Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn upset with new mandated pit guns

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HAMPTON, Georgia – NASCAR’s new mandatory pit guns made an impact on at least four teams Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, earning a less than ringing endorsement from the defending series champions.

“They’re pieces of shit,” said Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr.

Pearn said Truex’s No. 78 Toyota team went through three pit guns during the 500-mile race before landing on an adequate piece of equipment. Pearn said one of the pit guns initially was unresponsive when switching from removing to fastening and needed multiple attempts to engage the lug nuts. NASCAR then issued the crew what Pearn said “are like the old spec guns or something, so it was a hunk of garbage. And we used it the next stop, and it was basically unusable. Then they got us a newer gun after that that was fine.”

In addition to Truex’s Furniture Row Racing crew, the teams of race winner Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch also had problems with the guns, which were introduced by NASCAR this season in part to curb development costs on equipment that had become highly specialized. NASCAR distributes the guns via lottery before the race and also mandates their air pressures.

MORE: Explainer on the new pit guns

Teams are issued three guns – front, rear and spare – and NASCAR intended to test them regularly for consistency.

Truex, who rebounded to finish fifth, said he had been concerned about the reliability of the guns entering the race.

I think everybody is,” he said. “You think about these teams and all the preparation, and the parts and the pieces and they do all the work on them.

“Essentially it’s on you if something fails, and now we’re getting it from an outside source, and we have no control over it, so if it costs you a race win or it costs you a spot in the playoffs or a spot in the championship four or something like that, somebody’s going to be really, really, really upset, and there’s nothing you can do about it because you can’t go home and say, ‘Well, it’s your fault.’ We need to tighten it up here and figure it out and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“There is none of that. It’s ‘oh well, we’ll get it fixed.’ It’s a little bit frustrating from that standpoint, but at the same time, it is new to everyone, and we’ve got to give them a chance to figure it out and make sure they can make these things bulletproof.”

Busch’s team also was issued a new gun after apparently experiencing problems with air pressure.

Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick, said he hadn’t explored the problem with his team’s stop, which reportedly was because the hose was disconnected from the gun. Harvick’s No. 4 Ford fell from first to 19th at the end of the first stage after pitting again to secure lug nuts

“We’ve got good pit crew coaches to investigate that stuff,” Childers said. “The people that have took that on, they have done an outstanding job. I can’t complain about anything they’ve done. I can’t imagine taking that on over a two- to three-month span. We’re going to go through ups and downs, and we need to go through them together and learn together and that’s part of it.”

NASCAR didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday night on the guns’ performance in the season’s second race. During his Monday appearance on SiriusXM’s “The Morning Drive,” senior vice president Steve O’Donnell said NASCAR knew the likelihood was “fairly high” of having kinks during the firs year. O’Donnell said the Atlanta problems were, “something we’re going to review. We never want to see failures with any part or piece. We’ll have conversations and get it right. We want it to be in hands of drivers and teams. We’ll head to Vegas and hopefully get that cleaned up.”

Asked if the problem was fixable, Pearn smiled and said, “Ask the RTA.”

The Race Team Alliance, a consortium of team owners (that excludes Furniture Row Racing’s Barney Visser), worked with NASCAR to implement the pit guns without the consultation of the Drivers Council.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’m allowed to have an opinion,” runner-up Brad Keselowski said when asked if he had concerns entering the race. “Nobody asked me when they changed them, and it was a decision made by the RTA and NASCAR.  I don’t think I’m allowed to have an opinion.”

“Mine worked, so we’re happy,” fourth-place finisher Denny Hamlin said of his team’s guns. “If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be happy.”

NASCAR also has reduced the number of pit crew members this season, increasing the difficulty and choreography of stops.

I think everybody had trouble on pit road at one point or another,” third-place finisher Clint Bowyer said. “As these teams keep learning and perfecting their program and getting in that rhythm just like we do on the track. I know our guys had good stops and stubbed their toe once and lost a few. It’s just there’s a lot going on right there with not very many people. I think that’s a work in progress, and I think you’ll continue to see some jumbling up of the program as we come on to pit road and off of it.”

Particularly as crews work with pit guns that they aren’t building for the first time in years.

“I think the reason teams built them on their own is because they were more reliable that way,” Hamlin said. “They could control everything. Amongst the competition side of things, they don’t want a failure because it’s a bad luck thing. They want it to fail because (the crew) did a bad job. It’s your own fault then.”

John Ray, who drove patriotic big rig at Talladega, dies at 82

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
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One of Talladega Superspeedway’s most endearing and popular figures has passed away.

John “Johnny” Ray, whose diesel big rig carrying an American flag around the 2.66-mile track has been a fixture during the playing of the National Anthem at NASCAR Cup races for the past two decades, has died at the age of 82, the track announced Monday.

Ray began the tradition behind the wheel of his gold, brown and chrome-colored Peterbilt semi-tractor in 2001, with an oversized American flag flowing in the breeze behind the tractor.

The procession quickly became a significant fan favorite, eliciting loud cheers and applause from fans in the stands each time it passed by on the track’s front stretch.

“We just had the 9/11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt) had also passed away earlier that year,” Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, Alabama, said in an interview three years ago. “I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”

Ray, who started his own trucking company in the early 1970s, and also had a brief NASCAR racing career of his own, ceded driving duties of the big rig several years ago to his late friend, Roger Haynes, and then last year to son Johnny Ray, to continue the tradition.

