Union 76: Atlanta win puts Jimmie Johnson in special place with Dale Earnhardt

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When he was younger, when he was just Jimmie Johnson instead of a six-time Sprint Cup champion, he used to argue, as brothers do, about various topics.

When it came to racing, Jimmie Johnson was a Jeff Gordon fan and his younger brother, Jarit, was a Dale Earnhardt fan.

“The banter we had back and forth through all of it was just fun,’’ Jimmie Johnson said. “I guess it’s just what all of our fans do day in and day out. They pick their driver and have their rivalries internally in their own house.

“A lot of fun memories of picking on my brother, but he won a lot, so it was tough to always have the upper hand.’’

Sunday, Jimmie Johnson tied Earnhardt with his 76th career series win, moving into a tie for seventh on NASCAR’s all-time victory list. Cale Yarborough ranks sixth with 83 career wins.

“I knew this day was coming,’’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of Johnson’s historic win. “I’m certainly glad that I got to run second today.

“I think dad would have liked Jimmie as a person, but he certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed competing against him. Knowing dad and knowing Jimmie’s character, they would have gotten along tremendously and dad would have thought the world of him.

“He said he felt the same way about Jeff (Gordon) when Jeff came in. He had nothing but awesome things to say about Jeff when Jeff was a rookie and they ended up becoming great friends and working together in businesses away from the racetrack and doing things together, so they definitely trusted each other, but they’re definitely tough competitors on the track. But Jimmie, how can you not like Jimmie?  He’s just a good guy that never stepped over the line with anything he’s ever said or anything he’s ever did, so I think it’s awesome to praise him.’’

Johnson celebrated his accomplishment by driving past the stands with his left hand out the door and three fingers raised.

“I kind of forgot that that win was 76 and then it hit me after I had taken the checkered flag and was doing my victory lap, so I had to come back around and certainly wanted to pay respect to Dale,’’ Johnson said.

The moment also was meaningful to car owner Rick Hendrick.

“You know, I never thought when I got in the sport I’d win 76 wins with anybody altogether, and to have Jeff do it and now Jimmie tie him,’’ Hendrick said. “I think when you look at Jimmie’s career and you look at how quick he’s gotten to 76 and he’s got six championships, I think you’ve got to say that he’s one of the best that’s ever been in the sport.’’

Said Earnhardt of Johnson: “I don’t have a problem calling him the best of this generation.’’

Johnson got the chance to tie Earnhardt’s victory total because of a gusty call by crew chief Chad Knaus, who had Johnson make his final green-flag pit stop well before the rest of the field.

“I really felt like that was going to hurt us, and late in the run I assumed Kevin (Harvick) would just run me back down,’’ Johnson said. “You just know he’s coming. You’re staring in the mirror and wondering where he’s at, and then also wondering if Chad was telling me the truth about lap times and the gap back to him, and it all worked out.’’

Harvick never did. Knaus’ decision worked as planned.

“It was a gamble for sure,’’ Knaus said of when to pit Johnson for the final time under green. “We hadn’t gone that far yet on a set of tires. We were trying to figure out what to do. We were chatting about it, myself and my engineers, who do a great job, and we could have easily just hung out and finished third, but we weren’t going to pass those guys, so we had to do something.

“So it was just a matter of how early to pit because if we didn’t pit early enough, if we only pitted just a couple laps earlier than everybody else, it would have pulled the rest of them down with us, so we had to make it to where we did it to where it would make them uncomfortable and not willing maybe to take that risk.’’

And that gave Johnson this special win.

“I think the gamble that Chad made puts it in a special category in the fact that we were able to hold on and get there,’’ Johnson said. “And then obviously the fact that it’s my 76th and tying Dale, I don’t know if it’s bigger than my first win, but it’s right there with it.’’

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

TikTok
JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.

Las Vegas weekend schedule

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NASCAR’s postseason continues with the Las Vegas weekend schedule, as the Cup Series begins the Round of 12.

In addition to Cup, Las Vegas Motor Speedway will host the Xfinity Series’ playoff opener and the second race of the Truck Series’ opening round.

More: Kevin Harvick on pole for Cup race

Here is the Las Vegas weekend schedule:

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 25

Noon – 2 p.m. ET – Truck Series haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

2 p.m. – Truck Series garage opens

2 – 8 p.m. – Truck Series garage access screening in progress

2:30 – 3 p.m. – Truck Series rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m.  – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

8:50 p.m. – Truck Series drivers report to vehicles

9 p.m.- Truck Series race; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

11:30 p.m. – Truck Series haulers exit

 

Saturday, Sept 26.

11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

1 p.m. – Xfinity garage opens

1 – 6:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access screening in progress

5 p.m. – Cup rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Cup driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7:20 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity race; 200 laps/300 miles (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

9:30 p.m. – Xfinity haulers exit

10:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. – Cup haulers enter

 

Sunday, Sept. 27

Noon – Cup garage opens

Noon – 6 p.m.  – Cup garage access screening in progress

6:50 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

7 p.m. – Cup race; 267 laps/400.5 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

11:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

NTSB
Photo: Dustin Long
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Pilot error played a key role in the August 2019 crash of a plane carrying Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family, a final report by the National Transportation Safety Board stated Wednesday.

Earnhardt, wife Amy and daughter Isla were on board the plane, which crashed after a hard landing at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport on Aug. 15, 2019. The report stated all three suffered minor injuries. 

The NTSB listed the probable causes of the accident as: “The pilot’s continuation of an unstabilized approach despite recognizing associated cues and the flight crew’s decision not to initiate a go-around before touchdown, which resulted in a bounced landing, a loss of airplane control, a landing gear collapse, and a runway excursion. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to deploy the speedbrakes during the initial touchdown, which may have prevented the runway excursion, and the pilot’s attempt to go around after deployment of the thrust reversers.”

A “go-around” occurs when a pilot pulls out of a landing and gains altitude to make another landing attempt.

The report stated that “the flight crew made several comments about the airplane flying too fast and allowed the airspeed to increase well above the reference speed for the approach.”

The report stated that “the pilot did not extend the speedbrakes upon touchdown, which landing checklist required, but instead attempted to deploy the thrust reversers immediately after touchdown, which was a later item on the landing checklist.”

Earnhardt’s Cessna 680A Citation Latitude bounced twice upon landing as it traversed the 5,001-foot runaway.

After the fourth touchdown, the right main landing gear collapsed. The plane went off the road and through a 400-foot long area of grass. It went down an embankment, through a creek and a chain-link fence. It continued up an embankment. The plane came to rest about 600 feet beyond the runway at the edge of a four-lane highway.

The passengers and two pilots escaped as the plane burned.

The full report can be read here.