Ryan: The inside story of the secret deal that changed the Daytona 500

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The communication was inherently awkward because how often do these guys talk anyway? They race in the same series, but they certainly aren’t buddies.

Yes, they might share the goal of winning the Daytona 500, but the agendas for how to achieve that were quite different. It was understandable a powder keg of emotions might be triggered by the typically capricious chain of events set off by a restart at Daytona International Speedway.

How surprising instead that it turned out so well.

Who would have thought Chevrolet and Toyota would work harmoniously together Sunday?

Oh, wait: You thought we meant the postrace contretemps between quasi-teammates Michael McDowell and Joey Logano?

Yes, that was among the most delicious subplots to emerge from the 61st running of the Great American Race. The fact that the only two Ford Performance drivers left didn’t play nice in the closing laps of the season’s biggest race had tongues wagging. Ford’s cohesion had been the key to its success.

But while those allegiances fell apart, an unholy alliance between unlikely bedfellows thrived.

In a Saturday morning meeting, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing (with help from Toyota Racing Development) hatched a plan to battle Ford’s 12-car squadron that had dominated Speedweeks (sweeping the top three of most qualifiers Thursday) and much of restrictor-plate racing for the past year.

Though some of the key players declined to be identified, it isn’t difficult to glance at the rosters for Hendrick, JGR and Toyota and find some obvious ties. There are several names who have worked in at least two or all three camps (in some cases).

And it was those previous liaisons that helped lay the groundwork for Hendrick and Gibbs drivers drafting together in the Daytona 500 – even if it felt weird for many of the principals.

“I’m texting HMS crew chiefs the night before and we’re talking about strategy, and it’s like, ‘What in the world is going on here?’” Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin told NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long during his Monday morning champion’s breakfast at the track. “It’s just crazy that you’re sleeping with the enemy.”

It was by necessity.

Though Chevy actually had more drivers in the field than Ford, Hendrick and Richard Childress Racing never have been simpatico at plate races. Toyota has only five drivers – Gibbs’ foursome of Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones – and Matt DiBenedetto of Leavine Family Racing.

Denny Hamlin leads a pack of cars during the 61st Daytona 500. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

And it seemed to work: Unlike the Thursday qualifying races and The Clash (and many plate races last year) when Ford drivers seemed to control the draft at will with long lines of cars, their fleet of Mustangs couldn’t get organized as well Sunday.

In Stage 2, a six-car train of three Toyotas (DiBenedetto, Busch, Jones) and three Chevys (Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, William Byron) went long on pit stops to control the pace. The pack was two- to three-tenths of a second faster than the field and put some good cars a lap down.

Though several late crashes effectively defused the teamwork in the closing laps, the strategy was a huge disruptor. Hendrick and JGR/Toyota teams communicated through spotters and other channels to help make life more difficult for the Fords.

“We both understood that there were powers in numbers and the disadvantage that both of our organizations had had, us being the manufacturer and them being just the four of them,” Hamlin said. “It was tough for them to have enough Chevrolets that are competitive to go up and run with them that the best bet for us was, ‘Look, we’re not going to go out of our way to help each other, but we’re not going try to screw each other either. Work together with strategy.’

“They had a great strategy plan in play that was going to be working great until a few cautions fell here and there. Certainly, it was good to work with those guys and not only that, those were all drivers and crew chiefs I trusted, so when we put that plan together to work together, I was confident that it would play out well.”

The result was the JGR Toyotas notching the second 1-2-3 team finish (Hamlin, Busch, Jones) in Daytona 500 history and the first since … Hendrick Motorsports in 1997 (Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Ricky Craven).

It appears they had more in common than they realized.


The restrictor-plate era ended with a literal bang – too many bangs, actually.

In the final race with the plates that had been used for 30 years to choke down airflow to the engines and reduce speeds at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway (where cars are more inclined to sail into the grandstands), there were three multicar pileups and two red flags in the last 20 laps as world-class drivers made inexplicably poor decisions and maneuvers. The 40 minutes of stoppage time helped ensure a larger audience in prime time but also an excruciatingly choppy finish as the final 15 laps took nearly 90 minutes to complete.

“I was actually looking at the (clock) on the dash,” Hamlin said about sitting in his No. 11 during the first red. “It was 5:40 (p.m.), and I’m looking at the scoreboard, and I’m like, ‘Wow, at 6:15 we’re going to know the end of this race.’  And I look, and I’m like, ‘At 6:30 we’re going to know the end of this race.  We’re sitting under red flag, and I just see the ticker just going, like, ‘At 6:50 we’re really going to know who won this race.’

