Getty Images

Chase Elliott: Returning to the No. 9 is ‘getting back home to me’

Leave a comment

For Chase Elliott, the number on the side of his Cup car is a big deal.

But it’s still just a number.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver will once again compete under the banner of the No. 9. It’s the numeral his father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, raced with for much of his Cup career and which Chase Elliott competed with for two years in the Xfinity Series, winning the 2014 title.

Chase Elliott returns to the number after two seasons in Cup driving the No. 24 made famous by Jeff Gordon.

Chase Elliott during the Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. (Chevrolet)

But the 22-year-old driver has no illusions about his car number leading to more success, including his elusive first Cup win.

“At the end of the day is it going to make me go any faster?  No, probably not,” Elliott said Tuesday during a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. “Do I think it looks better?  Yes, I do. Is it my favorite number? Yes, it is.  Has it always been my favorite number? Yes, it has been. So, all those things are great. I’m very lucky and honored to carry the number that I’ve carried for a number of years before this year, so it’s like getting back home to me from that sense.

“But no, I don’t think it’s going to make me go any faster or slower.  I wish it did make us go faster.  I would love that, but unfortunately numbers don’t.”

The native of Dawsonville, Georgia, will make his 78th Cup start with the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18. Even though he made it to the third round of the Cup playoffs last season, it was despite not earning a win. He came close twice in the playoffs, at Dover and Martinsville.

At Dover, he was passed by Kyle Busch for the lead coming to the white flag. Martinsville was the site of the now infamous run-in with Denny Hamlin, who hit Elliott and sent him into the wall as he led with two laps to go in the scheduled distance.

It led to a heated confrontation between the drivers.

Elliott got a bit of revenge two races later at Phoenix, when an aggressive battle saw Elliott force Hamlin into the outside wall, which resulted in a cut tire for Hamlin and an impact with the wall.

How will Elliott choose his battles in the looming season? He reiterated his mantra from last season that he’ll “race guys as they race me.”

“I mean I think it’s circumstantial,” Elliott said. “I think in life in general you can’t let people run over you and let them get away with it otherwise they are just going to keep doing it. I think that is just a part of life.  If you let somebody control you too much they are probably going to take advantage of you as it goes on. That happens in work places every day.  It happens in racing, I’m sure it happens in football, baseball, basketball, the whole deal.

” … I want to beat people the right way because I think at the end of the day racing people the right way and doing it with respect is probably going to make them more mad than it would if you did something dirty to get by them.”

With the retirement of former teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Elliott is now in the position of possibly being voted NASCAR’s most popular driver. Whoever gets the nod, they’ll be first new driver to win the recognition since Earnhardt began his 15-year stretch in 2003.

Entering his third full-time Cup season, Elliott said he’s not planning on changing who he is for the sake of others, especially when it comes to his social media presence.

“I’m not as active as a lot of people are on Twitter,” said Elliott, who has the eighth-most followers among Cup drivers on Twitter. “I think that is just because that is the way my personality is. I’m not going to jump out of the box of my personality to appease other people, never have been that way and I’m not going to be that way.  I have been very lucky to have had some great supporters over the past couple of years. … Look, I want people to if they want to pull for me or like me … because of who I am and the person I am and the way I carry myself.  If I’m not the right guy for somebody, then hey, there are 39 other people to choose from and I think that is your choice, so I will respect it either way.”

 and on Facebook

Milestones Cup drivers, teams could hit in 2018

Leave a comment

From career starts to victories, there are many milestones Cup drivers and teams will be shooting for when the season begins with the Feb. 18 Daytona 500. Here’s a look at some of those milestones within reach this year.

Jimmie Johnson is one win behind Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip (84 each) for fourth on the all-time Cup wins list.

— With one win, Jimmie Johnson would have a Cup victory in 17 consecutive seasons. That would move him to second on the all-time list of consecutive seasons with at least a win, tying him with David Pearson. Richard Petty is the all-time leader with at least one victory in 18 consecutive seasons (1960-77).

Kevin Harvick is seven top-five finishes away from tying Bill Elliott for 20th on the all-time list with 175.

— The Wood Brothers are one victory away from 100 career Cup wins.

— Hendrick Motorsports needs one victory to extend its streak of consecutive seasons with at least one Cup win to 33 and that next points victory also will be the organization’s 250th.

Kyle Busch needs one pole this season to have one in 11 consecutive seasons. That would put him in a tie with Bobby Allison and Ryan Newman for eighth on the all-time list of consecutive seasons with a pole.

