Southern 500

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Kasey Kahne evokes Hendrick Motorsports’ first winner with Geoff Bodine scheme for Southern 500

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Hendrick Motorsports has a long, entrenched history of winning in NASCAR with the likes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip.

But the team’s winning ways began with Geoff Bodine.

Hendrick Motorsports and Kasey Kahne will honor Bodine by using his Levi Garrett paint scheme from the 1985 season in the Sept. 3 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Kahne and his No. 5 Chevrolet will be sponsored by Great Clips.

Bodine raced for Hendrick Motorsports from 1984-89 and won seven times. Among those was his victory in the 1986 Daytona 500, which was Hendrick Motorsports’ first of eight wins in the “Great American Race.”

Kahne’s paint scheme is the third throwback scheme in Cup to be announced for the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, joining Ryan Blaney’s and Brad Keselowski’s.

Bodine made his first Cup start in the 1979 Daytona 500 and his last in the 2011 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In the intervening 32 years, Bodine made 575 starts and earned 18 wins. His first, in the April 1984 Martinsville race, also was the first Cup win for Hendrick Motorsports.

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NASCAR America: Should ‘crown jewel’ races become ‘majors’ with more points?

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Under NASCAR’s new stage format for races, the Coca-Cola 600 now stands out as the only race with four stages, a result of being the longest race of the season.

Because of this, the race could potentially award a maximum of 70 points (not counting playoff points) were someone to sweep the first three stages and win the race. In a normal three stage race, the maximum in 60 points.

This has led to the discussion of whether NASCAR could one day have “majors,” or races that award a special amount of points, in the same vein as golf.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday the sanctioning body is continually having discussions about the possibility of majors with the sport’s “crown jewel” races of the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500.

On NASCAR America, analyst Jeff Burton said the idea is “worth exploring.”

“The interesting thing to me would be how exactly would you do it,” Burton. “I think you have to be careful, like paying double points based on how you finish or something like, would take away from the positive impacts of the stages. Now that we have stage racing, it’s easier to do something in regards to creating a majors format.”

Watch the video for the full majors discussion.

Ryan Blaney to drive Kyle Petty’s 1987 paint scheme in Southern 500

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The countdown to this years’ throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway began Monday with Ryan Blaney revealing his retro paint scheme on NASCAR America.

With the help of NBC Sports analysts Kyle Petty, Blaney announced his No. 21 Ford will have Petty’s 1987 paint scheme in the Sept. 3 Southern 500, which will air on NBCSN.

This is the third year for NASCAR’s throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway

Kyle Petty’s Ford Thunderbird from the 1987 season. Source: Wood Brothers Racing.

Petty drove for Wood Brothers Racing from 1985-88, when he earned two of his eight Cup wins with the team and scored 19 top five and 48 top-10 finishes. He placed in the top 10 in points in three of his four seasons with the Wood Brothers.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Petty’s win in the Coca-Cole 600.

Blaney will be making his third start in the Southern 500. His best finish in his first two starts was 13th last season.

“When he was with us, Kyle used to build his own aluminum seats,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said in  press release.. “He won a total of eight Cup races. He’s a talented singer and guitar player. He’s done great work with the Victory Junction Camp and the Kyle Petty Charity Ride, and he’s an excellent TV commentator.

“Kyle can do anything he wants to do. He’s that talented. We’re happy to have his name back on our Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion for the Southern 500 at Darlington.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s departure will be first among group that changed NASCAR

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They walked on to the screen in unison, fresh-faced, eager and so young.

They were the ones who would rock NASCAR’s establishment.

Now, they are ones moving one step closer to walking away.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he’ll retire after this NASCAR Cup season foreshadows how one of the sport’s greatest collection of drivers will soon leave the sport.

From 2000-02, NASCAR’s rookie classes included Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Earnhardt.

Through a marketing campaign with Gillette, they were billed as the Young Guns. But they earned much more in the careers — wins, championships and accolades.

The six drivers have combined to collect 10 of the last 14 Cup titles and won 228 races, which includes nine Daytona 500s, eight Coca-Cola 600s, six Brickyard 400s and four Southern 500s (Earnhardt won two Daytona 500s).

