Wood Brothers, Ryan Blaney feel right at home at Martinsville

Leave a comment

This is a very big weekend for Wood Brothers Racing at Martinsville Speedway.

It’s the first time the Wood Brothers, whose operation began 66 years ago in nearby Stuart, Virginia, have competed in a Sprint Cup race at their home track since 2011.

And it’s also the first time Ryan Blaney will drive a Sprint Cup car at the half-mile bullring.

“It’s nice to be back at Martinsville with the Wood Brothers team,” Blaney said during a Friday morning news conference at the track. “It’s nice to be back at pretty much their home track.

“Stuart (VA) is only 20 miles away from here, not even, so it’s cool to be back here and with those guys and kind of have everybody out and see everything.”

Team patriarch Glen Wood, 90, is expected to attend Sunday’s race, Blaney said.

“It’s really going to be nice to get him to another race, so hopefully that will go well for him,” Blaney said.

And Blaney hopes things will go well for him in Sunday’s race. While this will be his first Cup race at Martinsville, he has five previous starts in a Truck there, with three fifth-place finishes, as well as an eighth- and 16th-place finish.

So, in a way, he kind of feels right at home, both with his past experience there, as well as his own personal legacy at Martinsville.

“I remember growing up watching my dad race here,” Blaney said. “I grew up 45 minutes away in High Point, North Carolina, and I would come to this race every year and watch my dad and watch the trucks.

“I just thought it was such a cool place. It’s really neat to be able to run a Cup car, let alone the 21 car over here. That just kind of adds to the special factor, but it’s nice to be back and cool to be making my first Cup start here.”

Blaney has performed well at times in the first five races of the season. He finished sixth at Las Vegas and 10th the following week at Phoenix.

But he also struggled at Daytona (19th), Atlanta (25th) and two weeks ago at Fontana (36th).

“It’s good to have a couple top-10s and have some strong runs,” Blaney said. “I always say there are some races you wish you could take back, like Atlanta and Fontana a couple of weeks ago.

“We blew a tire (at Fontana), but those are just problems you have to minimize, and it stinks you have two of them early off in the year, but you try to learn from them as much as you can and try to grow from them and try to not have those happen again.”

This is the first full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series for the Wood Brothers since 2008.

“I honestly get that question every single weekend – if there’s pressure with the Wood Brothers going back to this track they haven’t been to in a while,” Blaney said. “It’s been a lot of fun to drive for them and be here every week and work with everybody on this race team, whether they’re new or veterans of the Wood Brothers team.

“It’s just cool to be at the track and be around everybody, so there’s definitely no pressure. We’re just out here trying to relax and have fun, and it’s just kind of a bonus that we’re here in their home state and their home track, where we’re going to have a lot of fans.”

But there’s also a lot of comfort in knowing how good the Ford Fusion he’s driving is, as well.

“It’s nice to know we have fast race cars,” Blaney said. “We’ve had fairly good cars every single weekend and we’re just getting better every single weekend.

“As we work together, as this team kind of bonds – this is a fairly new team. … We kept most of the Wood Brothers personnel that has been there for a long time, but we brought in some new people just to help out with the full-time gig because it’s a lot more work.

“They’re just kind of getting acclimated to each other. … The more they work together, the stronger that relationship is going to be, and I think it will get a lot smoother from there on out, but it’s been a good start to the year so far.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NBC Sports Power Rankings: What were best NASCAR teams overall in 2019?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As NASCAR Talk continues its post-season Power Rankings, here are the 10 teams we feel performed the best throughout the entire season across all three major series: Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

We made our picks based using a number of variables including which drivers work the best with their crew chiefs, which teams have the strongest pit crews, how a team was run, and assorted other elements that often spell the difference between success and lack thereof.

Note that we are selecting the best TEAMS, not necessarily the best organizations overall. But as you will soon find out, several of those best teams also came from within the same organization, as well.

Here’s how we picked them:

1. Kyle Busch and No. 18 Cup team (30 points): Sure, this team slumped a bit in the second half of the season, going winless in 21 of the final 22 races (although they still were able to win the regular season championship), but when everything was on the line in the championship-deciding race at Miami, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens proved why they are the best … and why they are the champions.

2. Martin Truex Jr. and No. 19 Cup team (27 points): From an overall consistency standpoint, there are few teams like the one spearheaded by Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn. Truex won the championship in 2017 and finished second in 2018 and 2019. The No. 19 also had a combined 19 wins in those three seasons. No other team matched that kind of performance (although Busch came close with 18 wins and finishes of 2nd, 4th and 1st during that same period). Truex will have a new crew chief in 2020 after Pearn unexpectedly announced he was leaving his position with Joe Gibbs Racing on Monday.

3. Kevin Harvick and No. 4 Cup team (23 points): Even though most other teams would welcome the opportunity to have the kind of performance the No. 4 team has enjoyed, the No. 4 team is seemingly stuck in a loop of sorts. Even though Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have a team that has won 14 races in the last three seasons and have one of the best pit crews in the business, they’ve finished third in each of those last three seasons. This is a team that has made a few mistakes over that same time period, and it can be argued that may be one of the reasons why it finished third so frequently.

