Long: Past, present come together for thrilling Daytona 500 finish

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — The kids paid homage to history and became part of it after Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Against a purplish sky, as day transitioned to night at Daytona International Speedway, the scoring towers blazed with the No. 3 and No. 43 in the top two spots. Not since April 1987 at Bristol have those iconic numbers stood together atop the results of a NASCAR Cup race.

But instead of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty in those cars, it was Austin Dillon piloting the No. 3 to the victory and rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. driving the No. 43 to a runner-up finish.

And in a nod to the sport’s rough-and-tumble days, the car ahead of the No. 3 on the final lap spun out of the lead after contact. A trail of sparks and smoke produced the lasting image of Aric Almirola’s car instead of it covered in confetti in Victory Lane.

Almirola, though, held no grudge against Dillon.

After all, that’s just racin’.

That’s what the public wants. The sport has faced a tug-of-war with fans ton how to make the racing more exciting. Older fans long for past days, recalling the rivalries but overlooking that the competition wasn’t always so balanced. New fans need more to keep engaged.

Stages were added last year to enhance the racing. It created chaos Sunday. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and youngsters Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Ty Dillon were eliminated through no fault of their own in a crash just before the first stage ended.

That was one of four multi-car crashes. Each time wayward cars avoided the path Dillon and Wallace took.

Then again, both Dillon and Wallace have taken their own paths through the years.

Dillon, the grandson of car owner Richard Childress, drove the No. 3 when he raced as a child. To NASCAR fans that number represented Earnhardt and became sacred after his death on the last lap of this race in 2001.

Childress admits he was “ready to get out of the sport” after the death of his best friend. What was left? His friend was gone.

“The relationship that him and Dale Earnhardt had was a friendship that you don’t find every day,’’ Dillon said. “I mean, it’s one of those friendships, a best friend that you trust and you love. I could tell how much as I grew older their friendship meant and still wears on him because he misses him.’’

Childress recalled a conversation he and Earnhardt had on a mountain in New Mexico during a hunting trip. The two men reflected upon their mortality. They agreed to go on if something happened to the other.

With that, Childress kept racing through the sadness and emptiness.

Then something came along to lift Childress’ spirits. His grandsons Austin and Ty. Both played sports but followed their father into racing. Childress backed them in the early days and groomed them, hoping they could carry Richard Childress Racing further.

As Austin Dillon progressed, he and Childress had a conversation about the No. 3. Dillon still used it but the closer he moved to NASCAR’s national series, the touchier the subject was for some.

“That was Dale’s number,’’ Childress reminded Austin.

“No it isn’t,’’ Austin told pop-pop. “It’s your number. You drove it, and that’s why I want to do it.’’

Childress was convinced that Dillon should continue to drive it in the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series. The number had not run a Cup race since Earnhardt’s death on Feb. 18, 2001. Until Austin did in 2014.

For Wallace, who has raced since a child, it is race that sets him apart.

He became the first African-American to compete in the Daytona 500 since Wendell Scott in 1969. Wallace’s achievement earned a tweet from Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton wishing him well.

“I got weak at the knees,’’ Wallace said.

Before he climbed into his car, Wallace was given the phone. Former Major League Baseball home run record holder Hank Aaron wanted to wish him good luck.

“Just knowing that people are tuning in and hopefully noticing the new face and the new change that’s coming to NASCAR and they get behind it and support it. Just exciting,’’ Wallace said.

Still, both drivers — essentially teammates with Richard Childress Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports in an alliance — were not the main story entering the 60th running of this race.

Dillon didn’t have time to ponder such things before Sunday’s race.

He was trying to console his wife about 90 minutes before the race. Dillon couldn’t understand why his wife cried as they prayed with family members in their motorhome.

‘’Are you okay?’’ Dillon asked Whitney. “What’s wrong?’’

Dillon’s words were not soothing.

“She kind of got mad at me for like, why are you crying,’’ he said. “She stormed off. So I walked back to the bathroom, like, ‘Babe, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?’’

“I get emotional when it comes to you,’’ Whitney told him.

“That’s good, but it’s okay, I’m going to be okay, it’s all good,’’ Dillon reassured. “We had it out there for a second, and I was like, ‘Look, before I get in this race car, my mind has got to be right, so tell me you love me.’ And she’s like, ‘I love you. That’s why I’m crying.’ ’’

Then she told him something else.

“This one is not going to be easy,’’ she said of the race.

“You’re not going to lead every lap and be up front much, but you’re going to do it when it’s clutch, you’re going to win when it matters, on the last lap,’’ she said.

