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Reliving some of NASCAR’s most dramatic finishes

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The Minnesota Vikings’ win against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday marked the first time in NFL history that a playoff game ended with a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.

NASCAR has had its share of dramatic finishes through the years. While it’s easy to debate which dramatic finishes rank among the all-time best, here’s a look at some of the most dramatic (and surprising) wins in NASCAR.

The first selection comes from what is now the Xfinity Series. It was the 2012 season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. Kurt Busch led with Kyle Busch pushing him as they entered Turn 3. Behind them were Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart, Elliott SadlerRicky Stenhouse Jr., Kasey Kahne, Cole Whitt and Brad Keselowski.

None of them won the race. 

James Buescher, who was 11th in Turn 4 won for his only Xfinity victory in 91 career starts. 

 

Carl Edwards had won the Xfinity race the day at Atlanta but had yet to win in 16 previous Cup starts before he cranked the engine at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 2005. Edwards came from behind to beat Jimmie Johnson at the line in among the closest finishes in NASCAR.

 

Dale Earnhardt’s incredible ride from 18th to first in the final five laps in 2000 at Talladega Superspeedway is memorable for that alone but it also was his 76th and final Cup victory. When the video clip below starts, you don’t even see Earnhardt but he’s there lurking and works his way up the field. With two laps left, announcer Jerry Punch exclaims: “The Intimidator is scraped and beaten on the right side, but he will not be denied! “Mr. Restrictor Plate knows there are two laps to go! Earnhardt drives to the high side of Bobby Labonte. Wow.”

 

As they took the white flag at Watkins Glen International in 2012, Kyle Busch led, Brad Keselowski was second and Marcos Ambrose was third.

What followed was a chaotic final lap that ended with Ambrose winning. It led broadcaster Dale Jarrett to say about the beating, banging and battling: “A year’s worth of excitement in 2.45 miles. Incredible.”

 

Ricky Craven tried to make his move by Kurt Busch with two laps to go at Darlington Raceway in 2003 but slid up and made contact with Busch and lost his momentum. That allowed Busch to dive underneath and take the lead back. Craven persisted. As they came off the final corner, Craven went underneath Busch for a door-slamming drag race to the checkered flag, nipping Busch by 0.002 seconds to win.

Of course, one can’t include such a list without one of the sport’s most famous finishes. Donnie Allison led Cale Yarborough on the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. Yarborough dived low on the backstretch to pass Allison, who blocked. They hit, bounced off each other and hit again before crashing in Turn 3. Richard Petty drove by several seconds later to take the lead and go on to win the event. As Petty celebrated, Allison, Yarborough and Bobby Allison, who had stopped to check on his brother, fought.

 

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Friday 5: Questions about the upcoming Cup season

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Many places often celebrate Friday at 5 where the weekend begins. Although there’s no NASCAR Cup action this weekend, fans can still enjoy Friday 5 with a (fun) look at the upcoming season with these five questions.

1. What is the new driver/crew chief combination that is most intriguing?

Among the new driver/crew chief combinations this year:

Billy Scott with Kurt Busch at Stewart-Haas Racing

John Klausmeier with Aric Almirola at SHR

Matt Borland with Ty Dillon at Germain Racing

Greg Erwin with Paul Menard at the Wood Brothers

Travis Mack with Kasey Kahne at Leavine Family Racing

Greg Ives with Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports

Darian Grubb with William Byron at Hendrick Motorsports

The one that intrigues the most is the Grubb/Byron pairing. Grubb won a championship with Tony Stewart in 2011, led Denny Hamlin to the title race in Homestead in 2014, worked with Carl Edwards in 2015 and won the 2006 Daytona 500 with Jimmie Johnson while serving as interim crew chief with Chad Knaus suspended.

Grubb has never worked with a rookie.

