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Where Are They Now? Jimmy Spencer: No more ‘Mr. Excitement’, it’s ‘Grandpa’ now

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After speeding through much of his life, Mr. Excitement has finally slowed down.

Instead of worrying about a race car setup or qualifying, Jimmy Spencer spends his days enjoying a different kind of excitement, like his first grandson Hudson, who turned 1-year-old Tuesday, working on antique cars or trucks, or just playing with his five dogs.

After more than four decades of rushing from one track to another, Spencer and wife Pat still travel a fair amount – but at their own pace.

“I raced, I raced every damn night, working on my race cars and raced as much as I could,” Spencer said in a recent interview with NBC Sports.

Spencer in the 2001 Brickyard 400.

He had to race so much to keep food on the table and clothes on his kids’ backs. But he also knows he missed a lot while competing not only in the Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Trucks Series but also modifieds and late models in the Northeast early in his career.

Today, the 60-year-old Spencer wishes he could have some of that time back. He’d have done some things differently.

“You can’t go back and watch the kids play soccer on the weekend you’re racing,” he said. “You decided to do that. I’m not mad, I don’t regret anything I’ve done. But would I change stuff? Oh, hell, yeah.”

Sister’s death had profound impact on his life, racing

Spencer has stopped breathing race car exhaust and is now smelling the roses, enjoying much of what he couldn’t while racing.

It was his sister Chrissy’s death in 2010, after a long battle with ovarian cancer, that began Spencer on something he never thought he’d do. Eventually make an exodus from racing.

“It was time for me to say it’s time to start enjoying life,” Spencer said. “She was worried about retirement and so many things in life and she couldn’t enjoy them.

“I said I’m giving it all up. I still think about her all the time. We sold most everything we had and I retired. My wife and I have been traveling. I still dabble in antique cars and trucks.

“An old buddy of mine once told me you have to make a decision when enough is enough and your quality of life is more important. So my quality of life is I don’t need my jet or other stuff anymore. I don’t need to live that flagrant lifestyle, I never did.

“I watched my dad die from Alzheimer’s (in 2014), a hard-ass working man. There are certain things that change your life, and Chrissy’s death changed mine. Her death touched my wife and me so much. We still cry on her birthday, Nov. 23. It was time to move on.”

These days, Spencer and his wife split time between homes in North Carolina and their native Pennsylvania. You’ll usually find him tinkering with old cars, attending car shows or playing poker with friends.

Racing just isn’t as important as it once was

But when it comes to racing – the thing that was his life for more than half of it – is just not as important as it once was.

“I still watch some races,” Spencer said. “It’s not a top priority anymore, but I miss it. During my career, I made fans and so many friends. I still have friends from my modified days in Connecticut.

“I miss the officials, seeing the crew members, seeing the drivers, having a good time. I was pretty good friends with (Dale) Earnhardt, I still go see Rusty (Wallace) some, Ernie (Irvan) I see once in a while, I went up a couple months ago and spent a whole day with Harry Gant.”

In addition to being one of the most fiery and colorful drivers in all forms of stock car racing, Spencer is one of the sport’s best storytellers.

His all-time favorite racing memory revolves around, like many other drivers, Daytona International Speedway.

Spencer and his parents had grandstand seats for many years for the Daytona 500.

“One day, we were sitting in the stands and I was winning a lot of short track races, and my mom asked me, ‘What are you thinking about?’ I said, ‘I’m going to win here some day, Mom.’ She looked at me and said, ‘You’re just like your dad. You’re just as determined as he was and you probably will.’

“And I won Daytona (1994 Pepsi 400). That was big, but the most important thing was my mom and dad were sitting in those bleachers when I started sixth in my first Daytona 500 in the Heinz 57 car (in 1990, finished 15th), behind Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott.

“I looked up in the grandstand and saw my mom and dad and said, ‘I finally made it in my career, I finally became a Winston Cup driver.’ I was nervous and shaking, I could not believe that I did fulfill my wish and promise to my mom. That was probably one of my biggest memories ever.”

A special bond with the late Bill France Jr.

