NASCAR

‘The best feeling in the world’: Alon Day on beating Bobby Labonte

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As a 9-year-old in Israel, Alon Day‘s introduction to auto racing came via video games.

“I used to play a lot of racing video games, simulators,” Day told NBC Sports a few days after he secured his second NASCAR Whelen Euro Series championship.

In the NASCAR games he played, one car stood out to Day.

It wasn’t Jeff Gordon‘s DuPont car, Mark Martin‘s Valvoline car or Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Budweiser car.

“Actually my favorite car was the 18 car, the Interstate Batteries (car) of Bobby Labonte,” Day says.

Seventeen years later, Day got a friendly tap from the past on his rear bumper.

It wasn’t an Interstate Batteries car, but the green-and-black No. 18 Day saw in his rear-view mirror in July at Tours Speedway in France was driven by Labonte.

The 2000 Cup champion is the first former champion to compete full-time in the Euro Series. 

“That’s a very nice thing to see when you have a such a big driver come to your championship,” Day says. “You’re expecting (him) to be very unreachable, I would say that. We all were super surprised by the fact that Bobby was such a nice guy, talking to everybody. Giving advice to young drivers, helping them. Not only me, which was great, but some other drivers did a couple of races also in the states and he helped them also. That’s a nice thing to see and to experience. … People want to see Bobby Labonte. People comes to the races to see that. That makes it even bigger.”

In a series made up mostly of road courses, Labonte shined on the .403-mile oval in Tours.

“I think everybody was impressed,” says Day. “On road courses he was in the top 10, but he’s not really fighting for wins. But when we came to ovals suddenly the guy was so quick.”

After Labonte started seventh in the second Tours race, he found himself behind race leader Day on a restart with four laps to go.

Labonte let Day know he was there.

“He really bumped me. He was pushing me hard,” Day recalls.

But Day survived and claimed his first win on an oval. Labonte finished second for his only top five of the season.

“First of all I won in front of Bobby Labonte,” Days says. “That was personally the best feeling in the world.”

The surreal experience wasn’t over. Labonte made sure to talk with Day afterward.

“After that we had a good conversation about the way he drives an oval,” Days says. “He explained to me in super detail how he drove the car and what he actually did to be so fast, that was a good thing for me.”

Three months later, the moment was topped when Day completed his second championship campaign. He did it with a sweep of last weekend’s races at Circuit Zolder in Belgium.

Day “had to bounce back from the grave” to win the title after he was disqualified from a win in May for failing post-race inspection and lost driver points.

Even though he entered the final race with six wins, Day had to finish at least fourth to claim the title. Even a start from the pole didn’t calm his nerves.

“Until the very, very last lap when I crossed the line I wasn’t sure I was going to win the championship,” says Day. “Even during the middle of the season, I (never) thought I was going to win the championship. … Still, I surprised myself.”

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Tyler Reddick, Star Trek and the baby name that could have been

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Tyler Reddick lets out a heavy sigh.

In that sigh, the two-time Xfinity Series champion weighs the pros and cons of one of the most important questions that’s plagued society.

As the great philosopher Weird Al Yankovic once put it, “Only question I ever thought was hard was ‘Do I like Kirk, or do I like Picard?'”

Reddick comes to his decision.

“It’s gotta be Picard,” Reddick declares to NBC Sports.

“He’s always smart, he’s one step ahead of the game most of the time. A lot of the captains, well, (William) Shatner set the brute force tone if you know what I mean. But Picard is different. He’s smart, he went about things differently and thought a different way. He’s a very, very good character. He’s my favorite for kind of those reasons.”

Why is Reddick – who is in the middle of a visit to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, as part of his championship tour –  putting forth his take on Star Trek’s James T. Kirk vs Jean-Luc Picard debate, which has been waged since Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired on TV in 1987?

It’s because of a baby name. Or the one that could have been.

When Reddick won Saturday’s Xfinity championship race in Miami, he also won a friendly bet with his girlfriend, Alexa De Leon.

With his championship, they would name their son, scheduled to be born Jan. 17, Beau.

But there was a different name, which Alexa found on the Internet and was sold on.

“Alexa really wanted our son’s name to be Ryker,” says Reddick, who at first “was all for it.”

William T. Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Why?

You can thank Commander William T. Riker,  first officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise – D.

“Every time I hear the name, I think of that character,” says Reddick.

Reddick’s fondness for Star Trek is tied to his racing career. Before he made it to NASCAR, he raced on dirt tracks. His downtime was spent on Netflix.

“I’ve been able to pretty much watch everything,” Reddick says. “That’s how I got caught up and watched it. I would travel on the road dirt racing or whatever. I would sit on Netflix and watch all of the series, kind of in the order they’re supposed to come out. There was about a year straight … that’s all I watched when I was at the house.”

Even with his love of Trek – he has a Star Fleet insignia Pop Socket on the back of his phone – he couldn’t bring himself to pull the phaser trigger on naming his son after the jazz-loving Commander Riker.

