Richard Petty Motorsports puts road racer in No. 43 for Sonoma

Leave a comment

Road racer Billy Johnson will drive the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the team announced Monday.

Darrell Wallace Jr., who has driven the past two races for the team for the injured Aric Almirola, will return to the car next weekend at Daytona. Wallace will continue in the car until Almirola returns. Almirola says he hopes to be back at either New Hampshire or Indianapolis in July.

Johnson, who competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, will make his first Cup start. He has five Xfinity starts, scoring a career-best finish of eighth at Montreal in 2012.

Johnson has worked with Almirola on his road racing at the Ford Performance racing school at Miller Motorsports Park. Johnson has worked with more than 20 Ford drivers on their road racing skills the past six years.

“It is going to be awesome. It will be my first NASCAR Cup race and to debut in the 43 car, one of the most iconic numbers to ever race in NASCAR, is a huge honor,” said Johnson in a statement from the team. “Richard Petty Motorsports is a great organization. To have the chance to make my Cup debut for the King is surreal, and I appreciate them putting me in the car.’’

Said Brian Moffitt, CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports: “It’s been important for us to put ourselves in the most competitive spot while Aric is recovering. We’ve worked with Ford and Smithfield to put the best driver available in the car each week. Both Regan (Smith) and Bubba (Wallace) have done a great job for us the last five weeks. We feel that Billy’s experience on a road course will help us be competitive this weekend.”

 and on Facebook

Danica Patrick suffers another hard hit in a season of hits

6 Comments

For the fourth time in the last eight races, Danica Patrick failed to finish because of an accident.

Her car slammed into the inside backstretch wall after a late restart Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, marking her second hard hit in the last five races. Her car was destroyed in a crash May 13 at Kansas Speedway (the same wreck that left Aric Almirola with a T5 compression fracture expected to sideline him until next month).

Patrick’s No. 10 Ford was one of five cars involved in the crash with 10 laps left at Michigan.

The field was going down the backstretch when Kevin Harvick was sandwiched between Ryan Blaney on his outside and Daniel Suarez on the inside.

Contact between the three sent Suarez down the track. Darrell Wallace Jr. hit the left rear of Suarez’s car, which made an impact with Patrick that sent her car sliding toward the inside backstretch wall.

“I went into (Turn 1) and got super loose,” Blaney said. “I hate that it took a couple cars out off  (Turn 2). I got really free for some reason. It caught me off guard, which made it look bad. We had a decent enough car to run up there once we got track position.”

Said Patrick: “I knew when there was a caution with about 15 laps to go that there would end up being another one. I had a good run and went for it and just got hit.”

Patrick finished last in 37th for her sixth DNF, five because of crashes. Blaney, who won last week at Pocono, finished 25th after running as high as second. Harvick placed 14th. Darrell Wallace Jr. finished 19th in his second Cup start as a substitute driver for the injured Amirola.

The crash was the latest hard hit for Patrick in a Cup career that has been full of them (recently documented here by NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan).

At one point this year, Patrick exited three races in four weeks — Bristol, Talladega and Kansas — because of wrecks.

Sunday’s accident marked the end to a tough week for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver, who made negative headlines with a viral Facebook Live video that captured her lecturing fans at Pocono after they booed her for not signing autographs.

Patrick later admitted that she “had a moment,” and that she should have just continued walking.

That was in the midst of reports that Patrick may not be with Stewart-Haas Racing after 2017.

Following her finish at Michigan, Patrick is 30th in the points standings. She is two spots and 12 points behind Almirola, who has missed the last four points races.

MORE: Nate Ryan looks at looming Silly Season movement.

 

