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Former NASCAR champion car owner Robert Yates dies at 74

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Robert Yates, who rose from humble beginnings as one of nine children to become one of NASCAR’s most legendary figures and be selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, died Monday. He was 74.

Doug Yates announced on Twitter his father’s death on Twitter, saying: “My Dad and Hero … has passed and is with the Lord. Thanks for all the prayers and support.”

Robert Yates had fought liver cancer since October 2016. 

MORE: Hall of Fame selection is special for father and son 

Long considered one of the finest engine builders and individuals in the garage, Yates will forever be connected to many of the sport’s greatest drivers. He built engines that powered numerous Hall of Fame drivers to victories in addition to winning the sport’s biggest race, the Daytona 500, three times as a car owner.

“It seems a little odd that I’m sitting here as a member of the Hall of Fame and the only reason I am is because of that Yates family and what Robert Yates did as a car owner,” Dale Jarrett said on NBC Sports’ NASCAR America in 2016 when Yates was again named a nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“When I first went to Robert Yates Racing to drive in 1995, the first day I got there, Robert Yates was sweeping the floors, and so he did everything. But Robert Yates definitely needs to be a part of the Hall of Fame and sometime soon.”

Robert Yates was selected to the 2018 Class in May. He was selected on 94 percent of the ballots – the highest vote total since David Pearson was selected on the same percent of ballots in 2011 for the second class.

Yates retired from NASCAR at the end of the 2007 season, turning over ownership of Robert Yates Racing to his son. During his career, Robert Yates earned Daytona 500 victories with two different drivers, Jarrett and Davey Allison, as well as the 1999 series championship with Jarrett. Overall, Yates went to victory lane 57 times as a car owner.

In 1988, Yates started the team after purchasing Ranier-Lundy Racing. The team’s first win came a year later with Allison behind the wheel at Talladega Superspeedway. It was Allison who gave Yates his first Daytona 500. That same year, 1992, Allison won one of the most memorable All-Star Races in NASCAR history.

Doug Yates credits Allison as being the reason his father ever had a race team.

“My dad sold his house and put it all on the line, and that was all about Davey saying he was behind,” Doug said in 2011. “His thought was, don’t worry about me leaving you. We’re going to do this thing right and be successful together. That means a lot to us.”

In 1996, Yates expanded to a two-car operation with Jarrett and Ernie Irvan. Between 1996-99, the organization earned 21 wins, including the 1996 and ’99 Brickyard 400s. Jarrett captured Yates’ his first and only series championship as an owner in 1999.

Elliott Sadler joined the organization in 2003. A year later, he delivered Yates two race wins and a berth in the inaugural Chase for the Championship. Fittingly, it was Jarrett who earned Yates’ final win as a car owner in 2005 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The real genius of Yates, however, was under the hood. Yates started his career as an engine builder for Holman-Moody Racing in 1968. Soon, Yates was working for Junior Johnson and assembling engines for the likes of Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison. Yates powered Allison to the 1983 championship for DiGard Racing.

In 2003, Yates partnered with Jack Roush and Ford to form Roush Yates Engines. The company provides engines for teams in all three NASCAR national series.

Among Yates’ accolades as engine builder are victories in the 1969 and 1982 Daytona 500 and being the engine builder for Richard Petty’s 199 and 200th victories. In 2000, Yates was presented with the Bill France Award of Excellence. Yates had been a nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame since 2014.

“Robert Yates (who looks like Robert Redford) never appears to be in a hurry, never appears to get flustered, and is not the kind of guy who you’d think could get anything done, but he’s worked magic everywhere he’s gone in racing,” former Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler wrote in his book Growing up NASCAR: Racing’s Most Outrageous Promoter Tells All. “Yates is the epitome of the generation of owners we have in NASCAR who started out as a crew chief. He’s in the same line as Bud Moore and Glen Wood.”