“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” Speedway President Brian Crichton said in a media release. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated.

“He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

Funeral arrangements for John Ray are pending, according to the track.

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Ryan Blaney experienced Kobe Bryant’s ‘Mamba Mentality’ in person

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kobe Bryant didn’t ask normal questions.

Nearly two years after a 20-minute conversation in the back of a Las Vegas steakhouse, that’s what sticks out to Ryan Blaney about the five-time NBA champion.

Blaney reflected on his encounter with Bryant on Monday, roughly 24 hours after the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker was killed in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

MORE: NASCAR community mourns death of Kobe Bryant

The encounter between the Team Penske driver and Bryant came in October 2018 during a convention for Body Armor, a sports drink company Bryant was an investor in that sponsors Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“We went into a backroom and all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing there,” Blaney said during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Pretty amazing that he was back there and they let me meet him.”

During their meeting, Blaney gifted Bryant the firesuit that he wore during the race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier that year.

“He was pretty excited about that,” Blaney said. “Just being able to talk to a guy like that for 20 minutes, someone who didn’t really know a lot about racing, but wanted to learn everything about it 20 minutes. Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great.

“That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.”

Bryant didn’t pepper Blaney with the cliche questions one expects from those uninitiated with auto racing.

“I just didn’t expect the amount of interest he showed, he wanted to learn everything about it,” Blaney said. “It wasn’t like the (how do you use the) bathroom question. It wasn’t ‘do you get dizzy?’ It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”

Blaney, who said he was a Bryant fan growing up in the ’90s before LeBron James arrived on the scene to play for his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, said it was a “shame” he was never able to get Bryant to attend a race weekend.

“For somebody who has inspired so many young boys and girls around the country for decades, the social media stuff the last day and half has been unbelievable to see people who looked up to him growing up. I did too, I ain’t lying, how can you not watch Kobe Bryant when you’re growing up as a kid? A terrible loss. I hate that for his family and the other family involved.”

Bryant didn’t forget about their steakhouse encounter. He later sent Blaney a signed copy of his book, “The Mamba Mentality.”

Blaney keeps it on display on a bookshelf.

“Just really neat,” Blaney said. “You respect other great athletes and people and their work ethic. I think that’s what impressed me the most about him was his work ethic at everything. He’d outwork you at every little bit. You’ve got to respect somebody like that, who will figure out how to beat you and if he can’t do it with talent he’s going to outwork you really hard. I don’t know, it’s just amazing to get a privilege like that. It’s hard to describe.”

Brendan Gaughan to run 4 final Cup races in 2020, including Daytona 500

Photo: Beard Motorsports' Twitter account
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Brendan Gaughan will kick off his 23rd and final season of NASCAR racing in the 62nd Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports.

Gaughan – who is using the hashtag #NotGaughanYet to symbolize his final season — will drive the No. 62 Chevrolet at Daytona. If he qualifies, it will be his fifth time in the 500 field, with his best finish coming in 2017 when he finished 11th.

The 44-year-old Gaughan is slated to drive four races this season in NASCAR Cup for Beard Motorsports. In addition to the Daytona 500, he’ll also race April 26 at Talladega Superspeedway, August 29 back at Daytona and will make the final start of his racing career on October 4 back at Talladega.

The Las Vegas native has made 12 previous starts for Beard Motorsports, all at either Daytona and Talladega.

“I love racing, and competing with Beard Motorsports these last few years have made for some of my most enjoyable moments in NASCAR,” Gaughan said in a media release. “We do a lot with a little, so when we run up front and lead laps, it’s very satisfying because you know all the work that went into it.”

Last April, Gaughan led five laps at Talladega and gave Beard Motorsports its second top-10 finish in the Cup Series, finishing eighth. Gaughan also finished seventh at Daytona for Beard Motorsports in July 2017.

“I wouldn’t want my last races as a NASCAR driver to be with any other team,” Gaughan said. “(Team owner) Mark Beard Sr., and his entire family are passionate about racing, and NASCAR in particular. We’re all competitive and want to perform, but we’re going to have fun doing it. That’s how we all got started in the sport – because it was fun. And as I wrap up my career, I’m going to make sure it stays fun.”

Gaughan has made 62 prior starts in the Cup Series dating back to his rookie season in 2004, when he earned his best career finish in the series (fourth at Talladega).

He also has made 219 starts in the Xfinity Series with two wins, and 217 starts in the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series with eight wins.

Gaughan’s effort at Daytona will be in a chassis built by Richard Childress Racing and powered by a motor from ECR Engines. He’ll be sponsored by Beard Oil Distributing, South Point Hotel & Casino and City Lights Shine whiskey moonshine.

He begins his quest to qualify for the 40-car field with Daytona 500 qualifying on February 9. His lap will determine his starting spot in the Feb. 13 Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the rest of the field for the Great American Race.

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UniFirst to sponsor Chase Elliott in three Cup Series races this year

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
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UniFirst will be a sponsor of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet in three Cup Series races this year, Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday.

The company will be on Elliott’s car at Phoenix Raceway (March 8), the All-Star Race (May 16) and the playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 27).

A work clothing and uniform supplier, UniFirst has been a Hendrick Motorsports sponsor since 2016. It sponsored William Byron in four races in 2018 and three last year.

UniFirst also will be featured as an associate sponsor for all races in 2020.