Trevor Bayne basks in the glory of being ‘in the game’ again at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. – As NASCAR officials scurried between cars checking every wheel for five lug nuts, dozens of team members, reporters and driver’s family members waited on the pit wall at Talladega Superspeedway.

The delay took several moments after Sunday’s Geico 500, and it allowed for an unusual scene as the top finishers moved unencumbered between their cars to swap post-race tales of their good fortune over the course of a wild 500 miles on the 2.66-mile oval.

No one seemed to be having a better time than Trevor Bayne.

He debriefed at length about the closing laps with Ryan Blaney. He shared a laugh with Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon. He entered a long conversation with past NASCAR champions Kurt Busch and Bobby Labonte, who offered an encouraging pat on the shoulder.

After finishing 10th and leading a career-best 22 laps – seven fewer than he led over 93 starts from 2011-15 – Bayne looked like he belonged Sunday.

More importantly, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner felt as if he did, too.

“We’re in the game,” Bayne said. “We’re not just out here taking up a spot. I feel like we’re in the race. We pushed Kurt to the lead there. It’s just fun to be in the game here.”

PODCAST: Hear Trevor Bayne candidly discussing his career and the 2016 season on the NASCAR on NBC podcast

His No. 6 Ford was in the game at Talladega until the final restart with three laps to go. Bayne was third and on the inside line, delivering a massive push that briefly shot Kurt Busch into the lead past winner Brad Keselowski.

But as the action moved up the banking, Bayne was left on the bottom without any help. Blaney, his reliable drafting partner all day, had a badly damaged rear bumper that precluded him from riding shotgun.

“I NEED HELP!” Bayne screamed with two to go on the team radio as he nearly slipped from the lead draft. He recovered to salvage 10th with nary a drafting partner – a testament to the strength of his car.

“We probably had the fastest car here,” crew chief Matt Puccia said. “We knew we did on Friday in practice. We just played it safe and were just riding there. Got shuffled out at the end but great effort by this team, they’ve done a great job all year long.

“We came up short, but that’s Talladega. You have to be in the right lane at the right time. Really proud of these guys. They’re working hard week in and week out. We got one coming.”

It’s easy to shoulder the disappointment when everything seems to be trending in the correct direction.

Bayne’s second top 10 in 10 races of 2016 – tying his season-best total in Cup – moved him up two spots to 16th in points. The Roush Fenway Racing driver won’t need a miracle win to make the NASCAR playoffs for the first time at this rate.

But he will head to the July 2 race at Daytona International Speedway with the knowledge that he will bring a proven Ford that was among the only cars to emerge unscathed in a Talladega wreckfest.

“These races are gut wrenching from Lap 1 on, so I felt like that was the most calm race I’ve ever had,” he said. “I don’t have any damage on the Adovcare Ford. We’ll take it.”

Bayne took the lead for the last time on Lap 156 – six laps before the 21-car crash that wiped out much of his competition. He wisely had heeded the advice on his team radio to restrain himself – as difficult as it was for a 25-year-old who is 102 races removed from his last win (which came in only his second start).

“The car was really strong, but this place is all about patience,” Puccia said. “Even though you have a fast car, you can’t do it by yourself. You step out of line and get yourself in trouble real fast. He did a really good job staying patient, staying in line. It just didn’t work out for us

“But people have been talking about us all year long. We’ve had speed everywhere we’ve gone. That’s what we’ve got to carry on. We’ve got to keep progressing and moving the needle. That’s what we’re doing every week, and it’s starting to show. It’s a morale booster seeing how we ran today.”

And no one’s confidence seemed higher than Bayne, who seemed one of the guys inside and outside the car.

“It is so refreshing to come to the race track and have a chance,” he said. “I feel really good about the pieces they are giving me. It is all about the race cars. I’m surely proud of this team.”

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.”