(Getty Images)

Ray Black Jr. to make Xfinity Series debut this weekend at Texas

Leave a comment

While the Xfinity Series season is starting to wind down, Ray Black Jr. will just be getting started this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

The 24-year-old Black will make his Xfinity Series debut at the 1.5-mile track in Fort Worth in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge.

“I’ve been to Texas a couple of times now and know the track’s racing style and characteristics, so I think it’s a great place for me to take this next step,” said Black, who will drive the No. 15 Burnie Grill Chevy Camaro

Black will be pulling double duty at TMS. He’ll also be racing in the Camping World Truck Series event there, piloting the No. 7 ScubaLife.com Chevrolet in the WinStar World Casino 350.

“I think running both races and getting all that extra seat time will be extremely beneficial for me,” the Palm Coast, Fla. native said. “I’ll get to experience different speeds and different racing lines throughout the weekend, which will really help me strengthen my driving skills.”

Black is in his first full-time season in the Truck Series. In 20 starts, his best finish was a fifth-place showing in the season opener at Daytona.

“I’ll be interested to see if there is anything I can learn from the XFINITY side that I could bring back to the truck series to help give me just a little bit more of an edge on the competition,” Black said.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Inside Richard Petty Motorsports: A night to forget

Leave a comment

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dustin Long spent last week with Richard Petty Motorsports to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at all that takes place before a race. 

Part 1: Putting together a game plan for Bristol

Part 2: Searching for sponsorship 

Part 3: Bubba Wallace earns respect from fans, crew 

Part 4: A day filled with highs and lows 

BRISTOL, Tenn. — The lift gate slammed with a thud, loud enough to be heard over the roar of cars that circled Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Richard Petty Motorsports hauler was loaded about 45 minutes after the team’s race ended after three laps Saturday night because of a crash.

“It sucks,” car chief Jason Sheets said.

Crew members load Bubba Wallace’s wrecked car in the hauler. (Photo: Dustin Long)

He laughed — what else could one do? — and shrugged his shoulders. Then, he walked away with the rest of the team toward the Turn 3 tunnel. They headed to a nearby airport for the 22-minute flight to Statesville (North Carolina) Regional Airport and then a drive home.

There was no storybook ending for this underfunded single-car team. They had hoped to repeat how well Bubba Wallace ran at Bristol in April when he drove to the front and led six laps. A blistered left-front tire relegated him to a 16th-place finish that day.

With potential sponsors at the track Saturday, Richard Petty Motorsports executives hoped for a similar type performance minus the blistered tire.

Bristol marked the fifth time in the last six races that Medallion Bank and Petty’s Garage — companies operated by co-owners Andrew Murstein and Richard Petty — were on the car because no other company paid the be the primary sponsor. The team does not have a primary sponsor for six of the season’s final 12 races.

Missing that sponsorship, there isn’t money for the newest parts and RPM can’t build new cars as often. It makes it difficult to compete against bigger teams. Richard Petty Motorsports last had a top-10 finish in April at Texas.

Bristol doesn’t rely as much on aerodynamics, so the money bigger teams outspend RPM on engineering doesn’t make as much an impact there as at a bigger track.

(Clockwise left to right) Engineering intern Erik Long, car chief Jason Sheets and mechanic Joey Forgette before Saturday’s race (Photo: Dustin Long)

That’s significant because RPM has two engineers. As part of the Richard Childress Racing technical alliance, the team has access to RCR’s engineers.

With only one engineer, Derek Stamets, able to travel this weekend, RPM was loaned Erik Long, an engineering intern at RCR who has one final semester remaining at UNC Charlotte.

The team was hopeful after Wallace was 12th on the speed chart in Friday’s final practice but the performance dropped in qualifying when he failed to advance beyond the first round and started 27th. Frustrated, Wallace spoke briefly with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer before walking out to the hauler Friday and slamming the sliding doors shut.

Later that night, Wallace and Blickensderfer texted about how the car handled and changes that needed for the race. They settled on a setup similar to what Wallace had at the end of the April race with one change to prevent the left front tire from blistering again.

