Turns 3, 4 proves treacherous during Charlotte road course test

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second batch of drivers got to shake down the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course Tuesday, a week after the first open test on the 17-turn, 2.28-mile road course that will host its first Cup race on Sept. 30.

This test was more eventful than the first, with multiple incidents over the course of its eight-hour run.

The session had three incidents in the morning. Alex Bowman spun in Turns 3 and 4 of the infield road course – a sweeping right hander – and hit a tire barrier. His No. 88 Chevrolet received minor damage and the team replaced his splitter.

“It looks fast in a Legend Car but in a Cup car you’re barely on the throttle for most of the infield,” Bowman said. “It’s just different.”

Ryan Blaney went to a backup car after he wrecked in the same turn, damaging his left rear when he hit the tire barrier.

Erik Jones also spun in the same turns, but didn’t hit anything.

Joey Logano described the sequence of turns as “sketchy.”

“It’s an off-camber, downhill entry to Turn 3 and it’s pretty tough,” Logano said. “I was actually here last week doing something for Snap-On and had an old Cobra here running around. I went into Turn 3 and chased it up the race track in that thing. I said, ‘This is pretty loose corner. I wonder if we’re going to fight that in our cars?’ Pretty quickly I realized, ‘Yes, we are going to fight that quite a bit.’ The corner itself, you’re turning right, no banking and you’re going downhill and the car’s super, super loose there.”

Clint Bowyer echoed Logano in calling Turn 3 “sketchy.”

“I think I would use sketchy,” Bowyer told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Scary? I won’t go any further than that. It’s just sketchy. From the time you get on the race track to the time you’re getting off it, you’re just tip-toeing. There’s no room for error at all. The grip level, you get to sliding. Like in (Turn) 3, you get into sliding a little bit getting in there and you’re looking over at them tires and there’s no room.

“If that thing comes out from underneath of you … you’re going to hit hard. It’s not something you’re going to limp away from and finish the race. Your day is done. Game over. It’s the same for everybody. We’re kind of inching on it more and more.  …
“It’s going to wad up a lot of cars. There’s just not a lot of room to get out-of-the-way.”

The biggest wreck of the day came an hour into the afternoon session when William Byron lost brake pressure and plowed into the tire barriers located in Turn 1. Unlike Blaney, Byron did not have a backup car for the test and was done for the day.

The test was briefly stopped in the morning in order to remove a set of rumble strips from Turn 8, which exits from the infield section onto the oval’s Turn 1.

The strip was in place to help define the turn, but drivers ran over them as if there weren’t there, just like last week with the chicane on the backstretch.

“I think those rumble strips probably weren’t doing any favors to the tire, anyway,” Logano said. “Getting those out is probably good. It probably gives Goodyear a margin to work with, which is a good thing. We’re going to run the same line anyway.”

Also part of the test was AJ Allmendinger. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver was the first to experience the Roval in its earliest form in January 2017.

A year-and-a-half later, the former open-wheel and sports car driver said “I have no advantage here” due to every team getting the opportunity to test on the road course.

Allmendinger expects a race filled with contact.

“Through the infield, it’s fairly narrow,” Allmendinger said. “Maybe once you get all the cars here, whether it’s Xfinity, Cup, (it will) kind of clean up both lines through the infield, because right now if you just miss your apex a little bit, you slide all the way through the corners. … But in general, through the infield I think there’s going to be a lot of contact.”

Allmendinger wasn’t the only driver getting a second taste of the road course.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne took part after being in a test back in March.

“From that test to today they’ve added a lot of high-risk situations to the race track,” Bayne told NASCAR.com. “You’ve got a (tire) barrier back there between the chicane and what’s the oval Turn 3 and 4. That barrier is pretty risky. Used to, when you went through the chicane too fast you kind of just went off the curb, went straight, no big deal and you actually found you could make speed doing that.”

Bayne said the road course “does not provide a lot of opportunity to catch your breath, get your switches right or talk on the radio. Every part of the race track has some kind of a spot that can bite you pretty fast, so you have to be careful.”

TOP TIMES FROM TUESDAY’S TEST

1:16.9 – Kyle Busch

1:17.1 – Joey Logano

1:17.4 – AJ Allmendinger

1:17.4 – Ryan Blaney

1:17.4 – Clint Bowyer

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

NASCAR Twitter
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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.