‘You’re the dirtiest car owner in NASCAR’: An oral history of the night Dale Earnhardt spun Terry Labonte

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Richard Childress slipped into a Harley Davidson T-shirt and slipped out of the pits at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He snuck up to the press box with Dale Earnhardt, who also had changed out of his famous black and white firesuit, avoiding legions of angry fans still stewing about one of the most famous finishes in NASCAR history.

There was only so long the owner of the No. 3 Chevrolet could remain incognito, though, after Earnhardt spun Terry Labonte on the last lap to win the Aug. 28, 1999 race at the high-banked short track, and Childress’ luck ran out the next morning while getting breakfast at Hardee’s after a sponsor appearance in North Wilkesboro.

“I walked in, and there was a line, and this little old lady,” Childress said recently with a chuckle. “I never will forget it, she come up to me and said, ‘You’re Richard Childress, aren’t you? I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ She said, ‘You’re the dirtiest car owner in NASCAR, and you have the dirtiest race driver. Terry Labonte is the finest man out there and the best race driver. You should be ashamed of yourself.’

“That’s a true story. Never will forget that young lady.”

“Yeah, it might have been my aunt,” Labonte, who was sitting alongside, cracked. “I don’t know.”

The famous dustup between Earnhardt and Labonte, which left more than 140,000 fans screaming at full volume for nearly 20 minutes after the race, is the subject of a narrative edition of the latest NASCAR on NBC Podcast.

The episode recounts that fateful full-moon night at Bristol from the perspective of several on-track principals and behind-the-scenes players in the pits, victory lane, the scoring tower and the announcer’s booth.

The most memorable part of that Saturday night? The crowd, which mostly booed Earnhardt (a nine-time winner at Bristol).

“It was the loudest moment in sports by a group of fans,” Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Marcus Smith said. “It was absolutely amazing. It’s one of the most memorable moments in all of sports and certainly in NASCAR.”

You can listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher or by clicking on the embed below.

Here are some highlights of what many people recalled about one of the most controversial and thrilling finishes in NASCAR history:


            THE SETUP AND THE SPIN

The Goody’s 500 began with rookie Tony Stewart on the pole position and leading 225 of the first 251 laps. He wouldn’t lead again after that, though, as the second half of the race became a duel between the two stars who had battled for a win at Bristol four years earlier (when Labonte crossed the finish line sideways after being wrecked by Earnhardt at the checkered flag).

Labonte took his first lead on Lap 300 and traded the lead with Earnhardt seven times over the final 200 laps.

Kevin Triplett, then-NASCAR director of operations who was one of the officials in the scoring tower: “It came down to Dale and Terry. They changed the lead several times. It was similar to a really close basketball game where the lead gets swapped a lot and Terry would take it for a while, Dale would take it for a while. There are all of these other things that go on in a race at Bristol, but they had settled in that this was going to be between the two of them. Little did we know at that point how much it was going to be between the two of them.”

Andy Graves, crew chief for Labonte: “Terry is one of the smartest drivers I’ve ever worked with. He’s one of those guys all of a sudden you look up with 100 laps to go, and there he is. He was just real quiet, methodical, going about his business. Took care of the car really good and always would be able to communicate back the changes that he knew he was going to need for the last 100 laps. We always had good finishes at the end.

“We really weren’t very good the first half of the race, but as the rubber laid down, and it started getting choppy that’s what we had tested for, and sure enough, our car came in, and I think from Lap 300 on, we definitely had a pretty good car.”

Labonte was pulling away from Earnhardt with 15 laps to go when smoke began trailing from the car of his younger brother, Bobby. Fluid on track from the expiring engine caused Jeremy Mayfield to spin, bringing out a yellow. As Labonte slowed down from the lead under caution, he was hit from behind by Darrell Waltrip, who was scrambling to get a lap back during an era in which NASCAR still allowed racing back to the caution flag.

Labonte: “Darrell said he sure was glad Dale spun me out, otherwise, he’d have been the one blamed for it. When the caution came out, you raced back to the caution. It was a gentleman’s agreement. You didn’t do that unless you were unlapping yourself or keep someone a lap down. I was lapping Brett Bodine, I eased off the gas, and Darrell ran into the back of me, turned us around. Sitting there backward thinking, ‘This is wonderful.’ With 10 laps to go, backward in 3 and 4.”

Graves: “It was really a no-brainer to pit at that point after getting spun out. He had already had flat-spotted the tires. That really wasn’t that much of a magic call. You pretty much had to do that. In those five laps of green for Terry to get back to Dale and get underneath him and clear him was pretty amazing. Terry was on a mission that night for sure.

Labonte restarted in fifth on the final green flag, quickly passing Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. He had gotten past Earnhardt off Turn 4 to take the white flag before they made contact.