It wasn’t just Whitney’s words with him. He had a lucky penny in his car — just as Earnhardt had in the No. 3 car when he won the 1998 Daytona 500.

Dillon got the penny earlier this week while doing an autograph session outside the garage. A child in a white Ford hat came through the line. Dillon, a Chevrolet driver, took off his hat, signed it and gave it to the child.

“I’ve got to be your favorite driver, right?’’ Dillon told the child he estimated to be 8 years old.

The next day, Dillon saw the child wearing his hat outside the garage fence. Dillon approached him. The child gave Dillon a penny that he put in his car.

Between Whitney’s words and the penny, Dillon only led only the final lap. Actually, he led less than half a lap, taking the lead after the contact with Almirola.

“I guess I could have lifted and gave it to him,’’ Dillon said. “I guess that was my other option, give up a Daytona 500 ring that I’m wearing. I don’t know, I’m glad he’s not mad. If he needs to do it to me at Talladega for everybody to feel good, I’ve got a Daytona 500 championship trophy, ring, whatever. I don’t care. I’ve got the 3 back in Victory Lane.’’

Back where Dillon was in 1998 as a 7-year-old, celebrating Earnhardt’s win that day and collecting all the sponsor hats the team wore.

Sunday, they were in Victory Lane for him. Childress and the team laughed, sprayed champagne and celebrated a night they hadn’t enjoyed after the Daytona 500 since last winning it in 2007.

As the team members posed for pictures with their sponsor hats, they didn’t raise their index finger to signal they were No. 1 as they cheered.

They didn’t raise two fingers for the number of Cup wins Dillon now has.

They raised three fingers.

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Xfinity drivers chase historic checkered flag at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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Chase Briscoe said in February that there was no reason he couldn’t win a quarter of the Xfinity races this year.

Even as he focused on becoming the series’ dominant driver, he concentrated on another goal — winning the inaugural Xfinity race on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC).

A win this weekend for the series points leader would compliment the four Xfinity victories he’s scored this year and the six he has in his career, which includes winning the inaugural Charlotte Roval Xfinity race in 2018. 

Briscoe has practiced weekly for the Indy road course race on the Ford simulator since February.

“Every Wednesday I’ve been running at least an hour and a half to two hours at Indy, just trying to get prepared for the racetrack,” the Indiana native said.

“I feel like I’ve got a pretty good idea of where to make speed. It’s hard to really say how much the simulator will correlate over to the real-life thing, but I feel like I have a really good general idea of what to do, and I’m not going to be lost for those first couple of laps.”

The only NASCAR driver who has tested the road course is Matt DiBenedetto. He drove a Team Penske Xfinity car in a January test, compiling data for all teams. DiBenedetto said he is looking forward to watching Saturday’s race.

“I’m super-jealous of those guys,” he said. “They’re going to have a blast. That course is awesome. It’s so much fun, has really good passing zones, so I’m going to be watching really closely.”

Briscoe’s challenge won’t be just with the 14-turn, 2.439-mile course that winds through Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s infield and includes the tracks famous frontstretch. Among his key foes are expected to be Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger.

Cindric and Allmendinger combined to win three of the four Xfinity road course races last year. Cindric won at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio. Allmendinger won at the Charlotte Roval.

Cindric said that there is extra meaning this weekend because of the uncertainty of the Xfinity schedule beyond this month. All four series road course events last year were held after July. NASCAR has not announced the Xfinity schedule for the rest of the season beyond July.

“It’s no (surprise) that the road courses are … a strong suit for our team, and we don’t know how many of those are left,” he said.

Cindric says that Saturday’s race on the Indy road course will be fun and notes the passing zones.

“I think it’s going to be the best layout as far as passing goes that NASCAR goes to,” he said. “You’ve got two really great passing zones at the end of the both straightaways, that’s something you can’t really say about the Roval and Watkins Glen, those races are better for other reasons.”

Allmendinger should be formidable foe for Cindric, Briscoe and others based on his road course experience. Ross Chastain said Allmendinger has been a key asset for Kaulig Racing as it prepared for this event.

“AJ Allmendinger has definitely led the charge for drivers to drive the simulator and he’s built out our setups and what we should feel on those rigs with Team Chevy and (Richard Childress Racing),” Chastain said.

Allmendinger is more motivated to win at Indy than just to win the inaugural Xfinity race on the road course.

“There are very places … when you go to a racetrack that has so much history behind it, whether it’s IndyCars or stock cars, whatever its may be, you say the word, Indy and people that aren’t in motorsports understand what the history is being that racetrack,” he said.

