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Bump & Run: What drivers in NASCAR history would you like to see race each other?

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1. Over the sport’s history, what two drivers would you have liked to have seen race head-to-head?

Steve Letarte: I think the easy answer is you take all the seven-time champs and line them up. The other two that are a little off the wall that I’d love to see race each other is Kyle Busch and Cale Yarborough. I think they are both hard-nosed, no-nonsense, win-at-all-cost competitors, and I think that would have been a dang good race to watch. I think the big answer that the whole world would like to see but never will, of course, you want to line up all three seven-time champions. You want to take the late ‘60s/early ‘70s Richard Petty to go against the late ‘80s/early ‘90s Dale Earnhardt Sr. to go against the mid-2000’s Jimmie Johnson. That right there would be another great show.

Jeff Burton: Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty. I believe their driving styles are very similar. I would love to see two of the best in our sports’ history in a battle.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: My father and grandfather at a small short track. I’d never seen Ralph race obviously. So seeing him compete would be epic. I’ve always heard what an incredible short track racer Ralph was. I’d love to see these two duke it out on a bullring in equal cars. 

Kyle Petty: I was blessed to grow up in this sport. More blessed to have watched some of the greatest drivers in our sport race each other. Pearson, Petty, Allisons, Baker, Yarborough and Waltrip as I was growing up. Earnhardt, Davey Allison, Jarrett, Kulwicki, Wallace, Martin, Rudd, Richmond, Gant, Labonte as I started my career. Gordon, Burtons, Bobby Labonte, Stewart, Johnson, Harvick, Busch and others as my career was ending. To me three periods in time. Three periods in our sport. I heard stories from my grandfather about the early years (50s) and my father’s stories from the early 60s. I’ve come to believe you can’t take a driver from one era and insert him in another. Great drivers are great drivers no matter when, what or where they drove. I’ve been blessed to see a lot of the GREATEST go head-to-head at some point in my life. So I guess my answer should be … Been there, Done that.

Nate Ryan: Tim Richmond and Curtis Turner. The stories are legend and well told about who they were as personalities, but the display of their on-track talents unfortunately was limited because of careers cut short by death or labor disputes. It would be wonderful to see what made both of them so legendary behind the wheel.

Dustin Long: Tony Stewart vs. Bobby Allison. This would be an epic matchup of two talented racers who could compete in multiple vehicles, wouldn’t give an inch and also were known have a temper in and out of the car. Can you imagine these two racing for the win at a short track in the final laps?

Daniel McFadin: All of my memories of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. competing against each other are from the late 90s when Earnhardt was winning once or twice a year or not at all. I would love to see the Earnhardt from 1987 (11 wins) go head-to-head with the Gordon from 1998 (modern record of 13 wins) in an anything goes match race at Bristol.

Parker KligermanKyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt. I could only imagine what kind of fireworks this would have produced. I’m sure there would be great mutual respect but both had a disdain for second place.

2. What is one track you wish you could have gone to in person to have seen a NASCAR race (or go to one last time)?

Steve Letarte: The place that I have never been that I would have loved to have seen once in my day is Riverside. I’ve seen so many stories. While we go to road courses now, Riverside seems to have this aura about it. There are so many stories that come from it. The track that I could go back to one last time and race, without a doubt, is Martinsville. It’s my favorite race track.

Jeff Burton: I would like for our sport’s biggest series to go to one of the historic NASCAR short tracks. I believe a once-a-year event would bring some new excitement and enthusiasm that all forms of auto racing would benefit from.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Asphalt Bristol was incredible. Nothing compared to it. Even concrete Bristol at its peak of popularity didn’t quite deliver like asphalt Bristol did. That track was unruly and it seemed to bring out the worst in drivers. You couldn’t keep up with the many feuds going on in one single night of racing.  

Kyle Petty: Lakewood Speedway, Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve heard about that place my whole life, from my father and grandfather. They spoke of it as if it was the greatest track they ever went to (until they built Daytona). Raymond Parks, Bill France, Red Byron so much of NASCAR’s early history came out of the Atlanta area. I would have liked to have seen a glimpse of that.

