Staying up front – not winning – is real ‘crapshoot’ of plate racing

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For Tony Stewart, nothing has changed at restrictor-plate tracks.

“You look at the guys that are really good at these places and it is guys that are good at both Daytona and Talladega and they know how to work the draft,” Stewart said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Of the three drivers who have won seven of the last nine plate races – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (three), Joey Logano (two) and Denny Hamlin (two) – only Earnhardt’s name is consistent from at least 10 years ago. Not too long, Stewart was one of the top hands at the series’ two plate tracks, combining for five Sprint Cup wins and 18 top-five finishes during his prime.

“I think it’s kind of a second wave of drivers since Dale Earnhardt has been gone that have really figured it out,” Stewart said. “I think Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and I had a pretty good run together when we were doing tandems together. It seemed like we always got hooked-up at the end of the races here. The unfortunate part is that I always got the lower end of the deal, finishing second, but he always won.”

It’s a widely held belief that anyone can win in any given plate race. But who wins isn’t the “crapshoot” as much as who survives to the end to be in contention.

“If you ever get shuffled out at the wrong time and the big wreck happens and you’re in it, there’s nothing you can really do about that,” said Martin Truex Jr., who finished second in this year’s Daytona 500. “We see guys ride around the back all day trying to miss it. We see guys that say, ‘Hey, I’m going to try to stay up front all day and hope that it’s behind me.’ That’s really the crapshoot part of it, but to win these races consistently, you have to have a fast car and you have to have really good skills at drafting.”

Truex and his cohorts at Joe Gibbs Racing, which has a technical alliance with Furniture Row Racing, were a rolling fort at the front of the field in February’s Daytona 500. All five cars combined to lead 156 of 200 laps, with Denny Hamlin winning. Keeping your friends close at the front increases your chances when the white flag drops.

“We’ve seen Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. over the years just really show everybody how it’s done and that’s because he has a really good understanding of the air,” Truex said. “The way it works and knowing how to use that to his advantage.”

If winning a plate race was truly a lottery and any of the 40 cars could win, Carl Edwards would have likely won at least once in his 46 starts at Talladega and Daytona.

“I don’t need to see my stats at these places because they’re not good,” he said. “I think it’s an average finish of about 20th.”

Talladega (20.8) and Daytona (19.6) represent the worst average finishes for Edwards on the Sprint Cup circuit. Edwards learned the importance of knowing how to survive after getting caught up in a wreck at Talladega that Stewart didn’t.

“I wrecked one time here and I got out, went down and sat in the garage talking to Jack (Roush) and I said something like, ‘Man, there’s just nothing I could do to miss the wreck,” Edwards recalled. “And he said, ‘You might want to go look at the tape because you drove right past Tony Stewart into the wreck and he somehow missed it.’

“I went back and watched and I learned from that. You really have to be watching ahead and you have to pay attention. I think that’s the thing that separates the guys that win from my perspective.”

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”