A birthday celebration that eases pain of 2018 for Daniel Suarez

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Amid a day celebrating his 27th birthday and new Cup ride with Stewart-Haas Racing, Daniel Suarez confided how difficult 2018 was.

But without that season — and a series of events beyond his control — Suarez wouldn’t be with a Stewart-Haas Racing team that saw its four drivers win races last year and each advance to the third round of the playoffs.

The joy makes up for the frustration and angst Suarez experienced last year while at Joe Gibbs Racing. After finishing 20th in points as a rookie in 2017, more was expected last year from his team.

Suarez and his team didn’t deliver.

“I wish I knew many answers,” Suarez told NBC Sports on Monday about last season’s struggles. “I can tell you we were not even close to my expectations. As a driver, you always have your expectations and then as a team you plan the expectations of the team, and I don’t feel we got to either expectations.

“We had good results. We had a couple of second-place finishes and few top five finishes but (were) extremely inconsistent, extremely inconsistent. I don’t really know exactly what was the problem. I just know that in a year we were not able to fix it. We tried.

“Once I saw that something wasn’t right, I was pushing very hard with the team to try to fix it, and we just couldn’t. I don’t know. I felt like a change, it was going to be good for me. I’m very, very grateful for the opportunity that Gibbs gave me in the national series and Toyota, but once I moved to Cup, I felt like it was a little slow for myself. I was working extremely hard to fix that, I just couldn’t make it work.”

As Suarez struggled for results — he would finish 21st in the points — other factors were taking place that would impact his future.

Furniture Row Racing announced July 18 that 5-hour Energy would not return after the season, a blow to the Denver, Colorado-based team. Car owner Barney Visser was unable to replace the primary sponsorship for this season and announced Sept. 4 that the team would cease operations, leaving 2017 Cup champ Martin Truex Jr. without a ride.

Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn would ink deals with Joe Gibbs Racing and join the organization in 2019. That meant JGR had to jettison one of its drivers. Suarez was told he would not be retained less than two years after winning the Xfinity title for JGR and not yet though his second full Cup season.

“I was very disappointed,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “I will tell you that for a month I was a different person. I was mad with everyone. I don’t feel that I was being a good person in general, not just in racing but in general.

“But then you just have to realize that everything happens for a reason. The position that I’m in today was something that maybe, who knows, without that change, who knows if I would have been able to do this move. I honestly feel like I’m in a better position than I was a year ago.

“I’m really relieved that everything happens for a reason, and I’m extremely grateful to have this second chance in a top-caliber team. I’m really excited to go out there and show what I can do and what I couldn’t do last year.”

Suarez admits he was worried for more than a month last year where he would race once JGR said it would let him go after the season. There were questions if sponsor Arris would remain at Joe Gibbs Racing or follow Suarez to another ride. The logical destination for Suarez was the No. 41 car at Stewart-Haas Racing with Kurt Busch leaving that ride, but Suarez would need to bring sponsorship. Without Arris, the chances of him being in that car — one that won a race last year and won the Daytona 500 two years ago — were less. Arris will sponsor Suarez’s ride, along with Haas Automation, at SHR.

“When things start to happen, you don’t really know who has your back and who doesn’t,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “I thought a lot of people had my back at one point and then the next week all of a sudden everything changed. There were a lot of questions. A lot of questions without answers. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t just a fun month or so. Like I said, everything started to get on track, everything started to get better, a better idea of where everything was going to go.

“I just feel very, very happy to be in the position I’m in today with great teammates, a great organization.”

While he hasn’t worked with new teammates Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola before, he’s spent time with them.

Suarez said that he’s known Harvick since running in the Xinfity Series. Suarez often asked Harvick questions or for advice on matters. Same with Bowyer. Suarez and Almirola often rode bikes in the same group last year at the track.

Now he will seek to help them repeat what they did last year by getting every SHR car back to Victory Lane.

“That’s something that is very, very hard to do,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “Sometimes people don’t realize. Most of the big team teams, they have very good programs, but they don’t every single car winning and up front. Stewart-Haas Racing was able to do that. You know when you are able to do that you have an extremely good group of people behind those programs working extremely hard.”

Suarez is confident he can win in the No. 41 car this year with crew chief Billy Scott. Suarez cites the new package teams will run this year and notes he finished second to Harvick in the All-Star Race when a similar package was tried last year.

“I will say to myself, why not?” Suarez said of winning this year. “The team is good, strong. The team is pretty much exactly the same. The only part that has changed is the driver. The rules are different. I feel those rules, if anything, are going to help me based on what I experienced in the All-Star Race. I have high expectations. The team has high expectations as well.

“I feel there is a lot of potential to do great things this year.”