“It was crazy how long it took.  I’ve seen five laps take an hour before, but the track was just an absolute mess.”

This is partly something to address for NASCAR and the track because long cleanups have been a problem in past Speedweeks.

But the biggest takeaway from the final demolition derby plate race was underscoring the unavoidable mayhem – and colossally dumb mistakes — as the checkered flag approaches.

“Pretty much,” Kyle Busch said when asked whether a wreck-filled ending was inevitable after the relatively clean 475 miles before it. “Brains come unglued.  That’s all it is. The brain connection to the gas pedal foot doesn’t quite work the same anymore.  There’s a lot of give and take throughout the beginning portion of the races, and then it comes down to the end, and somehow some way there’s always that caution within 30 or 40 to go that sets everybody off pit road and then it’s chaos after that.”

Said Logano: “Yeah, you know it’s coming.  And especially this race, you know what’s on the line.  It’s the Daytona 500.  No one is really worried about points or getting themselves into the playoffs yet.  Everyone is thinking, I want to win the biggest race of the year, and like Kyle said, the brains come unglued.”

So, farewell – or maybe good riddance for some — to the plate era … but this is only a nominal change. With tapered spacers still being used to keep horsepower in check, it’s extremely likely the April 28 race at Talladega Superspeedway will look familiar. And if not, NASCAR will tweak the rules to ensure it does (as it did with tandem racing in 2011).

Stuck with those parameters, it might be too much to ask NASCAR stars to be mindful that memorable races are built on sublime driving, and provided that no one is hurt, it probably is better to have too many crashes than too few (based on the reaction to the single-file racing prevalent at Daytona the past 10 days).

But it would be nice if the end of the plate era also put a period on the absurd displays of driving witnessed during crunch time Sunday.


Both NASCAR and some of its manufacturers are optimistic the Gen 7 car can be rolled out by the 2021 season.

There is some industry skepticism about that timeline for the new model. Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson told NBC Sports there needs to be blueprints for the Gen 7 “within the next 30 to 45 days” and track testing needs to begin by the end of summer.

“I think we’re behind as an industry,” Wilson said Sunday. “NASCAR is in the process of collecting feedback across the industry. They’ve systematically been talking to every team in the garage this weekend. They’re assimilating that feedback. We’re putting together an action team with NASCAR. We had a meeting early (Saturday) morning (with the manufacturers) from a process perspective about how we work together. The good news is we have a bit of a template that we use for Gen 6.

“We’re still behind. We’ve got to make up the ground somewhere. If you look at everything you have to contemplate with this car – safety, testing, manufacturing. The scope of the change to the hardware is going to be massive.”

But the benefits will be worth it. Wilson, who said momentum began for the project in August at the beginning of CEO Jim France’s reign (“The biggest driver and clear leader behind this is Jim France. He has a quiet, understated passion for making this happen.”), believes the next car could bring a bevy of new automakers to NASCAR.

“In 10 years, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t have six or seven manufacturers,” Wilson said. “You look at sports car racing. Our Lexus program is we’re racing against seven to eight manufacturers. We compete in the showrooms every day. Why can’t it be the same thing on the racetrack?

“But it’s going to be a journey. I’m not absolutely certain we’ll get there by ’21.”

For a frame of reference, the Gen 6 car made its debut in 2013 season after NASCAR and manufacturers begin discussions in early ’10.


In a SiriusXM interview during Daytona 500 Media Day, NASCAR president Steve Phelps framed the 2020 schedule speculation in a new way. Phelps said the tracks won’t change, but the focus will be on whether races “will be in the same order” and when the season will begin and end.

Track presidents met with NASCAR executives for more than three hours last week at Daytona and were given some basic parameters for a robust schedule discussion: The Daytona 500 must be in mid-February, the Coca-Cola 600 will remain on Memorial Day weekend, and the Southern 500 stays tied to Labor Day weekend.

Virtually anything was considered fair game after that. There were throwback ideas being considered that could move a warm-weather race or two to late January or early February, ahead of the Daytona 500. The Great American Race has been the opener since 1982 but was the season’s second or third race for the first 23 years of its existence (1959-81).

Though Daytona will maintain its traditional calendar regardless of whether there it’s preceded by other race, there has been recent conjecture about a Speedweeks shake-up (which certainly could use fewer “dark” days at the track).

Here’s the view from this corner last year on that front with one addendum: It might be time to rethink the truck series at Daytona, and this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to last Friday’s race that set a record for yellow flags (11) and caution laps (55).

