DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After two years of limited activity, Alex Bowman is back in a full-time ride and ready to go racing in the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
“It’s been really surreal for probably the past seven or eight months,’’ Bowman said Saturday morning before getting into the car to practice later in the day. “Now to unload and to kind of be ready and be like ‘Man I’m driving a race car today’ is really special. It’s a dream come true for me.
“Very thankful for the opportunity and really just looking forward to getting on the race track, seeing how our race car drives, seeing how our speed is and kind of seeing how the cars drive with the new rules package and going from there.”
Bowman had been without a full-time ride since 2015. He competed in nine Xfinity races in 2016 for JR Motorsports and 10 races in Cup for Dale Earnhardt Jr., as Earnhardt recovered from a concussion. Last year, Bowman drove in two Xfinity races and one Camping World Truck Series event. He spent his time in the Chevrolet simulator.
Of all the hours in there, Bowman noted they didn’t run the superspeedways, so his experience remains limited in restrictor-plate racing.
He’s leaned on teammate Jimmie Johnson, along with Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt. Bowman and Earnhardt talked Friday night about how to handle Speedweeks and Earnhardt provided some drafting tips.
“He gave me some drafting tips and superspeedway racing tips that I’m going to try to keep to myself,’’ Bowman said. “He has been great to lean on and always has been for me, so very thankful to have his help.”
Even with his limited experience, Bowman ran for Hendrick in last year’s Clash and at Talladega in 2016 for Earnhardt.
“I can’t wait to get on the race track with how fast our Camaro ZL1’s are going to be,’’ Bowman said. “And having three great teammates to work with. I ran the No. 88 at Talladega in 2016. I think we were running second or third and crashed with a couple of laps to go. Definitely, seen how fast the cars are. We’ve just not to crash with a couple of laps to go this time.”
He also learned the different dynamic of running in the front compared to the middle of the pack in those races.
“It is kind of interesting, the mid-pack to back-of-the-pack guys, if they get behind a good car it doesn’t really matter who is driving it, they are going to push you,’’ Bowman said. “They are not going to hang you out. Whereas you get to the front, and it’s cutthroat. Anybody will hang you out. Nobody wants to really push you if they don’t have to.
“It’s definitely interesting to see how the characteristics of the pack change through the pack and just the characteristics of getting pushed by Kyle Busch or Denny Hamlin versus a mid-pack guy who is going to stick with you. Definitely interesting to see and interesting to learn. I think I can definitely take learning experiences from that race and also from The Clash and use them to be more successful next Sunday.”
But a few hours later, the 57-year-old Burton had a completely different look on his face – and not of his own doing.
He apparently had a mishap with a nail and board and – well, we’ll let the following tweet tell the story. And once again, it shows how tough Burton can be. Apparently before he even got the wound treated, Burton decided to take a photo and post it online.
This week’s episode of NASCAR America presents the MotorSports Hour airs today from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Krista Voda and AJ Allmendinger. And joining them from our IndyCar on NBC broadcast team will be race announcer Leigh Diffey and analyst Paul Tracy.
The show will cover multiple racing disciplines, including previewing this Sunday’s IndyCar championship-deciding race at Laguna Seca.
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com.If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.
Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.
With his playoff-opening win in Las Vegas, Martin Truex Jr. could easily coast in the next two Cup races, knowing he’s assured of a spot when the Round of 12 begins next month at Dover International Speedway.
But neither Truex nor crew chief Cole Pearn have ever been the cruising type. Even though they’re locked into the next round, there’s still plenty of motivation for the remainder of the opening round of the playoffs this weekend at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and next week on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
There are still valuable stage points for Truex and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team to earn in the playoffs.
“These next two races are all about scoring more playoff points for us,” Truex said in a media release. “It’s great for us knowing that we’re already locked in, but we want to try to pad our advantage to start out that next round.”
With his win at Las Vegas, the Mayetta, New Jersey native has won three of the last four playoff-opening races (also first at Chicago in 2017 and 2016). And he comes into Richmond with a decent career record there: 27 starts, one win, four top 5s, 10 top 10s, one pole and has led 909 laps.
“Richmond has been a great track for us the past few years,” Truex said in a media release. “Obviously getting the win in the spring was huge because it was our first with JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and kind of got us going for the rest of the season.”
In addition, JGR has 15 Cup wins at Richmond, including the last three there.
Richmond is not only where Truex earned his first of what five wins for JGR this season, but also was the site of his first Cup career short track victory. He’s also led the most laps in the last four races there (and five of the last six). But it isn’t the only track that been good to Truex of late.
Truex has dominated recently at the next three venues on the Cup playoff schedule:
* Won at Richmond in April.
* Won on Charlotte’s oval in May.
* Was one turn away from winning last fall on Charlotte’s Roval before a spinning Jimmie Johnson contacted Truex and ended his chances of winning. Also, in the last six road course races, Truex has three wins and two runner-up finishes.
* Won at Dover in May.
Richmond offers additional incentive for Truex, as well. If he can go back-to-back to victory lane there, he would reach a milestone 25th career Cup series win.
What’s more, he comes into a race for the first time this season atop the NASCAR Cup point standings, with a series-high five wins, as well as 11 top-five and 16 top-10 showings through the first 27 races of the season.
Truex, the 2017 champion, is trying to earn his second Cup title in the last three seasons. And to top things off, Truex’s seven Cup playoff wins since 2016 are the most in the series during that time. Busch is second with five wins, followed by Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano with four wins each.