Robert Yates

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina

Born: April 19, 1943

NASCAR Championships: 1983 (engine builder), 1999 (car owner)

Wins: 134 (engine builder and car owner)

Poles: 48

Daytona 500 wins: 3 (1992, 1996, 2000)

Coca-Cola 600 wins: 2 (1991, 1996)

Contributing: Kelly Crandall and Dustin Long 

Statement from Tony Stewart:

“Our sport lost one of the most inventive minds and kindest personalities in Robert Yates. I’m glad I got to know him and proud our race team was able to honor him this year at Darlington. He leaves a strong legacy that is carried on by his son, Doug, and all of their employees at Roush Yates Engines. While Robert will certainly be missed, he will always be remembered.”

Statement from Dave Pericak, Global Director, Ford Performance

“Robert Yates knew the value of hard work and earned everything he achieved in life.  Not only was Robert a legendary engine builder and championship car owner, but he was a husband, father, grandfather and loyal Ford man who left an unmeasurable impact on those who knew him.

“He was a respected and valued member of the Ford family and co-founder of Roush Yates Engines, and while we’ll miss the wisdom he possessed for working on engines and race cars, we will miss his caring demeanor and friendship even more.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Robert’s wife, Carolyn, his two children, Doug and Amy, and his eight grandchildren.”

Statement from NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley:

“First and foremost, on behalf of everyone at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, we send our sincere condolences to Carolyn, Doug, Amy and the entire Yates family. Robert Yates was enormously successful as a winning and championship engine builder and car owner in his professional life in NASCAR, earning him a well-deserved selection as a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee in the Class of 2018. It was such a pleasure to experience the joy Robert, Carolyn and the entire Yates family felt upon his selection to the Hall of Fame this past May. He will forever be remembered for the incredible horsepower his powerful engines produced that were always feared by his competitors; for the championships with Hall of Famers David Pearson (1968, 1969), Bobby Allison (1983) and Dale Jarrett (1999) and numerous wins with a host of drivers including other fellow Hall of Famers Fireball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen and Richard Petty and nominees Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd to name a few. But he will be remembered even more as a winning and championship caliber person. He was among the most respected and beloved members of the NASCAR community—gracious, humble, genuine and a true gentleman. He will be dearly missed, but his impact and legacy on NASCAR and the many fortunate enough to know him will live with us forever. Again, we offer our sincere condolences to the entire Yates family.”

Statement from NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France

“Robert Yates excelled in multiple NASCAR disciplines, earning the respect of an entire industry and an everlasting place in the hearts and minds of the NASCAR fanbase. His excellence spanned decades, from the 1983 championship powered by his engines and the 1999 title captured by the cars he owned, both of which helped earn him a deserved spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018.

“And though he was a master at his craft, it was Robert’s passion and character that endeared him to every single person he encountered and will ensure that his memory will live on for generations. On behalf of my family and all of NASCAR, I extend heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of a NASCAR

Statement from Edsel B. Ford II, Member of the Board of Directors, Ford Motor Company

“We at Ford are collectively saddened to have learned the news of the passing of Robert Yates.  Robert, by any measure, was a valued and respected member of our family. His many accomplishments included winning the NASCAR championship in 1999 and being selected for the class of 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame.  I am proud to have been a part of both of those events but most meaningful to me was our friendship which spanned over 20 years.

“First and foremost an engine guy, Robert will be remembered as a person who helped build the sport with dedication and hard work.  His legacy at NASCAR will be defined by his roles as an engine builder, championship team owner, co-founder of Roush Yates Engines and ultimately by the innovation that he brought to all of these endeavors and more. Much like my great grandfather, Henry Ford, Robert was a tinkerer.  They both leave behind a legion of admirers and friends who benefited from their mentorship and their passion. We at Ford offer our sincere condolences to Robert’s wife Carolyn, his son Doug, daughter Amy and his eight grandchildren.”