Of the 20 truck races held at Daytona since 2000, 15 have been run under caution for at least 25 percent of the race. Though 26 of 32 trucks were involved in crashes last Friday, it was the fourth time in eight years more than two dozen trucks sustained damage. In 2012, 29 of 36 trucks were in wrecks.

New Smyrna Speedway is just down the road … again, it’s just a thought.


While NASCAR’s top three national series kicked off this past weekend, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series remains nearly two months from starting its eighth season with the April 13 opener at Valencia, Spain. Its 2019 schedule of seven events is drawing a bevy of attention, though, after 2000 champion Bobby Labonte competed last year in the series (which was won by two-time Cup champion Alon Day, who also has made two Cup starts.).

Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 F1 champion, will run full time this season in NASCAR Whelen Euro.

The series also has drawn serious interest from a recently retired former Cup champion and many drivers in lower series for the 2019 season.

“We don’t have anything finalized, so we can’t announce who we’re talking with yet,” series executive Joe Balash told NBC Sports. “But we’ve had conversations with multiple drivers from multiple garages who want to race in the series.”

The Whelen Euro series also had a driver exchange last year with the Pinty’s Series in Canada and is exploring a similar arrangement with the Peak Mexico Series. The European circuit, which also races in England, Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium, is an attractive option because it’s relatively inexpensive.

As a spec stock-car series, it costs roughly $100,000 US to run the full slate, which features two divisions of two races per weekend. Teams also can field two drivers of different rated skill levels (similar to the GTD division of IMSA).


Chase Elliott’s Speedweeks was mostly forgettable as far as results (eighth in a Thursday qualifier was his best). But as far as living up to his persona, no one was more a man of the people than the reigning most popular driver.

Hendrick Motorsports’ emerging star gave the fullest effort to spice up action that often was single file on the 2.5-mile oval.

Whether futilely trying to gain positions in the Xfinity race (he gave a wave to the crowd and said “Sorry” after finishing 10th), furiously battling for positions in the qualifier, or aggressively trying to stay toward the front in the Daytona 500, Elliott was the lone driver who refused the groupthink that had cars hugging the wall for much of Speedweeks – and proudly proclaimed he did it for the legions wearing his gear (while subtly throwing some shade at those he was racing).

“Hey, if they are going to ride around the top all day long, I’ll be happy to try the bottom and at least make something happen for the great people that are watching up here in the stands,” Elliott said Thursday.

Last month, crew chief Alan Gustafson said even he didn’t realize how much a 98-race winless streak had worn on Elliott until he broke through last August with the first of three victories in 2018. Elliott, 23, seems more comfortable in his own skin than ever, and Daytona was a good example of how.

The pressure is off, and now the public is seeing more of an emerging star it can’t seemingly love enough. That’s a good sign for NASCAR – particularly if Elliott can develop a more defiant and outspoken public side that his father never embraced.


To get an understanding of why Jim France’s leadership style has been so widely praised, contrast his brief message to drivers before Sunday’s race with the last time a NASCAR CEO issued a similar directive at a Daytona 500 drivers meeting.

It probably wasn’t as long ago as you think.

Before the 2017 Daytona 500, Brian France admonished the field for 90 seconds about blocking in a curious rant that even his executive team struggled to explain. It also was unusual because Brian France (who stepped aside for his uncle last August after being arrested for a DWI) usually avoided addressing competition. When he did, it sometimes lacked for clarity (seemingly because his marketing background sometimes got in the way).

Jim France’s simple and succinct ask (“I hope a few of you drivers out there will get down on the bottom with Denny and Chase and put on a good show today.”) was indicative of his understated style that has drawn raves and resonated around NASCAR.

This might have been another example: Roughly two and a half hours later, the green flag dropped on an action-packed Stage 1. Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, said Tuesday morning on SiriusXM that the hard racing probably would have happened anyway, but the drivers “listened to (France) like he was God.”

Did France’s words have an impact on how drivers raced the Daytona 500, which opened with the best 60 laps of Speedweeks?

It’s impossible to know for sure.

The only thing that probably matters is that he said it.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: All-Star Race recap

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NASCAR America returns today and airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett will discuss the wild action from the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR America will be followed by IndyCar Live from Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 6-6:30 pm ET with Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Long: All-Star Race shows value of shorter distances for Cup events

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The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.

While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.

Shorter distances.

A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.

While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.

There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.

Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.

Or the talk was about Bubba Wallace’s dramatic win in the second stage of the Monster Energy Open that saw Daniel Suarez slide off track and then Wallace finishing fifth in the All-Star Race.

Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.

All this over an exhibition race.

Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.

Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.

But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.

The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.

While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.

Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.

Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.

Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.

Why not add a few more of those in the future?

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The All-Star Race will be in Charlotte next year but what is the event’s future?

Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.

That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.

Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.

While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.

Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.

Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.

If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.

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Synthetic turf at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.

The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.

Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.

Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.

“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”

As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas. 

While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.

“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”

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With Kevin Harvick chasing him in the final laps, Kyle Larson did not make a mistake and give away the All-Star Race.

It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.

Saturday night, there were no mistakes.

“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.

“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races.  I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.

“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like  — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”

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eNASCAR Heat Pro League season begins Sunday in Charlotte

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While the Coca-Cola 600 is set to go green just after 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, the racing festivities will actually begin a few hours earlier at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sunday also marks the start of the inaugural eNASCAR Heat Pro League season.

The season-opener comes two months after 14 NASCAR teams drafted 28 players to compete on two separate consoles.

MORE: Meet the No. 1 draft picks for NASCAR Heat Pro League

The races, which will be on the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway, will be held at the NASCAR Trackside Live stage and will be streamed on NASCAR’s Facebook and 704Games’ Twitch channel.

Green flag for the Xbox One race will be at 3:30 p.m. ET. The PlayStation 4 race is set to start at 4 p.m. ET.

Each race will be approximately 30 minutes in length on each console. The number of laps will change from track to track as a result. There are no stages but there will be a mid-race caution. Points will not be awarded for finishing order at the time of the mid-race caution.

Fans can tune-in starting at 3 p.m. ET for pre-race coverage.

The second race of the season is scheduled for Wednesday, May 29. The full 16-race schedule will be announced at the end of the week.

Here are the full driver rosters for each console.

Xbox One Drivers/Teams:

Greg Matarazzo / Chip Ganassi Gaming

Nicholas Vroman / Leavine Family Gaming

Tyler Dohar / JR Motorsports

Brian Tedeschi / Team Penske Esports

Nick Walker / Roush Fenway Gaming

Diego Alvarado / Petty Esports

Josh Shoemaker / Stewart-Haas Gaming

Sam Morris / Hendrick Motorsports Gaming Club

Daniel Buttafuoco / Gibbs Gaming

Justin Brooks/ JTG Daugherty Throttlers

Matt Heale / GoFas Gaming (GoFas Racing)

Jordan McGraw / RCR Esports (Richard Childress Racing)

Jacob Kerr / Germain Gaming (Germain Racing)

Casey Gomme / Wood Brothers Gaming

 

PlayStation 4 Drivers/Teams:

Slade Gravitt / Wood Brothers Gaming

William Arnold / Germain Gaming

Joey Stone / RCR Esports (Richard Childress Racing)

Hunter Mullins / GoFas Gaming (GoFas Racing)

Zach Onson / JTG Daugherty Throttlers

TJ McGowan / Gibbs Gaming

Nick Jobes / Hendrick Motorsports Gaming Club

Brandyn Gritton / Stewart-Haas Gaming

Mike Braas / Petty Esports

Cody Giles / Roush Fenway Gaming

Corey Rothgeb / Team Penske Esports

Jason Keffer / JR Motorsports

Josh Harbin / Leavine Family Gaming

Josh Parker / Chip Ganassi Gaming

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Dick Trickle statue dedicated in Wisconsin hometown

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After six years of work and the dedication of volunteers and donations, a life-size statue of the late Dick Trickle was erected on Sunday in the former NASCAR driver’s hometown in Rudolph, Wisconsin.

The statue, which depicts Trickle with his arms above his head acknowledging an unseen roaring crowd, was dedicated in a park at an unfinished memorial to the driver.

Source: Sue Trickle-Martin on Facebook

Held in the rain, the dedication came during a seven-hour celebration of Trickle that was attended by hundreds of fans and friends of the driver, in addition to his brother, sisters and daughter.

“It’s amazing what they did,” Chuck Trickle, the driver’s brother told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I got here Monday at 5 o’clock. The guys were still here. We sat and had a beer, and I gave ’em all a hug and I looked at this thing and I got tears in my eyes.

“It really means a lot to our family and myself.”

The dedication of the statue comes six years after Trickle’s death at the age of 71 from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Trickle, the 1989 Cup rookie of the year, made 303 Cup starts from 1970 – 2002. His only two national series wins came in the Xfinity Series at Hickory Motor Speedway in 1997 and Darlington Raceway in 1998.

The memorial to Trickle is expected to be completed next year.

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