Add it all up and there most certainly won’t be any coasting from the No. 19.
“We just need to keep it up and do all that we can to give ourselves the best chance possible for the rest of the playoffs and not just take it easy,” Truex said.
When Shane Wilson answered his phone Tuesday he was in the process of leaving a UPS store, a weekly destination that’s part of his many crew chief duties at Ryan Sieg Racing.
This week the team had to: prepare three cars for Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond – including a car for Hermie Sadler, who is making his first Xfinity start since 2016 and the first ever for RSR, as well as repair a wrecked No. 93 car from Las Vegas and get Ryan Sieg’s No. 39 Chevrolet ready for a playoff run.
“Shoooo, we’re busy,” Wilson tells NBC Sports. “But, you know, good busy.”
That’s all been done with seven crew members at the team’s shop located just outside of Atlanta.
“We can go with seven-and-a-half to make sure I don’t leave anybody out,” jokes Wilson.
At the UPS store he had mailed a shock destined for Vermont. Its recipient would be Steve Hibberd, the team’s shock guy.
Hibberd is a former employee of Orleans Racing, the Truck Series effort for Brendan Gaughan in the early 2000s that Wilson led.He’s one of Wilson’s two “secret weapons.”
The other is another Orleans team member and former Dodge employee, Ryan Isabel, who provides engineering support for the team in identifying trends via a database of car setups.
This small, spread out operation helped Sieg produce the best season in his six years of full-time Xfinity competition and his second playoff berth, following his 2016 campaign.
He enters Richmond with two top fives and nine top 10s (matching his top 10s from the rest of his Xfinity career). His previous best total for top 10s was three in 2016, the first time he went to the playoffs.
But Wilson, a former long-time employee at Richard Childress Racing who crew chiefed for Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, doesn’t seem too stressed about the playoffs before him or his limited resources. In fact, he’s having his most fun in NASCAR in “a long time.”
For a former electrician apprentice from Vermont, he could be doing worse.
“Whenever I have a bad day in racing I think about running pipe in December in Vermont along the Connecticut River,” Wilson says with a chuckle.
Sieg and Wilson don’t want to hype up a potential Cinderella story for the Xfinity Series playoffs, even if it does have a few ingredients for that.
Sieg and his small team will start their playoff run at the track he had his best non-superspeedway performance earlier this year.
The April 12th race at Richmond saw Sieg start 13th, finish Stage 2 in fifth and then finish the race in fifth for his second top five of the year.
That leads into the Sept. 28 race on the Charlotte Roval. The opening round then closes out at Dover International Speedway.
Wilson sees the first round as three “opportunity races.”
“They’re not cookie cutter mile-and-a-halves, like Vegas,” Wilson says. “I really feel like we can go there and do well.
“I like road racing, Ryan doesn’t necessarily like road racing. I’m trying to get him in the state of mind and that’s a good opportunity race.”
There are a few of those.
They make Wilson a “realist” about their situation, especially when it comes to facing the juggernauts of Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and the other Cup-affiliated teams.
First, there’s the cars.
Those Cup-affiliated teams will likely be bringing new or updated cars to the track as the playoffs open.
“Here we will be running the same cars as we have been because that’s what we have,” Wilson says. “But I don’t think I’d ever switch that anyway, you gotta kind of ride the horse that got you there and try not to out trick yourself or race something that’s a little bit better cause you really need to bring something you know and that you’ve raced all year then see where you land.”
Then there’s the playoff points.
Sieg enters Richmond 11th in the standings with 2,001 points after the standings were reset. That one playoff point is a result of Sieg winning Stage 2 at Texas Motor Speedway in March.
“Looking at it, those top three cars (Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick) have such a big advantage, you almost have to pencil them into Homestead,” Sieg says. “To make it through the first (round), that’s what we want to do and need to do. But if we don’t, be consistent over the seven races and get top 10 in points, I think we got eliminated in the first round in 2016, but we still finished ninth in the standings. So it’s always nice to be top 10 in points. … Anything can happen.”
However, with all that, there’s one additional tool in the No. 39 team’s utility belt they didn’t have in April.
They return to Richmond with a Cup pit crew, which they began using in May at Charlotte.
Why is that notable?
“We lost I think 30 spots on pit road that first race and still finished top five,” Sieg says.
Well, maybe it felt like 30.
“It wasn’t quite 30, but it was like 17 though,” Wilson says with a hearty laugh. “Which is still a lot.”
Even with a more experienced pit crew, Sieg’s philosophy on what happens on pit road has been drilled into him.
“We don’t want to gain spots on pit road, we don’t want to lose any either,” Sieg says. “We just want to maintain. I bet you in my career if you counted the number of times I’ve come off pit road I’ve probably lost more positions than I want to count. That’s part of being a small team. If we come in eighth and Brandon Jones is ninth, he’s got a Joe Gibbs pit crew. If they beat us by two seconds, you’re going to lose that spot. I’ve kind of dealt with that a lot in my career. I’m not complaining, cause it’s part of what it is. So I just want to come in 10th and go out 10th. Yeah, it would be great to come out fourth, but that’s less realistic.”
And what if that Cup pit crew had been in place at Richmond six months ago?
“We might of won,” Wilson says. “Or we would have finished second. Because we passed two guys who finished in front of us about three different times. The only one we never passed was (winner Cole Custer).”
While advancing to the next round would be huge for Sieg’s team, Wilson’s goal for the next three races is straightforward: “finish ahead of four of those guys every week” and “accumulate enough points to make them have to race us at Dover.”