Nate Ryan: Ontario Motor Speedway (with nearby Riverside International Raceway a close second). Before California Speedway opened, I became very familiar with Ontario in researching its history — but all that I’ve seen of the track is a few dirt berms left on the property after it was razed. There were so many positive reviews (and some memorable races despite only a 10-year run) of the 2.5-mile track that was intended to be a replica of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I’d love to have explored Brickyard West in its prime.

Dustin Long: I’ve heard so many stories about North Wilkesboro and what the fans were like there, throwing chicken bones at anybody that dared challenge or damage hometown hero Junior Johnson’s car. Would have enjoyed seeing that once.

Daniel McFadin: I would have liked to have seen a race at Darlington before they swapped the front and backstretch. The overhang on the frontstretch grandstand gave it an iconic look and it would have been cool to sit there for a race back in the day.

Parker Kligerman: Old Bristol. The energy must have been insane, and the train of cars was always a spectacle to me. I’ve always thought, it must have been a huge frustration for the drivers but an awesome show to see in person.

3. What’s one NASCAR race you would have liked to have seen in person?

Steve Letarte: I’ve heard the firsthand story from Tony Gibson so many times, I wish I could have been in Atlanta (1992). So much happened that day. It was the King’s last, Jeff Gordon’s first, Alan Kulwicki’s championship. The King has told me the story when I’ve been up at the Petty Museum and seen the wrecked race car. Jeff Gordon has explained what that day was like being a rookie. Tony Gibson was on Kulwicki’s crew. There are so many famous races, but that’s the one that I would think I would have loved to have seen that battle play out.

Jeff Burton: Hooters 500 in 1992. All of the events of that day were amazing. The battle for the championship, the King running his last race, and Jeff Gordon running his first race was one of the sports biggest days. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 1979 Daytona 500 would be an easy pick. But I’d also like to have seen my dad’s Daytona 500 win and visited him in Victory Lane that day. I was home injured from the Busch race the previous day. Either one of those races rank as the most important in our sports history, so seeing either would have to bring on some amazing emotions. 

Kyle Petty: Any race on the old Daytona Beach Course. Period! Where Men were Men and everyone else just a spectator.

Nate Ryan: The 1979 Daytona 500, to judge whether the atmosphere before, during and shortly after the race foretold that it would be remembered as such a watershed event.

Dustin Long: The 1972 Wilkes 400 at North Wilkesboro when Richard Petty and Bobby Allison traded the lead 10 times in the last 50 laps before Petty won with a last-lap maneuver. The Associated Press report on the race stated that the cars of Petty and Allison, “both immaculately clean and polished at the start … came out of the duel battered and broken, less than a car length apart at the finish.’’

Daniel McFadin: The 2001 Pepsi 400 at Daytona. To be in the crowd for that race and to experience all the pent-up emotions that were released when Dale Jr. won would just be incredible.

Parker Kligerman: 2003 Darlington; that must have been insane to witness in person.

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

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What’s next?

In a season of change that has zoomed through NASCAR like history did in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” 100 days remain in the year. That’s plenty of time for more upheaval.

Remember the beginning of the season when talk centered on the championship race moving to Phoenix Raceway this year?

That was back when teams practiced and qualified before races, before drivers chose what lane to restart, before midweek races.

The novel coronavirus pandemic forced NASCAR and all sports to change, but when NASCAR returned after a 10-week break in May to Darlington without spectators, that was only the beginning of a season unlike any other.

Michael Jordan’s entry into the sport Monday night capped a day that started with Chip Ganassi hiring Ross Chastain to drive its No. 42 car next year and a report that NASCAR would add another road course to the 2021 schedule and move the All-Star Race.

The 2021 schedule has not been released so that is something to look forward to at some point in the next 100 days. The timeline on when it will be revealed continues to change, so let’s just say it will be out by Christmas, if not sooner. Who knows, there still might be more road course races on next year’s schedule. 