Sooner than later, they will follow Earnhardt out of the sport.

Matt Kenseth

The 2003 champion, who is 45 years old, is the logical choice to retire soon. When Joe Gibbs Racing announced a press conference recently that involved Kenseth, fans speculated it was a retirement announcement. It was a sponsor announcement instead.

“As long as you guys have known me, if I was going to do something like that, I wouldn’t call a press conference for it,’’ Kenseth told the media that day. “I probably just wouldn’t show up at Daytona and just everybody say, ‘Was Matt racing this week?’ Or I’d send out like a four-word tweet.’’

The Hall of Fame will beckon when he retires. Kenseth, rookie of the year in 2000, has 38 wins, two Daytona 500 victories, a Southern 500 win and a Coca-Cola 600 win.

JIMMIE JOHNSON

The seven-time champion’s contract expires after this season but he’s given no indication of retiring. His next contract likely will take him to 2019 or 2020 and be his final driving contract in the sport.

Johnson, 41, said last month that he expects to have a contract extension announced “before long.’’

He’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection when he’s eligible. He scored his 82nd career Cup win Monday at Bristol. He has also won two Daytona 500s, four Coca-Cola 600s, four Brickyard 400s and 2 Southern 500s.

KEVIN HARVICK

The 2014 champion signed what the team called a “long-term” contract extension last year.

“I’m very happy to have my future secure with a team so dedicated to winning,’’ Harvick said at the time.

Another driver headed to the Hall of Fame after his driving career. Harvick, who is 41 years old, has 35 wins, which includes two Coca-Cola 600s and a Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500 triumph. He also was the 2001 Rookie of the Year.

RYAN NEWMAN

His status was in question until signing a multi-year contract extension in October to remain at Richard Childress Racing.

The 39-year-old Newman won at Phoenix earlier this season. It was his 18th career Cup win. He has a Daytona 500 victory and a Brickyard 400 win. He has 51 poles, which ranks ninth on the all-time list. Newman beat Johnson to win the 2002 Rookie of the Year. Newman also likely will be a Hall of Fame selection after his career ends. 

KURT BUSCH

The youngest of the group at age 38. He won the Daytona 500 this year for his 29th career victory. The 2004 champion also has a Coca-Cola 600 win.

He likely will be the last of this group to retire and join them in the Hall of Fame. If he’s the last of this group to retire, he’ll close the chapter of a remarkable class.

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Is Carl Edwards worthy of the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

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Since Carl Edwards announced during a Wednesday morning press conference at Joe Gibbs Racing that he doesn’t plan to return to NASCAR, is his career strong enough to make the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

Consider what Edwards has accomplished since he made his Cup debut in August 2004 at Michigan International Speedway for car owner Jack Roush:

  • 28 Cup wins (ranks 26th on the all-time list)
  • Two-time Cup Series runner-up (2008 & 2011)
  • Won Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 once each (both in 2015, becoming one of only eight drivers to win both races in the same year).
  • 2011 All-Star winner
  • 2007 Xfinity champion

MORE: Edwards’ Bombshell move fits career pattern of guarded star

One thing missing on his resume is that Cup championship. Consider where he ranks among drivers with the most wins who have never won a Cup title:

50 – Junior Johnson

40 – Mark Martin

33 – Fireball Roberts

29 – Denny Hamlin

28 – Carl Edwards

26 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Johnson and Roberts are in the Hall of Fame. Martin will be among those inducted Jan. 20. That leaves Hamlin as the winningest driver without a Cup championship, but he’s still racing. If Edwards doesn’t race again, then he’ll be the winningest driver without a Cup champion not competing.

“I am personally satisfied with my career, and I know right now you’re thinking, well, ‘you don’t have a championship,'” Edwards said.  “Well, Jimmie [Johnson] has got some extras if he wants to send one my way, but truly, you guys know that I don’t race just for the trophies.  This has always been a really ‑‑ this has been a neat journey for me and it’s always been something that I’ve been rewarded by the challenges.”

If he doesn’t return, he would be eligible for the Hall of Fame in three years (along with Tony Stewart, who retired after this past season). Stewart, as a three-time champion, seems assured to be a first-ballot selection. But what about Edwards?