— If a driver scores their first Cup win this season, it would mark the third consecutive year there has been at least one first-time winner. That would be the longest such mark in a decade. Among those seeking their first career Cup victory: Chase Elliott, William Byron, Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Michael McDowell, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Alex Bowman.

— Kyle Busch is 17 wins shy of 200 career victories across NASCAR’s top three national series. He has 43 Cup wins, 91 Xfinity wins and 49 Truck wins. He won 13 races last year (five Cup, five Xfinity and three Truck).

— Kevin Harvick is three wins shy of 100 career victories across NASCAR’s top three national series. He has 37 Cup wins, 46 Xfinity wins and 14 Truck wins. Last season, Harvick scored two Cup victories, zero in Xfinity (in six starts) and did not compete in any Truck races.

— With Matt Kenseth (650 career starts) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (631) not in Cup, Kurt Busch becomes the active driver with most starts at 612. If he starts every Cup points race this year, he’ll be at 648, putting him 23rd on the all-time list for most Cup starts.

— Ryan Newman is 16 starts away from making his 600th career start. Only 28 drivers in NASCAR history have made 600 or more career starts.

— Jimmie Johnson is 21 starts away from making his 600th career start.

— Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman each have made 576 consecutive Cup starts. They are tied for 10th on the all-time list of consecutive starts.

Paul Menard will make his 400th career Cup start in the Daytona 500.

David Ragan is two starts shy of making his 400th career Cup start. The Georgia native will do it at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

 and on Facebook

The one and only time Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced in a Ford and not a Chevy

Photo courtesy Dale Earnhardt Jr. Twitter account
4 Comments

In addition to being a great race car driver – well, now-retired, that is – one of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s best attributes is he’s one of the best storytellers in NASCAR.

He could easily write several books – and still have plenty of material left over for more, his tales are so numerous and prolific — and enjoyable.

We awoke Sunday morning to Earnhardt taking to Periscope to remember the late Bobby Hamilton, who passed away 11 years ago today.

And Junior told one of the best stories we’ve ever heard from him.

As he related, back in 1996 Earnhardt was racing Late Models at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. Even though his crew chief said to bring the car into the pits, Earnhardt wanted to make one final practice lap when all hell broke loose: a wreck occurred in front of him and as Earnhardt tried to avoid it by going low, he was rear-ended by another car, with both his and the other car bursting into flame.

The Speedway had a fire truck that responded to the scene, but it didn’t have any water or foam to put the fire out! As a result, both Earnhardt’s and the other driver’s cars “burned to the ground,” Earnhardt said. “Our cars were ruined. I had to haul that thing home, and we were done.”

Junior was uninjured, but still wanted to race. The problem was, he didn’t have a spare car.

Enter Hamilton, who offered Earnhardt a ride – in a Ford, decked out in Petty blue color and with the No. 43 on the door.

Earnhardt was in a major quandary. He never had driven a Ford before.

“I’m thinking, ‘I can’t drive it, because it’s a Ford,’” Earnhardt related on the Periscope video. “But I want to race real bad.

“So I’m calling my dad trying to see if I can get a hold of him and try to ask him if I can drive this Ford. It’s a Petty blue, because Bobby at the time I think must have been driving for Richard in the Cup Series and it had No. 43 on it.

“I couldn’t get a hold of dad, but I got a hold of dad’s general manager. … He said, ‘Yeah, go ahead and drive it. Just don’t talk about it and try not to make too big of a deal about it.’”

Earnhardt had to do some cosmetic alterations before he climbed inside.

First, he used duct tape to cover all Ford emblems – although he left the huge STP emblem on the hood.

Then, he used additional blue tape to cover the 4 on the door, leaving it to be just a “3”, the same number that his father raced in the Cup series.

Even thought the car’s previous driver, Casey Atwood, didn’t care for it, Earnhardt fell in love with his new ride and quickly took the lead.

He appeared ready to cruise to a win. He had lapped all but one car in the field.

And then disaster struck.

The transmission broke with 30 laps to go and what could have been Junior’s only win ever in anything other than a Chevrolet, wound up on the back end of a tow truck.

Even though Junior wasn’t happy with how the day ended, he certainly helped Hamilton feel good, as he sold the car after the race “for quite a bit of money,” Earnhardt said.

And thus ended Earnhardt’s first and only race in anything but a Chevrolet.

But it has to make you wonder, what might have happened if the trans didn’t explode and Junior won — in a Ford. Could history have turned out different?

“Bobby was a good man, so that’s my story,” Dale Jr. said in conclusion.

