Inaugural 2017 NBC Pit Crew All-Stars team is announced

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After nearly four months of selecting weekly nominees, the first NBC Pit Crew All-Stars Team was announced Wednesday.

Here are the winners:

FRONT TIRE CARRIER:
 Graham Stoddard – No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Chevy, Hometown: Lincoln, Nebraska

  • Grew up in Charlotte but moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in 8th grade … Went on to play football at Nebraska (linebacker, special teams) and earn a finance degree
  • Following end of career, he took a job in financing but wanting something different, he looked into NASCAR … After finding a pit crew combine tryout in May 2014, Stoddard did enough to land a job with Michael Waltrip Racing and moved back to Charlotte that August
  • Has also worked with Chip Ganassi Racing & Team Penske … Has contributed to two Xfinity Series wins & a Snowball Derby win

FRONT TIRE CHANGER: 
Mike Lingerfelt – No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Hometown: Travelers Rest, South Carolina

  • Competed as a driver in local dirt racing as a youngster
  • Opened a garage at age 16 with his brother. “We started out working under a tree with a shed, and that evolved into a building. We started from the ground up and turned it into something that is pretty cool … My grandfather had his own shop, my uncle had his own shop, and it was just a great opportunity for me to get in there and carry on what my family had always done. My junior and senior years of high school, I went home and worked there as part of a co-op program with the vocational school.”
  • Entered the Monster Energy Series in 1997 and has contributed to multiple championships with Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002) & Jimmie Johnson (2008-2010)
  • Suffered fractured left femur when he was hit by Tony Stewart during 2000 Daytona 500; Lingerfelt was trying to retrieve an errant tire. Following surgery in Daytona (which included insertion of a 14-inch rod for support), Lingerfelt returned to Charlotte and immediately began physical therapy.  After seven months and 14 days away from the #20 team, Lingerfelt returned to action later that season in the fall race at Charlotte

REAR TIRE CARRIER:
 Ethan Marquette – No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, Hometown: Merrill, Wisconsin

  • 12-year career in sport has seen him work at every pit crew position and also as a pit crew coach
  • Resume includes stints at Roush Fenway Racing & Richard Childress Racing
  • Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 3
  • Volunteers with American Diabetes Association office in Charlotte, North Carolina, helping young children with diabetes learn how to live with the disease 
… Will take 8-week program at Duke University this fall in the Integrated Health Program for Diabetic Education
  • Hobbies include sport shooting, playing guitar, and cheering for the Green Bay Packers

REAR TIRE CHANGER:
 Raphael Diaz – No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford (Xfinity), No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford (Cup), Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina

  • Joined No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports pit crew in Cup at Martinsville … 3-year veteran of Roush’s No. 16 Xfinity team … Works as a carbon fiber fabricator at Roush during the week
  • Holds special place in history of NASCAR Drive For Diversity program as the first D4D grad to be part of a winning pit crew at the Cup Series level (Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing, Sonoma 2014)
  • Additionally, Diaz and Mike Russell are the first D4D crew members to win a national series championship (Chris Buescher, Roush Fenway Racing, 2015 Xfinity Series)
  • Discussing D4D program in 2017: “I never thought I was going to be doing this for the rest of my life, but it puts you in a spot where anybody can do this if you have the determination. The program works if you want it bad enough, and it helps with all those fundamentals you need to have.”
  • Contributed to Chris Buescher’s first career Cup win at Pocono in 2016 … Also contributed to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first two career Cup wins this season at Talladega (May) & Daytona (July)
  • Initially aspired to be a professional soccer player before suffering a knee injury
  • Grandfather immigrated to the United States from Chihuahua, Mexico

SPOTTER: 
TJ Majors – No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (Cup) Hometown: New Castle, Pennsylvania

  • Majors first met Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 1997 as a rival on iRacing (Majors was based in Buffalo, Earnhardt in Charlotte) … After becoming friends, Earnhardt advised Majors to come to North Carolina in order to enter the industry … Earnhardt helped him make the trip shortly after Christmas 2001, arriving in Majors’ driveway with a pickup truck to tow his box trailer filled with his belongings
  • Majors suited up and raced for JR Motorsports in street stocks and late models, earning a win in a 200-lap race at Motor Mile Speedway (Radford, VA) in 2004 … Got the call to spot for JRM’s first Xfinity Series start in the 2005 season finale at Homestead – the following day, Earnhardt asked Majors to start spotting for him
  • With Dale Jr.’s retirement as a full-time driver, Majors will make a move to Team Penske and become Joey Logano’s spotter in 2018
  • Believes the hardest part of spotting is depth perception; as cars come toward a spotter’s view and then drive away, it gets tough to perceive distance between each car on the track

GAS MAN:
 Caleb Hurd – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Hometown: Pulaski, Virginia