This is what we know of 2021: It won’t feature the Next Gen car, which has been delayed to 2022; the Daytona 500 is scheduled to open the season on Valentine’s Day; and Nashville Superspeedway will host Cup cars for the first time in June, the first in a four-year agreement.

Oh, and we also know where Bubba Wallace will be racing in 2021. He’ll drive for a team co-owned by Jordan and Denny Hamlin. JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty says of the three: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The sport’s quiet rock star, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, is watching his final full-time season — don’t worry he hints that he’ll look to run a few Cup races when his IndyCar schedule allows — end with muted fanfare in front of empty stands or socially distanced crowds.

Hendrick Motorsports has yet to announce who it will add to its driver lineup with Johnson’s departure. That’s just among the unknowns with 100 days left in the year and 145 days until next year’s Daytona 500. Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez and Matt Kenseth have yet to announce plans for next year. The status of Kyle Larson’s return looms over all of them.

One of the bigger questions on the track is if Kyle Busch can win a Cup race this season. He’s won at least one series race in each of the past 15 years, a streak that ranks tied for sixth on the all-time list with Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Tony Stewart.

“It’s really important,” Busch said of the streak. “Think about it, it’s a 16-year investment that we’ve placed on that being able to win a race in 16 consecutive seasons. Hopefully we can keep that going and get it to 17 and then to 18 or however many that I’m here.”

Busch came close last weekend at Bristol, the first time that track hosted a playoff race. It was part of the revamped playoff schedule that has Bristol, the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville as elimination races, NASCAR’s way of ramping the intensity as the season comes to a close.

There weren’t fireworks on the track but the 30,000 fans at Bristol saw a spellbinding battle between Harvick and Busch for the win over the final laps. Harvick prevailed for his ninth win of the season. Only two drivers in the last quarter century have won 10 or more races.

Fans are slowly returning to the track, although there won’t be any at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. Charlotte Motor Speedway found out Tuesday that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will permit outdoor arenas with seating capacity of more than 10,000 to be filled to 7% capacity. Charlotte races in May were run without fans and the All-Star Race was moved to Bristol in July because Bristol could have fans and Charlotte could not.

Social initiatives, including the banning of the Confederate flag at NASCAR races and tracks, were added this summer.

“Ultimately,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in June, “when we get back to full grandstands, everyone who walks through the gates or on to our property or one of our tracks or where our races are being held will understand that they will not see the Confederate flag.”

That was among the key changes that Jordan said drew him to joining Hamlin as an owner of NASCAR’s newest Cup team.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners,” Jordan said in a statement. “The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Jordan’s entrance is significant. But the way this season has gone, a global sports icon joining NASCAR? That’s called Tuesday.

With 100 days left in the year, there’s plenty more change ahead.

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick back at No. 1

NASCAR Power Rankings
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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Kevin Harvick is the No. 1 driver in this week’s NASCAR rankings.

Martin Truex Jr. held the top spot for just a week before Harvick reclaimed the crown with his series-leading ninth Cup win of the year Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This week’s rankings includes three ties as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Round of 16

Harvick takes his power rankings lead to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the start of the Round of 12.

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has three wins in the last five races: Dover, the Southern 500 and Bristol night race.

2. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 7): Finished seventh at Bristol for his third top 10 in five races. His 11 top fives so far matches his total from each of the last two seasons. He scored a career-high 12 top fives in 2017.

3. (tie) Kyle Busch (Last week No.  9): Finished second in Bristol after he started from the rear due to inspection failures. Has three consecutive top 10s for the first time this season.

3. (tie) Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Followed consecutive third-place finishes with an 11th at Bristol.

5. (tie) Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 1): Finished 24th in Bristol following contact with Denny Hamlin after an unscheduled pit stop.

5. (tie) Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): After winning at Richmond, Keselowski had a rough night in Bristol. He finished 34th due to power steering problems.

7. (tie) Aric Almirola (Last week unranked): Finished fifth in Bristol for his third consecutive top 10 and his fourth in five races.

7. (tie) Clint Bowyer (Last week unranked): Placed sixth in Bristol for his third consecutive top-10 finish and to keep his playoff chances alive.