Great story, Junior. Keep ‘em coming.

Tony Gibson will be able to ‘make a difference’ in new role at Stewart-Haas Racing

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After 31 years, Tony Gibson will have a job in NASCAR that doesn’t send him on the road.

The former crew chief enters the 2018 season as the new production manager for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Gibson, 53, will supervise many of the departments responsible for building the cars for its four drivers, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer. That includes the chassis, body shop and fabrication shops.

Gibson, who spent his last three seasons as a crew chief on Busch’s No. 41 Ford, detailed his new role with SHR Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“It’s great for me because I’m a hands-on guy,” Gibson said. “I love to be working on the race cars and trying to make things better. When we were talking about this over the last year or so, how we were going to make this work, I just wanted to be where I could make a difference and help. This is a great way for me to help all the teams, all four teams, and be hands-on.”

SHR announced its new crew chief pairings on Dec. 15. Succeeding Gibson on the No. 41 will be Billy Scott, who worked with Danica Patrick the last two seasons.

Early in his career, Gibson worked as a car chief for 1992 Cup champion Alan Kulwicki. His crew chief career in Cup began in 1994 for six races on the No. 44 Ford owned by Charles Hardy.

Since then, Gibson has worked 440 Cup races from the top of a pit box, earning six wins. The last was in the 2017 Daytona 500 with Busch.

Gibson has also worked with Patrick, Bill Elliott, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip and more.

Gibson was one of the last remaining crew chiefs who did not have a background in engineering.

“I’m not a paper guy, I’m not a computer guy” Gibson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I like to go out and talk to the guys and work with them and (figure out) how I can make their jobs easier. It takes some of the experience I’ve had over the last 31 years and put(s) it in play. How can I help some of these younger guys … like John Klausmeier (crew chief for Almirola) and Billy Scott and all those guys, give them a good shot at being a crew chief and making a career out of it?”

 and on Facebook

A look at the Cup active wins list ahead of 2018

Getty Images
Leave a comment

When the 2018 Cup season opens with the 60th Daytona 500 in February, the field will include 22 drivers who own at least one win in their career.

Six of those drivers are past champions.

Not among them will be Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt ended his Cup career in 2017 with 26 victories, the last coming in the fall 2015 Phoenix race. Kenseth likely capped off his career with his 39th Cup win in this years’ fall Phoenix race.

Here’s how the active wins list will look when the season begins in February in Daytona.

Jimmie Johnson, 83 wins: The seven-time Cup champion won three times in 2017. His win at Dover in June tied him with childhood hero Cale Yarborough. A win by Johnson in 2018 would move him into a three-way tie with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for fourth on the all-time wins list. Johnson is 10 wins behind Jeff Gordon.

Kyle Busch, 43 wins: The Joe Gibbs Racing driver won five times in 2017. He began the year tied with Kenseth with 38 wins. He moved past Hall of Famers Tim Flock and Mark Martin on the all-time wins list.

Kevin Harvick, 37 wins: The 2014 Cup champion won twice in 2017, winning at Sonoma and Texas. The Texas victory advanced him to the Championship 4. Harvick is three wins away from having 100 over all three of NASCAR’s national series.

Denny Hamlin, 31 wins: The Joe Gibbs Racing driver visited Victory Lane twice in 2017 at New Hampshire and the Southern 500. He’s won at least two races in the last three seasons. He’s the winningest Cup driver without a championship. A win in 2018 would tie Hamlin with Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.

Kurt Busch, 29 wins: The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned the biggest win of his career in 2017, claiming the 59th Daytona 500. Busch has won at least one race in all four of his seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Brad Keselowski, 24 wins: The Team Penske driver began the year tied with Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Hall of Famer Benny Parsons and Jack Smith with 21 wins. His three victories at Atlanta, Martinsville and Talladega now have him above Hall of Famer Terry Labonte (22 wins) and Ricky Rudd (23 wins).

Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne, 18 wins: Each driver won a single race in 2017.

Martin Truex Jr, 15 wins: The 2017 champion won eight times this season. Three years ago, he had just two wins in his first nine full-time Cup seasons. He is tied with Ernie Irvan on the all-time wins list.

Clint Bowyer, eight wins: The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has not won a race since 2012.

Jamie McMurray, seven wins: The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has not won since 2013.

Kyle Larson, five wins: The Chip Ganassi Racing driver claimed four victories in 2017 after finally breaking through with his first win in 2016.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr, David Ragan, two wins: Both drivers’ two wins have come at restrictor-plate tracks.

Drivers with one win: Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne and Paul Menard.