Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Bump & Run: Reviewing Daytona, looking ahead to Atlanta

1 Comment

One down, 35 to go in the Cup Series.

As the series moves from Daytona and to Atlanta, here’s a chance to look back and look ahead.

Dale Jarrett, who will be on NASCAR America, which airs from 5:30 to 6: p.m. ET today on NBCSN, joins Nate Ryan, Jerry Bonkowski and Dustin Long in answering this week’s Bump & Run questions.

— What were your takeaways from Speedweeks at Daytona?

Dale Jarrett: Two things. The aggressive driving that we saw throughout the entire Speedweeks and a lot of that was from the younger drivers. I think it was one of the most aggressive Speedweeks on the race track that I’ve seen in quite a while, which made for very compelling races from the Clash to the Daytona 500.

Also, we talk about perseverance a lot, how you really have to have a thick skin to make it through this business, and I think Kurt Busch is a perfect example of that, how he’d come close so many times in those other 63 starts in restrictor-plate races and finally things went his way at the end of the race.

Nate Ryan: Manufacturer influence in NASCAR’s premier series is as strong as it’s seemed in decades.

Obviously, many took a cue from the way that Toyota controlled the tempo in winning last year’s Daytona 500, and Ford in particular tried to mimic that (and mostly was successful through the strange bedfellows of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and the Team Penske cars of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski).

But the automaker narrative transcends the Daytona draft. There were rumblings of another switch being in the offing, or perhaps the arrival of a new manufacturer that could build around an established team.

While teams are fighting tooth and nail to attract the corporate sponsorship that once seemed plentiful, it seems as if manufacturers have become among the most stable of revenue streams and engineering/technical support for teams. It isn’t the factory-driven competition and funding model of the 1960s, but the landscape slowly is creeping in that direction.

Jerry Bonkowski: Kurt Busch’s determination was one of the best stories of the day. After previously finishing runner-up three times in the Daytona 500, Busch overcame race damage and a dangerously low fuel level with a not-to-be-denied attitude that will go down as one of the most memorable and inspiring rallies in recent Great American Race history.

Dustin Long: With a first-time Daytona 500 winner and last-lap maneuvers throughout Speedweeks, I found it interesting that some among the fan base seemed to be hung up on the five-minute clock. Yes, there were numerous accidents, so this was an issue discussed, but to me this has the feel of talking about how pass interference was called in the Super Bowl instead of the game itself. The rule was put in to help cut costs for teams and for safety. Drivers don’t need to be racing in cars that have had significant damage and risk getting into another incident or causing an accident. End of story. Move on to something else.

— What will you be keeping a close eye on this weekend at Atlanta?

Dale Jarrett: I wasn’t sure how the stages were going to affect Daytona but it was very evident to how they did, as the Toyotas, Fords and Chevrolets took on their different strategies. I’m more interested with Atlanta being a race track that is hard on tires and very difficult to get a grip on, how that is going to play out and with not a lot of downforce in comparison to what they had a couple of years ago – just how hard these cars are going to be driven at this track and who is going to have the best answer for it.

Nate Ryan: Two things:

  1. How drivers will handle driving with a virtually nonexistent spoiler. It should make cars a handful on the weathered pavement that will be replaced after this race.
  2. Rebound stories from the Daytona 500. So many stars sputtered (some through no fault of their own) at Daytona, this could be a statement race for many. Last season, defending series champion Jimmie Johnson (who is coming off a forgettable Speedweeks similar to last year) used a strategy play to snooker Kevin Harvick and send a message that the No. 48 Chevy would have the resilience to win its seventh championship.

Jerry Bonkowski: Ford dominated much of the Daytona 500 but that was on a restrictor-plate track. How will the blue oval fare on one of the fastest mile-and-a-half tracks in the sport? And what will Stewart-Haas Racing do for an encore after its first race with the new manufacturer?

Dustin Long: I’m really intrigued with how inspection will go throughout the weekend. There was a good bit of talk in the garage about how tough NASCAR was in inspection at Daytona. A number of teams had to go through inspection more than once before the race. I want to see how this impacts qualifying. How many cars will be going through inspection when qualifying begins? How will that impact their qualifying if they don’t have as much time on-track? If they start at the rear, how challenging will it be for them to get toward the front by the first stage to score points? What happens in inspection could play a role in what happens to a team throughout the weekend.

Watch Dale Jarrett on NASCAR America today from 5:30 – 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

John Ray, who drove patriotic big rig at Talladega, dies at 82

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
Leave a comment

One of Talladega Superspeedway’s most endearing and popular figures has passed away.

John “Johnny” Ray, whose diesel big rig carrying an American flag around the 2.66-mile track has been a fixture during the playing of the National Anthem at NASCAR Cup races for the past two decades, has died at the age of 82, the track announced Monday.

Ray began the tradition behind the wheel of his gold, brown and chrome-colored Peterbilt semi-tractor in 2001, with an oversized American flag flowing in the breeze behind the tractor.

The procession quickly became a significant fan favorite, eliciting loud cheers and applause from fans in the stands each time it passed by on the track’s front stretch.

“We just had the 9/11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt) had also passed away earlier that year,” Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, Alabama, said in an interview three years ago. “I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”

Ray, who started his own trucking company in the early 1970s, and also had a brief NASCAR racing career of his own, ceded driving duties of the big rig several years ago to his late friend, Roger Haynes, and then last year to son Johnny Ray, to continue the tradition.