Andy Graves: “Usually when you’re chasing down the leader and coming to the white flag off Turn 4, and you see your driver get underneath the leader, usually, you’re pretty happy. You’re thinking, “OK, we’ve got it.” Right then, I was like, ‘This is not going to end well at all.’ I had this weird gut feeling, and unfortunately, where we were pitted, I had a clear shot to see Terry drive into Turn 1. He had to enter lower because he was side by side by Dale, and unfortunately, the car bottomed out. If you watch the replay, sparks came out, which shot Terry up the track just enough that’s how Dale was able to really plant him in the left-rear corner. I think if Dale had hit him square in the back bumper, we would have been fine. But unfortunately with bottoming out and shooting up one groove, it was just enough. Of course we were upset, but I think my first reaction was, “Yep, I knew that was going to happen.’ ”

Labonte: “I got under Dale on the white flag. I had a bad angle, the car bottomed out, and Dale got in the back of me. We spun out off 2, and that was the end of race for us. Made for some exciting highlights.”

One final attempt at revenge backfired for Labonte after he was spun.

Labonte: “I was sitting there on the back straightaway and had my car running again and had it in reverse, and I saw him come off Turn 2, and he was rolling down the back straightaway, and I had it timed perfect, and I thought to myself, just like it was yesterday, I said, ‘Well that No. 3 might be going to victory lane, but this No. 5 is going to be stuck in the side of it.’ And I was going to back into him and T-bone him. And I had it timed perfect, and when I popped the clutch and gave it the gas, it tore reverse gear out, and the car moved about a half-inch. And just let all the wind out of my sail right there.

“I was like, ‘Well, guess that wasn’t meant to be, either.’ Probably a good thing looking back on it that reverse gear tore out of it, because we probably would have had a heck of a fight with our crews and stuff, so … that probably wouldn’t have been good for any of us.”


              THE AFTERMATH

A crowd of 140,000 remained riveted by the postrace scene, incessantly cheering and booing at ear-splitting volumes as replays and interviews were shown on the large video screen in the middle of the infield.

Dr. Jerry Punch, ESPN pit reporter who interviewed Earnhardt in victory lane: “Probably the most eerie time I’ve ever seen in a victory lane. Every word he said, it got a little bit louder. You know the end of a race, three hours of engine roaring. Thunder Valley, Bristol Motor Speedway, and it gets quiet when the race is over, the guy in victory lane cuts his engine off, everyone shuts their engines down, and it gets nice and quiet. It’s almost eerie. Well, that didn’t happen that night. Earnhardt comes in, the sparklers go off, he shuts the engine off, and it got loud. It got very, very loud.

I’m looking at him, and I probably did half of his 76 victory lane interviews. He’d be smiling and stroking that big bushy mustache. He looks around in a look of bewilderment like, ‘What’s that noise?’ Because literally, there were 140,000 people there, and every single one of them had an opinion on what had just happened. They weren’t all booing. There were a lot of diehard Earnhardt fans there, but there were probably 40,000 Earnhardt fans, and 100,000 who were fans of the other 41 drivers. They all had an opinion. Some were gesturing you’re No. 1 with different fingers. He climbs out of the car and almost before I can ask the first question, he’s apologetic. He says his first phrase, ‘I meant to pay him back,’ and then he goes on. ‘Really just meant to rattle his cage.’ It touched him these were people who were screaming, frustrated and angry. But within a few seconds, he’s Earnhardt, so he won the race and was going to enjoy victory lane, but for just a moment, there was that bewilderment and all the noise.”

Elliott Sadler, who was a rookie making his third Cup start at Bristol: “I remember it like it was yesterday.  What I remember the most is two things. One, Bristol has always done a great job of having the big video screen when they do interviews and stuff so the fans can be a part of the interviews after the race and stuff like that. I just remember how loud the fans were booing and all of that. Half of them cheering, half of them booing when Earnhardt was giving his explanation and all the stuff going to victory lane with Terry Labonte and all that. How loud that place was after the race. It’s probably as loud as it’s ever been at any racetrack that I’ve ever been to. And then people were throwing things. The fans were throwing things and not very happy about the outcome of the race. That’s what I remember was how loud it was. The emotion that was in that stadium after that race.

“I remember getting out of the car and the crowd was going crazy and reacting to everything going on. Loudest postrace I’ve ever been a part of. It was absolutely amazing. So much energy in that stadium. It was awesome.”

Dustin Long, NBCSports.com editor who covered the race in his first season on the NASCAR beat: “I remember being up in the press box 20 minutes later pounding on the keyboard, and I heard all this noise again. I looked up, and they were replaying the last lap of the race, and when it came to the bump, all the fans were booing. Three-fourths of the stands were still full, and no one wanted to leave.”