  • Former Virginia Tech Football special teams player (1996-99); has a degree in mechanical engineering
  • Has been involved in NASCAR for over 16 years, double-dipping as an engineer and pit crew member
  • Says Richmond holds “a higher significance than some of the other places we go” because that’s the 
track, back when he was an intern with Hendrick, that he became inspired to become a crew member
  • Was hired by Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013 – because of his athleticism and also, “we were in the process of 
trying to make the fuel cans faster. And he was an engineer. Now that’s a double win,” said Mike Lepp, 
JGR’s senior athletic adviser.
  • He and his wife Courtney gave birth to daughter, Kate, last fall, nearly 9 weeks early. A few weeks later, 
Hurd was at Phoenix when Courtney called to tell him Kate needed surgery. Seemingly the entire NASCAR community rallied around them. “I could barely make it past the pit box without someone coming up to me and saying they were thinking about us and everything,” Caleb said. Kate is “doing just fine” now.
  • Caleb and Courtney are actively involved in charity, which has ranged from working with the Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Duke Medical Center, to the Hendrick Marrow Program, and Habitat for Humanity.

JACKMAN: 
Ray Gallahan – No. 22 Team Penske Ford Hometown: Lake Helen, Florida

  • Before entering NASCAR, Gallahan worked at a car wash in high school and his first year of college. “I was like their MVP guy in that I knew how to do anything there. Inside cleanup and 
vacuuming were my specialties.”
  • Has been with Team Penske for more than a decade.
  • In the 2014 championship finale at Miami, Joey Logano’s car fell off Gallahan’s jack during the final pit 
stop, costing Logano a chance at the title … Gallahan’s colleagues at Team Penske encouraged him throughout that offseason, and in the 2015 Daytona 500, he and the #22 team delivered a flawless performance to help Logano win “The Great American Race.”
  • Gallahan after the Daytona 500 win: “For me, it’s pretty breathtaking to go from, like, the lowest of lows to probably one of the highest of highs you can have in all of motorsports … [Miami] definitely is a life-changing thing. You try to take positives from that, and you try to go on and learn from it and get better.”

TIRE SPECIALIST: 
Jeff “Jet” Zarrella – No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Ford Hometown: Southington, Connecticut.

  • Involved in the sport for over 30 years, starting at Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium. He finally realized his dream, winning the Daytona 500 back in February.
  • Joined SHR in 2009, prior to that he had worked for Yates Racing, DEI, Roush Fenway Xfinity Series program and several others.
  • From 1984 to 1993, worked as a tire specialist with 44 Racing and the No. 44 Modified driven by Reggie Ruggiero, Rick Fuller and Greg Sacks.
  • Enjoys cooking, gardening, shooting guns and golf when not at the racetrack.

ENGINE TUNER:
 Frank Mathalia – No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Hometown: Oneida, New York

  • Retired auto mechanic & tow truck driver for Mathalia Motors Corporation
  • Served in United States Marine Corps
  • Family is from upstate NY – his dad, also Frank Mathalia, raced at Utica-Rome Speedway – the home 
track for NASCAR Hall of Famers and modified racing legends Richie Evans and Jerry Cook

ENGINEER:
 Andrea Mueller – No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, Hometown: Fresno, California

  • Joined Team Penske in 2007
  • Graduate of Cal Poly
  • Previously worked for Boeing and Pratt & Whitney, and also worked on engine projects for NASA’s 
space program
  • According to Andrea, her dad was very involved in racing at the local level, taking on a variety of roles 
such as engine tuner and mechanic for sprint cars
  • Andrea also talked her dad into letting her race in quarter & micro midgets, but stopped after her mom 
started to get nervous
  • Ryan Blaney on Mueller: “She’s done a great job. I’m really excited to have her. Knowing race cars, knowing what parts and pieces do and coming up with ideas to improve everything – that is what she does so well.”

 

Cup playoff race at Talladega to resume at 2 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
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Let’s try this again.

Stage 1 was finished when rain came Sunday and prevented the Cup playoff race from continuing at Talladega Superspeedway. NBCSN’s coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET today. The engines will be fired at 2:02 p.m.

Fifty-seven of 188 laps have been completed. The race will resume with stage 2. That stage will end at Lap 110.

The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 72 degrees and 0% chance of rain when the race resumes. There is no chance of rain in the afternoon.

William Byron, who won stage 1, was the leader when the race was stopped Sunday. He is followed by Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

Matt Crafton has replaced Paul Menard in the No. 21 car and will take over driving duties when the race resumes.

After the race was stopped, Chevrolet summoned its drivers, crew chiefs and competition directors to a meeting that lasted about 25 minutes. Chevrolet has been adamant about its teams working together at Talladega and Daytona since the April race at Talladega. Chevrolet has won the past two races at those tracks with Elliott winning at Talladega in April and Justin Haley winning at Daytona in July.

Asked about Chevy’s tactics, Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports: “Every year the sport changes. It doesn’t matter if it’s how we race each other on track or how strategies play out. The sport is ever-evolving and you’ve got to be on your toes and ready to adjust or the sport is going to pass you up.”