“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” Speedway President Brian Crichton said in a media release. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated.

“He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

Funeral arrangements for John Ray are pending, according to the track.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ryan Blaney experienced Kobe Bryant’s ‘Mamba Mentality’ in person

NASCAR Twitter
Leave a comment

CONCORD, N.C. — Kobe Bryant didn’t ask normal questions.

Nearly two years after a 20-minute conversation in the back of a Las Vegas steakhouse, that’s what sticks out to Ryan Blaney about the five-time NBA champion.

Blaney reflected on his encounter with Bryant on Monday, roughly 24 hours after the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker was killed in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

MORE: NASCAR community mourns death of Kobe Bryant

The encounter between the Team Penske driver and Bryant came in October 2018 during a convention for Body Armor, a sports drink company Bryant was an investor in that sponsors Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“We went into a backroom and all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing there,” Blaney said during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Pretty amazing that he was back there and they let me meet him.”

During their meeting, Blaney gifted Bryant the firesuit that he wore during the race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier that year.

“He was pretty excited about that,” Blaney said. “Just being able to talk to a guy like that for 20 minutes, someone who didn’t really know a lot about racing, but wanted to learn everything about it 20 minutes. Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great.

“That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.”

Bryant didn’t pepper Blaney with the cliche questions one expects from those uninitiated with auto racing.

“I just didn’t expect the amount of interest he showed, he wanted to learn everything about it,” Blaney said. “It wasn’t like the (how do you use the) bathroom question. It wasn’t ‘do you get dizzy?’ It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”

Blaney, who said he was a Bryant fan growing up in the ’90s before LeBron James arrived on the scene to play for his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, said it was a “shame” he was never able to get Bryant to attend a race weekend.

“For somebody who has inspired so many young boys and girls around the country for decades, the social media stuff the last day and half has been unbelievable to see people who looked up to him growing up. I did too, I ain’t lying, how can you not watch Kobe Bryant when you’re growing up as a kid? A terrible loss. I hate that for his family and the other family involved.”

Bryant didn’t forget about their steakhouse encounter. He later sent Blaney a signed copy of his book, “The Mamba Mentality.”

Blaney keeps it on display on a bookshelf.

“Just really neat,” Blaney said. “You respect other great athletes and people and their work ethic. I think that’s what impressed me the most about him was his work ethic at everything. He’d outwork you at every little bit. You’ve got to respect somebody like that, who will figure out how to beat you and if he can’t do it with talent he’s going to outwork you really hard. I don’t know, it’s just amazing to get a privilege like that. It’s hard to describe.”

Brendan Gaughan to run 4 final Cup races in 2020, including Daytona 500

Photo: Beard Motorsports' Twitter account
1 Comment

Brendan Gaughan will kick off his 23rd and final season of NASCAR racing in the 62nd Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports.

Gaughan – who is using the hashtag #NotGaughanYet to symbolize his final season — will drive the No. 62 Chevrolet at Daytona. If he qualifies, it will be his fifth time in the 500 field, with his best finish coming in 2017 when he finished 11th.

The 44-year-old Gaughan is slated to drive four races this season in NASCAR Cup for Beard Motorsports. In addition to the Daytona 500, he’ll also race April 26 at Talladega Superspeedway, August 29 back at Daytona and will make the final start of his racing career on October 4 back at Talladega.

The Las Vegas native has made 12 previous starts for Beard Motorsports, all at either Daytona and Talladega.

“I love racing, and competing with Beard Motorsports these last few years have made for some of my most enjoyable moments in NASCAR,” Gaughan said in a media release. “We do a lot with a little, so when we run up front and lead laps, it’s very satisfying because you know all the work that went into it.”

Last April, Gaughan led five laps at Talladega and gave Beard Motorsports its second top-10 finish in the Cup Series, finishing eighth. Gaughan also finished seventh at Daytona for Beard Motorsports in July 2017.

“I wouldn’t want my last races as a NASCAR driver to be with any other team,” Gaughan said. “(Team owner) Mark Beard Sr., and his entire family are passionate about racing, and NASCAR in particular. We’re all competitive and want to perform, but we’re going to have fun doing it. That’s how we all got started in the sport – because it was fun. And as I wrap up my career, I’m going to make sure it stays fun.”

Gaughan has made 62 prior starts in the Cup Series dating back to his rookie season in 2004, when he earned his best career finish in the series (fourth at Talladega).

He also has made 219 starts in the Xfinity Series with two wins, and 217 starts in the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series with eight wins.

Gaughan’s effort at Daytona will be in a chassis built by Richard Childress Racing and powered by a motor from ECR Engines. He’ll be sponsored by Beard Oil Distributing, South Point Hotel & Casino and City Lights Shine whiskey moonshine.

He begins his quest to qualify for the 40-car field with Daytona 500 qualifying on February 9. His lap will determine his starting spot in the Feb. 13 Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the rest of the field for the Great American Race.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

UniFirst to sponsor Chase Elliott in three Cup Series races this year

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
Leave a comment

UniFirst will be a sponsor of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet in three Cup Series races this year, Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday.

The company will be on Elliott’s car at Phoenix Raceway (March 8), the All-Star Race (May 16) and the playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 27).

A work clothing and uniform supplier, UniFirst has been a Hendrick Motorsports sponsor since 2016. It sponsored William Byron in four races in 2018 and three last year.

UniFirst also will be featured as an associate sponsor for all races in 2020.