What drivers said after Michigan Cup race

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
3 Comments

Kyle Larson — Winner: Ryan Blaney gave me a heck of a push. So, I’ve really got to thank him a ton. I knew the Penske cars took off good, so I was happy to see him behind me. For us to withstand a few restarts there with some tough competitors there was pretty important.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 2nd: “It was all just about how your push went. I am really proud of our effort today. I thought we really improved from where we were last year as far as those late-race restarts go and was able to hang with them and really just kind of rely on the guy behind you. Kyle (Busch) gave me a great push. I didn’t give him a very good push that time before. He went a little sooner than I thought he was going to. He gave me a good push and I think somebody pulled out on him. He had to go block them and it just ends up kind of disrupting the whole situation when that happens.”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “You have no idea how good this feels. It’s been a struggle the last month-and-a-half and it’s nice to come here to Michigan, maybe our best race track and be able to overcome a lot. I’m not sure we had a third-place car today but the team executed like they needed to get the Shell-Pennzoil Ford into the top three. Proud of the effort. I wish I could have the last restart back. I think I could have gotten to second.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “Really good car. You know, everything we needed to do we did. Had one little hiccup on pit road, but for the most part we ran really well all day, had good speed in our Camry and pretty happy. I knew I was going to have a tough time on the bottom. Everyone did have a tough time on the bottom, so I tried to do my best and that’s all I had.” 

Jamie McMurray – Finished 5th: “We started off really loose. It almost seemed like the track was going through a weird transition at the beginning. You get two or three good laps and it almost was like you catch a gust of wind and have to hang on to the car. You would slide up the race track, but they did a really good job adjusting on it.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR — Finished 6th: “We had the best car out there without a doubt – just inside lane restarts at the end killed us, so just stinks when you have to race like that, you know? You get just in a bad spot and there’s nothing you can do about it. We seen it the last couple restarts, so just wrong place. Probably should have took two tires that last time we pitted – we took four. That killed us. Just wrong lane on the restart every single time all day long and couldn’t use the best car to win.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 8th: “We had a pit road penalty there for speeding late in the race. We worked hard all day. We have a good baseline to come back with in August here at Michigan.”

DALE EARNHARDT, JR. – Finished 9th: “We had a great car. Just had a hard time getting any track position and keeping it. Greg (Ives, crew chief) did a good job trying to get us that track position on one stop. We just got real loose on that run, about wrecked the car a couple of times and lost a lot of spots. Got lucky there at the end to restart on the outside in 18th and got a bunch of spots there the last few laps to finish in the top 10.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 10th: “Just getting inside the top 10 the cars are so equal on pace. It’s really a one-groove track still that it’s just hard to make anything happen. Unfortunately, we went to the back, I think if we would have started further forward it would have been a little better day for us. But, just racing at Michigan that is what it is.”

Erik Jones — Finished 13th: “Yeah, just a long day overall. Just never quite had the car to – I think we really needed – we were fighting just being free and as the day went on we never really fixed that issue and that loose wheel early kind of got us pinned in a strategy we didn’t want to be in. Had a lot of laps – I think we had 86 laps on our left side tires – and just couldn’t quite get it there at the end.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 14th: “We were just too tight. Tight all day long and we could not get it loosened up enough to be able to challenge. It is too bad really. Just too tight.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 16th: “We just weren’t really where we needed to be. We had a few bright spots but we couldn’t get it there at the end.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. — Finished 19th: “It was a lot better than last week for sure. I just didn’t get all of it on restarts and what I thought was aggressive. Going back to the Xfinity side, I am one of the aggressive ones, but you have to be 10 times more aggressive here at least. It is a learning curve. It was a solid run all day. I knew we would run a lot better than where we started, it was just a matter of getting around those guys, getting track position and clean air. The restarts were wild at the end.”

RYAN BLANEY — Finished 25th: “We held second for a while then four tires ate us up. We couldn’t restart on the bottom. That didn’t bode well for us. I went into (Turn) 1 and got super loose. I hate that it took a couple cars out off (Turn) 2. I got really free for some reason. It caught me off guard which made it look bad. We had a decent enough car to run up there once we got track position.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 26th: “We were sitting there seventh with 20 laps to go reeling them in thinking this was our day, and then a debris caution forces a restart. Restarts are the only times you can pass, so everyone was racing hard, and I got into the wall. It killed our day.”

 and on Facebook 

Nothing to mull(et): Erik Jones seeks to balance fun and work

Leave a comment

As NASCAR transitions to its next generation, today’s younger drivers not only are asked to perform on the track but show personality off it.

TV, Snapchat, podcasts and other forms of social media are viewed by some as intently as lap times. Social media elements have gained importance as fans look for someone to cheer with Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart having retired, Dale Earnhardt Jr. doing so at the end of this season and several other popular drivers likely not racing within the next five years.

To help his fans, Earnhardt recently listed 10 drivers they should consider following once he retires.

The youngsters on the list included Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suarez.

