Friday 5: Title race a reminder of how Jimmie Johnson looms over Cup

Leave a comment

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Although Jimmie Johnson is not a part of the championship discussion this weekend, his shadow towers over the Cup Series and could play a role in how this generation’s drivers are judged.

The seven-time champion remains the only active driver with more than one Cup title heading into Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Should Denny Hamlin win the championship, Johnson will remain the only active multi-time champ. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, who also are in the Championship 4 race, each has one title.

All four drivers are members of the Johnson generation, a fraternity of talented racers who had the misfortune of competing during Johnson’s reign. Hamlin and Busch have each raced their entire Cup career against Johnson. Harvick started running Cup full-time in 2001, a year before Johnson.

In that time, they’ve seen Johnson win a record five consecutive titles from 2006-10 to go with crowns in 2013 and ’16. He’s also collected 83 series victories, which ranks sixth on the all-time wins list.

While Denny Hamlin (left) seeks his first Cup title, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch go for their second series crown Sunday. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“Definitely behind in wins and championships,” said Kyle Busch, who has 55 career Cup victories. “Why? The list goes on. It’s a pretty long one. So how many can you get now is about where it’s at. If I end with one (championship), that’s going to suck. If I can only get two, well, whatever. 

“But three, four, five, I think five’s still achievable. But when you get to this final race in this moment, this championship format the way that it is, and five years in a row and you only come away with one, that gets pretty defeating.”

Johnson’s success won’t keep Harvick, Busch and Truex out of the NASCAR Hall of Fame after their career ends. One Cup championship has been a gateway to immortality. Mark Martin, who never won a Cup title, showed that there’s still room in the Hall of Fame. Should Hamlin never win a series crown, he likely is headed to the Hall with his 37 career victories, including a pair of Daytona 500 triumphs.

While Johnson’s career is measured against Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, how should those who raced against Johnson be viewed since they have fewer titles?

One consideration is to look at the Championship 4 appearances by each driver.

This is Harvick’s fifth title race appearance in six years. Busch is making his fifth consecutive championship race appearance. Truex is racing for a title for a third consecutive year.

“I think there’s some merit to championship appearances,” Hamlin said as a measuring stick for greatness. “I think one race, winner-take-all, anything can happen. I mean, if you have a mechanical failure on Lap 25, does that mean you’re not good enough? You made the final four.

Making the final four is the culmination of your whole year. That is what deems your year a success. You made it to Homestead.  Every single driver here will tell you that. No one is going to discount their year based off of the outcome on this weekend.”

Said Truex: “I would say the odds are a lot worse in this system to win (a championship). I don’t know how to view that, to be honest. I don’t know if it’s final four appearances, straight‑up race wins. Championships are huge. I think it’s harder to win now than ever. Maybe one means more than one used to.”

2. Picking the right strategy

The strategy for Sunday’s race would seem easy for the Cup title contenders. Set the car up for a short run. Since the winner-take-all format in 2014, four of the five title races have had cautions in the last 15 laps, setting up a short run to the finish.

Last year, Joey Logano, whose car was set for the short run, passed Martin Truex Jr., whose car was set for a long run, with 12 laps left to win the race and the championship.

Kevin Harvick warns it’s not quite that simple with strategy, especially for a race that starts in the afternoon and ends at night under cooler track conditions.

“The only problem with short runs is you got to stay on the lead lap during the day,” Harvick said of when track conditions are warmer and more challenging to a car’s handling. “So you have to have some good balance and good adjustability built into your car. 

“The short run has definitely been what’s won this race over the past few years, but having … the proper track position to take advantage of that short‑run speed is still necessary in the first half of the day. I don’t think these cars are going to race like what we have raced here before.

“I just don’t see the characteristics being exactly how they have been in the past for the amount of laps and things that have happened when your car is good and when your car goes to falling off and things like that. I think that those numbers are going to change. I don’t know exactly what that number will be as far as the crossover and falloff, but we’ll just have to see.”

3. End of the road

This weekend marks not only the end of the season but the end of a journey for Ross Chastain.

He’ll race for a Ganders Outdoor Truck Series championship tonight and run in Sunday’s Cup season finale. When the weekend ends, he will have competed in 77 races across Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. That equals the number of races Kyle Busch ran in those series in 2006. Busch topped that total three times, including 2009 when he ran 86 races across those series.