“I want to be a part of that history. It would be something special to kiss the bricks, even if we had to do it with masks on. I don’t care. I’ll kiss them with the mask on.”

But he’ll first have to get through the two-day weekend for the series. With running on the road course for the first time, teams will have two practices Friday. That will be key for drivers, including Jeremy Clements, who won at Road America in 2017.

“I don’t know anything about (the track),” Clements said. “We don’t have any simulators or any of that stuff. Kind of going in blind. So I’m going to be a little behind there.”

One thing he is certain of, though.

“I think it will be a survival type race,” he said.

Briscoe just hopes he’s first to drive past the checkered flag. He admits, should he do so, it will feel different because fans, including friends and family, will not be allowed at the track this weekend because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I hate, first off, that there’s not going to be fans at Indianapolis just because when I go there, there are so many people that come from my hometown (Mitchell, Indiana) and from my area that don’t get to see me race anywhere else. 

“Just feeling the support every time I go there is so special. Last year in driver’s intros when we were riding around in the trucks, I literally had tears in my eyes just the amount of people that were standing up and cheering for me. It wouldn’t suck to win Indy without fans, but it would be bittersweet because none of my family would be there, none of the fans that don’t get to watch me anywhere else (would be there). I’m not going to turn away a win at Indy just because there are no fans, but it is tough to go there and not have fans.”

Brickyard 400 weekend schedule for NASCAR

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This weekend will mark the first doubleheader for the NASCAR Cup Series and NTT IndyCar Series as they both compete at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, making the Brickyard 400 weekend schedule a busy one (Sunday, 4 pm ET on NBC and the NBC Sports app).

They’ll be joined by the Xfinity Series, which will hold its first race on the IMS road course Saturday (3 pm ET on NBC and the NBC Sports app) after the IndyCar race. The series will get two practice sessions before Saturday’s race, the first practice sessions for any NASCAR series since the sport returned in May.

The weekend culminates Sunday with the Cup Series’ Brickyard 400.

All three races will air on NBC.

RELATED: Brickyard 400 entry lists

For Saturday, wunderground.com forecasts partly cloudy skies, a high of 90 degrees and a 24% chance of rain for the start of the Xfinity race.

For Sunday, the forecast is for partly cloudy skies, a high of 91 degrees and a 14% chance of rain for the start of the Cup race.

Here’s the full Brickyard 400 weekend schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

Brickyard 400 schedule: Thursday, July 2

4 – 4:30 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

4 – 8 p.m.- IndyCar haulers enter (screening and equipment upload)

Brickyard 400 schedule: Friday, July 3

6 a.m. – 9 p.m. – IndyCar garage open

7:30 – 9:30 a.m. – Xfinity haulers enters (screening in progress)

10 a.m. – IndyCar team manager/crew chief meeting

10 a.m. – 6 p.m. – Xfinity garage access screening in progress

11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. – First IndyCar practice (NBC Gold)

1:30 – 2:25 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)

3 – 3:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)

4:30 – 5:45 p.m. – IndyCar qualifying (NBCSN)

5 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

Brickyard 400 weekend schedule: Saturday, July 4

6 a.m. – IndyCar garage opens

9 a.m. – 3 p.m. – Xfinity garage access screening in progress

9 – 9:30 a.m. – IndyCar warm-up and pit stop practice

10:30 a.m. – IndyCar driver, team manager and spotter meeting

11:30 a.m. – IndyCar engine prime and final adjustments

11:45 a.m – IndyCar drivers report to cars

Noon – IndyCar race; 80 laps/207.32 miles (NBC, IMS Radio Network)

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

3 p.m. – Xfinity Series; 62 laps/151.22 miles (NBC, Performance Radio Network/IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Xfinity haulers leave

6 – 9 p.m. – Track conversion to oval layout

8 – 10 p.m. – Cup haulers enter

Brickyard 400 weekend schedule: Sunday, July 5

9 a.m. – 3 p.m. – Cup garage access screening in progress

2 – 3 p.m. – Cup engine prime and final adjustments (pit road)

3:50 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

4 p.m. – Brickyard 400; 160 laps/400 miles (NBC, PRN/IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

8:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

Indy provides a treasure trove of memories for Cup drivers

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The memories range from sitting on the couch to a father/son trip and from hearing a grown man say “here kitty, kitty, kitty” to seeing that same man climb a fence.

Regardless the recollection, the memories all point to one location.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As the track prepares to host a historic doubleheader on its road course with the NTT IndyCar Series (noon ET Saturday on NBC) and the Xfinity Series (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC) and then host the Cup Series on the oval (4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), Cup drivers shared some of the special memories they have of the famed speedway.