And then there was Spencer’s relationship with late NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr.

It paid to have friends in high places for Spencer, including the late Bill France Jr.

“I was a cocky sonofabitch,” Spencer laughed. “I was winning in the Busch Series and made some comments to the media about some officiating. I thought I was the cock of the walk. One day, a Saturday, practice was over and an official came up to me and said, ‘Mr. France wants to see you.’

“Bill always used to tell me there were two heroes he had. One was Earnhardt and the other was me. I was one of his heroes. Bill France (Jr.) was special. Well, I was his hero up to that day.”

Spencer sat across a desk from France, who pulled out a piece of paper and drew a circle on it. Then he drew a second circle, and a line that bisected the circles.

“That’s when he looks at me with a stare and I knew I was in trouble,” Spencer said.

France continued to draw on the paper, adding grandstands, a pit area and a clubhouse. He asked Spencer what he thought it was.

“I said, ‘Bill, that’s Stafford (Speedway in Connecticut, where Spencer raced a lot in his early days).

“Bill then said to me, ‘You keep (expletive) around with me and you’ll be back there racing.’ All I said was, ‘Mr. France, I understand.’ From that day on, I realized not to mess with Bill France Jr.”

NASCAR is a different world today

As for NASCAR racing today, Spencer is somewhat disillusioned.

“We as a society have lost a lot of the passion,” he said. “I can remember falling asleep underneath my race car. I can remember Earnhardt telling me he borrowed $300 so he could get to the next race so he could buy a set of tires.

“These people today, the sport has changed for me and I know the world’s changing, but I don’t see the passion I saw with a lot of the guys I grew up with.”

Like many of the peers of his era, Spencer admits he doesn’t attend many NASCAR races in person, nor does he have any desire to get back into the game as perhaps a team owner or return to broadcasting like he previously did with SPEED TV and Fox Sports.

“That ship has sailed,” he said. “I have a great life, the Lord’s blessed me, I have a grandbaby now to keep me busy. I have no regrets.”

One thing Spencer will never get tired of is his legion of fans.

“Fans still come up to me today and say, ‘You were a damn good racer,’ and ‘I enjoyed you when you were racing,’ and stuff like that,” he said. “It makes you feel good because they still notice you. I still have a good time with them.”

The Jimmy Spencer File:

  • Competed in 478 Cup races; 2 wins, 80 top 10s. Both wins came in restrictor-plate races in the summer of 1994 at Daytona (Pepsi 400) and three weeks later at Talladega (Die Hard 500).
  • Highest Cup season rank was 12th in 1993.
  • Made 211 Xfinity starts with 12 wins and 93 top 10s. Made 31 Truck starts and earned one win and 11 top 10s.
  • Last season of racing was 2005 in Xfinity Series at age of 48.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse definitely has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor up and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond once coronavirus and the limitations it has placed upon the sport are gone.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result, but he definitely likes what he’s seeing from his team and the performance of his race car.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like last night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race at Bristol

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Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Keselowski will start first and Almirola will start second.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., putting all three of Team Penske’s cars in the top five.

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol

Race Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (half-mile oval)

Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: June 1 at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1

Chase Elliott ‘Sent it, for Judd’ in Charlotte Cup Series win

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A rollercoaster week for Chase Elliott ended Thursday night with him in Victory Lane for the second time in three days and for the first time this year in the Cup Series.

But Elliott’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seventh Cup victory of his career, had additional weight for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Not long after the race, Elliott posted a picture on Instagram of him celebrating on the frontstretch. At the bottom of the picture was a drawing of a character saying “send it.”

A sticker of that figure, which is a walrus, is located on the front bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

“Sent it, for Judd,” Elliott wrote in the Instagram post. “This ones for you brother, miss you my friend. That sticker will forever stay on the front of that 9 car, I promise y’all that.”

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Elliott on NASCAR America at Home the meaning behind the sticker.

“Judd (Plott) was my best friend since I was a kid, he and I grew up together,” Elliott said. “His mom sang at my parent’s wedding and just my best friend since I can remember. Lost him last fall. That sticker is kind of remembrance of him. He had a tattoo on his leg of that little walrus and that was kind of his little logo.

