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Dale Jr. Download: Joe Gibbs and the mystery of Carl Edwards’ retirement

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It’s been roughly two-and-a-half years since Carl Edwards stunned the NASCAR world in January 2017 with the announcement he was stepping away from the sport.

No one was more stunned than his owner at the time, Joe Gibbs.

“I would have to say that conversation might have been (in) my top five as far as shocks for me in life,” Gibbs said on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download (airs at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“They said, ‘Hey, Carl’s outside,'” Gibbs recounted. “It was after the season. I figured he was going to come in and wish me a happy offseason and good Christmas.”

Instead, Edwards sat down and said, “Joe, I think I made up my mind. I’m going to step out of racing.”

“I was sitting there and I go, ‘You do realize that every young guy your age wants to drive a race car and make a ton of money? Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?'” Gibbs asked Edwards.

What’s even more shocking is that in June 2019 Gibbs still isn’t fully aware of the reasons behind Edwards’ departure after the 2016 season.

“Never really ever really got to the (reasons),” Gibbs said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to share with you, I’m not going to share with anybody the real bottom lines.’ … I will say this right now, I feel good about it from the standpoint, we still talk every now and then. Last time I called him he was on his boat in the Bahamas. I said, ‘Well, you’re doing pretty good.'”

Edwards sudden departure sent ripple effects through the sport that are still being felt today when it comes to drivers.

Martin Truex Jr. now drives the No. 19 Toyota that Edwards piloted for JGR, having replaced Edwards’ successor, Daniel Suarez, after the 2018 season.

With a drivers stable of Truex, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, Toyota and JGR find themselves with the challenge of what to do with Xfinity Series star Christopher Bell beyond 2019.

“That’s one of the challenges you’ve got, particularly in bringing along young guys,” Gibbs said. “It’s happened to us before and man, you get caught up in that, what’s the right decision? There are options there. We’re kind of considering everything. You’re trying to work your way through them. Of course, what we just talked about, the sponsor. How does the sponsor fit in all that. It gets to be really complicated.”

Gibbs discussed Toyota’s influence on Bell’s future.

“Honestly we don’t make any decision (without them), we’re constantly talking back and forth,” Gibbs said. “It’s a real partnership from a standpoint, we’re the ones that have to get the sponsors. So the race team is hard after it. … Some of these problems, if you remember back when we took Erik and he wound up going to the 77 over at (Furniture) Row (in 2017) and everything that happened there, those are tough decisions to go through and work through, but that’s the challenge of our sport. You can say what you want, but you’re not going to go anywhere unless you have great drivers.”

Also discussed in the episode:

  • Gibbs’ Hall of Fame NFL coaching career
  • Why Gibbs returned to coaching the Washington Redskins in 2004
  • Being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame with his former drivers, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte

 

Bump and Run: Will Jimmie Johnson make the playoffs?

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With six races left in the regular season, where do you stand on Jimmie Johnson’s playoff hopes?

Nate Ryan: It seems dim for the No. 48, especially considering this is among the seven-time champion’s worst stretch of tracks in Cup. His best average finish over the next six tracks is at Darlington Raceway, where he hasn’t finished in the top 10 in five years. He probably will need some major help if he wants to qualify via a points berth.

Dustin Long: Whether Jimmie Johnson makes the playoffs isn’t the issue. Even if he makes it, he shows little sign of being a title contender. That’s the issue. Johnson is about championships not just making the playoffs. 

Daniel McFadin: I don’t believe he’ll make it. He hasn’t been consistent enough, though his mechanical problems at New Hampshire were no fault of his own. I think his best shot at getting a win will come at Bristol. Otherwise, he’s in trouble.

Jerry Bonkowski: I still think Johnson makes the playoffs, although he may not be locked into the 16-driver playoff field until after the deciding race at Indianapolis. Part of the problem is Johnson’s team has been so inconsistent. He finishes third (Daytona) and fourth (Chicagoland) and then has consecutive 30th-place showings at Kentucky and New Hampshire. While unlikely to happen, I’d love to see Johnson be reunited with Chad Knaus. Maybe that would do the trick.