4. Denny Hamlin and No. 11 Cup team (22 points): The combination of Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart together for the first time in 2019 paid big dividends, particularly with six wins (including the Daytona 500). Not only was that the second-most number of wins in a single season for Hamlin – and the most races he’s won in a decade – but also was a big bounceback after Hamlin failed to win even one race in 2018 with former crew chief Mike Wheeler. Sadly, the season did not end the way Hamlin and company had hoped. And given he is now 39 years old, it may very well have been the last strong bid Hamlin will have to win that elusive Cup championship.

5. Christopher Bell and No. 20 Xfinity team (15 points): There’s domination, then there’s what this team did from 2018-19. No titles, but 15 wins, 38 top fives and 41 top 10s in 66 races. Bell now advances to the Cup Series for 2020 and he’s taking crew chief Jason Ratcliff with him, which is a no-brainer.

(tie) 6. Chase Elliott and No. 9 Cup team (7 points): Valiant comeback to advance past the second round was wasted when everything went wrong in the next round. Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson have become a strong team, winning a combined six races in the last two years, but there is still the issue of performing well under pressure. Elliott appeared a lock to advance to the Championship 4 round until he reached the third round and finished 36th, 32nd and 39th, ending his title hopes with a definitive thud.

(tie) 6. Ross Chastain and No. 45 Truck team (7 points): A team that opened the season not planning to run a full season with one driver, switched to a championship hunt after eight races, bounced back from having a win disqualified to win the next race and made it to the Championship 4.

(tie) 6. Cole Custer and No. 00 Xfinity team (7 points): Upgraded at crew chief with Mike Shiplett and went from a one-win-per-season team for the previous two seasons to finishing with seven wins in 2019, one less win than Christopher Bell. Not surprisingly, Custer and Shiplett will remain together when Custer jumps to the Cup series and the No. 41 in 2020.

(tie) 9. Joey Logano and No. 22 Cup team (6 points): It was a similar season to 2018 for Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon in 2019, but the end results were diametrically opposite. Whereas Logano went from underdog to champ in 2018, he fell short of running for a second career title in 2019, ultimately finishing fifth in the standings. Still, this duo works very well together. One thing that needs to be looked at if Logano wants to improve in 2020 is to cut down on the number of mistakes both he and his pit crew make.

(tie) 9. Tyler Reddick and No. 2 Xfinity team (6 points): This was an outstanding season for Reddick despite some challenges. Not only did Reddick move to Richard Childress Racing after he won the 2018 Xfinity championship for JR Motorsports, Reddick and crew chief Randall Burnett worked seamlessly throughout the season, winning five times and failing to finish in the top 10 just six times in 33 races. No surprise, they’ll stay together when Reddick drives the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing in 2020, with Burnett going with him.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski and No. 2 Cup team (5 points), Austin Hill and No. 16 Truck team (5 points), Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Truck team (2 points), Kyle Larson and No. 42 Cup team (3 points) and Ryan Newman and No. 6 Cup team (1 point).

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Justin Bonnett out of ICU, faces more surgery after fiery Snowflake wreck

Photo courtesy Justin Bonnett Racing Facebook page
Leave a comment

Justin Bonnett faces a long road to recovery from Saturday night’s fiery wreck in the Snowflake 100 Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

After being in intensive care for more than 48 hours, the grandson of late NASCAR star Neil Bonnett is out of ICU, has been taken off oxygen and is breathing on his own, but also faces additional surgeries, including two more on Wednesday, according to a post on his team’s Facebook page.

“Justin has been moved from ICU and into a regular room. He is now off oxygen and breathing well on his own. Justin is currently scheduled to undergo two surgeries tomorrow (Wednesday) to place rods in his left leg and a procedure to tend to his burns. The family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, concerns and messages. The love and support shown for Justin in this difficult time has been nothing short of phenomenal. Justin says, “It is truly an honor to have all of the support. Thanks everyone for everything.”

The 26-year-old Bonnett was seriously injured in a wreck in Saturday’s final qualifying race for the annual Snowball Derby. Bonnett had nowhere to go when the car of fellow competitor Jarrett Parker spun in front of him, leading to contact between the two cars. The impact ruptured the fuel cell on Parker’s car, sending flames and burning fuel across the racetrack, including enveloping Bonnett’s race car.

He suffered a broken fibula and tibula in his leg and burns to his face, hands and neck. After initial treatment at a Pensacola hospital, Bonnett was airlifted to a larger hospital in Mobile, Alabama that was better equipped to treat the significant trauma he had experienced.

A post of gratitude from Bonnett’s family on his Facebook page thanked supporters for their concern and prayers for a speedy recovery for the Hueytown, Alabama native.

“Thank you to the Melvin family for starting this Go Fund Me page for Justin. Justin will have medical bills after his lengthy stay in the hospital and will be out of work for some time, as he has a long road of recovery ahead. He is the sole provider for his family and 10 month old daughter. Together we can make sure he does not battle financial stress while recovering. Thank you for the prayers, encouragement, and any contribution you can make!”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Bonnett and his family. As of 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday, more than $4,700 of the $10,000 goal has been raised.