Byron is more than a rookie. The 20-year-old is viewed by many to be the future of Hendrick Motorsports. Grubb will play a key role in molding Byron and that’s an important responsibility. How Byron handles the highs and lows of the season will rest with Grubb. This will be worth watching closely.

2. How will Fords compete with the other manufacturers this season?

Chevrolet brings out the Camaro ZL1 this season. Toyota won 16 races with the updated Toyota Camry last year. Ford will have the oldest model among the three.

Brad Keselowski raised issues about Toyota’s success last year and NASCAR not keeping the manufactures closer. He sounded a warning about the 2018 season moments after the 2017 season finished in Homestead

“When that (Toyota) car rolled out at Daytona, and I think we all got to see it for the first time, I think there (were) two reactions: One, we couldn’t believe NASCAR approved it; and two, we were impressed by the design team over there,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think anyone ever had a shot this year the second that thing got put on the racetrack and approved. It kind of felt like Formula 1, where you had one car that made it through the gates heads and tails above everyone, and your hands are tied because you’re not allowed to do anything to the cars in those categories that NASCAR approves to really catch up.

“As to what will happen for 2018, you know, I don’t know. I would assume that Chevrolet will be allowed to design a car the same way that Toyota was for this one, but Ford doesn’t have any current plans for that. If that’s the case, we’re going to take a drubbing next year, so we’ll have to see.”

That’s the challenge Fords could face this season. Ford won 10 races last year, but only two of the final 19 races last year. Will that trend continue this season?

3. There were three first-time Cup winners in 2017. Will that number be equaled this season?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon each scored their first career Cup victory last season.

Among the drivers seeking their first career Cup win this season: Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Ty Dillon and Darrell Wallace Jr. Those drivers represent Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Germain Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports.

It would seem a good bet that Elliott and at least one other driver on that list scores their first career Cup win this year. It’s possible there could be three first-time winners again.

4. For fun, who is your way-too-early final four picks at Homestead?

Let’s go with Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch.

5. For fun, in the way-too-early category, how many drivers who didn’t make the playoffs last year make it this year?

Let’s go with three. Thinking Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman.

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Stewart-Haas Racing announces driver-crew chief pairings for 2018

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Stewart-Haas Racing on Friday morning announced its driver-crew chief lineup for the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Two driver-crew chief pairings remain the same: Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers on the No. 4 team, as well as Clint Bowyer and Mike Bugarewicz on the No. 14 team.

The changes are related to the No. 41 and No. 10 teams:

* Earlier this week, Kurt Busch re-signed with SHR and will have a new crew chief for 2018, Billy Scott, for the No. 41 Ford.

Busch’s previous crew chief since November 2014, Tony Gibson, is expected to assume a new role within the organization.

Scott, meanwhile, shifts to the No. 41 team as its crew chief after spending the last two seasons as Danica Patrick’s crew chief.

The 2017 winner of the Daytona 500, Busch enters his fifth season with Stewart-Haas. Five of his 29 career Cup wins have been with SHR.

* The newest member of the team, Aric Almirola, replaces Danica Patrick in the No. 10 Ford. Joining Almirola as crew chief will be John Klausmeier, who has been a team engineer with the organization since 2009.

Klausmeier already has a win as a crew chief, serving in an interim capacity in place of Gibson in June 2016 when Busch won at Pocono.

And then there’s the two returning driver-crew chief combinations:

* Childers returns as Harvick’s crew chief for the fifth straight year. Together, the pair has won 14 races, 15 poles and led 6,665 laps. They won the NASCAR Cup championship in 2014 and have been part of the Championship 4 in three of its four-year existence.

* Bugarewicz enters his third year as the crew chief for the No. 14 Ford. He spent 2016 as Tony Stewart’s crew chief, leading the three-time Cup champ to the 49th and final win of his career (Sonoma) before retiring as a Cup driver at the end of that season.

Bugarewicz remained in the same position when Bowyer replaced Stewart in the No. 14 in 2017. Together, the pair had three second-place finishes this past season.