Blickensderfer was confident Saturday evening in the car’s performance after about 20 laps. With a competition caution set for Lap 60, he had a plan in place of pitting if there was a caution about 30 laps into the race to get off sequence from the leaders and gain track position later when they pitted.

Bubba Wallace with his team shortly before the start of the race. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The mood was light around the car on pit road before the start when Blickensderfer walked out there. Wallace joked with his teammates. As Wallace grabbed his helmet to put on, the public address system played the song “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People. Wallace joined the crowd in doing the hand motions during the refrain. Once inside the car, he exchanged playful hand gestures with interior mechanic David Cropps, whose job is to ensure Wallace’s equipment keeps the driver safe in an accident.

As the cars align for the start, spotter Freddie Kraft gives Wallace,on the inside of Row 14, instructions.

“One to go at the line,” Kraft tells Wallace on the radio. “Just try to rubber up that bottom (line) as best you can here. … I’m just worried about it being real slick the first lap, you know what I mean? (The traction compound) will burn in within the first lap or so, but the first lap might be a little slick.”

Wallace then tells the team: “All right boys, let’s see what we can do at the end of the night. Good times coming from inside the car. Appreciate the hard work. Let’s see what we can do. Appreciate it. Love you.”

Kraft tells Wallace: “Take care of that thing. Let’s have some fun tonight, brother. Let’s go to work.”

The green flag waves.

Forty-four seconds later, Kraft yells on the radio: “Check up! Check up! Check up! Check up! Check up! Down! Down! Down! Down! Down! Down! Down! Down! Son of a bitch. We’re killed.”

Kyle Busch slides up the track in Turns 3 and 4, bounces off Ryan Blaney and slides down the frontstretch. Wallace ran into the back of AJ Allmendinger’s car, goes low and then is forced into the inside wall when Daniel Suarez cuts hard left to avoid Busch’s car.

A NASCAR official points to the fluid leaking from Bubba Wallace’s car after he was collected in a crash. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Wallace makes it to pit road. The damage is too great. The radiator and oil cooler are damaged and fluid drains from the bottom of the car.

Wallace’s race is over. He climbs from the car and slams his helmet against roof.

He fist bumps his teammates and thanks them for their work.

Wallace will finish 38th, completing three of 500 laps.

“I was pissed there for a moment,” he said after exiting the infield care center. “Then you just laugh about it. It’s crazy. Can’t even make it two laps, I don’t know if we made it a lap and then we’re wadded up. Just a bummer. I usually sweat pretty easily. Hell, I didn’t have enough time (in the car) to swat.”

With that, his duties are done, a weekend gone. He walks out of the care center and heads toward the tunnel to leave.

The race continues without Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports.

 and on Facebook

Kyle Busch takes the blame for wrecking Martin Truex Jr.

Leave a comment

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle Busch left Bristol Motor Speedway with no regrets about his team’s comeback effort but one major regret about an attempted pass that he misjudged by about 6 inches.

“I crashed the 78,” Busch said plainly about his Lap 432 contact that sent Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota hard into the wall. “That was my bad. Totally misjudged that one coming off the corner. I clipped him there and sent him for a ride.

“He knows that wasn’t intentional at all. We’ve worked really, really, really, really good together these last two to three years, so that shouldn’t ruin anything between us.”

Truex was running second when the crash occurred. He angrily threw his HANS device and kicked the car after coming up short of winning his first short-track race in NASCAR’s premier series but had cooled down after a care center visit.

“(Busch) probably didn’t obviously do it on purpose, but it’s hard Bristol racing,” Truex said. “Probably could’ve shown a little bit more patience. He was a lot faster than me at that point in time. He just caught me and probably another lap or so he would’ve went right by. Half his fault, half my fault for following (leader Clint Bowyer) so long. I should’ve knocked his butt out of the way because he held me up for 15-20 laps and burnt my front tires off screwing with him. Played too nice and got the crappy end of the stick.”

Busch and Truex are de-facto teammates because they are closely aligned through their affiliations with Toyota Racing Development, and this was the second major tangle between the two teams over the past two seasons. Last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Busch and Truex wrecked while racing for the lead, and an altercation between their teams led to the suspensions of two Furniture Row Racing pit crew members.