SunnyD extends sponsorship deal with Roush Fenway Racing

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SunnyD has extended its contract with Roush Fenway Racing to sponsor Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s team through the 2019 season, the organization announced Tuesday.

SunnyD will add races as primary sponsor each season, although how many was not announced.

The company has been the primary sponsor of Stenhouse’s car in three races this season – Atlanta, spring Bristol and Indianapolis. SunnyD will next sponsor Stenhouse in October at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We’ve had a great time partnering with SunnyD the last two years,” Stenhouse in a statement from the team. “It’s one of the coolest paint schemes on the track, and we’ve had a lot of fun promoting their classic brand. I’m excited that we have extended our relationship, and I can’t wait to see how much fun we can have with SunnyD in victory lane.”

“We are very excited to announce that we tore up the old contract and signed a new one that extends for another season and adds additional races with Ricky and Roush Fenway,” said Henk Hartong, Chairman of Harvest Hill Beverage Company, owners of the SunnyD brand, in a statement. “I’m very proud of our relationship with Jack Roush, Steve Newmark and the entire Roush Fenway team. It is something that we wanted to lock in for the foreseeable future. Ricky is one of the rising young stars in NASCAR and we have seen great response to the program from the passionate NASCAR fans.  We are pleased to bolster our association with him and Roush Fenway.”

Stenhouse has two wins this year and will be in next month’s playoffs.

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Sonoma Raceway central to launching Kurt Busch’s NASCAR career

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Kurt Busch has one NASCAR Cup Series win at Sonoma Raceway, in 2011 when he drove the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske.

But if it weren’t for a win on the road course in a different series in 1999, the native of Las Vegas might not have gotten the chance to take a crack at NASCAR’s top series, where he won the 2004 Cup title and eventually the Daytona 500.

Busch first drove at Sonoma in 1998 as a 19-year-old in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour. He qualified 19th and went on to finish third.

A year later, on the way to the Southwest Tour championship, Busch returned to Sonoma and won after qualifying third and leading 31 of 64 laps.

“That was my first win in a stock car at a road course,” Busch said in a team release. “I’ve always believed that Saturday race was the most important stage to stand on because there wasn’t a Truck Series race or an Xfinity Series race. Back in the day, the Southwest Tour race was the support race, and my race was live on ESPN. I’ve always thought Sonoma helped springboard me into the spotlight, and I’m very thankful for that chance.”

If there actually was a springboard, it would say “property of Jack Roush.”

The owner of Roush Fenway Racing witnessed Busch’s 1999 Sonoma win. Busch then went on to win six races and the championship. All of that resulted in Busch receiving an invitation to try out for Roush’s Camping World Truck Series team in an event nicknamed “The Gong Show.”

Busch won the event and a spot with Roush. In 2000, Busch competed in his rookie season in the Truck Series, winning four races in 24 starts and finishing second in the standings. The next year, Busch was starting full-time in Roush’s No. 97 Ford in the Cup Series.

Sixteen years later, Busch is looking for his follow-up to winning the Daytona 500, but he’s also looking for just his second road course victory of his Cup career. He’s never won at Watkins Glen International.

Busch enters this weekend’s race at Sonoma with an average finish of 8.9 at the road course and seven top fives in 16 starts. The most recent was in 2015, when came in second to his brother, Kyle Busch.

“We could’ve won this race two years ago and I finished second to my little brother Kyle in the first Busch one-two finish,” Busch said. “Last year we just burned the rear tires off of the car. We just have to get a hang of the tires that are constantly changing to get our Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford where we want it to be.”

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Darrell Wallace Jr. to drive No. 43 at Pocono; first African-American in Cup since 2006

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Darrell Wallace Jr. will become the third African-American since 1976 to compete in a NASCAR Cup race, driving the No. 43 Ford for Aric Almirola this weekend at Pocono Raceway, Richard Petty Motorsports announced Monday.

The team stated that Wallace will drive the No. 43 while Almirola recovers from injuries suffered in a crash last month.