“So I had a friend make up some stickers last fall after (Judd passed), and I just thought it’d be really cool to carry that moving forward. He was my best friend as long as I can remember and just always supportive and just felt like it’d be special to carry that for the rest of my career and always remember him and he was one of a kind and he was a genuinely good dude.”

The walrus decal and its placement on Elliott’s bumper is similar to one that can be found on the bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s car. It’s dedicated to his friend Blaise Alexander, an ARCA driver who was killed in a crash at Charlotte in 2001, and the 10 people who were killed in a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash in 2004.

The walrus decal isn’t the first time Elliott’s honored his late friend. Last November, he had a tribute to Judd on his nameplate above the driver-side window.

Following Thursday’s race, the Cup Series next competes Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like the previous four races, it will be a one-day show. Elliott shared his thoughts on how a limited at-track schedule and condensed crew rosters are bringing the No. 9 team together.

“It’s brought an excitement back to it that I haven’t had in a little while, from the standpoint of I feel like I’m short-track racing again,” Elliott said. “I feel like it’s brought our team closer together because different guys on our team are having to do more jobs. Like (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson is) having to come off the box and catch tires during the pitstop. And that’s brought him closer to our pit crew. I’m having a couple more items to do and keep up with than what I had before and I think all that is bringing us closer together. And for me, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of condensing the group and doing more racing and less sitting around.”

The one-day show at Bristol has an added element to it. Without any prior track activity before Sunday’s green flag, the traction compound added to the lower lanes in the turns will be more difficult for drivers to navigate.

Elliott thinks it’s been “overlooked a little bit.”

“(The traction compound) does not like to be run on until it gets run in and those are two things that don’t go good together, right?” Elliott said. “Because it doesn’t have grip and nobody wants to run on it. But we all want it at the same time because we want another option. What I’ve noticed is it seems like it takes the leaders catching lap cars and forcing cars into a position that they don’t want to be in to start to run that stuff in. Until it gets run in, it’s really hard. It’s really slick. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just, you know, marrying up all those things, right? Do we have the splitter height, right? How slick is that stuff going to be? How long is it going to take it to come in. And when it does come in how long until it wears out and the top becomes the advantage because it typically does by the end of a race.

“But we typically have a full weekend to practice and qualifying and a Xfinity race. And a lot of times we don’t see that top line come dominant until late in the Cup race on Sunday. So I’m really curious to see how all those things play out.”

Pocono race weekend to be held without fans

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Pocono Raceway officials on Friday announced that all races scheduled for its tentative upcoming race weekend on June 27-28 will be held without fans in the stands.

The track made the decision not to admit fans based upon guidelines issued by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Following the guidance on sporting events in Pennsylvania issued by Governor Tom Wolf, it is with sadness to announce the 2020 NASCAR events at Pocono Raceway will be held without fans in attendance,” the track said in a media release. “This decision, made in coordination with NASCAR and our state officials, was not made lightly.”

All race dates are tentative, per the track statement.

“The exact dates of our 2020 races is being finalized and will be announced by NASCAR at a later date,” the track said in a media release.

NASCAR has not announced confirmed dates on the schedule past the June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. However, NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell tweeted this afternoon that NASCAR is “hoping to put out next portion next week – not a full schedule yet though.”

For now, the tentative weekend schedule at Pocono includes the first-ever NASCAR Cup doubleheader with a 130-lap/325-mile race on June 27 and a 140-lap/350-mile race on June 28.

Click here to read the full statement from Pocono Raceway.

Also slated are a 60-lap/150-mile Truck race on June 27, which would precede the first Cup race that weekend, and a 90-lap/225-mile Xfinity Series race on June 28, which would precede the second Cup race.

“Our Raceway family shares in your disappointment and will certainly miss your passion, laughs, cheers, and smiles as the green flag drops in the Pocono Mountains,” the track said.

Ticket holders have the option to either receive a refund or account credit for the value of their tickets, track officials said.