“Yes, I’m tired,” said Chastain, who will compete in 23 Truck, 19 Xfinity and 35 Cup races this year. “The best part about it is that if I had a bad race, I had another one in a couple days, I would forget about it. … Now the bad part was when we had a good race, I didn’t have any time to celebrate.

I don’t know what the future will hold on that. I don’t know if we’ll hit this many races for years to come. There’s a reason nobody does it.”

Chastain will run the full Xfinity schedule next year for Kaulig Racing and is expected to also be back in Cup.

“I’m a big yes man,” said Chastain, who ran 74 races across all three series last season. “If any NASCAR team owner calls me, stops me at the track and says, ‘I want you to drive for me.’ I’m like, Of course. I’ve begged all these guys for years. Now that they say yes, I’m like, Of course, yes.”

Here’s a look at the most races run in a season in recent years (Note: Chastain’s stats are entering this weekend in Miami)

Season

Driver

Trucks

Xfinity

Cup  

Total

2009

Kyle Busch

15

35

36

86

2008

Kyle Busch

18

30

36

84

2010

Kyle Busch

16

29

36

81

2006

Kyle Busch

7

34

36

77

2019

Ross Chastain

22

19

34

75

2010

Brad Keselowski

4

35

36

75

2006

Clint Bowyer

3

35

36

74

2018

Ross Chastain

7

33

34

74

2013

Kyle Busch

11

26

36

73

2007

Carl Edwards

2

35

36

73

To end the season, Chastain will have a different type of motorhome for the weekend. He borrowed one from a friend and made the 3 1/2-hour drive from Ft. Myers, Florida to Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Plugged in, got air‑conditioning, water, everything,” Chastain said. “Yeah, you go in and you turn and there’s a door and there’s a bathroom. Most campers and buses, there’s a bedroom. There’s no bedroom. The bedroom is the living room. It’s small. Yeah, it’s cool.”

4. Meaningful title

While the Cup driver and owner titles will be determined Sunday, the manufacturer’s crown was claimed last weekend at ISM Raceway by Toyota, which won the crown for the third time in the last four years. 

The manufacturer championship is overlooked by many but not those at Toyota.

“That championship I wish garnered more than it does,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports. “You can make no mistake, for Toyota that’s an important championship. That’s one that resonates all the way back to Japan.

“The culture of racing internationally is a little different than with NASCAR, which is a driver-centric sport and always has been and will be, and that’s great. But everywhere else we race, it’s manufacturer-centric. It’s Toyota against Porsche, Audi or somebody.”

5. A new view

Derek Kneeland, who has been Kyle Larson’s spotter, will be Tyler Reddick’s spotter next year in Reddick’s rookie Cup season.

“What brought it all into perspective for me is when I was running part‑time at Ganassi (in 2017), I would go up and sit or stand next to Derek during practice, the races, really get an understanding of his vantage point, what he sees, how he communicates, how well of a job he did,” said Reddick, who races Christoper Bell, Cole Custer and Justin Allgaier for the Xfinity title Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“That brought it all together for me when I was doing those races when I did have him, when I was in the racecar, it gave me a better understanding of how hard that job is and how good he was at it.

“It just came about that he wasn’t going to return (to work with Larson) next year. He was having a lot of fun working with me. Everyone at RCR really enjoyed how well of a job he did at Talladega to get our first win of the year, week in, week out.

March 29 in NASCAR history: Dale Earnhardt snags Darlington win from Bill Elliott

Leave a comment

On March 29, 1987, Bill Elliott tried to win at Darlington Raceway by going the final 72 laps on one tank of gas.

That didn’t work out.

Instead, Elliott ran out of gas on the final lap and had to watch the No. 3 of Dale Earnhardt zoom by on his outside in Turn 4 and take the checkered flag.

“When it ran out, I just pulled down out of the way,” Elliott said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” “I sure wasn’t going to push him into the wall. I don’t drive that way.”

Earnhardt, who led 239 of 367 laps, stopped for fuel with 11 laps to go.

Then, as he chased Elliott, he smacked the wall in Turn 2 with four laps to go.

“I knocked the hell out of the wall, but I still wound up winning. That’s tough to do,” Earnhardt said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing.”

The win was Earnhardt’s third Darlington victory in four races.

