’s a good thing for the competitors. So it’s a balance of what’s good for the competitors and what’s good for putting on a fantastic race.
“I don’t know what you can do here. We’ve had races where we were running the wall or running the line and some guy led almost every lap. I don’t know whether spreading out the cars or making them run one line here is the best thing to do.”
Said Larson: “All of us complained a few years ago when it was single file around the bottom the whole time (at Richmond) and then Goodyear brought a great tire back, and now we’re running all over the racetrack, and the drivers and fans seem to like it. I think the racing is good, really good right now, and a lot of fun, too.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s busted oil cooler at Bristol was one of a few mechanical problems that seemed caused by debris on the track – which might indicate a possible downfall with VHT. Does the substance increase the “chunking” by tires and subsequently the likelihood of cars being damaged?
Regardless, it’s left Earnhardt in a precarious points position in his final Cup season. It would seem his best route to the playoffs would be via his first win in 18 months – putting extra emphasis on how next week’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. Earnhardt has six wins (most recently two years ago) on the 2.66-mile oval, which ranks him first among active drivers.
“Daytona seems to be more about the car, Talladega more about the driver and the moves, and (Earnhardt) makes some of the best moves,” Keselowski said. “So I would expect him to be one of the primary guys to beat for sure.”
Is it May yet?
Because it’s about time for the hagiography around Fernando Alonso’s foray into IndyCar to end and for the journalism to begin.
Getting a two-time world champion committed to the world’s biggest race (as Alonso described it in his own words during an NBCSN interview last Sunday that surely had to deliver a sting for some in Formula One and his team) is undoubtedly a coup. The series justifiably maximized that exposure value during the Spaniard’s visit to Barber Motorsports Park last weekend.
Alonso is signing autographs! Alonso is climbing into Marco Andretti’s car! Alonso is talking to every microphone within shouting range!
All of this was great promotion for IndyCar, which could use the injection of attention as it tries to avert the letdown from following the centennial marking of its signature event.
But can we cool it a tad until he, like, turns an actual lap?
Because the narrative needs to shift gears well before then and explore some significant storylines. For example …
–When was the last time a driver with NO (as in zero!) oval experience before the month of May attempted to run one of the world’s toughest racetracks in an entirely new race car?
Last year’s surprise winner, Alexander Rossi, had several hundred laps around Phoenix International Raceway before the former F1 driver took the Indy plunge. Rubens Barrichello didn’t have that IndyCar oval race experience before his 2014 debut at Indy, but he at least had four races on street and road courses to get acclimated to the vehicle.
Ask Tony Stewart, who repeatedly has said among their biggest apprehensions about attempting the Indy 500 would be the lack of time in an Indy car beforehand. Alonso is in a class of his own, but it certainly is worth pondering if he can overcome others’ concerns about adaptability.
–How does the current pack racing that has become prevalent the last few years at the Brickyard make it more or less difficult for Alonso?
–How will Andretti Autosport manage the balancing act of fielding a competitive car for Alonso with five other entries? (At least one reporter has attempted to pose this question and unfairly been pilloried as a result).
Regardless of the answers to these and other questions, Alonso’s Indy 500 debut will rank among the most highly anticipated in recent racing memory.
It’s fine to celebrate the significance of that … but with a healthy dose of objectivity and perspective, too.
The impending retirement of Earnhardt in the wake of Jeff Gordon and Stewart has kicked the discussions into hyperdrive about the next wave of superstars (and yes, as the employee of a NASCAR broadcast partner, I will plead guilty to being complicit in driving that conversation – a legitimate one).
While there has been justifiable focus on Larson, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney because of their performance this season, and Daniel Suarez has gotten much attention because he is filling Carl Edwards’ ride, rookie Erik Jones mostly has been lost in the shuffle.
But there were some other answers from veterans that seemed a little … curious. For example, would Larson like to put to bed the rumors that he could go to Hendrick (which once courted him)?
“Oh, I’d have to talk to (team owner) Chip (Ganassi), I guess, before I came out in public about anything that serious,” he said. “So, I won’t talk about anything like that because I don’t even know if I’m allowed to, or not. I know (teammate) Jamie (McMurray) is very secret about all his stuff. But I don’t know.”
Any interest from Keselowski, who is in a contract year with Team Penske?
“Do I have to have a yes or no? It’s a Hendrick car, which by nature means it’s going to be one of the best cars available for a long period of time,” he said. “But I also would say the car that I’m in is one of the best available. The team I’m with, I have a lot of equity in, so I’m pretty darn happy where I’m at, but I’ve learned in this world to never say no.”
So is he negotiating an extension?
“There’s some stuff going on, but I’m not (going) to mention it in detail,” he said.
Our take on this? Neither driver is leaving where they are. Larson’s current deal likely keeps him in the No. 42 for at least another three seasons, but Ganassi notoriously is tight-lipped about his contracts, hence his reticence.
Keselowski seems happy at Penske, but he has driven before for Rick Hendrick, who intimated he would like to bring him back in the fold someday as he was exiting to join The Captain.
Even if he is 100 percent committed to staying at Penske, having the leverage to secure the best-paying deal possible (from one of the most business-savvy owners in racing) is a good thing.
Xfinity Spotlight Q&A with Ross Chastain, watermelon farmer turned race car driver
A surprised Chastain didn’t like the look he saw in Clements’ eyes.
