NASCAR’s Next generation: Nicole Behar

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Nicole Behar had no idea who to thank.

The person who nominated the 18-year-old for inclusion in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” ­- which profiles young, up-and-coming athletes –  failed to reveal their identity to her.

As a result, Behar, a native of Otis Orchards, Wash., and competitor in K&N Pro Series West, was surprised when told she was included in the section, right below a lacrosse player from Florida named Tehoka Nanticoke.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” Behar told NASCAR Talk last week. “I actually didn’t know that until we were in Iowa. Someone there asked, ‘Hey, did you know that you were in Sports Illustrated?’ I was like, ‘No, I didn’t!’ That’s pretty cool to be in there. Everyone that sees it says something and I really liked it.”

It turns out SI’s senior racing writer Drew Lawrence was responsible for submitting her name.

When Behar spoke with NASCAR Talk, she had yet to track down the issue itself, which was published the week of May 18th.

“I actually can’t find the magazine. Which sounds very odd,” Behar said. “I keep finding every single one, besides the one that I’m in. Yesterday, my mom (Sherri Behar) had to go to the high school to get my cap and gown for graduation and my teachers there were like, ‘She’s on page 26 and Ronda Rousey is on the front cover.’ So, ok, now we know which one to look for and what page to go onto.”

When you look at the bio featured next to Behar’s beaming face, it’s clear why Lawrence would submit her name. On May 5, Nicole was introduced as one of 12 members of the 2015-16 NASCAR Next class in a presentation at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  That honor came a month after she became the highest finishing female driver in the 61-year history of the series, placing second in the King Taco Catering/NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Irwindale Speedway.

Through five races in 2015, Behar has two top-five and four top-10 finishes.

When NASCAR Talk spoke with Behar she was on her way to class at Eastern Washington University where she is pursuing a degree in nursing.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NASCAR Talk: How did you find out you were selected to this year’s NASCAR Next class?

Nicole Behar: When I got the call that I was selected for the class, I was driving to school and they asked if it was a good time to talk. Of course, when (the call) is from NASCAR, it’s a good time to talk.

NT: What’s your earliest memory related to racing?

Behar: I can remember the first time I ever got into a go-kart when I was 8 years old at the work barn and I was racing on cow poop and I mean, at first you didn’t really think I would be at the stage that I am at 8 years old, you just (think) this is the start of a career.

And from being 8 years old, I absolutely loved racing.

NT: Your family has been racing for a long time.

Behar: Yes, I’m a fifth-generation racer. My parents actually met racing go-karts when they were young kids as well.

NT: Fifth generation, how far back does that go?

Behar: I believe that either my great grandpa or my great-great grandpa. I know that my great grandpa on my dad’s side raced a hobby car, I’d say. And my grandpa on my dad’s side raced in Hawaii a lot and he raced old-timers and hobby cars, all that good stuff. He was stationed (there) in the service. It was interesting having both sides of my family come from racing.

NT: If you could put someone’s name on your car who has been an important part of your life and career up until this point, who would it be?

Behar: My dad (Mike Behar). He’s been a huge help for my racing career and it definitely helps that since he was a racer himself, he can guide me in the right steps and help me with anything that I need off and on the track.

(Note: Mike Behar was Nicole’s crew chief until this year, when he chose Travis Sharpe to take over for him.)

NT: How was getting accustomed to a new crew chief, Travis Sharpe?

Behar: It was different at first because I had never heard someone else’s voice beside my dad on the radio. He’s a very good crew chief and a very good driver’s coach. He sees the same things that my dad sees when I’m in the car, so that makes it really helpful to me to know that they’re seeing the same thing. Our second race together, we finished second.

NT: What’s the most scared you’ve ever been outside of a racecar?

Behar: When I was riding with my mom and we were on the freeway and she hit a patch of ice and then we spun around backwards.

NT: What was it like growing up in Otis Orchards?