Also on this date:

1959: Junior Johnson won a 100-mile race at Wilson (N.C) Speedway. He did it in front an audience who didn’t have a place to sit. According to “NASCAR: The Complete History,” the grandstands caught fire and burned to the ground less than an hour before the race began.

1992: While the above mentioned race from 1987 started a four-race win streak for Earnhardt, the 1992 TranSouth 400 at Darlington represented the opposite for Elliott. The win followed victories at Rockingham, Richmond and Atlanta. Even despite four wins in the first five races of the season, Elliott was second in the points to Davey Allison, who won the Daytona 500 and finished fourth or better in the next four races.

1997: After leading the final 22 laps, Dick Trickle defeated defending champion Randy LaJoie at Hickory Motor Speedway to earn his first Xfinity Series win and his first national NASCAR series win. Trickle was 56 at the time of the victory. In 461 starts across Cup and Xfinity, he only earned two wins, both in Xfinity.

1998: Jeff Gordon won the spring race at Bristol for the fourth consecutive year.

2010: In a green-white-checkered finish, Denny Hamlin goes from fourth to the lead to claim a win at Martinsville.

2019: Kyle Busch won the Truck Series race at Texas to complete a sweep of his first four Truck Series starts of the year. He’d win his fifth and final start in May at Charlotte.

 

Today’s iRacing Cup race at virtual Texas: Start time and more

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Round two of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series takes place today with competitors racing at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin won last weekend’s race at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway, passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last lap. The viewership of the race on FS1 set a record for an eSports event on TV.

More than 30 current and former Cup drivers are scheduled to take part in today’s race.

Here is the information on today’s virtual race:

(All times are Eastern)

DIGNITARIES: Troy Aikman will serve as the grand marshal. Bob Weir, founding member of the Grateful Dead, will perform the National Anthem.

PRERACE: Practice begins at noon. Qualifying begins at 12:50 p.m. Warmup begins at 12:54 p.m.

GREEN FLAG: Scheduled to wave at 1:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The O’Reilly Auto Parts 125 is 125 laps (187.5 miles) around the virtual 1.5-mile oval.

TV/RADIO: FOX and FS1 will televise the virtual race. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. The race also can be seen on the Fox Sports App.

RULES: Since it is an exhibition race, drivers will get one full repair in case they are involved in any incidents. It is fixed setups on all the cars.

CUP DRIVERS SCHEDULED TO COMPETE: Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Ross Chastain, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase  Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Clint Bowyer, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Michael McDowell, Ryan Preece, John Hunter Nemechek, Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Garrett Smithley, Timmy Hill, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and Daniel Suarez.

ALSO RACING: Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte, Parker Kligerman and Landon Cassill.

STARTING LINEUP: Lineup will be set after last chance race for Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers. That race will take place at 11:02 a.m and be streamed online.

WHAT DRIVERS ARE SAYING: 

CLINT BOWYER: “For me, iRacing gives me a chance to drive something I’ve always wanted to drive, but never had the chance. That’s why I love iRacing, and I love the fact that this Pro Invitational Series has made more people aware of iRacing. Now, that means more eyeballs on us this Sunday, so I need to step up my game and put my Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang up front.”

KYLE BUSCH: “It was quite interesting last week. Ty Gibbs offered me up his rig because I did not have one and I was over at his place last weekend running on his rig. I made some phone calls this week to see who had one since I’m hoping after maybe six weeks we can get back to the racetrack and do what we do each week and I won’t really need to have one. So I’m going on the borrowed train right now for my rig.”

AUSTIN DILLON: “I learned a lot at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway last weekend. We were able to get up to the top 10 for a little while but it was a messy race for us. I’ve been practicing a lot for Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway and the setup seems better this week. I’m also looking forward to a bit of drafting this week. I hope these eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series races tide us over until we get to the real racetrack, because this is fun but I’m looking forward to get back to real racing!”

ERIK JONES: “I honestly did not know how I’d do in last week’s race at Homestead. It had been forever since I last went iRacing, so it was like I was a rookie all over again. But things came to me fairly quickly, although I’m still nowhere near where I want to be. Performance aside, I think we all came away from that race impressed with how the entire industry rallied around it, and fans seemed to like it too. Now we’re on big FOX this Sunday, so even more people will be watching. Obviously, that’s good, but it does kind of ramp up the pressure. You want to do well. Even though it’s a simulation, we’re all competitors and we want to win. And it’s appropriate that I’ve got CRAFTSMAN on my Toyota Camry this Sunday at Texas. I moved into a new house this week and between putting furniture together, hanging stuff up and even fixing a few things that broke, if I wasn’t carrying a box I was carrying a screwdriver or a wrench. iRacing practice time took a backseat to the move, so I hope my limited practice time doesn’t show up in the race.”