David McGee, Bristol announcer who interviewed Earnhardt on the track PA: “My biggest recollection of that night was the crowd. When the incident happened, 140,000 people or whatever capacity at that time. Most of them were cheering. But you could hear the boos 70-30, 60-40, whatever. And as events wore on over the next few minutes. The booing got louder. Earnhardt was always super popular at this racetrack, and to hear that kind of booing for Earnhardt here. That was remarkable.

“So he comes to victory lane, Jerry Punch does the first interview. We carried PRN over the PA. I go up and ask the same stupid question that he just answered twice. By now, the crowd is really into it. He says it again: ‘I didn’t mean to wreck him. I meant to rattle his cage.’ The crescendo of boos now is like 70-30 against Earnhardt. He was looking around like, ‘Wow, did I make people that mad?’ You could see the look on his face.

“My other vivid memory of that night is nobody left. We’re 10 minutes after the race, usually the crowd is flying out the gate. Everybody stayed. I don’t know what they were waiting for. I don’t know if they thought there was going to be a big fistfight. Finally, Terry Labonte finally came out of the hauler and talked to PRN. He made a comment about, ‘He never means to wreck anybody but he wrecked me anyway.’ The crowd is losing their mind at this point. Jeff Byrd, our general manager at the time, we’re standing in victory lane taking in this scene, and Jeff said, ‘Turn that off, we’ve got to get these people out of here. People are way too upset now.’ I go find our sound guy working in victory lane, and he cut everything off. Silence. Then the crowd starts to dissipate and everyone starts to leave. The energy was just … it was a full moon night. If we’d have kept interviewing people, people would have stayed to watch. They were expecting something else to happen.”

Triplett: “And as loud as it was in the grandstands, on the other side of that glass (in the control tower), I think I remember was a bit of silence from the rest of us just standing there like what just happened? And on the other side of the glass it was anything but silence. I mean this place … I’ve been in and around racing and watching races since ’86-87, and I’ve never heard a combination of cheers and boos and jeers that was that loud at one time in my life, and I don’t remember ever hearing Earnhardt getting booed. Now it wasn’t exclusive. There were cheers and people with 3 hats and black hats waving, before he even got back around on his cooldown lap, it was crazy. I guess the easiest way to explain it was sheer emotion. Regardless of if people were happy he won or mad, everybody, and I usually don’t like absolutes, but I think everyone in the grandstands was yelling something, whether positive or negative.”

George Shaw, Bristol fan who has been sitting in the Turn 1 grandstands since 1997: “I guess the one thing I remember the most, even Earnhardt fans were booing Earnhardt that night. Which kind of amazed me. Because he got booed a lot anyway, but for his own fans, some of them to be booing him, was something I’d never experienced before. One of my best friends was sitting in the row right in front of me and he’s a diehard Earnhardt fan, he’s probably got 300 Earnhardt diecasts and everything. He was booing him. Which absolutely shocked me.”

Chocolate Myers, gas man for Earnhardt: “All the cheers and boos from the fans, the one thing that Richard Childress told all of us, ‘Boys, you may want to take those Goodwrench shirts off before you leave here tonight.’ I took his advice. I had on a T-shirt. When we left that racetrack that night, there were so many people out there, that it was a little scary to be quite honest with you. Because I was so big, I could take my uniform off, and they could still spot me. So I was a little bit concerned. To be part of that back in those days and go there and now be friends and be able to relive those memories, it’s awesome.”

Childress: “Yeah, we had our concerns because there was people that were really upset. I put on a Harley-Davidson T-Shirt when I left. I actually wore it up to the press box with Dale. Yeah, there were some people that were upset. The little old lady the next day in North Wilkesboro who told me I was the dirtiest car owner that had ever been in NASCAR and had the dirtiest driver that had ever been. I thought she was going to whip on me right there at Hardee’s.”


              CRIME AND PUNISHMENT?

Would NASCAR penalize The Intimidator or even strip the victory? Was the move intentional enough to merit punishment? That was the discussion immediately after the race and in the days that followed among many.

Triplett: “We watched the replay. How do you make that decision of what was going through someone’s mind? There have been times I’ve been in the tower and it was fairly easy. There would be one driver who shall remain nameless, I think it was the last race he wore white gloves. We noticed on the replay there was a very distinct turn of the white gloves. I don’t think he ever wore white gloves after that. We were able to tell there was a very distinct movement of the steering wheel into the car beside him. So that was a much easier to decision to make. We felt confident there was intent there.

“This one, because of the emotion and the reaction, I don’t think we were prepared to do anything at that point anyway. I think it was we’re going to look at this, review this and take a look and see. Because you don’t want to add, regardless of booing or cheering, you don’t want to add fuel to that fire at that point. If you’re going to make a decision, it needs to be with all your faculties about you where it’s not on emotion. It’s on what you have in front of you. Anything that occurred that night would have been on emotion. That was an emotional night.