Here is the post on the GoFundMe page:

“Justin sustained serious injuries during the Snowflake race at 5 Flags Speedway December 7, 2019. He received burns on his arm, neck, mouth, and hands. He also had a compound fracture of his leg that has already had one surgery and will have another Wednesday the 11th. Justin is the sole provider for his family and will be unable to work for quite sometime. In addition he is hospitalized 4 hours from home. Justin, Taylor and their sweet baby Brynlee could use all the help we can give them. No amount is too small. It all adds up!”

To contribute to Justin Bonnett’s GoFundMe account, click here.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ty Majeski to race full-time for Niece Motorsports in Truck Series

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ty Majeski will compete full-time for Niece Motorsports in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2020, the team announced Tuesday.

Majeski, a former Roush Fenway Racing development driver, will pilot the No. 45 Chevrolet that Ross Chastain drove to an appearance in the Championship 4 this year. Chastain will compete full-time for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series.

Majeski, 25, made one start for Niece Motorsports last year, making his Truck Series debut in the playoff race at ISM Raceway. He finished 11th.

The team confirmed to NBC Sports that crew chief Phil Gould will return to the team.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to race full time with Niece Motorsports,” Majeski said in a press release.  “I’m appreciative of (owner) Al (Niece) and everyone at the team for giving me this opportunity.  We’re looking to continue to build on what Ross and the team accomplished this year.  We expect to be contending for wins and ultimately the championship.”

“Last season was really a dream come true for me and this team,” said Niece in the press release.  “No one expected us to be contending for a championship in Homestead – but there we were. We’re confident that we can do the same next season. Ty is clearly extremely talented – he’s won in everything he’s driven.  I’m excited to have him join the team full time.  We’re looking forward to great things in 2020.”

After competing part-time for Roush Fenway Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2018, Majeski made six starts in the ARCA Menards Series this year, winning three times and finishing in the top five in the other three races. The 25-year-old native of Seymour, Wisconsin, also earned four wins on the ARCA Midwest Tour.

Majeski’s news comes the day after his attempt to win the Snowball Derby came up short.

The rest of Niece Motorsports’ driver lineup will be announced at a later date. The team did not include in sponsor info in their announcement.

 

Joey Logano: Next Gen car will put car ‘more in the driver’s hands’

NASCAR
1 Comment

In the midst of a two-day test of the Cup Series’ Next Gen car at ISM Raceway, Team Penske driver Joey Logano provided some insight into the car Cup teams are scheduled to begin racing in 2021.

Logano is the second Cup driver to test the car after Austin Dillon did so in October at Richmond Raceway.

“We’re trying things on different extremes – a lot of downforce, and then little downforce and then figure out what’s going to make the best racing,” Logano said in a media release. “Then you go from there to make the next step, bring some more cars. We’re still in the preliminary stages, but we definitely have some cool pieces to the car.”

Compared to what he races now in the Cup Series, Logano said a major difference in the Next Gen car is in its brakes.

“The brakes are way bigger on this thing – it stops really good, where our brakes now are way smaller as we try to take weight out of them,” Logano said. “So trying to get used to that feel will be one thing.

“Some of the steering feeling is way different, but that’s still one of the things we want to adjust. When the car gets loose with this Next Gen car, it doesn’t come back until the driver steers the car back – it doesn’t fix itself. And that puts it more in the driver’s hands. And I like that piece.

“It’s going to be challenging, but I think you’ll see more mistakes on the race track which makes, in my opinion, better racing, and more passing opportunities.”

Logano added that due to a bigger wheel, a wider tire and differences in the body, “your natural reactions are wrong. And you have to be able to adapt quick when you feel something instead of trying to let the car fix itself.”

John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation, provided an update on how much work had gone in the Next Gen car since its initial test, including having to adjust the car for the much taller Logano.

“We had a really good test at Richmond, and then said, ‘How can we make the car better?’,” Probst said in the media release. “We came up with 60-plus things we could do to the car. Not all of the things could be implemented into the car we have now, but some of them are in the design phase. We effectively updated a lot of the aerodynamics on the car.”

Probst said that ISM Raceway, a relatively flat 1-mile track, is a “logical progression from Richmond” for testing the car.

“A lot of the testing we needed to do before we head to a track like Homestead – which is where we’re headed next – wasn’t completed at Richmond,” Probst said. “For us it was a really good progression from Richmond loads and speeds, and now we’re creeping the speeds up to start really testing out a lot of the mechanical parts and pieces on the car.”

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said during championship weekend in Miami that the car is expected to be delivered to teams in July of next year.

Sources told NBC Sports’s Nate Ryan last month that at least three companies are being strongly considered to build the chassis for the Next Gen car, including Joe Gibbs Racing.

In a video he posted to Instagram, Logano went into more detail on his reaction to driving the Next Gen car.