MICHAEL McDOWELL: “Now that drivers have had some time to get comfortable with making the switch from racing in person to racing in a virtual realm, I can imagine that we will see a lot of hard racing this weekend that is hopefully entertaining for the fans tuning in. My Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang is ready to go and I’m excited to be back racing for the second consecutive Sunday. I would also like to thank all of the guys at the shop for working so hard this week to build me a custom simulator to race on. With the overwhelming responses from drivers that are eager to be part of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, most of the simulators in and around the Charlotte, North Carolina area have been either rented out or purchased, leaving me with limited options to be able to compete in the series. Thankfully, my guys were able to put one together for me, so hopefully I can make them proud this weekend.”

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK: “Honestly, it doesn’t matter that we’re not physically racing in person; as a driver, you just want to get out there and turn laps. We’re still a very competitive group by nature and we all want to put on a great show for everyone watching.”

TYLER REDDICK: “The virtual track races identical to what Texas Motor Speedway was before the traction compound was introduced, and creates those crazy runs into Turn 1 with the current Cup package. Figuring out how to manage the front tires and keep someone from getting inside going into Turn 1 will be key for this virtual race.”

DANIEL SUAREZ: “I don’t even know what to expect, to be honest. Obviously, I think we’re going to have some fun, but at the same time I’m very competitive and I want to do well. I’ve never done iRacing before, I’ve never had an account before and I really didn’t know much about iRacing. I had an old GT25 simulator that I bought used about 10 years ago to race on the PlayStation. As for iRacing, I have no experience before, but for me, that’s not an excuse. I’ve done a lot on other simulators, like the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) simulator, that might help some. But this is way different, it’s its own animal. iRacing is still very realistic and does an amazing job, but it’s still a game. The simulator we use at TRD, that’s not a game, but a lot of things about what iRacing does is very impressive. I borrowed a rig from Toyota and hopefully I can use it for as many races as I need to.”

 

eNASCAR Pro Invitational Qualifier to be streamed online

Photo: NASCAR
Leave a comment

The qualifying race for Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway will be streamed on enascar.com/live, NASCAR announced.

The qualifier features Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers looking to advance to the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race that will be at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports App. At this time, four drivers from the qualifier will advance. That number could change depending on any late additions or drops to the race featuring Cup drivers.

MORE: Roush, Greg Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

MORE: North Wilkesboro to make its comeback on iRacing 

MORE: eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series reminds Clint Bowyer of being a rookie

The qualifier is scheduled to take place at 11:02 a.m. ET and have 34 drivers battling for those four transfer spots.

The qualifier will be 30 laps at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway. The race will have no cautions.

Practice begins at 10:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying begins at 10:55 a.m., lasting five minutes, followed by the race.

Last week, six drivers advanced from the qualifier to the main event. They were: Anthony Alfredo, Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Majeski and Ryan Truex.

Drivers scheduled to compete in Sunday’s qualifier at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway are (with car number):

02 – Spencer Boyd

7 – Justin Allgaier

08 – Jeb Burton

15 – Brennan Poole

16 – Justin Haley

22 – Austin Cindric

23 – Sam Mayer

26 – Tyler Ankrum

27 – Ruben Garcia

29  – Kaz Grala

29a – Trevor Bayne

33 – Anthony Alfredo

35 – Todd Gilliland

36 – Jesse Iwuji

40 – Ryan Truex

45 – Ty Majeski

46 – Chandler Smith

50 – Jeffrey Earnhardt

52 – Stewart Friesen

53 – Joey Gase

54 – Kyle Weatherman

63 – Scott Stenzel

68 – Brandon Brown

74 – Sheldon Creed

78 – Ryan Ellis

80 – Joe Graf Jr.

81 – Christian Eckes

90 – Alex Labbe

93 – Myatt Snider

98 – Chase Briscoe

99 – Harrison Burton

TBD – Derek Kraus

TBD – Drew Dollar

TBD – JJ Yeley

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

Leave a comment

Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.