Each has showcased their personality.

Blaney has a podcast and has shared various adventures with Darrell Wallace Jr. on social media

— Dillon is the sports fan who wears the cowboy hat.

— Elliott, while more reserved, is well-known to fans who have followed the sport for years and watched him grow.

— Larson has said he’s the last true racer and lamented the frayed connection between NASCAR and grassroots racing.

— Stenhouse, although known more to some as Danica Patrick’s boyfriend, also has shown his love of sprint car racing and his fun side on social media.

— Suarez’s effusive manner makes it easy to see his personality.

One young driver on Earnhardt’s list who could be a mystery to some is Erik Jones.

Yes, fans have seen him since 2013 — when he won a Truck race at Phoenix at age 17 and became the youngest winner in series history at the time. He won the 2015 Truck title and become the youngest series champion at age 19. He was the rookie of the year last season in the Xfinity Series and vies for that title this year in Cup.

Yes, he’s been around, but who is Erik Jones? That’s a question Earnhardt would like to see Jones reveal.

“Super fast, raw speed — he’s got it,’’ Earnhardt said on his podcast, the Dale Jr. Download. “Great talent … He’s wearing this mullet so he kind of knows how to pick on himself and doesn’t take himself too seriously. I think he has a great personality. I would encourage him to show that more.

“When I’m around him at the race track, you do see a very, very focused, game-face kind of guy. But there is a side of him that’s the complete opposite that I think he could probably show the fans more to give them an opportunity to get to know him. But I think there’s going to be great things for Erik Jones in his future.”

Coming off a career-best third-place finish last weekend at Pocono, Jones is starting to show more of his personality. He recently tweeted a picture of his growing mullet.

“Why did I choose to grow it? I don’t know,’’ Jones said. “That’s a good question. It’s not something that was thought out. It was more spontaneous. I just didn’t feel like getting a hair cut for a long time. I guess I feel like it’s kind of a waste of time. It takes a lot of time for some reason to get your hair cut.’’

A cousin, who cuts hair, was at his recent birthday party. He asked her to cut it into a mullet and she did.

So, he’s trying.

But while Earnhardt would like to see more personality from Jones, the driver admits it’s difficult.

“When I’m with my friends and families, I’m hanging out and having a good time and laughing and joking, but when you get to the race track, I’ve always been pretty focused,’’ he said. “It’s been a little bit hard for me to relax when I’m here because I don’t feel it is a time to relax, but a time to get to work. I think there’s a time and place for it. I’m trying to find that balance.’’

While he does, he’s also looking for better results. In a season that has seen Blaney, Dillon and Stenhouse each score their first career Cup win, Jones searches for his.

The Michigan native has scored two top-10 finishes in the last three Cup races heading into Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway.

Such performances could put him closer to his first career Cup victory.

“We took a big leap in that direction of getting closer to being able to do it (at Pocono),’’ Jones said. “I think once you kind of get up there and run in that position, hopefully, it comes a little bit easier as time goes on.’’

And then maybe he’ll feel comfortable displaying more of that personality Earnhardt praises.

 and on Facebook

 

NASCAR America: Darrell Wallace Jr. on Cup debut: ‘truly a special day’

Leave a comment

Darrell Wallace’s Jr.’s Cup debut Sunday at Pocono Raceway was “truly a special day” for the 23-year-old driver.

At first African-American driver in the series in a decade who is also driving the famous No. 43, the moment brought a lot of attention to Wallace.

Wallace discussed the experience and what he learned from it with NASCAR America’s Dave Burns.

“Having the right people help you through that made it very easy,” Wallace said. “I felt I wasn’t overwhelmed by anything. I was still able to stay focused on what the big picture and that was making sure we did everything right inside the racecar and not losing track of my marks from going back and forth doing double duty.”

As focused as he was, Wallace was caught speeding on pit road three times on his way to finishing 26th in the race. Wallace attributed it to his unfamiliarity with the digital dashboards that are in Cup cars

“That was the biggest thing I learned,” Wallace said. “I’m going to work on some light stuff here in a little bit. Go and talk to (Crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer) and the engineers about how we can manage that a little bit better, maybe get us a little bit more of a gap for error.”

Wallace also talked about his feinting spell after the race on pit road, which he said was “blown out of proportion.”

Watch the video for the full interview.