“I don’t know, I’m worried people are going to pick on me for naming my son after a Star Trek character,” Reddick admits. “As crazy as it sounds, it was one of the reasons I didn’t like the name Ryker, because I watched Star Trek so much.”

Ryker Reddick is a strong name. It’s not too late to make the change.

“I can’t now, because I’m just so headstrong,” Reddick says. “I just like the name Beau better.”

That said, Reddick isn’t just a fan of old Star Trek. He watches the series Star Trek: Discovery that debuted in 2017.

Oh, and he’ll get his Picard fix early next year. Patrick Stewart returns in the CBS All Access series Picard to play the character he last portrayed in the 2002 movie Star Trek: Nemesis.

“(Alexa) made fun of me for being so excited about it,” Reddick says. “She said I was like, ‘fangirling.'”

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch ends the season No. 1

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The 2019 season is over and Kyle Busch is the NASCAR Cup champion. And not surprisingly, the younger Busch brother also ends the season as No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

Busch received 39 of 40 possible points to take the No. 1 spot, followed by the other three Championship 4 contenders: Martin Truex Jr. (35 points), and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (tied for third place with 28 points each).

The biggest surprises in this week’s standings were Xfinity Series champ Tyler Reddick in fifth and Gander Outdoors Truck Series champ Matt Crafton in sixth.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Finally gets that second title. Last week: Second.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (35 points): Inexcusable pit mistake left him as the championship runner-up for the second year in a row. Last week: Fourth.

(tie) 3. Denny Hamlin (28 points): Came so close to his first championship, only to be fall short yet again. Could this be the closest he’ll get? Last week: First.

(tie) 3. Kevin Harvick (28 points): Needed a bit more help than he got going against the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut. Still, a very strong season regardless. Last week: Third.

5. Tyler Reddick (18 points): It’s hard enough to win one championship, but back-to-back championships with two different teams? Last week: Unranked.

6. Matt Crafton (14 points): Wins the championship without even winning a race (in fact, his last win was more than two years ago). Thrived on his underdog status. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Blaney (12 points): Finished 11th or better, including a win at Talladega, in five of the last six playoff races. Last week: Fifth.

(tie) 8. Joey Logano (11 points): Ends year with four consecutive top 10s, but he fell short in making it to the championship round and defending last year’s title. Last week: Eighth.

(tie) 8. Erik Jones (11 points): Ends season with four top 10s in last five races. That bodes well for next season. Last week: Seventh.

10. Christopher Bell (6 points): Missed his chance to add an Xfinity title to his Truck championship. Still, with eight wins, had an outstanding season. Up next: a promotion to the Cup Series. Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: Kyle Larson (5 points), Clint Bowyer (5 points), Cole Custer (4 points), Austin Hill (2 points), Brad Keselowski (1 point), Brett Moffitt (1 point).

Zane Smith joins GMS Racing for full-time Truck Series ride

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Zane Smith will compete full-time for GMS Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series next year, the team announced Tuesday.

Smith, 20, joins the team after competing part-time with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year, where his best result in 10 races was fifth twice.

He will be GMS Racing’s fourth full-time entry next year, joining Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum. Sam Mayer will compete part-time.

Smith will have veteran Kevin “Bono” Manion as his crew chief.

“When I got the offer from Mike Beam asking me to run a truck full-time for GMS Racing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Smith said in a press release. “GMS is a championship-caliber team and to be a part of an organization like theirs is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Manion again. He has a lot of experience and I know we will be a great team.”

Manion, who has 24 wins across all three national NASCAR series since 2003, joins GMS Racing after serving as a crew chief for DGR-Crosley in 2019, including working with Rookie of the Year Tyler Ankrum. Manion was crew chief for Smith in 2018 when he made his Truck Series debut at Gateway and finished fifth.

“I am really excited to join GMS Racing and Zane (Smith) for the 2020 season,” Manion said in a press release. “With GMS Racing’s championship caliber equipment and Chevrolet support, we have all the resources to win some races and be in the hunt for the 2020 Championship. I got the opportunity to crew chief Zane (Smith) in his first Gander Trucks start in 2018 at Gateway and we worked really well together. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish next season.”

Sponsorship and an assigned truck number for Smith will be announced at a later date.

Penalty report from Homestead-Miami Speedway

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NASCAR issued four fines and one suspension for lug nut violations during its championship weekend in Miami.

Cup Series

Mike Wheeler, crew crew chief on Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 95 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

Xfinity Series

Mike Shiplett, crew chief on Cole Custer‘s No. 00 Ford, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

Truck Series

Steve Lane, the owner of On Point Motorsports and crew chief on Danny Bohn‘s No. 30 Toyota, was fined $5,000 and suspended one points race for two unsecured lug nuts. The No. 30 truck competed part-time this season and made 16 starts. The team told NBC Sports it will not appeal the penalty.

Trip Bruce III, crew chief on Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, was fined $2,500 for one unsecured lug nut.

Other

NASCAR issued an indefinite suspension to Jeffrey Schmidt for violating its substance abuse policy.