“It was over before I knew it man,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “It wasn’t even something I decided to do in my mind. This got real bad, real quick. The look in his face. … To see his face like that, he was red. Had the crazy eye look. Just a bunch of yelling and carrying on. All of a sudden it was done. His crew was rushing me and I was backing up and my crew came running in to save my butt basically.”
The two drivers met in the NASCAR hauler after the race and shook hands. Chastain said they’ll be fine going forward. Though he says “I stand by what I did,” the incident still bothered him four days later.
“I hate it,” Chastain said. “Not how I want to represent everyone around me or myself. The people that sponsor me. I’m a role model for kids. I do a lot with elementary schools. That’s probably what I feel the worst about. People out there seeing it, or reading about it and just getting a glimpse of what they think I’m like and that sticking with them into the future even though that’s not who I am.”
Chastain, a native of Alfa, Florida, grew up working on his families’ watermelon farm before his racing career started at 13 driving a FastTruck. After two years in the Camping World Truck Series, including one with Brad Keselowski Racing, Chastain is in his third year of full-time Xfinity competition.
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.
NBC Sports: What was your “Welcome to the Xfinity Series moment”?
Chastain: I hope it was about winning the first race I ever ran in the No. 4 car at Daytona in 2015. We were running (third) when we took the white flag and then we all got together and wound up in the grass. … That was definitely my first one and the one people still bring up. We were in a really good position because it ended up Ryan Reed, he was pushing me when I slid off the track, that was going into Turn 1. He came back around and won the dang thing. We were in the right spot and that’s really hard to do at those speedways, but we would have had a really good shot coming back to the checkered flag.
NBC Sports: You mentioned you went to the July Daytona race growing up. What do you remember about the first race you ever went to?
Chastain: It rained. Pretty much rained every July there in Daytona. We watched Jeff Gordon win a bunch. That was back when DEI was big and they were winning races. I was a Gordon fan, so obviously I was pulling for the Pespi car and Jeff. That’s what I looked forward to after we got done with watermelons. It was time to pack up the camper and go to Daytona.
NBC Sports: What’s day-to-day life like on a watermelon farm?
Chastain: It’s hot. We plant in early January, try to get our plants in the ground the first week of January. They’re harvesting now. They started a few weeks ago. This time of year is normally good if you got a good crop. Watermelons are leaving so that means money is coming in, so life’s good. We get paid once a year, so you’ve got to budget everything throughout the rest of the year. It’s a good times right now out at the watermelon field. But the end of the summer into whatever winter is down in South Florida, all the money is going out, so you definitely feel the pains of that. We don’t actually live on the farm per say. The farm is about 15 minutes north of the house. But we’re there everyday, early in the morning. You just work till dark is when you get off. This time of year is some late days.
NBC Sports: If you were competing in the Cup Series Bristol race, what would be your intro song?
Chastain: Oh man, it would have to be the “Watermelon Crawl” (by Tracy Byrd) the first time at least. That goes without saying. That would be the obvious choice right off the bat.
NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw your face or name on merchandise?
Chastain: No, I don’t. I do all my own. I order it. I’ve never had anybody blindly order merchandise for me. I’m part of the art work process and unfortunately, the payment process.
NBC Sports:What do you do as part of the art process?
Chastain: You call the shirt company. I’ve got a group out of Kannapolis, North Carolina, that does all mine. It’s Omega Graphics. I just call over there and usually go sit down if I’m going to do something new and sit down with the art team. I start talking and they start sketching and when I say ‘No, that’s not what I’m looking for,’ they ball it up and start again. We do it old school, scratching it out on a piece of paper and then they draw it up on a computer. … Probably the coolest thing we’ve done is a diecast of the No. 4 car, the full watermelon car. That’s the coolest piece of merchandise we’ve done through Lionel. They did 500 of them so that was a big step for me to take that and get those made. Lionel let me do it. They don’t let anybody make diecasts these days. They’re pretty stingy with their production time. It took a little while but we finally got it pulled off.
NBC Sports: What’s your least favorite part of race day?
Chastain: Probably getting ready to leave the hotel. When I wake up I’m ready to be at the track. I just want to be there and be getting ready and going through the car and everything. A lot of race mornings are pretty early because of qualifying being ahead of the race. I get impatient. I’m in a hurry to get to the race track in the mornings, so it’s a quick shower, brush your teeth and let’s go. I don’t like riding with people to the track, because when I’m ready, I’m ready to go. Unfortunately, I’m a lot like my father and grandfather in those aspects that I said I would never be like.
NBC Sports: What was your first car?
Chastain: I had a ’76 Jeep pickup, three speed with a wood bed on the back. Just at the farm is what I drove around growing up. So that’s pretty much what I learned to drive a stick shift with, other than the tractors, but that’s a totally different mindset for a tractor versus a street vehicle truck.
NBC Sports: You went to college?
Chastain: I did a semester, plus two weeks. Then I got my first full-time ride in the Truck series. I had to put that on hold.
NBC Sports:Where did you go?
Chastain: FGCU down in South Florida. Florida Gulf Coast University.
Chastain: We lived down there in Fort Meyers. I was able to live at home and go to the university and all that. … I started the fall semester 2011. I can’t claim it because I didn’t finish it. Which is how most NASCAR drivers are. They come in out of high school and they make a big deal about them going to college and racing. If you check back in with them within that year it’s usually the college has stopped and they’re still racing. But they don’t broadcast that.