“It was one of those things like what is the basis (for a penalty)? There were double-digit cautions. How is that any different from the wreck that happened 10 laps earlier for Terry to get tires? We have to peel away all of these other layers of the onion and the emotion. We had to decide what did we know happened and how does that compare to any other racing incident coming to the checkered flag over the course of the years. We decided there’s no there there, or at least not enough to do anything. I think there was a reaction to that. I think some people were disappointed there wasn’t a fine. I don’t remember us ever discussing the win not being a good win. It was more is there a fine or probation. That sort of thing. I don’t ever discussing the win being part of the equation. Then it was how do we determine if there’s a penalty.

Larry McReynolds: “This was a Saturday night race, and on Monday, we were flying to St. Louis to do some more testing with the 2000 Monte Carlo. I got to the (airport) early Monday morning, and Dale drove up. I said, ‘That was an interesting finish, wasn’t it?’ And honestly, it was just him and I standing there, and he kind of dropped his head and said, ‘I’m telling you, that’s not the way I wanted to win that race. I’m not going to give the trophy back, I can promise you that. I really just wanted to nudge him and move him on up out of the way. I hate the outcome was what it was. I know everybody is upset with me. That’s not the way I wanted it.’ I said ‘Dale, I don’t know if I’m buying that or not. You may convince someone else.’ But he seemed very sincere that’s not the outcome he wanted. He was selling, but I wasn’t buying. Because I worked with him and knew what he was like at Bristol.”

Childress: “I talked to Dale the next morning. Honestly, he didn’t mean to wreck Terry. He meant to move him out of the way. The one thing I remember about it was how close we come to losing the race. I think it caught Dale a little off guard that he did wreck, and that Jimmy Spencer almost won the race that night.”

Labonte on when he talked with Earnhardt: “It was the next week at driver introductions. I never will forget it. We were sitting there, and it just so happens we had qualified kind of close to each other at Darlington, and we went to driver introductions, and everybody was standing around waiting for the time to get introduced, and I turned around, and he was standing there, and we kind of looked at each other, and John Andretti was standing there, and John looked at me and looked at Dale and said I’m standing in the wrong place, and that just broke the ice, and everyone kind of laughed about it. We went on around that race.”


              THE LEGACY AND THE WAY OF THE INTIMIDATOR

Triplett: “In the legend of NASCAR fandom, it’s become in some instances the legend of NASCAR Woodstock, where 600,000 people were at Woodstock, but 300 million people say they were there. The number of people who say they were at that ’99 race and talk about it is just amazing. And maybe they were I don’t know. It’s just crazy at what happened and the fact that 20 years later people are still talking about it

“I’ve seen a lot of sports, but I haven’t seen anything to compare it to that. You had a couple of legends. Guys now in the Hall of Fame who had won their share of championships and races here between them. 11 or 12 wins. It was just the unbelievable emotion and was sustained and lasted. There were people still buzzing about it. Especially living here in Bristol. It’s not uncommon over the years for people to say I was sitting in Turn 2 and know exactly where they were sitting. I spent 10 years at the speedway, we would talk to season ticket holders and get their memories of why they had season tickets at Bristol. And almost every one of them would say, at some point, they would talk about ’99. It was one of those I was at Woodstock moments.”

Childress: “Dale was a great driver everywhere, but he was really a master when it come to (Bristol) and Darlington. The toughest tracks to get around, Dale was one of the drivers who could manage. He had car control. He had the feel of the race cars, and he had the vision to be able to run as close and tight as he could with cars. That’s what it takes at Bristol.”

Graves: “I’ve never watched the whole race back. To be totally honest with you. Last night just watched a little bit so I didn’t sound totally stupid with my memory here today, but it’s something that I know it’s become one of the iconic finishes in the sport. I appreciate all the history with NASCAR, but I kind of wish that we were on the winning end of that one.

Labonte: “I loved everything about Bristol and still do. It’s one of my favorite races to watch, but it was one of those deals we didn’t come out on top that, but hey, that’s just how things happened. Doesn’t take long. You get over it. You move on. If you held a grudge about something like that, you’d be miserable. If you held a grudge for every little thing that went wrong. So I was always I didn’t hold grudges.

Larry McReynolds: “I worked with Dale for two seasons of 97-98, a) he loved that racetrack. He loved Daytona, loved Talladega, loved Darlington, but he loved Bristol. I saw it all the years of racing against him. How hard he would run you at that racetrack. My last year as a crew chief, 2000, we were leading the race and probably a straightaway lead. I bet Dale was 50 laps down, and he ran Mike Skinner from the wall to the apron for 20something laps. I finally went down there and about knocked Richard off the pit box. Are you not going to do anything? He looked at me, you tell him to move over, I ain’t telling him. That was just Dale. It didn’t matter if it was for the win. It didn’t matter if it was for 10th, 20th. Or he was 50 laps down, he didn’t discriminate. He raced everybody, even his teammates, just as hard.