One of the memories that stands out to Jimmie Johnson, a four-time Indy winner making his final Cup appearance at the track, is watching the 1982 Indianapolis 500. That race that saw A.J. Foyt exit early because of a mechanical issue and then take a hammer at his car to fix the issue. But it was more than that moment that remains with Johnson. 

“I was on the couch with my father and grandfather,” Johnson told NBC Sports of that day. “Their opinion of A.J. and how he handled the situation and took the bull by the horns. (It was) like a guy/man moment with my father and grandfather watching (Foyt) work on his car like he did. I have a lot of warmth inside of me when I think of that moment.”

For 2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman, who grew up about 150 miles north of the speedway, his first memory of the track was when he was in grade school and his father took him to the Indianapolis 500. It was rare to have a free weekend even then because Newman often was racing quarter midgets. Only thing is, Newman didn’t see the race. The race was rained out. The experiences there would get better, especially in 2013 when he won from the pole. “That was an amazing weekend,” he said.

Tony Stewart climbed the fence after his 2005 Indy win. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Joey Logano, who seeks his first Brickyard 400 win after finishing second there last season, thinks back to the 2007 race. As Tony Stewart chased Kevin Harvick for the lead, Stewart keyed his radio and said “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” It was a line Stewart used from time to time when he had a strong car and was closing on the leader. Most times Stewart celebrated a win after uttering that line on the radio during a race.

Stewart is at the center of the memories for William Byron, who won the 2017 Xfinity race at the Indy. Byron recalls the first time Stewart won the Brickyard 400 in 2005. Stewart celebrated by climbing the fence. “I thought he was going to fall,” Byron said. “The fans were going crazy. … It was such an awesome moment.”

For Kevin Harvick, who won the Brickyard 400 in 2003 and last year, many early memories center around Rick Mears, who also is from Bakersfield, California. Mears is one of three men to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. 

“As a kid it was always a dream to go to Indianapolis and race IndyCars,” Harvick told NBC Sports. “Going to Indianapolis and racing stock cars is still a huge thrill for me. To go there and race on the racetrack that was your childhood hero’s place to be successful and really make a name for himself, to go there and and do that for yourself is pretty special.

“Sometimes you just have to kind of pinch yourself and say, ‘Man am I really living all that out?’ Being able to win at Indy a couple of times now and to win last year, for the first time with the whole family there and to have that iconic picture of the trophy and my family … is something that you can’t replace.”

For others, the memories that stand out are when they got on track at Indy.

“You’ve got to pinch yourself every now and then the first couple of laps around Indy because you’re like this is pretty damn cool,” Corey LaJoie said.

Kurt Busch during the 2014 Indy 500. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kurt Busch, who will make his 700th career Cup start Sunday at Indianapolis, competed in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and then the Coca-Cola 600 later that day.

His Indy experience was special but he admits that his laps around the speedway in an IndyCar during qualifying remain vivid.

“Going 230 miles an hour for four laps,” Busch told NBC Sports, “why I decided I was going to jump into an IndyCar I’ll never really quite understand other than I wanted to challenge myself and I wanted to go fast.”

 

Brickyard 400 entry lists: Cup and Xfinity Series for the weekend

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This weekend will be a historic one for NASCAR at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Cup Series will hold the Brickyard 400 on the July 4 weekend for the first time as part of a doubleheader with IndyCar. Be sure you know who’s running after reading the Brickyard 400 entry lists.

On Saturday, the Xfinity Series will hold its first race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which follows the IndyCar race.

All three races will be broadcast on NBC.

Here are the Brickyard 400 entry lists for the NASCAR races.

Cup – Brickyard 400 (start time 4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC and the NBC Sports app)

Forty cars are entered.

Ross Chastain is entered in his third start in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet this season. His previous starts, in the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, were in a car prepared by Chip Ganassi Racing.

J.J. Yeley is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 27 Ford.

Josh Bilicki is entered in Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 7 Chevrolet.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Pennzoil 150 (watch at 3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC and the NBC Sports app)

Thirty-eight cars are entered.

Mike Wallace is entered in JD Motorsports’ No. 0. Chevrolet. This is his first NASCAR start since the 2015 Daytona 500.

Brett Moffitt is entered in Our Motorsports’ No. 02 Chevrolet.

Jade Buford, a Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car driver, is entered in SS Green Light Racing’s No. 07 Chevrolet for his first career NASCAR start.

Jeb Burton is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger is entered in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet.

Click here for the Brickyard 400 entry lists.