“We wanted to maximize our strengths and address the areas where we needed to improve, and we feel this lineup gives us our best chance to succeed every time we bring our Ford Fusions to the racetrack,” SHR VP of competition Greg Zipadelli said in a media release. “This is a very technical sport, but it’s the people who make it go, and we’ve got some of the best people in the business.”

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Report: Judge deals setback to Tony Stewart, rules civil lawsuit can go forward in Kevin Ward Jr. death

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Tony Stewart has suffered a setback related to the civil lawsuit filed against him by the family of Kevin Ward Jr.

U.S. district judge David Hurd on Tuesday ruled that racing liability waivers signed by Ward do not protect Stewart against wrongful death claims by Ward’s family, according to an ESPN report.

The judge’s decision tosses out a bid by Stewart’s lawyers to dismiss the suit, and also leaves Stewart open to having to undergo a potential jury trial in the civil case.

Ward, 20, was killed when struck by Stewart’s sprint car during a race on Aug. 9, 2014 at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York.

Ward’s family filed the federal lawsuit against Stewart nearly a year later after the incident, claiming the retired three-time NASCAR Cup champ was reckless and negligent in the way he operated his sprint car in the race.

Stewart avoided criminal charges when a grand jury chose not to indict him. However, Ward’s family has proceeded with the civil case against Stewart, alleging he intentionally swerved at Ward to intimidate him, but instead struck and killed him in the process.

Stewart’s attorneys had sought dismissal of much of the civil case against him, but Tuesday’s decision will allow the case to go forward. No trial date has been set but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of an out-of-court settlement before then. According to the ESPN report, both sides have been negotiating a potential settlement for the last several months.

Ward was found to have been under the influence of marijuana at the time of the incident, and both he and his father signed standard liability waivers before the race.

While the civil suit can now go forward to potential trial, there’s also the possibility that a jury could ultimately decide to dismiss the suit because Ward had an “assumption of risk” when he climbed out of his race car and proceeded down the racetrack and into the path of Stewart’s race car while cars were still running on the racetrack under a caution flag.

Tony Stewart making sprint car racing debut in New Zealand this weekend

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Tony Stewart is finally getting around to fulfilling a 20-year-old racing invitation.

The three-time Cup champion, now one year removed from his NASCAR racing career, is heading south of the equator to play in the New Zealand dirt.

Stewart will compete in three sprint car events over the next two weeks, two decades after his NASCAR and IndyCar careers kept him from racing in the country.

On Saturday, Stewart will compete in a Porter Hire International Sprintcar Series race at  Western Springs Speedway in Auckland, which has hosted racing since 1929. Then on Tuesday, he’ll be part of the series’ action at Robertson Holden International Speedway in Palmerson North. He’ll then make a return visit to Western Springs on Dec. 16.

 “The promoter at Western Springs was Willie Kay and he tried to get me to come over for the 1996-97 season but just timing-wise it didn’t work out,” Stewart told The New Zealand Herald. “After 1995 I got my first NASCAR ride and the same with an IndyCar drive so there was no way I was going to have the time to come back over.

“It has been a long time coming to get over here but we are pretty excited about the chance to come out.”

Stewart made his return to sprint racing in February following a nearly three-year hiatus. Stewart stepped away from the sport after an August 9, 2014 accident when Stewart’s car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during an Empire Super Sprint Series race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

Stewart earned his first win of the year in April in the United Sprint Car Series Spring Speed Xplosion finale at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida.

The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing said there is “a lot of pressure” on him during his New Zealand tour. He’ll be racing the same 410-cubic inch winger car he races at home.

“I have seen a lot of videos of Western Springs – videos from this season even just so you have an idea of how the race track changes through the course of the evening,” Stewart told The Herald. “We are not coming here blind but until you get on each race track you really don’t know what to expect.”

The New Zealand tour will be another chapter in an already eventful offseason for Stewart, who got engaged on Thanksgiving.