Darrell Waltrip on racing hurt: ‘NASCAR has to save us from ourselves’

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CHARLOTTE — With Dale Earnhardt Jr. set to miss his fifth Sprint Cup Series race this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, the concussion discussion continues around NASCAR.

Three-time champion Darrell Waltrip said he doesn’t know all the particulars around Earnhardt’s injury but noted how far the sport has come with making it easier for a driver to miss races while recovering from an injury.

“You got to remember something, our sport was so different not so terribly long ago,” Waltrip said Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame after helping reveal Matt Kenseth’s throwback paint scheme for the Southern 500. “If you missed a race, you were done. You couldn’t miss a race and win the championship because you’d miss one race and that’s 185 points, and it’s hard to make that up. So we got in those cars. I know I did, I know Dale (Earnhardt) did, Rusty (Wallace), Bill (Elliott), all of us got in those cars when we shouldn’t have been in them, but we had to. We didn’t have any choice.”

Ricky Rudd was one of the most famous drivers who raced injured. In 1984, Rudd was hurt in a wreck during the Busch Clash, but he would run the Daytona 500 with his eyes duct-taped open. Rudd was also in attendance on Tuesday and said, “No, not all,” when asked if there was any hesitation to running the Daytona 500 the way he did.

“It’s good to see they’ve caught up with the other sports now,” Rudd said of NASCAR. “A driver didn’t use to have the luxury or the option of sitting out a race. Your championship season was over if that happened, so the system wasn’t set up for it back in the day.”

The 2014 revamping of the playoffs tied Chase for the Sprint Cup berths to wins, allowing drivers to be granted waivers permitting them to compete for the title despite missing races with injuries in the regular season. Kyle Busch won the 2015 championship despite missing the first 11 races with a broken right leg and fractured left foot, and Tony Stewart will make this year’s playoff after being sidelined for the first eight races with a fractured back.

“The way things are set up today, they’re set up to take care of these guys,” Waltrip said. “NASCAR has to help keep us from hurting ourselves, because we’ll get back in the car no matter what. We’ll get back in the car with a broken leg, broken arm, concussion, whatever, because that’s how we think.

“NASCAR has to save us from ourselves a lot of times. As much as we don’t like it and sometimes you think, ‘Oh that’s not fair, I didn’t have it that way,’ but in all honesty, it’s the best it’s probably ever been.”

Jeff Gordon, Waltrip’s broadcast partner at Fox, has driven the No. 88 for Earnhardt in three of the last four races. He will back behind the wheel on Saturday night in Bristol. There is no telling how long Gordon will stay in the car, and Waltrip knows Earnhardt wants to return to racing when he’s able.

There is a concern, however, about a driver’s long-term health and wellness. Waltrip described Sprint Cup cars as “violent” because their handling relies more heavily on bump stops than the springs more commonly used in his era. That does have an impact on drivers, Waltrip believes.

Regardless, Waltrip said it’s not for anyone to speculate whether Earnhardt Jr. should or shouldn’t get back behind the wheel.

“You have to know everything there is to know to say (Earnhardt Jr.) should or shouldn’t consider driving in the future,” Waltrip said. “I don’t know what his situation is. I do know this, though: I watch those cars, and I know when you have a wreck and you hit the wall, you have an impact from that. But the way those cars are set up these days riding on the bump stops, basically all you have for springs are your tires, and you watch those cars go around the racetrack, any racetrack, even a smooth one, and the driver’s head is always bobbling a little bit. It’s always kind of moving around a little bit.

“You got those headrests right there, and you’re not violently hitting them, but you’re bumping your head back and forth. And if you’ve had concussions, and maybe it doesn’t take much to give you another one, that could be an issue. The cars ride rough … when they sit on those bump stops you’re basically riding on the tires, and all that comes right back to the driver, and he’s constantly being vibrated. It could take its toll.”

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Sponsor adds more races in 2023 with Josh Berry

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Jarrett Companies will increase the number of races it will sponsor Josh Berry‘s No. 8 JR Motorsports ride in 2023, the Xfinity Series team announced Monday.

Jarrett Companies will sponsor Berry in six races after serving as the primary sponsor in three races in 2022. Those six races will be Phoenix (March 11), Richmond (April 1), Dover (April 29), Atlanta (July 8), Indianapolis (Aug. 12) and Texas (Sept. 23).

The deal gives Berry at least 26 races with sponsorship for next season. Bass Pro Shops will serve as the primary sponsor of Berry’s car in 11 races in 2023. Tire Pros is back with JRM and will sponsor Berry in nine races in the upcoming season.

Berry, who reached the Xfinity title race and finished fourth in the points, will have a new crew chief in 2023. Taylor Moyer will take over that role with Mike Bumgarner serving as JRM’s director of competition.

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

 

Where are they now? Buddy Parrott enjoying down time

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Buddy Parrott played outsized roles in two of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history.

Now 83 years old and retired from the sport since 2001, Parrott looks back on those two days as highlights of a career that began in the early 1970s.

In the 1990 Daytona 500, champion driver Dale Earnhardt seemed on course to end his frustration in NASCAR’s biggest event. He held the lead roaring down the backstretch on the last lap. Suddenly, Earnhardt slowed with a blown tire.

The lead was inherited by Derrike Cope, who charged to the checkered flag to score one of racing’s biggest upsets.

Parrott was Cope’s crew chief.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

In 1984, Richard Petty edged Cale Yarborough to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. It was Petty’s 200th – and final – win.

Parrott was Petty’s crew chief.

Those victories were high marks in a long pit-road career that saw Parrott’s drivers win dozens of races. He worked with, among others, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Petty and for team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Parrott remains active at 83, although he admits to having moved to a slower gear.

“I haven’t been living on the edge,” Parrott told NBC Sports. “I’ve been taking it really easy. I told my sons when you get to be 80 you can do anything you want because basically you’ve already done it.”

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA 2023 schedules

His strongest current connection to NASCAR is as a voter in the annual Hall of Fame balloting.

After more than 20 years roaming pit roads as a crew chief, Parrott moved into a general manager role at Roush Racing in 1997. He retired four years later and didn’t look back.

“I finally told Jack one day, ‘I don’t have time to ride my motorcycle,’ ” Parrott said. “He looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘I’m ready to retire.’ He told me I could work whatever schedule I wanted, but I decided that was it. I didn’t have a going-away thing or whatever.”

Parrott spent much of the next 15 years traveling with his wife, Judy, who died in 2016, and playing with his grandchildren.

“I had a great time in retirement because Judy was ready and I was ready,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. We’d go to Florida for two and three months at a time. I’m so happy that I didn’t hang on and go to the shop every day and try to find something to do. I spent that time with Judy, and we had 16 years of good retirement.”

Parrott, a native of Gastonia, N.C., lives in Statesville, N.C. His sons, Todd and Brad, also were NASCAR crew chiefs.

MORE: Jody Ridley’s Dover win an upset for the ages

Parrott is perhaps best remembered as crew chief for Rusty Wallace, Team Penske and the No. 2 black cars sponsored by Miller Lite. From 1992-94, they won 19 races and were consistently competitive at the front.

“I still get a lot of cards sent to me to sign from those years,” Parrott said. “I can say that was some of the happiest times I had. Those years with Rusty – and then with Jack Roush – really stand out. And who in the hell could not have fun having a beer sponsor?”

 

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”