Behar: It’s part of Spokane (Wash.), I’d say Spokane is pretty big, but I haven’t really been anywhere else. It sucks that there’s not a lot of racing around here. I know back East there’s race tracks everywhere and you go to school with people that you race with. Around here, that’s definitely a rare occasion. I’ve never gone to school with someone that I’ve raced against. There are people that race motorcycles, but it’s kind of a rare thing to go to high school (at East Valley High School) or even college, with someone that races cars.

 

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin leads the way to Miami

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With his win at Phoenix and advancing to the Championship 4 race in Miami, Denny Hamlin is once again back on top of this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Not surprisingly, all four drivers who will battle for the championship are in the top four in this week’s rankings. Kyle Busch is second, last week’s No. 1, Kevin Harvick, drops to third, and Martin Truex Jr. is fourth, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Hamlin made the biggest jump in the standings, going from No. 7 last week to the top of the heap this week.

Conversely, Joey Logano, who was No. 3 last week, suffers the biggest drop, down to No. 8 – and also misses on his bid to defend last year’s championship this Sunday at Miami (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Here is this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Denny Hamlin (39 points): Entered ISM Raceway outside a transfer spot to the title race and now he might be the favorite to win it all. Or at least be co-favorite with teammate Martin Truex Jr. Last week: Seventh.

2. Kyle Busch (34 points): Could be the underdog at Miami. With everything on the line, is one of the best performers in pressure-packed situations – especially with a championship and snapping a 21-race winless streak on the line. Last week: Fourth.

3. Kevin Harvick (29 points): Lone wolf in the Joe Gibbs Racing party for the championship. But he may actually have the edge, as he has three teammates who can help him, while it’s every man for himself for the three JGR drivers. Last week: First.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (28 points): Has not finished worse than sixth in the last four races. Also has the most wins (seven) of the four championship drivers. Last week: Second.

5. Ryan Blaney (26 points): Finished fifth, eighth and third in the Round of 8 but it still wasn’t good enough to advance to the title race. Last week: Fifth.

6. Kyle Larson (22 points): Fourth-place finish was good effort but missed out on last chance to run for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one of his best tracks. Was Chevrolet’s last hope; the bow tie has not reached the Championship 4 for the last three years. Last week: Sixth.

7. Erik Jones (14 points): Has three top 10s in last four races. While showed some signs of promise during the playoffs, the fact remains he’s likely going to finish 16th (last) among all playoff qualifiers when everything is said and done after Miami. Last week: Unranked.

8. Joey Logano (9 points): So close, yet so far away. Will we ever learn what happened to his car in the final stage that cost him a chance to defend last year’s title at Miami? Last week: Third.

9. Justin Allgaier (6 points): Xfinity win at ISM Raceway was his career-best 16th consecutive top-10 finish. Could he steal the championship from the “Big Three?” Last week: Unranked.

10. Christopher Bell (4 points): With Xfinity Series-leading eight wins, enters title race as favorite. This will be his Xfinity swan song before moving to Cup next season. What better way to leave than to go out on top. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Clint Bowyer (3 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Cole Custer (2 points), Stewart Friesen (1 point).

Nashville Fair Board votes to terminate contract with operator of Fairgrounds Speedway

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway
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The Nashville Metro Fair Board voted Tuesday to terminate its contract with the operator of Fairgrounds Speedway, a track being eyed for a possible NASCAR race, according to The Tennessean.

Last December, Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway announced “an agreement to explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” back to the .596-mile track. The earliest Nashville could potentially be added to the schedule is 2021, though the schedule for that season is expected to be revealed in April.

Bristol Motor Speedway released a statement Tuesday night saying it is still interested in pursuing future involvement with the Fairgrounds Speedway.

“We appreciate all that Tony and Claire Formosa have done to sustain local racing in Nashville over the years,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager for Bristol Motor Speedway. “Today’s news does not change our interest or belief that Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway can be returned to prominence to help create a true renovation of the Fairgrounds. There is huge local, regional and national interest in the future of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. As Mayor (John) Cooper, the Fair Board and Council determine what’s next for the historic race track, we are ready to engage with them on the vision that we believe can deliver a bright future for the Fairgrounds.”