 

Can we just say it: At this point it’s OK to dump someone to win a race? Agree or disagree?

Nate Ryan: Agreed (and always have, as long as the winner accepts that the consequences could include retribution). That said, there also is honor in trying to adhere to a code of ethics that excludes a bump and run (a la Denny Hamlin on the last lap at New Hampshire).

Dustin Long: It’s OK to do whatever a driver wants. They just have to deal with the consequences. Maybe that comes back as a payback in the playoffs and costs them a chance at the championship. Or maybe the move helps lead them to the title. It’s risk vs. reward but there certainly seems to be acceptance with being more physical on the last lap.

Daniel McFadin: Absolutely, bumpers are on cars for a reason and this is NASCAR not IndyCar. That said, it depends on the track. I’m fine with it at a place like New Hampshire. I’d be less likely to be OK with it at tracks larger than Darlington. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Disagree. If we start allowing “legal” dumping, where do you draw the line? What’s next, prohibiting blocking? Or how about prohibiting side drafting? Remember how much of a controversy erupted when NASCAR first allowed and then rescinded bump drafting? I’ve always felt that if you have to dump someone, you and your car are not good enough to win or make a legal pass.

 

There have been seven different winners in the last seven races. Do you foresee the streak continuing this weekend at Pocono?

Nate Ryan: Many possibilities for continuing the streak at Pocono. A case easily could be made for Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, William Byron and others.

Dustin Long: Streak continues.

Daniel McFadin: I think the streak continues with Erik Jones getting his first win of the year. He placed third there in June and has five top 10s in the last seven races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Unless weather becomes an issue that could lead to a rain-shortened race much like Justin Haley‘s win at Daytona, no.

Kaulig Racing mourns death of crew chief Nick Harrison

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Kaulig Racing President Chris Rice said that when he heard of crew chief Nick Harrison’s death on Sunday morning, he thought back to a conversation they had after Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Justin Haley finished 13th in that race.

“All I could think about with Nick is when he got up on the plane and he came over and talked to me as we were leaving New Hampshire,” Rice said Monday night on “Late Shift” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“He was stressed out that we didn’t run that well. He looked at me and he goes, ‘You know, we sucked there.’ I said, ‘Nick, we have sucked at New Hampshire for a long time. So the good thing is, we’ve changed drivers, we’ve changed crew chiefs, ain’t nothing fixed it, so it’s obviously something, whatever we’re doing.’

“He said, ‘You’re right. We’re going to go get them at Iowa.’ He was worried about the next race.”

Harrison died Sunday. He was 37. Harrison’s brother, Zach, told the Tennessean that a cause of death has not been determined.

“We know that he lived every single day to the fullest,” Rice said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about Nick Harrison. “That’s what we want to do at Kaulig Racing. Tomorrow when we show up, it is going to be better than what it was today. The next day we show up is going to be better than what it was Monday.”

Rice also said it will be a challenge for the team when they get to the track this weekend at Iowa Speedway.

“We just know that walking into the race track this weekend is going to be tough,” Rice said, “so we need every fan’s support that we can get for all my guys and myself and we’ll definitely make it through it.”

Rice said on “Late Shift” that he will serve as Haley’s crew chief for the foreseeable future.

“You cannot replace Nick,” said Rice, who has served as an Xfinity Series crew chief for 318 races. “We will never replace Nick. We will just have somebody fill his job. But right now we’re not in a hurry to do anything.

“We will definitely be looking and looking at what our next step is. Justin has another year and a half, if not even more, with Kaulig Racing and we will put somebody with him that is going to be there through that time. We don’t want to put somebody that is going to be with us for 10 days or three months or whatever. We will want to look at somebody that is going to help us grow Kaulig Racing.”

Harrison’s service is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET July 30 at Spring Hill High School in Columbia, Tennessee. The family has requested that memorial donations be made to the Nick Harrison Scholarship Fund at First Farmers & Merchants Bank in Spring Hill, Tennessee or Spring Hill Memorial Funeral Home.

