Upon Further Review: Martinsville could provide relief for famed teams seeking victory

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No big deal that Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing both haven’t won a Cup race yet?

Maybe, but consider this — the last time both teams had yet to win by the season’s fifth race was 1994. That’s before Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott was born, before Jeff Gordon had won his first championship and two years after Richard Petty’s final race.

While this season celebrates five different winners in the first five races, including Stewart-Haas Racing’s first Daytona 500 triumph and Richard Childress Racing’s first Cup win since Nov. 2013, it also notes what hasn’t been done with Hendrick and Gibbs failing to reach Victory Lane.

Most wins at Martinsville Speedway in last 30 races there (since 2002).

Of course, that likely will change Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. Hendrick and Gibbs have combined to win 80 percent of the last 30 races (See Chart at right) at the historic half-mile track, dating back to 2002. Hendrick Motorsports has 16 wins during that time, including last fall with Jimmie Johnson.

Executives from both organizations told NBC Sports this week that they’re not fretting about their starts to the season.

“I don’t sense any extra pressure,’’ said Doug Duchardt, general manager at Hendrick Motorsports. “There’s no meeting saying we’ve got to win or anything like that.’’

Said Jimmy Makar, senior vice president of racing operations at Joe Gibbs Racing: “I don’t put a timestamp on it, we’ve got to win by our fifth or sixth race. I feel like that we need to be competitive  week in and week out and then we tweak from there. I know our guys are capable of winning.’’

Duchardt notes the speed Chase Elliott’s car has had this year as a sign of the potential for each Hendrick team. While questions have been raised about Jimmie Johnson’s start to the season, Duchardt sees the matter differently.

“The 48 team obviously hasn’t had the finishes that we wanted,’’ Duchardt said. “Other than this past weekend (21st at Auto Club Speedway), I feel like at Atlanta they had a top-five car. At Vegas, they did, kind of got behind in strategy there on that one second stage. In Phoenix, they were running top five and the way things ended we ended up (ninth). This weekend obviously was not what we wanted. I think up to this weekend, I thought they were, obviously not as strong as (Elliott), but were pretty good.’’

Duchardt said one area he’s looking for improvement is in qualifying, feeling that has hindered some of the teams in scoring stage points. Elliott has 63 stage points, while Johnson has 18, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12 and Kasey Kahne has yet to score a stage point this season.

“Overall I think the company, we’re good relative to the competition, but obviously we’re going to have to continue to work and make the next step as far as speed in the cars,’’ Duchardt said.

Joe Gibbs Racing entered this season having won 26 of the previous 67 races (38.8 percent), but its Toyota ally, Furniture Row Racing, has made it to Victory Lane first this season with Martin Truex Jr.

“Obviously, we didn’t start off as strong as we thought we were going to be,’’ Makar said. “I guess this package has hindered us more than we thought compared to other teams. We’re a little disappointed in that.

“We’ve had to go to work. Atlanta kind of gave us the first glimpse of it. We’ve improved on all of our races since then. I feel good about that. That’s a positive that we’ve been getting better week in and week out, and we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve gotten in contention to win a few of these races. I still feel like we’re still a little behind the eight-ball on the way our cars driver compared to the field.’’

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NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge to debut Monday

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Reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch, three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. are among the headliners in the NASCAR America presents the NBC eSports Short Track Challenge.

The week-long event begins at 7 p.m. ET on Monday on NBCSN.

From Monday-Wednesday, six different drivers will compete in two timed races in Cup Series cars at an iconic track at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The top two finishers from each night will advance to the championship race at the virtual Martinsville Speedway on NBCSN.

Monday night’s races will be at a virtual Rockingham Speedway

Tuesday night’s races will be at a virtual Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.

Wednesday night’s races will be at a virtual Myrtle Beach Speedway.

Thursday night’s championship race will be at a virtual Martinsville Speedway.

Here is the driver lineup for each night:

Monday at Rockingham Speedway: Kyle Busch, William Byron, Austin Dillon, Parker Kligerman, Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace.

Tuesday at Lucas Oil Raceway: Justin Allgaier, Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, Harrison Burton, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Wednesday at Myrtle Beach Speedway: Landon Cassill, Matt DiBenedetto, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Timmy Hill, Ryan Preece and Myatt Snider.

“We’re proud to continue our successful collaboration with iRacing and NASCAR, which began last year, to produce the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge,” said Jeff Behnke, vice president, production, NASCAR on NBC and NBCSN. “Thanks to all the drivers from the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series for joining in what should be four consecutive nights of entertainment and fun for all the great race fans and viewers.”

“Of all of the events we’ve been putting together for real-world pros, the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge should be one of the most fun,” said Steve Myers, iRacing executive producer. “So many of the top drivers in NASCAR have honed their skills on both local short tracks and iRacing, and combining the two for a virtual week-long showdown should deliver plenty of excitement. We can’t wait to see who takes the checkered flag and bragging rights!”

This marks the latest collaboration between NBC Sports and iRacing, which began in 2019 when NBC Sports telecast the first-ever eNASCAR live event on television. NBC Sports and iRacing teamed up to present the 2019 eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Championship in a two-hour event live on NBCSN last October. Earlier this year, it was announced that six races of the 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Playoffs will air live on NBCSN later this fall.

NBC Sports NASCAR commentators Rick Allen and Steve Letarte will call the action, including interviews with drivers during the races. Jeff Burton and Marty Snider will host the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge via Zoom.

