NASCAR America: Some of sport’s top names still in search of a win this year

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Combined, they won half of the Cup races last season, but those same nine drivers remain winless this season as the series heads to Darlington Raceway for Sunday’s Southern 500.

Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney continue to search for their first win of the year with less than three months left in the season.

One name stands out in that list to Steve Letarte.

“He’s won 83 races, seven championships in multiple different formats and at every type of race track you can imagine, with different styles of race cars, with different styles of tires, with different rule packages, so, yes, Jimmie Johnson, when I look at this list, has surprised me the most just because of the career-long resume he brings to this list,” Letarte said on Tuesday’s NASCAR America.

It’s a sign of how dominant the Big 3 — Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. — has been this year. Harvick, Busch and Truex have combined to win 17 of the 24 points races this season.

Of those nine who won races last year but have yet to do so this season, only three have won the Southern 500 at Darlington — Johnson (2004, ’12), Hamlin (2010, ’17) and Kenseth (2013).

“It’s just like the weirdest thing to me is that we’re so far into the season and we’re still talking about these drivers in terms of not getting to Victory Lane,” Parker Kligerman said on NASCAR America. “I just find it odd. When I was looking at these numbers, I was almost started.”

For more on what Letarte, Kligerman and Landon Cassill said about this group, check out the video above.

Here’s a look at how those drivers who won last year have fared this year with two races left in the regular season:

Kyle Larson

2017 wins: 4

2018 best finish: 2nd (Auto Club, Bristol I, Pocono I, Chicagoland, Bristol II)

2017 points finish: 8th

2018 points standing: 9th

2017 laps led: 1,352

2018 laps led: 382

2017 top 10s: 20

2018 top 10s: 13

 

Brad Keselowski

2017 wins: 3

2018 best finish: 2nd (Atlanta, Michigan II)

2017 points finish: 4th

2018 points standing: 8th

2017 laps led: 778

2018 laps led: 323

2017 top 10s: 21

2018 top 10s: 12

 

Jimmie Johnson

2017 wins: 3

2018 best finish: 3rd (Bristol I)

2017 points finish: 10th

2018 points standing: 14th

2017 laps led: 217

2018 laps led: 29

2017 top 10s: 11

2018 top 10s: 8

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

2017 wins: 2

2018 best finish: 4th (Bristol I)

2017 points finish: 13th

2018 points standing: 16th

2017 laps led: 56

2018 laps led: 121

2017 top 10s: 9

2018 top 10s: 3

 

Denny Hamlin

2017 wins: 2

2018 best finish: 3rd (Daytona 500, Richmond, Coca-Cola 600)

2017 points finish: 6th

2018 points standing: 10th

2017 laps led: 710

2018 laps led: 259

2017 top 10s: 22

2018 top 10s: 12

 

Matt Kenseth

2017 wins: 1

2018 best finish: 13th (Pocono I)

2017 points finish: 7th

2018 points standing: 34th

2017 laps led: 421

2018 laps led: 0

2017 top 10s: 18

2018 top 10s: 0

 

Kasey Kahne

2017 wins: 1

2018 best finish: 4th (Daytona II)

2017 points finish: 15th

2018 points standing: 27th

2017 laps led: 41

2018 laps led: 30

2017 top 10s: 6

2018 top 10s: 1

 

Ryan Newman

2017 wins: 1

2018 best finish: 6th (New Hampshire)

2017 points finish: 16th

2018 points standing: 17th

2017 laps led: 46

2018 laps led: 57

2017 top 10s: 13

2018 top 10s: 6

 

Ryan Blaney

2017 wins: 1

2018 best finish: 2nd (Kentucky)

2017 points finish: 9th

2018 points standing: 7th

2017 laps led: 301

2018 laps led: 585

2017 top 10s: 14

2018 top 10s: 12

Sam Bass, famed paint scheme and race program designer, dies

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Sam Bass, the artist known for designing many iconic NASCAR paint schemes and race programs, died Saturday.

His wife Denise confirmed Bass’ passing on Twitter. He was 57.