“We know it’s going to take time for us to get over the loss of our friend not being here,” Rice said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We will always miss him, but we will never forget him and he’ll always be with us. We’re going to dig like he would want us to dig.

“Once Justin makes the playoffs, it’s going to be in memory of Nick. Once Justin makes it to the final four and goes for that championship, that’s what it’s going to be for.”

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These are the broken records Jimmie Johnson doesn’t want to hear about

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Jimmie Johnson’s career has been marked with breaking countless NASCAR records. But there’s two broken records of a different sort that Johnson is tired of hearing about. Still, they keep spinning him around and around.

First, Johnson’s winless streak – the longest of his NASCAR career – has hit 79 races. His last win was more than two years ago, June 4, 2017 at Dover. Since then, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott has four wins and Alex Bowman one win to Johnson’s zero. 

Second, Johnson heads to Pocono Raceway this week on the outside of the 16-driver playoff bubble. He is 17 points behind the 16th and final playoff eligible driver, Clint Bowyer, and 31 points out of 13th place (currently held by Kyle Larson). 

So Johnson still has wiggle room and time to get back in the top 16. He also knows he needs just one win and he’ll be in the playoffs.

We’ve been trying all year, it’s not like we can magically flip a switch and all of a sudden have more (wins),” Johnson said. We’ve been able to run in the top five and we need to get back to doing that. That’s really what it boils down to.”

He’s not likely to reach the playoffs if his current run of bad luck continues. After having his two best finishes of the season — fourth at Chicagoland and third at Daytona — Sunday’s race at New Hampshire marked Johnson’s second consecutive 30th-place finish. That’s the 12th time he has finished outside the top 10 and fifth time he’s finished outside the top 20 in 2019.

Johnson’s struggles on Sunday can be blamed on mechanical issues that cost him valuable time on pit road while his team made repairs. He finished 13 laps off the pace.

It was certainly a letdown to say the least,” Johnson said. “We had some issue with the power steering and the water pump pulleys. I thought it might have been from some contact on a restart. I got in the back of the car in front of me. They told me that wasn’t the case.

So, I assume some debris got in the pulley system and took out my power steering and the water pump as well. So, it’s just unlucky on that front. Certainly the wrong time of the year to have some bad luck.”

Johnson dropped from 15th to 17th in the standings after Loudon. Conversely, Erik Jones and Ryan Newman both passed Johnson and moved up in the points to 14th and 15th respectively. And Daniel Suarez gained 12 points to tie Johnson for 17th, each with 488 points.

So as he heads to Pocono this weekend, Johnson will once again be faced with a situation where he has to bounce back from outside the playoff bubble — this is the fourth time he’s been 17th in the standings this season. If he can leave Pocono 16th or higher, it’s a spot he needs to remain in for the following five races lest he misses the 10-race postseason for the first time in his career.

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Preliminary entry lists for NASCAR at Pocono and Iowa

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All three NASCAR premier national series will be in action this weekend with the Cup and Truck Series at Pocono Raceway, and the Xfinity Series iat Iowa Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the weekend:

Cup – Gander RV 400 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN) at Pocono

There are 38 cars entered in the race but only 35 drivers listed on the preliminary entry list.

Cars still needing drivers are the No. 51 Ford of Petty Ware Racing, the No. 52 Ford of Rick Ware Racing and the No. 53 Chevrolet of Rick Ware Racing.

Kyle Busch won this race last season. Busch also won six weeks ago at Pocono.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – U.S. Cellular 250 (5 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN) at Iowa

There are 39 cars entered in this race. There is one unfilled driver slot on the preliminary entry list: the No. 17 Chevrolet of Rick Ware Racing.

Christopher Bell won the June race at Iowa.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Gander RV 150 (1 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox) at Pocono

There are 31 Trucks entered in this race. There is one unfilled driver slot on the preliminary entry list: the No. 0 Chevrolet of Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing.

Brett Moffitt won this race last year.

Click here for the entry list.