Adam Stevens, crew chief for Busch, said he hadn’t talked with Cole Pearn, crew chief for Truex but said the Indianapolis incident “never crept into my mind all night.

“I would assume they’re upset,” Stevens said. “They got wrecked out of a race. I’d be upset. That’s all there is to it.”

Busch said no damage control would be necessary.

“Cole’s really cool, Martin’s really cool,” he said. “I think they’re fine. Maybe I’ll send them a ‘Sorry’ cake to the Denver shop for the guys having to work extra. They’ll probably throw that (car) away anyways, but it ruined their day of being able to get a win or even a second.”

It didn’t ruin the day for Busch despite having endured a wild chain of events in Saturday’s 500-lap race. His No. 18 Toyota slipped out of the traction compound and spun while running the inside lane on the third lap, causing a 15-car crash.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver fell two laps down, but his team managed a repair job that allowed him to climb back into the top five in the final 100 laps.

That was just me and this team and never giving up and being able to drive up through the field like that,” Busch said.

The damage, though, prevented his team from filling his fuel tank swiftly, which cost Busch several spots in the pits on every stop. That was costly on a restart with 23 laps remaining, and he spun after getting sandwiched between the cars of Jimmie Johnson and Chris Buescher.

“We had a shot to come back there and win the race realistically,” Busch said. “We certainly were going to way overachieve, but we just didn’t get to.”

“I’m proud of the effort,” Stevens said. “I’m proud of the car we put on the racetrack. Had we been able to put fuel in it, in a timely manner, it would have been a whole different race. … Hard to win a race when you’ve got to pass every car on the lead lap every run. Frustrating, but it shows what the team is capable of, I guess.”

Kyle Larson finishes second in ‘most frustrating Bristol race’

Leave a comment

BRISTOL, Tenn. — A night after earning his first NASCAR win at Bristol Motor Speedway, it was back to business as usual for Kyle Larson in the Cup Series.

Larson had to settle for another second-place finish to a guy named Busch.

Larson earned his fifth runner-up result of the season and his second at the half-mile track. But instead of placing behind Kyle Busch like he did in April, Larson was left looking at Kurt Busch‘s rear bumper.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has placed second six times since his last win in the 2017 regular-season finale at Richmond. Three of those runner-up results have been to Kyle Busch.

“I mean, I’m happy to finish second,” Larson said. “That’s probably 12 to 15 spots I feel like better than where I deserved to finish. Our car was just really bad. I got lucky all night lining up in the right lanes.  I could gain three or four spots every restart. Just fight to hang on there. Then I’d be terrible at the end of the runs.

“Probably the most frustrating Bristol race I’ve had just ’cause I never really felt like I had a shot to win.”

After starting from the pole, Larson led three times in the first 63 laps but only led two laps the rest of the way.

He placed sixth in Stage 1 and fought to place fourth in Stage 2.

Larson found himself in 10th on the next to last restart with 22 laps to go. On the final restart, with 13 laps to go, he was in fourth.

Larson quickly moved into second after Clint Bowyer failed to get up to speed on the restart.

“Fourth is the second-best place to start besides the leader,” Larson said. “I knew I would get out to second. I hadn’t been around Kurt on the short runs there to see what he was doing.  Was hoping maybe he would run the bottom for a couple laps.

“He went straight away to the top.  I knew it was going to be tough to pass him.  I knew if I got close to him, I’d have to use the bumper a little bit.  I never even got close enough to get to him there.”

Larson, who clinched a spot in the playoffs on points, gave the traction compound applied to the bottom lane in each turn a positive review.

“It didn’t really matter where I ran,” Larson said. “Everybody that passed me either passed me on the top or the bottom, then drove away from me in each lane.

“I would say the lanes are pretty equal and consistent. Just hard to pass. When you get down there, you can have more lap time down there, but then your exit gets kind of tight because they hang on your outside.

“Yeah, Bristol is still a bad‑ass place.  I think they’ve done a good job with figuring out exactly where they need the (compound).”