“I remember one of the races I was working with him, we got ready to go out for final practice, and he was just about to back out, and I said hold on a minute, hold on a minute. Just sit tight a second. I went digging through the toolbox. He went, “What are you looking for?” I said a hammer. What do you want to do with a hammer? I said I’m going to go ahead and just beat the front end off it because I know that’s what I’m going to go tune to all night probably after Lap 10 or 15 because I know you’re going to beat the nose off and the complain about the way the car is driving. He definitely loved that little old half-mile racetrack.”

Richard Childress: “He wasn’t going to give up. He never gave up. One thing that made Dale so great. I remember talking to him about it. Sitting around at Daytona in a rain deal. I said Dale how in the hell do you go so good them last 50 laps or something. How do you get so strong at the very end? He said I want it worse than the rest of them. So that was the Dale Earnhardt I knew.”

End of stages at Talladega could have lasting impact in playoffs

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A spot in the next round of the Cup playoffs could have been determined in just a few laps Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

They weren’t the final laps of the race, but the final laps of Stage 1 and Stage 2. 

The end of the first stage saw a big swing for a couple of drivers that could impact on who advances and who doesn’t after next weekend’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval.

MORE: Chase Elliott wins at Talladega 

With six laps left in the opening stage, William Byron was second to Denny Hamlin.

Byron was in need of stage points because of the uncertainty of his place in the standings. NASCAR docked him 25 points for spinning Hamlin under caution last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports is appealing the decision and will have the hearing this week. While car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday that he felt the penalty was too severe in a three-race round, there’s no guarantee the appeal board will change the penalty or reduce it. 

With such unknowns, Byron’s focus was scoring as many points as possible since he entered the race eight points below the cutline. Sitting second in that opening stage put him in position to score the points he needed.

But when the the stage ended, Byron came across the line 11th — 0.036 seconds behind Erik Jones in 10th — and scored no stage points.

“I was working well with (Hamlin),” Byron said. “I tried to work to the bottom and he stayed at the top and the top seemed to have momentum.

“I just made a wrong decision there that kind of got me in a bad position further. I was still leading the inside lane, but the inside lane wouldn’t go forward. That was just kind of weird. That was kind of the moral of our day — was just not being able to advance forward.”

Byron wasn’t in position to score points in the second stage, finishing 13th. That left him as one of two playoff drivers not to score stage points (Christopher Bell was the other).

“It was frustrating the whole time,” Byron said. “I felt like the race was just going away from us. We couldn’t make anything happen. We were just kind of stuck. I don’t know what we need to do next time.”

When Byron failed to score points in the second stage, it only added to a challenging day and put more pressure on a better finish.

He managed only to place 12th. Byron finished with 25 points. He outscored only three playoff drivers.

The result is that Byron is 11 points below the cutline.

While the first stage was a harbinger of Byron’s woes Sunday, that stage proved critical for Austin Cindric.

The Daytona 500 winner was 15th with six laps to go in the stage. He finished fourth, collecting seven points — despite suffering some nose damage in an incident earlier in that stage.

“Stage points are a big deal,” Cindric said. 

He got those with quick thinking.

“I think when everybody tries to scatter to do what’s best for them, it’s very important to be decisive,” Cindric said. “I was able to make some good moves and be able to be in some lanes that moved. I’d call it 50-50 decisiveness and 50 percent luck. 

“It certainly puts us in a good spot to race for a spot in the Round of 8 at the (Charlotte) Roval.

Cindric entered the race seven points out of the last transfer spot. While he didn’t score any points in the second stage, his ninth-place finish led to a 35-point day. 

That gives him the same amount of points as Chase Briscoe, who owns the last transfer spot because he has the tiebreaker on Cindric in this round.

For Briscoe, he earned that tie by collecting one stage point. 

In the first stage, he was running outside the top 10 when he sensed a crash was likely and “decided to bail” to protect the car and avoid being in a crash.

That crash didn’t happen and he was left without stage points. In the second stage, Briscoe was 14th with two laps to go. He beat Ricky Stenhouse Jr. across the finish line by 0.035 seconds to place 10th and score that one stage point.

“You don’t think that one (point) is important until you see that you are tied,” Briscoe said. “One point could be really, really important for us next week.”