 

Rain postpones Cup race at Talladega until Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Cup Series playoff race at Talladega has been postponed due to rain. The race will resume Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The race was put under a rain delay after the completion of Stage 1.

57 of 188 laps have been completed. The race is not official until the end of Stage 2 (Lap 110).

William Byron won the first stage.

The top 10 is Byron, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Blocking a key issue at Talladega for drivers

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — The question isn’t who to race with at Talladega, manufacturers have dictated that, but it is where to race.

Run at the front and hope the wreck is behind? Run at the back and hope to avoid the carnage?

The package used at Talladega and Daytona this season punches such a big hole that drivers say the closing rate between cars is quicker than before. That gives cars trying to block less time to make their move. Be late and it can lead to a wreck.

As it has at Talladega and Daytona this year.

“There’s been many evolutions in racing and blocking is one for me that I’ve had to evolve with, but blocking is a part of our sport now on a weekly basis,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s not just here. I mean, you see it at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. 

“You’re just going to have wrecks blocking. Sometimes you’re going to make a bad move. It’s just something that’s a little bit newer in the pace of the car that’s approaching you and the style of block and how you throw it, but we’re going to wreck from a block because it’s just become part of what we do.”

Three wrecks this year at Talladega and Daytona can be traced to blocking at the front of the field.

“When you have the smaller spoiler, you’re able to get in front of them, that lead car would get the push before that (trailing) car would actually get to the back bumper of the lead car,” Joey Logano said. “Now, it seems like the trailing car can get to the back bumper and then some (with the larger spoiler), so the blocks have to be quicker and have to be precise. Even once you block them it doesn’t mean it’s over because now they’re still on your bumper and they’re pushing you around. It’s more challenging from that standpoint.”

The late April race at Talladega debuted this package and saw a crash at the front of the field early in the event. Bubba Wallace was third when he and Ryan Blaney, running second, got out of shape and triggered a crash that damaged six cars. Wallace said the accident was a result of “the amount of runs and the force of it. All I was trying to do was just some wreck avoidance.”

The Daytona race in July saw two crashes that started at the front of the field because of blocking.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was leading when he was late on a block on Kurt Busch and they made contact, spinning Stenhouse.

Late in the race, Austin Dillon, in the lead, blocked as Clint Bowyer went low to try pass. They made contact, triggering an 18-car crash.

Dillon notes that blocking is a part of speedway racing.

“You’re going to do it,” he said. “Somebody has got a run at you at the end of the race. There’s not much else you can do. You can give up certain times of the race, but if it’s a last-lap situation you’re going to be held accountable for the actions you make and you’re going to feel bad if you go home not making the block that could win you the race … or you’re going to feel bad if you’re wrecked. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s speedway racing. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Blocking, to Ryan Newman, is nothing new.

“What was it ’08 when (Tony) Stewart won blocking Regan Smith?” Newman said of the fall 2008 Talladega race where Smith crossed the finish line first but Stewart was given the win because Smith went below the yellow line. “Stewart got the win and blocked Regan and everything was fine. Here we are 11 years later still talking about the same thing. Does it do any good to talk about it?”

Harvick was encouraged how NASCAR reacted at the end of Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. NASCAR penalized leader Johnny Sauter for forcing Riley Herbst below the yellow line on the final lap. Spencer Boyd was declared the winner.

“I can’t stand blocking,” Harvick said. “We didn’t use to penalize the blockers  very much. It was always the guy that was trying to make the move. So, you know, the guy had a lane … Johnny was trying to win the race. You can’t blame for him for trying to block. I like when the blockers get called. I don’t like it for Johnny Sauter. You’ve got to have a lane to race.”

 

Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega: Start time, lineup and more

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One of the first things Kyle Larson said after winning last weekend at Dover was that “everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing at Talladega … except me.”

Talladega is here and it’s time for many drivers to stress. Except Larson, of course.

The playoff standings could be jumbled by the time the 500-mile journey at Talladega Superspeedway ends. Who will be collected in a crash? Who will get through the carnage and contend for the win?

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Edward Graham, assistant VP of Operation Christmas Child for Samaritan’s Purse, will give the command to start engines at 1:48 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:03 p.m.

PRERACE: The Cup garage opens at 10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:15 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1:41 p.m. by Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. The National Anthem will be performed at 1:42 p.m. by the 313th United States Army Band out of Birmingham, Alabama.

DISTANCE: The race is 188 laps (500.08 miles) around the 2.66-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 55. Stage 2 ends on Lap 110.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race at 2 p.m. Coverage begins with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. on NBC. Countdown to Green follows at 1:30 p.m. on NBC, leading into race coverage. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts mostly cloudy conditions with a temperature of 68 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Chase Elliott led a 1-2-3 Chevrolet sweep in late April, finishing ahead of Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece. Aric Almirola won this playoff race a year ago, giving Ford a 1-2-3 sweep with Clint Bowyer second and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. third. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.