What drivers said after Bristol

Leave a comment

Kurt Busch — Winner: “It’s awesome to do it at Bristol. I love this place. We now have won six times here and I have great teams that have always helped me win. This group of guys, Billy Scott, my crew chief, this is his first win and to be able to do it with Ford and Monster and Haas Automation is just what it’s all about is executing as a team and we had good restarts when we had to, and then you’ve got to get clever and start throwing everything at it.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “I think if I had a better car, tires probably would have showed what they are really capable of. This was just a really frustrating day. Our DC Solar Chevy was not very good from Lap 1 to Lap 500 there, but we fought and got a second-place finish out of it. So, I was happy about running second, but just disappointed because I had a lot of confidence going into this race and thought our car was really good. But, we were probably a 12th to 15th-place car, I thought. Just lined up in the right re-starts just about every time and was able to gain some spots on every re-start and maintain. And then would be terrible there towards the end of the run. Frustrating, but we were able to fight; so that’s good for our team to be able to do that. Our pit stops, aside from the first one, were really good. So, I’m happy about that that. So, we’ll just continue to fight to get our cars a lot better.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 3rd: “Yeah, not quite enough of something. I don’t know, just got tight there after the run that we had the lead and once we got it freed back up, but we kept getting the bottom on all the restarts and it was just hard to go forward and what not. But, man, that thing was really fast there at the end. It felt like we were making up some ground on those guys.”

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: I wouldn’t say we’ve been in a little slump, but we kind of have been. We’ve been consistent and run in the top 10 and that’s just kind of where we’d run. We had a couple wrecks here recently with Pocono and Watkins Glen and a top 10 last week felt OK. I felt like we had a better car than a top 10 last week and then this week we had a car that could win if circumstances played out right, which it didn’t, but, overall, I’m proud of the speed we had on the short run.

Erik Jones — Finished 5th: “The run before last, we could’ve got up front when Kyle (Busch) and I were kind of running through the field. We were probably the best car, but you know there at the end, I didn’t have enough. I was too tight. I think our Sport Clips Camry was just lacking a little bit all night. We were close, but we could never find that last little bit to get up there and compete for the lead. I’m wore out. We worked hard all night trying to get ourselves a shot. It just wasn’t quite enough.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 6th: “I just clearly didn’t do a good job on the restarts. When I had the lead I thought I got a good jump and about the time I shifted Kurt (Busch) hit me in the door and it just lit the tires up. He didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just a product of it. I don’t know. Then when I was on the bottom I spun the tires real bad and they all got around me. It’s disappointing. You get a car that good and you get that close you hate to not come home with it, but, all in all, for as terrible as we started the weekend and as bad as our yesterday was, to lead laps or even be in the top 10, I was pretty surprised to be honest with you. In the grand scheme of things it was a pretty good run for us, but you hate to give them up like that.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 7th: “We just struggled as the track got colder and rubbered in. I was really happy with our car in the first stage, but we just kind of lost it from there. It was a decent comeback for us. We were gonna restart sixth and the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) pitted and that kind of hurt us, but it was a decent night.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 8th: “We had a really good race car, just had that loose wheel and lost those two laps. Almost got the lap back under green and that would have probably have gotten us a couple more spots there, but still got it back through wave arounds and lucky dog. Just proud of my guys, we had a good race car, but the car was good.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON — Finished 9th: “We had a decent night. I guess the No. 41 (Kurt Busch) won by staying out. We kind of lined up on the inside and felt like we had to come in for new tires with 20 to go or something. Just a solid night. We will take it. Of course, we want more, but it was nice to have a good consistent run all night long.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 11th: “Jack asked me in the driver’s meeting how my car was and I told him it was a 10th to 15th-place car and if we could get it to turn we’d be better than that. Early in the race it turned and we drove up into the top 10 and were running about eighth. I had the speeding penalty and kind of overcame that and got back up to seventh or eighth and then that last restart it was all about what lane you were gonna be in. We were gonna be in the top 10, but Jimmie (Johnson) pitted and I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ So I started on the bottom and cost us a few spots and ended up 11th.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 12th: “Unfortunately, qualifying didn’t go as planned but I wasn’t too concerned about it because our practices went well. Once the race started we battled tight and loose conditions, but by halfway, we were balanced fairly well. The biggest issue we had was being able to maneuver through all the rubber on the track. Our Chevy either plowed or shook itself loose. I think we’re all looking forward to the off weekend so we can recharge and get ready for Darlington. It’s my favorite race on the Cup schedule and I want to win it for so many reasons. We’ve got to win to get into the Playoffs.”