What Cup drivers said about Talladega playoff race

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What NASCAR Cup Series drivers said about Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway, where Chase Elliott outdueled Ryan Blaney for his series-leading fifth victory this season:

Chase Elliott – Finished first: “Yeah, it was a wild last couple laps. I wasn’t super crazy about being on the bottom. Fortunately I got just clear enough off of two to slide up in front of Erik. He gave me some great shoves. Obviously a Team Chevy partner there. Yeah, just had a good enough run to get out front, then I was able to stay far enough in front of Ryan here at the line to get it done. These things are so, so hard to win. You got to enjoy ’em. Just appreciate everybody’s effort today. Get ready to go to the Roval and try to grab another one. We’re excited for these final handful of events. Hopefully we can make it out to Phoenix and give them a run.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished second: “I was fine lining up bottom or top, honestly, working with Ross there for a while. I knew he pushed good, and I knew obviously Michael could push really good, too. So I didn’t really care where we were gonna be lining up. I got a good push there and was able to get too good of a push on the restart and got (Elliott) clear, and then he was able to lead the top lane. I had a couple chances to move up to the top and cover it, and I was just getting nervous about getting hung in the middle with (Elliott), (Erik Jones) and (Ross Chastain) lined up. I just didn’t feel comfortable going up there. I trust Chase, but not that much to where he wouldn’t have hung me out for the greater good of his group, so just chose to stay on the bottom with Michael.  We had a great chance at winning the thing, but we got disconnected in the middle of three and four. I’ll look at it probably pick at a few things I probably should have done different, wish I would have done different, but it’s easy to say that now. Overall, it was a decent day. It just stinks to be that close to our first win of the season. I think the only thing I probably would have done different is realize that (Denny Hamlin) was laying off (Michael McDowell) in the middle of three and four and faded back with them.  It just happened really quick and then I probably would have coming to the checkered – if we would have won or not, I don’t know – but got back to the bottom.”

Michael McDowell – Finished third: “It’s tough to be that close. I felt like I probaby should have backed off of (Blaney) a little bit sooner when (Hamlin) got off of me, but I was trying to make sure a Ford was gonna get to victory lane, and we kept that momentum up. I wish I could get a redo, but I’m proud of everybody at Front Row Motorsports.  It’s a great day to get a top five finish, but when you’re only a car length away from winning the race, obviously, it’s disappointing. I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together, and everyone did a great job on pit road executing today and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Ross Chastain – Finished fourth: “We made a lot of moves and a lot of moves get made on us. There are 188 laps, and I’d say there’s two or three times a lap you have a decision to make. There are two that stick out to me that I had control of the middle lane and went bottom. I needed to stay middle. The cars ran better in the middle lane. It was good to work with (Blaney). Me and Ryan tried the tandem here in trucks 10 years ago. It’s wild to say we’ve been here a decade in this sport. Every point earned is better. It’s neverending. You just want more. A really good points-earned day for Daniel and myself. For this Trackhouse group to keep executing throughout these playoffs. We’re figuring this out as we go. I’m experiencing this. And I’m loving every moment as I get to do this.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished fifth: “It’s just so hard to pass, and I know you’ve all heard that. It’s just a train of two lines. You really can’t run three-wide with this car so you just have to sit behind whoever is right there in front of you and hope you can push that line a little bit forward. Hopefully, they switch lanes, and you can leap forward. That’s kind of what we’ve got right now so I feel like we executed a pretty good day. Our goal going into the day was five stage points and we got more than five the first stage and not in stage two and then tried to go and get a good finish and that’s what we did. Overall, a good day. I was able to give Chase (Elliott) a push right there and I thought about, ‘Should I go with him and force three wide?’ But I’m on the bottom and I know I’ve always got someone coming up behind me. Then I’d be in the middle and just the risk wasn’t worth going back to 15th and getting stuck in the middle. To me, this is a three-race season that we have and we’re points racing.”

Erik Jones – Finished sixth: “We had a good day today at Talladega. Our Chevy was fast all weekend. We were able to push and be pushed when needed and stay up front most of the race. I thought we had a good shot at the win and put ourselves in the right position on the final restart but unfortunately, the guys behind us had some issues and we didn’t get the push we needed on the final restart. Frustrating ending for sure, but we’ll take it and move on. I’m proud of the progress this 43 team and everyone at Petty GMS has made this season. It’s fun to drive cars like this and have a shot at the win.”

Todd Gilliland – Finished seventh: “I’m just really happy to come home with a top 10. Race car drivers are greedy. I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this. I feel like our superspeedway stuff is pretty good. It’s still scary when we qualified 34th, but to have that kind of speed in the draft is a good thing. It’s really nice to have Ford teammates out there. I worked a lot with Kevin Harvick and a lot of different Fords. I was really happy to work with a great manufacturer like that.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished eighth: “We got very lucky today man. The engine blew up with 15 laps to go, and I was barely hanging in there. On that restart, I couldn’t go and (William Byron) helped me a lot to get going, but the engine was killed. So I guess we had a little bit of luck today because it was definitely killed, and we were about to not finish that race. The vibration was so loud and the engine was holding on. I think the engine was fine, but we didn’t have any power. (Byron) was pushing me and if it wasn’t for that, I wasn’t going to be able to stay there. We are looking forward to the Roval. I feel very good about it. My goal today was to at least break even. I haven’t seen the points to know, but I think we did that. Heading to the Roval, I feel very confident that we can contend for it.”