Nate Ryan contributed to this report

Stephen Nasse DQ’d, Travis Braden declared Snowball Derby winner

Photo courtesy 5FlagsSpeedway.com
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What was the greatest day of Stephen Nasse’s late model racing career turned into the biggest nightmare just over two hours later.

After roaring through the field from a next-to-last starting position (36th in the 37-driver field) to win the 52nd Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, Nasse and his car were disqualified due to an illegal equipment violation found in post-race inspection.

As a result, original race runner-up Travis Braden was ruled the winner, while 14-year-old Jake Garcia, making his first career Snowball Derby start, moved up from third-place to runner-up.

This marks the third time since 2013 that the Snowball Derby winner has been disqualified for violations: Chase Elliott was DQ’d in 2013, giving the win to Erik Jones; and then in 2015, Christopher Bell was DQ’d, giving the win to Elliott.

Nasse was DQ’d for a titanium violation in the brake system of his car, apparently the first time such equipment has been found in Derby cars. Here’s an interview with chief technical inspector Ricky Brooks, courtesy of AutoWeek.com’s Matt Weaver, explaining Nasse’s disqualification:

Braden, a West Virginia native, told Speed51.com about his victory, “It feels very special. But I know it’s going to feel more special with a little bit of time. It stinks we couldn’t have won the race outright, but I know these guys won the Snowball Derby. We brought a car here capable of winning this race outright.”

Nasse took to Twitter to express his feelings about being disqualified:

Nasse’s car was the only one to fail post-race inspection.

Had Garcia won, he would have been the youngest winner in Derby history (Chase Elliott holds that record at 16 years, 6 days old, in 2011).

Rounding out the top five were Canadian native Cole Butcher in third, Jesse Dutilly in fourth and Preston Peltier in fifth. The race was originally scheduled to be run Sunday, but persistent rain pushed the event to Monday afternoon/evening.

Braden adds his name to a long list of Derby winners including Kyle Busch (2009, 2017), Erik Jones (2012, 2013), John Hunter Nemecheck (2014), Chase Elliott (2011, 2015), Christian Eckes (2016) and Noah Gragson (2018).

Several other notables and their finishing positions included veteran Cup driver David Gilliland (27th), JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry (29th), and NASCAR Cup driver Corey LaJoie, who suffered early problems and finished 31st. Former Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity Series driver Ty Majeski finished 13th, and ARCA Menards Pro Series West (formerly K&N Pro Series West) driver Derek Kraus finished 18th.

Majeski appeared headed to the win with less than two laps to go when he was involved in a multi-car wreck on Lap 317, bringing out a red flag race stoppage.

That opened the door for Nasse, Braden and Garcia — before Nasse was disqualified.

As a result, instead of earning what would have been the 100th late model win of his career, the 25-year-old Majeski, a native of Seymour, Wisconsin, was left with a wrecked race car and finished 13th.

“I’m just extremely frustrated,” Majeski told Speed51.com. “We had a real good car, a car plenty capable of winning. This is a tough one. Man, it sucks.”

Here are the updated results:

52nd Annual Snowball Derby Official Results

Pos. # Driver
1 26b Travis Braden
2 35 Jake Garcia
3 53b Cole Butcher
4 30 Jesse Dutilly
5 48 Preston Peltier
6 51s Chandler Smith
7 22 Casey Roderick
8 18 Hunter Robbins
9 36 Dan Fredrickson
10 53j Boris Jurkovic
11 119 Dalton Zehr
12 12G Derek Griffith
13 91 Ty Majeski
14 9C Jeff Choquette
15 43 Derek Thorn
16 81 Giovanni Bromante
17 7d John DeAngelis
18 2 Derek Kraus
19 54c Matt Craig
20 9m Brad May
21 51a Michael Altwell
22 20m Cole Moore
23 75 Jeremy Doss
24 16 Lucas Jones
25 26p Bubba Pollard
26 10 Kaden Honeycutt
27 54g David Gilliland
28 112 Augie Grill
29 57 Josh Berry
30 14c Connor Okrzesik
31 7 Corey LaJoie
32 21p Jeremy Pate
33 11 David Rogers
34 15 Rodrigo Rejon
35 4 Kyle Plott
36 78 Corey Heim
37 51n Stephen Nasse DQ

 

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Oh baby: Austin Dillon and wife Whitney expecting their first child

Photo courtesy Austin and Whitney Dillon
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The NASCAR baby boom continues.

Austin Dillon and wife Whitney announced Monday on Instagram that they are expecting their first child. Baby Dillon is due in June 2020, the couple revealed.

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DILLON PARTY OF 3 ❤️ Coming June 2020

A post shared by Whitney Dillon (@whitneydillon) on

 

 

As part of a photo shoot at Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of Austin’s first career Cup win, Austin and Whitney Dillon made the baby news reveal on the same day as their second wedding anniversary.