April 2 in NASCAR history: Dale Jr. gets first Cup win in Texas

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One day late in matching his father’s own achievement 21 years earlier, Dale Earnhardt Jr. began etching his name in the history of the Cup Series on April 2, 2000 with his first career win.

The victory came at Texas Motor Speedway, the same track the third-generation driver earned his first Xfinity Series win at two years earlier.

Earnhardt led 106 of 334 laps and beat Jeff Burton to score the victory in just his 12th career start, four races sooner than his father’s first win in 1979. The victory also was the first for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the Cup Series.

“I’ll tell you what, that was the hardest race I’ve ever drove,” Earnhardt told CBS in Victory Lane. “Had the flu all day long, all week long, felt pretty good. Once the race started, we had a good race car and I was pretty happy.”

Earnhardt’s victory was the last time a Cup Series driver earned their first career win at Texas Motor Speedway.

Also on this date:

1967: Driving for the Wood Brothers, Cale Yarborough led 301 of 334 laps at Atlanta to earn his second Cup win and his first on a speedway.

1978: Darrell Waltrip beat John Utsman (relief driver for Benny Parsons) by one lap to earn his first of a record 12 career Cup wins at Bristol Motor Speedway.

1989: Harry Gant ended a 90-race winless streak with a dominant win at Darlington. He led 171 of the last 180 laps to beat Davey Allison and Geoff Bodine. The race was plagued by a 19-lap caution at one point in order to correct a scoring error that gave Gant a one-lap lead on the field.

1995: Jeff Gordon earns his first of four consecutive wins in the Food City 500 at Bristol. It was his third win in the first six races of the season, as Gordon would go on to claim his first Cup Series championship.

Kevin Harvick, Tony Kanaan discuss IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader

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Over a 22-year IndyCar career featuring its share of adversity, Tony Kanaan has learned to embrace trying to find the positives in a negative situation.

He believes NASCAR and IndyCar will find a tiny silver lining from the novel coronavirus pandemic. The series will race on the same day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course in a July 4 doubleheader, which he believes sends a message of unity he’d like to see from the world during this dark period.

“It’s time to send that message (of unity),” Kanaan told “Happy Hours” hosts Kevin Harvick and Matt Yocum in a Wednesday afternoon interview on SiriusXM’s NASCAR Channel. “If we don’t come out of this situation as better people, globally, in every way, shape or form … it’s just being kind to people. Hopefully, we’ll be sending the right messages, doing radio shows together, doing live on Instagram together, doing races together.”

Click here to read the entire story on NBCSports.com’s MotorSportsTalk page.

How NASCAR and racing community are helping in COVID-19 fight

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Given the emphasis on safety in racing, NASCAR and several other motorsports entities are increasingly pivoting to focus on safety in other areas to help out during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The biggest emphasis is on personal protective equipment for health care workers as well as things such as respirators for those infected with coronavirus.

According to a report by The Associated Press, here are what several groups across NASCAR and other motorsports series are doing:

* NASCAR’s Research and Technology Center in Concord, North Carolina has shifted from building parts and working on the Next Gen car to producing face shields.

According to the AP report, NASCAR has a team of eight engineers volunteering their time to keep five 3D printers operating nearly 18 hours per day to produce protective face shields for health care workers. The largest printer is capable of producing three shields every 2 ½ hours.

“That’s the one we try to keep running almost nonstop,” Eric Jacuzzi, senior director of NASCAR’s aerodynamics and vehicle performance, told the AP. “You are sitting around watching the news and you think, ‘We just put this big, beautiful new machine in, let’s see what we can do and use it for something good.’”

NASCAR is donating all shields it produces to health care facilities and workers. It is also working with North Carolina State University as consultants to help hospitals with their own 3D printers to produce personal protective equipment, according to the AP report.

* Ford is embarking this week on a project to build as many as 50,000 ventilators in the next 100 days, according to the AP. The company has also lent a team of engineers and is providing facilities and equipment to help 3M build respirators.

Todd Hoevener, Ford Director of Technology, Strategy and Planning, told SiriusXM NASCAR on the “Happy Hours” program Wednesday afternoon, “This week we are ramping up to be able to ship one million (face shields) by the end of the week.”

* Chevrolet’s parent company, General Motors, is working with Ventic Life Systems to produce more than 50,000 face masks daily, as well as is ramping up production to build 10,000 ventilators per month, according to the AP.

* Toyota is also producing face shields and working to manufacturer ventilators, as well, according to the AP.

* NASCAR Cup driver Brad Keselowski’s company, Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing, is using 3D printers and CNC machines to build face shields.

* Roush Fenway Racing has donated 1.5 cases of N95 masks to Lake Norman Regional Medical Center and donated shields and safety glasses elsewhere. The team told the AP it is producing aerosol boxes that “protect medical professionals as they treat COVID-19 patients.” In addition, parent company Roush Industries is working on developing other personal protective equipment.

* Hendrick Motorsports has redirected some of its manufacturing resources to produce face shields for healthcare workers. Other NASCAR teams that have donated masks or other supplies include Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and JR Motorsports.

* IMSA team CORE Autosport told the AP it has produced and sold several thousand face masks for health care professionals.

* Technique Inc., which produces chassis kits for NASCAR teams, has repurposed its Jackson, Michigan factory – just a few miles from Michigan International Speedway – and expects to increase production to 20,000 face shields by the end of this week, according to the AP.

* The largest team in NHRA drag racing, Don Schumacher Racing, is using its two 3D printers non-stop to build headbands that attach to face shields, the AP reported.

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