Austin Cindrdic – Finished ninth: “Stage points are a big deal. Obviously, helping (Blaney) get a stage win was big and recovery from the wreck, damage control and driving back up through the field, I think when everybody kind of scatters to try and do what’s best for them, it’s very important to be decisive, and I was able to make some good moves and be able to be in some lanes that moved. Call it 50/50 decisiveness and 50 percent luck, but, overall, it certainly puts us in a good spot to race for a spot in the Round of 8 at the Roval, so we’ll put our best foot forward and have some fun next week.”

Chase Briscoe – Finished 10th: “It was tame in the sense there was no wreck, but I think that was the most racy race from start to finish. We barely ever ran single-file, and these cars it’s so hard to make up ground.  It seems like track position is such a big deal and you’ve got guys pushing so hard, just trying to maintain the lane that they’re in.  I guess from my side of things it was really racy because you’re never really riding around.  You’ve got to go so hard all the time and shove the guy in front of you. We never really got single-file around the top, but I was surprised we didn’t see a wreck. I was figuring with how out of control these cars are when you get pushes from the back, especially the big ones we were having there towards the end I figured something was gonna happen. I’m glad there wasn’t anything happening, but it was kind of a surprise to me. I think this place is a little bit easier than Daytona as far as being able to kind of keep it under control, but I the teams have done a really good job of getting the cars to drive way better. I think we all learned a lot at Daytona as far as what we need to do to our race car to be able to be pushed. They’re still out of control being pushed.  I didn’t feel like I was as out of control as I have been the first three races, but they’re still a handful to drive when somebody is shoving you. I was definitely surprised we didn’t see a big wreck.”

William Byron – Finished 12th: ““I just struggled there to get to the front. When we would be up there, we would kind of maintain, but we just struggled to get towards the front, and were just kind of boxed in there at the end. So, yeah, ended up where we did, and it was unfortunate because I felt good coming in here and felt like we had a good opportunity. We just never could get the track position to stay up near the front.”

Christopher Bell – Finished 17th: “Just a very disappointing finish. Needed to score a lot of points and unfortunately, we didn’t get enough today. So we’ll have to go to the Roval and do our best. I feel OK about our chances there. I think we’ll be competitive and just have to go there and try to win.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 18th: “We were able to get some stage points, so that was good. Stage two was working out. We almost got the stage win; we fell into third, but we were OK with that. In the final stage, the pit cycle worked out well. I just got squirrely off of (turn) 2 once and lost a little bit of track position. I made one bad lane decision and pretty much ended our race. I’m bummed at myself for doing that. I thought it was going to be the right move, but it ended up being the wrong move.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 23rd: “Uneventful day. We tried to play it smart and stay out of what I thought would be the inevitable big one, but it just never happened. That’s like the first time in about 11 superspeedway races that we haven’t had a big one. But I’ve been successful being smart in these races. Eventually, it’s going to get you, but I’ll play that game more times than not.”

Joey Logano – Finished 27th: “We just wreck all the time so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck,’ and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10 assuming they would wreck because they always do. That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today, and they didn’t wreck.  We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that then I tried it, and it didn’t work.”

Harrison Burton – Finished 36th: “I guess so. I haven’t seen it yet. I know he hit me and as soon as he did I was crossed up and going side-to-side. I don’t know what to do different. I pulled up kind of conservatively to give him time to prepare and I’m not sure why. He gave me a pretty hard shot for sure, but I don’t know if it was off line, where he was when he hit me, or if I was moving while he was moving. I haven’t seen anything yet. These things happen so fast and all of a sudden you’re sideways. You know you got hit and you don’t understand what really caused it. It’s unfortunate for us.  I felt like we had a good DEX Imaging Ford Mustang. We were gonna go and try to make a move to get out front and try and control track position and all of a sudden you go sideways. It’s pretty sad. I hope it didn’t affect any of our Team Penske alliance playoff guys. I don’t think they got any damage or anything. We’ll just try and keep it going and get some momentum going in the right way.”

Ty Gibbs – Finished 37th: “Definitely just sucks to be a part of that (crash). I was working with Bubba (Wallace) there and following him. I thought we had some good teamwork going there and I let him in. We were trying to get the top rolling. I think (Harrison Burton) just got a bad push and wrecked. There was just nowhere for me to go. It definitely sucks, but it could be a blessing in disguise. We’ll just move on to the Roval and go hammer down there.”

NASCAR President Steve Phelps meets with Denny Hamlin

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin confirmed that he met with NASCAR President Steve Phelps before Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

The meeting came a day after Hamlin’s explosive comments to the media, saying the Next Gen car needed to be redesigned and blaming “bad leadership” by NASCAR for the safety concerns with the car.

Asked by NBC Sports about the meeting with Phelps, Hamlin said: “I don’t have any details on it. I’m grateful for Steve Phelps. He is a leader that we need. He is not who I directed any of my comments toward because he’s a huge asset for our sport.