David Ragan — Finished 17th: “I was disappointed when we got spun and went a couple laps down. Bristol is a tough race and you really have to have 500 really clean laps and we had one mistake early and lost a couple of laps, so we were fortunate to get back one lap down and our team did a nice job making adjustments and I feel like we had a top 12 to 15 car, but a top 20 finish. We learned a few things and it was a good night for us. It was a lot of fun representing the Shriners in the car.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 20th: That was just a misjudgment on my behalf, I crashed the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) so that was my bad totally. Totally misjudged that one just coming off the corner and knowing there was still plenty of laps left, I wasn’t even in a hurry and I just misjudged it by four or six inches, whatever it was and I clipped him there and sent him for a ride. He knows that wasn’t intentional at all and we’ve worked really, really, really, really well together these last two or three years and that shouldn’t ruin anything between us.

Ty Dillon — Finished 21st: “Bristol is called The Last Great Colosseum for a reason. It’s a battle every single time you race here. Tonight, wasn’t the night we had hoped for. My GEICO Camaro ZL1 struggled through the corners on both ends, and we just couldn’t find the balance that we needed. This team is working hard week in and week out to get better. We are going to keep making gains and building on the data we’re collecting.”

William Byron — Finished 23rd: “We had something go wrong early on and just were off the pace the whole time. It was disappointing. I thought we were going to have a good day, but something went wrong. We will figure it out.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR. — Finished 30th: “I’ve seen the replay real quick, but I didn’t really pay much attention to it. It’s hard racing at Bristol. The corner exit’s really slick where the VHT wore out. There’s some real slick patches. I’m sure he (Kyle Busch) hit one of them. Probably didn’t obviously do it on purpose, but it’s hard Bristol racing. Probably could’ve shown a little bit more patience. He was a lot faster than me at that point in time. He just caught me and probably another lap or so he would’ve went right by. Half his fault, half my fault for following the 14 (Clint Bowyer) so long. I should’ve knocked his butt out of the way because he held me up for 15-20 laps and burnt my front tires off screwing with him. Played too nice and got the crappy end of the stick.”

Paul Menard — Finished 36th: “The wheel is broke – broke the center section out of the wheel, which we’ve never seen before, so kind of just disappointed. We had a really fast Ford. We started fourth and felt like if that first caution hadn’t come out we could have been leading the race by Lap three, but on the restart I just had a really bad vibration, trying to stay out of everybody’s way up by the fence and finally the wheel broke. We’ve got to figure out why the wheel broke. What came first, the chicken or the egg, hitting the wall or the wheel breaking, but we’re scratching our head about that one.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 37th: “We started pretty far back with our Love’s Ford and really I was stopped and not in it at all, and then about five seconds later got blasted from behind. I’m not really sure. It seemed like a long time before the other cars got slowed down, but it’s so disappointing to be out so early, and not of your own doing. It’s just heartbreaking. Five hundred laps is a long race and I think I did a total of 10 laps between the two races this year in 2018, so I’m just really frustrated, but this is racing and that’s what happens sometimes. I’m not really sure what led to the 18 (Kyle Busch) being spun, but all I know is there is a lot of cars not paying attention and a lot of spotters not paying attention for that to happen like it happened.”

BUBBA WALLACE — Finished 38th: “I just got run over from behind after I got checked up. I was talked to AJ (Allmendinger) in there (the infield care center) and said ‘Sorry man, I run over you at the beginning.’ He was like ‘No, you are fine.’ He said he was sitting there for a solid second and a half and got run over again. Just poor spotting up top and some rookie drivers out back I guess.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 39th: “At this point, it is what it is. I’m just sorry for Kroger Clicklist and everybody that is partners with this race team. I appreciate the hard word out of everybody and all of our partners. We had a lot of Kroger Clicklist guest here. We had a lot of just partners in general, Bush’s Beans home race, so hopefully, Chris (Buescher) can get a strong run, but I’m ready for an off week.”