Bass, who designed Jeff Gordon’s striking “Rainbow Warriors” paint scheme, had spent the last few years looking for a new kidney. That was a result of a sepsis infection that originated in a blister on his left foot in 2005 and led to a below-the-knee amputation in 2008. Bass also had Type 1 diabetes, which he was diagnosed with at the age of 29.

Bass was inspired to become a NASCAR artist when he was 7 after attending his first race at Southside Speedway in suburban Richmond, Virginia.

“I was so amazed that night not only by the excitement and watching those cars run around and beat and bang on each other, but also the color – how all the cars were painted so many different colors,” Bass told NBC Sports in 2017. “I was like, ‘How cool is this?’ I couldn’t wait to get home to pull out my markers.”

The first car Bass designed was Bobby Allison’s Miller High Life car in 1988. That car went on to win the Daytona 500.

He went on to design the first Cup schemes for Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Bass first designed a race program for the 1985 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He designed programs for it and other Speedway Motorsports, Inc. tracks through 2018.

Marcus Smith, the CEO and President of SMI, issued the following statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are with Denise and her family today. Sam Bass has been a significant part of NASCAR’s history. He poured his heart, soul and talent into producing souvenir program covers at many speedways including Charlotte for more than 30 years. His work provided our fans a keepsake to treasure, and that was so appropriate, because Sam was always such a fan of our sport and he was such a treasure to the entire NASCAR family. His body of work will be a legacy that lives forever. We will miss Sam’s smile and positivity.”

NASCAR issued the following statement.

“Though he may have never turned a lap or a wrench, few captured the essence of our sport through his work more than Sam Bass. He was a consistent presence in the NASCAR garage, and his ever-present smile and endearing personality welcomed all. Though we have lost a member of the NASCAR family, his legend will continue in his art – all of which illustrated the greatness of our sport and the talent of a true friend.”

Michael McDowell leads final Daytona 500 practice

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Front Row Motorsport’s Michael McDowell was fastest in the final practice session for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

McDowell and his No. 34 Ford recorded nine laps and a top speed of 191.440 mph.

The top five was completed by Ty Dillon (191.432 mph), pole-sitter William Byron (191.339), Alex Bowman (191.278) and Daniel Hemric (190.921).

Only 20 cars made at least one lap in the session.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps in the session with 16 and was 11th on the speed chart at 189.741 mph.

Of four drivers to make a 10-lap run, Bowman had the best average at 190.334 mph.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

Jeffrey Earnhardt honors grandfather Dale Earnhardt with helmet design

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Xfinity Series driver Jeffrey Earnhardt is honoring the “GOAT” in his family with a helmet he’s debuting this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

The “GOAT” – or “Greatest of All-Time” – is his grandfather, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt.

The helmet, which you can see below, bears an image of the seven-time Cup champion riding a horse while shirtless and wearing a cowboy hat.

Next to the image is the text, “Just a goat on his horse!”

Earnhardt will have the helmet today as he starts on the front row of the Xfinity Series season opener (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1).

It is the first of nine Xfinity races he’ll start for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

MORE: Jeffrey Earnhardt ready for challenge of winning in Xfinity

Today’s Xfinity race at Daytona: Start time, lineup and more

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series kicks off the 2019 season today with the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

The 38-car field will feature defending series champion Tyler Reddick, who seeks to become the first driver to defend his Xfinity championship since Ricky Stenhouse Jr., won in 2011 and repeated in 2012.

Here’s how today’s pre-race schedule looks:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Drew Patey, VIP Partner of the NASCAR Racing Experience, at 2:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 2:49 p.m.

PRERACE CEREMONIES: Driver introductions begin at 2:10 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:30 p.m. by Sonny Gallman, Pastor of Central Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida. The National Anthem will be at 2:31 p.m. and sung by Gina Marie Incandela.

DISTANCE: The race is 120 laps (300 miles) around the 2.5-mile track.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2 p.m. and also can be heard at MRN.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for cloudy skies with a high of 74 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Tyler Reddick won last year’s season-opening race. He started 11th and led 11 laps en route to the victory.

TO THE REAR: Pole-sitter Tyler Reddick will start from the rear after changing a tire with an air leak. Max Tullman also will start from the rear for a tire change. Jeremy Clements, unapproved adjustments.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.