They were married Dec. 9, 2017, at Childress Vineyards in Lexington, North Carolina.

Baby Dillon will be the second great-grandchild for team owner Richard Childress and wife Judy. Austin’s brother, Ty, and wife Haley welcomed daughter Oakley Ray Dillon on Nov. 22, 2017.

News of Austin and Whitney’s forthcoming bundle of joy comes on the heels of Corey LaJoie and wife Kelly are expecting their first child around Easter 2020, as well as the last week’s birth of the second child, daughter Autumn, to driver Brad Keselowski and wife Paige.

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NASCAR shocker: Cole Pearn resigns as Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief

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In what is one of the biggest surprises of the NASCAR offseason, Cole Pearn has resigned as crew chief of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, the team announced Monday afternoon.

Pearn has decided to leave the organization to pursue other opportunities, the team said in a media release.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision,” Pearn said in a statement. “At the end of the day, I really want to spend time with my family and actually see my kids grow up.

“Being on the road, you are away from home so much and miss a lot of time with your family. I don’t want to miss that time anymore. I want to be there for all the things that my kids are going to experience while they are still young.

“I love racing and there isn’t a better place to be than Joe Gibbs Racing, but I don’t want to look back in 20 years and think about everything I missed with my wife and kids while I was gone. They are what is most important to me.”

Added Truex in a statement, “I cannot say enough good things about Cole and what he has meant for my career. I appreciate his hard work and dedication to our race team over the past six years going back to when he was my engineer at Furniture Row. Our friendship is what matters most to me and I’m happy that he’s doing what’s best for him and his family.”

About an hour after the blockbuster news was made public by JGR, Pearn appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s SiriusXM Speedway with Dave Moody and further expounded on his reasons for stepping down, saying:

“Everybody in the sport understands the grind of what the schedule is. To do it at the top level, you have to be all the way in. I was somehow making it work with my family until my kids got in school and once they’re in school and you have a day off on a Thursday, it really doesn’t matter. You pretty much go all week and you barely see ’em.

“I didn’t want to look back at my life and miss those moments. For me to get the opportunity to work in racing has been just a dream come true and then to have the success we’ve had just blows my mind. When you’ve achieved more than you’ve ever dreamt, you look at the other things in life you’ve been missing and I just felt like it was time.”

What’s next for Pearn?

“We’re working on that and going to let the dust settle a bit,” Pearn told Moody. “I’m must looking forward to being around the family. I’m going to keep myself busy. I’m definitely too young not to do anything so I’m definitely going to keep working, that’s for sure.”

Pearn conceded that both Truex and team owner Joe Gibbs were shocked when he revealed his plans to step away.

“Yeah, I definitely don’t think anybody saw that coming,” Pearn told Moody. “There’s no easy way to deliver that news, especially to people you respect and care about. I’ve been losing a lot of sleep trying to figure out the best way to do it, but at the end of the day, just being honest and speaking from the heart was the way to do it. They’re both amazing people and I think they took it about as best as anybody could.”

Truex joined Furniture Row Racing in 2014 and Pearn, who had already been with the team as an engineer, moved to the crew chief role for the 2015 season. In 179 races together, Pearn and Truex combined to reach the season- and championship-deciding Championship 4 race four different times, achieving one championship (2017), two runner-up titles (2018 and 2019), 24 wins, 70 top fives, 110 top 10s and 12 poles.

Of note, their 23 wins together from 2016 through 2019 are the most of any driver-crew chief combination currently active. During the most recent playoffs, the team claimed three wins, a pair of runner-up finishes and only finished outside the top seven once in 10 races.

The pair moved to JGR for the 2019 season from the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing. They compiled a NASCAR Cup series-best seven wins, 15 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s in 2019. During the playoffs alone, the Pearn-led No. 19 team claimed three wins, a pair of runner-up finishes and only finished outside the top seven once in 10 races.

JGR said in its statement that a replacement for Pearn as crew chief for the No. 19 will be announced at a later date.

Fellow crew chief Rodney Childers, of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team, along with others took to Twitter to express their feelings on Pearn’s departure:

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North Wilkesboro Speedway gets makeover for ‘date’ with iRacing

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Twitter
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North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina hasn’t hosted a NASCAR national series event since September 1996 and it’s not about to anytime soon.

But, thanks to the efforts of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the historic short track may soon have a second digital-based life on the iRacing simulator.

Earnhardt posted images on social media Monday showing the track’s aging surface cleared of debris that had grown up on it over the years.

With the images, Earnhardt said the track is “getting a trim for an important date with @iRacing.”

This comes a few months after Earnhardt discussed the subject of cleaning the racing surface and scanning it for use on iRacing with Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith on an episode of “The Dale Jr. Download.”