(Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images

Bill Elliott, Richard Petty will pace field of Southern 500 to celebrate milestones

Leave a comment

Two career milestones will be recognized at the Southern 500 when Bill Elliott and Richard Petty pace the field before the Sept. 3 race at Darlington Raceway on NBCSN.

Elliott will drive the pace car for the race 32 years after he clinched one of the biggest achievements of his Cup career and NASCAR history in the Southern 500.

In 1985, Elliott became the first driver to win the “Winston Million” after he won the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway and then the Southern 500. Jeff Gordon in 1997 was the only other driver to win the “Winston Million” promotion before it was discontinued.

Elliott tamed the “Lady in Black” five times in his career, sweeping the 1985 races.

But Elliott won’t be at the front of the field. That distinction will go to “The King.”

Petty, who just celebrated his 80th birthday, will lead Elliott and the field in a 1967 Plymouth like the one he won the Southern 500 with that year. Petty swept the two Darlington races that season.

Of Petty’s 200 Cup Series wins, three came at Darlington. But only one of those was in the Southern 500.

“The 1967 Southern 500 was a great win,” Petty said in a Darlington press release. “To be able to win at Darlington, especially in those days, was really special. The Southern 500 was, and still is, one of the great races in our sport.”

The honoring of Petty and Elliott joins the recognition that will be given to Dale Earnhardt Sr. the day before the race.

The 30th anniversary of Earnhardt’s 1987 win in the Southern 500 will be observed with a special event titled, An Evening Honoring Dale Earnhardt Sr.

“We’re honored to have two of NASCAR’s greatest legends, Richard Petty and Bill Elliott, pace the field for the 68th running of the Bojangles’ Southern 500,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said in the press release. “Their accomplishments in our sport and at Darlington will be celebrated during our throwback weekend and we are excited that our fans will have the opportunity to see these two NASCAR heroes lead the field to green.”

This is the third year of Darlington’s throwback weekend program, which is highlighted by teams using retro paint schemes.

and on Facebook

Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Larson won his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr. will line up alongside Larson on the front row.

Chase Elliott qualified third, the best of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers who advanced to the top 12. Jamie McMurray qualified fourth to place both Chip Ganassi Racing on the first two rows.

AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for full qualification results.

 

Kyle Larson wins pole for Sonoma Cup race

Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Larson posted a lap of 94.597 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350. It was his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and the sixth of his career.

Larson beat Martin Truex Jr. (94.484 mph) by .090 seconds.

Chase Elliott (94.461), Jamie McMurray (94.227) and AJ Allmendinger (93.925) rounded out the top five. He was fastest in round one of qualification with a speed of 94.477 mph.

Hendrick Motorsports placed three of their drivers in the final round. Jimmie Johnson (93.824) qualified seventh. William Byron (93.756) qualified eighth. Alex Bowman (93.267) qualified 17th.

In his first race back since Matt Kenseth took over the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Trevor Bayne barely missed advancing to the final round. With a speed of 93.455 mph, he qualified 13th.

Clint Bowyer (93.252) was unable to back up his time from Friday’s practice and will roll off the grid 19th.

Click here for full qualification results.

For Clint Bowyer, Sonoma Raceway is a lot like Martinsville

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Clint Bowyer didn’t grow up road racing; he cut his teeth on dirt tracks in the Midwest. And yet, he had an immediate affinity for Sonoma Raceway. In his second start there, while driving for Richard Childress in 2007, he finished fourth.

In fact, Bowyer enters the Toyota/SaveMart 350 with seven top-five finishes in 12 starts that includes a runner-up finish in last year’s Sonoma race. If not for a couple of misfortunes (crash damage in 2010 and an electrical problem in 2016), he might well have swept the top 10 since scoring that first top five as a sophomore.

Perhaps the reason for that immediate success is that he considers Sonoma to be a twisted version of Martinsville Speedway – a track on which he won this March to snap a 190-race winless streak.

“I think you embrace this track and road racing in general just like you do Martinsville,” Bowyer said on Friday before heading out to put his No. 14 Ford at the top of the first practice speed chart. “Nobody shows up at Martinsville and goes to the top of the board and is fast and has success and navigates traffic to win that race right off the bat. It just doesn’t happen and it doesn’t happen here either.”

His Sonoma success has not translated to road courses in general, however.

Yes, Bowyer swept the top five on NASCAR’s two road courses last year, but the fifth-place finish he scored at Watkins Glen International was only the second of his career on a track that many drivers consider to be less technical than Sonoma. In 12 starts there, he has earned only five top 10s.

“Watkins Glen is so fast. It is just dive-bombs and you are really carrying a lot of speed at a place like Watkins Glen.

“Here, it is like that short track. It is like being at Martinsville. Did you see my car at the end of the race last year? It was destroyed. I drove up through and passed the field twice because of mistakes that we made and got spun out once. It was a wild race to be able to finish second. You can’t do that at Watkins Glen. That car wouldn’t have ran in the top 10 at Watkins Glen.”

Nine different drivers have won at Sonoma in the last nine races. Given the dominance of Harvick (who won last year) and Kyle Busch (the 2015 winner), many think they are the most likely to end that streak. But Bowyer also has an opportunity to end the streak of unique winners. He won the 2012 edition of this race by holding off Tony Stewart – the driver with the second-most road course wins in NASCAR history.

“You have to be able to have fun on this race track,” Bowyer said. “It is a challenge. Each and every corner is different. There is no perfect setup or perfect line. It is literally one of the only tracks you go to where you are out there racing and have a smile on your face. You might even get a chuckle.”