“Me and Steve talk about much bigger and broader things than the safety of the cars. He’s got a lot bigger tasks ahead of him. I don’t task him or bog him down with knick-knack things like car safety.”

Asked if Phelps discussed Hamlin’s comments to the media in their meeting, Hamlin said: “We talked about that because we have that kind of relationship. I trust Steve. Best relationship I’ve had with any president of NASCAR. He’s done a lot for our sport. I made it very clear that I wasn’t directing anything at him.”

Hamlin’s frustration — and that of other drivers — has been the hard hits competitors have suffered in the car. The new car was designed to be stronger and better protect drivers in crashes similar to Ryan Newman’s airborne incident in the 2020 Daytona 500 and Joey Logano’s airborne crash in the April 2021 Talladega race. 

While the car has been improved for those accidents, the more common crashes, particularly those where the car backs into the wall, have been felt more by drivers.

Both Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman are out because of concussion-like symptoms after rear-end crashes. Busch, who has been out since late July, said this past week that he is “hopeful” to return this season. Car owner Rick Hendrick after Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway said that he is hopeful Bowman can be back as early as this coming week for the elimination race at the Charlotte Roval.

The injuries to Busch and Bowman and the hard hits have raised the tension in the Cup garage. 

Hamlin unleashed a torrent of criticism Saturday about the car and series officials.

Asked how the sport got to this point with the car, Hamlin said Saturday: “Bad leadership.”

Asked how to avoid the same thing from happening, Hamlin said: “New leadership.”

As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”

In regards to the car, Hamlin said Saturday: “The car needs to be redesigned. It needs a full redesign. It can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned. It needs to be redesigned everywhere.”

Hamlin appeared on “Countdown to Green” before Sunday’s race on NBC and spoke with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton, who also leads the Drivers Advisory Council, about the car and his comments to the media.

“It’s not about what we can do right now, it’s what we can do about the future,” Hamlin said of the car. “In my mind, if we’re redesigning something for 2024, we need to be designing it now, testing it throughout the 2023 season and then implementing it for 2024. 

“There is no easy answer to this. This has been a buildup. We’ve been talking about this as drivers for over a year now. So that’s where the frustration has boiled from. 

“Certainly saying what can we do to fix it next week, it’s impossible. There’s a box that we’re in that we can’t get out of now. My thing is that while a (rear) clip is a really good thing —and I think it’s a start — we need to be in the redesign process of the entire car and that has to start now if we’re to implement that anytime in the next 12 to 14 months.”

Hamlin also said in that interview that he felt a responsibility to speak on behalf of drivers, particularly the younger drivers, on such issues. He noted that it was a mantle he and Kevin Harvick have taken.

“I do feel like at times that me and Kevin have the brunt of the responsibility to go out there and voice what we hear from our competitors and our peers. But as you are starting to see in the media, guys like Chase Elliott and others are starting to voice their displeasure and what they would like to see different as well.”

Talladega Cup playoff race results, driver points standings entering cutoff

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Talladega points, results: Chase Elliott captured his 18th career victory in the NASCAR Cup Series, passing Ryan Blaney on the final lap Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. It was the fifth time in the past six races at the 2.66-mile oval that a last-lap pass was made by the winner.

Blaney finished second by 0.046 seconds, followed by Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin.

Erik Jones, Todd Gilliland, Daniel Suarez, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe rounded out the top 10.

RESULTS: Click here for where everyone finished l Click here for the race report

Elliott led four times for 10 laps during a 500-mile race that featured a season-high 57 lead changes among 17 drivers. It was the Hendrick Motorsports’ driver’s series-leading fifth victory and his first since Pocono nine races ago.

Elliott, who became the 10th winner in the past 10 superspeedway races (Daytona and Talladega), has won twice in 14 Cup starts at Talladega.

With his second top five of 2022, McDowell tied a career-best for most in a season and also extended a career-best with his 12th top 10 this year.

Hamlin is the only championship-eligible driver to finish in the top 10 of all five playoff races.


POINTS

Advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth time, Elliott became the first championship-eligible driver to win during the playoffs. He also gained six playoff points for a total of 46, the most by 21.

Click here for driver standings l Click here for team owner standings

With Elliott the only driver locked into one of the eight spots in the next round, Blaney is 32 points above the cutline heading into the Oct. 9 race at the Roval, followed by Chastain (plus-28), Hamlin (plus-21), Joey Logano (plus-18), Kyle Larson (plus-18) and Daniel Suarez (plus-12).

Chase Briscoe is above the cutline by virtue of a tiebreaker but has the same points total as Austin Cindric. William Byron is 11 points below the cutline, and Christopher Bell is at a 22-point deficit. Alex Bowman, who missed Talladega with concussion-like symptoms, is 54 points below the cutline.