The vote to terminate the contract with Formosa Productions, operated by Tony and Claire Formosa, is in response to a claimed breach of contract, which was first raised by the city in April and includes unpaid concessions commissions and rent payments.

A fairgrounds spokesperson told The Tennessean that the Formosas would owe the city nearly $180,000 by the end of the year. The Tennessean reports the Formosas have 90 days to vacate the premises.

According to The Tennessean, Nashville Fairgrounds Director Laura Womack said she and another board member met Oct. 14 with the Formosas and asked that they provide specific contract changes and documents regarding attendance and revenue records from this year’s racing season.

A meeting where those documents were due to be delivered was rescheduled to Nov. 6 before it was canceled by the Formosas.

“This shows little to no faith that we will be paid by the end of the year,” said Fair Board member Caleb Hemmer, according to The Tennessean. “Which begs the issue that we need to start looking to the future and what we need to do as a board to ensure there’s racing next year if the (Formosas) can’t fulfill their obligations as put forth by (the contract).”

Jim Roberts, an attorney representing the Formosas, attended the meeting according to The Tennessean. Roberts believed the meeting, which was delayed two hours due to winter weather, was in violation of the opens meeting act due to it not being properly noticed.

The Formosas have operated the track since 2010 and entered into a five-year agreement in 2017 after the city chose its bid over one from Bristol Motor Speedway

The deal between Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway, which would need to be approved by the Fair Board, would focus “on a long-range plan of significant track improvements and high-profile race events that could include NASCAR events upon the facility meeting standards.”

In May, Bristol officials revealed a $60 million proposal to renovate the track.

The plan would increase seating capacity of the .596-mile short track from its current size of 15,000 to 30,000, as well as include an expanded concourse, premium seating, pedestrian tunnels and sound barriers.

 

Penalty report from ISM Raceway

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NASCAR has fined five crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts on their cars after last weekend’s playoff races at ISM Raceway.

Each fine was for having a single unsecured lug nut.

In the Cup Series:

Paul Wolfe, crew chief on Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford, and Mike Hillman Sr., crew chief on J.J. Yeley‘s No. 53 Chevrolet, were each fined $10,000.

In the Xfinity Series:

Taylor Moyer, crew chief on Zane Smith‘s No. 8 Chevrolet, was fined $5,000.

In the Truck Series:

Joe Shear, Jr., crew chief on Johnny Suater’s No. 13 Chevrolet, and Trip Bruce lll, crew chief on race winner Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, were fined $2,500.

Preliminary entry lists for Championship Weekend in Miami

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NASCAR’s final race weekend of the year has arrived with the championship races for all three of its national series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for all three races.

Cup – Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

A full field of 40 cars are entered into the race.

Drew Herring is entered in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota for his Cup debut.

John Hunter Nemechek will make his third start in Front Row Motorsports’ No. 36 Ford in relief of Matt Tifft.

Joe Nemechek is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.

Joey Logano won this race last year over Martin Truex Jr. to claim his first Cup title.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 39 cars entered. One car will not qualify for the race.

Jeb Burton is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Harrison Burton is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota.

Tyler Reddick won this race last year over Cole Custer to claim the championship.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

There are 37 trucks entered. Five trucks will not qualify for the event.

K&N Pro Series West champion Derek Kraus is entered in Bill McAnally Racing’s No. 19 Toyota for his fifth start of the season.

Angela Ruch is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet.

Christian Eckes is entered in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota.

NBC Sports analyst Parker Kligerman is entered in Henderson Motorsports’ No. 75 Chevrolet.

No drivers are listed for NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87 Chevrolet and Reaume Brothers Racing’s No. 33 and No. 34 Toyotas.

Brett Moffitt won this race last year to claim the championship.

Click here for the entry list.