9. Austin Dillon (Last week No. 3): Placed a respectable 12th to finish the first round after consecutive top fives.

10. Erik Jones (Last week unranked): Placed third in Bristol for his seventh top-five finish of the season and his second in the last three races.

Also receiving votes: Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin

NASCAR Silly season features Bubba Wallace, Michael Jordan

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NASCAR Silly Season took a twist Monday. A day that started with the announcement that Ross Chastain would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing next year ended with the news that Denny Hamlin would co-own a team with Michael Jordan and have Bubba Wallace as the driver in 2021.

As JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty said: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The 26-year-old Wallace is in his third full Cup season. All 105 of his starts in NASCAR’s premier series have been with Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

A team name, car number, manufacturer and sponsors will be announced at a later time.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

No. TBA: Bubba Wallace joins the new team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan. The team purchased Germain Racing’s charter. Germain Racing will not continue after this season.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that Wood Brothers Racing has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

 

Brad Daugherty: Michael Jordan to NASCAR is ‘huge moment’

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Brad Daugherty calls Michael Jordan’s ownership of a Cup team a “huge moment for NASCAR.”

Jordan and Denny Hamlin will co-own a Cup team next season. Bubba Wallace will be the driver. Jordan will become the first Black majority car owner of a full-time team since Wendell Scott owned and raced cars in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Daugherty, the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team currently, is excited about Jordan’s entrance into NASCAR.

“It’s a big momentum shift for this sport culturally, period,” said Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and an analyst for NBC Sports. “Three years ago, this would have never happened. A year ago, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s the timing. If the timing is right and you have someone like Michael Jordan put his brand and what he’s all about into whatever you are doing, it adds a lot of credibility. I look forward to whatever he can bring to the table to help continue to build NASCAR.”

Daugherty told NBC Sports that Jordan can help the sport reach more people.

“The eyeballs are going to be incredible,” Daugherty said of Jordan’s potential impact. “The opportunity for entrance into the sport will be made more available as far as people being aware of the availability to get involved in NASCAR as a fan or as a business. There’s just so many different areas that will light up just because of who he is and what he represents. His entire legacy creates opportunity for everyone.

“Now, we start talking diversity with what he’s able to do from a corporate standpoint and also just from a legacy standpoint with his brand. It’s going to be exciting. I’m excited because I think more people now, more than ever, will take a look at NASCAR with a keen eye and keen interest and be excited about maybe participating as a fan or as a business partner or as someone wanting to learn how to drive a race car or own a race team. The more notoriety the better.”

NASCAR stated Monday: “Michael is an iconic sports figure and celebrated champion whose fiercely competitive nature has placed him among the greatest athletes of all time. His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport. We wish Michael and his team tremendous success.”

Jordan told The Charlotte Observer on Monday that the deal came together in about 10 days because of the chance to hire Wallace.

“When (Hamlin) told me there was a possibility of getting Bubba Wallace, I’m saying, ‘OK, this is perfect!’” Jordan told The Observer. “If I’m getting involved in NASCAR, then get a Black driver (with) a Black owner.”

For all that Jordan can bring to NASCAR, Daugherty knows that the competition can prove challenging.

“I’m sure he’s committed to next season and we’ll see how that goes and if it goes well, you go beyond that,” said Daugherty, a teammate to Jordan on the University of North Carolina basketball team. “He had a (Superbike) team for a long time and loved that. He understands it’s a different business model. He’s at the point in his life, he’s like Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick and those guys to where it’s really not a detriment to him financially if he’s not making money. We’ll have to see how much he can stomach because it’s an interesting business model for sure.”

Jordan told The Observer he’s in it to win.

“If I’m investing, if I’m a participant, then I want to win! I don’t want to be out there to be just another car,” Jordan said.

Daugherty looks forward to seeing Jordan, Hamlin and Wallace at the track.

“I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba,” Daugherty said. “They’re going to be like rock stars.”

Daugherty also looks forward to something else next year.

“Look forward to racing against those guys,” he said, “and trying to kick their butts.”