“Driving the famed 43 car is an unbelievable opportunity for any race car driver,” Wallace in a release from the team. “With all that Richard Petty has contributed to the sport, I’m honored to start my first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event with this team. I’m incredibly grateful that Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports and Smithfield have the confidence in me to help fill the seat until Aric (Almirola) fully recovers, which is the most important piece of this.

“Moving up to the Monster Energy Series is a tremendous challenge, but I am ready to represent this organization, help the 43 team get the best results possible and prove that I belong at this level.”

Wallace will be the first African-American to start a Cup race in more than a decade. Bill Lester, the last African-American to drive in Cup, competed in two series races in 2006. His last start came June 18, 2006 at Michigan. He finished 32nd.

Other African-Americans who competed in at least one race in NASCAR’s premier series include NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott (1961-1973) , Willy T. Ribbs (1986),  Charlie Scott (1956), Elias Bowie (1955), Randy Bethea (1975) and George Wiltshire (1971, ’75). 

Wendell Scott won one race in 495 starts. Ribbs drove in three races in 1986. His last Cup start was June 15, 1986, at Michigan. He finished 39th. Charlie Scott ran one race. Bowie ran one race. Betheat compete in one race. Wiltshire drove in one race in 1971 and ’75.

Almirola has been out since suffering a T5 compression fracture in a crash May 13. He is expected to be out two to three months. Regan Smith drove for Almirola in the Monster Energy Open, the Coca-Cola 600 and last weekend at Dover International Speedway.

Wallace’s opportunity comes as the 23-year-old’s future seemed in question in the Xfinity Series. His Roush Fenway Racing team had sponsorship set only through this weekend’s race at Pocono. Roush Fenway Racing announced it would suspend the No. 6 Xfinity team after this weekend.

Wallace was visibly upset with failing to win Saturday’s Xfinity race at Dover. After winning a stage, Wallace lost track position on a restart and finished eighth. Wallace leaned against his car after the race on pit road with his head down. Car owner Jack Roush sought to console Wallace. Eventually, Wallace tossed a sports drink bottle as he walked away from the car.

“Heartbreak day,’’ Wallace said a few moments later. “We have one more race left and this one was the one we were going to win, for sure. It just didn’t happen. We can’t get any luck. I got a little sideways on that one restart and it cost us a little bit. It would have been nice to get the $100,000 and bought us our Michigan race that we don’t have.”

Wallace has 83 career Xfinity starts. He has zero wins, six top-five finishes and 34 top 10s.

In the Camping World Truck Series, Wallace had five wins, 14 top fives and 26 top 10s in 44 starts.

“I think he’s very determined and I think that determination has turned into results over the last coupe of months,” 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick said of Wallace’s move to Cup. “If you look at where they are performance-wise from the start of the year … he’s definitely earned an opportunity to go out there and try to make something out of it.’’

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NASCAR America: Jack Roush sits down with Jeff Burton to talk his team’s big win

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Very few people know Jack Roush better than his former driver and now NBC Sports analysts Jeff Burton.

Burton sat down with Roush a few days after Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s big win at Talladega Superspeedway to discuss his team’s revival this season, two years after their last win.

“It’s hard to keep your chin up sometimes through a drought, but you have to have the spirit and people’s excitement to drive you to heights they might not otherwise reach,” Roush said.

Roush and Stenhouse’s breakthrough win came after the team contracted two Cup cars prior to this season. With Greg Biffle‘s departure, Roush’s hopes are behind Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne.

“We thought as we recommitted ourselves and got ourselves organized on 2017, that we need to focus on the two young drivers and not focus on Greg’s program,” Roush said. “I was limited in the number of talented people I had for pit crew, I was limited in the number of talented people I had for engineers and technical positions. I thought it was better to concentrate the efforts on two programs, rather thin them on three.”

Watch the video for the full exclusive interview.